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.
The fog is heavy as the Picton Castle sits awaiting its passengers. These passengers be pirates, I reckon. Cameron, our host, lets us know, that this ship is a working vessel. There will be consequences, he says, and then suddenly everyone.
Louie, a fishing dock worker, goes a little bit crazy with the Pirate chatter as they randomly raise a chest from the water: The Chest of Zanzibar. There are 14 maps within this chest, it appears, which belonged to Captain Henry Steele. And, the treasure it leads to is worth a total of $1 Million. How convenient.
The people have been trained at sailing, which should make them at least a bit more worthwhile. Ben, a Musician, is hyped: fresh-faced, newly graduated, clearly not ready for any of this. There is also Christian, a former NFL football player, along with Cheryl (A Deputy District Attourney, who thinks that gives her an advantage with pirates or criminals). Joy, a receptionist, thinks that John is a bit renaissancey and weird. He is a scientist and…an exotic dancer. Who is already trying to make friends by arbitrarily dividing people. Jay, an Auto Parts salesman, is kind of weird.
It is dawn as we return to the ship, and everyone’s waking up…with only five minutes to prepare. They scale the rigs at dawn, which is more than a little bit cool; there is certainly some great chances for HD imagery here, but unfortunately it is not shot in widescreen. Boourns, Burnett. We’re introduced to Sean, who is a bartender and whose father is a retired navy captain with salt water in his blood. Joy, meanwhile, has sea sickness issues. She’s got to get used to it, because being a pirate is all about this. That’s bullshit: Pirating is about being badass, and badass people don’t get seasick. The rest of the crew is none too pleased with her illness, and would much rather she prove her mettle.
“Land Ho!” The island of Dominica is within site as they lower the anchor. Ben, our young musician, spends some time with Navy-man Firefighter Joe Don; he thinks he has the right perspective, and won’t worry about people getting kicked off. Ben, meanwhile, worries about it.
The Chest of Zanzibar has 14 compartments, Cameron lets us know, so we’ll see what it is exactly. The first compartment holds: two maps and two compasses. Teams are as follows:
Red: Joy, Jay, Azmyth, Others
Black: Joe Don, Louie, John, Ben, Others
One crew will find the treasure, and keep its booty, while the others will get nothing. The teams head to their long boats and learn from their first maps that they must travel up the Indian’s treasure. It’s basically a really long and substantial Survivor challenge with paddling, on foot travel, clues, buried keys, and yet more maps. Cameron watches as the two teams paddle away excitedly, with Red in the lead until they realize that they’re completely off course because they forgot to use their rudder. That would be a problem.
The Black Team, meanwhile, correctly turns left at the fork and Ben leads them East from the Dead Man’s Tree. The Black Crew, meanwhile, is moving quickly although get slowed down by some uber muck where Ben loses his shoe. Which is funny. Everyone is very dramatic about it, and we head to our first commercial with Ben desperately pulling at his shoe.
The shoe is loose, and the digging begins. They find the keys quickly, and the Red team arrives just in time. They’re working on the locks, but now the Red team is having mud issues. Only two fall in, however. Weird guy John, meanwhile, proves a locksmith of sorts and knocks it out. They are searching for their map in the skeleton head, and inside was a map and another key. It leads up the river, currently, and it is going to allow them to sabotage the team behind. Which is odd, for me, because you’d think that they were far enough behind to begin with. The Red Crew, meanwhile, is heading right for it.
The Treasure is under the water, and everyone is heading in masks in tow. The Crocodile Lair, where it is, is incredibly deep, and they are trying to figure out where it is. And, they’re being slow about it. The booby trap is RIGHT outside of the treasure area, so hope is racing through them which is making this more tense than it was before. Louie is getting worried, very worried. And, somehow, our Scientist Exotic Dancer John is the one who once again saves the day by knowing that Crocs live in Mangrove Trees. Inside are gold coins…and a whole lot of small crabs. There was maggots earlier, too. Creepy John is again the saviour. His ego, however, is no doubt spiraling out of control. The Red Team, meanwhile, consoles one another.
