Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – “Episode Three”

“That Girl is Like a Virus”

February 25th, 2010

Well, that’s more pleasant, at least.

Yes, tonight’s episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains featured another brutal physical challenge, and there were certainly some ugly moments on both sides of the competition. However, while last week’s episode was dominated by James’ bullying on Stephenie, this week returned the season to where it was in the beginning: even if the game itself isn’t that interested, our pre-existing relationships with the people playing it make challenges more interesting, make humorous facial expressions more recognizable, and turn a potential mediocre game into something that feels more special than it actually is.

Strategically, the game is as predictable as it was for the past few weeks, but there was enough spontaneity on the fringe to keep things fun, which is frankly what All-Star seasons need to do in the earlygoing.

Yes, it’s disappointing that there has yet to be a legitimate surprise at Tribal Council, and that all this talk about previous relationships has resulted in absolutely zero strategic decisions based on those concerns, but there were so many enjoyable moments during that Immunity challenge that I was more than content. It started with the reaction from the Villains to Stephenie’s ouster: Parvati went with shock, which makes sense for Parvati, but Courtney sitting beside her just wrinkled her face. Frankly, Courtney is my favourite player in this game right now: every time you look at her, whether during Tribal Council or during challenges or even as the tribe sits around camp, she is there sitting on the fringe, making snarky faces and just sort of remaining skeptical of the people around her. Her name is never raised as a threat, her name is never raised as a weakness, and while we can place some of that on the editors I think Courtney is in a fantastic position to do very well in this game based on her detachment from the “gameplay” at this early stage.

The Immunity Challenge was never actually a challenge, of course: the Heroes eviscerated the Villains 8-0 in the “Pillow Sumo” challenge, with a few competitive matches being largely overshadowed by some absolute destruction. It’s clear that, matched up individually, the Heroes are the stronger team: it was helpful, even if it was likely a coincidence, that the Heroes were able to get an individual challenge rather than a team one, as their problems with communication are non-existent when most of that communication is intense yelling from Colby and Rupert. Colby’s primal screams throughout the challenge seemed like an attempt to re-engage with a game that he admitted the night before he was becoming disillusioned with (again – he went out early in All-Stars primarily based on a lack of drive), but they gave us some absolutely fantastic visuals, especially his intense Hulk-like neck muscle flexing and, my personal favourite, his Australia tribe mate Jerri throwing him a total “WTF” look after one of this particularly ridiculous outbursts. You could have sold me on this episode on those reaction shots alone, which raises two important questions.

The first is why we’re only getting one challenge a week. While I understand that they want to be able to do one-hour episodes and focus on the people being eliminated and the intense drama that these big personalities create, it seems like their best material is coming when the tribes are together, building the rivalry the whole season is predicated on. To me, our pre-existing knowledge of these competitors means that they don’t need as much time around camp: while I’m glad Candice did something, watching her run around to every player in a paranoid fashion didn’t add anything to the episode’s narrative, and separating reward/immunity would have made that final challenge that much more intense, since one team would have been avenging an earlier loss. I came to watch these personalities play the game, absolutely, but the tribes themselves are honestly kind of boring, so the real interest lies in challenges. I don’t know if it’s a budget decision or what, but it’s sort of minimizing (or at least isolating) my excitement.

The second question is whether or not the game would have been more interesting with mixed teams. I have no question that we’re going to be mixing the teams before the merge, likely through a process where the teams are re-evaluated along the titular criteria, but if it had been done since the beginning (Heroes and Villains) perhaps we would have gotten more of the snarkiness and the rivalries within tribes. I find the whole Villains vs. Villains and Heroes vs. Heroes thing sort of boring once they are forced to go to Tribal Council, like all of the life gets sucked out of the game or, in the case of the Heroes last week, things become nasty rather than vicious (those are two different things, trust me).

