Saturday, February 6, 2010

Survivor! At last!

Before I get into this, big congrats to Aaron for his first official day out of the corporate universe and working for himself rather than working for the man. Aaron has completed the transition into making online poker his full time job, and I am very excited to learn all I can from him.

Now, onto a post I've wanted to write up for a long time. For about ten years now, one TV show has garnered the top spot on my must see list every time it comes on. The show exemplified appointment television for me and is a must watch as soon as I possibly can. With the advent of Tivo, things become much easier in that regard. I have three shows that are must sees for me every year. They include 24, The Amazing Race, and of course Survivor

What I've always found interesting about Survivor is that I decried it when it first debuted "That sounds terrible, why would anyone watch that." However, I along with 54 million people decided to watch the finale of the first survivor, and I was hooked. As soon as I got the chance, I picked up the first season on DVd and I was blown away by just how much better at the game Richard Hatch was than anyone else. Even while watching the second season and every season thereafter I felt that noone would touch Hatch's mastery of every aspect of the game. He laid back when he was supposed to, he proved his worth with the fishing spear at just the right time to keep himself from being booted, and he ran an expert four person aliance all the way to the end, and he exploited his other competitors when the merge came, specifically Joel's asinine and rediculous alphabetical voting scheme.

But then last season came along, and Hatch was usurped as the master of Survivor. The irony of the whole thing? The new master did not win the game, and looking back there is no way he could have. He was a victim of the evil bitchgodess Variance, one with whom I am very farmiliar. Russell (that would be our new master) was the quintessential Survivor player. he was cunning, unbelievably smart, a good actor, and (for the most part) kept his mouth shut when he was supposed to and looked strong when he was supposed to. But Russel really had no chance to win with the group of people that he was playing with.

Survivor at its core is the simplest of games. 16-20 people are stranded in the middle of nowhere with minimal supplies. It is up to them to make all the materials they need to survive, catch food, make shelter, and basically find a way to live in the wilderness with very little help for 39 days. Every three days one person is voted on to leave the wilderness by the remaining players until only one remains. Simple right? Well like I said, at its core, yes. But the game has many twists and turns to help keep it interesting and entertaining. First, instead of all 16-20 people living together, they are split into two seperate tribes. Before someone is voted out of the game, the two tribes compete to see which tribe has to vote someone out. before that (usually) the two tribes compete for some sort of luxury that will provide comfort or sustinance to help give them an advantage in later competitions seeing as the other tribe would have less comfort/food.

So what makes Russel so good that he will go down as the best to play the game? A lot of things. Lets go back to Mr. Hatch and do a quick comparison.

1. He laid back when he was supposed to. Count it. One of the most major screw ups of this game is being too loud, too strong, too quick. On Russel's season, the girl who probably would have been the strongest of the female competitors this season was the first to get the boot, and why? Because she was too loud, too strong, too quick. Being a strong loudmouth when surrounded by a group of new people will immediatley put a target on your back. So what did Russel do? He recognized the strong loudmouth and he put into the minds of all those who were placing the target on her back that she had to be the first to go. Walla- the threat is gone. Russel lays low, survives the first cut and is able to get time to get to know people and get an aliance together.

2. he proved his worth with the fishing spear at just the right time to keep himself from being booted Whats that? You mean Russel knew how to do things in the wilderness as well? You're damn right her did, and after the second week, having eliminated two of his more serious threats, Russel was able to show the goods, as at this point, having a strong team to compete is important, and thus strength becomes coveted and weakness is quickly eliminated.

3. He ran an expert four person alliance to the end of the game Lets add another one to Russel's list. 4 seems to be the magic number when it comes to Survivor alliances. The very first Survivor Alliance was 4 people strong, and the most recent was as well. The most succesful seem to always consist of 4 people determined to get to the final 4 and then battle it out. This strategy is in stark contrast to a game such as Big Borther where a two person alliance is essential and any further players added to the mix can get messy (unless they are pawns specifically used for votes, knowing that your two person alliance is strong and that pawn will be voted out when the time becomes right) So, after taking out a majority of their team because they were terrible and couldn't win an immunity challenge, Russel and his tight alliance of four infiltrated the other camp at the merge, created tension and stuck together to take out a much weaker group of 8.

But Russel took things a step further by being the first player in many seasons to actually seem like he was attempting to win the game from day one, instead of just enjoying the experience. He found 3 (!!!) hidden immunity idols hidden around camp. And he did it all without one clue. The determination of this guy to keep himelf strong by having a backup idol was awe inspiring and shows another reason why he SHOULD have won the game.

But again, the reason for this post is why Russel didn't win, and in fact why the chances of him winning with the group of players he was playing with was basically none. Lets start with when the players were seperated into two seperate groups. Russel did everything he could at the beginning of the game to make his team dependant on his strength and skills. Again, as I said before this was neccesary to keep him strong and keep a target off his back. He burned socks, destroyed water supplies. Did everything he could to make his team miserable and count on him to help them. While this was important to keep him around as long as possible, it created a detrimental effect of having the team so weak that they couldn't win an immunity challenge. This was a problem because the final group of jury members who vote on a winner are made up of the last nine survivng people other than the final three. By eliminating a majority of your tribe early in the game, the jury then becomes made up almost entirely of the opposing tribe who have no reason to vote for you to win, unless you are up against other remaining memebers of your original tribe. Luckily for Russel, he was able to make the final three players from his tribe, and the jury made up entirely of people from the other tribe save for one.

One other crucial mistake Russel made in the game was to introduce the fact that he was already a millionaire outside of the game. As unfair as it is, this caused him to be judged by the jury as less deserving of the win because he "did not need the money" and "it could go to someone more deserving." Of course, the winner of the game should be the person who played the game best, but when you have humans deciding the outcome of something, more will come into play than just who played the best game.

And this is where variance kicked Russel in the ass. Because as important as it was for him to be able to be strong without putting a target on his back, thus having a weaker team and losing players who may have voted for him on the jury, it was equally detrimental. Had the jury been made up entirely of his tribemates, there is little doubt he would have won the game. However, by keeping the stronger member of his tribe around, it was more likely that he would have been eliminated early after the merge and would not have made the final three. He was caught in a double edged sword.

The final part of the ass-kicking variance is that the final jury was a bunch of idiots that had no idea what the game was about. And there is nothing Russel could have done about that. The jury eventually awarded the first place prize to a very quiet but nice young girl who made no moves and did nothing to improve her overall status in the game other than align with Russel. Unfortunatley, the jury (being the idiots that they are) were always going to vote for someone nicer who did not orchestrate their ousting than for Russel. For that reason, Russel was drawing dead, and had no real shot at winning.

However, tonight starts Russel's possible redemption as he has been recruited for Survivor: All-Stars 2.5 It will be interesting to see how he fares against people who actually know what the game is all about. Seeing as this post is entirely too long, I will be reviewing Survivor on a week by week basis. You'll get my thoughts and opinions each week. It may not be on Friday, as Tivo is a lifesaver, but when I get to it, I will.

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