Posted: May 20, 2011, by Jeff Pitman
It's over, it's finally over. The season started off with a bang, and maintained a pretty good pace up until the merge. And then, from the second Matt was re-voted out, it descended into an excruciatingly dull, monotonous slog. Things picked up a bit in the finale, though, as long as you had some doubt that Boston Rob could actually win (which he in fact did).
It didn't have to be this way. Previous twists and game elements--"Haves vs. Have-nots," "Old vs. Young," the Medallion of Power--have come and gone in a single season. Sure, others have hung on, season after season, despite multiple iterations of pointlessness (we're looking at you, Exile Island). And others have burrowed in, to the point of inextricability, despite waves of fan complaints crashing over them (the jury voting on the final three, "hidden" immunity idols). We know, obviously they had to run out the clock on the Redemption Island motif this season, since it was in the title and thus on all the buffs and everything. But was it really necessary to bring it back (virtually unchanged) for Survivor 23: South Pacific? Really? For that, RI wins a season-long and forward-looking Trolly.
We'll give Jeff Probst this: the one slight RI tweak he's announced--(maybe) limiting the post-merge duels to just two people--will at least avoid an abomination such as an early post-merge votee coasting along on second- and third-place duel finishes, then re-entering the game on the strength of one decent challenge performance. (Yes, Andrea sort of did this, but only for one duel.) But that doesn't even begin to address the obvious, inherent structural flaws in the RI concept:
Sensing a pattern here? Now, we know as well as you do that the entire concept was intended to give a favored player (alpha-male challenge beasts, stunt-casting contestants) a second chance at winning, and that Probst and SEG are likely to keep trotting out this tired charade, season after season, even when it keeps failing to provide the results they want. And that before they ditch the concept, they'll pull some godawful stunt like putting an extra hidden idol on Redemption Island. We just wish the decision to keep new game elements was evaluated more on actual results, and was less of a faith-based initiative.
For years, we've complained that the traditional two-hour finale seemed at least a half-hour too long. Most of that extra time was larded up with boring filler, such as "Rites of Passage," the painful pre-final-IC wandering of the final three or four contestants past the torches of the people they (or others) had booted.
The awkwardness of the stilted remembrances, often uttered by people who had never even met the early boots ("Uh... he seemed nice"), almost made up for the maudlin score and glacial pacing. To be honest, we didn't really notice it was missing until the final four IC had finished. So for that barely detectable omission, we award our (almost) final ICU! award to "Rites of Passage." We will now ceremonially burn the trophy, so that this cheap bastard of a segment doesn't try to hock it on eBay, or something. Unless it's for charity, in which case we should probably... oh well, too late. For those desperate for punishment (or for those who appeared in the segment, and were otherwise omitted from the finale) CBS has uploaded "Rites of Passage" as an online video, here. We'd suggest getting a carafe or two of some strong coffee first.
As for the reunion show, we'll offer a special, bonus, season-ending ICU! to Francesca, Kristina, Krista, Stephanie and Sarita, who despite their lack of airtime, were actually present for the reunion show. Jeff Probst managed to avoid talking to all five of them, the first five women eliminated from the game. Our best guess is that they carried some sort of contagious disease that is only spread by talking on TV. Which may explain why the Rites of Passage segment was also cut. CBS cares, people.
Because it surely couldn't be that they were ignored for being female early eliminees. After all, Probst still found time to launch a special video montage for the sobbing Russell Hantz, who also scored a seemingly endless tirade, followed by Probst practically begging him to come back for a future season. And he was the second person eliminated! But at least as the reunion cameras got shots of Russell, the final ICU! awardees got shown on TV, too. Good things come from small troll worship, apparently.
Previously on this award, we've celebrated the art of artfully drawing as little attention to yourself as possible by barely appearing in challenges. As this season mercifully ends, we'd like to flip the board, so to speak, and suggest something we'd like to see less of in future challenges: alleged "puzzles" that your average toddler could complete with little difficulty.
It was bad enough when the (first, before the final Redemption duel) final five immunity "challenge" involved putting sticks in holes. The sole difficulty there being in matching one of three colors. Seriously, Survivor: maybe it should be a clue that something's amiss if you have to tie a contestants' arm behind their back to prevent them from finishing the challenge in 10 seconds.
But that wasn't even the worst of it. The second (post-Redemption return) final five immunity challenge tested... the ability to put a group of 10-40 digits in numerical order. If you've seen a kindergartener recently, you'll know that they do this regularly. But this is, allegedly, Survivor. And wait, there's more: this was also done in difficulty-erasing stages, with four bags of "puzzle pieces" per contestant, the first bag containing only the numbers 1-10, the second 11-30, and so on. Heaven forfend someone competing for a million dollars should have to think ahead and put numbers 8 and 86 on different rows! And don't get us started on the crappiness of the duels.... Just don't.
So anyway, challenge department: Please take this Sitty award, display it with pride next to your white board, and come up with something that could perhaps present a mental challenge to someone with greater than a second-grade education. We know that's crazy talk for reality TV in general, but come on, you're not Big Brother. Try to have some self-esteem.
For all that was wrong with this season, there was one bright spot: Boston Rob put on an extended symposium on how it's still possible for a backstabbing strategist to win Survivor in the age of the Final Three. This was a refreshing revelation, even if lectures 10 through 13 did have all the excitement of a twelve-hour Professor Binns class. The finale did rescuscitate the pacing a bit, seeing as how Rob's previous history of failure provided reasonable doubt that his constant confessionals about how it still could all fall apart might actually be accurate.
But things didn't fall apart. From the point at which Matt was re-voted out, Rob's post-merge game was textbook early-season voting strategy: the Zapateras were dispatched roughly in order of decreasing challenge prowess (with Ralph the sole lingering outlier), followed by the non-core Ometepes, also from greatest challenge threat to least (Grant, then Andrea, then Ashley). Then Rob took the two biggest goats of the season with him to the final three, as he should have (and as Sash might have done in Nicaragua, had they not both quit). Nothing fancy, no juggling of bottom-feeders from the opposing alliance... all business, nothing personal.
Which, when you think about it, was kind of funny. He didn't even need any of the new-fangled tricks that previously befuddled him, such as his hidden immunity idol. He cleared the even newer-school hurdles (the two Redemption Island returnees) with ease. All based on a solid, barely-up-at-the-merge majority alliance, which he'd been carrying along since just after Ep1. The buddy system was even a new strategy thrown in for style points, designed to thwart the usual divide-and-conquer minority tribe post-merge tactics used in Tocantins and Samoa.
All of which begs the question: if the final three, Redemption Island, hidden idols and expanded cast size didn't trip up Boston Rob, why are they necessary, exactly? Ah well, no point in waiting around for an answer. A well-deserved season-long Slitty for Boston Rob, and with that, we're done with this season.