SURVIVOR Is Coming Back — and Mixing It Up Again

SURVIVOR: BLOOD VS. WATERSURVIVOR is one of those shows with which I have a deep love/hate relationship. I always love the first episode of each series, because it’s exciting and intriguing to see the new cast. The second episode can also be fun, but in more recent seasons — with players more familiar with the show — the gamesmanship has begun to rear its ugly head, and I start to really hate cast members.

From there, my interest can waver severely based on the personalities that take center stage. I quickly become bored with the moustache-twirling villains, and if they get away with their B.S. for than a couple of weeks I find it too frustrating to watch. If the cast is just too dull — like… er, you remember that season recently… the one with… they were on a tropical beach… oh, hell — I won’t even bother watching after the first handful of episodes.

The 27th cycle (yes, 27!), dubbed SURVIVOR: BLOOD VS. WATER, has found yet another way to mix things up while keeping it all familiar: returning players (including Rupert, now on his forth excursion, but no Ozzy) are paired with loved ones and Redemption Island is back — but the rules and game conditions have been altered quite a bit.
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SURVIVOR: ONE WORLD 24.10: “I’m No Dummy”

If a show has a title like that, you gotta know that someone is going to prove himself or herself to be a dummy. And, since this season is populated almost exclusively by dummies, the odds were pretty good going in that somebody would do something stupid. Actually, a few somebodies.

With Jay gone, Troyzan realizes he’s on his own — and the women do their best to make him feel like a marked man (possibly a little something they learned from the cruel Colton). Troy decides that winning successive immunities or finding the new hidden immunity idol is his only path to success, so he starts hunting for the secret trinket and psyching himself to win challenges.
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SURVIVOR: ONE WORLD 24.4: “Bum-Puzzled”

Mike and Colton

Colton continued to make jaws drop — on the island and among the viewing audience — with a double-whammy this week: He revealed that he hates little people and poor people — and he volunteered the men to go to tribal council after winning immunity!

This was Leif’s week to screw up. He accidentally told Bill that Colton wanted him voted out last time — which set off alarms in Bill’s head. Mike found out about Leif tipping off Bill and went running to the self-proclaimed ruler of the game, Colton, trying to curry favor. In a rare show of spine, Colton confronted Leif and warned him that his betrayal had sealed his fate in this game. I thought Leif was going to cry.
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SURVIVOR: ONE WORLD 24.1: “Two Tribes, One Camp, No Rules”

After the thrilling appointment television of SURVIVOR: SOUTH PACIFIC, I was a little wary of SURVIVOR: ONE WORLD, because the series has rarely managed to put two compelling seasons back-to-back. Sadly, the premiere of ONE WORLD seems to bear out that theory by introducing two tribes who couldn’t be more at odds if they were designated “Matter” and “Anitmatter” — or, worse,  “Republicans” and “Democrats.”
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SURVIVOR: NICARAGUA 21.1: Young at Heart

There was something about the premiere of SURVIVOR: NICARAGUA that immediately put me off, and I’m damned if I can figure out what it was. I simply was not real interested. I suppose it’s because no one in this cast was immediately colorful enough to capture my attention. This bloodless group has the misfortune of following up probably the best season ever, SURVIVOR: HEROES VS. VILLAINS. That one was packed with larger-than-life personalities. Everybody in this edition – with the exception of Coach Jimmy Johnson – seems rather bland. Even the location felt non-descript: a generic seaside beach that looked interchangeable with any of the previous seasons’ tropical settings.
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SURVIVOR: Heroes vs. Themselves


Regular readers of this column know that I do not usually write about the so-called “reality series” because I do not like them. I would rather listen to a sink backing up than the caterwauling on AMERICAN IDOL (and the singers are pretty tough on the ears, too!) And I would rather be homeless than endure a night in the BIG BROTHER house. However, SURVIVOR is one of the few unscripted series I enjoy (along with THE AMAZING RACE and UNDERCOVER BOSS — yay, Tiffany Network!) and, as I have pointed out before, this season’s HEROES VS. VILLAINS is SURVIVOR at its absolute best.

Not only are the competitions exciting, but the intra-tribe squabbling is great soap opera. Each physical challenge was played in a previous season, so some contestants are already familiar with the obstacles. Add that to the familiarity with the other players, and practically every challenge — reward or immunity — becomes a grudge match. At least the rate of physical injuries has slowed.

