Judge Eric Profancik is an All-Star...in his own mind.
Our reviews of Survivor: Borneo: The Complete Season (published August 17th, 2004), Survivor: The Australian Outback: The Complete Season (published May 2nd, 2005), Survivor: Pearl Islands: The Complete Season (published February 1st, 2006), Survivor Palau: The Complete Season (published September 20th, 2006), and Survivor Vanuatu: The Complete Season (published December 20th, 2006) are also available.
"I've been bamboozled!"
What an interesting yet sad state of television we live in where a reality show becomes so popular (or full of itself) that it feels the urge to create an "All-Stars" version of the show. When did we cross the line into making these people stars and wanting more of them? The answer: when Richard Hatch won a million dollars. Since then, most of the Survivor contestants have enjoyed fifteen minutes of fame, leading to this inevitable "reunion" show.
Are these people really All Stars? Did they deserve another chance at a million dollars? Did we really want to watch the same people try again? Is it time for Survivor to go away?
Facts of the Case
Eighteen contestants from the previous seven seasons of Survivor have been brought back to compete for another million-dollar prize. The game still works the same way, with prize challenges (every second day) and immunity challenges (every third day). This time there are three teams instead of the typical two; they are:
Eventually the tribes would be whittled down to a new tribe called Chaboga Mogo.
By this eighth edition of the series, everyone knew what was going to happen. We all knew there would be food challenges, stamina challenges, endurance challenges, memory challenges, and everything in between. Everyone knew that the tribes would eventually merge, and everyone knew that Jeff Probst would milk every minute of screen time. And since all the players knew how to play the game, we were hoping this All-Stars edition would be all the more interesting. Because the eighteen people had all been there and experienced the reality of Survivor, how would the game unfold? After Richard Hatch set down the ground rules in Borneo, every player since then followed his lead. But how would eighteen "Richard Hatches" outwit, outplay, and outlast each other? What would be fresh and exciting and new?
Nothing. Survivor All-Stars offered no new twists, no new excitement, no radical new way to play the game. It was another offering of who could manipulate the others best. And, unfortunately, even the eventual sole survivor of the All-Stars wasn't all that much fun to watch. But that's getting ahead of ourselves just a bit.
As the game unfolded, all the truly interesting personalities were booted out early. Richard, Sue, and Rudy were voted out (or left) in the opening days of the game. Those who remained ended up being mindless sheep to the big winner, Amber. Granted, no one but Shii Ann realized that Amber was running the show, and we all thought Boston Rob was going to walk away with the million dollars. Rob M. looked like he was in charge, making the decisions, and deciding his own fate. It was boring. Ignoring the fact that Amber wins in the end, watching all those episodes with Rob calling the shots was bad television. No one was smart enough to destroy that alliance; no one realized until it was too late that they didn't stand a chance. Every week, another person who thought he or she could trust Rob was voted off the island. If only Lex hadn't been so naïve and kept Amber around, then this might have been a fun game.
But that didn't happen, and it was one of the worst installments in the franchise. What was the point of tuning in each week? We were all pretty sure Boston Rob had it sewn up. Even when Amber stealthily took the million dollars, it wasn't all that impressive. At the end of the day, Survivor All-Stars didn't live up to its billing. These return players didn't show any "all-star" talent. Except for Amber and Rob, they all failed to play the game well. It was as if they had never watched or participated before. All the hype, all the hope, all the possibilities were squandered. The previous million-dollar winners had targets on their backs, and Richard never stood a chance. Not only was he bamboozled, but so were we for hoping that bringing back the players for an All-Stars edition would be something remarkable.
This seven-disc set looks and sounds very good. For the full-frame video, I was impressed by how crisp and clean the image was. It looked a thousand times better than it did on television, with bold colors, rich blacks, and not a flaw anywhere to be seen. The video is far better than it should be. With the audio, your only choice is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that serves the series well. Being simply a reality series, there's no need for any other mix (5.1), for the dialogue is handed without a hitch. You'll hear every secret whisper, every sob, and every proclamation with no hiss or distortion.
Before I go on, I'd like to mention that there are titles for each episode on the series. Since they are somewhat clever, I thought I'd list them for you:
Episode 1: "They're Back!"
There's also a nice assortment of bonus material included across the discs. They're not all particularly strong, but they support and enhance the Survivor experience:
• Audio Commentaries: Out of the sixteen episodes (as I count them), there are ten commentary tracks. Yes, there are ten commentary tracks. Surprisingly, they are with different people. Rob C., Jenna M., Rudy, and Tina talk during episodes 1, 2, 3, and 4; Lex, Alicia, Kathy, and Shii Ann during 11, 12, 13, and 14; and Rupert, Jenna L., Amber and Rob M. during 16/17. I enjoyed all of the tracks to some extent, but they're more geared for the diehard fan of the show…which is obviously someone who already bought this set.
• Bonus Footage: Each disc has extra footage related to the
episodes on that DVD. I really liked this extra footage, making it my favorite
overall bonus feature. The specific clips are:
• Behind the Dream Team (5 minutes): An interesting but all too brief and fluffy look at the team that puts together and tests all of the challenges on the show.
• Anthology with the All-Stars (4 minutes): Supposedly this is a "music video" of the greatest moments from the previous seven seasons. Except for there being nothing but background musack, this almost lives up to its billing.
• Survivor Profiles (70 minutes): Filmed before the game began, every All-Star gets about a four-minute profile of who they are, their previous experience on Survivor, and what they see coming up in All-Stars. This is a very good feature.
• The Big Night: Behind the Survivor Finale (10 minutes): Sometimes veering off topic, this featurette gives a quick once-over on the big, live show. It's shallow and lacking a lot of information, but it's not awful. And, I do believe the timestamps used in the piece are all an hour off. For example, it says that Probst arrived at Madison Square Garden at 9:00 pm. I believe he actually arrived at 10 pm.
• Casting the Castaways (9 minutes): A basic piece about how to get on the show with quick clips of the audition tapes from some of the All-Stars.
• Promos: You can watch a wide assortment of CBS promos for all the seasons except All-Stars.
Also included is a quick and shameless trailer for the Survivor Season 1 DVD set.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Now that I think about it, maybe Survivor All-Stars was exactly what it was billed to be. When you watch the Major League Baseball All-Star game, those guys certainly don't put forth a lot of effort. They just coast by, afraid to do anything that might hurt themselves. Maybe I've been wrong about this all this time…
While the set looks and sounds great and has an impressive bevy of bonus items, I'm not going to recommend it for purchase. The problem is that the show itself wasn't that much fun. It was dominated by "one person" and there were no surprises. Rob via Amber ruled the roost, the challenges were "tributes" (rehashes) to seasons past, and you didn't care about the eventual winner because she wasn't one of your favorites to begin with. If you're a fan of the show and need something on DVD, then go out and buy the Borneo set. That first season is still the most fun and impressive, and the constant twists and turns make this latest edition look like old cheese.
Survivor All-Stars are hereby found guilty of fraud. All parties are sentenced to step off the gravy train.
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