How can we understand the story that is being presented when, Jeff, the host and main narrator lies to us? We’ve often had seasons where the eventual winner wasn’t the main focus of the story, Marquesas, Guatemala, Gabon, Samoa and South Pacific come to mind, but looking back we could always see the themes of the season fitting well with the eventual winner.
Looking first at Marquesas, most viewers were disappointed when they realized that Kathy wasn’t going to win. It wasn’t only because of their affection for the Vermonter; it was because the editors presented her as the player of the season, giving her more confessionals than the two finalists combined. We saw that she was respected by her rivals and that she was the season’s strategist. Still, with everyone getting nicknames that season (Cleopatra, McGyver, Johnny pots and pans, the Robfather, Malcolm X, Tinkerbell, the General) and with Sarah attracting immediate disapproval because of her grand entrance, the season’s main theme became: “You can’t stand out if you want to win Survivor.” Evidence of that was seen when Peter was voted out first simply because of his weirdness and when the biggest move of the season, only the fourth bold move in the show’s history, was possible only because the Rotu 4 stood out at the coconut chop challenge. With a theme like that, the winner couldn’t possibly be a huge character and Vee, the one who made a point of staying out of drama and who was never dubbed with a strange nickname, certainly fit the role.
In Guatemala, many were shocked by Danni’s win but by defeating the “axis of evil” she fit the theme of the “fall of the Mayan Empire” which had been ruled with an iron fist by mean Queen Stephenie. Like the Mayans, Stephenie and her right hand man Judd held their rivals under their power, Danni even commenting that she along with Gary and Lydia were being treated like slaves. Also that season there was a theme of “Deserving Players Making it to the End.” We even heard that theme’s corollary: “Returning players already had their chance and didn’t deserve to win”. Under those considerations, Stephenie couldn’t possibly have the winner’s role. And if that wasn’t enough, Danni had a lot of presence:
-She gave us the firs theme of the season when she said that women had more endurance than men.
- We heard from many players that she was awesome.
- Jeff never missed an opportunity to point out Danni’s challenge prowess especially when they came over Stephenie.
- Gary told Rafe she was strong and trustworthy.
- Her birthday party was the focal point of a whole episode.
-We saw that she was the one making the voting decisions in her tribes before the merger.
- She played a big role in the story about Gary’s true identity.
In Gabon, “Earth’s last Eden”, the story centered on “Saints and Sinners”. With Dan’s gluttony, Marcus’ Hubris, Charlie’s lust, Susie’s sloth, Randy’s Greed, Kenny’s Envy and the Wrath we saw from both Corinne and Crystal, it became evident that Sugar, playing the role of Eve, would be the cause of many downfalls. She would also give the game to the only two good guys of the season, Bob and Matt. From the start we heard that everyone liked the “forever boy scout” Bob so even if he played a very minor role in the season’s strategy, his actions fit with the themes of the season.
More recently, Natalie’s winning story in Samoa was presented in contrast to Russell’s aggressive game play. We saw all the feathers that Russell ruffled and we also saw Mick’s feckless type of leadership. Despite the horrible conditions and Foa Foa’s constant defeats we saw Natalie as someone who never complained and always kept hoping for better days. When Galu turned on itself by eliminating Erik, the credit was squarely given to Natalie even if she played a minor role in the vote. Many viewers hated seeing her win but we saw that she played a much better social game than her final opponents.
In South Pacific, while the editors had a lot of difficulty in hiding Sophie’s poor social game, we always heard her point of view on the votes and how the game should unfold. In effect, the season was mostly about “Sophie’s Choices.”
The first theme we encountered in Survivor Kaôh Rông came from Aubry in episode 1: “I think this heat may be one of the biggest factors in this game.” That theme connected directly with all the pre-season promotions telling us we were about to witness the toughest season ever. It found its corollary in episode 4 when Jeff said after Caleb’s evacuation: “It’s as if you have to have suffered to be considered worthy.”
