Seems like everyone around me is down on this season. Well, I’m officially up on it. Why? Well – maybe my four thoughts this week will help make sense of it. Here goes.
The production and post-production values are at an all time high
The quality of the actual filming every season only seems to increase. I’ve been having ‘gasp out loud’ moments at the wildlife/nature shooting every episode this season, and this despite the fact they are just staying in the same location, so I’m kind of over the ‘beauty of Fiji’
I defy anyone not to love the sequence where they managed to film a squid inking the cameraman to escape. Then, right after the immunity challenge, they open with a shot of the grey sky, panning down to show the rain meeting the sea. It was one of the most effective shots to establish the impact of rain on living there that I’ve seen the show do.
Then there’s the use of super close-ups on Extinction Island. It gives the confessional style there a very different feel to the feel they use for players in the game. To me, it seems designed to give the sense of the players themselves having stuck a handheld camera nearby to talk in to, without the need for a cameraman (even though this is clearly incorrect). It seems like a technique to make them feel more isolated and alone, and less advanced, than the people still on the beach.
Lastly, they’ve continued the use of the kind of editing comedy we saw them favour last season in David vs Goliath. This week we saw the ’20 minutes earlier’ flashback, as well as Eric’s confessional being interrupted by a chicken. These were both good production decisions.
Lastly, I feel like what we’re seeing so far this season are complete stories. It’s early days to say this, but recent seasons have had several plot lines that have gone nowhere at all (not even as a red herring) – they’ve just sort of ... been there. So far, I haven’t felt like there are scenes where I don’t understand what they are doing in the episode. Everything has felt like it belonged.
For me, the gold standard season for editing was Cambodia, a season chock full of editing irony, stories that made sense, and strong use of the surrounding environment. Kaoh Rong wasn’t far behind, but then it felt for a period of several seasons, Survivor’s production completely lost its mojo. It’s back in a big way, last season and this season, and I’m here for it.
The season feels distinct
Overall, I think Survivor’s 30s will age pretty well. Not every season has been a hit for everyone, but overall, I think most seasons will surprise people on a rewatch (at least, if they came away with a poor impression on the first watch). But if there is one thing that has really dragged the 30s down, it’s the lack of variety.
It’s a decade that is characterized by predictable patterns — filming in Fiji, tribes that are all primary colours or all secondary colours, a black merge tribe, a bunch of samey challenges (especially around merge time), and a predictable pre-merge swap pattern that always involves a three-tribe portion and a two-tribe portion.
In these circumstances, it’s becoming more and more challenging for a season to distinguish itself from others. Edge of Extinction has, in its central twist, something we haven’t really seen before — an attempt to make the edge of extinction compelling as a viewing experience in and of itself. The effect is that it is creating something that is distinct from other Survivor seasons.
There was never any real effort made with Redemption Island to make the place compelling. The closest they came was arguably Matt Elrod in Redemption Island. But the location was no different than being in the game, while the social dynamics were essentially irrelevant since the group was constantly changing and the goal was simply to coexist until one eliminated the other.
On Edge of Extinction, the players have no idea what the goal is. They might speculate that it is merely a version of Redemption Island, but for any superfan, the spectre of a social basis for returning to the game (like the vote-in of the Outcasts twist) has to be in their mind. So too, the possibilities that more than one of them might return, or even that no-one will return at all until well after the merge. They really don’t know what they might be in for.
This is leading to dynamics that I find compelling just for being new. We see players already on the island being upset with those who arrive for the role played in voting them out. But, because of the uncertainty of what is coming, they’re forced to play a social game (of sorts — someone may need to tell Reem, though), something that was completely absent from redemption island.
As new players come in, I think this dynamic becomes increasingly interesting. True, there’s also the sense that it’s ultimately futile, because I’d be shocked if the way that players get back in isn’t the same old Redemption Island approach; in which only one of them can return and it has nothing to do with a social game. But it’s definitely something that’s going to define my memory of the season. For now, I’m ok with that.