The power struggles within the camps earlier in the season were a riot, as would-be alpha dogs battled for supremacy. But now that the power structures have stabilized the emphasis is on…well, survival. As veterans of the game, everybody knows there are “secret” alliances among players, so they all talk openly about alliances; seeing what people reveal (or don’t reveal) shows home viewers a lot about character.
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Survivor: Leave your hat on – but still leave!

Boston Rob: wicked bad idea

We’re chugging through SURVIVOR: HEROES VS. VILLAINS, and I’m still lovin’ it. The tightly focused personalities are really coming through, and the competition between the tribes is taking an awful physical toll (Or, in Rupert’s case, toe!) What a great season…

I am astonished by how mean the challenges have been: Both teams really seem to hate each other like cats and dogs. I love that the Heroes are not taking the so-called “high road” and acting like they’re above the fray; they are just as aggressive as the putative baddies. (BTW, who didn’t laugh when Jerri moaned that she is a bad villain because she could not decide which teammate to stab in the back?) Whether it’s man vs. man or man vs. woman, nobody seems to be pulling any punches. There wasn’t an injury this week, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. That basketball game was fierce. And good-guy Rupert really collided roughly with Jerri. Wasn’t it her he accidentally hurt earlier in the season as well, during an immunity challenge? I’m certain he was sincerely sorry.
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Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/18/09

Surely you’ve noticed what an ordeal is it to … er, survive the season finales of SURVIVOR? Well, SURVIVOR: TOCANTINS — THE BRAZILIAN HIGHLANDS was no different. I love the premiere installments, but I usually just groan and labor through the finales, or even just skip them entirely. (The only thing worse is a BIG BROTHER denouement.) Sure, there’s initial excitement as the extra players are eliminated, but the actual last episode, with its emphasis on reflection and philosophizing at a glacial pace, is always…just…bleh. Occasionally the appeals to the jury are entertaining, but not often. It’s just begging, which can be sad; the last two players explain that they stabbed everyone else in the back out of love and the noble pursuit of $1 million, and hey, they were just “playing the game,” so how can you hold that against ’em? And watching the jury members posture during their “questions” and try to come up with zingers that will be remembered long after their season has ended is often painful. THE AMAZING RACE always has the eliminated teams on hand to cheer for the eventual winners, but SURVIVOR likes to create a sort of “trail of the dead” — symbolic reminders of booted hopefuls — that’s usually kind of morbid. (The voice-overs add to the air of mourning.)

I was surprised that the traditional final endurance challenge was replaced by one testing manual dexterity, with the players competing with one hand literally tied behind their back. J.T. won immunity and chose to take Stephen to the jury instead of the more-polarizing Erinn. It was a risky move, but it paid off in a unanimous win. And whether it would be a rout was really the only mystery left. J.T. was far and away the most popular player, so the decent guy was a lock to win as long he got to the jury phase. J.T. also took home the fan-popularity award, adding another $100,000 to his winnings. I was rooting for Sierra, who was actually a finalist for the award. I never understood why she was so loathed in a season that also featured the odious Coach. And one last bit of good news: this fall’s next installment will have a much briefer title, SURVIVOR: SAMOA.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 2/20/09

You know I loves me some time travel. I’ve watched all 30 seasons of DOCTOR WHO and five years of QUANTUM LEAP, I love 12 Monkeys, and have suffered through myriad awful movies (A Sound of Thunder, anyone?). I even (mostly) understand LOST. And I enjoy origin stories. So I was really looking forward to the premiere of SOAPnet’s new nighttime series, BEING ERICA. The Canadian import follows Erica Strange, a woman who is able to travel back in time and fix past mistakes with the aid of a mysterious “therapist” named Dr. Tom. I’d heard from fans that there was a serious DOCTOR WHO vibe about it, because Dr. Tom’s office was filled with strange objects and moves from place to place at his whim. After watching the debut it feels more like a personalized QUANTUM LEAP to me, with Erica on missions to “put right what once went wrong” in her own life. Plus, the people she interacts with in the past see her as looking the appropriate age — which on QL was known as “the illusion of the physical aura.” The platitude-spouting Dr. Tom is certainly no Doctor, even if he does take an interest in helping an attractive younger woman. Speaking of the titular Erica, this show relies largely on the appeal of its star, Erin Karpluk (ex-Susan/Alysse, THE L WORD), who is suitably plucky, and projects just the right amount of vulnerability to make viewers empathize with Erica but not pity her.

