Episode 10 – Survivor: Borneo

 

This week’s discussion: Survivor, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.  Watch it with Amazon Prime Video.

Next week’s discussion: Monica the Medium, Season 1, Eps. 1-4.  Watch it on Hulu.

This week we celebrate our 10th episode with a revisit of one of JS’s ‘Reality TV First Loves’: the debut season of the granddaddy of reality TV competition – Survivor!  With Mike having never seen the show before and JS watching it for the first time since the show originally aired back in 2000, we discuss our impressions of the show and how it foreshadowed the explosion of reality TV to come as well as the significant ways in which it differs from the shows that came in its wake.  We then move into a discussion of the Orientalism of the show’s faux-tribalist aesthetic and locate it within a larger tradition of Western narratives of travel to exotic and deserted locales before finishing on a discussion of the show’s bleak view of human nature and society and the pros and cons of various reality TV competition models.

Show Notes and Links

2:30 / Belatedly introducing this week’s show

3:15 / The concept of Survivor

6:31 / Going further into the jury process (and the awkwardness)

7:48 / Moving on to the cast of characters

8:26 / Richard Hatch – the ‘villain’

9:24 / Bringing up the ‘alliance’

11:08 / The show’s treatment of Richard’s gay identity – a revealing time capsule into the early 2000s

13:30 / Kelly Wiglesworth – the ‘hero’ (?)

15:25 / A digression into age and sex (a disadvantage in physical challenges?)

16:50 / Sonja – the first elimination

17:39 / Rudy – a bit of a bigot, but an affable – and quotable –  bigot (Mike mentions Archie Bunker)

19:00 / Susan – the Wisconsin ‘redneck’

20:43 / We thought the show did a good job of putting together a cross-section of different social backgrounds

22:15 / Sean – the real villain

23:08 / Dirk – the religious archetype

25:00 / The importance of making friends and being helpful early on

25:45 / Weight and preparation

27:10 / The contestants on this show struck JS as being much more ‘innocent’ as opposed to ‘mercenary’

28:27 / The early innocence begins to fade as the show progresses

29:10 / Talking about how the formation of the alliance was much more spontaneous and contingent than Richard may have let on in his confessionals

30:47 / The emphasis on age and ‘generation gaps’ stuck out to Mike in comparison to other shows we’ve watched, which emphasize youth

31:52 / The enduring stereotypes of youth vs. experience

33:00 / JS doesn’t like the ‘mercenary’ aspect of reality TV, appreciated its relative absence in this show

34:36 / Stay tuned for future 42 Minutes coverage of Survivor

35:00 / Mike thinks the innocence and lack of careerism is a function of the show’s historical position as the birth of mass-market reality TV; JS agrees and thinks he might never enjoy another reality show like this one

36:07 / Mike takes a bold pro ‘fame whore’ position

36:20 / Talking about the continuities as well as the disjunctions in Survivor’s relation to future reality shows (product placement, leading questions, misleading, out-of-context soundbites)

37:45 / A possibly scripted moment?

38:57 / Mike loves the confessionals – whenever someone says ‘it’s not X’

39:31 / Moving back to the differences: the editing style and presentation

40:58 / Mike’s totally uninformed opinion – the influence of ‘MTV’ (and music videos) on the quick-cut montage editing and sound production of future reality shows

42:03 / The differing demographics of youth-oriented cable and mass-market broadcast television may have also played a role

42:18 / The ‘surprise factor’ of Survivor’s success – it was originally a summer slotted show

43:17 / The novelty factor of reality TV and over-explanation

44:20 / Did you know that ‘fire is life’? (and a laugh-out-loud moment in the rain)

45:00 / Jeff Probst, Shit-stirrer in Chief

45:47 / Segueing into the ‘Orientalist’ faux-primivitist aesthetic of the show

46:20 / Orientalism as mish-mash of loosely related Western stereotypes

48:08 / Talking about a revealing moment in the closed captioning (‘primal chanting’)

49:15 / The appeal of ‘the Other’ to Western audiences (How much does this contribute to the show’s success?)

50:57 / Mike thinks the show is carried by the format, compares to other competition shows (The Apprentice, Paris Hilton BFF)

51:57 / Mike thinks the importance of the tribal motif was to give the show a needed consistency

52:38 / JS clarifies his position on the relationship between the tribal motif and ‘exotic’ foreign locale to the show’s success

54:15 / Mike thinks that once the location was decided upon, it was only ‘natural’ given the worldview of reality TV, that the show would incorporate stereotyping

54:40 / JS locates the roots of this show and its aesthetic in the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ tradition of Western narratives

57:14 / Mike thought the one time where the local people are featured was interesting in comparison to a similar encounter we discussed during our Dual Survival episode

58:20 / JS thought it was odd that the local people are largely absent, but that it fits with the narrative the show is trying to sell us

