Winners at War? More like Whiners at War. Or Winners at Warm Fuzzy Feelings. Or Winners on the Survivor Celebrity Cruise. [takes a bow]
These are all alternate subtitles for this past “greatest of all-time” season of Survivor (these are also names I flirted with for the headline of this post, and I just couldn’t bear to part with them. So, bonus titles! You’re welcome).
Without doing the arithmetic, I’ve probably posted more about Survivor than any other subject on this blog (are we still saying “blog?” Pop culture review? Internet phenomenon? Literary TikTok?). Certainly I’ve written more words about it than any other show, if the memory of my epic poem-length recaps serves correctly. So there ever was a time to dip my toes back into that clear blue Fijian water, it certainly seems like that time is now. With Season 40 just barely in our rear view, here are my thoughts:
I hated it.
Okay, that is not entirely true or accurate. But it was a letdown, peaking mid-season with the back-to-back-to-back eliminations of Boston Rob, Parvati and Sandra, and then not quite reaching that gear again. All things considered it will probably end up near the bottom of my top 10, or maybe even in the top 15 (I need to do a proper ranking, but perhaps that’s a post for another day). However, this season – as has been the trend in recent Survivor times – succeeded in spite of itself. And I shall endeavor to tell you why (buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy, scattered ride).
When Survivor: Nicaragua began we were unsure if it would be able to capture our attention, lacking the unbelievable drama of the previous season’s Heroes vs. Villains edition, and, more specifically, devoid of the Boston Rob-Russell Hantz showdown that defined that season and should have, at the very least, earned it an Emmy nomination. To our surprise, we were hooked on Nicaragua even though it didn’t offer those familiar personalities (or even offer any truly engaging new personalities, save for Jimmy Johnson (who, to be fair, was not really a new personality)). But when we talk about Nicaragua, then and now, it succeeded despite having anything that approximated the Rob-Russell Clash of the Titans. And when we talk about anything approximating the Rob-Russell Clash of the Titans, what we really mean is specifically another Rob and Russell battle.
Well, hold onto your buffs, because it’s happening again.
Read on: Dreams do come true, but we’re conflicted. And what does this have to do with Freaks and Geeks?
We we came home to an unexpected treat last night. No, not the Rangers-Islanders game broadcast in 3D (because who besides Future Marty McFly owns a 3D TV? (although, I guess future Marty McFly would now be Present Marty McFly, but that’s there not here)). We’re talking about a special Wednesday episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (moved up a night, as is the yearly tradition, to accommodate March Madness, or, as I think of it, Annual Exploitation of College Kids in Order to Line the Already Deep Pockets of Television Networks and Elite Universities While at the Same Time Deferring Attention From the Start of the Baseball Season Madness. Wow, two sports references in the first paragraph. We’ll stop, promise). And boy, was it ever special.
After our hero Lt. Tom Westman was voted out two weeks ago we* were glad that the show had a mini-hiatus last week. We needed the time to mourn, to come to terms, to learn to love again. And honestly, when the show started last night we didn’t know if we still had the desire. Perhaps the spark was gone. And when it soon became clear that Colby, Tom’s deputy and the last remaining true hero, and Russell, the most entertaining and devious competitor, were on the chopping block our excitement for the rest of the season was diminished even further. A show with no Tom, no Colby, no Russell (and no curmudgeonly Randy)? Would that even be a show worth watching? Why continue tuning in to see Rupert sacrifice his integrity for a weak alliance, to see James hobble his way through challenges and jackass his way through Tribal Councils, to see Courtney literally waste away, to see Sandra make it to the final three by doing absolutely nothing (and to begrudgingly see Boston Rob dominate physically and mentally). I’m just not sure that’s a show I want to watch.
And after the combination reward/immunity challenge, and the promise of both tribes going to Council, the show tried to tease us into thinking that Russell would maybe outsmart Boston Rob, and that perhaps the Heroes tribe would (a week too late) vote out James if he couldn’t beat JT in a footrace. But we knew better than that. They were just trying to create false drama, a faint, feigned glimmer of hope that our white knight and our red devil wouldn’t be going home. Sorry, Survivor, you can’t fool us that easily.
No, not this way…
And so begins my long overdue thoughts on Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. It’s a shame we have to start on such a sour note.
A few weeks ago my mom and I were talking about the Tiger Woods scandal (it was what she came up with after brainstorming topics for dinner conversation) and she asked me if there was some one in the public eye, a role model perhaps, that would really break my heart if they were exposed to be in some kind of scandal or lascivious activity. I told her that as I’ve become an adult I’ve learned to let go of such things, that as a 26 year-old you can’t put another person, especially a public persona, on such a pedestal. She suggested that we should hold these people to a higher moral standard, but I argued just the opposite, that with celebrities – actors, musicians, athletes, politicians – we should expect less adherence to a moral code. These are people who are told they are great, they are special, and thus think they are exempt from common behavior, that they are above the law, both legally and morally. Now there are, of course, exceptions, but too often their celebrity status goes to their heads, and they think the rules don’t apply to them. And the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and the less we should be surprised when they do. Sad but true. So to answer my mother’s question, there was no one I could think of whom I believed in so deeply that any discovery of indiscretion would be utterly soul crushing (unless it was revealed that Tom Hanks has cheated on Rita Wilson with a harem of Golden Corral buffet attendants, but I can think of almost nothing less likely).
However, a couple nights later I sat down to dig into the premiere of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains and I realized that I was mistaken. There remained at least one person I felt that strongly about, whom I believed to be nearly infallible, with whom I couldn’t fault and would be shocked to learn of one. And that man is former Brooklyn firefighter Tom Westman. Yes, as a fellow Long Islander I’m biased. But the way he so thoroughly dominated Survivor: Palau is really unparalleled in the show’s history, and he did so by a mixture of uncanny physical prowess and the utmost integrity. In my eyes he played a flawless game, and perhaps became the last role model standing.
Read on: The one true Hero…
That’s right, Long Island’s own Tom Westman is officially back in the game for Heroes Vs. Villains. I stopped watching Survivor a season or two after Tom absolutely dominated Palau, and while the real reason I ceased watching is that there were just too many good shows on Thursday night (and at the time my TiVo could only handle one channel at once), I’d like to think that after Tom every other competitor just paled in comparison. He’s five years older now, but hopefully five years awesomer.
The only thing better would have been if Michael Skupin rose from the ashes and returned. But that’ll never happen (I’m still sore about his departure, though. His Kucha tribe was one of the strongest in the history of the game, and if he didn’t have to bow out due to his melting flesh then Kucha would have probably run the table in impressive fashion). I do have to say though, I’m kinda over Rupert. The good guy/Hillbilly Jim act has worn rather thin.
Check out Survivor authority Dalton Ross’ take on the new all-star season.