Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Survivor: Samoa - 19x14 "This Game Ain't Over"

1. I haven't changed my original opinion of Russell -- in fact, I forgot to mention then that I think he's irreducibly misogynist. In addition to christening one strategic arrangement as his "dumb-ass girls alliance" and calling Monica "that little bitch," he maliciously targeted any woman who showed the faintest trace of independent thought, and his attitude isn't explained simply because Liz or Betsy or Marisa threatened his stability in the game. For instance, compare his semi-affectionate, begrudgingly respectful decision to vote out John, the one guy who represented a strategic threat to him. You might also say that Brett was a strategic threat, too, in that he would've pulled in the majority of jury votes, and again, Russell heaped effusive praise on the prayer warrior even as he voted him out.

1a. Jaison might not have actually held a grudge for his burned socks, but during the reunion show, Russell might as well have been talking about me, because that maneuver really set me off. I suppose you can call me a very proprietary person. So much for my Marxist bonafides: such capricious destruction of personal property enrages me.

1b. Russell's occupation is the other factor that elevates my hate for him to unmatched depths of bilious contempt. Jonny Fairplay, as annoying and distasteful as he is, only pollutes pop culture and our sense of moral obligations. With his tax evasion, Richard Hatch is a net detriment to American national interests. Russell, as the owner of an oil company, is poisonous to the entire planet.

2. MGK complains that Russell was hosed by a near-sighted, grudge-keeping jury, but I think he's expecting too much from the game's players. Simply put, the jury rarely behaves in a cold, rational way, but instead are fueled by emotional grievances and perceived slights -- that's Survivor history. When has the jury cross-ex ever been anything except a parade of butthurtedness? I can think of one rational jury voter -- Jonathan Penner in Race War Islands Cook Islands -- and maybe Yau-Man voting in favor of Earl, too, though they were tight enough that personal affection could've overcome the sting of getting voted out.

Another way to frame the situation is this: you generally can't bulldoze over everyone and win without having invested in the social side. Russell may think he played a complete game, but if he were half the student of Survivor that he fancies himself being, then he would have taken the social aspect into far greater account than he did. Contrary to what Russell said early in the season, it may be easy for someone like him to get to the Final Council, but getting jurors to vote for him is a more difficult undertaking than his ego is willing to admit.

I also wouldn't be so quick to say that Russell played the best game ever to be played on any iteration of Survivor, since a lot of the strategy that's taken for granted now were conceptual breakthroughs when other people thought them up.

2a. What's more, MGK's outrage goes against the rational(!) explanation of an earlier post on the subject:
[...] there is nobody you want at final tribal council more than Russell, because Russell has thus far engineered the elimination of every single member of the jury [...]
Back then, I actually was skeptical about Russell as the perfect Final Council opponent, because I figured that the former Galu populating the jury would've aimed their bitterness at each other because of their various incompetencies. Of course, they continued to flaunt their rarefied stupidity by lashing out at the final three.

2c. OK, MGK has a compelling point that Russell should've won, but all the same, I'm thrilled that he didn't. During the reunion show, I ate up all the shots of him all pissy and whiny that he didn't win.

3. How the hell are women supposed to win Survivor anyway? If a woman's going to win through manipulation, she'd better hope that she's facing another woman/other women in the Final Council, or else the jury is going to vote based on gendered expectations (read: double standards). Women have won the show eight times out of 19 seasons, which itself is a little troubling, but when you consider that 13 season have featured mixed-gender Final Councils out of which women have won a whopping four times, the case for ideological gender imbalance becomes hard to ignore. When the men still in the competition at the end of most seasons tend to be physical dynamos, women will by default have to rely on other attributes, some of which are going to devalued by other players.

3a. Which brings me to Erik's jury speech, which was a more nuanced explanation than I expected from someone whose two most notable moments of the game were a) getting blindsided by his own tribe, and b) getting blindsided by a clothesline. Ignoring his naive and wrong comments about ethics and the responsibilities of leadership, here's what he said to Nathalie:
People will call you weak. People will say that you're undeserving. But you know what? Why are those characteristics any less "admirable" as lying, cheating, and stealing? Why does [Russell] get a free pass, but your wrong way of playing is admonished? If there's one thing that I learned in this game is that perception is not "reality." Reality is reality, and you are sitting there and that makes you just as dangerous as any one of those guys there.

You would say you are probably the least deserving of the title of sole survivor. But maybe, just maybe, in an environment filled with arrogance [and] delusional entitlement, maybe the person who thinks she's the least deserving is probably the most.
He's basically arguing about the artificial constructs that inform Survivor (which is where he misses the irony of scolding Russell for his "ethical" transgressions), and how "coat-tailing" is seen as an illegitimate way of progressing through the game, when there are no principles within Survivor itself that say that coat-tailing is illegitimate. In other words, the players (and viewers, which is where the bulk of the anti-Nathalie backlash is coming from) bring their own values in when they judge that someone like Nathalie to be undeserving; her lack of desert has nothing to do with in-game parameters, and in fact, in a competition that structurally biases against women, she earns some credit for getting to the end. (Likewise, concepts like honesty, integrity, etc. aren't inherent to Survivor, so within the game, there's nothing wrong with backstabbing, manipulation, and so on.)

4. How about some aimless musing about Heroes vs. Villains?
Villains that I'd expect to be brought back:
  • Fairplay
  • Corinne
  • Randy (Gabon)
  • Brian (Thailand)
  • Boston Rob
  • Russell
  • Parvati
  • Coach
  • Tyson

I would've included Rich Hatch, but his incarceration would make participating rather difficult. Also, there's an obvious gender imbalance, so consider the above list to be highly stupid unofficial.

Possible heroes:
  • Yau-Man
  • Earl
  • Bob (Gabon)
  • Sugar (Gabon)
  • Cerie
  • JT
  • Taj

A note: I know lots of people felt that Sugar was a poor finalist because she didn't try to win, but I liked how she twisted the motivations of the game so that she basically transformed herself -- almost single-handedly -- from cannon fodder into a king maker, if only because no one else on the show would ever choose that role.

Yul would be another obvious inclusion, except now that he's working for the FCC, I doubt he'd want to be involved.

Indie rating: Ghost – God Took a Picture of His Illness on This Ground"


Christopher Bird said...

Another way to frame the situation is this: you generally can't bulldoze over everyone and win without having invested in the social side. Russell may think he played a complete game, but if he were half the student of Survivor that he fancies himself being, then he would have taken the social aspect into far greater account than he did.

But that's the really interesting thing: although Russell was really snide about a lot of his competitors, he practically never did it in person. He saved his rancor for camera-confessions. I remember watching the finale and him badgering Natalie and Mick as to what their strategy was going to be and thinking it was uncharacteristic of him, precisely because up until that point he had been very, very good about not being rude to people.

Leee said...

True enough, he saved his venom for the confessionals, but not being a outright bastard to your tribemates is the minimum starting point of the social game. To really get over with other players, you have to actively form relationships with them. For instance, I bet Amanda Kimmel was perfectly inoffensive to everyone, and she played a decent strategic/physical game, but she was aloof compared to Todd, who was quite charming and was friendly with and probably genuinely interested in the other players. The same thing happened in Micronesia -- people connected with Parvati more.