Monday is here once again which means it’s time for your weekly feature on Survivor Oz! This week it’s time to perhaps take what is considered to be one of the best seasons of all time down a notch, as our Kiwi Ozlet Nick Chester analyses whether or not the mighty 16th season of Micronesia is overrated. In an article that is sure to stir up some debate, your Monday just got topical! Click below to read on!
Like most Survivor fanatics, I have memories associated with various seasons and have at times been more or less interested, often for reasons that have nothing to do with the show. At the time I was completing study and moving into the world of full time employment, Survivor was not something I was overly interested in. Unfortunately I happened to pick seasons 15 and 16 to miss; two of the most interesting and well regarded by the fans and have only a passing memory of them even airing. Strangely enough, by the time Gabon aired, I was back as a dedicated viewer, but had missed out on all the fun. Hence my view and appreciation of Micronesia has always been a little different from most other people.
In truth, it was actually hard to find the season apart from its initial airing (at least in this part of the world), so it was viewed on dodgy You tube feeds, which wasn’t ideal. I have recently managed to get the DVD so have been able to watch the season as it was meant to be for probably the first time.
I have heard some discussion about Micronesia, and there seems to be a bit of a divide about its value as a season. I think most people still hold it in high regard, but a small group are getting louder, saying its actually not as good of a season as its given credit for. So which is it? One of the best of all time, or completely overrated? I certainly believe the season isn’t as great as it has been given credit for, and this only becomes more evident on a re-watch and with more time elapsing since it aired. Its flaws come into sharper focus. In fairness, it’s far from the worst season, but here are a few points that superfans of Micronesia should consider.
Mixing newbies with veterans
At the time, this concept was novel (although it wasn’t the first time it was used). The season was pitched as a battle of experience vs. knowledge of the game, with the fan’s prior information about the favourites making up for their experience. Not only was this proved woefully inaccurate, it has continued to be ever since, with no season featuring returning players failing to have at least one of them in the finals. As many players have said, the knowledge of what to expect especially in the first few days gives returning players such an enormous advantage that new players really have no chance. The first few episodes of Micronesia are interesting as the fans fall painfully short at camp, but the season remains interesting because they do manage to win a couple of immunity challenges. On a re-watch though, the scenes at the fans camp are pretty uninteresting. Mary and Mikey B are not really given a lot of screen time and the whole situation is seen almost entirely through Joel’s eyes. After the tribe swap, Joel is quickly gone and the fans become easy prey for the favourites. Airai camp life isn’t really shown and Kathy’s quit comes across as rushed and without much context. For everything that is said about how great Micronesia is, the period of the game between the swap and merge is largely just a chance to clear a lot of the fans off the board before the real game starts. And even after the merge, the fans are really there for their comic relief (although Jason and Erik do give the producers a lot to work with in that respect). Natalie has a one episode cameo where she is phenomenally entertaining, then disappears again. Basically, its very unsatisfying to know that half the cast have no chance of winning right from the start. This has obviously become just one case study of many that has now included Caramoan and Blood vs. Water, where the advantage returning players have is so huge, it’s impossible to overcome for newbies. So while this twist may have been interesting at first viewing, it doesn’t hold up particularly well over time.
Were they really fans??
Part of the issue above also has to do with how the term “fan” was used. Its been made pretty clear that some of these players were in fact recruits, others were less fans of strategy and more fans of challenges and island living. I have no issue with recruits – some of the best players on the show had watched very little of it before playing. But on a season that has a “Fans” tribe, they really do need to be fans, especially of the strategic element of the game. If players only have a passing knowledge of how the game works, their chances of matching the favourites in the strategic department is unlikely to be great. Once the initial thrill of being on TV wore off, the fans fell into the typical Survivor traps, divided and then basically did whatever the favourites wanted after switching and merging. The lesson wasn’t learnt before Caramoan and the same problem happened again. One reason Blood vs. Water worked so well was that the tribe of new players were all at least familiar with Survivor due to watching their loved ones. Players such as Vytas, Hayden and Ciera were all strategically sound players and had Ciera switched sooner or Tyson pulled the wrong colour rock, the “fans” of that season could have won. It made things much more even and interesting. And I just don’t believe that there are not enough good recruits who know the show well who will also be interesting and look good in a bathing suit to fill out a more competent fans tribe. The last few seasons have shown what applicants can do on Survivor when given the chance.
