Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Survivor: Samoa's wtf conclusion

Never before has the vote for a Survivor winner — let alone any other moment on Survivor — left me as conflicted as that of Survivor: Samoa.

And not just conflicted but speechless, flummoxed and furious, plus a dozen other adjectives.

Like many others, I couldn't believe that evil mastermind Russell Hantz, who often in aside interviews referred to his fellow contestants as dumba**es and made this one of the great Survivor seasons, had not won the game.

If he didn't win in this three-way final vote, it appeared that genial physician Mick would be the obvious winner. Certainly not aw-shucks Natalie White of Arkansas, the ultimate coattail rider.

Wrong. She easily collected the million bucks and title of sole survivor, and even Survivor host Jeff Probst has expressed dismay with the vote on his blog.

The irony of my fury at this result is that I immediately loathed Russell, who seemed like a classic jackass as he emptied canteens and burned socks around camp and displayed utter contempt for anyone or anything other than his advancement in the game. But the truth is his unscrupulous schemes became a joy to watch as he made shady deals with almost every player and pulled off amazing feats such as finding hidden immunity idols before it had even been disclosed that they were in play. My feelings for him evolved from loathe to love to hate to pulling for him in a Dexter or Hannibal Lecter antihero kind of way.

And it became easier to pull for him as many of the other personalities emerged — the selection of likable people has not been a strong suit of Survivor casting of late. The cast was also so huge that we never really got to know a number of them. Brett, who became a key figure, got minimal screen time before beginning his immunity run.

Further irony is that I really, really love it when the underdogs — Natalie being a prime example — pull off an in-your-face coup over the often cocky and arrogant alpha males who are accustomed to dominating the game. I love to see them taken down a peg, because the weak are often targeted as useless and unworthy.

That's the brilliance of Survivor — the way it's a simmering little microcosm of all the human prejudices and foibles exposed for the world to witness in all their naked glory. I love those exit interviews of ousted contestants in which they essentially say, "Well, I was obviously so great that they were afraid of me, and they had to get rid of me. They're all going to die of hunger now and lose all the challenges."

Right. Whatever gets you through the night.

Survivor is very much a social game, and Russell failed to balance the drive to control the game with the necessity of maintaining goodwill. Probst is right that a bitter jury robbed Russell of the million, but it's also critical to remember that a vehemently bitter jury in season one rewarded Richard Hatch, a similarly diabolical figure, with the million because they could admit that they had been outplayed. Samoa's jury, on the other hand, failed to set aside its ego. It's an incredibly tough sell to say that Natalie outplayed Russell, and that's why the gut feeling that this result was simply wrong won't go away. The producers better hope that angry fans don't go away, as well.

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milon said...
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