The second main theme we heard was that the game was like a roller coaster ride. Jeff expressed it clearly at the end of episode 9: “Rarely is there a theme as strong as this season and it’s very clear: No matter how bad it seems it doesn’t mean you’re out and no matter how safe you feel, it doesn’t mean you are.” As a corollary, we heard the players saying that “You definitely have to make a move at some point or another in order for your game to be respected.”
Finally we had the Theme of Nerds getting their revenge on the bullying jocks and the popular girls that hung out with them.
What was So Wrong about Kaôh Rông was that Aubry fit the themes that were clearly outlined while Michelle simply didn’t. Her stay in Gondol was like a beach holiday compared to Aubry’s stay in the putrescent, bacteria infested beach of Chan Lo. Michelle didn’t even have to go to Tribal Council before the merger while Aubry was the one always facing danger and losing allies left and right either because of the tough conditions or their unreliability.
With the themes of the story last season, only Cydney or Aubry could be seen as possible winners. The only way Michelle could be seen as winner was because of all the pre-seasons spoilers that pointed to her. So if you want to get a good winner’s pick, you can do like others and search for those spoilers now. I’ll continue to look at the story to find its themes and see which players will have a real impact on the season.
To start, here are my impressions of the players after looking at their presentation videos. Please note that I haven’t read any of Jeff’s comments about these players since even our host likes to play spoilers these days.
We’ll start with the Millenials of Vanua:
Mari Takahashi When I watched the presentation video for this season, it quickly hit me that the underlying theme to this cast is a rehashing of Blue Collars and No Collars. Outside of a couple of lawyers and a writer, the Gen X are all Blue collars while a collar of any color wouldn’t fit on any of the Millennials except for one or two. So, instead of a replay of Nicaragua as the theme suggests, I initially felt like we’d have a make-over of the Worlds Apart season without the mostly boring “White Collars”... I’m not sure that would be an improvement because even if Nicaragua is my least favorite season, Worlds Apart isn’t much better.
That No Collar feeling to the Millennials is evident when you watch Mari’s video. I realized that she should have been cast in place of Nina. At least a chameleon doesn’t complain as much but I started growing tired of her when she mentioned that she will be great TV. We will be the judge of that and I’m certainly not sold on her just yet. How many women have we heard saying they will be great at challenges only to fall flat on their faces? How many have said they wanted to be villains but wind up getting their torch snuffed before they even realize it was time to start playing?
Will Whal: Will certainly doesn’t lack confidence but already it feels like he will be edited as a "Player on a Journey" out to prove that teenagers can play this game. I suspect he will create some blindsides because he doesn’t have a problem with his conscience but then he will still come short of the ultimate goal. It’s interesting that many people talked about religion in the Millennial camp. I expect the subject will pop up at some point. I don't see it reaching the level that we witnessed in So Pathetic because I think the religious types will be in trouble with this group.
Zeke Smith: Obviously, Zeke will be playing for the cameras and the cameras will probably fall in love with his style. Not too many people act like hippos and just roll in the mud! I prefer the less flamboyant type, the quiet assassins but the casting department rarely agrees with me anymore. Hopefully, Zeke will be good for a few laughs but he’ll be too obvious to fool them all the way to the end.
Michaela Bradshaw: Michaela is one of the few Millennial that could qualify as Blue Collar and frankly one of only two women I found interesting in this tribe. I liked the way she described her work ethics. In a sense, she’s more like the Gen Xers than the Millennials! Like many others, she mentioned God in her presentation video but Michaela seems able to separate church and game and that could be to her advantage.
Michelle Shubert: I was enjoying the beginning of Michelle’s video where she said she was somewhat rebellious but that came to a crashing end when she went on to say her rebellion ended 4 years ago. Maybe she should have been cast 5 years ago then. Everything she said after that was meaningless blabber that she rehearsed for the cameras. He may be there for her but He won’t help her, not in this tribe. It could be fun to watch her flirt but I feel her plans will not have time to develop.
