Saturday, September 17, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E1: Be Prepared (Yes, that's a Lion King reference.)

Welcome back to the number one Survivor story analysis on the internet. It’s been a celebratory off season here in The Midside. Not only did I properly predict the story of Redemption Island (though it took me a little longer to get behind the correct winner), it was a story that I enjoyed immensely. Thus I took the time to relax and reflect on my accomplishments…and my mistakes. I reviewed the film instead of tweeted (ok, I tweeted too) and came to understand why it took me so long to call Rob Mariano as the sole Survivor of S22. I won’t go into the details (it’ll annoy you like a Cochran self-effacing diatribe). I will tell you the results. I’m going to set some ground rules this season. Sticking to them will improve my story analysis and increase your enjoyment.

I will not read fan boards.

I will not read other theories.

I will not listen to podcasts, Rob C’s or otherwise.

I will not listen to Jeff Probst’s commentary, written or otherwise.

Let’s get something straight. I’m not saying there isn’t other value out there. There is, and if I was simply consuming the show, I would consume every drop of it. I have a lot of respect for Rob C, Stephen Fishbach, Jeff Probst, and the like . Probst specifically has a lot of values and ideas I really like. He respects ability. That’s rare. It’s like what Probst said about Cochran—and I need to come clean here I do know this ONE thing he said about this season—he wants to see Cochrane do well because Cochrane’s smarter than him, and would best him in most areas in life (except number of Emmy wins), and thinks if he can get past the first Tribal Council, Cochrane will do well. See, that’s a great philosophy. Probst wants to see good—good defined as able and benevolent—people be successful. Like I said, I have a lot of respect for Rob C, Stephen Fishbach, Jeff Probst, and the like and if I was a pure fan I’d enjoy every minute of their thoughts—except I’m not really a traditional fan this season. In a way, I’m studying the show for its storytelling. And that topic leads me to another intelligent idea of Probst’s that I need to listen to so I can properly understand this season.

Jeff Probst said (I think in his open letter to Sucks) that the difficulty with Survivor is that they essentially have to tell the same story over and over again but differently. With this knowledge it’s easier to understand why the mechanics of Redemption Island and bringing back two former players were brought into the game. Past twists, such as the tribal swap and hidden immunity, were introduced to change the flow of game and thus the story. However, that got stale, so there was only one other element to change—the characters. By introducing the element of multi-time returning players with easily recalled backstories, the very nature of the storytelling has changed.

No longer is this the story of Survivor. This is a story about Survivor. The producers aren’t trying to seduce new viewers into joining their audience anymore. They’re assuming they have their core audience and playing to them. Historical references, both explicit by the players and implicit by the editing, are common place. This is now a show about how to play the game—and that’s exactly what we saw last season. Rob versus Russell was all about what the best way to be the “mastermind” a tribe and alliance. The whole season was littered with open questions about good and bad gameplay that were answered by Rob’s win and the key episode, “This Game Respects Big Moves.”

Like the two Rs, Coach and Ozzy were our entrance into this season and its discussion. Both took advantage of their position to try and lead their tribe but went about it in different ways directing us to the theme of the episode and the season: the importance of being prepared for Survivor. This tone was set in the pre-credit sequence and continued through the remainder of the episode.

To start we were first re-introduced to Coach and Ozzy, who told us their motivations for playing the game. Coach is back for one more shot to win and to prove you can win the game with honor and integrity (btw, Coach, Ethan already did that in Africa). Ozzy needs redemption (he says the episode title) because he just hasn’t been able to grasp the million before. The divergence between the two is interesting. Coach seems to have a solid approach to the game in mind whereas Ozzy just sort of seems to be there. These are our two story threads: being prepared versus going with the flow.

The rest of the pre-sequence introduces some new players and their approaches going into the game. Buried before Brandon and Stacey’s confessionals were two confessionals by players that mirrored their tribe’s future leaders without us even realizing it. Rick of Upolu said our first key quote of the episode “if you didn't train before you got here. If you didn't run and learn how to start a fire, you might as well spit in the wind." In contrast, Elyse of Savaii said she didn’t really know how to survive but hoped her Native American ancestors would help her out. What’s most interesting here is how strong of a quote they showed from Rick. Not being prepared is equivalent to spitting in the wind. That’s a strong statement to include, especially when contrasting it with an appeal to ancestors, and one that will be supported by this episode and likely the season. If you want to win Survivor, you better be prepared to do so.

The post-credit introduction of the returning players to their tribes goes exactly the way it was expected to. Upolu was only shown saying bad things about Coach. Savaii was only shown saying good things about Ozzy. Ozzy won the challenge and was embraced by his tribe. Coach lost and his tribe walked away without him (besides Edna). That was the last time expectations were met in this episode, however, as Coach was very un-Coach like, Ozzy seemed stoned, and some interesting threads were seeded into the narrative.