John continues to be Pirate Master, in his mind, and wants to win everything. Cameron informs us that this gold is worth a lot of money for each piece, and there’s $40,000 worth of it in the treasure (They made them count it, which was pretty mean). And then they ask them to elect a captain, and John smiles knowingly…and then stops smiling because J.D. is elected. He looks like a leader, he’s calm, but John is pissed. And actually doesn’t agree to it, outwardly disagreeing. Which is a terrible, terrible idea. Joe Don (J.D.) is the captain…and by the pirate code he gets to make ½ of the treasure. He gets to pick two officers and picks Cheryl and Ben…still not picking John. And now everyone but the officers and captain have been demoted. So now the pirating begins.
John, meanwhile, literally has a fit. And calls people morons. But they don’t LIKE YOU. And now they have pirating uniforms, which makes me excited. There are captain’s quarters, which is rather exciting, and now it’s his ship. And he has a HAT. YES! And it is his ship. J.D. is quite arrogant early, but it’s all a rather terribly acted piece. The Captain’s quarters feature plush beds, a big bed, some beer, and people are impressed…until he blocks them out. And he gets really arrogant, immediately. Captain Joe Don (In a French Accent) wants to set some order through his first mates. Louie, meanwhile, is not pleased with his subordinated position, and as the people actually swab the decks and talk smack about him, the Officers can’t help but find the subordination. Looks like the captain appears to be a target, whodathunkit?
Cameron has now arrived to let the captain know that the Pirate Court is to be marked with a black spot, and that someone’s voyage will end. If the fellow pirates rise up as one and mutiny against him, and if his officers agree with them he will be the one going home. In other words, if a captain goes crazy, mutiny can take place. They go straight to John, which is unsurprising. They put Louie on the list to keep him from leading a mutiny, and they decide to pick Joy because she’s so animated and well-liked. A sheep, they say. The thing is that this discussion is really boring because Ben and Cheryl? Really boring, as is proven in their pre-Pirate Court presentation. She explains the mutiny situation…boringly. Why couldn’t Cameron do it, he’s Australian and not boring.
Louie meanwhile finds a black spot, and realizes he might want to not badmouth the captain in front of the the first mates. Joy, meanwhile, cries and decides that she’ll go out with her head high for doing…nothing. John, meanwhile, steals the two compasses and puts them in his pants, so they HAVE to keep him. Instead of shaking him down? That would be easier.
In the pouring rain, Pirate Court is held mid-ship. One of them will be cut adrift, it appears, and the captain and his officers have picked the black spot pirates. Cameron explains the rules, and the Pirates stand stoically. Louie gives his own speech first, and gives an inspired “We’re all friends, I work hard”. Joy says she can prove everyone wrong, and it’s true: she hasn’t barfed in a while. And the people seem responsive to both of them.
John then starts talking…and pulls a defensive move. His argument is that he has stolen the team’s compasses. That’s his whole argument. His argument is that they should mutiny, since they don’t want to get rid of the people they don’t like. He makes a rather annoying speech, but then Joe Don basically throw it back in his face that they can look at stars and the sun. Meanwhile, it’s cloudy, so there’s some worry about it.
Each person has four cards: One for each pirate, and then one for mutiny. They vote by smashing the cards down onto a dagger, which allows for some nice sound effects (Could it actually be making that sound?) This is actually quite interesting, because if it ends a mutiny the officers will have to agree to it. They can stop it.
The Votes are collected: Cameron says that they’ve made a clear decision. Cameron tells Joy that she will be rejoining her crew (Well duh, Cameron). Louie, similarly, unsurprisingly rejoins the crew. It was a unanimous decision: and John’s voyage has ended. And he is being cut adrift. See, John made a power play that required people to actually like him. And now we have the visual imagery of him literally being cut adrift. John realizes that the compasses didn’t sway a single person, and for good reason: there was no promise that he wouldn’t just take the entire boat hostage next week. That’s a bad precedent.