Thursday, February 11, 2010

'Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains' preview: Sepinwall on TV

In today's column, I preview this 10th anniversary season of "Survivor" and think about how much the show - or, at least, our perceptions of it - has changed:
A few days after Richard Hatch won the first season of "Survivor" — the show that would ultimately shape the decade in television to come more than any other — I wrote that what made "Survivor" special was that "even surrounded by cameras in a contrived situation, these 16 people and their actions and reactions were real, and didn’t feel remotely manufactured on some Hollywood assembly line." I looked at Rudy’s uneasy friendship with gay (and frequently naked) Richard, at the viciousness of Sue’s "the snake and the rat" speech, and at Richard’s win itself — the triumph of the man the show had been painting as the bad guy all season — as "proof" that the show was more authentic — or, at least, more surprising — than even the best scripted dramas had been in a long time.

Today, "Survivor" has become such an institution — and so institutionalized — that the 10th anniversary season is a collection of familiar faces from past seasons, grouped into two archetypes: "Heroes vs. Villains."
You can read the full "Survivor" column here.

I haven't watched, or written about, "Survivor" on a regular basis since the "Fans vs. Favorites" season, but I think I'm going to at least check out tonight's two-hour premiere for nostalgia's sake. I don't really have time to add another Thursday show to the rotation, but we'll see if this one rekindles the magic for me. Either way, feel free to discuss the premiere here after it airs.


Adam said...

The notion that we're now watching Survivor for its familiarity and formula as opposed to its newness strikes me as being absolutely correct. I haven't watched regularly since the start of Cook Islands, but I'm so back for tonight.

Jill Mader said...

I have to both agree and disagree. I do watch Survivor because I love the formula and familiarity of it, and I hate when they add something new that doesn't work, like mixing up the tribes too often, or bringing in the mutiny. But what keeps me watching is that it's new every season, because you can never anticipate how new players will interact with one another. That's why the types of winners are so diverse.

Indeed said...

I watched the first three or four seasons of survivor, skipped about a dozen (though I did watch the all-star one that Amber one), and then got back into it for the last three seasons. I really don't know what I missed in between so can't really say if the last few seasons were as unimpressive as some constant viewers say. But when it comes to Survivor, absence really makes the heart grow fonder. Tuning back in after so long reminded me of why this was such a compelling show in the first place. I for one am really looking forward to this season (even though I don't know half of these all-stars!).

Stellar Drift said...

"Sepinwall on TV"

Isn't that what this blog is about in general? :)

Kevin said...

I admire Alan’s recall, both here and in the podcast, of past season Survivor players. I’ve watched every season, up to and including Russell’s brilliance on the last one, but the show is so disposable, the memory of particular player’s personalities and strategies exits my brain as soon as that season is over. I remember Parvati for being hot, but I have no recollection of her winning the last all-star season.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Isn't that what this blog is about in general? :)

The "Sepinwall on TV" tag goes on any of my columns for the newspaper. It's an easy way to delineate between those and blog-only stuff.

KevinCalvin said...


I have an off topic question. Is your profile picture you at the United Nations? Because that's what it looks like to me.

Eric said...

or the underdog alliance’s victory in the Cook Islands season (whose producer-concocted racial segregation twist never amounted to much)

I actually think the racial segregation had an unintended benefit, in that they had to specifically seek out people they hadn't normally cast on the show. Specifically, Asians and Hispanics, who, if they'd been cast before, were generally the hot actor/model/bartender types. The producers had to go and find people like Yul, Becky (probably not Ozzy though he was from that season) and subsequently, I'll bet Yau Man also was cast as a result of the producers looking a little harder for interesting unique cast members. Maybe I'm biased since Yul is one of my favorite cast members of all time, but that season really seemed to mark a change in the way the show was cast (not that they stopped bringing on pretty people, but they really started getting interesting non-pretty people).

The Immunity Idol has also greatly benefited the show over the past handful of seasons. Just about every season now gets really interesting when the tribes merge (regardless of how well or badly the tribes do in teams) because of the HII. It prevents teams from being able to be eliminated one by one and encourages players to think more strategically.

It's not a perfect show, but Survivor has done a better job of adapting and keeping things fresh than just about any other reality show (plus, it's just a great concept, basically taking game theory and putting into play with real players).

Alan Sepinwall said...

Sucked in enough by this that I'm gonna do a separate blog entry in the morning, so I'm shutting down comments for now.