Tag Archives: Mark Burnett

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains – “Episode Two”

“It’s Getting the Best of Me”

February 18th, 2010

I don’t know if Mark Burnett and his fellow producers are really excited about the direction that Survivor’s twentieth season is heading in, or if they’re actively concerned about it. What’s interesting about the Heroes vs. Villains premise is that, in Survivor, the tribes are only rarely within the same space, so the rivalry the title implies doesn’t really materialize in most of a single episode. Sure, over time the rivalry between the two sides will grow, but in the short term the show shifts away from that narrative to the systematic deconstruction of both tribes.

On that front, I think the show should be glad that early on the titles of hero and villain are slowly shifting away from their typical classifications, as it means that more of each episode will be particularly engaging. However, the clash of various ego has gone so far this time that I don’t know if they’ll ever be able to fully reclaim that broader feud, the internal divisions growing too larger for one side to group together and pretend that they are any sort of team under any sort of pre-determined classification.

And I don’t know if Mark Burnett wanted that part of this game to go off the rails quite so quickly.

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Television, the Aughts & I – Part Four – “Reality Doesn’t Bite”

“Reality Doesn’t Bite”

December 16th, 2009

[This is Part Four of a six-part series chronicling the shows which most influenced my relationship with television over the past decade – for more information and an index of all currently posted items, click here.]

In Part One, I suggested that I had no real vivid memories of television before 2001, and while this is effectively true I do have a memory about reality television that predates that time. I was watching Entertainment Tonight (I swear, at one point this was a perfectly logical thing to do), and they had a short news blurb about how a Scandinavian reality show concept was coming to television amidst controversy. The show was, in fact, Survivor, and when they talked about the premise (people stranded on a pacific island left to fight it out for a million dollars) I thought it was one of the stupidest things I had ever heard.

And then I watched 19 seasons of it.

What I quickly discovered was that I love what we’ve now come to call the Reality Competition genre, shows which capture the thrill of, you know, competition with the added dose of, well, reality. To use other words is convenient to help justify watching the shows, equating them to a social experiment or a chance to live vicariously through others, but there is something about seeing people you come to know and care about compete against one another for a cash prize that continues to see me tuning in week in and week out.

Now, when analyzing the decade as a whole it may seem strange – more than strange, it’s probably a bit misrepresentative – to limit the limitless reality genre to only its competition format, but for me the competition format has been the far more important and positive television force. While there is, in fact, something borderline exploitative about some elements of the reality genre, competitive reality is the unique mix of casting and a cleverly designed structure, shows which utilize various narrative tools (especially editing) in order to welcome viewers into experiences that are not their own in a way that empowers us to, in a limited form, psychoanalyze our social interactions, race around the world, or care about something about which we know extremely little.

And while it isn’t in fact for everyone, it’s definitely something that has been an important part of my television experience over the past decade.

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Blood in the Water: “Dragon’s Den” becomes ABC’s “Shark Tank”

ABC’s Shark Tank

August 9th, 2009

I wasn’t going to bother saying anything about ABC’s Shark Tank, which debuted tonight following Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but then my brother made a pretty reasonable point: as a Canadian critic, I have more experience with CBC’s Dragon’s Den, the Canadian series based on the Japanese series that inspired this ABC series, than most. And since I’m in the process of analyzing Canadian television in my thesis, I figure it makes sense to take some time to consider just how the different sensibilities of these two countries have inspired the way these two series differ.

However, I came across two problems when I tried to do this watching tonight’s premiere. The first is that I don’t particularly like Dragon’s Den – no, it’s not a bad series, but I find that its back and forth between “look, embarrassing entrepreneurs!” and “legitimate success” to be like American Idol but without either the humour or the enjoyment. Because they’re real people, you feel bad when they’re clearly so far off the mark, and when they are successful I don’t really know them well enough to know just how much of a success it’s been. It just does nothing to appeal to me (I don’t particularly like Idol auditions to begin with), and the “cruelty” of the dangerous Dragons (cutthroat business people) isn’t really all that interesting.

The second problem, however, is that the differences between these two programs are driven less by national differences and more by economic ones – while Dragon’s Den was brought to Canada during a relatively successful period, Shark Tank was developed in the midst of an economic recession and emerges at a time when this kind of success seems legitimately rare, and where dreaming big and failing big are both staples of the American (and for that matter, North American) experience. It makes my own opinion of these entrepreneurs kind of moot, and shifts the show’s responsibility from entertainment to topical connectivity, a burden that has little to do with nationalist discourses.

And a burden the show deals with as best it can, really.

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