Sunday, February 26, 2012

SSAC Report: One World E02 Rah Rah Wrong

Assembled deep in bowels of the interwebs is a group of Survivor fans, a gathering of bright and clever minds. Their mission is to analyze the story of Survivor better than ever before in the history of the universe. What follows is their most recent report. It represents that combination of their work. This project was commissioned by The Midside.

In regards to the second episode“Total Dysfunction"in the 24th season of Survivor "One World," The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission has reached the following conclusions:
×An alternate thematic title for the episode would be “Rah Rah Wrong”
×The theme of this episode was "What is the proper response to anarchy?"
×To explain how the women failed at the proper response, Nina was edited as a tragic victim and Kat was as edited as a spared fool.
×To build to that outcome, the women were once again shown as reliant on talking/communication, while the men were shown to be active, productive, and efficient.

"You're very much a rah rah girl and that's great and we need that but at the end of the day logic and strategy trumps rah rah," Sabrina to Kat following the Immunity Challenge

This episode began exactly where the last left off in both plot and theme. The women returned to camp from Tribal Council to be told by Mike that he had been tending their fire the entire time they were gone. He then states in a confessional that it was annoying Salani didn’t have to vote anyone off. Yes, the gender war is still on, and Kat takes exception to Mike’s fire tending. In confessional she claims that she could’ve got the fire going again if he hadn’t done anything—except a fly distracts her mid-sentence, so she stumbles all over words, beginning the downward spiral of her arc from dumb blonde to personification of the problem. Alicia likewise took a beating in this opening. As Christina tried to talk out (a theme that returns to hurt the women again) their problems, Alicia only laughed in a confessional about how well Tribal Council went. You see, she has her five and wouldn’t even save Christina’s life in a non-game situation. This is what’s called a villain edit.

While Alicia disappeared over much of the remainder of the episode, Kat did not. It made one thing clear. These two women are the symbols of girl power, the negative extreme of femininity. Kat is the rah rah girl. Alicia is the catty one. While Alicia was made out to be a big villain in episode one, Kat took a beating in this episode. She was shown being spared at the expense of the older wiser Nina, who, to get things kicked off, Alicia declared a bag of rocks.

After the truncated credits roll, the story returns to Salani immediately. To try and alleviate the problems anarchy has caused them, they do two things. First they hold a meeting. Yes, once again in response to an issue, they talk about it. They then take their second step and elect Sabrina leader, to which she responds in a confessional, “Hopefully with this new leadership role I can just come in there and be like shhh.” Even she realizes the talking needs to stop (something she stresses several more times throughout the episode). It makes it especially ironic when she is interrupted laying a ground rule: “Everyone has a right to be heard.” The scene isn’t completely negative though, as Sabrina’s second set of rules yields some results. She sets up jobs: water, food, and shelter. Monica takes water and is shown carrying and boiling it. Kim is one of the women who take shelter and is shown swinging an axe immediately after the shot of Monica working. These are quick shots, but at least they are doing something. It could bode well for them in the future. The problem is what happens with the women who selected food.

Rather than actually look for food, Alicia and Kat decide to talk about it. Kat gets more screentime here, goofing around talking about finding bananas and being critiqued by Nina in a confessional for it, “I just want her to shut up and work.” It is the start of Nina’s “right about Kat” episode arc. To drive home that the talking is detrimental, the editors even insert a shot of Jay and Tarzan carrying a large load of wood in the background. Yes, the men are hard at work while Girl Power talks away. Make no mistake about it, Alicia and Kat are the symbols of Girl Power in this game. Their fates are intertwined as the scene closes with them in the water talking and giggling together.

The Reward Challenge offered another opportunity for the editors to drive home the difference in the two tribes’ approaches. With no Jeff Probst to watch over the competition, they were in literal anarchy. In the middle, Bill even gave a confessional, “Everybody was in a little bit of a frenzy because we had to govern ourselves.” Both tribes certainly have been in a frenzy since day one. The difference is what they’ve done with that energy. Though the challenge seemed close for a while, the men pulled away when Christina gave a confessional about how they just attacked the knots in order to not lose momentum. Almost immediately following, a man (probably Jay) urges his tribe to proceed with caution, “Hold on, we don't want to get a bigger knot in it.” They slow down and win. Sabrina then says in a confessional, “No one ever remembers second place” making us wonder if she just told us the fate of Salani.

Manono marches into their camp victorious under heroic music and Ethan’s star over their flag. They unfurl their new tarp and Troyzan declares “Let’s Rock and Roll,” launching them into a montage of productivity and efficient action that contrasts starkly with the women’s talking to start the episode. Thus far there’s been Salani talking, a Reward Challenge, and Manono taking action. It is an edit of extremes emphasized by Mike’s confessional, “The Manano tribe, we're going to have the best camp probably in history." That’s the second superlative hinting at a high place in Survivor history for the men, as Troyzan declared in the Previously On segment, “I just want to be the greatest Survivor of all time.” It’s something to remember when the women go to Tribal Council.

