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 6 – Dual Survival

 

This week’s discussion: Dual Survival, Season 3, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: The Millionaire Matchmaker, Season 5, Eps. 6-11, 13 (+ Season 2, Ep. 6; Season 3, Ep. 3; Season 4, Ep. 8).  Watch it on Hulu.

This week Mike and JS put aside their fundamental differences in podcasting philosophy to make the show’s first foray into the world of survival reality TV – Dual Survival!  (Also, apologies to Cody Lundin, as we repeatedly botched the title of the show in the episode, calling it Dual Survivor.)

We begin with a discussion of the main theme of the show: the two hosts and their different backgrounds and philosophy as they attempt to survive for 72 hours in harsh wilderness conditions, specifically identifying the topic of risk vs. reward as the animating center and attempting to determine how much of a hand the production crew has in determining the level of risk in each of these missions.

We then delve into the individual episodes and talk about particular highlights and themes: the level of choreography versus spontaneity in the scenarios, the level of discomfort and physical risk to the hosts, and the tension between its desire to educate and to entertain.  Mike even included a bonus rant about the media’s coverage of poaching.

Finally, we wrapped up with a discussion on the demographics of the survival TV audience and the overall appeal of this sub-genre of reality TV, rooting it in an extension of the romanticization of the ‘frontier’ in American culture – with a dash of pointless gossip about the behind-the-scenes drama of the survival TV world.

Show Notes and Links

1:30 / Introducing this week’s show

2:08 / Breaking down the high concept

3:18 / Cody Lundin – our barefoot hero

4:08 / Joe Teti – our military badass

5:13 / JS had some prior knowledge of this show

5:44 / How the hosts’ differences defied Mike’s expectations

6:42 / The main difference in the two hosts’ philosophies was risk-reward

7:40 / To what extent are the producers influencing decisions?

8:20 / 72-hour scenarios (Cody Lundin Interview)

10:06 / Mike wonders if the military aspect is essential or an appeal to a demographic for TV

11:30 / JS thinks the military is actually pretty good training for a situation like this, even if not as thorough as a survival school

13:47 / Mike often found the risks that Joe took to be questionable for a real survival situation as opposed to a TV survival situation

14:56 / The choreography of survival TV – what’s spontaneous and what’s being presented by the producers?

15:50 / Mike gives an example of clear producer intervention

18:32 / A clarification on Joe’s background (Military Times article)

19:45 / Many of these clips were re-used for the behind-the-scenes special

20:36 / Each episode is a structured loosely around a background scenario (lost hiker, stranded glider, etc.)

22:01 / The merits (or lack thereof) of drinking your own urine; psychology v. physiology

23:26 / The educational nuggets – ‘Art of Self Reliance’

23:59 / The introduction of risk v. reward – go up for water or go down for better air?

24:57 / A rare instance where Mike found Joe’s risk-tasking realistic

26:14 / JS doubted the authenticity of the poachers

26:49 / Mike’s rant about ‘white savior’ conservationist narratives

27:42 / Poachers (at least those on ground level) driven by poverty and lack of economic opportunity, not love of killing endangered species

28:30 / Mike found Joe’s comments about the poachers insincere (An article on President Dumbfuck’s ‘hard power’ budget, which was mercifully ignored by Congress)

30:14 / JS’s doubts about the genuineness of the poaching paraphernalia resulted from a steady accumulation of disbelief

32:06 / Mike thinks the camps might be legit, but probably had been abandoned for some time

32:34 / Mike thinks the show misunderstands the role of violence in organized crime (Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader For A Day)

34:06 / Discussing the role of safety in the series as a whole

34:51 / A rescue of questionable authenticity

36:22 / JS’s LOL moment

37:05 / Mike compares the hosts to Hollywood stuntmen

38:14 / The main risk is mechanical injury, but not dehydration or starvation

38:40 / Mike found the heightened stakes detracted from the spontaneity compared to less dangerous reality shows like Paris Hilton BFF

40:02 / JS liked the show, would watch it outside the confines of the podcast (Finding Bigfoot without the bullshit)

41:30 / Discussing the hosts’ disagreement over the rotting steer

43:14 / If the lesson was to do something uncomfortable to survive, why not show Joe using the hide?

44:48 / Discussing the boar hunt – in both its authentic and fabricated aspects

46:42 / Mike found the crew’s masculine hero-worship over the top; JS was impressed by the technical skill (our different backgrounds in hunting may have shaped our reactions)

48:25 / Talking about the staged nature of the rescue sections

50:15 / Segueing into the allure of survival TV

50:44 / Mike found the gendered appeal noteworthy in the overall context of reality TV

51:27 / The appeal of survival entertainment to those ‘divorced from the land’ and living comfortably

52:33 / Mike thought the show’s aesthetic would appeal to the suburban/rural over the urban

54:01 / Frederick Jackson Turner – “The Significance of the Frontier in American History

54:36 / The overall appeal of the survival genre – vicariously overcoming physical hardship and adversity; We mention several shows (Man Vs. Wild, Survivorman, Survivor, Naked and Afraid)

55:39 / Discussing the tension between the show’s educational and entertainment mission

59:30 / Cody Lundin’s criticism of survival TV (TV Guide article on Survival TV that Mike mentions)

1:00:20 / The ‘behind the scenes’ drama (Cody’s lawsuit; Joe’s dismissal; other Joe-related lawsuit)

1:02:10 / Mike found it interesting that the behind-the-scenes tension never cropped up in the final product

1:03:33 / Introducing the next show – impromptu style

1:04:36 / Signing off with the usual deal – contact us, rate and review, and subscribe