59:15 / Discussing the show’s construction of a Hobbesian and Machiavellian ‘human nature’; Mike mentions Lord of the Flies and in-group favoritism

1:00:20 / A revealing quote from Richard shows how the scenario of the show differs from ‘real life’

1:01:05 / How differing incentives would have led to different behavior on the part of the contestants

1:01:45 / How the show’s view of ‘human nature’ relates to the show’s appeal; the show seems to have evolved to emphasize ‘villainy’ and ‘back-stabbing’

1:02:35 / The appeal of seeing the worst in people (J.G. Ballard quote)

1:03:15 / JS thinks the show’s appeal is double-sided; emphasizes both competition and cooperation, uplift and deceit

1:04:10 / The first season stuck out once again in terms of the ‘innocence’ of the contestants; perhaps could never be replicated

1:05:42 / Mike enjoyed the show, but wondered whether it was entirely successful in navigating the tightrope between authenticity, merit, and strategy

1:06:38 / What Mike thought was the fulcrum point of the show, after which the drama became a bit anticlimactic

1:07:33 / Discussing whether the format of the show could be tweaked and whether later shows had a more ‘level playing field’

1:09:08 / JS thinks the incentives of the show work best when the contestants are separated into tribes

1:10:20 / Mike goes back to an anecdote he forgot to mention about the first show we watched to demonstrate the importance of merit in reality TV competitions and how the competition can be less satisfying when the merit is absent

1:11:30 / Mike feels the show falls short when an alliance is so firmly in place that the competition aspect seems arbitrary

1:13:20 / Even though the alliance made things less dramatic, JS thought the novelty of seeing it come into formation was interesting in of itself

1:13:34 / More brainstorming of how the show’s format could be tweaked to increase the drama and merit

1:14:20 / The strengths and weaknesses of different competition models (group vote v. neutral arbiter)

1:15:15 / Announcing our next episode – in which Mike brings JS down

1:17:28 / Go vote in our Facebook poll! Jwoww & Snooki v. The Situation (You could be the deciding vote…since no one has voted in it yet)

1:18:45 / The announcements you know and love: contact us, rate us, and subscribe

 

Episode 4 – Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai

 

This week’s discussion: Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai, Eps. 1-3, 8-9.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

Next week’s discussion: Divorce Court, Season 17, Eps. 1-7.  Watch it on Hulu.

First of all, apologies for the slightly reduced level of audio quality on this episode.  JS was having difficulty hearing the microphone and Mike overcompensated by cranking up the gain – and forgetting to look at the test recording in Audacity (oops) – which led to a great deal of clipping and what ended up being a salvage project.  However, unlike the producers of the show we are reviewing this week, we didn’t just throw in the towel and say fuck it.  Instead, Mike worked up some elbow grease and tried his best to get this episode to an acceptable quality of audio fidelity, so hopefully the final product is at least somewhat tolerable.

As for the episode’s contents, we took a virtual trip to the United Arab Emirates for the last (and possibly saddest) installment of Paris Hilton’s My New BFF franchise.  After discussing the structure of the show and the wealthy and cosmopolitan (mostly) Middle Eastern contestants, we turn to the show’s tangled legal history and how it may or may not have led to its bottom of the barrel production quality.  We then analyze both sides of this rather ‘unique’ mashup, discussing both its representation of the Middle East, good and bad (but mostly bad), as well as the history and background of the show’s rather infamous host, Paris Hilton, and her seminal place in the history of reality TV and 21st century ‘celebutante’ culture.  Finally, we end with how this show may have actually held the promise of being something worthwhile, if only its host and production team had cared enough to film something beyond a glorified infomercial (or hell, even cared enough to hire a camera crew for an entire day of filming).

Show Notes and Links

1:39 / Introducing this week’s show

2:30 / The show’s high concept – which should be pretty self-explanatory (Paris Hilton quote)

3:15 / JS breaks down the particulars

4:34 / Mike sampled the entire BFF oeuvre

6:00 / The ‘little star’ aka the snitch

6:18 / This show is actually quite brilliant at getting these contestants to go at each other’s throats

6:45 / The show’s lexicon – ‘real and fake’, ‘hungry tigers’

8:26 / The ‘Real and Fake Challenge’ (Reality TV Ouroboros)

9:28 / Mike has a confession to make

10:03 / We begin discussing the contestants – mostly from Middle East and come from wealthy backgrounds

12:12 / Bassant – at least she’s honest

12:55 / Mike found these women to be pretty bland and interchangeable

13:24 / Amy – was not here to make friends

13:54 / Dina – Mike couldn’t figure out why the others hated her

14:46 / Reem – seemed to be most ‘traditional’ of the contestants

14:57 / Discussing the ‘cosmopolitan’ backgrounds of the contestants

16:33 / JS discusses the physicality of the contestants and how Branka and Reem departed from the mold

