Alright winners, we’re less than a week away now from the premiere of Australian Survivor 2017. We’ve had promos, we’ve had cast announcements, we’ve had speculation, we’ve even had a network in turmoil. But what does this all add up to in the collective conscious of Australian Survivor fans? If you want to know what the survey says you’ll need to ask Grant Denyer, if you want to know what Russell Feathers thinks then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s first briefly look at the 2016 season and discuss what worked and what didn’t.
Back to the Future
Those who’ve followed this blog in the past may recall my posts in the lead up to the last season (check them out here). I framed my discussion in four categories. Those were the prize money, the contestants, the location, and the host. You may recall that overall I was happy with the host and the location, as were the viewing public, and neither of those have changed so nothing really to discuss there, but let’s briefly go through the other two and see whether Australian Survivor passed muster.
The Booty (by that of course I mean the prize, but it’s not often I can legitimately use the word ‘booty’ so I take my opportunities where I can)
Last year I argued that the prize-money needs to be significant enough that a) contestants push themselves harder, and b) viewers, particularly new viewers, can relate to the ‘what would I do for a million dollars’ dilemma. It’s been revealed that $500K is what is on offer again this season and I can’t complain about that. While $1M has a nice ring to it, and I would argue is genuinely life-changing, $500K ain’t bad and I don’t think it negatively impacted the game for the contestants or the viewer’s experience. What we do know though, after watching Survivor New Zealand, is that the amount does definitely make a difference. I defy anyone to tell me that there aren’t contestants of that season who would’ve pushed harder had the booty been more significant (high five for that anyone?).
So while it could be worse, we can’t complain. Given the shape that Network Ten is in, it appears we’re lucky to get the $500K. Personally I’d be happy to see a little more in game product placement if that is a way of increasing prize-money. While that can feel somewhat grating on-screen, if that’s what it takes to raise the prize-money I’m all for it. Perhaps in future seasons we’ll have tribes named ‘Officeworks’, ‘Bunnings’, & ‘Jim’s Mowing’. There’s one other way I was hoping that they may have raised a cashwad to pump up that booty, but we’ll talk more about that a little later.
You Can’t Spell Castaways Without Cast
Last year I had a little bit of a rant about representation in the cast. They don’t seem to have changed much in this respect this season. The cast is marginally younger this season, both in average age and age range, with 75% (18) of the cast being 35 or younger as opposed to 68% (16) last season. Our oldest contestant this season is Mark H. at 51, last season was Peter at 62 (was he really a contestant though 🔥), and last season we had 3 contestants older than this season’s oldest (Peter, Des, Sue). This season we also see our youngest so far with 20 year old Ben. I guess if we learned anything from the ages of the contestants last season, it’s that age doesn’t seem to matter if you’ve got entertaining distinct characters. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying Brooke and Flick (Brick) were the same person, I would say they were interchangeable, we didn’t need both. Similarly with Peter, Sue, and Barry, and maybe even Kate and JL. Even Nick and Evan were very similar and had we seen more of Evan we might have had more than enough enthusiastic smart arse. Only time will tell if this season’s players are more distinct individuals. The biggest complaint I kept hearing last season though, was that there weren’t enough fans of the game.
They got game.
Looks like Henry’s here to pull off more cons than a Greek sex worker
It was a major gripe among the fans that I spoke with last season. “Where are the super fans? Don’t these people know what they’re doing?”. Before I go on it should be noted that I have no idea what it takes to put together a reality TV show. I have zero to do with the industry, so anything I discuss must be taken with the knowledge that it’s all opinion without any expertise. As a fan I get it, we’re used to seeing and admiring players like The Robs (both Boston and Cesternino), Tony, Sandra, Parvati, Russell, Jonny Fairplay. The list goes on and on. So I must admit, initially I agreed. I wanted more students of the game. Especially being a wannabe Survivor myself. The fact the Sam got on, who literally had never watched an episode in his life before he applied while there were I suspect thousands of fans like me out there who had applied that were disregarded, let’s just say my grapes were so sour they made balut taste like a whopper junior. But now we’ve seen the whole season, some of us more than once. We’ve seen the character arcs and the gameplay through to their conclusions, and there’s been mountains of speculation from the fans on how the game has changed under the Australian format and what strategy is needed to win.