Upon their returns to camp, the tribes launched into introductions. In a confessional, Ozzy says he wants to play strategically. In contrast, Coach tells his tribe he isn’t a strategic player. Which returnee would you think would do better? I know, except Ozzy doesn’t. Instead, his latest love interest gives us our second key quote of the episode. Semhar is asked to perform some of her spoken word “poetry” and complies. In a confessional she tells us that if you’re put on the spot, you better step up. It’s an especially ironic statement considering the reason she is voted out is that she puts herself on the spot in the immunity challenge and doesn’t step up. This is the downfall of Semhar. This is the downfall of Ozzy and Savaii as he leads his tribe into the water to hang out and sunbath, not prepare to live. This is the story of story of Survivor South Pacific.

In contrast to Ozzy’s approach, Coach and Upolu get to work and fortunes start to change. Coach is no longer the bumbling Dragon Slayer that no one wants around. He is the humble leader that everyone turns to for advice. They actually like him and embrace him as they build their shelter first (a fact that Dawn at Savaii tells Ozzy and us is important as she says that the tribe that doesn’t have their shelter after the first day always loses—see, it’s Survivor history). Coach even gets strategic by pointing out that Christine is target #1 because she is looking for the idol. Ozzy, on the other hand, is failing at strategy. He says Semhar is the kind of person he wants beside him at the end, but his tribe forces him to vote her out unanimously. As she leaves he is forced to admit, “I should have taught her how to make fire.” Roughly translated from editor speak that means, “I acknowledge that I am not a good leader and did not prepare her to play this game. Remember Jim’s pre-credit quote about the importance of learning how to make fire.” This downward spiral was present in the entire episode.

Ozzy’s stock plummets as Jim outmaneuvers him and Papa Bear out gurus him. Jim’s strategy is on point as he is ready with a fake story about his profession. Ozzy tries to talk Dawn down from emotional shock, but doesn’t really say much. Papa Bear though is able to get through to Dawn and Cochran, even being shown to us as the reason that Cochran turns things around at Tribal Council. When Semhar is fighting with Jim, the editors are sure to include a show of Ozzy looking complacent and uninterested. He is truly unprepared to lead this tribe. Before the immunity challenge, his tribe is shown organizing itself, a mistake that leads to their painfully close loss.

Coach’s stock soars as he leads his tribe to immunity. Before the challenge, he decides who will have what role. During the challenge, the editors constantly cut back to him giving some little bit of advice. Earlier at camp he even got strategic, forming an alliance of five and pointing out that first day alliances are always the strongest in Survivor. Will he be right? I don’t know, but he’s clearly prepared, and the fact that Upolu won immunity after the extreme contrast in portrayal in the two camps is important, especially considered with a couple of Coach quotes.

At different points Coach said: "I would like to go and win every immunity...winning immunity, man, that's the best thing to do." and “There's two things people do in the wild. They either die or they thrive." These two statements force the editing down the Upolu is thriving and Savaii is dying path. They also conjure memories of a season of extremely divergent camps: Palau, when Koror thrived and Ulong died. This comparison is extremely interesting in light of Coach’s first comment about winning all the immunities. When Upolu won this initial immunity challenge, it became a comment that had to be taken seriously. Upolu does have that strong five and Savaii was portrayed as divided even though the vote was unanimous.

It is clear to me that the winner comes from the blue tribe. Besides what I have already noted, Upolu has all the storylines. There’s the alliance of 5 with Coach, Brandon, Sophie, Jim, and Albert. Christine is target #1. Brandon’s identity will be discovered and Sophie won’t like it. Mikayla was set up as Delilah (in the Biblical story, Delilah betrayed Samson for money). On Savaii, Cochrane is insecure and loves the game, Jim lied about his profession, and Papa Bear is good at talking to people. Everyone else is invisible. And now that I picked the winning tribe, here are my top five potential winners (complete with two Savaii players to be safe).

5. Jim – He was certainly prepared to play with his story about his profession. However, his edit was up and down. He would have been shown more positively if he had won.

4. Papa Bear – He was the most prepared to play on Savaii. He was self aware, aware of the game situations, and approached people about it confidently and calmly. His edit was extremely positive.

3. Coach – It’s tough to tell if his edit was a winner’s edit or just for the sake of the story. However, his possible winner’s quote is hard to ignore. "This is Coach 3.0 and I'm here to win." We’re clearly not supposed to see him the same way we have in the past, though he may just be an oracle this season.

2. Rick – He is the one who told us how important being prepared was, so he may just be another oracle. Still, his “I spend a lot of time by myself” line is reminiscent of Ethan’s “even though I’m surrounded by people all the time, I still feel so alone” which foreshadowed his win in Africa.

