Everyone has the right to a minor guilty pleasure and since I’ve long given up Krispy Kreme doughnuts and other various deep fried, trans fatty treats, I figure indulging in Reality TV shouldn’t rank so high in the vice department. Actually, I find the term Reality TV to be a misnomer. Let me clarify by referring to an episode of The Simpsons: it was a particularly cutting parody of VH1’s Behind the Music where the narrator reports (with faux news anchor gravitas) that at one time The Simpsons was briefly replaced by a reality TV show developed by Fox. The show’s simple concept was to feature clips from a camera installed in the lady’s dressing room at Ann Taylor, and it was called “Peepin’ it Real.” It was a howler of a moment, but if you think about it, such an obscenely meretricious conceit would be correct in its category as Reality TV. There’s no pre-formulated situation, and more importantly, no visible presence of a camera that would unwittingly render the subject self conscious enough to monitor his true behavior. That’s why Candid Camera enjoyed such a popular following. And that’s why today’s “Reality TV” is really just Candid Camera whorishly dressed up with the late 20th Century Warholian promise of quick fame.
Reality Show junkie that I am, I’ve sat through the best (Survivor, The Amazing Race) to the dregs (My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, Paradise Hotel) and there’s good reason why Survivor has been regarded as the blue chip of its genre. I only recently had the chance to see the groundbreaking first edition, but after all the water cooler talk, I hunkered down to watch the Australian Outback edition which was the second of the series. Let’s just say that as of this writing, Survivor is on its twentieth installment (Heroes vs. Villains), and I haven’t missed a season since.
I’ve vacillated between sparing you the details of the game or risking your boredom with a dry textbook recount of the rules, so in interest of the latter I’ll just say that at its brilliant, simple, core, Survivor is a social game of human chess whereby a group of people are left to fend for themselves on a remote, exotic locale, usually an island. The person who is able to see the big picture, and can best adapt to and navigate through group and individual dynamics, will most likely avoid the attrition of its players through a voting process, to claim the million dollar prize and be the last person standing. But here’s the kick: even if the player has all these skills, it doesn’t guarantee victory because numerous variables exist that persistently militate against each contestant’s will to win. The producer’s whims to tweak the rules of the game, raw emotions, flawed logic, and conflicting motives have tremendous effect on the final outcome. This is not including the lying, manipulating and position jockeying of its members to add another layer of unpredictability. This is why each Survivor series is so varied and interesting.
In Australia, it seemed the Kucha tribe was poised to take it all. They had the numbers and they had the will and resolve to pick off their rival Ogakor tribe. But then, player Michael Skupin fainted face first right into the burning embers of a campfire he was tending. He was airlifted to the nearest hospital, his game ending abruptly. You can’t make up human drama like this. Kucha and Ogakor were dead even in numbers coming into the merge, but Tina Wesson of Ogakor sussed some very vital information about a player’s past votes. Knowing that previous votes count in case of a tie, Ogakor managed to exploit this information to oust the other team’s player (Jeff Varner), thus setting up Ogakor’s rise and Colby Donaldson’s dominance in the individual challenges. It was his game to lose, and he did – to Tina Wesson, a 42 year old nurse and mother of two.
The DVDs chronicle the entire series in all its drama, backstabbing and political strategizing. Also included are voice over commentaries for six of the episodes as well as a bonus DVD of outtakes called, “The Greatest and Most Outrageous Moments”. They’re welcome extras for the Survivor fan, and entertaining to watch, but they don’t add further insight to the game itself.
Though in my opinion, later seasons have been more entertaining, Australia is still great to watch because you really care about the people playing the game — even the ones edited to be made less likable. Producer Mark Burnett knows this and he shrewdly casts people with outsize personalities to participate. No one can forget uber-bitch Jerri, sweetheart Elisabeth, brazen Maralyn, the avuncular Rodger or mouthy Alicia. They’re all somewhat single-faceted personalities; by no means do we get an accurate human picture of these players. But we certainly get a glimpse here and there into what they’re made of. Colby, for instance, was perceived, at least by the television viewing audience, as unstoppable, strategic, cunning, and determined, but one thing no one counted on was Colby’s sense of honor to his word. After winning final immunity, he had a choice to remove either Keith or Tina — the latter, a maternal, observant woman who equaled Colby in likability, and therefore would have posed a major challenge to Colby’s win in the final vote. As it goes, Colby was reluctant to betray his early alliance with Tina, ousting Keith instead – a dull, unpopular player who Colby could have handily beaten in a jury vote. Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up. And these days, that’s as close to “Reality TV” you’re going to get without installing a camera in your neighbor’s shower.
My other Survivor related articles:
Pearl Islands DVD Review
Don’t forget to check out My Recaps of the currents season, Heroes vs. Villains:
Episode 1 – Recap – Sugar Boobs
Episode 2 – Recap – Another Hero Bites the Dust
Episode 3 – Recap – Randy gets Rooted Out
Episode 4 – Recap – I’ll Have One BlindSide to Go
Episode 5 – Recap – Are You Seriously Keeping the Gimp?
Episode 7 – Recap – Robbed!
Episode 8 – The Dragonslayer is Slain