17:15 / Mike belatedly mentions what episodes we watched

18:30 / Reem stuck out to JS as someone who seemed more authentic than the others

19:35 / Mike breaks down the troubled legal history of the show – seems to explain a lot about it

20:58 / Why the hell weren’t the cameras in the house more often?  Lots of discussion in the show of contestants acting different on and off camera

23:19 / Talking about the INSANE level of product placement in this show – not just the Paris Hilton line, but other sponsors (the credits looked like a high school yearbook)

24:54 / Comparing Paris Hilton’s level of involvement to the other seasons of the show

26:28 / A brief digression into the font world

27:32 / Starting our discussion of the show’s ridiculous ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ stereotypes

29:05 / Edward Said’s Orientalism

29:18 / Part of the reason Mike picked this show (other than the absurdity) was an intellectual interest in cross-cultural contact

29:44 / Talking about the role of local authorities in the production of the show and how the show had to change to be compatible with local cultural mores (no alcohol or risqué clothing)

30:35 / Contrasting the Dubai version to the US version

31:06 / Mike talks about how his views on the often fraught relationship between Western and non-Western cultures have evolved since college, the book title he forgot is Modernity At Large

32:20 / Mike’s theory of why Reem was the winner

33:44 / JS hoped that this show would have more interaction between Paris Hilton and the broader Middle Eastern culture

35:21 / Paris is in less than half of each episode – mostly just shows up for challenges and eliminations

36:43 / Mike does praise the show in one respect – gives people a better view of Middle East beyond crude stereotypes of religious fanaticism

37:14 / Mike talks about his experiences with different types of Muslims in Kenya

39:25 / This show gives a view of Middle East that goes beyond a monochromatic depiction of war and suffering

40:14 / Shows the cosmopolitan side of Middle East: many contestants would fit right in to any city around the world

41:41 / The cosmopolitan emphasis is both a strength and weakness of the show

42:34 / Focusing on those in the Middle East who are ‘more like us’ might have been the only entry point for this show’s audience (and is also conveniently the target audience for Paris Hilton’s line)

43:34 / JS hoped the show would be more like ‘An Idiot Abroad

44:08 / This show does once poke fun at Western stereotypes even as it relies on them

45:32 / Paris Hilton’s background and career history

46:52 / The Simple Life

48:23 / Discussing the temporal specificity of her fame

48:58 / Paris Hilton as a seminal figure in reality TV

49:44 / Mike compares her rise and fall to the subprime housing boom (Hilton interview in GQ)

50:21 / ‘One Night in Paris (Hilton): Wealth, Celebrity, and the Politics of Humiliation

51:20 / Does her fame come from love or hate?  Who is doing the loving and hating?

52:41 / Trying to pin down her class appeal; Mike thinks she reminds him of (pre-politics) Trump

53:48 / JS argues that, at least in international terms, her appeal is to an upscale audience

54:50 / We stumble around in the dark trying to figure out where her merch is sold (Mike did post-podcast research: You can at least buy her fragrances at Walmart)

55:20 / Moving from humiliation to adulation and the cult of celebrity; this series represents that

57:20 / Paris Hilton as an icon for ‘new money’

57:35 / This show seemed a little North Korean – particularly with the penthouse décor

58:58 / Trying to figure out the motivations of the contestants – no tangible grand prize

59:30 / Paris Hilton has no real accomplishments – what’s the motivation for getting to know her?

1:00:28 / JS thinks most of these contestants went in with no illusions – and maybe the hope for a few connections or a good word in the future

1:02:12 / What the show is selling the audience in terms of being Paris’ BFF

1:02:38 / JS mentions that some contestants might have been overconfident and ‘caught up in the moment’

1:03:32 / Wrapping up with how this show could have been better

1:04:08 / Yet another digression into the shoddiness of the post-production

1:04:50 / Mike wishes this focused more on the contestants’ backgrounds; wonders how much the production problems played a role

1:06:05 / Even those outside the Middle East could have had interesting backgrounds

1:06:55 / The ‘story challenge’ gave a quick glimpse into the backgrounds of some of the contestants and gave them a little more depth

1:07:35 / JS wonders if the similar backgrounds of the contestants was a weakness

1:09:03 / We both agree they should have been filled out some more (the press release I mentioned)

1:09:41 / Mike thinks the most interesting thing about these women are their hybrid backgrounds and having to navigate between ‘traditional’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ sides

1:10:50 / The show touches on ‘Americanization’ a bit with Dina, but doesn’t really go into great depth

1:12:40 / We are on Stitcher (please rate us!) and have a website on WordPress (you are already here)

1:13:30 / Introducing next week’s show, Divorce Court: Feel free to email us any particularly good episodes from Seasons 16-18: 42minutesofreality AT gmail DOT com