Well before Tribal, however, the women seem to be trying to work, putting a roof on their shelter. It is the second glimmer of hope for them. However, they are interrupted by the a member of the men’s tribe, the woman on it, Colton. Sabrina, the woman who gave him the HII an episode ago, is the first to try and shake him. She fails by telling him they need to have girl talk (look, talking as a solution again!) and declares him a virus in a confessional. Kim then has a go, explaining to him: “Here's the thing from our end, it's not we don't love you and want you around, but you can understand, we are two tribes, you're from the other tribe, in our camp, hearing everything we're doing. That would be a really dumb, dumb move on our part.” The line in the sand is still drawn and even though Colton thinks he’s a woman, he’s being treated like a man. He takes it personally, but Sabrina puts a finer point on it in a confessional: “This is our tribe, and we have to start owning our tribe, owning our thoughts, owning our actions, and owning the vision of what we want to look like later on down the road without having a guy who acts like a girl involved. If he's running the show and we lose this damn game, I'm just going to slit my wrists.” The end seems like foreshadowing—and Sabrina is developing an oracle role here because of comments like this—but this scene is the best the women have looked so far. Even if it is only a minor step as they are still talking, they are asserting what they want and owning their camp. Interestingly the scene features Sabrina and Kim heavily, two of the women who came off the best in the first episode, and no Kat or Alicia.

The men’s upward edit comes back as Colton hears the women’s advice and takes a different approach to his tribe. He shows the “misfits” (Troyzan, Jonas, and Leif) his HII. In a confessional, Troyzan quickly surmises: “Holy cow I just found some stuff out tonight and it's like my heart's pounding and I found out that Colton has an idol and we gotta get rid of the muscle--meaning Mike and Matt” harkening back to the first episode theme that traditional Survivor play will not work this season (and the logical implication that the original alliances will fail). Leif interjects into the conversation: “Guys, there's no more talk about this, we're set, ok, we're set?” No more talk, huh? Jonas gives a confessional about Colton who then gives a confessional that echoes Alicia’s cattiness, mocking the misfits and saying this is “Survivor Colton’s World.” In summary, the scene plays like this: information (Colton has the HII), decision (vote out the muscle), no more talking, short reaction, cattiness (from the woman on the men’s tribe). There’s no rah rah. It’s a quick efficient productive scene and we’re off to the Immunity Challenge.

The results of the Challenge are best summed by Nina at the end, “It's just the way it's been going for us this whole last five days. No communication. No team work. Same old story.” That story, as we saw in the first episode and see in the remainder of this episode, is the women being unable to cope with the lack of rules and taking a beating in the editing. As Kat tries to maneuver around the other women on the balance beam she says, “She's got these big ole boobs. I can't get past.” Chelsea echoes the statement at the challenge’s conclusion, “It's definitely the boobs are hard.” A physical symbol of womanhood is associated with why they lost. So is Kat’s lack of intelligence. During the challenge the bag of rocks ironically calls her dumb as a rocks. After the challenge Monica caps off the scene by explaining what happened, “Kat jumped in when she didn't even need to jump in, not once, twice. I'm sad. I'm sad for women. This isn't the way women are. Frankly I'm so embarrassed.” That sentiment leads to Nina eventually seeming a Hunter Ellis-esque tragic victim.

The crushing loss doesn’t lead the women to a different solution. They once again stand around and try to talk it out. Kat attempts to apologize for having “horrible communication skills,” as if that was the issue in the challenge and nothing else. Kim and Sabrina try to dance around the issue, basically forgiving her. Here is when Sabrina puts the issue explicitly on the table, “You're very much of a rah rah girl and that's great and we need that but at the end of the day logic and strategy trumps rah rah.” The women didn’t have a strategy for the challenge until Monica made her way across the beam. Before then it was just Kat attempting to get around each woman. Like the Reward Challenge, she just went at it, rah rah, rather than slowing down a bit to make sure she didn’t get into a bigger knot. It’s why Nina called her dumb as a rock.

From this point on Nina launches a full blown assault on Kat that is meant to be taken as true as the stronger more intelligent women of Salani agree with her. First she says to Monica, “We are in a tribe of the witless. Outwit, outlast, outplay, we are a witless tribe and we are being led by 20 something year old's embarrassing,” to which Monica asserts, “(Kat) should be going tonight.” Monica’s positive edit this episode forces us to acknowledge their state discussion is true, especially when it’s corroborated in a discussion between Nina and one of the members of the Girl Power alliance next. She explains to Chelsea, “I know (Kat's) fun, but she's ruining this tribe...we can actually redeem ourself as a tribe and not look so stupid. Cause right now we look like idiots.” Just like Monica, Chelsea agrees: “Trust me I've been embarrassed since I've been here.” Nina then puts what’s at stake with the vote on the table, “Then let's fix it.” This is about correcting the total dysfunction that Girl Power has brought about.

The only members of the alliance we see discussing the strategic implications of the vote going into Tribal Council are Chelsea and Kim. It drives home the point that Nina is right:
Chelsea: “I just talked to Nina. I mean, she's really right about Kat. Kat makes us all out to be freakin' kills me to talk to Nina because I understand everything she's saying.”
Kim: “I do too. And I know Kat blew the challenge today. I'm totally with you on that.”
Chelsea: “I just feel like Nina deserves to be here more than Kat.”
Kim: “I'm with you, so I'm respecting you and listening to you. I just think we need these girls to trust us.”

