I’ll admit it: When it came to last night’s season premiere of SURVIVOR, I came for Blair Warner.
Yes, yes, I know her real name is Lisa something or other, but she’ll always be THE FACTS OF LIFE’s Blair to me, forever hanging out with Tootie and Jo and Mrs. Garrett at Eastland School for Girls.
But as is often the case with SURVIVOR, within 15 minutes I was sucked into the social game that inevitably begins to unfold when you take a bunch of strangers, strip them of their worldly goods and shove them on an island to face the elements. Because here’s the thing: Unlike almost any other so-called reality show, SURVIVOR is, even after all these seasons, about as real as you can get.
Sure, each new round of contestants comes in knowing the game a little bit better than the previous batch what with having watched previous cycles and learned some of the tricks. But there are some things one simply can’t be prepared for.
You can spend weeks learning how to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and you can practice balancing on one foot while balancing a stack of plates (just don’t use the good china). But what you can’t do is predict how you’ll react to 24 hours of rainfall or how others will respond to your “brilliant” schemes. (Just ask Zane!)
Weirdly — and this goes against everything one might believe — you also can’t learn how to modify your own behavior. Last night, Russell — who’d played the game a while back but been ousted after a scary-to-witness incident in which he collapsed — vowed that this time around, he wasn’t going to make the mistake of slipping into a leadership role. And yet, the second his feet hit the beach, he did exactly that… and wound up ticking off his fellow tribemates.
Heck, it wasn’t until nearly an hour in that I realized that the bait used to lure me in had hardly been seen at all. (It also came as a surprise when I realized that blondes Carter and Dana weren’t the same person or even the same sex!)
It also helps that SURVIVOR is spearheaded, so to speak, by Jeff Probst. His talk show may be bombing, but as keeper of the flame, he is da bomb. The fact that CBS followed up the SURVIVOR premiere with the BIG BROTHER finale — hosted by the notoriously wooden Julie Chen — only highlighted just how good Probst is and, conversely, how badly the Chenbot needs to be replaced.
When things between BROTHER’s final two, Dan and Ian, got heated, the Chenbot immediately jumped in to interrupt. Probst, on the other hand, knows that when folks start sniping at tribal council, his job is to sit back and watch along with us as the fur flies.
By episode’s end, a combination of ill-fated strategizing on Zane’s part, hubris on Russell’s and some brilliant editing by those hired to “craft” each episode’s narrative led to a tense tribal council with an unexpected twist. It was everything we’ve come to expect from the best reality show on television… even if it coulda used a little bit more Blair.
Richard M. Simms watches way too much television and, as executive editor of Soaps In Depth, actually gets paid to do so. You can chat with him on Twitter @dispatchesFTC.