When we meet Erica, she is a bright, pretty 32-year-old in a dead-end job with no romantic prospects — a sad fate she chalks up to “too many bad decisions” in her past. Indeed, when Dr. Tom asks her to make list of decisions she regrets, she quickly scribbles several pages’ worth! Of course her family is no help, as she laments, “I’m suffocating under the weight of your collective disapproval.” Erica is having a particularly bad day that starts off with her being fired, and then her date cancels. Then it starts raining on her. So you can see, it’s more than a little “on the nose.” But the worst is yet to come: She drinks a latte with hazelnut in it and collapses from anaphylactic shock. In the hospital she is approached by “Dr. Tom,” a “non-traditional” therapist who promises to fix all her problems (in between quoting historical figures like Einstein and Patton). Without warning her, he sends her back in time to relive her prom night and “fix” her biggest regret (she got drunk and made a spectacle of herself). The actual mechanism of her time displacement is never explained; she just thinks about an incident she wants to change, there’s a cold wind, and she’s in the past. Dr. Tom appears in the past, but he offers little explanation for what’s happening, and no guidance for what she’s supposed to do. In fact, when she asks if she’s really in the past, he replies, “Feels real enough.” Which is no answer, and could be a clue. He also spouts pseudo-Zen platitudes like, “You are where you need to be right now.” Thanks, Doc. When the adventure was over — can you guess Erica simply humiliated herself in a different manner? — there was another cold breeze and she woke up at home. Was it a dream? Well, Dr. Tom’s office disappeared — but she finds the “therapist” himself, who spells out the warm-and-fuzzy lesson she should have learned: It’s okay to care what people think — as long as she doesn’t let it paralyze her, because their opinions don’t matter as much as her own. My least-favorite aspect was the clichéd GREY’S ANATOMY-style self-indulgent voice-over, full of pop-psychology crap about self-fulfillment. I will forever hate GREY’S for foisting that format on nighttime soaps. BEING ERICA is showing its seventh episode in Canada right now, and I hear it gets better as it goes on. I’m willing to give it a chance.

The first episode of any SURVIVOR is always the best in my book, so I try to never miss the opening segment of a new cycle. Last week’s opening installment of SURVIVOR: TOCATINS — THE BRAZILIAN HIGHLANDS (Can you survive pronouncing all that?) saw the nascent teams riven by bitter internal rivalries from the second the players jumped off the trucks, and this week’s episode featured a sneaky blindside of Candace, who was branded a “snake in the grass” for bad-mouthing other players. I’m going to root for poor Sierra, who’s had a target on her back since the opening elimination vote, but I doubt she’s going to last long.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 12/16/08

HEROES wrapped the first half of its season last night, with Sylar in control of the Primatech complex and determined to show HRG, Claire, Meredith and Angela who the real villains are. But the good guys were determined not to go down easy; Claire revealed that her healing power could be negated by sticking something into the back of her brain, and suggested Sylar should have the same vulnerability. HRG/Noah set other bad guys (including the Puppeteer) free from Level 5 to act as chum for Sylar, but ended up trapped in a cell himself alongside Meredith, who was losing control of her fire power (thanks to an adrenaline injection from, of course, Sylar). Meanwhile, Sylar confronted his “mother” Angela, and in an inversion of the classic Marlon Brando line from On the Waterfront, lamented, “I coulda been a nobody, instead of the monster I became.” 

Ando also was not happy with his current state. Wanting to save his friend Hiro, who was trapped 16 years in the past, Ando injected himself with Mohinder’s power serum, hoping that desire would influence the power he would get. My problem was, Ando getting powers completely ruined what was cool about him — namely, that he was “just” human. He was the sidekick who kept the self-styled “master of time and space” Hiro grounded. Ando was the real person, who served as counterweight to the flashy powered people. Ando ended up with the power to supercharge other abilities, but to me he simply got the ability to negate his own uniqueness. “Yatta!” he crowed, while I cringed. One of the reasons HRG is my favorite character is that he knows he’s human but doesn’t let that slow him down. He’s still awesome. He knows what a literal monster Sylar is, yet he doesn’t hesitate to go after him with just his wits and handgun. (At least Claire’s tip gave him something to work with; though I find it remarkable that Noah didn’t know about the “sweet spot” in the back of the brain!) Claire’s Daddy complex was dramatized by her bid to save HRG from the cell, even though she knew it was a trap. (She also wanted to save her biological mother, Meredith, too, just not really as much). And Noah is no dummy, which is why he realized the glass of the cell was bulletproof but not heatproof. (Luckily, they were not locked in Flint’s old cell, which did have heatproof glass). Will Noah’s 29297 code become a cult number, like the ones from LOST

