Once again in 2014, Survivor Oz will bring you Feature Articles to brighten up your Mondays! In our first feature of 2014, New Zealander and Blood vs. Water doubter, Nick Chester, takes a look back on the season, discussing what went right and what went wrong. Nick then gives us his take on how the concept could be developed and evolve in the future. As always, we want to hear what you thought of the season after initially hearing about the format, and you can also have your say on Nick’s ideas about how to improve the Blood vs. Water concept by commenting below!
There is a saying that in life, the key to happiness is low expectations. During the Blood vs. Water preview show, I loudly proclaimed that the season was nothing more than a spin off version of the show and that the numerous twists bastardised the concept of the show into an almost unrecognisable format. As is often the case, I was proved wrong and was very happy to be so. Blood vs. Water was a thoroughly entertaining season, with few slow episodes and a lot of twists and turns to keep things interesting. The addition of competitors with pre-existing relationships had the benefit of injecting emotion back into the game, which was good as the show had been increasingly edited over the years to be seen as a strategy heavy contest where player’s relationships with each other felt distant and cold. There was a lot to recommend the format and as such, I would be shocked not to see future Blood vs. Water seasons in the future.
Survivor also got a lot of other things right this season, which ensured things worked well. This included a great cast for the most part, of both returning players and first timers. Bringing back players who haven’t been seen in years in Aras and Gervase was a great move. Although I wasn’t a fan of her game, Monica certainly delivered and made for interesting television and proved she deserved to be there in her own right and not just because of who her husband was. I think producers got lucky that the more uninteresting or polarising veterans went out early, (Candice, Rupert and Colton).
The loved ones though were really the big surprise. I think it would be fair to say that the “fans” in the two Fans vs. Favourites seasons were somewhat lacking in their desire to actually play the game and perhaps a little star struck by the veterans. As the family members all knew at least one returning player prior to playing the game themselves, (and almost all of them had seen this person fail to win). This wasn’t the case in Blood vs. Water and made the new players better at the game and more hungry to win rather than just make it far. For me, Ciera and Hayden were absolute standouts in terms of their game play, prepared to risk everything knowing that playing a passive game would be unlikely to lead to victory. This was incredibly refreshing and made for great television. Caleb and Vytas also were fun to watch at various times and we were certainly robbed of entertainment by having Brad go home so early. So overall, it would be safe to say that Blood vs. Water surpassed our expectations and is a season that will be remembered as very memorable.
However, it wasn’t all good and I have a few gripes that I would like to see changed, not just for another Blood vs. Water format, but in all seasons going forward.
Its time to accept that this twist simply doesn’t work. Production has tried and in the three seasons it has existed, it has failed to have any significant impact on how the season has played out. It messes with the format of the show, making Tribal Council’s less impactful. I heard the argument that it did actually work in this season, because of the emotion injected with loved ones still in the game. However, other than Rupert’s Day One Switch, nobody traded places with their loved ones. If we are looking for more drama and emotion, I would suggest this could be achieved by allowing the tribe that wins Immunity to attend Tribal Council in an observing capacity. Seeing your loved one actually get voted out and have their torch snuffed would be much more raw and emotional that having to watch them stack a bunch of tiles. I like to keep an open mind on game twists but this one has had its chance and hasn’t panned out. Redemption Island still falls over by only testing one of Survivor’s three key skills, (“Outplay”, or the ability to win challenges), and in fact it allows players in the later half of the game to bypass the most essential one – “outlast”, or the ability to play a good social game. Tyson was my pre-season pick to win the game, in large part because I figured that even if he was voted out, it would have been incredibly difficulty for two people to beat him on Redemption Island. The twist simply doesn’t work, with or without loved ones. There are better ways to achieve drama without messing with the fundamental rules of the game.
2. Retire the Hidden Immunity Idol
I would like to think that the lesson has been learnt about giving Idol clues away in the open and that won’t be done anymore. Having said that, this season only highlighted why the Hidden Immunity Idol has had its day and should be “retired” as a Survivor twist. Since the crazy days of Idol plays in Heroes vs. Villains, the Hidden Immunity Idol has only been used effectively once; that was in Caramoan and it needed two Idols and an Individual Immunity Necklace in order to succeed. Every other time since Nicaragua, the Idol has either been in the hands of the person in control, or the controlling alliance has been able to split votes in order to nullify its effect. This isn’t a good return on the time invested into showing people looking for Idols, or talking about who has them and how that will be dealt with. It’s time to face up to the fact that Survivor players have adapted to the game with an Idol and it no longer plays a significant role in the season. Let’s remove it from the game and come up with something new.
