Sunday, November 27, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E10-11: Setup and Statements

It's been a cold three weeks for Survivor fans. Not only has a Pagonging brought about a two double boot episodes, but the latter of those two was largely a fluff piece which was followed up by the seasonal recrap. Yes, yes, the "Closer Look" was necessitated by the Thanksgivings which brought food, family, and fun. We all know that isn't enough for Survivor fans though. We want our twist, turns, and tribal councils and want them now. Yes, it was truly a harrowing predicament.

For a story analyst like me, the recrap presents an added challenge. It simultaneously makes me look like a genius and a fool. Entire scenes and storylines that I've focused on were completely ignored, forcing me to reconsider some of those ideas. On the other hand, certain threads I've harped on again and again were hammered home, reinforcing what I've been saying all along. For the sake of organization, let's work from my four major observations about the recrap to some thoughts on episode ten.

1. Upolu > Savaii, Coach > Ozzy

This observation can be summed up very simply in one Coach quote:
"Ozzy, no wonder you've never won Survivor. No wonder you always get blindsided. Because you're a friggin idiot."
Coach's evaluation of Ozzy has been the editor's evaluation of Ozzy ever since his loss in Cook Islands. It was especially prominent this season as the differences between him and Coach became the crux of the explanation as to why Upolu won the battle of the "most evenly matched tribes EVAR." This was a storyline I've harped on all season (and misinterpreted early on as Palau 2.0) that was capped off in this recap. You see, even though the tribes were trading blows in challenges, Savaii never quite seemed to be on the same level as Upolu. Now we know why. In the eyes of the editors, they never were quite on the same level.

This almost open commentary reinforces another point I have been stressing since Redemption Island. We have entered a new era of Survivor where the storytelling is very meta. It is about the show itself. In the beginning the show used to be more concerned with telling stories about humanity. Sure, those stories still exist. They have to, as the game and show are ultimately about humanity. However, stories about the show itself were always present from the beginning too. The importance of each has just been inverted. Why? It's probably a statement on who they think is their fanbase now...

2. Coach vs Mikayla

So Coach is the benevolent leader of the good family Upolu, huh? Notsofast! What's with his treatment of Mikayla? More importantly, why was the issue of her boot raised again in the recrap when there was so much other story that could be focused on? The answer is in what was added--footage of Coach treating Mikayla poorly. As she was sick from the pork from the challenge, he cooked up fat and ate it in front of her, which only proceeded to make her throw up. Coach's action wasn't portrayed as funny or endearing. It was shown to be a downright cruel Coach thing.

For someone who has been edited as almost-Rob, this emphasis and elaboration on Coach's treatment of Mikayla hammers home the point that the importance of her storyline and boot was to foreshadow Coach's eventual loss. There is no other reason to build it up so much and continually refer back to it, especially when it's being used to contrast Coach with Rob, given all the parallels that have been present of late with the cult, gangster, and family references.

3. Brandon

Scarily for Brandon, not only were his meltdowns brought up again, but even Edna and Rick were shown worrying about him being a liability and mocking him. Their comments make us have to seriously consider Sophie's comments to Albert that Brandon would be the first Upolu to go. Which leads perfectly into the next observation...

4. The Characters and The Players (And the pieces)

Of the remaining seven players, the recrap setup and reinforced the roles of certain players. Coach and Cochran are the major characters this season. I'd be shocked if either wasn't in the final episode. Sophie and Albert are the major players this season. Just as Albert was shown in the previous episode ruminating on strategy, he was again in this episode. And again Sophie was shown commenting on his thoughts. And that was the most interesting part of the recrap. After all was said and done, the story was recounted and the characters were explicated, who was given the final moments of the episode and the final say on it all? Don't get me wrong. Coach and Cochran certainly walk the line between character and player. Part of that is almost their wish to be "real" players though. It is a wish that Sophie then comes along and tells them why it won't happen. (In a way Sophie is sort of like the female Jim, except she wasn't shown to be flawed like he was.)

Now I can return to episode ten and point out the two key quotes of the episode, both by Sophie:
"Albert is showing his true colors more and more, which maybe are similar to my true colors that I'm strategic and I want to win the game. And this is our one shot to make the big move because you have two free votes hanging around."

"Albert is trying to take control of this game and I'm the swing vote. So now I'm debating whether to stick with Coach or go with Albert's crazy plan. At the end of the day, it's a question of what will take me to the end."
The first shows what her role has been the entire season--the narrator who points out everyone else's flaws (in this case, Albert's "true colors" as wanting to make a big move too badly, a semi-recurrent theme this season). The second portrays her in a way that is important for any winner--aware of both the current situation and the broader significance, as she has been all season.

For these reason I think Sophie is the winner and this season is all about personal demons/flaws causing everyone else to lose.

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