This was something I had never really noticed before, but the editing in Micronesia works really hard to make Parvati look like the mastermind of the season. Parvati definitely played a great game, making several alliances and using her social skills to advance her game. But in terms of the major strategic moves, Cirie drove almost all of these. The decision to side with Parv, James, Ozzy and Amanda set the tone of the game. Cirie then was a major player in taking Ami out. The decision to vote Ozzy out came from Cirie, and the plan to get Erik to give up his idol started with her too. She obviously didn’t know about Amanda’s idol, but other than that, Cirie was effectively running the show and letting other people think they were. One big gap in Parvati’s game was that she was under the assumption that it was a final 3, not final 2 and was happy to go to then end with Cirie, who would have posed a massive threat to her to win. This is a problem I have often had, and that is the need to make the season’s winner look like the best player. Sometimes that not the case, and that’s OK. Sometimes the best player doesn’t make it to the end, because they lose a challenge near the end or for other reasons. Parvati played a great game, but Cirie has been denied the credit she deserves because of the producer’s desire to make Parvati look better. To me, one of the biggest success stories of Cagayan was that we got to see a much more “warts and all” style winner in Tony – we were shown his mistakes and flaws, and this made for a much more satisfying outcome. Parvati was a fantastic winner but I don’t like seeing an edit forcing her to be the best player when at the very least, she shared this honour with Cirie.
Like a lot of other fans, I cant help but enjoy a good blindside and Micronesia didn’t disappoint, and perhaps set a record for the number of unexpected votes in one season. Ozzy’s vote off still stands out to me as one of the most satisfying and well deserved blindsides ever. So this is an aspect of the season I cant complain about. A group of players were prepared to do whatever it took to get to the end, even convincing one player to more or less vote himself out of the game. In terms of entertainment value, the post-merge episodes are pretty great, with few slow moments and some great tribal councils, and this is something I have to give the season credit for. It sure beats a boring Pagonging. However, this dedication to showing strategic moves means that lots of the players don’t get a full and interesting story, but are just portrayed as victims of the black widow brigade. Alexis is an interesting one for me. This should have been a huge move, but because we as an audience saw so little of Alexis, her eventual vote off via Amanda’s idol play was not as impactful as it could have been. Her blindside is seen more from the perspective of Amanda and Parvati, so the impact on her and the rest of her alliance comes off as meaningless. In reality, had Amanda not found the idol and been voted off, the game turns in a completely new direction, so the importance of the idol play is really downplayed. Jason doesn’t fare much better. So the Ozzy and Erik blindsides are great because not only are they big moves, but the people voted out were players we had got to know so as viewers, we have a bigger emotional reaction to their demise. However, the Jason and Alexis exits could have been much more impactful if some of the time dedicated to strategy talk and big plays was actually given to camp life and getting know and care about these players a little bit more. It makes what happens to them all the more interesting.
Whilst the hidden immunity idol has worked well since almost the start, the Exile Island portion has always been less of a success. It’s hard to make interesting TV with one person on their own for days at a time. The twist in China of having one person visit the opposite tribe was a huge step in the right direction – and returning to Exile Island a massive step backwards again in Micronesia. Having one fan and one favourite go together should have made things more interesting, but it didn’t. Watching players swim backwards and forwards looking for idols was completely uninteresting but needed to be shown all the same. The fact that production continued with this for a further two seasons is stunning given how boring it was. Fans may point to the whole fake idol thing with Jason, and yes this was mildly interesting, but the full entertainment value of this came from camp scenes, not time on Exile Island.
But don’t get me wrong: Micronesia is still a top season. It certainly beats a lot of the more boring seasons where nothing interesting happens, and has some great characters and game play. The big blindsides in the second half of the season make it an interesting season, but to see it ranked in people’s top 5 seems to me to be a bit of a stretch. The tribes were mismatched and the first half of the season is a bit of a drag. A lot of the good strategists go home early and it takes until the merge for the season to fully take off (but in fairness, when its gets good, it’s really good). The season isn’t fully balanced and lots of characters are overlooked. The edit feels forced and not a true depiction of what might have happened. To make a bad analogy, Micronesia feels a bit like Game of Thrones – big on shocking moments, sometimes light on a compelling story and interesting characters (apart from a couple of star players). Yes, it’s definitely entertaining, but on the whole, overrated.
Do you agree or disagree with Nick? Do you think Micronesia is overrated? Comment below to let us know!