Friday, February 19, 2010

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, "It's Getting the Best of Me": Puzzle palace

A review of tonight's "Survivor" coming up just as soon as I come down with a case of crybabyitis...

After the giddy rush I had jumping back into the "Survivor" pool last week, episode two reminded me of some of the reasons I'd become wary of the show before, and also why all-star seasons are often more fun in theory than in practice.

When you watch the show long enough, you begin to get a strong sense of how the editing works. So when the two teams headed to an Immunity Challenge midway through an episode where the only talk of voting someone out came from the Heroes' camp, I knew they were gonna lose and go to Tribal Council - just as I knew that the vote would go against Stephenie and not Amanda, since Amanda had gotten precious little screen time this week. So I had to sit through the Immunity Challenge, the plotting afterwards, and Tribal Council all knowing what the outcomes would be.

And, in the process, I had to sit through a bunch of the "Heroes" - Stephenie and James in particular - being really unpleasant to each other.

With the exception of Boston Rob, no player has returned to the game a second time and become more likable, and often it's less. Colby looked bored and less than invincible in All-Stars (as he does here). Stephenie came back for Guatemala and seemed much more obnoxious in success than she'd been in repeated defeat on Palau. And James somehow managed to be a complete ass about how the Immunity Challenge went, even though he was exactly right. That was one of the uglier Tribal Councils I can remember, capped off by James continuing to be a jerk even in victory when he told Stephenie "Shut your mouth" after she vented when she was voted off.

It certainly doesn't help that the Heroes have lost twice now - either they really stink at puzzles or they simply lack a puzzle savant like Rob - and therefore have had to turn on each other. The only tension on the Villains team at the moment came from Rob's fainting spell(*) and then from Russell's predictable jealousy that Rob has become his team's leader while no one is bowing at his altar. The Heroes, meanwhile, are eating each other alive, and it ain't pretty (and not just because the current dominant alliance features a couple of players I dislike in Rupert and James, where Tom currently looks to be in big trouble).

(*) I believe that Rob did have a moment of exhaustion, but how much of his tearful speech do you reckon was authentic, versus Rob vying for attention? It doesn't seem like him to pull such a move, but he's also such a reality show veteran at this point that he has to know how to create a memorable moment.

So, so far this season, we've had one episode I loved and one that really annoyed me. We've got one more episode to break the tie before the NBC comedies come back, but if it's another one like last night's, I think I may walk away before I start to hate everybody on this season.

What did everybody else think?

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Alan,

How much lag time is there between when the seasons are filmed and when they air? We know Russell, went straight to film H vs. V before the Somoa finale, isnt it likely that no one knows anything about him or how he played the game, other than that he was a "Villian," of course?

Anonymous said...

Generally, when someone gets ill or suffers an injury, you see a basic shot as everyone scrambles to get the medical team in. When Rob fell ill, there were loads of edits and close-ups. Maybe the camera crew just had a few minutes before medical arrived, but what I saw on TV looked awfully "stagey." Regardless, Boston Rob has been the most admirable/likeable player this season.

Anonymous said...

Alan:

With you being so anti-spoiler in your reviews, I'm surprised that you continually try to let the air out of Survivor by giving a road map for figuring out early on the episode who is going home.

Survivor may not be your cup of tea, but many people enjoy it. We appreciate your witty commentary - but please don't be the guy in the audience at the magic show loudly telling everyone how the trick was done.

Some people like to enjoy the show as it unfolds.

Thanks!

LeeZy said...

After 20 Seasons!!! of Survivor, the parlor tricks they use on the audience is highly apparent to the casual viewer and not to just TV critics like Alan. When I looked at the clock and saw it was only 8:30 when the Immunity challenge was over, I knew something was going to get built up... BIG TIME.

Dan said...

First anonymous, there were several comments from some of the Villains about how they knew what he was up to. We don't know whether that means that they got to watch footage from Russell's not-yet-aired season or whether it was because a Survivor veteran would immediately see through his schtick, unlike the idiots from his season.

Any thoughts on James possibly having roid rage? He's WAY bigger than in the past, and this behavior is completely out of character for him. Obviously we'll never know one way or the other, but where there's smoke...

Carrie said...

