Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I'm already having Survivor withdrawal...

I really feel sorry for people who gave up on Survivor, because they just missed an epic season, one that I’m sure will go down in the books as one of the best in the series. Blindsides, injuries, tears, jealousy, bitterness, triumph… it was all there. I don’t know if it was the contestants themselves or better-than-usual editing, but all the survivors seemed much more three-dimensional this season… like they were actual people playing a game as opposed to a collection of caricatures put together for the sake of fireworks. Also, strategy seemed to trump popularity more often than not, too, which was refreshing. Finally, there were moments of pure gameplay – as in, Survivor specific tactics – resulting in spectacular Tribal Councils. These players finally figured out how to use the elements of the game to get as far as they could go, and it was deliciously good television.

More shameless Survivor fan-gushing after the jump...

Since I just praised the brilliant gameplay shown this season, I suppose I should also mention that this season saw some of the worst playing ever as well. One contestant, a darling young man named Erik, actually gave away his immunity for the sake of “redemption”, and instead received the brutal snuffing of his torch (not to mention his self-esteem) and the title “Dumbest Survivor Ever.” This season was all about the Immunity Idol, an outcome I’m sure the producers had been hoping for since the Idol’s inception, only to watch it become irrelevant among the petty interpersonal conflicts in the tribe, or worse, not get used at all because it was found by a moron (this has happened often in Survivor history). This time around, though, the Idol achieved its purpose… it was used as currency, as defense, and ultimately as the means of several players’ destruction. Holders of the Idol failed to use it when they were clearly at risk (TWICE!) and for the first time in Survivor history, the Idol saved the life of a Survivor and sent an unsuspecting player home. In every season of Survivor, there are brilliant moves and horrifically stupid moves, but this season, the good players not only recognized weakness, but seized the advantage. It is one thing to sit back and watch someone make a stupid move; it’s another to capitalize on it.

The Blindside Hall of Shame (and bad Survivor Hair). As far as I'm concerned, they're all the Dumbest. Survivor. Ever.

Also of import this season: an all female Final Four. The women really took control and proved beyond any doubt that Survivor is just as mental and strategic as it is physical. In fact, I’m tempted to say the challenges had little to no effect on the outcome of the game, barring the final immunity challenges. Erik, who I mentioned before, only got as far as he did because of his prowess in the challenges, but he couldn’t compete with the ladies when it came to the social aspect of the game, and had to settle for 5th place. Speaking on challenges, I’ve always been irritated by the show’s emphasis on challenge winning, an opinion that only got stronger watching Ozzy make it to the Final 3 of the Cook Islands. He didn’t play any kind of game! He won challenges… that is all. While I found him charming and easy to look at, I was very happy when he lost to Yul, because it just demonstrated that one can’t simply win Survivor by shutting everyone out in physical challenges (Ok, one can, but it’s boring, ok?). And this season, Ozzy’s refusal to accept the possibility that the other players wouldn’t just allow him to coast to the finals based on challenge wins resulted in a spectacular blindside at Tribal Council courtesy of Cirie and Parvati, and well… it made me about as happy as any television show ever has. I rode that one for weeks.

Back to the all female Final Four! The thing I loved about the last chapters of this season, besides the fact that I’m a super-mega-feminist that loves to see women beat men at things, was the fact that all four women actually had a conceivable chance of winning.

Parvati aligned with three other strong players right at the go, all of whom made it to the merge, and after that, she successfully brought in two members of the other tribe to add to her numbers. Also, she worked with Cirie to betray her original alliance and vote out the Prodigal Douche, Ozzy.

Cirie orchestrated the demise of several key players, even as far back as Yau-Man in Week 2. She managed to navigate carefully through several different iterations of her original alliance without drawing attention to herself. AND she did my favorite thing, which is she manipulated the people around her without being pushy. Cirie is a master at behind-the-scenes subterfuge… she was frikkin’ invisible.

Natalie, who didn’t even get screen-time until the last few weeks, pulled off two major coups: she convinced Jason not to use his Idol (and then voted him out), and then she convinced Erik to give her immunity (and then VOTED HIM OUT!). While she didn’t do any of those things alone, she definitely played a part, and I think the jury may have given her some credit.

Finally, there’s Amanda. I really like Amanda… I liked her in her China Season and I liked her in this Season. She played what seemed like a perfect game: she stayed loyal to her alliances, won challenges, and formed close bonds. She truly is a great player, having pulled off two final appearances in just as many seasons. I can’t take any of that away from her.

So once we hit Final Four, Natalie was the first to go. I wasn’t surprised. Even though she had formed some tight bonds with Parvati, I doubt she was shocked when the Trio of Amanda, Parv, and Cirie sent her packing.