Tribal Council does nothing to push us away from the anti-Kat assessment either as the women seem to reluctantly keep her around. Probst opens with a superlative that contrasts nicely with the two the men have used this episode, “You're off to one of the worst starts ever in this game because of the absolute and total dysfunction in this group.” Yes, this is a futility not seen since Ulong (and perhaps Maraamu before that). It doesn’t deter the women from skipping to their script however. There’s talk of voices and communication. Nina notes how information doesn’t get out, such as who has what life experience, because the tribe is divided 5-3. They’re not even talking well. Nina presents a three point argument as to how Kat isn’t a successful athlete. Kim dismisses it with more empty talking, “I mean does Kat bring life experience to the table in our tribe? No. But I do think Kat is a good athlete. Do I think Nina has life experience? Absolutely, but she's bringing different things to the table than Kat is and that's kind of the decision we're weighing out here tonight.” Probst then gets Chelsea and Sabrina to admit that they would make the alliances differently if they did them again and, in the most rhetorically powerful moment of the episode, Alicia, the creator of the alliance, to admit there is no Girl Power going on. If even Alicia sees what’s wrong—Alicia who has been edited as catty, cruel, and callous—then it’s wrong. Kat pleads her case anyway. They keep her and vote out The Walking Dead Nina.

As a bonus, Nina’s final words sound like a less bitter Hunter Ellis from Marquesas as she drives home one more time that Kat is destroying the tribe and should've gone home instead. She then closes with, “I wish the gals a lot of luck but I think they're in deep trouble. I think the guys are gonna take them apart piece by piece.” Hunter made no such concrete game predictions, just stated his tribe wouldn’t survive without him. Will Nina’s prognostication come true? We’ll find out, but that is certainly the sentiment we’re supposed to take away from the story so far. And as we’ll see in the season theme analysis, much of the answer hinges on the still unproven Kat.

In regards to the overall themes of the 24th season of Survivor “One World,” The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission has reached the following conclusions:
×A thematic subtitle for the season would be “Beyond the Charm.”
× If this is an epic underdog comeback story, the ladies or a lady will have to be shown proving they can play the non-traditional game and survive on the island, and much of that thematic responsibility now rests with Kat.
× In this episode, the women did not prove themselves, as they chose to keep Kat over Nina. In other words, they are not yet "beyond the charm" as they chose "rah rah" over "logic and strategy"--they continued to play the "traditional game."
× However, gradients are emerging in Salani, benefitting three women.
× On Manono, Troyzan, Jonas, and Leif are receiving extremely crafted edits that are in line with the theme of gender extremes being detrimental, whereas Colton seems to be taking the idea of being the woman on the men's tribe to the extreme.

Upset they weren’t being given a chance in to finish the first Immunity Challenge of the season, the women voiced their complaints to the men. Troyzan, the interesting spokesman of the men, told them they’d have plenty of chances to prove themselves over the season. The choice between Nina and Kat was the first such chance. All of the women acknowledged there was a problem with the way the tribe was divided and how they were approaching the game. They took two concrete measures to address that: appointing Sabrina leader and keeping Kat in the game over Nina. The latter was the focus of the “proving themselves” theme due to two quotes. First there was the Nina and Chelsea exchange. In it Nina uses the words redeem and fix: “I know (Kat's) fun, but she's ruining this tribe...we can actually redeem ourself as a tribe and not look so stupid. Cause right now we look like idiots…let’s fix it.” As Nina was established as a reliable and correct voice, clearly this vote was a failed attempt to prove themselves. However their chances still remain. They’ve just been transferred it to Kat as heard in her plea at Tribal Council: “I thought I could do it. I thought I could bring it home. What I can only hope is that my tribe believes in me the way that I believe in myself and they'll keep me around so I can show them that I'm learning.” They did kept around so she has to prove that she is learning. In short, Kat’s plea is the entire tribe of Salani generally, and the Girl Power alliance in specific.

As we noted last week, if a woman is going to win this season, it is going to be in an epic underdog comeback tale. Thus one of the major questions raised in our discussion this week was what the elements of an underdog comeback story are. In order to properly identify a story, you must know what its element are. Essentially there must be three things: 1. A weakness in the Goliath 2. A unique strength in the David. 3. A glimmer of hope in the underdog’s story. Number one is taken care of easily with the gender extremes are bad theme. The men are confident. If they lose, it will be due to overconfidence. Number two is a major issue, as we have yet to see anything like this from the women. Perhaps they will be able to turn their talking from a weakness to a strength as Kim says at Tribal Council, “I feel like I'm a good communicator and that's something we need, but I don't feel like there's a place for my voice yet.” The “yet” opens up the possibility of that place being found later. Number three, though it seems like it might not be there, is. As much as the women have struggled, they have addressed all their issues. When they needed fire, they negotiated for it. When they faced anarchy, they elected a leader. When they had to address the rah rah issue, they threw their lot in with Kat. The last was, of course, forced by Tribal Council and shifts the focus back to Kat, which raises all the concerns for the women.

The honest truth is that Kat received one of the worst one episode edits in the history of Survivor. She was raked over the coals as not only stupid, not only the reason the tribe lost, but an embarrassment to women in general. The members of Salani even recognized it, as the terms about embarrassment and stupidity were repeated over the last part of the episode. All that needs to be looked at is this series of statements and exchanges:

Monica: "Kat jumped in when she didn't even need to jump in, not once, twice. I'm sad. I'm sad for women. This isn't the way women are. Frankly I'm so embarrassed."