I might be saying this just because I'm a huge Boston Rob fan, or maybe I'm just taking Conan's advice to be less cynical, but I choose to believe Rob's breakdown was real. When something medically scary happens to you, it's easy to let your emotions take over. Also, Rob is a married guy with a kid now and perhaps has more to miss off the island, making this season harder.

Okay, I'll stop it now. ;)

Anonymous said...

Watching Survivor is like reading a Dan Brown novel, you have to turn off your mind and just enjoy the ride. If you become too cyncial/critical you will see the obvious, ruin the suspense and be left feeling unfullfilled.

Robin said...

@Carrie, you have a good point about Rob and his having a family now. Also, I can't remember in 3 seasons (2 Survivor, 1 TAR) where Rob ever got sick/hurt in any way. Everyone reacts to such things differently, and extreme dehydration can make people act bizarre. I don't think it was faked, but it might have been over-edited on the production side.

So far, I think this season is superior to either one of the past All-Stars. But maybe that's just because I'm rooting for the Villi ans tribe.

Mr Whirly said...

Because Y'all haven't watched recent seasons, Y'all didn't see the parallels between that Tribal Council and the previous season's battle between Ben and Jaisson.
In that case, Jaisson (black) accused Ben (white) of racism. While this season we have James (black male) verbally assaulting Steph (white female.) I don't think "Y'all" can be considered an ephithet either racist or sexist but James was certainly being abusive.
All that being said, I have a hard time taking it seriously because it is not reality. It is a TV show and a game and a performance. I love the editing on Survivor and I often catch myself being manipulated by Mark Burnett's editors and am in awe of their skill. They should work for the government in putting us all to sleep.
I'll keep watching for the editing and the fun and to see Russell win because HE knows how to "play" this game.

Dianora said...

Alan, I'm totally with you on the predictability of the show -- it was obvious Steph would be voted off. Cirie must be tighter with Amanda than she wants everyone to think.

What really bothers me is that this show continues to give a venue to James, who clearly has problems with women, and who knowingly uses his size to intimidate them. Disgusting.

Carrie said...

I just realized I referred to them being on an island. I have no idea if they are on an island or not.

I've been watching too much Lost.

padawansguide said...

According to Jeff Probst, Rob had the flu, a local Samoan flu that hit a lot of the crew - so he wasn't faking...

http://popwatch.ew.com/2010/02/19/jeff-probst-blogs-survivor-heroes-vs-villains-episode-2/

Kelly said...

I was really surprised by how vicious and mean James was in this episode. I never saw his original season and I only vaguely remember him as the guy who left the game becuase of a cut on his finger - he didn't stand out to me at all. I assume from most of the comments that he wasn't like this in the other two seasons? He just struck me as someone who was extremely unstable and I was surprised they would keep bringing someone that powerful and unstable back...

While I don't disagree with Alan's assessment of Colby (his heart just doesn't seem to be in the game like it was the first season he was on) I think he has a bit more spark in this season than the All-Stars. And I loved how he defended Stephenie at the Tribal Council. It kind of got me all swoony and reminded me why I had such a crush on him on the Australia season. Hee!

Jill Mader said...

I have to disagree, I think this was a great episode and that all-stars seasons work great. And, I think Parvati was definitely more likable the second time around. In her first season, she was a flirt with no strategy. Her second time around, she ran the show and proved herself to be one of the strongest strategists in the game.

James went overboard with his ranting, but I think Tom showed some true colors that I don't like. Check out my blog, Couchtime With Jill, to read why.

Hollywoodaholic said...

No one on his team knows Russell's game since this season starting filming less than three weeks after the the last one ended and before it aired. They also haven't shown him searching for any hidden immunity idols yet? Wonder why. My favorite part was the cameraman recreating Boston Rob's POV sway and faint. Stick with the show, Alan, it's classic stuff.

amysusanne said...

