The following is a guest post from RobHasAwesbite.com Contributor, Glenn Holford – @GlennHolford
My loyal blog readers, also known as myself and Rob C., (who has to at least casually scan these things for profanities) know by now that I am a fan of games. Games are maybe the single greatest human invention. Games allow people to test themselves against one another in ways that Mother Nature could never devise. They bring to light our greatest strengths, and they can teach us about our weaknesses.
A game is an adversarial construct with a winner and a loser. It’s a place where both the glories of victory and the lessons of failure can be made available to us at minimal cost. And, most importantly of all, games are the only objectively fair place in the universe. Wins are always earned. Losses are always deserved. That is always true, as long as the tenant of fairness is respected. The rules for one must be the rules for all, or the game falls apart. There is nothing fun, nothing educational, nothing noble about playing with a cheater.
I’ve been reading a lot on Twitter about how this past week on Survivor was one of the best episodes in years. Typically, for me, Merge Day almost always brings one of the best episodes of the season. Things are up in the air, alliances are at their most fluid, everybody has to scramble. For me, though, not only was this not a great episode, it was one of the worst episodes I’ve ever seen. This was the first episode in Survivor history where Jeff Probst explicitly and directly stepped in, as if he were a player, and, like a foolish NFL replacement ref, completely altered the course of events.
I’m talking of course about Probst’s line at the Immunity Challenge. “Penner is out of this challenge, and in trouble tonight at Tribal Council!” Come on, bro. We’ve already seen how heavy an advantage it is to be a returning player, the only reason that it can still be called fair is that veterans enter the game with huge targets on their backs. Veterans have to overcome the stigma of being viewed by their competitors as a juggernaut, or they’ll be voted out. That’s fair.
We’ve heard rumors that, off-camera and out of sight, veteran players have been receiving tips and hints and information from the production staff. Now, some slippage is to be expected, the production people are still human. But I wasn’t sure I was ready to accept that there was a Survivor conspiracy going on under our noses. I had a healthy skepticism. Probst has always seemed to respect the game, even to revere it. I thought that he understood that the best games are, by design, also the most fair.
A buddy of mine texted me at the end of this week’s episode with the words, “Penner’s a genius!” And I was bewildered by it. This move wasn’t genius. This move was the only possible move left to Penner, because the host of the show explicitly told him to expect a blindside. Probst also explicitly admitted that he wants Penner to stay in the game. No reason to doubt his word. He’s not a competitor. If Probst told me I was in trouble, I’d play my idol too. Come on.
I don’t even know what else to say about this episode. There were a lot of elements that I enjoyed. I loved hearing Lisa’s strategic mind whirling. I was enjoying watching RC’s apparently strategic awakening. I really wanted to like this episode. But the moment that Jeff Probst violated the implied neutrality of his host role, this stopped being a game that I want to watch. This isn’t a game I want to care about. This isn’t a fair game. It isn’t Survivor.
Nobody likes Penner more than I do. Not even his wife, probably. I love the guy. He’s smart, he’s rational, he’s entertaining, he’s sassy, and he’s even occasionally flatulent. He’s a fantastic Survivor player. But he should have gone home tonight. That’s what the tribe wanted. They made a great plan to blindside him, and they had Penner apparently fooled, if we can believe his confessional. Jeff Probst made a unilateral decision to overrule the tribe. He violated his integrity as a host, and the integrity of the show. I hated it.
So, sorry, loyal readers (AKA, myself and Rob C). No fun blog post this week. No glowing admiration for the elegant structure of Survivor. Survivor is only great when it is fair, and this week, nothing was fair.