Taylor Lee Stocker: Some people will see Taylor as someone who won’t last long but I had the opposite feeling. His drive combined with that smile should get him far. He was one of the four Millennials shown when Paul mentioned that he doesn’t come from the generation that is given a trophy just for participating, the others being Adam, Figgy and Jay. So, either Paul is right and these four are going to crash under the pressures of a true competition or these four will prove that Paul misjudged the new generation. Right now, I’m inclined to think the Millennials will succeed, Taylor being one of the successful ones.
What I liked most about Taylor’s video is that he only talked about himself, not how he was going to be good TV or play the Villain or blindside everyone. Now, if he can go from one alliance to another as easily as he does from job to job, Taylor will be an interesting player to follow.
Adam Klein: It’s easy to like the idealistic Stanford graduate and hope he does well in memory of his mom. Being a manager of a homeless shelter gives Adam an interesting baggage of experience in dealing with all sorts of personalities and that should help him work with the athletes and the nerds on his team. It should make him a member of the main alliance. Adam is another member of Paul’s foursome, the ones we saw when the rock singer mentioned participation trophies so I see him going far into the game. Since his mom’s cancer was part of his introductory video, it could be featured in the opening episode. That would create a strong bond between him and the audience especially if he has more than one confessional over the first few episodes telling us he is playing for his mom. On the other hand, if we don’t have those repetitions then it will lead us to conclude that Adam won’t be as important as I think.
Hannah Shapiro: With her rapid fire speech, her insecurities and her nerdy glasses, I think Hannah would do much better as a stand-up comic than as a Survivor. The nerdy women often attract a lot of supporters who hope they will go far but if there is a designated first boot in this tribe, it could very well be Ms. Shapiro. She could gain friends by being the funny one around camp but I don’t think this tribe will be short on quirky characters. She may have a hard time finding another role to play.
Jessica “Figgy” Figueroa: If I indentified them correctly, Figgy is the only woman that we saw when we heard Paul talk about the “participation trophy” so I think Figgy will go far. Describing herself as an open book, I think Figgy will be seen as honest and that should gain her trust. I don’t really see her winning the game but I’d place her as the last female Millennial standing. I don’t know if she’ll find her showmance that she wants but maybe she’ll be closely aligned to the guy who wins it all. In place of a ring, that should give her the third or fourth place check which isn’t so bad.
Justin Jay Stirrett: Jay is the fourth member of the “Kids that get trophies just for participating” and he had one of the few videos that impressed me. Jay seems charming but ready to play the game even planning on starting arguments between other people to get them eliminated. I will be keeping a close eye on Jay, hoping that he proves to be the expert manipulator he claims. Along with listening to people, investing your time in them is one of the most powerful tools in this game. If he can make them think he loves them then Jay will be golden. Right now, Jay would be my pick to win it all. After all, he already gave us a victory pose!
As for the Gen-X on the Takali tribe, we have:
Brett Labelle : Brett’s a big fan of the show and he wants to use his training as a police officer to detect the liars. He’s already passing judgment on the other players’ appearance which could be a problem if he winds up needing them as allies. I think Brett will soon run into trouble in this game and this policeman will not repeat Tony’s exploits.
Paul Wachter: By saying that he doesn’t come from the era where everyone gets a trophy, Paul addresses the central theme of the season. I’m sure others mentioned the age difference between the players even if they didn’t know yet they would be split along that great divide but since it was Paul’s segment that was chosen both in the season’s presentation video and in Paul’s personal one, I think there’s a chance that Paul will be a narrator this season. How lucky would production be to have such a motor-mouth narrating the season!
What I took most out of his video is that Paul completely changed his life 5 years ago. He was a business owner before becoming this Pirate rock band singer so he has many facets to his personality and that could help him bond with both the Blue collars in his tribe and the “No Collars” if he makes it to the swap. Yes, his big personality can get him in trouble but I see Paul making it far, maybe even as the last Gen X member standing. The problem I have with Paul is that there have been too many Pauls and Paulies in my reality TV diet lately. Why couldn’t he be the one with a nickname?!
