What a week it has been since my last article discussing what I want from an Australian season of Survivor (if you’ve not read that yet you can find it here). We now have an air date for the premiere episode, Sunday 21 August at 7:30 pm on TEN, and we know that we will get two episodes a week, Sunday night and Monday night. We already knew that we were going to see 24 contestants compete over 55 days, which is quite different from the traditional 18-20 contestants over 39 days that we have come to expect from the American series. What these changes mean for Survivor is hard to say, and may perhaps be up for discussion in my next post. If you have any thoughts about this I’d love to hear them in the comments below. For now, as I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve got two more aspects of Survivor I’d like to discuss and what they mean for the upcoming Australian season. I’ll also take some time to give my thoughts on the outcome of the 32nd American season.
The Location and The Game
In my opinion, anytime Survivor is set anywhere other than an island or jungle, it does not seem as interesting. Why this is I can’t put my finger on. I suspect that part of what makes survivor so engaging is the tropical, almost fantasy background. Surviving in the jungle is a totally different fantasy to me to surviving in the bush/outback. Again, it comes back to the fact that I, and other viewers, have no idea what life would be like in that environment. So distant in both space and surrounds from our comfort zones. When I think about Survivor not only am I imagining living with and competing against foreign people, I’m doing this in a completely foreign environment with foreign weather and foreign animals. Nowhere is the disparity between Survivor in the jungle and Survivor in other locations more evident than in the first Australian season of Survivor in 2002. I don’t remember feeling any of that sense of wonder, thrill, excitement and danger that the jungle/island location offers. My recollection is that the stale outback location also led to stale challenges. So it’s great to see that the producers seem to recognise this and the great game has been played out on a Samoan island. Big tick from me.
I defy anyone to tell me that the Probst factor is not a huge part of what makes the Survivor we know and love, the Survivor we know and love.
Last but certainly not least we have the Probst, I mean host. I defy anyone to tell me that the Probst factor is not a huge part of what makes the Survivor we know and love, the Survivor we know and love. What does Probst bring to Survivor? Well, for me it’s hard to define other than to call it that certain je ne sais Probst. Jeff knows how to push the contestants’ buttons. The man is all over every little interaction in camp, at least every important one. So when it comes to tribal council time, he knows what questions to ask whom to get maximum impact and start some shit. His impact certainly doesn’t start and end at tribal council. Not pulling your weight in a challenge? You know he’s gonna call you out on it. Not only is it what he does, it’s how he does it. The man has character. He’s entertaining and animated and engaging. There’s true excitement and energy in his voice when he’s cheering from the challenge sidelines. He delivers his probing enquiries at tribal with such delicious faux-naivety you can hear him winking to us the viewers.
By contrast, the host of the 2002 Australian Survivor was so boring I can’t even remember who he was. I can only recall the vaguest man-shaped blob of monotone vibration source that just seemed to kind of BE hovering at the periphery of the game. I won’t drone on about him any further lest I remind you of him, droning on. So what of The LaPaglia (doesn’t quite have the same ring as ‘The Probst’ does it?, not to mention that you need to follow it up with a LaPaglia qualifier, ‘Jonathan’)? Initially, I had my reservations. Having heard the hype surrounding Tyson’s campaign to host, (if you don’t know who I’m referring to now’s the time to google), I had already envisaged him hosting. Replacing Tyson in my imaginings with a LaPaglia that I wasn’t that familiar with coloured me dubious. Then there was the tweet where Probst himself did not look entirely convinced about the choice.
Since then we’ve seen the LaPaglia promo, and to be honest, that has allayed some of my fears. We see Jonathan getting amongst it, jeering and cheering from the sidelines like my under 11’s footy coach. Encouraging, but not accepting anything less than 100% effort. In terms of tribal council, I guess time will tell whether he can have the same impact that Jeff has. That ability to ask the questions that have truth bombs as answers, and then sit back and smile and watch contestants either fumble trying to disarm it, or burn as the whole council blows up. Though anyone who has watched the very first season of Survivor recently will appreciate just how much Jeff has grown into that. Perhaps expecting Jonathan to do that with the nonchalant grace with which Jeff does it is asking too much too soon. Again, a wait and see, but thus far I have seen nothing from Jonathan that I would be worried about.
