Friday, October 18, 2013

Keep Calm and Focus on the Themes: The Survivor Community, Tyson, and the Brothers Baskauskas

This season of Survivor is being edited tremendously. There is a compelling narrative with a couple players that a strong winner's story case can be made for. Then there's the conversation around the season.

If you've followed this blog and/or my engagement with Survivor, you know two things about me:
1. Analyzing and discussing the story captivates and excites me.
2. Hearing the online fan conversation about the show annoys and frustrates me.

I'm sure you can see that those two points are at odds. How do you have a discussion if engaging in conversation isn't an enjoyable experience? The short answer: you don't. My answer: I try really really hard to ignore the negativity--the illogical, the insulting, the immature, etc. Thus I don't read many columns, don't participate in many forums, and don't follow many people on Twitter. I am very selective of what I let through the noise.

Earlier today, a Stephen Fishbach (expert strategic player and growing-in-quality columnist) tweet made its way into my stream by way of a retweet. Thanks to whoever retweeted that by the way, I don't remember who you are. For my money (which is none), this column is the best Fishbach has ever written. It's succinct, clear, and true. He states his analysis and acknowledges the possible objections. Except there was one problem.

The tweet Fishbach shared the column in claimed that this edition of his thoughts was the one that people have told him is the most off-base. Reading the comment section corroborates this claim. In short, everyone is telling him that Tyson deserved Fishbach's praise in this episode, not Aras--a counterpoint that Fishbach acknowledged and disregarded for good reason.

Ignoring the fact that Fishbach gives his weekly "Fishy" based on moves made and people want it awarded to Tyson based on his not making a move, there are two major points that are impossible to refute that make Aras deserving of the award:

1. Aras switched the vote on his tribe from a less dangerous member of the minority to a more dangerous member of the majority and his alliance of 5/6 still voted together.
2. Nothing in the editing portrayed the move as negative for Aras besides he himself saying he needed to be cautious to not be too manipulative. There were no echoes of Brad Culpepper's too-aggressive-villain edit. There were no confessionals from other players saying negative things about Aras.

Why then, with these two facts as readily available information based on mere observation, is there such an outpouring of comments against Fishbach's analysis that favor Tyson?

I don't have a good answer to that question. It reminds me of the conversation around Redemption Island Andrea. What bothers me the most is the surety of the belief that seems to be shared. Like Andrea, Tyson is likable, perhaps more-so. Like Andrea's edit in Redemption Island, Tyson's has had some strong moments early on. None of these facts necessarily lead to an emotional investment in celebrating and asserting Tyson's dominance though. It makes me wonder if there's a spoiler out there I don't know about that.

In Caramoan Cochran's story was deeply intertwined with the theme. He ingratiated himself with the tribe to overcome his past mistake. In the Phillipines, Denise's story was deeply intertwined with the theme--she balanced head and heart by seeing everyone's story. Even Fabio just went with the flow and let himself be seen as a goofball instead of overplaying like everyone else in Nicaragua. Remember, I'm talking about the edit here and episode one moments that encapsulated it.

In episode one of this season, Tyson said he was in a good spot and would be willing to cut all the loved ones. Those comments are not a theme. They are exposition. If anything, they are against the theme. If the key to this season is staying calm and drama-free, then cutting all the loved ones is not the way to do it. Has Tyson said and done things since that fit the theme? Yes, but thematic strength in subsequent episodes don't erase a week first episode. Rather, they reveal a major character in someone else's story--just like Andrea in Redemption Island.

My purpose here isn't to make the case against Tyson (whoops already did that) and for Aras and Vytas though. Truthfully, I'm still not 100% sure what the theme of the season is. That is my point. Is this season about being drama-free, concretized in yoga, or redemption? It would seem to be the former and that favors Aras. However, Vytas' edit is arguably stronger, most notably containing two very powerful visual moments, one in the premiere--one in the most recent episode. Then again, in the Sumo at Sea, Vytas was the one who resorted to a dramatic cheap shot and still lost...and then the brothers' rivalry was evened up in this past episode's immunity challenge. That moment was very clearly edited as important. Now I'm back to square one.

See what I'm getting at? This edit is tremendous. We don't know who wins and have good reason to want Aras or Vytas (and even Tyson) to win. They're both (all) strong and sympathetic protagonists. Why then should the conversation be focused so predominantly on one player (who arguably has the third strongest edit)? It shouldn't. Yet it is.

I briefly contemplated attempting to make the Survivor Story Analysis Commission more of a "thing" in the online community this season. I tweeted a little bit from that account and considered some strategic options. I'm officially removing that possibility from the table. Some may say I'm taking my ball and going home. Maybe I am. I don't really care. It's much more enjoyable for me to discuss the episode with the friends I watch with, the friends I talk to in Facebook messages, and the Facebook group I created and am the admin for. Doing so is how I turn the noise turn down to a minimum and focus on the themes. It's how I enjoy the show in this new era.

I want engage with the story, not the community.