Dee reads every blog! It’s only logical, Spock... Dee must be amongst us right now. Although something is telling me that, as a superfan, Dee’s experience was far too painful to read about. But still, you never know. So... just in case.... Dee, thanks for one great episode and a memorable start to the thing that is New Zealand Survivor. I’m sorry you weren’t a part of it for longer.
In all seriousness, though, it felt like week one was a rough one on us, the viewer. We lost three players who all felt like big characters off the bat. And in each case, although the votes made sense in context, I think they were votes of their particular circumstances, and not necessarily the smartest ones for the tribe.
With that said – on balance, I’m enjoying the season so far, and it’s given me plenty to talk about in the first blog of the season. So, what’s on the ticket this week?
My history with Avi (why I will be #TeamAvi until the end)
If I were Debbie Wanner, this is the point where I would tell you that I’ve been an actor. No, wait... I’d tell you that I’ve been an award winning actor. And, technically, this would be accurate.
See, when I was at high school, I had the fortune of being cast in a 12 person show by a particularly visionary teacher, who liked to write plays. It was a one-act play, around 40 minutes in length, and over the course of a few months we workshopped and created it together. And then we entered into a national one-act play competition.
Somehow we made it to the finals, and went on a road trip, where we found ourselves confronted by a number of adult acting troupes, some of whom I could only presume were at least semi-professional theatre actors. Certainly, they had a lot more experience than this bunch of teenagers from a Lower Hutt high school. We never saw our win coming for a second.
Now, the fact that we won had nothing to do with me. I have little to no acting skills, something that became apparent very quickly. In fact, our play was a musical, and I was selected more for the fact that I could competently hold a bass line. Avi, though? He can act. He was the star of the show. I know that part of why we won was that our teacher invented a meaningful play. But Avi was also a critical reason.
Avi is, in essence, a very nice guy – and I think this has already come across well on television. But my experience is that he already has sufficient skill to play a character when he needs to. He seems to be aiming to play an honourable game as much as possible, but if he decides the time comes when he needs to lie and blindside someone, I believe that he has the skills to pull it off without them seeing it coming. It’s a really vital skill out there. One that I could see taking Avi all the way to the win. I’m not just #TeamAvi out of principle. I’m also #TeamAvi out of belief.
(Another note – my niece reliably informs me that Jak also attended my school, Hutt Valley High School. New Zealand is not so small that you’d expect two separate contestants to come from the same high school, let alone mine. I wonder if there’s a chance they will end up bonding over it?)
The next Wanda (was this the cruellest start in Survivor ever?)
Survivor NZ came out of the gate swinging.
First, there was the audacity to ask people if they would be willing to be considered a villain if it meant they won. I don’t know if Jeff Probst has ever asked this question, but it’s time he did. With both Dee and Shay putting their hands up (and Shay then awkwardly trying to pretend like she was pointing at Dee instead), it was a question that directly impacted the game and opened things up from the outset.
Then, there was a fairly simple twist on a marooning, where it happened on the beach (this is what the New Zealand budget clearly kicks in!). This could have come across as a cheap knock off if nothing happened, but instead it became about Izzy’s willingness to steal from the other tribe mat. This created a great parallel to the question of who the villains were. While Dee admitted to being a villain and then never did anything to actually be villainous, Izzy didn’t admit to it, and then did act as the villain. The upside? Her tribe reaped the benefit, and at least in that moment, it felt as though Izzy gained some mana* from the rest of her tribe.
Interlude from my mother: “Of course the cop didn’t catch Izzy, they don’t do burglaries.”
Then came the really big twist – that both tribes would be going to tribal on day one before they had even had the chance to run a challenge.
The immediate thing that came to mind for me while watching was the end of Wanda and Jonathan in Palau, where they were cruelly taken out simply by not being chosen in a schoolyard pick. But at least in that season, all of the players were given an opportunity to integrate before the twist was revealed. Here, the tribes had no opportunity to bond or form alliances at all. From the moment they hit the beach, they were already sizing up their tribe with the intent of removing someone immediately.
Upon reflection, I’ve realised this twist was much more like Blood vs Water. While in that season the vote outs happened immediately, the reality is that here they may as well have – first impressions were all that mattered and there was never any chance that the contestants who were chosen to go were going to be able to integrate. Both also had Redemption Island to soften the blow slightly. But perhaps that felt less cruel to me because it was a returning player season and Rupert swapped out – realistically, we weren’t seeing two new players both go home on day one. As a result, the whole thing felt to me like the most cruel first boots there could be.
Dee, in particular, was never going to recover from the double whammy of admitting to be a villain and then having someone voted out immediately. It probably wasn’t advisable to put her hand up at the best of times, but if she’d known that twist was coming immediately after she surely wouldn’t have.
