SURVIVOR Gabon Season Finale: The Big Winner & Lessons to Learn - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

SURVIVOR Gabon Season Finale: The Big Winner & Lessons to Learn

December 15, 2008 by  

Survivor Gabon Season Finale

This season of Survivor produced a satisfying finale, with 57 year old physics teacher Bob Crowley taking the million dollar first prize back to Portland, Maine. While the events leading to Bob’s victory were full of the predictable twists and turns that have accompanied this reality juggernaut for 17 seasons, I want to dig into the final two episodes with an eye on the future. With so many TV powerhouses fading into our memories each season, I believe that Mark Burnett can conjure up fresh ideas by looking at the ups and downs of the Gabon experience. By doing so, the Survivor team may be able to reinvent itself for the next 17 years.

First, the casting process needs to be revamped to include more “ordinary” people. Though I had not watched Survivor since Season 1, the litany of former contestants who have infiltrated my TV while attempting to find their 15 minutes is absurd. The majority of apartment buildings near Hollywood are already brimming with aspiring actors. Can we leave Rob, Amber, Jenna, Colby, and Johnny Fairplay in their hometowns where they belong? The Gabon cast was stocked with aesthetically pleasing dullards who contributed little or no humanity to the show. In my view, the producers could have easily replaced Dan, Jacquie, Kelly, Marcus, Michelle, and Paloma with a bevy of real people with stories to tell and body fat above six percent. MSNBC’s Andy Denhart reported in October that few regular applicants reach the Survivor cast, with models and actors actively recruited to fill the rosters.

Note to CBS: If I wanted to watch scantily clad young people stare into space and say nothing of consequence, I would watch The Hills. The first six weeks of this Survivor season were excruciating to watch, and I blame the nearsighted bias towards boring eye candy as one of the culprits. I assume that most Survivor fans are looking for people to cheer for and root against. That requires us to identify with those contenders, for better or worse. How can that happen if you select men and women with no distinguishable qualities?

Second, the geography surrounding the Survivors ought to be showcased more frequently, in order to capitalize on HD technology. On night one of the finale, Bob won a Reward Challenge, and brought Crystal and Kenny to visit a habitat for West African Gorillas. That invigorating segment, which jumped through my 32 inch HDTV, lasted less than 90 seconds. I am not a fan of Animal Planet, but I enjoyed the deviation from the constant stream of complaints about rice and close-ups of frail physiques. I understand that the game itself is the key element of the show. However, there were opportunities, both in earlier episodes and the finale, to spend more time emphasizing just how vast and rich the land surrounding the contestants was. By a show of hands, how many of you would rather see elephants or hippos, rather than unkempt facial hair and embarrassing imperfections?

Third, the team responsible for assembling the Reward and Immunity Challenges needs to get a huge raise, effective immediately. The Gabon season was full of amazing location work by the hardworking advance team, and their efforts resulted in a slew of captivating challenges. The sweat equity that went into building the golf course, the obstacle courses, the mazes, and all the other Survivor staples should not be taken for granted. Week after week, particularly in the early phase of the season, the competitive segments were the highlights of the show. The camera work during these contests was top-notch, and emphasized the physical punishment being inflicted on the contenders. With most of the audience comfortably perched on their favorite chair or couch, it is important to erase any doubts about the intensity of the Survivor experience. Thanks to hard work and precise planning, the Gabon team was able to bridge that gap repeatedly.

Last, but not least, I have a few random thoughts that do not lend themselves to themes or neatly packaged paragraphs. They speak to my primitive reactions to the show and to the assembled participants. Some are adoring, others are quite harsh. I apologize in advance for having no way to reconcile them.

  • Crystal was the most disappointing contestant of the season. As Jeff Probst mentioned during the Reunion Special, it was difficult to imagine that she had ever won an Olympic Gold Medal.
  • Kenny had an equal mix of nerdy overconfidence and socially awkward impressionability. Despite his boastful assertions about being the master manipulator in the game, Kenny was instantaneously swayed by a number of his rivals, including Sugar and Corinne. Though I always questioned how anyone could have believed Kenny’s attempts to lie, I was never disappointed in the gamer’s ability to switch on a dime without deliberation.
  • Sugar was my personal favorite this season, and I was impressed that she understood that her vote between Bob and Matty was worth a million dollars. For a blond pinup girl, Sugar certainly impressed me with her critical thinking. Fun fact to remember from this season: Sugar NEVER had her name written down by a competitor. She had zero votes against her at any of the Tribal Councils, and no members of the jury voted for her to win the grand prize. Is that a first?
  • Bob’s remarks about being a father, both to his own children and in a symbolic way towards Sugar, were the highlight of this season, and an amazing piece of television. Reality television is often a cesspool of narcissists, and it needs more examples like Bob.
  • Susie’s victory in the “House of Cards” Immunity Challenge was the biggest surprise of the season, and a testament to the unpredictable nature of the non-physical contests. We could use more of these games earlier in the season, so that the stronger male contenders do not dominate Phase One of the competition.
  • Corinne spent the entire season auditioning for her own reality show, and I am using my little corner of the TV blogging world to ask you to boycott her existence. The world is too small, and life is too short, to spend so much energy being critical of your neighbors. In fact, in keeping with that axiom, I will simply wish Corinne well, and hope that she finds better reasons for human contact.
  • Jeff Probst is a phenomenal television personality. He possesses enough gravitas to hold the Tribal Council sessions together, yet keeps a likable sense of humor about the entire experience. There are too many examples of this to mention, but here is my favorite: During the blindfolded puzzle challenge, Probst brought attention to Crystal’s struggles by noting that she was, “literally off the grid.” Probst’s jabs were never cruel or the stuff of stand-up comics. Instead, he is the conduit for expressing the audience’s feelings, and Jeff really is one of us.

