It’s like the headline reads, but with a bleeped-out expletive and italics for emphasis: there are too many f***ing people on Survivor Caramoan.
Join me below in The Wiggle Room and we’ll discuss further.
“WAIT, WHO IS JULIA?”
“You’re not just yanking my track on this one? There’s actually someone named Julia on the current season of Survivor?” It’s not an unreasonable line of questioning, but yes, there is someone named Julia on the current season of Survivor. She’s the brunette on Gota, she’s a race car driver, and she’s sunburned beyond belief. She’s also barely uttered a word in three episodes.
And that speaks to a big problem I have with not just Caramoan, but the 20-person Survivor format in general. The early-going is such a slog, because each episode builds up to the loss of a person you never really meet. With the exception of Francesca — who made Survivor history in the premiere’s deliciously brutal climax by becoming the first-ever two-time first-boot — the victims of Fans Versus Favorites: Part Deux have been excruciatingly dull thus far … and it’s not the evicted tribe members’ fault.
Peruse Allie’s post-game interviews. The first casualty of the Cool Kids Alliance struggled to register her personality while on the show, but her exit interviews reveal her as one of the few newbies who clearly knew and worshipped the game going into the season. As for Hope, though she can’t give you a good answer as to why she didn’t vote for Eddie to save herself, go back to the episode and watch her interaction with Shamar in the water; she’s cracking that grizzly bear up with her whole “Yup, I’m going home, just going to savor the flavor while I can” shtick, and I was charmed, too.
But even as the hammer came down upon her, Hope wasn’t given a real moment to shine outside of that water scene. Her confessionals didn’t begin until the last segment of the show. Like Julia, you could be forgiven if you didn’t know a person named Hope existed on the Gota beach until it was too late.
Allie, Hope and Julia aren’t the only invisible players this season, either. Take a stroll over to Bikal beach and keep an eye out for Brenda. Finding her has proven even more difficult than finding the hidden immunity idol this season. And that’s not because Brenda is boring. Anyone who watched Nicaragua knows how much fire and spark is bundled up in that devious little manipulator. Heck, try searching for a Corinne confessional while you’re at it; one of the snarkiest players to ever address the Survivor audience has hardly insulted a single competitor in three whole episodes. Surely Brenda and Corinne are hiding from our television sets because they’re snoozers, entirely devoid of personality, wit and charm, right?
Nope. That’s not it at all. This is it: there are too many f***ing people on Survivor Caramoan.
Last week, I rewatched the entirety of Exile Island. Right now, I’m halfway through rewatching Cook Islands. The former season had 16 players, the latter had 20. Cook Islands was the breeding ground for some of the most memorable Survivor veterans ever — Parvati, Ozzy, Penner — while Exile Island is mostly remembered as the birthplace of Cirie Fields and not much else. But for me, there’s no question which season I’ve enjoyed more.
With only 16 people in the mix, you get to know and feel for every single one of the eliminated Panama players. You can’t forget Tina’s heartbreaking story of losing her son Charlie just weeks before she was supposed to go to Guatemala, then proceeding to become the first person voted off of Exile Island. You can’t forget teary-eyed singer Melinda, unfairly sequestered to the “Older Women” tribe at the “ancient” age of 32. Misty, who spent the first days of her game all alone on the brand-new Exile Island, went out with a smile on her face. Ruth-Marie … okay, no one remembers Ruth-Marie. Bob Dog screwed up royally by getting wasted with Bruce in Casa del Charmin, but boy was it fun to watch. And Dan Barry! The astronaut gone far too soon! Even as the sixth boot of that season, Dan’s smiling face and stellar attitude about having to go home so early without his desired “Two-V-Two” scenario will always stand out as one of the classiest exits in Survivor history.
With Cook Islands, you have to get through the eliminations of Sekou, Billy Garcia (admittedly a fun one), and Cecilia before you get to the first real surprise of the season, J.P., and then it’s back to Stephannie and the anticlimactic ousting of Cao Boi and Cristina and zzzzzzzzz before things get interesting with the mutiny. If I wasn’t in the middle of Cook Islands right now, I could only tell you that Sekou and Billy went first and second before mistakenly identifying Rebecca as the first juror of the season. (It was Brad, in case you forgot, too.) But the entire Exile Island boot order, I’ve remembered it wholesale from the time it happened live, because it was a small group, and because all 16 of the competitors on that season had distinct personalities we were allowed to invest in.
Likewise, I can recite the entire boot orders of Borneo, Australia, Africa and Marquesas without blinking an eye. And maybe it’s just because I’m a crotchety old Survivor fan (relatively speaking) pining for the glory days of the show, or maybe it’s because I’m onto something: those 16-person seasons are special because the odds are better for the individuals and the opportunities to know them all, even the Deb Eatons and Diane Ogdens, are greater for the audience. These days, with the number of quitters and evacuees rising with alarming regularity, I understand the need for padding out the amount of players on any given season. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it when there are 20 frickin’ people on the beach vying for screen-time, rendering folks like Allie, Hope, Julia, Brenda and Corinne virtually irrelevant.
I like my Survivor lean and mean. The Survivor of today is way too top-heavy to start. Granted, even the fattest seasons tend to slim down the longer we’re out on the island … but man, those early episodes are nightmarishly slow. The same can be said for Caramoan, from where I’m standing. With the exception of the breakneck premiere, the Shamar blowouts, the rise of Sherri as a star-in-the-making, Cochran’s seaside throne and the latest episode’s absolutely incredible challenge — quite possibly one of the best the series has ever produced — this season is proving itself a bit of a drag.
Anyway, that’s my Little Wiggles-free Wiggle Room rant for the week. It’s also just one Survivor fan’s opinion on the structure of the game. I want to know what you think. Is Caramoan too top-heavy? Which do you prefer, the 16-person seasons or the 20-person seasons? How do you feel about 18-person seasons? So many questions! Answer them all and ask some new ones in the comments section below, or come chat with me on Twitter @roundhoward (like Ron Howard but rounder), and I’ll see you again for next week’s Wiggle Room, when we’re mercifully down to the ideal number of 16 players.