Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Survivor: Game Changers

originally aired March 8, 2017 to May 24, 2017

The order players left the game and the impact they left behind:
  • Ciera (Mana/Blood vs. Water, Cambodia) One of many players to find out she wasn't the mastermind she thought she was this season.
  • Tony (Mana/Cagayan) One of my personal favorite players and winners in Survivor history vastly overplayed his hand this season.
  • Caleb (Mana/Kaoh Rong) He didn't seem as impressive this time, so it kind of casts doubt on how impressive he really was the first time around.
  • Malcolm (Mana/Philippines, Caramoan) The first victim of the somewhat arbitrary screwy twists this season.
  • J.T. (Nuku/Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains) Exposed as really needing a weak season to win in.
  • Sandra (Mana/Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains) No elimination has ever brought me greater satisfaction than seeing a two-time fluke winner finally, finally voted out, which made her cockiness this season even more egregious than Rich Hatch in the original returning players season, All-Stars.
  • Jeff Varner (Mana/The Australian Outback, Cambodia) Here's where things get interesting, and not in a good way.  The circumstances surrounding Jeff's exit nearly made me quit Survivor.  And I'm one of those viewers who've watched from the very beginning, and have kept watching.  Like everyone else I thought I'd seen it all.  Jeff was never a strategic mastermind.  Clearly he thought he'd improved in that regard this season.  Until he made the most epic of Survivor blunders, outing Zeke as transgender at tribal council.  Believe me, I struggled a great deal with this.  I'm glad I wasn't live-blogging this season, because I would've written extensively about this moment, and probably I wouldn't have been able to make the decision to watch the next episode.  Putting aside what Jeff did, the reaction to it was hugely over the top.  I don't think Survivor has the moral high ground.  I just don't.  You can find numerous instances of the show handling similar situations far, far worse, barely acknowledging the magnitude of what happened in the footage it filmed and broadcast, of considerable social significance (off the top of my head: Sue Hawk and Rich Hatch in All-Stars, and the most ironic moment of a season called "One World," which the perpetrator was even given a chance to justify at the reunion, and still botched it horribly).  I get that Survivor is otherwise an excellent platform for exploring these kinds of things, trying to find common ground in a format that so often tears people apart.  This is a show about teachable moments, and it has been from the very beginning.  You can tell how far the culture, and the series, has slid since the first season in how Rudy and Rich were handled versus how Jeff and Zeke were handled.  And to compound all that, Jeff was violently betrayed, too.  Not just by Jeff Probst, who surely has seen it all, but by Survivor in general.  You don't compound one problem by creating another.  Jeff was not an unknown commodity.  I don't really care what his tribemates thought in the moment.  I get that it was tough for Zeke, because in his community this is an incredibly personal matter.  But Jeff Varner did not all of a sudden become a faceless villain.  We know this guy.  We watched him play in the second-ever season of Survivor, one of those players they brought back more than a decade later because they'd never gotten around to it but decided they still wanted to, because they knew fans even from a long distance still had happy memories of him as one of the genuinely nice players in the history of the game.  This is a game that routinely sees players make fools of themselves.  Players betray themselves in ways they never thought possible.  All the time.  Some of them learn from the experience, and some don't.  Jeff knew in an instant that he'd made a horrible mistake.  But everyone in that tribal council knew why he did it, and it wasn't because he was trying to be malicious, but because he was trying to play a game.  Robb strangling Clay will always be a far, far worse moment in this game than what Jeff did.  But they didn't immediately eject Robb.  There are viewers today who have no idea what I just referenced, and that's all you need to know, really.  The producers knew Zeke was transgender.  They knew it was going to come out.  They wanted a big moment, because at this point, and it was clear all season long, they wanted to find new justification for Survivor, prove how relevant it still is, how real it still is, and they got it, and they had no qualms about stabbing Jeff in the back to do it.  Never mind about Zeke, for a moment.  They exposed two people that episode.  They exposed Jeff to something that could have destroyed him.  Because unlike Zeke, there wasn't a community waiting to support him.  CBS made sure that it distanced itself from Jeff.  Thankfully, they backtracked in the live finale, and gave him a chance to do what he'd tried to do from the very beginning, which was apologize and try and salvage whatever peace of mind he might have left...