The last few seasons of Survivor have ended in a Final Three at Tribal Council, so it was a huge shock for the ladies to find out that the show would be returning to its original formula of a Final Two. At the last immunity challenge, I found myself rooting as hard as I could for Cirie, but like she said, it just wasn’t meant to be. I think she knew the second she lost that challenge to Amanda that her time was up. Cirie was truly the most under-rated player of the season. Many have said that a lot of her success was pure luck, especially the early dismissal of Jonathan Penner, her main rival, due to injury. While I can’t really argue with that, Cirie also played a huge part in the most dramatic vote-offs of the season. Honestly, I think Cirie might have taken the whole thing if she’d made it to the end. I was really sad to see her go.

At the final Tribal Council, we had Amanda and Parvati. Amanda planned to rely on her loyalty, truthiness, and her close bonds with the jury to get the win. Parvati only had her crucial strategic maneuvers to convince them. The Q & A was as silly and as spiteful as ever, and the editing was, as always, misleading. They want to make it seem as even as possible, I guess, because that’s good TV. The edit we saw implied that Amanda was treated fairly tenderly, while Parvati was verbally assaulted more than once. When the voting ended and Jeff left, it seemed like Amanda was a shoe-in for the win… she had more friends on the jury, and hadn’t done nearly as much to antagonize the group as Parvati. I felt in my gut, though, that Parvati might pull this out.

Here’s the thing: some players are always going to vote emotionally, even though it’s, like, insanely unsportsmanlike. But most of the time, regardless of whatever bile they throw out at the final Tribal Council, the jury almost always rewards the better strategic player. The Cook Islands is a perfect example. There was Ozzy, who was pretty much universally beloved by the jury, and Yul, who had stepped on some toes. The jury gave Yul a hard time, but ultimately gave him the money, simply because he had played a tactical game, as opposed to a passive one, like Ozzy. While Amanda definitely played a good overall game, including a masterful Idol blindside, she didn’t have any ammunition to counter Parvati’s ouster of Ozzy, which was not only awesome, but changed the course of the game completely. Compared to Parvati and Cirie, Amanda played a passive game, much like her game in China, and I’m convinced that if Cirie had been the third person at Tribal Council, Amanda wouldn’t have received any votes, except from maybe Ozzy, who we all know votes with his penis.

Indeed, this final vote was Amanda’s to lose. And yet… somehow she missed again. I would have been happy with an Amanda victory, not only because it would have redeemed her after a heartbreaking loss in China, but also, I don’t know… she seems like a good person. But that’s not Survivor, is it? Parvati played the better game, so I was more than satisfied when Jeff announced her as the winner. She wasn’t my favorite player, nor was she all that great of a personality, but you have to give her the snaps. She worked it out. And we shouldn't feel too bad for Amanda. After all, she landed a hot jungle-dude (she's dating Ozzy), so she'll never want for coconuts. And apparently, there's a swimsuit calendar in the works. She'll be fine.

Survivor really is an amazing game. If you think about it, it’s really three games: Pre-merge, Post-merge, and Endgame. I think it’s safe to say that Amanda is the best Pre-merge and Post-merge player we’ve seen in a long time, the proof being that she got to the finale two seasons in a row basically playing the same kind of game in both. Her Achilles Heal is her Endgame. At the next to last Tribal, in which Amanda was forced to choose between Parvati and Cirie, Amanda made a huge show of crying over her decision. Look, I’m not insensitive, but that was a really bad move. Having watched Amanda play this game for two seasons in a row, I’m pretty confident that the tears were genuine, but tears never go well with a jury. Observe: there’s Amanda, crying her eyes out, when she’s just clenched a spot in the final. And there’s the jury, out of the game, thanks to her votes. Clearly, Amanda expected the jury to sympathize with her, and that maybe showing some emotion would endear her to them. But, come ON, these jurors don’t give a crap of she’s upset over having to cast a vote. Amanda should have looked Cirie in the eye and said something like, “I really don’t want to do this, but I’m absolutely sure that I can’t beat you in the final vote. Goodbye.” The jury doesn’t respect tears, they respect gameplay, and I think a little more strength and conviction from Amanda would have gone a long way towards earning her a much-deserved victory. What I’m saying is, “There’s no crying in Survivor,” and if Amanda is smart, she’ll never cry again. After all, those tears cost her 2 million dollars. Parvati, on the other hand, not only claimed her lying, back-stabbing, devious ways, but declared them necessary to achieve her goals. Of course, the jury sneered and got nasty with her because no one likes to admit they got beaten, but when all is said and done, they had no choice but to give her the money. It’s all about ego: the jury thinks, “I’m awesome! (Yay!) She beat me! (Boo!) She must be REALLY awesome if she beat me! (YAY!)”

So, congrats to Parvati! And cheers to another amazing season of Survivor. Even after 16 seasons, I still believe in this show. I’m super pumped about Gabon, Africa, and I’m even more super-pumped about the season after that, which is rumored to be set in a wintry climate. Just imagine: Survivor: Siberia. That would be sooooo awesome. And cold. Wait, a winter season would mean no shirtless hunks. I take it back, a winter season wouldn’t be awesome at all.

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