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Survivor. What Once Was is (sadly) No Longer

November 14, 2013

Did you watch last night’s episode of Survivor? So much to say about the episode. where do I start?! I was watching it and… and… zzzzzzzz….

Maybe I would be enjoying this season more if there was a player I really liked or a player I could really enjoy hating but there’s no one. On the Love to Hate side there’s Tyson who comes close, but looking at him and listening to him talk truly nauseates me, and Monica also comes close but since she’s pretty much everything I don’t like in a woman I find her to be more depressing than anything else. On the Love to Love side there’s no one I care about enough to root for. But even with a well-defined hero or villain to enjoy I’m still not sure I’d be enjoying the season. Do you want to know why? Well, you’re in luck because I’m going to tell you just that!

For many years now I’ve thought that Survivor was scripted in the sense that the show is edited to present different “characters” to us and, in many cases, to manipulate conversations in order to create drama and intrigue where none existed. Last night when I was watching Tina go out looking for an idol and everyone else was trying to follow her, I realized that in addition to that creative manipulation, the game has become so predictable (read: stale) that the players all act like they’re following a script. Sort of like Jeff and his, “C’mon in!” and “Do you want to know what you’re playing for?” and “Once again, immunity is up for grabs.” and “I’ll go tally the votes.” and of course the ultimate, “The tribe has spoken.” The players land on the beach and get separated into tribes and immediately go into Survivor script mode: A) Create alliance #1; B) Create alliance #2; C) Begin backstabbing those not in their alliance(s) (optional); D) Look for idol; E) Discover who has the idol; F) Try and flush the idol, G) Be a leader; Ga) Be a leader while being humble; Gb) Be a leader while steamrolling everyone in front of you; H) Play under the rader, etc., you get the idea.

Part of the problem is that everyone who puts on the buff has, over the past 13+ years, seen how to play the game and how not to play the game and while some players do it right and others make the same mistakes players before them made, they’re just doing the same things over and over again because that’s what the script calls for because behind all the hoolah the game is the same. There’s absolutely nothing that’s new about the game that would necessitate the need for a new strategy and the only thing that changes from season to season is the faces of the players and because of that the game is no longer interesting to me.

SurvivorThe producers have tried to shake things up with twists like Exile Island and Redemption Island and immunity idols and various types of stunt casting, but none of that works because the game itself continues to be played with no originality. The reason the game was so great in the beginning was because it was eight strangers playing against eight other strangers out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. And in addition to watching the players “survive”, we also got to watch the human interactions and how the dynamics of the game (isolation, deprivation, hunger, jealousy, anger, greed) drove the players. The game unfolded week by week as the players moved the game up and down different paths, not because they were playing for a merge or playing for a jury vote or playing for a blindside, or playing for an idol, but because they were simply being human and were playing to survive another day.

Maybe I’m overly harsh and I’ve just reached a point where I’ve outgrown Survivor but I’d like to believe that’s not the case. I’d like to believe the game – the game like it was back in Borneo in 2000 – is still out there somewhere and has just been hijacked along the way by a panicked production staff that felt the only way to stay “fresh” and competitive was to mess with everything. If I’m wrong about that then I’m wrong, but in the meantime I’ll continue to hope that the show goes back to what it used to be: eight strangers playing against eight stranger playing against the social structure of the game and stops being a show with a bunch of meaningless twists and turns. Twists and turns that only put me to sleep. If they want to change up the game and keep it fresh then don’t try and enhance it with a but of shiny objects and silly obstacles, change the game itself. Get rid of Exile and Redemption Island and get rid of hidden immunity idols and anything else that takes the influence of the game out of the player’s hands. Go back to Survivor 101 and then if you need a tweak, change the actual game itself by changing parts of the foundation of the game. Maybe not having two tribes, but only one? Maybe eliminate the merge altogether? Or, as shocking as it sounds, maybe just put everything back the way it was and leave it alone and let eight players play against eight other players and survive by their wits not because of chance.

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