Nina: "We are in a tribe of the witless. Outwit, outlast, outplay, we are a witless tribe and we are being led by 20 something year old's embarrassing."
Monica: "(Kat) should be going tonight."

Nina talks to Chelsea: "I know (Kat's) fun, but she's ruining this tribe...we can actually redeem ourself as a tribe and not look so stupid. Cause right now we look like idiots."
Chelsea: "trust me I've been embarrassed since I've been here."
Nina: "Then let's fix it."

Chelsea: "I just talked to Nina. I mean, she's really right about Kat. Kat makes us all out to be freakin' idiots."

Probst: "Chelsea, if you could start over, do you think you guys would form different alliances?"
Chelsea: "Yeah, it would probably be different."
Probst: "Sabrina do you agree with that?"
Sabrina: "Yes, 100%."
Probst: "Alicia there's no girl power going on right now. No young women at home going 'Go Women's Tribe.'"
Alicia: "No there's not."
Probst: "Is that embarrassing?"
Alicia: "It's very embarrassed, especially in that challenge. Monica figured it out but because everybody was talking, we couldn't hear Monica's suggestion, and it was embarrassing to watch."
Kat: "It was my fault."

The problem this raises for the women, especially in the Girl Power alliance, is that they voted to keep Kat despite all this negativity. When sentiments and arguments are repeated this often and strongly, it is about more than crafting the decoy boot. We’ve already established how Alicia and Kat were established in this episode as the personification of Girl Power. By keeping Kat, the women have shown that they are not Beyond the Charm. The question is if they can ultimately move beyond it. Right now, the fate of their tribe rests with Kat making that journey. However, there are three individuals from that tribe who have shown hints of moving Beyond the Charm, and they comprise the female side of our players to watch list.

Players to Watch

In the first episode, she wasn’t fully committed to Girl Power. In this episode, she said she hasn’t found a place for her voice yet. Her story seems to be one of waiting for her moment in the game. Strategically, she urged Chelsea to stick with the Girl Power alliance to gain the trust of the other women. The shot of her swinging the axe speaks loudly in the women’s talking edit.

Elected the leader, this episode featured her telling her tribe what they needed to do to fix things, and trumpeting the superiority of the male style of communication. Though she is clearly being built as a reliable commentator, she seems to be trending more toward the oracle, as she makes statements that hint at the women’s ultimate undoing and Colton’s involvement in it. If that is the case, it will be especially ironic as she gave Colton the HII (a common technique in Survivor editing).

In episode one, her stating “I’m beyond the charm” to Tarzan seemed more like a ploy to distract the men so Alicia could try to steal fire. In reality, that is likely why she said it. An episode later, however, it seems it was included editing-wise to show that she actually is beyond the charm. She was one of the harshest critics of Kat and, like Kim, was one of the women shown actually working.

Out of everyone in the last episode, Troyzan received perhaps the most crafted edit. He had two new quotes in the Previously On segment, one about wanting to be the greatest Survivor ever, and was basically edited as putting the men to work and evaluating the work positively. He was also involved in the Colton-reveals-his-HII scene.

While the men aren’t receiving much story, the editors make sure we know Jonas is there and that we like him. He comments on Colton’s strategy and has a defined character, the underestimated guy. What remains to be seen is how he’ll fit into the season’s themes. Could being a sushi chef who has skills that work toward survival because of the lack of rules be his arc similar to John Locke in S1 of LOST?

He opened the episode strongly, helping the women by tending their fire. However, his story took a hit when he was linked with Matt as the muscle that needs to go soon.

Largely absent this episode, he was shown working hard with Tarzan. His role may just end up being a member of a cross-gender alliance.

We include him here not because we think he has a chance at winning, but because he is inextricably linked to how the plot of this season will unfold, linked to both tribes in a season that may turn out to be about the mixing of gender traits.

Monday, February 20, 2012

SSAC Report: One World E01 Welcome to Nutsville

Assembled deep in bowels of the interwebs is a group of Survivor fans, a gathering of analytical, bright, and clever minds know as The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission. That’s right. They know their ABCs. Their mission is to analyze the story of Survivor better than ever before in the history of the universe. What follows is their first report for the One World season.

In regards to the first episode “Two Tribes, One Camp, No Rules" in the 24th season of Survivor "One World," The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission has reached the following conclusions:
-An alternate thematic title for the episode would be “Welcome to Nutsville”
-The theme of the episode was “How will the players respond to the lack of rules?”
-To explain why they dominated this episode, the Manano tribe was shown establishing firm order and boundaries.
-To explain why they lost this episode, the Salani tribe was shown descending into anarchy.

