Judge Eric Profancik has never fallen into a campfire, but once he did sit on his s'mores.
Our reviews of Survivor: Borneo: The Complete Season (published August 17th, 2004), Survivor: Pearl Islands: The Complete Season (published February 1st, 2006), Survivor: All-Stars: The Complete Season (published December 15th, 2004), Survivor Palau: The Complete Season (published September 20th, 2006), and Survivor Vanuatu: The Complete Season (published December 20th, 2006) are also available.
The one without the kangaroo.
I may have blinked once or twice as I watched this season again, but I'm fairly certain that there weren't any kangaroos around the survivors. Sure, we saw them in the title sequence, beauty shots, and almost getting run over by a plane, but those bouncy little creatures never seemed to wander anywhere near the camps. So, was this second season of Survivor really set in the Australian Outback or was it crafted somewhere else as part of some grand conspiracy plan by CBS? They knew there was no way to top the 57 million who tuned in to watch Richard Hatch win the Borneo version, so they had to scramble to concoct this fake second season!
Yes, I think I've gone over the edge. Survivor is perhaps the "greatest" reality television show out there, it's definitely fake in that regard, but the second season did take place Down Under. While most proclaim this to be the best year of the show, it ranks second in my book. I still find Hatch's year to be superior because it was completely new and the contestants were figuring everything out for the first time. Though only one season old, the contestants in the second season were already playing the game, often utilizing Hatch's master plan.
Oddly, when I think of Survivor on the whole, though, I can remember far more of the Australian version than any other, for there were so many events that have yet to be repeated in any of the follow-ups.
(If you haven't seen the show, then don't read any further. The entire show is spoiled in this review.)
Facts of the Case
For 42 days, 18 contestants are abandoned in the Australian Outback. They are Alicia, Amber, Colby, Debb, Elisabeth, Jeff, Jerri, Keith, Kel, Kimmi, Maralyn, Michael, Mitchell, Nick, Roger, and Tina. To start, they are split into two tribes, Kucha and Ogakor. About every third day, there are challenges; one day is a reward challenge and the next day is an immunity challenge. The reward challenge gives the team a chance to win something to make their stay a bit easier: waterproof matches, food, or messages from home. But more important are the immunity challenges, which give the winner safety from Tribal Council, where someone is voted "off the island." As the teams dwindle in size, they will merge into one new tribe name Barramundi. And at the end of these 42 days, only one survivor will remain, and he or she will go home with one million dollars. Who will outwit, outplay, and outlast everyone else?
This season is the most popular of Survivor. It consistently earned first place in the Nielsens, trouncing Friends with an average of 31 million viewers. Wow! What is it that brought people in droves to this show? Why did 57 million people tune in to see Richard Hatch win Borneo? Why is this show on? There are many possible answers to that, but, for now, I'm going to stick with my canned speech: I watch Survivor every week because it is a fun show. Each new episode, I look forward to the manipulations, the games, and the conflict. It's exciting to watch people in this quaint experiment.
But the Australian Outback is certainly the most memorable of the shows, because in its run, more unique events occurred than in any other iteration. Some are trivial, while others are staggeringly significant. Let's take a quick look at what made the Australian edition tick:
• This version is the only one to have lasted 42 days instead of the typical 39. I'm not sure why, but the powers-that-be didn't like it and reverted back to the classic 39 formula.
• The merged Barramundi tribe is the only group of survivors who ran completely out of food. They had to give up their shelter to get more rice from Jeff Probst.
• Barramundi, not being quite so bright, decided to build their new camp in a dry river bed. When a big storm arrived, their site and belongings were washed down the river. We then watched them try to salvage their belongings, all the while trying not to drown themselves.
• Until the Vanuatu edition, this is the only group who caught something bigger than fish—a wild boar. This caused a two-fold controversy. First, PETA was upset with the show, and second, fans thought the boar was planted for the contestants to easily catch. CBS denied the accusation.
• Another brouhaha erupted when it was discovered that many scenes were "recreated" for broadcast. The most memorable moment is the challenge when the tribes had to jump off a cliff and swim to a predetermined point. We learned that this scene was recreated after the fact to give the show the ability to film "better angles" to tell the story. It caused some consternation that eventually subsided when CBS adamantly stated they were not tinkering with the show or the contestants.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for this show, but the rest needs to be approached from a different angle. While the following events helped create the tapestry of the show, it's not so much the events themselves but the people involved that make them memorable. Again, with no other edition do I remember most of the players' names. More importantly, most of them did something that lives in Survivor history. Going in alphabetical order:
• Alicia: Who can forget the intimidating New York City physical trainer? Lean, buff, and tough, she will live in infamy for her heated discussion and "finger waving" at another contestant.
