All entries for Monday 18 September 2006

September 18, 2006

Survivor: All Stars

This is an entry about Survivor: All Stars, the 8th season of hit US reality TV show Survivor.

There’s three problems with this entry. The first is that anyone that knows me and my attitude to the likes of Big Brother and Pop Idol might wonder why the hell I’m watching Survivor as I hate reality TV. I don’t hate reality TV. I hate bad reality TV, which is basically every UK produced reality series except The Apprentice. The US have some pretty good reality shows, including the afformented Survivor and there version of The Apprentice, plus The Amazing Race is also aces.

The second is that this series has never aired on UK TV to my knowledge so most people reading this won’t understand the concept, hence I’ll provide a brief precis. The show is not about surviving outdoors under
harsh conditions with little food. Sure, that’s part of it, but that’s just the backdrop. The show is about making deals and alliances to get you as far as possible in the game. The show generally starts with 2 tribes living seperately, and they compete in tribe challenges, the losing tribe each week having to vote of one of thier own, done by secret ballot.
Then about halfway through they merge together into one, voting off one person every week. The challenges then become individual: winning one makes you immune to being voted off that week, everyone else is vulnerable. So the only way to stay safe is to have a voting block or alliance that puts you in a majority. Throughout this there’s also various twists and turns to try and shake things up somewhat. This specific edition features competitors from all the previous 7 series so it’s a little different in that many of them have formed friendships previously, from both being in the same series, or from the various Survivor parties and fund-raisers since.

Problem number three is that this particular series aired on US TV around 3 years ago and I’m only just catching up on it on DVD right now. Generally when I have strong feelings about something that happens I read Television Without Pity or Reality News Online and find out that someone has already made the point at the time so I’m content that it’s out there, but seemingly no-one picked up on this one so I have to write it here just so people googling this in the future might come accross it and realise I was right.

So after the longest introduction to an entry ever, here we go:

There’s a point in this series of Survivor where there are two tribes: the first has 6 members led by Rob. The second has 5 led by Lex. Rob has started a relationship with a girl on his tribe called Amber, which is also a strategic alliance. Now the tribes are quite closely knit within each other, and they’re anticipating a merge, so they know whichever tribe goes into the merge with the most members has a great advantage, as they can just vote all the others out. If they merge now Lex’s tribe could be in trouble, however he has an old friend and alliance partner, Tom, on the other side who he thinks he can swing to his side, thus switching things around.

However in a twist rather than an immediate merge there’s a tribe re-arrangement, and Amber ends up on Lex’s tribe, who then go on to lose the challenge, meaning they have to vote someone out. This gives them the chance to get rid of Amber who is clearly still loyal to her boyfriend and the other tribe, head into the merge at five each, and if Lex can turn Tom, give them a big numeric advantage. If he can’t they’re still even.

But on the way back from the challenge Rob promises Lex that if he takes care of Amber, he’ll take care of him. So in a strategically stupid move they vote off one of thier own and keep Amber around. Rob then goes back on his word and Lex is the next voted off, come the merge. Now Lex was an idiot to do that, that’s well established. He’s seen Rob play in prior seasons and knows he can’t be trusted. And lying and scheming is all part of the game in Survivor.

So that’s pretty much everyones reaction – Lex shouldn’t be upset about it, even though he and Rob were friends, this is a game and all Rob was doing was playing the game. And normally when such things happen I agree with this – if you’re playing poker with friends you don’t get upset that one was lying to you if they bluff – it’s stupid to get emotional over it.

But in this case, I think Rob was in the wrong. It didn’t sit well with me, and Lex being upset about Rob’s actions seemed right. So I tried to work out why this was – why I’d reacted so differently in this case than in previous ones.

When Rob asked Lex for the favour, Lex didn’t see it as ‘Please keep my alliance partner around and I’ll help you out’, he saw it as ‘Please keep my girl around and I’ll help you out’. Lex said as much – he didn’t see Rob’s request as to do with the game, he saw it as a personal favour. Had Rob had a close two-person alliance with another guy, and the same thing happened, Lex probably would have got rid of them without a moment’s thought. And Rob would likely never have even offered a deal. The primary reason he asked and that Lex aquiesed was that he really liked this girl and didn’t want to lose her. From Lex’s point of view he already had one stratagy that had a good chance of working, involving voting her off. But Rob promised to take care of him, and he knew he could get as far with Rob as he could with his current stratagy – he likely knew Rob would turn on him eventually, but so would members of his current alliance, that’s how the game works. For Lex, either stratagy was as good as the other, but by keeping Amber around he could also do his friend a personal favour, as Rob had given him the option of being able to help him out while not adversely effecting his own chances.

But this of course, was dependant upon Rob keeping his word – but Lex didn’t see that as an issue, as he didn’t see this deal as a deal in the ‘game’ but as a personal favour, and as such he expected Rob to keep his word, as he would in real life. And make no bones about it, it was a personal favour on Rob’s part – this wasn’t Lex mis-interpreting things. Rob was very upset that Amber had gone to the other tribe and was desperate to get her back – this wasn’t a piece of stratagy on Rob’s part.

And that’s why it didn’t sit right with me – Rob used his pre-existing friendship with Lex to keep Amber around, even though he knew that meant ruining Lex’s shot at winning the game – he abused that pre-existing friendship and that’s why it was a nasty move to make.

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