As much of dick as James was being, the main thing that jumped out at me is that Tom is still the controlling bully he always was on his own season. Everyone loves Tom and I've never really understood that because he's worse than most of the villians combined, probably because he seems to sincerely believe that he is more noble and a better person than the rest of the players. James needed to shut up and stop yelling at Steph. He made his point. But, Tom calling someone else a bully made most of my irritation with James disappear. It didn't help that he and Colby either misunderstood what James was saying or twisted it for their own purposes. That's always an irritating part of tribal council (or the editing of tribal council).

re: the roid rage comment above, that seems a little silly. I didn't see that at all. He seemed rather calm and in control even as he was shouting. James has a bratty outburst at least once every season that he's on. I didn't think his initial gripes were unreasonable, he just kept at it to the point where it became absusive, like many past players. I also didn't see any parallels between the Ben/Jaison incident. There wasn't anything out of the ordinary about last night's tribal council and I certainly saw nothing regarding race or sex come out in it. Just because one player is a black male and one is a white female doesn't mean that their fight has anything to do with that. James and Steph both seemed very "in character" in those moments.

Regarding the Rob collapse, it seemed very clearly staged in the sense that they framed it in a way that left out what happened between the initial collapse and her finding him. I don't think he actually collapsed as much as he got light headed and went down, putting his stuff under his head himself. The initial stumbly camera work seemed to me to make it look like it was a more immediate, desperate moment than it really was. That said, I also don't think Rob was faking. I'm only basing that on what I know of Rob's tv persona, but he never struck me as someone who would go drama queen just for some good tv. I took his joke about having the flu and "cry baby-itis" to be a way of laughing of away a moment of weakness.

Anonymous said...

Best part of last night's episode was the mind trick that Cirie pulled on Candace. Cirie was going with Amanda's side all along and they didn't even need Candace's vote. But Cirie made Candace think those two were in it together and could jump to either side. "I don't care as long as its not one of us."

Now Cirie has the majority alliance she wanted all along PLUS she's gained a loyal minion in Candace. It was masterful. I don't even like Cirie but she's got serious game.

srpad said...

After a great opening episode, this is just typical survivor. I was not a fan of Stephenie (she seemed more villain with the way she acted in her second season to me) but she got the short end of the stick here.

I think one of the problems with these "All Star" seasons is the 20 people playing aren't strangers. many (most?) of them know each other already going in and I think that affects the dynamics quite a bit.

Alex said...

Couplea things:

Anon: no one has seen a second of Russell's season. He's a total stranger to them.

Dan: I don't think James is bigger. He's always been enormous. Not to say he couldn't be roiding it up, though; that's not a terrible hypothesis.

Sep: I think you have a point - Rob was probably really sick, but that doesn't mean he doesn't also know how to play to a camera.

I'm enjoying this season. I get your frustration, but I always have a good time with this show. I'll sit around for hours just watching Cirie manipulate people. I'm a little bit in love with her.

Hyde said...

I agree with the last Anon that watching Cirie pull her latest Jedi mind trick never gets old. In the debut episode, it looked like there was serious talk of voting her out. Now she's not only in a majority alliance, but she's in with James, the obvious lightning rod; Amanda, who has already been targeted as "weak" and is feared because she has gotten so far twice before; JT, who no one will want to see get too far for obvious reasons; and Rupert, who might be an easy boot down the line because of his injury. She's sitting relatively pretty.

James didn't even really deserve his previous All-Star status, and now he's back for a third time to prove he really doesn't understand the game at all? The Probst love affair with this guy is impossible to understand.

I really liked this episode for its intensity, which is, I think it's fair to say, unprecedented for a second week of the game. It's the fact that all these people are known quantities to the others that has made matters so heated right off the bat.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The Probst love affair with this guy is impossible to understand.

I'd say it's pretty easy to understand. Probst loves big, muscular dudes - he and Colby are buddies in real life - and unless they're a quitter like Osten, he tends to treat them as dominant players, whether they are (Tom, Boston Rob) or not (James).

tribalism said...

I’m glad that Tom called James out on his bullying—something the big guy denied he was even engaging in—but it was unfortunate to see that the gravedigger got his way in the end with the ousting of Stephenie. I think that the early delineation of alliances in the Heroes tribe—at least relative to the so-called schemers occupying the Villains camp—was somewhat inevitable if only because they had endured two losses in a row. With no obvious pariah à la Sugar this week, I’m not exactly sure why sights were set on Stephenie other than the fact that she was the weakest member (i.e. not a muscly man) of the opposing alliance. Certainly the likes of Candice and Cirie would be of less benefit than Stephenie during a challenge?

If anyone is interested, you can find more of my thoughts at my blog, including my favourite quote of the night. Click my username for the link

amysusanne said...