3. Cast more confrontational couples
The emotion of seeing people deal with their loved ones was a great element of Blood vs. Water, but almost all these pairs were working on the assumption that playing with their loved one was the best idea. This makes sense for a lot of pairs, but the show would have benefitted from having several couples ready and willing to turn on each other. Yes, Ciera did vote for her mother, but Laura was going regardless and this move was made much more of a big deal than it actually was. I had expected that Aras and Vytas might turn on each other, but this never happened and they worked on the assumption that playing together was the best move. One of the best parts of The Amazing Race is when teams turn on themselves, with the pair not being able to function and self destructing. For The Amazing Race fans, how great would it have been to see a dynamic on Blood vs. Water like Tim and Marie had on the latest season? We all know that Survivor likes to get a lot of drama and this seems a really good way to get it done. Maybe a team of ex’s or more brother and sister teams would allow this to happen? Mother and daughter’s or married couple teams seem less likely to eventually turn on each other. Which brings me to my next point.
4. Survivor Rivals?
Blood vs. Water has unlocked the gate for more possibilities of pairs of people with pre-existing relationships to appear on Survivor. If pairs of people who love, or at least like each other is a good idea, could teams of people who hate each other work? Could “Survivor: Rivals” be a future season? There have certainly been many rivalries created on the show over the years, it could be fun to put them all back on the show in a massive grudge match. Boston Rob vs. Lex, Corinne vs. Sugar, Aras vs. Terry, Kim vs. Troyzan are just some of the many options you could use. As much as this season asked if loved ones would turn on each other, the same question could be asked in reverse – can enemies put aside their differences and work together?
If Blood vs. Water works, how about Survivor: Rivals?
5. Or Old School vs. New School
The return of Gervase was hot on the heels of Mike Skupin’s return following a very long absence from the game. Both made it to the end and both failed to get the votes to win, for very similar reasons. Although they both improved their strategic game, they had forgotten how important the social aspect of Survivor is, and therefore had poor Jury management skills and couldn’t get the votes to win. This trend perhaps leads nicely into a potential theme for an All-Stars season, where “Old School” players are pitted against players from recent seasons. This would allow many favourites who perhaps have not had a chance to return so far to get a shot, (such as Helen, Deena and Shane), but also see if having played the game more recently allows players to make better decisions.
Could both the success and failings of Gervase and Skupin open the door to a Old School vs. New School season?
6. Some old problems still exist
For all its good points, my major problems with Survivor still exist. Tyson was a worthy winner and played a great game but the editing on the show still seems to be stuck in a repetitive loop where the winner has to be made clear to the viewer early and often. The same was true of Cochran, Kim and Boston Rob. I understand that when Tyson plays a dominant game and wins the Jury vote eight-one-zero, it’s pretty much impossible to tell the story without making his actions central to the action. However, he made several mistakes in the game and had a lot of luck on his side. Glossing over this and making him out to be a perfect player doesn’t make for interesting viewing. I don’t need the winner to have played a perfect game and in many ways, seeing the eventual winner make mistakes is reassuring as it shows perfection isn’t a requirement. There was a lack in subtlety to the edits of both Gervase and Monica, as we saw little of them in many episodes and were then shown their respective inadequacies, (Gervase’s arrogance and Monica’s superficiality), in spades. Showing their positive attributes and how they got to the end would have left more ambiguity in the last few episodes. To me, it seemed fairly obvious Tyson would win as soon as Aras was voted out. This doesn’t make for interesting viewing. Listening to exit interviews, its clear Gervase was still very charming, just as he was in Borneo, and that Monica actually did try to make more connections than we were shown. Both were reduced to one dimensional characters and goats for Tyson to drag to the end. You could argue that Sophie and Denise both won the game in convincing style but neither of their games was shown in such a dominant fashion. Editing does not need to be so obvious.
Who didn’t see this coming weeks in advance?
Now we enter a very interesting period for Survivor. With ratings holding solid or perhaps even rising slightly, a lot rests on the success of Cagayan. The first season in two years to not feature returning players has a lot to prove – that Survivor can still be interesting without relying on tried and tested returning players. Many will argue that Nicaragua and One World failed to deliver and after the surprise success of Blood vs. Water in the face of much pre-season criticism, the future of the franchise could really be shaped by what happens over the next few months. I can’t wait to see what happens.
Do you agree or disagree with Nick? Comment below to let us know!