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

 

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Episode 9 – Kitchen Nightmares

 

This week’s discussion: Kitchen Nightmares, Season 5, Eps. 1-6, 16.  Watch it on Hulu.

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

This week Mike and JS delve into their first food-themed reality TV show – Kitchen Nightmares.  We mainly cover the US version, but also devote some time to discussing the original UK version as we were both struck by the many differences in the presentation of the shows and how they might reflect broader differences between US and UK culture.  Topics discussed include: our impressions of reality TV star Gordon Ramsay, the insanity of Amy’s Baking Company, the ‘disclaimers’ in the credit sequence of each episode, the centrality of food in Western social interactions, the harsh realities of operating a restaurant, and how the optimistic narrative the US version tries to sell us reflect a broader cultural view of American idealism.

Show Notes and Links

1:08 / The moral of this week’s show

1:58 / Introducing the show

3:30 / The concept of the show (similar shows include Bar Rescue and Restaurant Impossible)

5:06 / The optimistic narrative arc the show is trying to sell us

6:02 / Discussing the history of the host, Gordon Ramsay; JS mentions Hell’s Kitchen

7:45 / Emphasis on the ‘celebrity’ in celebrity chef

8:22 / The differences in Ramsay’s presentation in the US and UK versions

10:15 / The US version struck us as much more heavily produced

11:20 / Starting our detailed breakdown of La Galleria 33

12:50 / The general arc and themes that reoccur in each episode

14:35 / Returning to La Galleria

15:22 / Mike fills in a couple spots in the episode arc that JS missed

16:35 / A brief digression on the editing

17:07 / The afterword at the end of each show

17:38 / The show often implies the owners are chiefly at fault for the problems at the restaurant

18:00 / Talking about the restaurant shutdowns

18:40 / The episodes of the show are pretty similar; many blended together for Mike

19:02 / Discussing episode highlights from Mama Maria’s

20:05 / The motif of frozen vs. fresh that comes up again and again

21:24 / Nostalgia is a common refrain in these episodes; many of the owners who have been successful at one point are more stubborn

22:06 / The common dynamic of multiple owners who conflict over the changes Ramsay wants to implement

23:53 / Segueing into our summary of Amy’s Baking Company

25:19 / JS can’t contain his giddy excitement over this episode

27:40 / This episode breaks the typical narrative arc of the show

28:47 / Discussing the fallout of this episode on the Internet and how it affected the business

29:52 / The difference between Amy and other recalcitrant owners was that the others would at least temporarily ‘play ball’ with the show

30:40 / Segueing into this show’s placement on the spectrum of ‘reality’ in reality TV

31:40 / There are some notable disclaimers in the credits of the show

32:42 / The diners being brought in by the show and ‘playing to the camera’

33:25 / JS knows of a restaurant near him that went through one of these shows, discusses the process of collecting diners

35:23 / Mike mentions a lawsuit against the show; JS explains mandatory arbitration

37:05 / Despite the lawsuit, our feeling is that this show is probably not TOWIE or Bridezillas

37:37 / The narrative of hate-to-love of Chef Ramsay by the owners came off to JS as producer coached

38:12 / The rags-to-riches theme of the US version reminds Mike of a Horatio Alger tale

38:43 / The site that Mike got his information from

39:01 / The harsh realities of the restaurant business

39:38 / The message of the US show may not correspond perfectly with the real world; the UK version seemed more realistic

40:52 / The restaurant as a symbol of the American Dream – often an immigrant success story

42:00 / The US show is very focused on the personal and family backgrounds of the owners

42:53 / The different center of focus in the two versions: US version is owner-centric, UK version is kitchen staff-centric

44:00 / The American focus on individual success and responsibility; UK focuses more on the overall team

45:38 / A brief aside of the differing budgets of the shows, Mike mentions Rupert Murdoch

45:53 / Segueing into the appeal of food TV

46:12 / The centrality of food and ‘dining out’ in Western social interaction; JS alludes to the Food Network

47:09 / The combination of immediate accessibility and specialized behind-the-scenes insight

48:15 / The allure of reality television success and overcoming difficulties

49:38 / Many of these owners have gone in without specialized business training

50:38 / Mike preferred the realism of UK version to the idealism of the US version

51:42 / The contrasting afterwords of the two shows as an example of this

52:38 / How does the episode of Amy’s Baking Company fit into the idea that this show’s appeal is about success?

54:00 / Was Amy’s Baking Company really a failure?  Discussing the irony of the owners who tell Ramsay off doing better than many of the restaurants on the show who followed the instructions

55:20 / The capricious nature of the restaurant industry, even something as simple as lack of parking can doom a restaurant

56:10 / The high failure rate of restaurants in the first year (and an article Mike found that provides a counterpoint); this show perhaps looks at the industry through rose-tinted glasses

57:43 / We both discuss how will we never be opening a restaurant, even if we win the lottery

58:30 / This show, like other reality shows we’ve watched, is very focused on individual control and individual responsibility

1:00:48 / The appeal of the show’s Prodigal Son narrative, but how realistic is it for these businesses to dig themselves out of the deep holes they are in?

1:02:00 / Mike made a Facebook page: please go like the page and take part in our listener poll: Snooki & JWoww: Moms with Attitude vs. The Sorrentinos

1:04:02 / Announcing a semi-reoccurring segment for the next show: Reality TV First Loves

1:05:16 / Contact us, rate and review, and subscribe