Survivor
All-Star Reunion

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The Rupert Show Returns

Jeff sends it to a commercial, and when we return, it's time for Jeff to announce the final twist -- in this case, the twist that drained away every bit of respect I ever had for this show in about ten seconds. He announces that in addition to the million CBS already gave away, it's giving away another million. And on what basis? Viewer voting, American Idol-style. Which means that the entire thing that makes Survivor fun is totally wrecked, at least for this season, and for any future season in which they don't make perfectly clear that they will no longer be doing this.

See, I've been recapping reality TV for about three years. And the thing I hate more than anything else is the endless stream of conspiracy theories that insist that the shows are all fixed to lead to a certain outcome, manipulated by the producers. It has been perfectly obvious to me from the minute I started watching that this was not the case and could not be the case, simply because the audience almost never gets its way. To use an example from a different show, if the audience got its way and got the winners it wanted on The Amazing Race, the first three teams to win the show would have been Kevin and Drew, Danny and Oswald, and Ken and Gerard. Period, hands-down, no questions asked. But none of those people won. Because it's a competition, and it's not fixed, and if that means that Flo wins, then so be it. ["Not that you ever have to make your personal peace with that fact and can continue to resent it for years afterward. Right? Because I do." -- Wing Chun] That's how you know it's a competition, and that's how you stay invested in it. You stay invested in it because you may or may not get the outcome you want, and nobody is promising you that at the end, you will get to wrap up the season with a big red bow.

This show has always been the same way. There was something ballsy about the fact that Hatch won the money in the first season, and Brian won it in Thailand, and Jenna Morasca won it in the Amazon. Sometimes you get a satisfying ending, and sometimes you get an ending that makes you wonder how the people you liked let the people you didn't like walk off with the money. You take those lumps as a viewer willingly, because this is a competition, not an episode of Queen For A Day. Put it this way -- you may get on the show by being good television, but you don't win by being good television. You win by winning. But now, with this "twist," you win just by being good television, which sort of makes the show about itself in an unsettlingly meta kind of way. You get a million dollars -- the same prize that goes to the person who guts it out for more than a month and bests a whole crowd of other people using whatever methods he or she has to -- just for being popular. And that, my friends, is absolute bullshit. Particularly in a scenario where multiple online votes can be cast by bots and auto-doohickeys and so forth, this kind of thing is meaningless anyway -- it means about as much as the results mean on American Idol, which is to say not much. For all the complaints about feeding off of people's worst instincts, the one thing that Mark Burnett shows -- and better reality shows in general -- have not been guilty of until this particular moment is pandering -- giving audiences mush-mouthed feel-good crap-ass suck-up endings.

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Survivor

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