• Amber: For me, Amber flew under the radar and isn't all that memorable for her time in Australia. However, she now will forever be known as the winner of the All-Stars version and wife of that Rob guy.
• Colby: Much can be said about Mr. All-American, Mr. Texas, Mr. Colgate Smile, but we'll just say his choice of a Texas flag as a luxury item was very smart. Too bad that's the smartest thing he did; we'll get back to him shortly.
• Debb: A corrections officer, Debb didn't last long and earns the honor of being the first person voted out.
• Elisabeth: Dear, sweet, cute, yummy Elisabeth. Breaking the laws of physics, she grew cuter as she got thinner. (This is not an endorsement of the waif look, just an observation.) She developed a strong bond with another survivor, and has gone on to be a co-host on The View.
• Jeff: Jeff flew under the radar for the most part, but he sure does love to gossip and talk about people. He almost lasted longer when his Tribal Council vote was tied with Colby's.
• Jerri: I can't help but chuckle when I think of Jerri, the queen bitch of Survivor. Whether she wants the title or not, it will forever be emblazoned upon her. Additionally, she's the first contestant to grace the pages of Playboy. In her spare time she likes "men" over boys, enjoys banging a drum, and loves eating chocolate.
• Keith: Funny, I seem to chuckle when Keith's name comes up, too. That must be because he and Jerri were at each other's throats for most of their time together. Beyond his dynamic relationship with the bitch, he's known as the professional chef who couldn't cook rice. Fortune smiled upon him and he got a show on The Food Network…and he did end up in third place.
• Kel: Kel, Kel, Kel. Is this what our special forces have come to? This Army Intelligence officer was voted off the island because he was "caught" eating beef jerky. Jerri accused him of smuggling it onto the show, and while no one could definitively say they saw him with jerky, it didn't matter. It's time to go back to boot camp.
• Kimmi: What a big mouth on this girl, and I mean that literally! Not only would she not shut up, but the size of her mouth is enormous. Nothing was taboo for her, which led her to be the recipient of Alicia's "finger waving" anger.
• Maralyn: Sadly, Maralyn did nothing memorable on the show. I would have left her name off the list but that would have been rude.
• Michael: You could practically write a book about this guy, but we'll stick to the edited highlights here. He's the man who caught the wild boar, smeared its blood on his face, and later fell face-first into a fire. Yep, he's the one who passed out from smoke inhalation and burnt himself quite nicely. With the flesh falling from his hands, he was evacuated off the island.
• Mitchell: Not much to say about this guy except that he is really tall, 7' to be exact.
• Nick: Nick, too, is mostly forgettable, which is odd since he lasted until the final seven.
• Rodger: Mr. Nice Guy, "Kentucky Joe," Rodger will be remembered as one of the nicest contestants in the show's history. More importantly, his father/daughter relationship with the lovely young Elisabeth helped propel him to the final five.
• Tina: For now, let's just simply label Tina as the winner of Survivor: The Australian Outback.
Why such a short blurb for the winner? Because we need to bring back Colby, for they formed a dynamic duo that shocked America. Colby could and should have won the million dollars. He was unstoppable; he won all the final immunities and had his choice of whom to bring to the final two: Keith or Tina. If he had picked Keith, a highly unpopular player, almost everyone agrees Colby would have easily won. But he instead chose to take Tina with him. How? Why? This choice was a big surprise because we weren't shown their relationship. Tina stealthily worked her way around the tribes, playing the maternal role, and everyone liked her. She played the game so well and flew under the radar so expertly that she did not receive one vote against her the entire show. Colby, on the other hand, was almost voted out in the seventh episode—thank goodness for all those immunities after that! So somewhere along the line, Colby and Tina agreed to a mini-alliance. Colby was true to his word and brought along mommy…I mean Tina. It cost him $900,000 in prize money, but he felt good about it—or at least that's what he tells the world. Mr. All-American was hypnotized by Tina's big fake breasts, gave into his creepy mommy-complex, and became the biggest fool in Survivor history. He was duped, and he didn't even realize it, making it all the sadder when he enthusiastically jumped up and applauded when Tina received the final, winning vote. What a schmuck!