Another thing which Jeff brings to the game for me is that he doesn’t put up with shit from quitters, which for a wannabe contestant is gratifying. There’s nothing more frustrating for me as a Survivor wannabe than seeing someone who has been given such an amazing opportunity to be part of the world’s greatest game basically say, “yeah, nah”… F that S! Sure, I know that not everyone who watches Survivor shares my burning desire to play it. But for me, and I’d imagine for many of the 14,000+ applicants for this season of Survivor, any contestant who decides to leave the game had better have a pretty good reason.
SURVIVOR SEASON 32 SPOILERS BELOW!
We need to talk about Michele.
There have been more opinions on the internet about last season’s outcome than Phillip Shepard mispronunciations of ‘Francesca’ (a lot). I came out of that finale not being able to shake the feeling that I did not know the game at all. I, and it seems many, many others, were of the opinion that Aubry was a clear winner. When she was not only beaten, but beaten soundly, I had to rethink what it meant to play survivor. For the most part, we did not see Michele DO much. Sure, she won challenges when it mattered, she flew under the radar and didn’t draw attention, or votes, to herself, but my experience as a Survivor fan is that you need to do more than that. We did not see a lot of strategy from her.
If the three pillars of Survivor gamespersonship are Strength, Strategy, and Sociability, what this season showed is that I have completely been underestimating the importance that sociability plays in that triumvirate. My take is that this is the first time that a contestant’s sociability alone has managed to get them the title. While there’s no denying that we’ve seen very strong social winners previously, to my mind they have always backed that up with a strong strategic or physical game. Or more often conversely, their social game has backed up their physical or strategic game. We didn’t see that from Michele (happy to see your counterarguments in the comments). In contrast, Aubry did play a strategic, physical game. Now I’m not for a second saying that Aubry ‘should’ have won. I’m a firm believer that Survivor is designed in such a way that the winner always deserves it.
Sure, I’ve heard argument that Michele only won because she was tight with Jason, Scot and Julia and they voted for their friend. Yeah, der, that’s Survivor! You have to play with the hand you’ve been dealt (insert your own masturbation joke here). Aubry judged that Jason and Scot would appreciate her tough, strategic gameplay. That was ultimately a misjudgement. With that particular jury, sociability scored the most points, and that is what resulted in Michele’s win. Of course it helped that she won challenges when it counted in order to actually withdraw on all that social currency that she had invested throughout the game. While I’m not saying that Aubry didn’t make her own deposits in social institutions, unfortunately the institutions she chose to invest in either didn’t pay the same dividends as the bank of Jason, Scot and Julia (for instance Tai’s Community Building Society), or straight up crashed out of the market (Neal-man Sachs).
Of course, none can deny that luck also plays its part. With so many, many things out of your control in the game, there is little chance that you can make it to the end without more than a little luck. Michele was dealt a hand that worked well for her and she played it for all that it was worth, a nice contribution to the title of sole survivor. For me and it seems many others, that was unsatisfying outcome as Aubry seemed to be a bigger fan favourite than Michele. If there’s anything Survivor has taught us though it’s that winning is not about being the most entertaining contestant for the fans. Have a differing or complementary opinion? Let me know below.
Next time on, Drop Your Buffs!…
With only a little over a week until we’re off to the races, the next post will be post-premiere (that’s a lot of post). I’ll settle into regular programming where I will be dissecting who seem to be the major players, and which moves work and which don’t. You know, all the typical water-cooler/armchair survivor conversation. Until then, I’ve got nothing for you, head back to camp.
– Russell Feathers