And besides that, there’s one other way in which getting every one of the eliminated on the same island will almost certainly affect the game…
Wardog in trouble
You’d expect that one of the first things Chris did when he hit Extinction island was to explain to Keith that he had wanted Kelley out, but Wardog turned the vote to Keith and was quite insistent.
Now Rick is going to show up, and you’d expect that similarly, Rick will explain that when Chris approached Wardog to suggest a Kelley vote, Wardog turned the vote against him.
It’s kind of unfair for Wardog that this is the case. From the perspective of any other season, Wardog is playing quite well because he’s eliminating his marks and not getting caught in the act. He has no reason to think this season is any different.
But I’d expect that at this point, if someone is coming back from Extinction island at the merge, Wardog is going to be their number one target, and his role as a threat and the person ‘controlling the vote’ on Manu will be exposed. Wardog is in a whole lotta trouble — and if Kelley and David can survive to the merge, it might just mean they manage to escape the immediate target when they get there.
As for this week’s play — I’ve seen a lot of people suggest Wardog was the player of the week. I don’t think he did anything wrong, but I also don’t think he did anything particularly great this week. Instead, I think the fact he found himself in the swing vote position here, with no apparent discussion of targeting him as the middle man, is a testament to what he’s done through the first three weeks of the show. The indications are there that at least David is wise to him (because David warned Chris not to speak to him about a Kelley vote). But even so, it hasn’t yet affected him at all – he’s put himself in a good position each and every week, and he was able to capitalize this week.
But it wasn’t necessarily so. If Wendy had been on the tribe instead of Lauren, I tend to think Wardog would have gone home this week. This stuff turns on a dime.
There are people other than white alpha males on the season
So far this season, I’ve pretty much talked about David, Kelley and Wardog. That’s because that is about the full extent of the number of players doing things of strategic interest that we are seeing on the show (you can add Ron and that’s about it). I can see why that bothers many, and why it affects their enjoyment of the season. It doesn’t affect mine.
Chris, Eric and Gavin have been almost entirely invisible. Joe not much better. From my perspective – great! Survivor has had a problem where it gives all its air time to the white alpha males, and at this point there is nothing about any of these four that makes me feel like I needed a whole lot more of them on my screens in the last four weeks. Yes, it would be nice to know more about any of them that make the finale (actually on the tribe) long before we get there. But there’s a long way until we get there.
Instead, when it comes to who we’re hearing from on Kama, it tends to be Aubry, Victoria and Julie. The content isn’t overly strategic (or when it is, it’s about strategy that hasn’t been relevant yet), but it’s giving them personal depth. The same goes for Lauren and Wendy. This means that this season, of the players who are getting content despite not having to actually execute strategy, we’re getting a whole lot of female perspectives. I’m all for this.
The only person I really wish we were seeing more of, who we haven’t, is Julia Carter. She articulates why really well:
As Jeff Probst said, I went on #Survivor knowing I may be a role model & inspire someone to play despite NOT fitting the archetype. Therefore, in S38, in which there are only 2 Black castaways, it's disheartening to see the lack of equitable airtime defeating my goal.— Julia Carter (@thejuliacarter) March 7, 2019
This season is overwhelmingly white. Wendy is the only minority getting screen time, and she’s a different ethnic background to Julia. In addition, Wendy was kind of cast to get air time but not to be a legitimate winner candidate. Casting must have also known that Keith was not someone who had a legitimate shot to win the game. That leaves only one player who is a minority - Julia - that looks like she was cast with a chance to win, and she hasn’t even had s single confessional.
I’m not suggesting Julia is necessarily leaving the best confessionals of all time on the cutting room floor. But representation does matter, even if the content isn’t at a David/Aubry level. I hope we get to see some of her soon.
All right, that does it for this week ... hopefully (especially since it’s a double episode) there is plenty to talk about next week. Until then, please comment away or tweet at me.
See you next week!
By day, Ben Martell is a public commercial lawyer from New Zealand.
By night, he moonlights as a self-described Survivor 'expert'.
By day or night, find him on twitter at: @golden8284