That's the roster of players, but we haven't mentioned a key figure yet: Jeff Probst. The master of ceremonies, Jeff is the glue of the show, with his shtick and "island mumbo jumbo." In this second season, Jeff is still a bit shaky, still following the script, and laying on the cheese thick and heavy. He hasn't loosened up quite yet, but that will come shortly. His awkwardness ties nicely in with the feeling of the show itself. Though a bit more polished than its predecessor, Borneo, Australia is not as shiny as its successors. There's still a bit of an edge, a rawness to things. It doesn't feel like a big-budget Hollywood spectacle yet, and that's a great thing. Part of the fantastic joy of Borneo is the gritty look and feel to the show. It's something sorely missed in later seasons.
And with a little more polish comes a better release on DVD. Compared to Borneo, the video and audio are sharper and cleaner. The full-frame transfer is nicely rendered with bright, accurate colors and solid details. Blacks are hard to judge since the show uses night-vision cameras. The only error I caught was the color on large bonfires: Instead of being a bright yellow/orange, the fire occasionally had a green tinge to it. For the dialogue-intensive show, the Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is perfect: You'll hear every word without any hiss or distortion. Sadly, there are no subtitles included on the episodes.
What is included is another heavy selection of bonus materials, which like the Borneo DVD release, may anger a few fans. First up are six commentary tracks. Three different groups talk for two shows each: Jeff Probst and Colby on episodes 1 and 13; Keith, Roger, Tina, and Amber on episodes 2 and 11; and Kimmi, Michael, and Alicia on episodes 5 and 6. Being a big Survivor fan, I really enjoyed the commentaries. There's a great deal of being-the-scenes dirt shared, and they all enjoy talking about themselves. I'd rate the Jeff/Colby tracks best, then the Kimmi/Michael/Alicia tracks, and lastly the Keith/Roger/Tina/Amber tracks. Very wisely, Episode Six is where Michael falls into the fire, so thank you for having him included on a commentary for that episode. Next up are four featurettes, "Surviving the Australian Outback" (14 minutes), "The Luxury Items" (5.5 minutes), "Dining: Survivor Style" (7.5) minutes, and "Keith Famie's Paella" (4.5 minutes). Each is exactly what you'd expect from its title and is enjoyable but not particularly in-depth. Keith's paella recipe is also included.
And like the Borneo release, this set also includes the previously released "Season Two: The Greatest and Most Outrageous Moments." This two-hour disc is a complete overview of this season of the show. It masterfully condenses the season into 120 minutes and still has time to show you new scenes and additional biographies on each player. This show is presented in full-frame with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track and subtitles! (If you can do it here why not on the main set?) Also included on this bonus disc are biographies/interviews of each player and some DVD-ROM content related to the official website. Those who previously bought the disc may feel cheated for the double-dip; for those who didn't, it's an excellent addition to the package, especially since the disc has been changed to become part of the set and not a standalone disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For every person who loves reality television, you can find two who think it's utterly ridiculous and a complete waste of time. Stupid people doing stupid things to win a few bucks…how far will they sink? It's mindless entertainment that's dumbing-down America.
Is Survivor really making people dumber? I was ready to say yes to that, but then an interesting article by Steven Johnson appeared in the New York Times (on April 24, 2005) entitled "Watching TV Makes You Smarter." In a nutshell, Mr. Johnson posits that television has a hidden side effect called "the Sleeper Curve." This curve states that television shows have actually become more complex and complicated. There are more characters, more plots, more interactions, and more history to track over the course of a season. In the good old days, an episode followed a linear track with a simple story and a simple resolution. But today, shows have numerous storylines running in each episode, and you have to have paid attention to the past shows to understand how everything ties together. As a result, television actually challenges viewers, helping to stimulate their intellect; hence, television makes you smarter. In the article, Mr. Johnson lists several shows that help foster the sleeper curve: 24, Lost, and Alias. Also on that list is Survivor. Yes, Survivor is listed as a complicated reality-TV show that helps make you smarter.
And that is why I watch Survivor, because it makes me smarter! Well, that's not the truth at all. I just love the show. I love the locations, I love the people, and I love the manipulations. If it also helps to stimulate a few neurons along the way, I surely am not going to complain. Survivor: The Australian Outback is one of the best in the series, filled with fascinating people and unique events. This disc captures every moment and tosses in a healthy selection of bonus materials, and any true fan will be happy to add it to their collection.
Survivor: The Australian Outback is hereby found not guilty of dumbing-down America. Let's go roast some weenies!
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