Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Soulful 'Survivor'

Oh, blast that 'Survivor.' We watched the first two seasons a few years back when they became a TV sensation, but after "Australia" it got predictable and we didn't follow the various "Survivor: Africa" and "Survivor: Alabama"-type configurations. But "Survivor: All-Stars," featuring 18 players from the past 7 seasons, sounded intriguing and so we started watching and got sucked right in, all the way to last night's so-cheeseball-it-hurt climax.

Last night summed up everything that makes "Survivor" such a wince-inducingly fun diversion. It had everything -- betrayal, wedding engagements, near-brawls at the tribal councils, Lex in a mohawk and then blue hair, a bizarro "Jerry Springer" show-style hooting audience at the reunion show, Jerri getting booed offstage and Rupert in tie-dye.

It was so obscenely, hiariously over the top at some points it neared the surreal. My favorite moment had to be the montage of Jeff Probst "helicoptering" into New York with the prized vote results clutched in his hand, clinging to the helicopter with his other hand, as the whirlybird panned past the Statue of Liberty: "Survivor: It's about freedom, dammit!"
I think Probst is the best actor on television, able to keep a straight face with some of the inane stuff they have him saying.

There wasn't much socially redeeming to "All-Stars," but boy was it fun to watch. I was pulling for Rupert to win but knew it would be one of the Rob 'n' Amber axis to take it in the end. Even though Rob was a scoundrel and a half, I felt somewhat pleased for the lunkhead in the end, after he'd been called everything from soulless to a castrated farm animal (!) at tribal council, but still walked away with the girl. (Although, wouldn't it have been a great "Dynasty"-style moment if, at the very end, Amber had turned to Rob after winning the million bucks and said, "Engagement's off, sucker!"

Despite the angry emotions and back-stabbing, "Survivor" never seems truly mean-spirited to me, like too many other reality shows. Just as a sampling on the tube today, you've got "The Swan," where women society deems unattractive line up for corrective plastic surgery, or "The Littlest Bachelor," because midgets can be shamed on reality dating shows too. "Survivor" is cutthroat and hardball, but it doesn't really wallow in the muck. (Well, it does sometimes literally.) You even get a nifty little discourse on ethics through it - what is acceptable behavior if it's all a game? While it's a guilty pleasure like most television, "All Stars" was one I couldn't turn away from.

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