When Jeff Probst says a line in the opening of an episode and it’s also the episode’s title, we’re forced to pay attention—especially when it’s reiterated again at Tribal Council. That symmetry is a nice bit of framing by the editors. This season after the traditional opening confessionals, Jeff Probst stated, "For the first time, two tribes, one camp, no rules.” At Tribal Council, Monica explicated the state of the Salani tribe, "It's almost like whatever is right in front of us that has to happen right now takes precedent. It's crazy. It's total anarchy,” directly explaining how the women responded to the lack of rules. They never climbed out of anarchy because they were reactionary to the men’s actions and all talk. As Jeff Probst summed up, “And you're laughing about it like it's kind of funny, but what's not funny is coming to Tribal Council...right now the guys are thinking those women are all over the map, we have them right where we want them, nutsville." That is the story of the episode. Lawlessness caused the women to hem, haw, deny, and protest while the men made quick decisions and confidently stood by them leading to Manano dominating Salani.

The dominance started in the intro when four men spoke in comparison to only one woman. Each of the men talked about how he was specifically approaching the game. Most notable were Jonas, who said the lack of rules would play to his advantage because no one would see a sushi chef as badass, and Michael, who said that he was mentally prepared for any twist the game threw at him. Neither man had any preconceptions. The other two men, Colton and Jay, talked about how they would relate to both genders in the game. In contrast, Alicia, the player most symbolic of the female stereotype in the episode, started shit-talking the men saying she’s going to play them if they like her. Really Alicia, how? And how is that going to help you survive? The divergence had begun, and it only grew from there.

Right before he split the tribes, Probst talked about gender issues with a few players and Troyzan stated exactly what Alicia and Sabrina had just done, "Those women are just purely all talk right now.” The comment followed Sabrina’s, "We all know men can't survive without women." As we learned in the episode, the men could survive without the women (getting fire and winning the challenge). Thus Alicia and Sabrina’s statements never came to fruition, nor did Chelsea’s statement about the women sticking together and being a big ball of badassness. By the end of the episode they were disjointed and anything but badass. Hell, in the opening 60 second stripping of the truck the women already showed they were ill-equipped for the lack of rules. The men stole most of the women’s items, taking the majority of the bounty, and the women went off to camp bitter and understocked, their talk getting them nowhere except a reactionary position.

On the hike to camp, things began to unravel even more for the women. Kourtney introduced craziness to the conversation, "I'm a girl, I know, I'm crazy. We're all crazy. I mean women, and that's the thing too, no offense, but women can be so warm and they seem so understanding and compassionate and accepting and before you know it it's just like (throat stabbing motion), you know?" And who immediately began that throat stabbing? Alicia, one of the biggest blusterers and the villain of the episode, tried to play by traditional Survivor rules and formed a five person alliance with Kim, Chelsea, Kat, and Sabrina. Nuance in the character portrayals becomes more apparent, however, as Kim begins to differentiate herself from the rest of the women by saying, “I didn’t plan to form an alliance right off the bat. I was just going to lay low but, when we saw the guys stealing off the truck, that was a huge rivalry right off the bat so, when the guys did that, the women were like: Women Power! I’m not a big fan but I am going with it.” To her credit, Kim is adapting to the situation rather than going with her preconceived notions. She is doing more than talking. However, she is still making a partially reactive decision based on the men’s stealing by going along with the talk of “women power.” The gender divide only gets wider with the chicken incident.

After Jonas tells Colton, "It doesn't look like One World to me, bro. It looks like their world and our world” (a sentiment Jay later echoes), Chelsea rebuffs on a chicken deal over what has happened before. The setup here is interesting, as it subtly demonstrates who actually forced the gender chasm—the women. Jonas’ statement to Colton isn’t a desire. It’s a statement. He’s seeing two different worlds. Likewise, who is the one who tries to strike a deal for the chicken? Matt. And who rebuffs it? Chelsea. It makes sense psychologically why Chelsea wouldn’t agree to the deal, but in reality, why would she antagonize the men? And that’s definitely what she did, as Matt, in a seeming villain’s edit, declared to close the scene "It was obvious from that minute that I'm with the guys, not these girls.” Storywise, this was what solidified the gender animosity, as Bill and Michael echoed those feelings right before and Jay did in the later fire incident.

In a series of scenes that show the men acting and the women as all talk, Jay states, “"Even though this is one world, to me it's two hemispheres. I don't think the girls' tribe wanted to be in with us. I think they made it apparent by scavenging around themselves, they was keeping everything on their side, so I don't want to help them in any way possible.” Like Jonas before him, Jay is simply saying he already sees it as two hemispheres. Like Bill and Michael before him, Jay is saying that the women are the ones who made it that way. And the men are completely satisfied with it as they get to work building a shelter and making fire. The women, on the other hand, aren’t shown doing anything except failing to make a fire and saying they need the men for help. The instant the men have a fire, edit-wise, Sabrina walks over and asks for some. In separate attempts, Alicia and Christina fail to steal fire from the men. It is here Troyzan equates the women’s perspective (remember, he’s the one who brought up the talking earlier right before the tribe split was revealed) with craziness, "I mean these chicks, they're in cuckoo land. I mean they want to come and trade fire for a chicken. It's the first day, the first hour, we don't need a chicken." The assessing reality vs. talking dichotomy is clear here, and clearly not working for the women…yet they continue.

Still in need of fire, Kim and Kat decide they should go to the Manano camp and talk to the men about it. Kat even suggests they do the stereotypical thing—act like they just want to hang out and don’t have another agenda. They get there and Michael stonewalls them. Jay joins the conversation and stonewalls them again. It’s an interesting visual divide that echoes the conversation post-chicken catching with Alicia and Matt conspicuous in their absence. The talking does eventually make slight headway though, but not in the way it’s been attempted so far. Rather than try to con them out of fire, Christina is able to strike a deal with Jonas. It is one of two successes the women experience in the episode, the other being catching the chicken.