I don't think it was that difficult for James to "get his way" in that one or that most of the players outside of Tom and Colby are even looking at it that way. Last week there were plenty that wanted to vote off a strong player but they were either persuaded otherwise or wussed out (the editing didn't give us any of that footage). Steph was definitely a target last week, Sugar was just the easier first vote. This week gave all of those folks an excuse, whether it was deserved or not.

James was wrong in the way he handled it, but it's not like i disagreed with his point. They did all need to shut up and listen. The Villians can't get their act together at camp, but they can do what needs to be done in challenges. Up until last night the Heroes were happy as could be at camp, working together to build their shelter, but they don't listen to each other or work together in these challenges at all. I have no idea if JT had the puzzle under control, but I have to think that they should have listened to him. Listening to a possibly wrong person is no less likely to cause you to lose than a bunch of people talking over or ignoring each other. At least then they could have been legtimately angry at someone.

amysusanne said...

Or more likely. Or something.

fgmerchant said...

1. It turns out he actually had the flu, not just exhaustion.

2. I usually turn my brain off when I turn on the TV so I rarely notice things like edits that giveaway who will be going home. I'm not a reviewer so I get that luxury!

3. I freaked out when I thought Amanda was going home. She is my favorite female on the Heroes tribe and I would hate to see them get rid of her. If anything they need to get rid of James for being an ass around camp, or Rupert for being too whiny, or Tom because I just can't stand that guy!

4. This was addressed in a previous season as well, and I think Probst even acknowledged it, but in any case: The show does not work with just one challenge in a week. You must have both a reward and an immunity. The only excuse for having just one challenge is if it is an endurance challenge.

Anonymous said...

James definitely edged the line of abuse, but I feel it's sort of karmic on Stephenie's end. She bullied a lot of people off the show in Guatemala and gained a humongous ego (second only to Russell of this batch I'd wager). It felt karmic.

What unnerves me most about the James thing is that we don't know if he was just like that for the ten-twenty minutes of footage we saw or if he was like that the entire time after they got back and it lasted forever at Tribal. Even with what little we saw, James was definitely coming off like an ass.

I think the biggest difference between the Heroes and Villains right now is from something JT said about how they weren't getting to know each other on a personal level, that everything was superficial and towards the game. It's definitely what's going on with the Heroes where everything is alliances, strategy, and maneuvering. The Villains, in spite of Russell's "I'm the king, baby" confessionals, feels a lot like old-school Survivor where the tribe's kind of a family.

Hyde said...

I'd say it's pretty easy to understand. Probst loves big, muscular dudes - he and Colby are buddies in real life - and unless they're a quitter like Osten, he tends to treat them as dominant players, whether they are (Tom, Boston Rob) or not (James).

Typically, though, those muscular dudes also have a little game to them, Tom and Rob in particular. And even those tough guys who weren't so strong in the strategy area, like Colby, Terry, and Ozzy, really did dominate in the challenges. For all of James's obvious brute strength, he's never been a challenge monster--even Amanda has a better record in individual immunities (of course, this is in part because James has yet to really go very deep in the game, where individual immunities are concentrated). Of all the three-timers here, James is clearly the one who has made the least impact on the game.

This bias on the part of Probst can be seen by the way this season was cast, as it's obvious the Heroes have a major edge in pure athleticism. In the world of Survivor, strong = heroic by definition, it appears.

Anonymous said...

I think there's a huge difference between Tom's past bullying and what we saw from James last night. Tom bullied people, particularly Ian, for gameplay and he admitted it. They went into tribal council last night knowing that Stephenie was going home. At that point, there was no reason for the ugly way James went after her. It served no purpose other than to pump up his already huge ego.

amysusanne said...

Of course they aren't the same. There are all different kinds of bullying and all different kinds of bullies. Russell is a different kind of bully than Tom. Tom is a different kind of bully than Natalie from FvF. That doesn't change how funny it is to watch Tom call out someone else for being a bully.

Nicole said...

While I wasn't a fan of Stephenie, I thought James was an incredible jerk to her throughout the episode. This is supposed to be the Hero team and yet he was been more of a villain than most contestants on the show. It's one thing to blindside someone, another to consistently tell them to shut up. I have to think that he needs to be the next target because he has never been that valuable as a contestant.

