SurvivorSurvivor: Blood vs Water

The Buffington Post: Is Blood vs Water Exceeding Expectations?

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e2-rc Glenn does not care for Miss Survivor? (What a travesty![/caption]

Well, Loyal Blog Readers, I heard you loud and clear. You can stop tweeting me! The Buffington Post is back! (And you shouldn’t be reading my tweets, anyway. That can’t be good for your health.)

I do apologize for missing the Blogger Preseason Roundtable Podcast, and for not blogging about the premiere. I do love the show, and I love all of you in the RHAP community. Please believe me when I say, I’d have been here if I could have. But now I am, once again, all yours!

Before we begin—I don’t want to rob you of my impressions from the premiere of Survivor 27. Briefly, I’ll present you with a short bullet list of my main takeaways.

  • The best thing about this season, by far, is that RC Saint-Amour is not on it. That was such a generous gift to America from CBS. We appreciate it.
  • To the fans who predicted only one brief clip of Rupert and Laura slopping sucking face on Day Zero, congratulations!—Vegas will be paying you out at 50-1 odds.
  • I have to thank Hayden Moss’s teeth for turning my old box television into a 3D TV. I swear those things were jutting out twelve feet into my living room.
  • I’m glad that Rupert got yet another opportunity to strike a heroic pose on the beach with the wind blowing through his majestic mane. I heard that if you compile all of those clips together from his four seasons, they sync up perfectly with Dark Side Of The Moon.

There. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Loyal Blog Readers, let’s roll up our sleeves and dig into the meatier bits. I know why you’re all here—let’s talk Episode Two.

Those of you who wear the hat of Loyal Blog Readers know that I consider myself a Survivor Libertarian. I have always been a vocal critic of production meddling with Survivor’s fundamentals. One of my core beliefs about the game has been that adding superfluous rules and twists always makes the game worse. And so I have to admit that, with all of these off-the-wall crazy new twists, I was extremely skeptical as a viewer going into Survivor 27. I fully believed that this season would be a train wreck of historic proportions—and perhaps it still will be. But perhaps it’s something else.

I’m going to say something that I truthfully never thought in a million years I would say. When all the dust has settled in January, Survivor: Blood vs. Water could be—just maybe—a truly and authentically great season. And if turns out to be the case, then it will be because of the twists, not in spite of them.

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It’s hard to Pagong your loved ones.

Many of these twists seemed bizarre—or even silly—to me on paper; but ostensibly they may actually be workable gameplay mechanics. The very ideas that made me scoff in my preseason analysis are now making me rethink what the modern game of Survivor really is. Win, lose, or draw, Loyal Blog Readers, this is a watershed season. This season will define the new era of Survivor—and I think I might be excited about it.

Here’s what’s great about the Loved Ones twist—for the first time in 27 seasons of Survivor, there’s a real incentive not to Pagong. There’s a valid strategic argument for working with the other tribe after the merge, because each of these players has real and deep vested interests in relationships on both sides. I think that the producers were vaguely aware of this when designing the twist, but I’m not certain anybody really predicted how powerful a force this will be.

Because here’s the thing—both tribes have been busy playing good pre-merge Survivor. They’ve followed the fundamentals. Both tribes have established dominant alliances of five, and both of these alliances have made promises to go to the end together. In a normal season, you could just shut off the television at this point, and return to the show around Final Seven having missed nothing. But in Blood vs. Water, these alliances feel fragile and tenuous, even as they function brilliantly in the tribal vacuum.

The producers have finally hit upon a real and underlying truth about these contestants—and about human nature. People respond to incentives. If you want a season to be unpredictable—if you want loyalties to be fluid and players to make big moves—you have to give them good reasons to do it. It’s hard to think of two more powerful motivators than love and money, and pitting these incentives against one another is a masterful stroke. I believe we are in store for a volatile season.

But no good deed goes unpunished, and so Blood vs. Water has also laid a fat turd in the form of Redemption Island. I think all of us in the humble viewing community have rolled our collective eyes. It’s dumb. It doesn’t work. I thought we had already long ago established this.

Does it provide an opportunity for tribal swaps on-the-fly? Yes. And maybe that’s kind of cool. But I think only foolish and delusional players like Rupert will fall on the sword. It’s possible that a player may escape the fire by switching to the other tribe, and I suppose I wouldn’t hate that, but I think most of these castaways will echo Gervase Peterson, and tell their loved ones to Handle Their Business. I don’t think that the incentives to switch are stacked strongly enough, and thus the gameplay mechanic will prove to be an impotent one. If I turn out to be mistaken, then color me amused.

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Vytas shows great potential.

The biggest surprise for me so far this season has been Vytas. I know that I called him making a deep run, but I thought it would be largely on the coattails of his brother. Not so. He’s got the potential to be a great Survivor player in his own right.

Vytas is emerging as a powerful strategist and a keen observer of his fellow castaways. He gives me the willies—I’d vote him out right away—but he seems oddly in control of how others perceive him. Nobody else seems to be picking up the sinister vibes, and that tells me he’s more charming than I gave him credit for. He’s spooky, but very effective. He seems primed to take control of this game, and when he does, I think he’ll run with it.

How do you feel about Blood vs. Water? Which is tastier over ice? Leave us some comments, Loyal Blog Readers—the discussion belongs to you.

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