John Walker's Electronic House

In Defense Of Survivor

by on May.09, 2008, under Television

Oh, this has been the best season of Survivor ever.

I know, you don’t care, you think it sucks despite never having watched it, you saw the abortive version ITV made about six years ago and think it’s that, but you never really watched it but read on a website that it was shit. Well, screw you, because you’re wrong. There – I came right out and said it.

It’s been an incredible season of back-stabbing, fantastic tactical voting, proof that the hidden immunity idol is the best new ingredient they could have added to the show about four seasons back, and a demonstration that experience is key, with a Fans Versus Favourites theme. The way the girls have manipulated the guys, managed to get two men in a row voted out despite their having the immunity idol to play, and then Amanda using the hidden idol to save herself in a wonderful shock moment, has been fantastic. But nothing compares to this week’s, where the four remaining girls somehow managed to talk the one remaining guy, 21 year old Eric, to give up guaranteed immunity so they could vote him out. It was a laugh-out-loud joy to watch as they tricked the poor boy into dancing like their puppet.

I don’t understand people’s prejudice against Survivor. Perhaps it’s reality-show fatigue, despite Survivor being one of the first, and consistently the best, and now bearing almost nothing in common with most unscripted nonsense. Perhaps it’s because for the first couple of years it wasn’t that slick. But now I cannot comprehend what problem people could have.

First: It’s about being stranded on a deserted island with only your wits to survive, only eating what you can find or catch (or win), building shelters, fighting hard to survive – surely that Robinson Crusoe fantasy touches us all a bit?

Second: It’s competitive. Watching people take part in ludicrously elaborate assault courses is always great! The work that goes into building these things is immense, vast structures erected out of wood and rope in these remote islands, just for an hour.

Third: The production. It’s shot on expensive film, with the most incredible aerial footage, helicopter shots, and Discovery Channel/BBC-esque quality nature footage. They’re now so damned good at making Survivor that you never nag yourself with the reality that there’s cameramen everywhere – they’re invisible to your brain as well as your eyes. It’s just so slick, so expensive-looking.

Fourth: The editing. Every episode tells a story. And of course it’s constructed from selecting 43 minutes out of 72 hours, and they could tell any story they wishes this way. But what they do is tell you enough story so that the vote at the end contains high drama. It’s about unbalancing your expectations, suggesting inevitability, but then the hint of a twist. When the decision seems so certain, they can edit it to introduce enough doubt in your mind that the result you expected surprises you.

Fifth: People. It’s people, interacting, in really odd conditions. And not like Big Brother, where they gather the stupid and the prod them until they start fighting. This is a genuine mix of people – and yes, some who want TV time to promote themselves – but others who are, say, sullen gravediggers who just want the money, or adorable quiet men who use wit and science to beat the others in physical challenges (seriously, Yau-Man was a hero, who genuinely applied physics to outdo muscles) or overweight nurses who turn out to be brilliantly smart players who control everyone from a position of apparent innocence, even on her second time out there. Man, I love Cerie. The first time I saw her on her first season I dismissed her as a fool afraid of touching a fish. And then realised she was brilliant. This time out, she’s doubly brilliant, and should win. I went off track. They’re not all the bimbos you think they are. Very few are, and it’s funny to watch them flail in the face of smarter, harder working people.

In conclusion, watch Survivor, you rubbish idiots.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Chris Chapman

    Entirely at your insistence above, and against my better judgment, I’ve just finished watching Survivor’s latest season. And it pains me to admit that you’re right, that it’s a great (though sometimes annoyingly American) show. Not because I have a problem with being wrong about something, but because I now have 15 more seasons of this show to catch up on. Curse you, Walker.