Sunday, December 16, 2007

Survivor's China resurgence

• The reality icon restores faith in season 15.

Survivor may no longer be a top 10 ratings powerhouse, but the reality king's 15th season has been a smashing return to form, thanks partly to choosing a genuinely interesting location, something that seemed to become an afterthought in recent years. Maybe I just really needed the break that I took from the show by skipping last season's Fiji excursion, but, for the first time in six or seven seasons, I have watched each and every challenge without fast-forwarding through them, even if that near-pornographic mud wrestling early on was obviously calculated to titillate. In anticipation of tonight's finale, a few thoughts:

• Ultra-cynical waif Courtney, one of my favorite contestants ever, produced one of the greatest Survivor quotes of all time when discussing the castaways voting habits regarding the incredibly annoying and self-congratulatory poker player Jean-Robert, Courtney's nemesis: "Jean-Robert is the Susan Lucci of tribal council … his name is always up there but it never quite happens." (I'm pulling that from memory, so give or take a word.)

• From the beginning, I've felt the hidden immunity idol is a gimmick that smacks of ratings desperation, but it, too, was a source of great comic relief and irony this season as Jaime, obliviously convinced she possessed a hidden immunity idol, confidently played it at tribal council. Host Jeff Probst revealed it was nothing more than set dressing and, stoking the moment perfectly, tossed it into the flames. Priceless!

• A mostly likable cast helped, though there are a few notable exceptions. Frosti joined Jean-Robert on the "wouldn't pee on him to put out a fire" list with his graceless parting comments, in which he lamented getting beat by the flight attendant (Todd) and lunch lady (Denise). Along with Courtney, they are an unlikely triumvirate in the final four (although Denise is likely to be voted out first tonight), which is wonderfully free of self-adoring alpha males.

• It's always tough to predict the winner, but I'm giving the edge to Amanda, who has largely taken the under-the-radar approach. Todd is the kind of strategic mastermind who doesn't win the hearts of jury members, although the ladies may wise up and take him out in the fourth or third slot. Denise is too much of an outsider, in addition to being the odd woman out of the remaining alliance. Courtney's acerbic candor has ruffled some feathers, and some will find her undeserving because of her lack of physical prowess — people are funny like that. That leaves Amanda to cruise to a million bucks.

I can't wait to get wrapped up in another season of Survivor, and I don't remember the last time I felt that way. Verdict for Survivor: China, thus far: &&&&

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