The Immunity Challenge is likewise embarrassing for the women. Not only does one of their members get taken out of the game because she breaks her wrist in multiple places, but Probst presents a situation that causes them to resort to the only thing they know how to do—talk. Because Kourtney got injured, the men could decide to either finish the challenge or take the win. Manano takes the win causing the women to try and goad them out of their decision. Troyzan once again shuts them down by claiming they’re all talk, “I understand. If it was reversed and one of us got hurt, I just don't think it would be the same thing.” In the viewers’ ears, those words echo as true. It’s clear the women are just trying to talk their way out of their predicament…and failing.

Tribal Council, as always, puts a point on this talking theme. Monica, to essentialize her words, says the women have no plan. They’re just addressing whatever the most immediate problem is—and without a plan that causes a whole lot of bluster. They even try to talk circles around each other as Alicia, playing her edited role well, bends and twists the details of the fire deal with Jonas to make Christina look bad. Christina demonstrates they have indeed reached Nutsville by screaming “Because you’re wrong. So shut up.” Christina may be right, but her outburst doesn’t play well rhetorically, as even Probst is shocked by it. He puts a bow on this all, echoing Troyzan’s sentiments all episode, "And you're laughing about it like it's kind of funny, but what's not funny is coming to Tribal Council...right now the guys are thinking those women are all over the map, we have them right where we want them, Nutsville."

In regards to the overall themes of the 24th season of Survivor “One World,” The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission has reached the following conclusions:
-A thematic subtitle for the season would be “Beyond the Charm.”
-The theme of the season is “Which gender is better suited to survive without the other?”
-The dominance of the Manano tribe was exaggerated in order to set up two possible outcomes:
1. A member of the Manano tribe wins following through on the strength of the men in this episode.
2. A member of the Salani tribe wins proving the strength of the women in an epic underdog story.
-The exaggeration of Manano’s dominance was so measured and great that #1 is the likelier outcome.
-It is likely a cross-gender alliance will develop and control the game.
-Five characters delivered a possible winner’s quote: Troyzan, Sabrina, Chelsea, Kim, and Jay.
-Two characters were built as villains: Alicia and Matt.
-One character was built as a proxy of the opposite gender: Colton.
-Several characters were given nuanced edits that signal a possible winner’s story:
-From Salani: Sabrina, Kim, and Chelsea
-From Manano: Troyzan, Jonas, Jay, and Michael

The men’s imperviousness to the women’s charm was more than a one episode story, it was the hidden answer to the season’s question, “Which gender is better suited to survive without the other?” This episode was a huge opening salvo by the men, best summed up by Bill, “They need us more than we need them.” The women were knocked down like an overmatched boxer. Nina’s face post-IC was the visual representation of that. That fact leaves us with only two possible stories: options one and two as listed above. If number two were to come to fruition, it would be an incredibly epic underdog story (so that is something to watch for in the coming episodes, the groundwork being laid for that comeback). However, this episode was more than building a Goliath for the David to fell. Amongst all the gender posturing and stereotypical behavior, it was the systematic demonstration that the women are overmatched.

The master key to this dungeon was hidden within the fire incident. Monica attempts to distract the men by holding a conversation with Tarzan so Alicia can go for the fire. Tarzan defends the men’s not sharing fire due to the outcome of the chicken incident and then says “we’re beyond the charm,” meaning the men are impervious to the stereotypical wiles of women. What makes the quote so interesting though is the context it appears in. First, while Tarzan is the one talking, he is not the one shown. Instead Matt and Jay are shown—two of the men who have taken hardline stances in shutting the women’s talking down—and, when Tarzan says “we’re beyond the charm,” Alicia was shown, the woman who personified the female stereotype in this episode. Second, Monica then repeats the phrase herself saying, “I’m beyond the charm,” but is immediately proven a liar when Alicia attempts to steal the fire and is blocked by Leif (in his second appearance of the episode, the other being Jonas calling him buff). In other words, Monica and Alicia were attempting to use charm and even the minor character seemingly insignificant to the story men (if Leif comes back and wins, the theme of the season was “buff little dudes ftw) rebuff them. Troyzan puts a cap on it: "The girls are so typical. I've been around 50 years, lady. You can't come over here with your set of taters on you and walking around with your little bikini. You're not going to get fire from me on the first day. You better suffer for like two or three days. Maybe they just want my one quit 'oh, I'm done, this is not what I signed up for.’" Still, this is only one scene, right? That doesn’t say much for the rest of the episode.

Before the tribes were split, Sabrina claimed that men couldn’t survive without the women. The opposite proved to be true. From the 60-second-truck-stripping to the immunity challenge, the women were at the men’s mercy. Sure, the women caught two chickens, but what good is it without fire—fire, which the women were unable to attain until they made a deal with the men. What about shelter though? Were the women able to build that? While it’s true the women offered woven palm fronds in exchange for the fire, Kat was shown suggesting during the chicken incident, “We will give them a chicken, but we need them to help us with our shelter.” As for the immunity challenge, the women couldn’t even get through the first leg of it without one of their players breaking her wrist so badly that she almost passed out due to the pain. If there were a Survivor checklist, the women might have earned half a check, but certainly nothing more. They failed at surviving in every way possible—and it was all because everyone fell in line behind gender stereotypes.