One thing that became clear last season was that big moves early on did not pay off. Every player who played hard early, went home early. I’m talking Phoebe, Evan, Andy, Craig, Bianca, Rohan, and Kat. Arguably Nick would have gone home sooner had he not been lucky with tribal council twists. In response to this, the argument seems to have been that if you wanna get your hands on the booty in the Australian 55 day game then you have to play the patient game, fly under the radar until the end. Makes sense right? Now let’s imagine watching a season where every player does this. Yawn. So that’s one argument against a season full of superfans.
The game may not need douchebags, but the show sure does.
Admittedly the argument above is based on the idea that those fans who want to win would use the lay low strategy. If there’s anything we learned though from watching Game Changers, it’s that a game full of players who just want to make big moves can also make for difficult viewing. While Game Changers may have had some of my favourite players, as a viewer, it was not my favourite season. Far from it actually. Perhaps it’s the encroaching dementia, or perhaps when I’m not blogging a season I don’t make the effort to understand the dynamics, but I just could not get my head around all the strategy and alliances, voting blocks and trust clusters. This is why we need newbies. As much as so many of us complained so loudly about mateship and loyalty, if we were completely honest with ourselves, wouldn’t we say that we loved to be frustrated by Lee and Sam? That those moments of face palming, head desking, tv yelling were the things that we talked about with our friends and online the next day. As players I had zero respect for Sam and Lee, but if I were to try and imagine the experience of Australian Survivor season 1 (yes it is) without them, well, I don’t know that it would have been as fun. The game may not need douchebags, but the show sure does.
Let’s Twist Again
Arguably the most discussed topic of conversation amongst both superfans and newcomers to the show, were the twists. As a wannabe Survivor I found myself last season being upset, even angry at the producers that they had fucked with the game I love. I’m not talking about standard tribe swaps or what might be referred to as the ‘merge’. Quick side note, my two cents on the “three tribes to two is not called the ‘merge'” argument. Who gives a fuck? Are three tribes merging in to two? YES. Call it a fucking merge then. It makes no difference what it’s called. It just is what it is. If you’re seriously that hung up on the use of that word then you’re more anal than BLEEP BLEEP in a BLEEP with three BLEEP up BLEEP BLEEP.
No matter how beloved Survivor is, it’s not a religion (yet). There are no words that are sacrosanct. It literally does not make a difference that it was referred to as a ‘merge’. End rant, back to what I was saying. The twists I’m referring to, are the ones in which the players are deceived. That is, they’re led to believe that they are voting someone out of the game, but in reality, they’re voting them off their tribe. I still contend that it’s bullshit. As much as there is room to play with the formula (and use the word merge liberally), there is a time when messing with the conventions changes the game completely. I’d be very very surprised if anybody, and I mean ANYBODY, player or viewer, suspected that there would tribal councils where players were not going home. To have a player believing, I would argue with good reason given the history of the game, that when you vote someone out at tribal they leave the game (or go to redemption, or whatever the given season’s mix-up is), but then turnaround and tell them that what they thought they were voting for was not what they were voting for at all?! Well that’s a cruel trick to play. That’s like telling Bazza that the try he just scored was actually a try for the other team because the ref just decided it was opposite day. I’m getting my dander up and need to settle down. Anyway, my point is, I hope they are careful about the twists that they implement, because they can potentially undermine what the game is about. Given these feelings I was glad to hear that the season would start with two tribes.
Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad (in fact it’s quite good really)
Now that we know what the initial title of the popular Jim Steinman song made famous by Meatloaf was (it was determined that Meatloaf fans don’t know what words are in parentheses are for and so don’t read them. (I can say that without fear of reprisal because it’s in parentheses #nestledparentheses)), we can discuss what two tribes of twelve means to the game. Of course, we don’t know for sure. As far as I’m aware there have never been two tribes of twelve against each other in Survivor before (happy to be corrected on this). What I will say though is, and as you might have guessed given some of my opinions on twists and what I thought of the craziness of game changers, that simplifying things like this could make things more interesting for the viewer. When we’ve merged from three tribes to two in the past, the alliances and relationships become complex and blurred. Arguably it is more interesting when loyalties are tested.
Channel Ten you can do (almost) anything to Survivor, just don’t do that.
I expect that loyalties will be stronger when you have two tribes move to three. Each of the new tribes will likely consist of a number of members of each of the previous tribe, potentially making things within the new tribe more tribalistic (hope I’m not confusing anyone with my use of that word here) or factional. I argue that it’s more exciting for the viewer having somebody flip from a previous strong alliance, borne of tribal, us against them lines, to the enemy side, than it is when voting blocks shift. Big moves are big moves because the person making them has had to make a bold decision. A fork in the road. Ultimately, it’s likely that one road is the right road, the other road leads to torch snuffing. When there are more than two prongs of the fork, I would argue that the gravity of the decision does not weigh so heavy. Potentially your pissing off 50% less people when you flip in a three tribe game as opposed to a two tribe game. Though the stakes are the same, the risk is smaller, and when the risk that you’ll blow the game is smaller, it’s less exciting for the viewer. I expect that after watching the season we will all agree that starting with two tribes was the best way to go for this very reason. We’ll wait and see. There is however one way in which the two tribe starting configuration could perhaps be bad. Even not ‘Ain’t Bad‘, but terrible. What I’m talking about is if we were to start with males versus females. Hopefully we’re past this sort of divisive bullshit and they don’t go there, but given the colours for the two tribes are pink and blue, I won’t be convinced that they don’t go there until I’m watching on Sunday night. Hopefully the above photo is evidence that this is not the case. Please oh please let it not be so. Channel Ten you can do (almost) anything to Survivor, just don’t do that.
Bet Out Of Hell
There’s just one more thing we need to talk about, and I vaguely alluded to it above. One thing above everything else marred my Survivor watching experience last season, and that was bookies’ odds. Somewhere early in the season, I happened to see that Kristie had the shortest gambling odds with various online gambling sites. At the time of the season that I became aware of this Kristie was a non-event and NO ONE would have expected her to win. Of course this made me, and many many others believe that the bookies knew something we didn’t. So the entire rest of the season was watched with this in the back of my head, always suspecting that Kristie was at least going to make it to the final two.
My first thought was that this must be stopped. It is unconscionable that the gambling public be tricked out of their money in this way. Perhaps though, there is a silver lining. I began to imagine a scenario whereby the producers had leaked the information so that they may surreptitiously (and certainly illegally) place their own bets knowing the outcome, take these proceeds of crime, and use them to invest in more Survivor and offer even greater BOOTY! (Much like a Sir Mix-a-Lot video clip, I had to fit at least one more booty in). Perhaps this is actually what happened and I’m on to something. If I should die under suspicious circumstances upon publication of this theory….
Regardless, this season I will do my best to ensure that I don’t come into contact with this information at any stage of the game. And if any of you out there are the type to post this information without adequate spoiler warning, then you are the worst type of human garbage imaginable.
And on that sunny note, that’s all Russell wrote (hey that rhymes). See you on Monday when I post my analysis of the premiere. Remember, I will always (Survivor gods willing), have my analysis available by 6am the morning after each episode airs. That way you can read it on the train on the way to work or first thing when you boot(y) up your work PC in the morning. Until then, I got nothing else for ya, head back to camp.