Were you pleased to see Bob win? Can you explain how Susie got 3 votes from the jury? Did Sugar do the right thing by saving Bob at the last Tribal Council? Who were your favorite and least favorite contestants? Does Corinne have any redeeming qualities as a human being? What was up with Randy’s mohawk? Are you already looking forward to Season 18? These questions need your answers, and I am looking forward to your thoughts on this season!

— posted by Erik

[GMMR: A special thanks to Erik for capturing this season of SURVIVOR in such a vivid way.  Bravo!]

How does Erik stay grounded from his luxurious life as a substitute teacher? He keeps it real with ALF DVDs & Fantasy Football. On weekends, the GMMR HOUSE & SURVIVOR guru spends quiet time imploring the TV gods to bring back Sports Night & Ed. Erik re

Filed under Survivor, Survivor Recap


10 Responses to “SURVIVOR Gabon Season Finale: The Big Winner & Lessons to Learn”

  1. Alyson on December 15th, 2008 3:21 pm

    I was glad to see Bob win. I also liked that Sugar gave Bob a last chance. The truth of the matter is that she didn’t give the game to Bob, she just gave him and Matty a chance to battle it out one-on-one. Matty had ample chance to build a fire and if he couldn’t take advantage of the fact that Bob’s fire went out at one point, maybe he didn’t deserve to win.

    I also agree with the point made about more non-physical challenges early on, to give the women some chance of immunity early on.

    I have to say, I really enjoyed Randy throughout the season, but especially last night. Corinne was by far the worst this season, but I really didn’t care for Crystal either. I thought finally we’d have a strong woman who could compete in physical challenges, but she was horrible at challenges.

  2. Toast with JAM on December 15th, 2008 7:46 pm

    One of the best locations they’ve had. It was fun to see the landscape with Bob’s comments in the background. He NEEDED to win this season because he was the only one to appreciate the beautiful place he was in. Seeing him share it with his wife was the best!

    Other than that, this was one of the hardest seasons to watch. And there have been some bad ones. All because of the PEOPLE they cast. The worst. cast. ever. Blatant examples of how not to treat other people in this life. I hope never to see Kenny, Randy, Sugar, Susie, and especially Corinne and Crystal ever again.

  3. Carli on December 15th, 2008 10:41 pm

    Let me preface this by saying that I’ve never missed a season of Survivor. So…while Survivor looks awesome in HD, I do not watch the show for the landscape. I, actually, FF those bits.

    While this season may have started off slow, it turned into one of the best (IMO).

    Crystal was incredibly disappointing, but her lack of athleticism cracked me up.

    Sugar was my favorite, as well.

    And don’t worry, I’ll be boycotting Corinne’s potential reality show.

    Oh, and Probst is my favorite reality TV host.

  4. Michele on December 16th, 2008 8:41 am

    I love how Sugar handled herself in the final tribal. She never lied, never hid her feelings. It was refreshingly not kiss-assy and honest. I figured Bob was a shoe in for a win and I was surprised Susie got 3 votes! Crystal as a bumbling Olympic athlete cracked me up every episode, as did Sugar’s ability to come up with such a variety of outfits out there in the middle of nowhere. Bob clearly deserved the win, and I was glad for him! All the people in the beginning of the season? Don’t even remember them. I’m all for skipping the model/actor types and getting the real people back out there.

  5. Erik on December 16th, 2008 3:22 pm

    Alyson: I think Sugar’s ability to evaluate her competitors’ strengths and weaknesses led to her decision to give Bob that second chance to stay in the game. Matty was a physically imposing presence, due to his physique and work experience, but he rarely succeeded under the pressure of challenges. As for the female contenders, I was also bummed out that none of them were able to exceed expectations in the physical games, because it took the drama out of the more arduous contests. Did you enjoy Randy’s mohawk, or did it seem like a cry for help to you?

    Toast with JAM: While I probably spent too much time criticizing the cast in the recaps, the lack of people to root for was a significant flaw in the season. We can agree to disagree about Sugar, but I share your views on the other complainers. Moving forward, I would hope that we meet newer competitors who look and, more importantly, act like our neighbors. That’s not boring, that’s reality. The flood of models, actors, and L.A. types takes away from the average person’s enjoyment of the format. If we didn’t want to root for the person next door, why did Bob win the $100,000 viewers choice prize? The evidence is there, and I hope they take it into consideration.