1. Mikayla – Randomly in the middle of Brandon being tempted by her we were given an extraneous scene. It reminded me of Fabio’s winner scene in the first episode of Nicaragua. It could only be in there to set up his victory. Likewise they had already gotten the point across of her being tempting, so the editors didn’t need to include more unless there was a reason. That reason came across in her confessional, "I got right up there and was just getting to it...I don't have patience, I just want to get stuff done. I'm ready to get dirty." She is prepared to play this game. Unlike Ozzy, she started building the shelter right away. And that’s the final piece of symbolism that puts the scene over the top. Reminiscent of Earl standing atop the island in Fiji declaring himself the king, Mikayla was atop the Upolu shelter saying she didn’t come here to be a princess. Sure she’s a lingerie football player, but that doesn’t make her Natalie T. or Ashley or any of the nameless “bevy of bikini babes” on Savaii. No, she came here to win. And she will.


David said...

Just stumbled upon your blog thanks to Stephen Fishbach's retweet.
I really like your analysis through story telling.
Count me as a new reader.

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog too. Very unique take on Survivor analysis.

Jayemel said...

@David: Glad you enjoyed it and will be sticking around. I promise to always think on this level of detail. If you're so inclined, my Redemption Island storyline analysis is still up.

@Anonymous: I'm happy you found it to be unique. That is exactly why I write it!

Adam P. said...

I loved this read and I like your thoughts on the story lines and everything you missed, and I get them. I do see Mikayla as the winner, and Mikayla being called a "scoring machine" during the challenge and getting the winning shot does seem very good for her chances.

George N. said...

awesome as always, J. I rarely disagree with your points.

Lisa (LDP) said...

As always...I love everything you write but your Survivor blog is one of my favorites..well done.

Jayemel said...

@Adam: My roommate and I noticed that "scoring machine" comment as well. It's interesting considering four people shot for each tribe. Did you even realize Brandon was shooting for Upolu? Also, if you didn't know Mikayla was 22 and a lingerie football player from the on screen titles, would you think she was that young and have that profession based on her edit? I wouldn't.

@George: I hope there's something you disagree with. Someone has to keep me honest this season.

@Lisa: Thanks, but I hope Timeless is at the top of your list.

Ste said...

Hey there! found your blog via Fishbach's retweet too, glad I did! Really enjoyed the write-up and can't wait for more! I'm excited you see the promise in Mikayla too. *crossing fingers* I would have never know she was either if I hadn't read bios.

jeremy said...

Great work, as always Justin. While I agree with your top 5, I give Cochran an outside chance of winning. He's this season's Ice Cream Scooper Eric. Looking at the episode title, he needs redemption in the eyes of his tribe. He's prepared for the game as well, to go along with the theme that you noticed. And most of all, I think they're trying to redeem the idea that a strategic player, who is new, can play the game and win.

Oliver said...

Hey Justin! I'm glad you're back with your analysis for this season. This entry is so straightforward, and the way you wrote it was so good it kind of gave me goosebumps.

I really like Mikayla a lot too. But what if she's being set up as a villain who gets on top, and will soon get a huge downfall? I have no problem with her winning. I just want a female winner this season. It's either her or Edna, but Edna wasn't shown a lot last episode.

Again, good job with this post! I'll be tuning in. =]

John Acton said...

Excellent blog. I found this from a reference to you on POS. The way you analyze the episode like an English Professor analyzes a piece of literature is both brilliant and captivating. I will certainly check this out throughout the season.

I am quite interested to see if your take on Mikayla is correct. I personally got the feeling that Brandon will beat Mikayla in that confrontation, even if it is extended over several more episodes. I think that would also fit into the "Be Prepared" motif because it would be a preemptive strike by Brandon, to which Mikayla still seems oblivious. Hopefully we will find more out tonight!

Jayemel said...

@Ste: Glad you enjoyed. I don't read the bios/watch the pre-season videos though. I take the story for what it is.

@Jeremy: I disagree that Cochran was shown as being prepared for the game. Semhar's critique of him was included for a reason. He was more excited to be part of the game than to play the game. Will he change? Yes, but he won't last. It'll be too little too late and someone who came to play from the beginning (such as Jim and Papa Bear) will last much longer. If Cochran does last, it's as this season's Phillip.

@Oliver: Thanks for the huge compliment! If Mikayla were going to be a villain, they would have set her up differently. The only negative thing said about her was by "Hitler's nephew" who was shown creeping under the shelter while looking at her. In contrast, her confessional about herself showed her as a hard worker who is ready to take on everything in this game. Maybe her comments about being ready to be dirty could be construed as her playing like a villain, but I think that is a HUGE stretch and major twisting.

@John: I'm glad you enjoyed, though you can tell PoS to let my ears ring when they talk about me. ;) I don't think there was anything in the episode to suggest that Brandon would get the upper hand on anyone in gameplay or that he was prepared for the game. He was made to look like a watered down child-like version of Russell who had to fear women (Mikayla and Sophie).

jeremy said...

It's interesting you mention Cochran as this season's Phillip - I thought that while watching episode 2. We'll see how it plays out, but I trust your insight.