Thursday, February 07, 2008

Shows About People On Islands

Survivor begins its 16th season tonight, which is a pretty astonishing feat for a show that is apparently only watched by myself. Literally not a single one of my circle of friends still watches -- perhaps they caught a series here or a series there back in the day, but no more. It has gone the way of the dodo. Ironic saying, that. A bird famous solely for being extinct has been immortalized forever.

Anyway, Survivor's ratings are still tremendous, which is why they keep cranking them out. Perhaps in a nod to recapturing some past viewers, however, this latest series carries the gimmick of "fans vs. favourites." The cast is made of ten former players against 10 new players, all of whom are allegedly super-fans. Given that last season's winner (Todd) was also allegedly a super-fan and yet employed some of the most ass-backwards strategy ever seen on the show, I'm wary as to how sharp these newbies will be, but hey, Todd ended up winning, so what do I know?

The ten 'favourites' are all taken from each Survivor series since the last All-Stars, with the exception of one player from Survivor 7 (Pearl Islands), namely Jon "Johnny Fairplay" Dalton. Survivor 10 and Survivor 11 didn't have anyone brought back from either series, but it could be argued that those two were basically a dry run for a fans vs. favourites format anyway --- Stephenie and Bobby Jon from S10* were brought back in S11. Now, it's been my opinion that the original Survivor All-Stars was the worst series in Survivor history. It was dull, it was humourless and things just got uncomfortable. Sue Hawk accusing Richard Hatch of sexual harassment and then leaving the show, Jenna Morasca leaving due to worries over her mother's health, and the fact that because several of the players had developed friendships outside of the show, there were genuinely hurt feelings when someone broke an alliance. Plus, most of the players had devolved into famewhores, which made the show much less interesting than watching a bunch of 'regular folks' (since really, a lot of them are/were famewhores to begin with) cope for the first time. Here is how the producers have tried to solve some of these problems in this latest All-Star series....

* No winners. In the last Survivor All-Stars, the four former winners who returned (Rich Hatch, Tina Wesson, Ethan Zohn and Jenna Morasca) were all gone within the first eight episodes. Tina, in particular, was voted out solely on the basis that she was a former winner, and Rich Hatch was voted out just because everyone wanted the satisfaction of seeing the original Survivor winner finally get bounced from the game. This time, only three of the returning 10 even got as far as the final three.

* Pre-game alliance breaking. Apparently, producers told the players that it was going to a full All-Star season with returning Survivors, then cut 10 of them at the last minute before they got on the plane. This was an attempt to stop some of the game-outside-of-the-game gamesmanship (editor's note: say 'game' a few more times) that occured in the last All-Star series. On that show, it was well-known that Lex, Big Tom and Boston Rob had phoned each other up before the series started and agreed to be an alliance. This is why Lex was legitimately furious at Rob when he broke up their deal on the show in favour of keeping Amber around. It's rare that another player could be as stupid as Lex, but just in case, the producers instituted this little twist just so any pre-game planning could be scuttled before it really began.

Now, I've heard another version of this story that goes like this: Mark Burnett WANTED an all-returning player series, but was unable to get certain popular players like Tom Westman, Yul Kwon or Earl Cole back for another go-around. Facing an "All-Star" series of 20 past players with jobbers replacing some of the biggest names of recent series, Burnett just decided to halve the cast and bring in 10 new faces. If only the NFL would adopt this method for the Pro Bowl. Instead of having a quarter of the top players beg off with, ahem, injuries, bring in a team of college all-stars or the Sasketchewan Roughriders or something.

* Less fame-whoring. Now, that's not to say there won't be some prima donnas out of the returning ten. In fact, I'd guarantee it. There's also sure to be at least a few of the new players who fawn over these returning stars and make fools of themselves, but there's also sure to be a natural rivalry of the new players against the old. Going back to the test case of Survivor 11, Stephenie was able to make it to the final two thanks to building an alliance of people who liked her since she was on the previous show. In the final vote, however, there was a backlash against Steph since the Guatemala players wanted one of 'their own' to win, and thus Steph lost a lopsided vote. Even Bobby Jon voted for new player Danni Boatwright to win. This is why I'm predicting one of the new ten will win Survivor: Micronesia. I don't think there will be a natural yearning amongst the returning players to see an old-timer win, whereas the new players will want to establish themselves.

So that's what I see happening on the new Survivor. There will be blood.

* Does anyone else list the Survivor seasons just by number, and not location? I'll be honest, I forget where a lot of them took place unless the locale was actually unique (China, Guatemala, Amazon, etc.) Also, everytime I write 'Survivor series,' I feel like I should be discussing the pro wrestling event. Maybe that'll be the next Survivor, 18 wrestlers. The Ugandan giant Kamala would have the decided edge, being from the wilderness already.


Lost came back last Thursday, and it was glorious. I'm probably making a mistake in posting about the show just a couple of hours before the next episode and thus costing myself a chance to write about a whole bunch of more new stuff, but what the hell.

