Tag Archives: Survivor

Who is Miles Mendenhall? Confronting Work of Art‘s Enigmatic Antihero

Who is Miles Mendenhall? Confronting Work of Art‘s Enigmatic Antihero

August 4th, 2010

To take a page out of Mad Men’s book, “Who is Miles Mendenhall?”

In basic terms, Miles Mendenhall is one of the artists on Bravo’s Work of Art, simultaneously the summer’s most problematic and most fascinating reality series. The series is a total contradiction, emphasizing the value of art by subjecting artists to challenges which seem designed to dilute their work and maximize reality television drama, and yet the resulting pressure placed on artists gives us a front row seat to their creative process which would otherwise be impenetrable (I wrote more about this earlier this summer).

Miles sits at the heart of this contradiction, in that he seems to be the most talented artist amongst those remaining but is also the one contestant who is unquestionably “playing the game.” Never before has there been a reality television contestant whose behaviour revealed so clearly the slippery notion of “reality” within these series, and without him I strongly believe that Work of Art wouldn’t be half the series it is. Regardless of your opinion of the way he is playing the game, the fact remains that he has managed to be one of the first reality contestants in history who panders to the cameras while simultaneously subverting the artifice of the reality show he’s taking part of.

Love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit that’s a work of art.

Continue reading

10 Comments

Filed under Work of Art: The Next Great Artist

Reality Bites: Survivor’s Fall from Grace with Emmy Voters

Reality Bites: Survivor’s Fall from Grace with Emmy Voters

July 10th, 2010

Anyone who watches Survivor could tell you that this year was its best in a very long time: blindsides became standard, immunity idols became common currency, and Russell (for better or for worse) introduced an entirely new way of playing the game. For fans of the show, it was everything you could hope for, combining the twist and turns of the best seasons with some of the players from those seasons with the “Heroes vs. Villains” structure of the Spring season. Overall, the year was definitive evidence that the Survivor formula is still capable of surprising us, and that twenty seasons into its run Survivor is still a viable reality series.

And so it may seem strange that, after experiencing one of its best years ever, Survivor was shut out of the Reality Competition series category at the Emmy Awards (although Jeff Probst is nominated again in the Host category, which he has won twice). This isn’t a huge surprise, really: after all, The Amazing Race has won this category for seven straight years, so it’s not as if one can expect a great deal of turnaround in terms of the nominees. However, Survivor hasn’t been nominated for the award since 2006, and I think the fact that it’s yet to be nominated again reveals something very interesting about the Emmy voters.

Primarily, it reveals that they don’t actually like reality television.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Emmy Awards, Survivor

I’ve Been In This Town So Long: The Serial Subtexts of Survivor’s “Heroes vs. Villains”

“Slay Everyone, Trust No One”

February 11th, 2010

Every season of Survivor is effectively the same as the one before: the players might change, but more often than not they bring nothing new to the game that hasn’t been seen in some form before. For every “twist” the producers have tried to throw into the game, it all ends up being the same in the end, which isn’t really a problem since the game is at its most compelling when it finds itself in familiar territory. Because we know what’s happened before, and because we have no idea whether the players involved know what’s happened before, we get to watch them walk in the shoes of the players who came before, either triumphing where they failed or tripping up where others succeeded.

What’s interesting about “Heroes vs. Villains,” the twentieth season of the show, is that it simultaneously reduces the game to a simple battle between good and evil while creating a game structure that is without question the most complex the show has ever seen, layered with subtexts (previous alliances, previous rivalries, personal experiences, etc.) that stretch back far into our memory of the show’s early seasons in a more overt way than ever before. By bringing the tribal competition to the surface, along with the binary that often emerges between those the audience loves to hate and those the audience wants to see go to the end, the show is creating the ultimate mind game: they are forcing characters with more emotional and gameplay baggage than ever before into a game which threatens to rigidly define them, ignoring the various subtexts in such a way that they can’t help but surface the first time anyone dares mention the word alliance or whispers about how successful some players have been in the past.

The result is Survivor at its most confident, pushing all the right buttons and getting some all-time great moments, some substantial comedy mixed with some engaging drama, and enough introspection to quite literally sink any other reality show that wasn’t build for just that sort of psychological inquisition.

Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Survivor

The Office’s Bait and Switch: The Irrelevant yet Attractive TV Clip Show

The Office’s Bait and Switch

January 22nd, 2010

Last night, many of you likely tuned into NBC at 9pm ET to enjoy what the network was billing as a “new” episode of The Office. And, sure enough, the episode began with a cold open that tied into ongoing continuity, as a banker (played by David Costible) stops by the branch to do some due diligence in the early stages of the company’s restructuring. We find Michael Scott up to his usual tricks trying to make the office seem more exciting, having Dwight play a sentient computer and riding a Segway for no discernible reason, and we have Pam there to help guide us through his insanity (fake accounts are okay, but Pam is not on board with Fake Stanley).

It sounds like a solid setup to an episode of The Office, but “The Banker” wasn’t actually an episode: as soon as the Banker went back to talk to Toby and asked a question about any potential liability issues, the spidey sense was tingling, and sure enough it was right. Toby began flashing back to previous events, and the episode revealed itself to be a clip show in disguise.

What I find so fascinating about the clip show as an episode structure is that it is becoming both increasingly irrelevant and increasingly attractive in this modern age. While television economics and concerns over lengthy delays between episodes results in a desire to have more “original” content to keep viewers engaged, the clip show seems less necessary when viewers can catch up with previous episodes on DVD or on Hulu, and where “clips” are a part of our everyday lives as opposed to some sort of novelty.

And yet it’s not going to go away entirely any time soon.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under The Office

Cultural Anniversary: Thanks for 3 Great Years

On January 18th, 2007, I started this blog.

On this, its three-year anniversary, I want to thank all of you for reading, and give special thanks to those who have linked to one of my 1467 posts, retweeted one of my far too many tweets, invited me to be on your podcast, commented on one of my reviews, conversed with me via email or Twitter, or inspired me to continue writing about television with your own work.

I sometimes wonder why you’re still reading, but the fact that you are means a lot to me – while I have trouble imagining a world where I don’t write about television, I have more trouble imagining a world where I’m not part of this wonderful online community of critics, scholars, bloggers and fans alike, so I greatly appreciate your continued patronage.

Today is, otherwise, just like any other day here at the blog: I’ll have reviews of Chuck, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory later tonight, and probably some thoughts on Big Love and Life Unexpected over the next few days. However, I’ll also be contributing over at MediaElites.com with my good friend Todd VanDerWerff and others in the months ahead — you can find my first piece, an investigation into the challenges and opportunities facing reality shows like Project Runway and Survivor in the short gap between seasons entitled “It Seems Like Just Yesterday: Clean Slates and Narrative Continuity in Reality Television Scheduling,” up at the site as you read this — so there’s some new adventures on the horizon.

Thanks for coming along with the ride,

Myles

1 Comment

Filed under Cultural Learnings

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.

Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under Television The Aughts & I

Twitter-reviewed: Survivor, Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty and Brothers & Sisters

greystitle

Once I get this enormously far behind with some of the week’s shows, writing blog posts isn’t really possible – I’d have loved to have dedicated a half hour to ranting about the one-dimesional Grey’s Anatomy, but if I did I wouldn’t have had time to see the tribes finally merge on Survivor.

So, I did what any self-respecting and laptop-owning soul would do: I sat with my laptop, caught up on four shows from this past week, and Tweeted my thoughts. The end result was perhaps an over-explosion of tweets for my poor followers (Sorry! I’ll spread it out more next time), but it’s also some bite-sized thoughts on these episodes.

So, if you’re wondering why I’m not covering some shows, following me on Twitter might just be a great way to continue to have a discourse on them here at Cultural Learnings!

Grey’s Anatomy

Started watching Grey’s, and Alias flashbacks had me pausing it and digging into some media studies essays instead.

Onto ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Melissa George? Decent. Mary McDonnell? A bit one-dimensional. Ghost Denny? Le sigh.

‘Grey’s’: A week after dumping Hahn, introducing two new characters that only have one speed is not going to help the controversy.

‘Grey’s’: I think the Izzie/Denny storyline would have taken a more interesting turn if she had burned down the clinic to erase his memory.

[I didn’t tweet it, but seriously: Ghost Denny is physically real? Ugh.]

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Cultural Learnings