Thursday, September 15, 2011

Survivor South Pacific Episode 1 Thoughts

The fall season is finally here. The time of year that the sun starts giving me a bit of a break from sweating, the stores start selling stuff for an entirely different season, and the TV world gets filled with brand new shows. When I was younger I was torn over my feelings of fall, because it meant that I had to return to the dreaded school but it also meant all my favourite shows would be trotting out fresh episodes. Now, things have changed because I now welcome school season (I don't have to go and it means no more kids distracting me by playing outside my window) and not all TV series start their season in the fall (there are now fresh shows year round). But fall is still the time the major networks bring out its big guns to premiere.

Last night kicked off the new TV fall season for me with Survivor South Pacific having its premiere episode. I know a lot of people and critics weren't big fans of last season, but I really enjoyed watching Boston Rob's complete dominance over all other castaways. It wasn't the best season, but characters like Secret Agent Phillip and Ralph the Rooster made it pretty entertaining. It was a strong enough season that I was really looking forward to what was in store for this time around.

This season brought back two elements that have been majorly criticized -- returning castaways and Redemption Island. I liked that Russell and Boston Rob returned last season, and my only disappointment is that Russell went out too early. I like the idea of bringing back established Survivor stars, even if it's a ratings stunt (the show isn't the powerhouse it once was). The key is making sure you bring back stars with the right dynamic and fit with the theme (in this case, players seeking redemption). As for the Redemption Island concept, I'll admit as a whole it was a flop the first time around. I liked watching the duals for survival, and didn't feel like it took away too much from the drama at camp (if I remember correctly, they just cut out the award challenges most weeks to fit the redemption duals in). The problem is that this 'game changing' addition didn't have any real effect on the game play. Both times the survivor returning from Redemption Island ended up getting voted off again right after returning. I do think that was mostly because Boston Rob had such a firm grip over his tribe, and that this scenario isn't likely to be repeated again (or for the sake of the concept's survival, the producers better hope it doesn't). Though I'm also not sure how much I'd love the idea of the castaway returning from Redemption Island ending up the eventual winner. It does allow for the game to evolve and remain sort of fresh, but I also wouldn't complain if they eventually return to the older format for future seasons.

The big news of this episode was the returns of Coach and Ozzy. Neither are the mega stars of Russel or Boston Rob, but both have a pretty big group of fans. Unlike last season, there isn't a rivalry between these two, and they actually never shared a season together. The thing they have in common is that both guys played pretty strong physical games, but were absolutely lousy at the mental and strategic game. This time around, both claimed they would be much stronger strategically and have learned from their past failures (both got fairly deep into the game their first time and then still made it on the tribal council the second time -- but never won, and both have been blindsided on one of their seasons).

It is a very different dynamic with Ozzy vs. Coach, then it was with Russell vs. Boston Rob (which lasted a whole 3 episodes last season). Neither Ozzy or Coach have reputations as manipulators or masters of the mind games, and so we're unlikely to see a team try to immediately vote one of them off (like we saw with Russell). Actually, early in the game both are going to be strong assets, because they're athletic and they help around camp. We'll likely see both stick around for a decent while, unless they end up getting on the nerves of their tribe mates (which I can see happening with Coach). I'll be happy to see both stay around, because even though they aren't personalities like Russell or Boston Rob, they still provide entertainment. Especially Coach, who lives in his own magical world and is known to be a little delusional. The two returnees will bring different things to the table than last season's returnees, and thus create a different type of season -- which is a good thing.

The big difference from this season and the last, is that the fact there isn't a built in rivalry between the two returning castaways. The first episode of last season was so compelling because the fact there was real tension between the two, and you had moments like Russell reveling in the defeat of Boston Rob. You don't get that here, because neither guy really knows the other. They actually admit right off the bat that they respect the game play of each other. You lose something right away, because now they're just returning player rather than guys who desperately want to embarrass the other. They started off the show with both Coach and Ozzy battling against each other for the award, and you could sense the lack of energy between the two and the competition because again, there wasn't any type of rivalry. But of course, a rivalry has potential to develop as the season progresses or even a rivalry between other players, but it unfortunately lacked at the start.

As a first episode, I felt it fell a little flat. That is probably partly due to the fact that many of the more recent seasons started off with really strong premiere episodes with over the top personalities. Coach was still his usual odd ball self, but he was a bit more humble and subdued then in the past. Ozzy was never really a huge personality to begin with, and he kept up that trend here. Survivor thrives when there is conflict and personalities clashing, but there wasn't too much of that in this episode. The one big clash was when Semhar confronted Jim over his comment that she didn't take it hard enough that they lost the immunity challenge. It wasn't one that brought the fireworks and craziness that I've grown to love from Survivor.

I haven't given up on it yet, and I do feel it has the right personalities to make it a very entertaining season. It will be interesting watching Ozzy and Coach try to adapt their game in order to make it far. Both have been put in leadership type roles for their tribe so they'll either need to step it up or go to Redemption Island early. Unlike last season, it doesn't look like either tribe is being controlled by the returnee, which means there are a lot of chances for backstabbing and alliance making.

The season has some characters that have potential to be really interesting. Cochrane is a quirky little super fan who isn't athletic, but looks like he has the potential to do some interesting strategizing. Even if he doesn't he is a unique enough personality where he'll be entertaining while he lasts. Though his lack of self confidence may be his downfall, and actually it got me pretty annoyed by him at the end. I'm sort of surprised his tribal council whining didn't end up in his exit. Jim Rice is another guy who could be pretty interesting because he looks like he is more than happy to lie and backstab. He also seems to be overly cocky and pretty opinionated. He wants to run the show, which either means he goes far or takes a really early exit. I'm going to predict he does a misstep and goes home within the next few episodes. This season got the usual bevy of young, 'bikini'ed beauties, and usually you either get some interesting personalities from that or the vapid types that hang around while offering nothing. I can see Whitney as one of those girls that sticks around for a long time, and becomes a real threat to win depending on the type of jury we get (like when Natalie won Survivor Samoa, mostly due to the fact people were bitter towards Russell). Brandon Hantz can be a pretty interesting character, because he is the nephew of the notorious Russell. He's also going to have to come up with a strategy of convincing his tribe mates that it's okay that he never takes off his shirt, so he can avoid revealing his 'Little Hantz' and 'Hantz' tattoos (he's assuming the group is smart enough to tie that with him being related to Russell). Brandon is also really interesting because he argues so hard that he is nothing like Russell and is going to play an honest game that you sort of wonder how much of it is an act. I also found him entertaining when he went on about how he didn't like Mikayla because she flaunts herself, which is opposed to his religious beliefs. Meanwhile, he continues to stare at her through the bushes.

I think, it has potential to be a fun season, even though I wasn't in love with the premiere. I think, I also had pretty high expectation because I've really enjoyed some of the recent offerings. It will just take time for some of the personalities to come out and the players to start implementing their strategies. I believe there is some great opportunities for fireworks and more importantly, blindsides. It will be interesting to see if a returnee can find redemption or if a new player has the chance to shine through.

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