Friday, September 15, 2006

Survivor - What Is CBS Thinking?

I’m a big fan or Reality TV in general, and Survivor in particular. I see them as the logical extension of the Springer/Povich/Geraldo daytime yellfests which, ultimately make you feel like 1) your life isn’t too bad compared to the whack job guests they have, and 2) Hey, I’m better than that!

Admittedly, there are lines that even I can’t cross with some of these, most notably the suckfests on MTV, which seem more scripted than ever. Survivor, however, is a different story – the first show that was an actual phenomenon. It was true water cooler TV, something you wouldn’t dare miss lest you be hopelessly out of the loop the next day at school or work. As an example of my addiction to this show: during the first season, we bought a house. As luck would have it, our moving day was the Friday following the finale. Now, we had planned on finalizing (read: doing 90% of) the packing, yet we absolutely could not miss the 2 hour culmination. What did we do? Nothing. We parked our asses on the couch until the show was over, sat in amazement that Richard won, then got to packing into the wee hours.

Subsequent seasons, while highly rated, never really recaptured the buzz that Season One had. I continued to watch anyway, never missing an episode, and watching how producer Mark Burnett continued to come up with new twists each season to mess with the castaways. Good times.

This year, shortly before the season premiere, the “twist” was revealed: 20 castaways would be divided into 4 tribes (the normal is to have 16-18 be divided into 2 tribes). The kicker? The tribes would be segregated based on………ethnicity! Oh my! Typically, some folks were outraged, some advertisers threatened to pull out, and host Jeff Probst had to make the talk show circuit and defend the decision.

Again, a brilliant move by Burnett, in my view. He has, with one decision that will probably be rendered meaningless within a few episodes, recreated a buzz around the show. Typically during each season, the tribes will merge after a certain amount of time. I imagine that when they only consist of 5 people each, the merger will come sooner rather than later, and will involve “shaking up” the tribes to create new alliances and tensions. The ethnicity thing will be long forgotten by mid-season. Unless, of course, there are more twists in store....

So, the first episode aired, and guess what? The world didn’t end. The tribes are still playing Survivor, and the interactions within the tribes are far more crucial than how they relate to the other groups. It’s still, at it’s heart, more a social game than a physical one. Idiots will be idiots, be they Asian, Black, Hispanic or White.

A quick check of the show forums on Television Without Pity show that many people who have been away form the show are coming back, and viewers, for the most part, approve of the twist. I'll keep watching, certainly, but that's because I've become Burnett's beeeyotch.
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