The women and men were equal in one area, the way they approached alliances. Both opted for assembling a quick five based upon physical strength. How they went about it suggests a negative portrayal of the extremes of each gender, which in turn suggests an ultimate failure of these alliances. The key to understanding the extremes of the genders are the portrayals of Alicia and Matt, the supposed alliance leaders, and the relation of the portrayals of the other alliance members to them. The key to understanding the ultimate failure of the alliances is the Sabrina-Colton dynamic. Both aspects were framed by Probst at the start of the episode.

In the intro, Probst told us, “They think they've got Survivor figured out…They think they know the rules…They think they've seen everything, but they're in for a huge surprise." This is a huge red flag for typical tribe play and the success of early built alliances (which is the exact opposite of the last two seasons). It’s especially interesting as the Jay, Michael, and Colton’s quotes in the intro were about working with the women, whereas Alicia’s was about playing the guys. That’s where Alicia’s insanely negative portrayal began. From saying both tribes living together would be a party to targeting Christina, she was shown as the epitome of a bitchy catty woman. Who said Matt wasn’t serious about the chicken deal? Who first tried to steal fire? Who got upset over a deal being made for fire with the men? The answer to all of these questions is Alicia. She was the one leading the divide on the women’s side. Likewise, Matt was the one portraying the stereotypically male bravado and callousness. When the chicken deal fell through he said, “I don't care about those girls. Give us that chicken as an apology and then we'll think about talking.” When he made his alliance he said, "Well the way Survivor always works initially is that the strong stay because they benefit the tribe and the weak's an easy alliance. We're not going to get any Survivor points for that one." The last sentence was meant to be humble, but based upon what Probst said it actually carries a double meaning. None of these alliances will be getting credit for being good at Survivor, because they’re not, because the rules have changed. Their leadership is misguided.

Below the leaders, however, are interesting gradients of loyalty to the gender to openness to working with the enemy. On the women’s side, Kim flat out stated she was just going along with the women power thing and her and Kat’s discussion with Michael and Jay was a very interesting scene. After the challenge, she also gave a very in-between confessional where she was disappointed the men weren’t more chivalrous yet understood their decision. Chelsea, on the other hand, seemed to be more for the split with her rallying cry to make the women one giant ball of badassness. The woman who best summed up the mixed feelings though wasn’t even in the alliance. Christina said, “I think some of these girls who have this chip on their shoulder thinking like we don't need the guys, look, it's not so much about pride, it's about yes we have a game to play, but we also need to survive as well.” That reinforces that the women can’t survive without the men and is pretty strong foreshadowing, especially considering Michael and Jay’s behavior in the episode. Michael looked the worst of the two. When the “frat boy alliance” was formed, he asked “Who’s going to stop us?” Jay was the more balanced of the two. When the alliance was formed he warned, “You know we're putting a huge target on our back.” Likewise in the scene with Kim and Kat he said they needed to get girls on their side (as well as saying he wanted to align with girls in the intro). To be fair though, he did say this was a war and it didn’t make sense to work with the girls “at this point.” At this point is an interesting inclusion, especially as Michael was shown in conversation with Kim and Kat as well…and gender lines were already crossed.

Perhaps the two most interesting gradient characters in this episode were Colton and Sabrina. Colton, for all intents and purposes, was the female surrogate on the men’s tribe. In the intro he said he worked better with women. After the tribe split he said he wanted to be on the women’s tribe. He even flat out said, “I'm the girl within the guy tribe.” No, this isn’t insensitivity towards homosexuality. This is the story. Matt even said as much (well, minus a meta-comment about the story). On the women’s tribe, Sabrina is the player who most stepped up to the game. Perhaps it was a factor of her finding the idol so she had to be edited that way, but she still said “Colton's a wild card. My gut is telling me to believe in him, but who knows, anything can go down in Survivor,” a quote that may as well have been said by one of the guys. She then, of course, gives the idol to Colton, beginning the tribal line crossing, calling back to the other important Probst line in the intro: “Who will stay true to their tribe and who will make alliances with the enemy?”

Winner’s Quotes

“One guy's called Tarzan, and I'm like 'He can't be Tarzan. I'm Troyzan.' It's like, I'm, um, this is my island, baby.”

“If I had to do the jumping on the truck 60 second grab all over again I would've stole some things from them that they stole from us. They definitely played dirty on that truck. I said ok, we got a good inclination of how they're gonna play the game and, um, Game on.”

“Don’t mess with the country girl.”

“I didn’t plan to form an alliance right off the bat. I was just going to lay low but, when we saw the guys stealing off the truck, that was a huge rivalry right off the bat (Note that Matt was shown at this moment) so, when the guys did that, the women were like: Women Power! I’m not a big fan but I am going with it.”

“Even though this is One World, to me there’s two hemispheres: Their tribe versus our tribe. I don’t really think that the girl tribe wanted to be in with us. They made it apparent by the way they were scouting around and keeping everything on their side. I don’t want to help them in any way possible. As far as I’m concerned, they need to stay on their side, I’ll stay on mine and, if they need us more than we need them, then we are in charge of this game.”