Some random observations:
•Daphne’s quip, “Back in a flash!” was an obvious shout-out to DC Comics’ Flash, the “fastest man alive,” who routinely used his superspeed to travel in time (albeit usually with a “cosmic treadmill”).
•It was great to see the wonderful George Takei back as Kaito, and to learn how the formula got torn to begin with.
•Ando (and Daphne) rescued Hiro, thus bookending the volume – which began with Hiro fearing that Ando would kill him in the future, but ended with Ando saving him in the past.
•Loved Tracy calling Hiro “Pickachu,” and then him punching her out. hated Tracy picking up Mohinder by the side of the road at the end.
•Recognizing that Nathan is in trouble and for some reason not flying away, Peter injected himself with the formula to restore his powers. Like how Nathan pointed out that went against everything Peter was arguing.
•At least we know Sylar is not a Petrelli after all. The house was getting crowded with sudden offspring. 
•Claire should know that removing the glass from the sweet spot will revive Sylar, so she should make sure it stays there. (Unless the exploding Meredith jarred it loose.) 

So what was the final body count?
•Arthur Petrelli (still dead, but is it permanent?).
•Meredith (Death by fire? Really?).
•Doyle (metal man).
•Echo De Mille (played by GENERAL HOSPITAL vet Kiko Ellsworth).
•Sylar. For now. Until the glass shard is pulled out of his brain.
•Primatech Paper. 

Volume 4: “Fugitives” kicked off right away. Jumping ahead three weeks, Nathan went to the president (played by STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION‘s Michael Dorn), to get government authorization to round up people with abilities and put them in camps. And President Worf actually went for it! The previews of the “new season,” which starts Feb. 2, shows abnormals trussed up in orange jump suits and hoods like prisoners at Gitmo! From “heroes” to dehumanized sheep…. 

Loss of humanity — or, perhaps more accurately, lack of humanity – was a theme on the winter finale to TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. T:SCC is supposed to be about saving humanity from extinction, but I perceive precious little humanity on the show. Perhaps I don’t watch regularly enough to pick up on the nuances. For instance, Riley’s story is mitigated by Jesse’s cruelty — is Jesse supposed to be an example of becoming what you hate so much? Losing her humanity to protect mankind? Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen (ex-Kendra, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) returned as Jesse, who revealed she brought Riley back from the future in order to lure John away from “her.” But is that Cameron or Sarah? Jesse slapped Riley around, which further makes her a monster. When Riley slit her wrists, she was trying to take away her own humanity. See the theme? Ellison was contracted by Catherine to teach the terminator now known as John Henry right from wrong. Ellison knows the toaster is a pitiless killing machine, yet he still engages it? We also got a bit of backstory as Ellison revealed his wife had secretly…er, terminated a pregnancy. 

Sarah pursued a woman with her own secret: Eileen was a woman using the online identity “Abraham” — or was she? Actually, “she” was a man living as a woman to hide from the mysterious forces that wanted to silence her blog. I suppose there could be another message about humanity there, but I think it was just overly complicated. What was important was Eileen’s observation that Sarah cannot feel the fear of almost dying anymore. She’s she mother of the future of mankind, but is she losing her humanity? That’s a question worth pursuing. Sarah followed Eileen’s clues to a warehouse in the desert, where she kills a guy pretending to be an air-conditioning installer, but not before getting herself shot in the leg. (Can I just point out how much I hate the cliché of having two characters wrestle for a gun that then goes off between them, so viewers are supposed to wonder who got shot. Hint: It ain’t the hero!) Anyway, Sarah dragged herself out the front door and looked into the sky to see what appeared to be a prototype of the Hunter-Seekers we see in the nightmare future. The show ended with a poorly edited sequence of Sarah wincing under bright lights for several moments before passing out. Was that supposed to make me want to turn in again come January? It was a disappointing wrap. 

SURVIVOR: GABON — EARTH’S LAST EDEN wrapped Sunday night with Bob, the physics teacher from Portland, Maine, winning the $1 million over Sugar and Susie. This was the first time three finalists pleaded their cases to the jury. Corinne carved a place for herself in SURVIVOR history with a self-consciously mean-spirited, spiteful screed for Sugar, calling into question Sugar’s sincerity about grieving for her late father. Despite Bob’s dominance of the late-game challenges, his win turned out to be a real… well, survivor’s story, because he literally survived an ouster vote. He tied with Matty and so they had a one-on-one fire-making challenge, which Bob won. He then went on to triumph before the particularly venomous jury this season. Not a bad season, but nothing to really set it apart as particularly memorable. Except that it was light-years ahead of SURVIVOR: AFRICA, which was terminally dull.