Rachel Ako: I have a game for you: Guess if Rachel had more plastic surgeries BEFORE or AFTER she posed for Playboy. I see a nose job, eye-lid surgery, a tummy tuck, a face lift, lips and ##### augmentation and probably two boob jobs. Needless to say; I feel that Rachel comes off fake. The only thing that interested me in Rachel’s video was a mention about one guy being a jerk. Unfortunately, in the short version that I saw she doesn’t even describe that jerk so I’m curious. Certainly more so about that than in finding those old Playboy pictures.
Sunday Burquest: I don’t think she has what it takes to play this game. I should just stop with that but I just want to add that it would make me smile if she does make it far because it would show her own kids they were wrong about her. For now however, I just don’t care.
Jessica Lewis: Jessica is one of the few White Collar people in this game. What can help her is that she looks younger than her age, that she grew up on a farm and the big tattoo on her back doesn’t exactly say “Attorney”. I found it refreshing that she took the opposite approach to most mothers we’ve seen on the show: She is out there focusing in herself, not doing it for her family. Now that’s shows she ready for this individual game but will she be able to carry it out? How long before she cracks and starts missing her life back home? I just don’t see Jessica making the right connections in her tribe.
Ken McNickle: One could make a parallel between the male model and Nick from last season but I don’t see the same wit at all. In fact his monotone voice made his presentation video extremely boring. Hopefully the game brings out his personality a bit but we usually see the opposite. His daughter changed his life and he wants to do this for her but I don’t think he has what it takes.
Lucy Huang: Lucy, as a 42 year old body builder and mother of 4 is one of the few interesting characters in the Gen X bunch. Like Paul, she mentioned the difference between the generations and how life experience and hard work should help her age group. She has a relaxed attitude which could help her integrate the group. I don’t have much hope of seeing Lucy win but she should be around for a while.
Chris Hammons: Interestingly, the 2nd lawyer in the Gen X tribe also grew up in a rural community. Unlike Jessica, I felt immediate antipathy for this guy. His smugness and his snarly expression caused an immediate negative reaction as a viewer and I’d be ready to bet that he is the jerk that Rachel mentioned. Chris, despite his strength, should be an early boot because he gives off a really bad first impression and he seems intent on being a leader. He does mention that Paul made a good impression on him but will it be mutual?
Ciandre “CeCe” Taylor: : Like many others, Cece mentions that she had a hard childhood. I wonder if this will play out in the alliances that are formed. For now, what I can say is that I enjoyed Cece’s video. For some reason, she reminded me of an edgier version of Cirie. Will the audience fall in love with the insurance agent the same way they did with the nurse? I doubt it but maybe Cece will make her own mark. I can see her clashing with Chris and forming a group in order to get him out. Now that would be fun. I don’t know what to make of the little segment where we see her chasing a frog. It seemed to tell us that she would be going around after the wrong target but then we saw her catch the critter so maybe Cece can put her hands on the prize. I only give her an outside chance though, especially considering the frog escaped in the end!
Last season, we had a player telling us that she had multiple personas but we never really saw it. This time, Cece says it’s her ex-husband that thinks she has different personalities so maybe we’ll have more luck this time.
David Wright: Didn’t we see this story already? This Cochran rerun practically put me to sleep. I’m really hoping that there is a bully in the Gen X tribe and that he sends David right to Loser Lodge. Come on, Chris: Do me this favor before getting yourself voted out.
In conclusion, this season is presented as a demonstration of “New Ideas vs Old Ideas”, and how the culture has changed. Jeff said this was a twist we’ve never had before but once more he’s lying to us: We saw it informally in Africa where we had the Mall Rats vs the older group and then formally in Nicaragua where the young generation of La Flor went against the old folks of Espada and we all saw how disastrous both those seasons turned out for the older folks. As a baby boomer, I’m even a bit turned off by Jeff’s pretention that Generation X built this world while the Millennials are changing it. We did both before these players even got out of school!