  6. Erik on December 16th, 2008 3:31 pm

    Carli: I completely understand that you enjoy Survivor most when the game takes center stage. Ideally, that should be the crux of the show. My HD argument really has more to do with realizing the full potential of that technology, which certainly comes out in the more scenic shots. If the early part of the season had featured more compelling interactions among the Survivors, I probably would not have longed for shots of hippos and elephants! For me, the season picked up steam with Marcus’ elimination, which signaled the beginning of the real dash to the finish. Up until that point, there was way too much dead weight crowding my TV screen. When do you think the season changed for the better?

    Michele: The backlash against Sugar, both from her competitors and from some well-known Survivor bloggers, has been a shock to me. Since I was not invested in the show as a longtime fan, my unsophisticated view was that Sugar outplayed the rest of the tribe by a long shot, and that she or Bob were the only valid winners. As I noted in the recap, the fact that Sugar never received a vote at Tribal Council, particularly when her possession of the Immunity Idol was readily known, was a testament to her ability to influence events. In fact, her lack of success in physical challenges should have given someone (Kenny) the green light to organize a blindside against her weeks ago. Sugar may have been one of the recruited contestants I railed against, but she was the exception to the rule: savvy, compelling, and fun. Why do you think the conversations around camp get so personal all season? Is it that hard for these folks to enjoy the experience, or are they too busy preparing for their future in show business?

  7. Michele on December 16th, 2008 5:01 pm

    Erik – I agree. Sugar was a great competitor and really grew on me over the course of the season. I didn’t expect her to win because A) she was up against Bob and B) the jury took no trouble at all to hide their hatred of her. But she played an awesome game, and she was fun to watch!

  8. Stapler on December 17th, 2008 9:04 am

    You made some excellent observations and suggestions in your commentary on Survivor! Things that were sort of going through my head but couldn’t quite jell into real thoughts.

    I don’t have a high-def TV but agree about showcasing more of the scenic aspects of the locations.

    Your comment about the casting hit home too. During the reunion show, I realized that several of the contestants who were voted out earlier were all so interchangeable. Young, pretty, blond women; young, handsome, fit men. I really do wish they’d put more “real people” into the show – like Bob, Gillian, Susie. Not necessarily older folks, but everyday people. I generally can’t remember the names of all the look-alike characters – it’s the unusual ones who stand out and catch my attention.

    The challenges were awesome this year! I want to go back and watch Season 1 on DVD and remind myself how far this show has come over 17 seasons.

    Great commentary! And still a fun show to watch.

  9. Erik on December 18th, 2008 4:45 pm

    Stapler: Thanks for the feedback. Since my only memories of Survivor were from Season One and bits of Season Two, I always thought the most compelling contestants were the most unconventional. After reading up on the series’ history since the beginning of the Gabon adventure, I was struck by how many past contestants are directly compared to the early favorites like Rudy, Sue, Colleen, etc. In fact, Corinne’s speech at the final Tribal Council is one of a slew that has been perceived as a cheap ploy to copy Sue Hawk’s “vultures” diatribe from the first season. If, as we have learned, so many of these younger kids are aspiring actors, shouldn’t they have learned to deliver new lines?

    Your comment has led me to add Survivor: Season One to my own DVD wish list. Check out the main page of GMMR to see what Kath and Team GMMR picked for our holiday stockings!

  10. Toast with JAM on December 20th, 2008 12:48 am

    I almost didn’t add Sugar to my “hope-to-never-see” list. It was her comments at the Live reunion that really turned me off (about being a paparazzi target). And it seemed like Jeff Probst was asking her about it to show America “see what all the other contestants had to deal with?”.

    I did like that Sugar thought of herself as a good guy in the game and how she was upset about Kenny tricking her (into voting off Ace). That is what she should have said to the jury for the question of who she felt she had wronged in the game. Duh. ACE, you nitwit! It’s like it was out of sight, out of mind once he left. She made a great decision to help save Matty (even though he didn’t need the immunity necklace with all the votes for Crystal, it was great drama) after Crystal and Kenny’s smugness at camp. You rarely see someone make those kind of moves in this game and really change it up (makes me really miss Rob Cesternino–MY FAVORITE PLAYER IN ALL OF SURVIVOR!)

    It’s too bad she didn’t make ANY relevant points in the final Tribal Council. She could have made a lot of points to argue about her game play and a lot of them would have voted for her if she had shown them some kind of respect for their votes. She could have at least made an effort. I can only understand not bothering to try with Randy.
    Randy rant:
    He was not anything but a bitter old man. Probst tried to play it off like fans like him, but that’s bull. Although, they might change their mind now because people do that just because they hear it on t.v. (like how Jerri Manthey got more air time when she shouldn’t have because CBS promoted her to get people talking about the show). It infuriates me that people fall for that “oh, I guess Randy really wasn’t so bad because Probst is saying that people like him”. Think for yourself, people! He was insensitive and rude and mean. He should not have been on the show. He didn’t appreciate where he was or what an opportunity he was given.
    OK. Breathing…..
    Overall I was extremely disappointed and I hope that next season is better. They need another super Jungle Boy like Ozzy again! He was so fun to watch.