Players to Watch

His winner’s quote looms large as well as his incredibly unique edit. He was the only one continually calling out the women on their talking. On the other hand, his “this is my island” statement is bravado that matches Matt’s. What it amounts to is this: he either wins the game or is the wise old sage that told the men how to win it.

He is the other male with the unique edit. He’s not in the power alliance, yet a point was still made of including him in the episode, as well as establishing his badassness and likability. If he doesn’t win, he’ll at least have a long Dawn Meehan-esque arc.

His winner’s quote at least seems to point to a male winning, but internally to the episode the women needed the men more than the men needed the women, and if a man is going to win, who better than Jay? He hasn’t seemed to make “the single biggest mistake in this game (of) making decisions early on that nobody will forgive you in the end” of alienating the women and not wanting to work with them. In fact, if there is a man ready to work with both, it is him.

In some ways, he’s a less fully realized gradient than Jay. He seems to be more in the arrogant male camp. However, he was shown saying he was ready for twists and then adapting to the twists well. He stole from the women in the 60 second truck strip. He got into the frat boy alliance and still talked to the women. He seemed at least destined to be a major player in a cross-gender alliance.

Out of all the women, she was the quickest to adjust to the lack of rules. Out of the women’s alliance, she seemed to be the most distant from Alicia’s influence. It remains to be seen if this edit is just because of her finding the idol and working with Colton or not.

Kim's quote could be a winner's quote because this episode really highlighted the initial divide between the two sides and how some players were all about the women and some all about the men. If the story is going to be about how the winner balances the two and goes along with whatever her circumstances are, she has shown to be adaptable and able to see both the men’s and women’s perspective.

Her victorious moment of catching the chickens was huge. In the middle of a gender war, she holds them up and says “Don’t mess with the country girl.” If she does win, that will be the scene she is remembered for in Survivor history.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Friday Night Lights S1E1-11: Dimming Quickly

Because I'm a huge football fan, over the years numerous people have told me to watch Friday Night Lights. I've procrastinated due to being equal parts afraid I'd love the show and hate the show. My reaction has been squarely in between. Initially, I fell in love. The show's inciting action is a perfect bit of plotting that appealed to my intellect and emotion. I wanted to know what happened next and really cared if the characters overcame. By the end of episode two "Eyes Wide Open" when backup-turned-starting-QB Matt told Coach Taylor his eyes were wide open when he threw up the game winning pass in the first game, I was hooked. It was a literal ending. It was a metaphoric ending. It was the perfect balance.

Then some more stuff happened...and more stuff happened...and more stuff happened. The show become obsessed with progressing the plot without telling me why it was progressing. What began as a heavily serialized drama about a high school football team's season transitioned into loosely linked stand alone episodes about people who happen to be involved in football. In the middle of episode seven I was confused if I had skipped an episode. Outside of one line, the plot and tensions from episode six were largely dropped. And then some more stuff happened, implanting one pulsating question in my brain: Why?

What frustrates me most is that I don't know why the characters do anything. Despite all the talking that goes on, I don't understand what motivates them, psychologically or philosophically. What do they want? The best example might be the return of Matt's father in episode 11 "Nevermind." Through the first ten episodes, Matt juggled a job, taking care of his senile grandmother while his father was in Iraq, becoming the new starting QB, and successfully wooing the girl he has a crush on--and all the seems like it will be taken away when his father comes home from the conflict on a two week leave. Apparently grandma is so bad she needs to be put in a home, except committing her would leave Matt without a legal guardian upon his dad's return to Iraq which means Matt would have to move to Oklahoma to live with some relatives which means he couldn't play for the Dillon Panthers anymore. Matt points this out to his father who retorts with the completely reasonable, "You can play football anywhere."

Look, I understand why Matt doesn't want to leave Texas. I know what it's like to have friends and play on a team. I get that his girlfriend is smoking hot. And, as with anyone who's been to college or moved to a new town, I know what it's like to have to start all over and build anew. All of those statements however start with me, not the character of Matt. I have no idea why Matt wants to stay. What exactly is it about this town, this school, this girl (besides her being smoking hot), this coach, and this team that is valuable? What are Matt's thoughts? We never find out. Instead, he has a conversation with his coach about how he doesn't want to leave and his girlfriend tells her mother that she doesn't want to lose him. Yeah, I got that, I'd just like to break through the barrier and understand the source of these desires.

Ultimately, the town of Dillon and its residents are sealed in a hermetic bubble. I can observe everything but understand nothing. Sure, in the gaps where there is meant to be emotion (and this show is marvelous at using visual and auditory spacing to its advantage) I can substitute in my own experiences to conjure the requisite smiles and tears. However, when I do, I'm really retelling my own story to myself, not experiencing the story of the Panthers football team and their friends and family. And if that's the case, who's the storyteller here? It'd be like if your father told you a bedtime story while you kept interrupting with "So it's like that time I..." Before long you'd lose interest in his daily narratives and dim the lights yourself.

Friday Night Lights is like watching a talented team execute a bad game plan to perfection. The acting, directing, music, and other technical aspects are all top notch. The issue is that they're in service of a blueprint that just isn't detailed enough to bring home the W(ant).