So the new season of Survivor began last night, and as late as 7:30 I was still undecided about watching. For 18 seasons I had watched religiously, suffered thunderstorms and sand fleas, rice depravation and exile isolation as the tribes dwindled down to a precious few, for 18 seasons I had spent Thursday nights at eight glued to some not quite tropical paradise, African veldt, or Australian wilderness, and then last season something happened. I voted myself off the island in the middle of the third episode.
It's not that Survivor 19 was necessarily inferior in any way. It was, after all, Survivor tried and true. There were the schemers. There were the boy scouts. There were the struggles of souls caught between honor and venery. There were the Faustian bargains. It was a different cast, but the stereotypes were pretty much the same, and the cast was no better, or no worse than most of the previous 18. Maybe, that was the problem: after 18 seasons of watching fellow human beings fighting the elements and each other in pursuit of a million dollars, maybe enough was enough. Had Survivor jumped the shark? To everything, especially television shows, there is a season. Had its season come?
Then along comes Survivor 20. And there they are—Colby and Jerri, Rupert and Cirie, Coach and Stephanie. Just when you get out, they drag you … you know the rest. Here they were back again—heroes and villains, the people you love to hate, the people you love to love. True, there was Russell, but then there was Boston Rob complete with the ubiquitous Red Sox ball cap as well. James is there with that winning smile, and you have to wonder if he still has an immunity idol in his backpack. JT's coming back with his 'aw shucks' modesty and his million bucks. What's a guy to do? At eight o'clock, like an alcoholic sneaking into a bar after an AA meeting, I'm sitting in front of the television, watching as four helicopters deliver the 20 superstars to beautiful Samoa.
The first episode was a two-hour extravaganza that had everything from lost bikini tops to broken limbs, wrung chicken necks to budding romance, and of course a good dose of preliminary scheming and back biting. There were tears. There was chest thumping braggadocio. There was humble pie. Of course there was beautifully photographed scenery. All presented with the customary Survivor manipulative editing. You might want to check out out Glen Boyd's review for more of the particulars.
The interesting thing about the Heroes and Villains hook they're using is that some heroes when clumped together with other heroes don't seem quite so heroic, and some villains turn into downright nice guys. Colby loses a challenge to Coach and suddenly Colby is ten years older, while Coach seems less the lying blowhard. Rob and Randy have at least something of a work ethic. Rupert, Mr. Dependable, can't make a fire with the flint. Cirie and Tom are every bit as Machiavellian as Russell and Parvati. Context is all. Spots are changing right before our eyes.
In the end when the saccharine Sugar gets voted out by her fellow heroes at tribal council after helping to screw up the immunity challenge, keeping everyone up at night with idle chatter, and turning off the straight arrow Colby with her temptress in the night machinations, you had to know it was coming. You had to know it was coming even after the red herrings thrown in by the editors to try for at least something that might pass for suspense. Perhaps the only real suspense came in the teaser for next week's show with Boston Rob passed out on the ground and getting medical attention. How can you not tune in? Although if there is a serious injury involved, you have to question the ethics of using it to promote the coming episode. In any case, we'll find out Thursday, if the news doesn't get out earlier.
The problem is that before that there is another reality based decision to make. The Amazing Race, season 16 begins Sunday. For 14seasons I have religiously watched…