*By mana, I don’t mean the tribe in Mamanuca Islands, but the concept found in Maori and other Polynesian languages. Mana is a difficult concept for me to explain well, and please, if there are any other New Zealanders reading who feel you can explain it better – go ahead in the comments! The best way I can describe it is a combination of respect, presence (or charisma), and influence. A great leader has significant mana. When Sala called Tony “Matua” (father), and was unwilling to vote against him after giving his word, this was Sala giving respect to a man with mana, both through his age and through his survivalist experience.
Team Megatron (aka the team with all the air time)
It might just be that they have gone to tribal council in both episodes, but is it just me or has it felt like Mogotón (henceforth, Megatron, because I simply cannot think of them any other way), have really dominated the air time so far? So much so that I feel like I can discuss each member of the tribe in depth, while not really getting to know much about the Hermosa tribe at all.
Megatron also had two of the more interesting vote outs, because I feel as though both of them ended up being the incorrect decision (at least for the tribe as a whole), but in both cases, the decision seemed to be made for the right reasons.
Hannah’s vote off was not a surprise. The twist doomed her from the start. When you hit the beach already knowing you are voting someone off and without even having a challenge to see how people are going to perform, it’s a virtual guarantee that the vote will be for a female, and for a female who is perceived (principally by the men of the tribe) as the most likely to be weak in the challenges. Lou and Shay are physically strong, and that left only Hannah and Izzy.
While the show tried to suggest Izzy could be on the chopping block, I don’t think she ever truly was after having pilfered so much loot from the other tribe at the marooning. I’m sure she got some level of respect from her tribe for doing that, and so it probably gave her enough room to survive the day. It’s very difficult to watch someone set your tribe up so well with so much stuff just to cut her immediately. That would have been cold.
Ultimately, that meant Hannah was the odd woman out. It was a shame to see her go to Redemption Island so early, as it seemed like she was the kind of person who could work her way in with just a little more time (and maybe she can yet...)
The vote for Tony was more intriguing. As a group, the best choice was clearly Izzy. And yet, on an individual level? Not so much. It’s best to see this by looking at each player left in the tribe separately:
Shay is currently the sun around which the Megatron tribe revolves. The easy vote off here would have been Izzy, and it feels like a vote that quite possibly Tom and Tony could both have ended up on board with if it was the consensus. The show didn’t explain how Izzy was dropped as an option so suddenly, but reading between the lines I feel that the answer that makes the most sense is... Shay. Shay didn’t want to end up with the girls 4-2 down, and she kept Izzy’s name off the table. As the person who everyone was trying to keep onside, no-one wanted to rock the boat with Shay, and so I believe she was able to turn it into a Tom vs Tony battle and keep someone she perceived as a potential number for her.
Shay now seems like she potentially has the closest connection with Sala, Lou and Izzy. This puts her in a really good position for right now.
Clouds are on the horizon for Shay, though. It’s only a few days in, and she’s already allied with both Hannah and Tony and then voted them out. No doubt they will be comparing notes, and she is potentially just one “F*** you Brad Culpepper” moment away from becoming public enemy number one. Shay is owning the villain tag that she started off admitting to. It’s just a question of how long it takes people to realise it. If they don’t, you have to suggest she has the goods to win the whole thing.
Sala didn’t vote for Tony, obviously, but he also didn’t work too hard to keep Tony safe. He played all sides carefully but well. He allowed Tony the opportunity to scramble because he wanted him to stay. He ultimately deferred to Shay and didn’t try to push her in any particular direction. He was able to make sure that he, himself, lost no mana within the tribe for voting against their decision.
Sala is an interesting mix. He’s clearly a fan of the show, as demonstrated by him being able to articulate known strategies well. He’s also a good analyst (and self-analyst), already recognising that his honour could be his weak point and downfall, and also calling Izzy’s move to return a knife ‘a weak move’ and ‘the right move’ in consecutive breaths. Sala clearly has depth. But he’s going to win if he makes it to the end, and everyone knows it. The trickiest thing for Sala will be to see whether he can make a cutthroat move when it truly matters. For now, he should skate through to the merge no problems.
You might have thought that Lou would lose points for not knowing the difference between left and right, but the edit didn’t give her blame for a second, even though it appeared as though it was that (and not Tony and Sala’s miscommunication) that cost them valuable challenge time. Her vote for Avi was intriguing, as a kind of passive statement not only against the Tony vote but also against the man who pushed for it. I don’t think she will have to account for it much either, as I think Avi is going to understand. Lou seems to be in good with everyone, and I don’t think anyone is coming for her, so she’s in a good spot socially.... but that group of four could stick together and want to take her out rather than Sala.
