If you’ve watched Survivor before, Pirate Master will seem extremely familiar. It has 16 average people out of their element, it has challenges that feature keys and maps, it has interpersonal relations that challenge the patience of its competitors, and it has really fancy opening credits. And yet, with all of these comparisons to Survivor, you might think that Pirate Master is little but a derivative of Mark Burnett’s first reality smash hit. And well, it is derivative…but not really in a bad way. Believe it or not, I think I’ve secretly been craving a decent Survivor clone for a while now.
Pirate Master takes the basic elements of Survivor and includes within them an initially confusing structure that unveils slowly through this episode. In this episode, teams are first introduced to their home, the Picton Castle, and then immediately embark on an early morning journey to their first challenge. Here, split into teams of two, they compete: the winning team divides the treasure amongst themselves, and then the winning team elects a captain. That captain gets to pick two officers, and they get to stay in a posh captain’s quarters and be safe from Pirate’s court, where one of the pirates is sent home…but the pirates have the option of declaring mutiny against their captain as well.
Confused? Well, the episode rolled it out at a slow enough pace for it to resonate, and the result was a glimpse at what could be coming in future weeks. And, perhaps most importantly, there were glimpses at the type of drama that the structure can create. Not only are people competitive for the cash prizes (In the form of gold pieces), but they also have to deal with direct subordination and mutiny within the ranks. It adds some nice layers to the proceedings, and it gives reason to the often petty dislike that spreads within these reality shows. Unofficial authority figures are one thing, but real ones? They’re just scum.
Now, the show is not without problems: right now, host Cameron Daddo is more than a little bit absent from the proceedings, and he needs to develop a personality quickly (Note: Australian does count as a personality automatically, but I think he isn’t Australian enough to do with it and it alone).
The show’s biggest problem took place in its challenge: a sprawling, multi-part journey, it was basically a Survivor race challenge…but without Jeff Probst’s constant commentary and without the same sense of urgency as the teams were separated by a fair margin. Rather than being on a set path, things were quite hectic, resulting in a challenge that never really seemed dramatic. These treasure hunts are likely to vary slightly, so I hope others can step up to the plate.
However, on the whole I think Pirate Master has its priorities in the right place: like Survivor, the show’s very structure immediately created villains and heroes. Gruff Louie (Pictured), a Rupert clone of sorts, is immediately the hero as he rails against authority, while Joe Don immediately plays the role of arrogant villain as captain. Meanwhile, the two officers (Ben and Cheryl) each become pawns: they represent the authority, but yet have no true power themselves. They’re safe, but yet targeted, created conflicted minds. And then there’s the rest of the crew, left to swab the decks and plot mischievously. And plot mischievously John does, as the cocky Scientist/Exotic Dancer combo makes a power play to try to save himself at episode’s end.
This opening hour didn’t even introduce us properly to every character, and that’s definitely going to be a challenge for the show: while some personalities came through, there is really only Louie and John that stood out. Hopefully, over the next few episodes more people start to break through and make a difference. The show is missing Survivor’s Tribal Council discussions where everyone gets a voice, and the result is a disconnect with those people we haven’t even really met yet (One person I don’t think even spoke). As a result, there is yet work to do.
And yet, perhaps naively, I enjoyed myself. The concept has intrigue, there was enough fun characters to make this particular episode charming, and I’ve always been a big fan of the pirate-related reality television I’m imagined in my mind. The result is that I’ll be tuning in next week: we’ll see if anyone else feels the same as the ratings come in tomorrow afternoon.
Didn’t catch the episode? Want to remind yourself of what occurred, or who received the black mark and why? Continue reading for Cultural Learnings’ full recap.