Bobert said...

I agree with Alan and Hyde that Probst bias towards strong alpha-males continues to be obvious season after season.

But having said that I think the disproportionately large number of strong, athletic men on the Heroes tribe has more to it than that.

I've been thinking about it since the returning players were announced, and there are really two recurrent winning strategies on Survivor: either you need to scheme and manipulate other players to make it all the way to the end, or you need to be practically invincible in challenges to be able to carry off the straight-down-the-line, honest gameplay without being voted off for being a threat.

Most of the players who follow the first archetypal strategy are branded "villains" (with a few odd exceptions, such as Cirie). Meanwhile the players whose bulk or athleticism allowed them to get through the game without resorting to such strategies have been called "heroes".

Only a few players have ever made it through the game without lying or stabbing others in the back, and by necessity I think all of those players HAD to be athletic in order to dominate challenges and not get themselves sent home immediately.

Linda's TV said...

It was definitely weird that Amanda got a bunch of votes when she was barely in the episode. I half-expected James to get some since he was pissing off some of the jury with his bullying of Stephenie.

dez said...

That doesn't change how funny it is to watch Tom call out someone else for being a bully.

ITA. I used to like Tom, but his continued arrogance is really off-putting.

James made his point and he needed to shut it, but...I still like him. I must have a little Probst in me or something. BTW, the expressions on Probst's face as Tribal was unfolding were the funniest things I've seen in weeks.

Chalmers said...

Is the jock worship purely from Probst or is it the prevailing ethos of Burnett shows? If anything, I think Donald Trump is more extreme than Probst in this regard.

Anonymous said...

I agree Probst is biased towards the strong alpha-male types, but I'd say his bias developed slowly during the early seasons due to weaker and sneakier players consistently winning the big prize. Except for Ethan in season 3, athletic dudes did not won the early seasons (and Ethan was not the alpha male in Africa, Lex was. Ethan had to be carried into finals by an old lady). So after years of seeing big guys dominating team challenges but always losing the game in the end, Probst started openly rooting for the alpha male types. I'm not saying its OK, but I think its something that developed over time based on his observations and frustrations, not some odd personal preference.

Question Mark said...

Probst's preferences are one side of the eternal "what makes a good Survivor contestant?" question. It seems almost yin-yang that some fans favor the athletic types who can literally carry themselves to the finals by winning immunity challenges, or fans who favor the schemers and manipulators. I'm definitely in the latter camp whereas Probst is clearly in the former. The whole reason the otherwise forgettable Danielle is in the 'villains' camp is that she eliminated Terry in the final three, thus preventing a guy that Probst considered maybe the best Survivor player ever (solely for challenge prowess) from making the final vote.

Though in this blog this week, Probst actually criticized his hero James and called him out over his attitude. Boy, you know James is obnoxious when even Probst sours on him.

Jim Teacher said...

Interesting how the whole naming of the tribes "Heroes" and "Villains" (instead of some random foreign names) seems to have a pejorative effect on both how the players perceive themselves as well as the viewers. Wonder if that continues throughout the season.

Maggie said...

fgmerchant: I bet this is one of those episodes where there was a reward challenge, but it was edited out because there was enough to cover to fill the hour.

As for people becoming more likable their second time out, I'd agree with Parvati, but also add Cirie. And Amber! She was much more interesting the second time around, although Rob does get part of the credit for that storyline...

Alan Sepinwall said...

I would say Parvati was a much better player the second time out, but I still find her fairly gross as a person (or s the person the show presents her as).

Megan in Seattle said...

One thing that's amazing about James is that, while he's huge, he's not a challenge monster. My Survivor memory is not encyclopedic, but James has frequently been a challenge quitter; who, if he feels he's losing, will just stop competing rather than risking--what?--"looking bad"? I'm thinking of a challenge from his second season where they had to keep balls bouncing on a bucket: he couldn't do it well, so he just hung back and took himself out of the equation. Couple that with his repetitive "garden of Eden" references in his last season and inability to shut up in the last episode: to me he's just an irredeemable sexist. Survivor could cast a lot fewer sexists and racists, for my taste.

Which is why, though he's been quiet so far, I would have been a lot happier not to see Randy reappear.