  • Hali (Mana/Worlds Apart) One of the quintessential "no collars" from her original season thought Jeff got a raw deal, too.  She might not be a significant player this season, but I gained new respect for her in expressing that.
  • Ozzy (Nuku/Cook Islands, Micronesia, South Pacific) Didn't really seem interested in being there.  Lost in the shuffle trying to find a new strategy.  At this point the player with the most days in the game is clearly just a participating fan.
  • Debbie (Nuku/Kaoh Rong) One of the most irritating players ever, doesn't seem to know herself very well, but knows the game a little better. 
  • Zeke (Nuku/Millennials vs. Gen X) Ironically, two seasons running his highlight had nothing to do with his gameplay but representing his community, whether willingly.  He was a better player last time.  Not much of one this time.
  • Sierra (Nuku/Worlds Apart) She was a true force to be reckoned with this season, undone mostly by cockiness (maybe a given in a season where everyone was told they were really good players). 
  • Andrea (Nuku/Redemption Island, Caramoan) Andrea wasn't quite at Sierra's level, but she surely thought she was.
  • Michaela (Manu/Millennials vs. Gen X) If she could figure out how to get out of her own way, she'd be in a much better position.  But she didn't even manage to play better the second time than she did the first.
  • Cirie (Nuku/Panama, Micronesia, Heroes vs. Villains) In four seasons this is the first time I actually liked Cirie.  The player Survivor most likes to pat itself on the back about, the one who "got up off the couch," actually showed up to play this season, and her attempts at mentoring Michaela were some of the most mature moments in the history of Survivor.  This was the act of showing the legacy of the game in a good, unforced way (unlike forcing her to complete a challenge for no other reason than to achieve a "moral victory").
  • Aubry (Mana/Kaoh Rong) Wow, so the Aubry who showed so much potential last time never really showed up this time.
  • Tai (Nuku/Kaoh Rong) I can't stand the guy.  His whole vulnerability angle, which is real, is something that allows him to get far in this game, but his neediness and utter cluelessness combine for a player who will only ever cause chaos, who will flip on any "alliance" at his earliest convenience, because other than finding hidden immunity idols I really don't think Tai understands Survivor or what's expected of him.  The producers should really stop enabling him, because it would really help him, and viewers, to see Tai explained for what he is rather than making excuses for him, like Brad's behavior, which believe me you'd feel compelled to express, too, if you were playing with him.
  • Troyzan (Manu/One World) Here's a guy I always thought got a raw deal in his first season, flipped on by someone who decided they didn't need him (and Kim won, so she proved herself right), and now he's gotten a raw deal his second season, too.  The ability to form actual alliances has apparently fallen out of favor in the constant mad scrambling players seem to favor, the "I made this move!" mentality that's so reductive it misses the point of the game.  Troyzan actually found a loyal ally this time.  Two of them!  And made it to the finals.  This is not a guy who merely rides coattails.  He knows how to play.  But I doubt he'd be brought back a third time.  The edit certainly didn't seem to care he existed this season.  That's one of the problems Survivor has had, increasingly.  In its effort to chase the big personalities as they implode, they miss the solid gameplay that goes on around them. 
  • Brad (Nuku/Blood vs, Water) Here's the biggest surprise of the season, and it really seemed like he was being primed to win, with the edit, with that self-congratulating moment where he admits vulnerability and Survivor gets to remind everyone how real it is.  I thought he played the classic Tom game (Palau), and deserved the Tom victory, but if Troyzan had one weakness, it was that he was no Ian.  They really did seem too comfortable as allies.  So the inevitable became...
  • Sarah (Nuku/Cagayan) I have no idea how she does any undercover work.  The worst personality of any winner ever.  Yeah, she hustled in the later stages of the game, but watching all of it from home, I just wanted her voted out because she has such a horrible voice for engaging the viewing audience.  She sounds like a cop.  She holds herself like a cop.  If she picked up anything from Tony, it wasn't the ability to hide.  She won, basically, because everyone else self-detonated.  That was really the story of the season.  But at the same time, I am happy she won, because I liked her in her first season, and wanted to see what she could do with another opportunity.  And she won!  So clearly she made good on it, and rewarded my faith in her.  I just never expected that I would end up hating her along the way.  This was a season that left an overall bad taste in my mouth, so it figures that the winner is hard to swallow, too. 

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