Voting out Randy pleases me in that I don’t particularly like the guy, but it was a silly decision that somehow everyone went along with: Jerri and Coach, who were both very anti-Parvati, still went with the majority because…why not? It just doesn’t have any sort of strategic edge right now, and I feel like integrating the teams might have created more of that tension. There was some interesting moments on the Villain side: Russell burying the machete (which is not nearly as intelligent as he makes it out to be), Parvati making her moves (which, despite insistence from many others, are not based entirely on flirting), and Rob quite rightly pointing out that the various alliances forming need to be careful once the weak people start getting picked off. But Danielle never spoke, Courtney just gave everyone funny looks, and Tribal Council was intriguing (in that Sandra went out of her way to call out Coach) but entirely predictable. It just seems like everything is “this could be interesting later,” like Randy voting for Rob (which, if Rob were playing too impulsively, he could see as a vote from someone else, even though he should know that it had to be Randy since there were no votes for anyone else read, which doesn’t happen if there was another person who garnered a vote); it could make things interesting next week, but it didn’t make the end of this episode any more enjoyable.

But yet, a couple of enjoyable moments (like Courtney and Jerri both piping up that they have slept in worse Survivor shelters in a fun game of one-upmanship) and an immunity challenge that while dominant offered some enjoyable moments, and we’re “satisfied.” But after Samoa went through such a strong post-merge period, the pre-merge came is seeming pretty tepid, and something’s going to happen so that the game can get interesting without getting as brutish as it was last week. The challenges seem like the way to unlock this, so I’m hoping we get two challenges at some point in the future.

Cultural Observations

  • You know the show is rushed for time when they give the contestants luxury items and yet never show what they are – the “Reward” is such an afterthought in the single challenge system. For example, I really wanted to know how Candice was going to keep that little Seal/Polar Bear (couldn’t tell which) stuffed animal clean after being in that mud – I want to know these things, Survivor!
  • Courtney is right that James is, without question, on the wrong side: fans might like him, but he’s playing this game as a villain considering how easily he is being baited into turning into a complete tool. I don’t blame him for getting frustrated with Candice being so paranoid, but “tell it like it is” has a shorter life span in this game than he believes it does, and letting Randy get in his head after he had kicked his ass seemed like a big ol’ case of “poor winner” that just does the guy no favours. I know he’s in a powerful alliance right now, and that means he’ll be around for a while, but the guy just has no social game right now.
  • J.T.’s duplicity is intriguing, and I wonder if Candice ever figured it out: he lied in Tocantins (including to Coach), but was so gosh-darn likeable that they all gave him the money anyways. I don’t know if that happens again, but if it does I will be quite impressed – kid’s got game, even if he enjoys making up words.
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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – “Episode Three”

  1. Lots of Good information in your blogpost, I favorited your blog so I can visit again in the future, Thanks

  2. Amy

    I wondered the SAME THING about that bright white stuffed animal! Especially considering they were covered in mud when they received everything. Think, people! I would definitely laminate any pictures, letters, or in general try to make it so my items wouldn’t be ruined by the end of the show.

  3. Max

    “I don’t know if it’s a budget decision or what, but it’s sort of minimizing (or at least isolating) my excitement.”

    Definitely a valid question, especially since we know that the decision to shoot back-to-back seasons in the same location starting with Samoa/HvsV was motivated by financial considerations. (Funny that the show that so violently shook up television’s financial model when it debuted ten years ago is now finding itself subject to some of the very cost-cutting measures that it catalyzed!) That said, I’m tempting to say that we might be seeing Survivor reinvent itself (and the game) in its 20th go-round – more emphasis on the social game, and less on challenges.

    Personally I wouldn’t be thrilled if this was the case – I’ve always been partial toward the challenges, especially during those seasons featuring dominant physical players (Tom, Ozzie, etc.). That said, with this cast, I can imagine this structure lending itself to some really amazing strategic play. Not that the first three episodes have made good on that promise – I’m still scratching my head in about the fact that Parvati didn’t get a single vote. But I’ll blame that on the editing, which has been pretty clumsy all season. From the heavy-handed winner’s edit Boston Rob has been receiving to the inexplicable Candice segment (which I can only hope will become important later when Cirie starts playing her “A” game) to the terrible sneak previews, it seems like something is off in the post. Oh well, at least they’ve managed to cobble together a few great Dragonslayer vignettes!

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