Unlike the last two seasons, Lost is jumping into the action right away in the first episode. It's been clearly delineated that Jack's group and Locke's group have differing views about the motives of the people on the freighter (known hereafter as, 'The Freighter People,' possibly in association with the reverse vampires and the Rand Corporation) and so the season will deal with how these two groups conflict with each other. By season, of course, I mean the eight episodes that we'll get to see since the writers' strike ended production on the season, but...well, let's just hope for a goddamn settlement. A recent interview with Jorge Garcia revealed that they haven't yet hit their drop-dead date for when the show wouldn't be able to shoot the remaining eight episodes, so, in the words of Lloyd Christmas, you're telling me there's a chance.

The biggest question coming out of the premiere is who are the Oceanic Six -- namely, the six castaways that we know make it back in the future. Hurley is one. Jack is another. Kate may be another since we saw her in last year's flash-forward finale, but remember, she's a wanted fugitive. She couldn't come back and be hailed as a hero and media celebrity like Jack and Hurley seem to have become. That is, unless, we get a Kate flash-forward about how she beat her murder rap thanks to Oceanic paying for an O.J.-esque team of defense attorneys. So it's possible that more than just six of the survivors make it back, but only six of them become well-known because of it. Another hint in this direction is that mysterious funeral in last year's season finale. As we saw in the newspaper clipping Jack was holding, the deceased was a Jo--- ---antham, and while many logically assumed this person was someone from the Island, there's no mention in what we see of that short article of the dead man/woman being one of the Oceanic Six. So while it could still be a character we already know, it could be someone under an assumed name, possibly like fugitive Kate may be under.

We know that Desmond, Juliet and Ben can't be in the Oceanic Six since they weren't on the plane to begin with. It also can't be the Freighter People played by Rebecca Mader, Ken Leung and Jeremy Davies --- all of whom are in the opening credits, by the way, which means they're considered full cast members and thus will likely be getting flashbacks or flash-forwards this season. So that leaves Sayid, Sun, Jin, Locke, Claire, Sawyer, Michael and Walt. I guess there's Rose and Bernard too, but that would be a little lame. Sayid is a possibility. At least one of Sun and Jin seems like a good possibility, probably Sun having the edge since she needs to get off the Island to have her baby. These two are also good possibilities to be under assumed names, since otherwise Sun's gangster father will be after them. Sawyer may also be under an assumed name, being a wanted con man and all. Michael may be in hiding as well, since we still don't know what his deal was after he sailed off in the S2 finale. He's a good Jo--- ---antham candidate since it's possible he may kill himself out of guilt for his murders of Libby and Ana Lucia. N.B. I loved that Ana Lucia's former partner was the one interrogating Hurley last episode. I love little connections like that. Claire was seen getting onto a helicopter in Desmond's future-flash last season, so theoretically she has the best chance of anyone. Oh, Aaron could also be considered an Oceanic Six contender, but he and Claire are basically a package deal. Having Locke as one of the Oceanic Six (and content about being back home) would be one of the bigger shockers the show could throw at us. Would Locke have regained use of his legs away from the island? Or would he be wheeling around as happy as a modern-day FDR?

I'm just glad the show is finally back on the air and I can get at least eight weeks out of gorging myself at the trough of Lost. Also, feel free to pick through this post after tonight's episode, since I'm guessing at least 40% of what I discussed will be proven decidedly wrong.


Kyle Wasko said...

As previously discussed, I--foolishly--spoiled myself of the identity of the Oceanic 6 back in early January, so I can't really comment on anything you've posted about Lost, except to say: do you feel like going out on a limb and trying to name all six?

I'll be honest, since I loudly proclaimed (or, you know, "typed") that McCain's candidacy was dead in the water in the summer and am now having it thrown it my face, I'm trying to get my fellow bloggers to go on the record, so that I may--somewhat cattily--do the same thing.

Re:Survivor--> alliances may well be the best way to win the game (or, at the very least, assure yourself a place in the final four), but I firmly believe that they've destroyed the show. The counter-argument is that there was an alliance in S1 and it was still riveting. I remember telling Taylor a few years ago that the best thing to do would be to have the cameramen work as outright snitches who would report even the suggestion of "teaming up" to Burnett and Co. Now, for all I know, they already do that. Assuming they don't--and while I like Burnett abruptly cutting the field in half--would doing so be the only real way to prevent the formation of alliances, or is it just a foregone conclusion regardless of producer tactics?

Kyle Wasko said...

Also (I forgot to mention this): excellent post.

Mark P said...

Saying that alliances destroy Survivor is like saying that defense destroys football --- it's been a part of the game since the start, so why argue about it? The producers have introduced enough twists into the game (hidden immunity idols, tribal shifts) to shake things up, plus players are generally more apt today to break alliances than they were 5-6 series ago.

O6 picks....Hurley, Kate, Jack, Sun, Jin, Claire. Of course, if you confirm these for me and spoil my Lost experience, I will turn the waters red with your blood.

Emmett Macfarlane said...

I'm betting Sun got off but not Jin... my 6th guess would be: Sawyer.