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'Survivor': You gotta have a gimmick

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Our correspondent, Raleigh lawyer and "Survivor" fan Damon Circosta, offers his thoughts about this week's episode:

The arc of a television show is a lot like the career of a rock star. The good ones usually start with a big hit. The great ones follow that hit with a consistent and solid body of work. The legends take it one step further. They redefine the genre. They have such an impact they can turn the formulaic into something new. 

The Beatles did it to rock in the '60s and "Survivor" did it to television in the first decade of the millennium. This isn’t just another reality show, this is something that was so groundbreaking at the time that they can essentially run the same program for over a decade and still find a way to keep it relevant.

"Survivor" may have reached legend status a few years ago, and much like the Beatles at the end of their run, the producers are using some gimmicks to keep it fresh. Redemption Island, with its chance to get back in the game after the tribe has spoken, isn’t all that different from the silly costumes of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They both seem a little silly at first, but after a while you start to realize that there is something special happening here.

"Survivor's" run is remarkable. The challenges might be getting stale (I think this is the third season in a row that Wednesday night’s challenge has been used); the rewards and immunity clues are almost predictable (and it bothers me that no one but Boston Rob sees it coming); and the catty remarks when someone is voted off feel like they were written by a third-rate sitcom writer. But like an aging rock band, producers find a way to deliver time and again. The people they get to go on this show continue to fascinate, and that’s what keeps us coming back.

This episode starts off with a rift between David the lawyer, above, and Sarita the drama queen. Last week they started gunning for each other and (FORESHADOWING ALERT) you knew if the purple tribe lost, one of these two was going home.

Dave smarmily tells Sarita in front of the rest of their tribe, “I don’t trust you, but I have no problem with you.” I, for one, think that Dave isn’t very trustworthy. Remember, he was the one who lobbied hard to throw a challenge to vote off Russell. Ralph also thinks Dave is a little slick, which leads him to say dismissively that “Dave’s a lawyer.” As a fellow attorney I’m not rooting for Dave's continued presence on the show where he can sully the name of lawyers everywhere with his conniving ways.

After a commercial break where a really uncharismatic CEO tries to sell me on the virtues of his phone company, we head over to Redemption Island. (A little aside: I don’t get it with the CEO vanity commercial. I don’t care if you make pizza, sell cars or tailor suits, leave the pitch to a professional. You may be good at whatever it is a CEO does, but acting in TV commercials should not be in the job description. Save us all the embarrassment and just get your product woven into the show itself.)

Anyway, the second best redemption story in the history of Christianity continues with Matt (or “the golden boy” as Stephanie calls him) continuing his quest to run the redemption table and arise in miraculous fashion to vanquish his rivials. I know CBS is hoping for it, and even though the previews for the next show show him cutting his foot, I don’t think the producers would have devoted this much time to the whole “Matt is Jesus” storyline only to have him taken out before Easter. Matt is for real. If you have him on your "Survivor" fantasy game roster, you are racking up the points. Matt sends Stephanie, above left, packing by winning what is essentially a giant sized game of island themed "go-fish." Stephanie then partakes in the newest "Survivor" ritual, which is having a good cry after you lose your redemption chance and then spilling the beans about everyone in your tribe.

Back on Ometepe, Phillip continues to descend into fits of jealous rage when the pretty girls prefer Rob to him. After the girls save Rob a few choice bites of crunchy rice (whatever that is), Phillip storms off in a huff. “Nobody’s going to control me,” says Phillip, but the operators manual on that dude is pretty obvious. Show Phillip any sort of inclusion, give deference to his age and ninja-like ways and he will be controlled. By the end of the show, after he gets a high five from Boston Rob, Phillip is rhapsodizing about "community" and "love."

I have a feeling that come the merge, Phillip is going to try something big and it is going to cost him. I also think he is going to inadvertently take someone down with him. He might cost either Rob or “Redemption Matt” the game through his incompetent gamesmanship. The merge is slated for next week, and that's when the half-wits usually make their big move.

The Immunity Challenge has its typical twists and turns, but former NFL’er Grant, right, ends up saving the day for Ometpe. He owned last week’s challenge too and is my sleeper pick to go to the end. As a pro athlete, he will have trouble getting jury votes, but I looked up his NFL earnings and he only made a couple hundred thousand playing ball. Tough to be sympathetic when dude makes more cash in a year than a dozen school teachers, but by NFL standards he was a pauper. So who knows?

Grant’s athleticism sends Zapaetrian back to Tribal Council in what continues to be the “curse of the thrown challenge.” We have known since the opening credits that it was either going to be Sarita or Dave, and even though they tried to creatively edit the footage they had, we all kind of knew Sarita, left, was toast.

In what might be the most out of character ending in the history of "Survivor,"  Sarita ditches her artsy white girl demeanor and goes all hip-hop reflective. In her final camera confessional she looks dead into the camera, pauses, and steals a line from 50 Cent after he got busted and shot-up: “the game is the game.”

Indeed it is, Sarita. Indeed it is.

It just goes to show you, even after all these years, and even when we knew the outcome of this episode from the first scene, "Survivor" still finds a way to surprise. And like the Beatles before them, the creators of "Survivor" aren’t above milking a few gimmicks to keep it fresh.

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About the blogger

thadmug Thad Ogburn is The N&O's Metro Editor, overseeing most local news reporting. His previous jobs have included editor of North Raleigh News and Features Editor, during which he learned that comics attract more reader response than just about anything else we do. His guilty pleasure is reality TV, which he finds not very real at all. That's assuming, of course, there is room on his DVR amid all the episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress" that his wife and daughter record.
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