Blogger Introduction: Michael Trudeau
Shortly after the Survivor: Philippines finale, Rob C. and I hunkered down in his fortress of solitude and brainstormed ways to make RHAP even more amazing. After dismissing some intriguing yet flawed ideas – a swimsuit calendar of producers, bloggers and podcast hosts in bikinis and tundra hats; live streaming a Survivor Podcaster Attack Zone Immunity Challenge (“Rob, stop choking Oz!”); building on the success of Survivor: Jeopardy with, “Who Wants to Marry a Pre-Merge Boot?” – we decided that three weekly blogs weren’t enough: We needed more writers!
And so, being the newly minted Captain of the Bloggers, I set out on the high seas and searched the globe for pundits and pontificators whose voices stood out from the recapping crowd. I am happy to report that my quest ended with two significant discoveries, Josh Wigler and Michael Trudeau, who will be writing columns every week (posting on Friday and Saturday, respectively). The latter, whom some of you will know as the author of “The Characters and Their Stories,” (a message board thread found on two different websites) is the most talented “Edit Reader” I’ve ever encountered; even when he’s wrong about the endgame (he and I both pegged Skupin as the winner last season), he’s invariably right about the narratives and themes that the producers want us to care about, invest in, and understand.
So, please help me welcome Mike to the RHAP blogging team – and for some insight into his process, give a read to his manifesto below, which includes some intriguing insight into the season ahead. I really can’t say this strongly enough: Reading Mike’s column is like taking a master class in Survivor. If you embrace what he has to say (even if you disagree with his conclusions), by the end of Survivor: Caramoan you will see this game that we love in a whole new light.
Happy to have you aboard, Mike.
– The Captain
I have always been captivated by the way Survivor tells a story. Each player has his own story, his own perception of what happened when he was out there on the island – but that is rarely the story that we see. Ever wonder how Samoa would have been presented if Brett had won that final IC and the game? But Brett lost, so his story became insignificant and he was nothing more than a figurant. The editors wanted to be sure that the audience wouldn’t connect with him.
Survivor’s editors shape the story according to its outcome, creating characters along the way that are, in some measure, deformations of the actual people. To tell the story, the editors need some definite roles such as the Hero, the Villain, The Sweetheart, the Dumb Player, the Victim, the Player on a Journey and, eventually, the Winner. As in every story, the interactions of these “Characters” are shaped by the Themes of that story.
That’s what I like to do when I watch Survivor: Try to figure out the theme of the episode, the roles assigned to the different characters – and see what overall story is being projected.
A new season is fast approaching and, once more, we will have new stories and new angles on old stories. Looking back at the first version of Fan versus Favorites, we can remember two main Themes: “The Fans are Dumb” and “The Favorites will have to Improve their Game to Win.”
The first theme, introduced by Jonny Fairplay in the very title of the first episode (“You Guys are Dumber Than You Look”), was reinforced in the way the Fans were presented: The two shelters, the division, Joel’s power-play, and their reaction when they finally received the Favorites’ help with their shelter after the switch. The Fans were portrayed as negatively as any tribe we’ve seen, with the possible exception of Fang (from Survivor: Gabon). It was easy to see that they would be annihilated.
The Favorites’ theme was introduced in a confessional by Alexis: “… we have the Favorites… they’re coming in here with the experience, but at the same time you have us and we know their game. We know not only their strengths but their weaknesses, too.”
From there, we knew to look for players who would show improvement over their original season, that would be more than what the Fans expected.
Quickly, we realized that Eliza, James, Jonathan and Amanda were shown the same way as they had been on their first seasons. We even compared them to Bobby John, a returning player who did about as well as he had done in his first try.
Ami was shown to be a nicer person than the one we saw in Vanuatu, but she became a peripheral player. We concluded that the editors were simply repaying a debt, showing that she wasn’t as bad as the leader of Yasur.
Cirie wasn’t as likable as she had been, reminding us of Stephanie’s negative portrayal in her second season. Cirie’s decision to eliminate Yau Man was never explained on the show, so that was a big indication that we shouldn’t like this version of Cirie as much as Panama Cirie. Even after the merge, when Cirie proved she was the brains behind the Black Widow Brigade, most of their moves were credited to Parvati.
For a while, Ozzy looked like he had improved, playing more as a team member than the arrogant leader of the original Aitutaki. Then we saw his interactions with Tracy and we knew we were looking at the same arrogant Oscar as before.
That meant we had to consider Parvati. She introduced herself by saying: “Coming back, I’m playing really aggressively and it’s pretty much no holds barred for me… I have to win this time, it’s my second time. I’m not coming back here to starve and be miserable. I was a flirt on Cook Islands and that’s it.”
She had mostly floated by during Cook Islands, but we soon saw that she had become a schemer. When the locals came as part of a reward, Parvati was featured learning their tricks and becoming more of a Survivor than the Cook Islands girl who couldn’t clean a fish without cutting her fingers. More telling, when the rains came and Airai was miserable, we saw that Parvati wasn’t complaining; instead, she was shown laughing. She truly hadn’t come back to be miserable.
Even if this season has the same format, we can expect new themes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more talk about mingling with the other side. The first time, the players probably expected that Malakal and Airai would stay the same until the merge, but they will now know that there could be more power to gain by making an alliance with the other side. It certainly is something that will require our attention.
The Favorites don’t have a single true leader or at least one who played the role of leader in their original tribes. That is a first because when we have a tribe full of returning players we usually have too many leaders. For example, Mogo Mogo had Lex, Hatch, Colby and Kathy, making it difficult to function as a united tribe. Watching the Favorites’ dynamics will be very interesting and we should keep an eye on how the eventual leaders are portrayed. Will we have one leader shown to make all the right decisions, like Tom in Koror? Will we have a fractured tribe like the Villains, which was mostly about Rob versus Russell? My hypothesis, like always, is that each leader’s pre-merge portrayal is a function of how well he or she and their tribe did post-merge.
These are just some of the questions I have entering this season, and I’ll be happy if you join me in the ride to determine the long-term players and the story behind the story.