Avi made the right move for his game this week in voting out Tony. It was very tough to see this happen, because I would have much preferred to watch Avi work with Tony, not against him. But Tom is clearly an ally right now and Avi was able to successfully argue to keep him on board (and was given edit credit for doing it, if such a thing exists). Avi was clearly number five if Tony’s four had stuck together, so there is no doubt that this outcome was the best for him.
Ugh. Tom feels like dour, negative energy to me. I can’t imagine he could ever win, because it looks like he never has any fun. It also felt as though Tom didn’t get much credit for saving his own skin. He went after Tony before Tony came after him, and things might have looked different if that hadn’t been the case (if they could have patched up their differences, maybe Izzy goes?) In any event, I get the feeling like Tom is getting portrayed as an arrogant character who will get his comeuppance. Again, assuming the edit is trying to achieve certain stories.
Izzy stole things, got really sick, everyone regretted voting Hannah out instead of her, she more or less vanished from the edit, and then suddenly her name isn’t on the block any more. I think that this is likely to be no more than a temporary reprieve for Izzy, but you never know... but certainly, taking Tony out could only help her chances, especially if she is in a three-person alliance with Tom and Avi (which she appears to be).
The redemption of Redemption Island? (and other production notes)
For at least one episode, I felt like the show had figured out the way Redemption Island needed to be edited – as the denouement of the episode, ensuring that the end was a player leaving the game permanently rather than simply being voted out. It actually capped off the first episode rather well. But then it was all undone by having a second episode without it at all.
I was also disappointed that they didn’t take the opportunity to throw in another twist. With only 16 players and 40 days to fill, being down to 14 by the end of the day 1 gives a lot of time to play with. Why not really drive home the nature of Redemption Island by putting Hannah straight back into the game when she won, and letting her pick her tribe? I think that would have made for a very interesting twist, and put the threat of returnees from Redemption Island straight onto people’s radars. Instead, we’re likely to get a stock standard ‘merge, final 5’ return approach to Redemption Island, and that isn’t going to put the cat among the pigeons at all.
In all probability, though, Redemption Island is being used as a way to save costs on challenge builds. If anything is particularly conspicuous in the season so far, it’s the lack of challenges (and the lack of any spectacle in the challenge builds).
Overall, I feel as though production is doing a really good job, given their limited budget. Challenges aside, it’s really not otherwise clear that this is a low-budget New Zealand production, and I’m not yet getting the feeling of cultural cringe that I’d get from nearly any other New Zealand reality TV show.
There are some things that could be done better in the editing, however. All of the votes so far have been well signposted in the editing, which leaves little to no drama at all. As much as I find the strategic part of Survivor the most interesting, this was an episode nearly devoid of anything but strategy, and it felt like it needed to be broken up more. There was at least one entire segment too much of Megatron talking about who they would vote out, and that segment could have been replaced either with character moments where the strategy took a back seat, or with the Redemption Island duel that has been left until next week.
As far as poor balance goes, I’d much rather the balance err on the side of too much strategy rather than too little. However, I feel that the show could really risk losing people as ‘too boring’ if the show becomes exclusively strategy. They still need to find their footing in providing the right balance. I hope they do it through character rather than through contrived twists.
Nevertheless, this feels like a relatively minor comment because all in all, the production quality has been much higher than I expected, and I’m genuinely enjoying the season and looking forward to what comes next. Which appears to be Tony hiring a local guerrilla army and executing his former tribe by firing squad. At least, that’s what I imagine Tony’s response to being voted out will be.
Odds and Ends
* It’s time to sort out nomenclature. How about NZ: Nicaragua?
* Seriously, who eats termites on day two? Jak implied there weren’t many brain cells on the Hermosa tribe, and I’m inclined to agree after that scene.
* From the very beginning, Hermosa have decided to band together as a group of self-proclaimed ‘heroes’. Don’t they know how that worked out on Heroes vs Villains? If the editors are fans and do have a long game here, it would be kind of interesting to see the heroes be defeated by Megatron, obviously the team of villains. Shay, Tom, and Izzy, at least, all feel a little like villains already, so this could be apt. It’s a storyline I’m keeping an eye on.
* On the editing note, though, I don’t yet know if this season could be edit read. My experience of NZ reality TV is that they want to tell stories, but not necessarily that they would insert the winner artificially or look to make everyone feel good about the winner. I’ll probably keep an eye on the edit just to see how much I feel I can learn, but it probably takes at least one full season to figure out whether or not Edgic could be a valuable tool.
Right, that’s it for this week. Please comment or tweet me at @golden8284 – the synergy between NZ Survivor and True Dork Times may be very low indeed, so I really want to know that you readers are out there.
Until next blog... see you.
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
Other NZ: Nicaragua Episodes 1-2 recaps/ discussion
Episodes 1-2 exit interviews: Dee Harper
Episodes 1-2 podcasts