We're five weeks into Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains, and it's already a dismal flop. Well, it's dismal if you truly buy into the premise of good versus evil. Or if you're a fan of any of the departed players.
It all comes back to the basic truth behind "all-star" seasons of all reality shows, if not merely those from CBS: they just don't work out the way you'd want. Both times Survivor went that route, the winners (Amber from All Stars, Parvati from Micronesia -- Fans Vs. Favorites) had no business being cast in the first place. Once-great players fall (Rob Cesternino, anyone?), others don't mesh that well (Cirie and Yau-Man in Micronesia), and other nasty stuff winds up happening (Richard Hatch grinding his naked self on Susan Hawk, Jonathan Penner almost dying on an ill-planned challenge). It's a recipe for disaster, yet Mark Burnett can't help but make it. And we can't help but taste it, even though we know it's probably gonna suck.
At the core of the problem is the increasingly dysfunctional Heroes tribe, which has fallen like . . . well, NBC's Heroes (which I maintain is a far better genre show than Smallville, but that's a rant for another time). They've gained only two rewards and dodged Tribal Council once. They looked like a solid group, with guys that make host Jeff Probst cream himself with glee. Hey, is it my fault that he saved a part of JT's tooth that got knocked out during a challenge in Tocantins? Probst has man crushes, and you can't tell me different. And things looked okay at first; even when they lost the first immunity challenge, they merely lost Sugar, whom I considered overrated to begin with. But after their second loss, James (a huge Probst crush) got ugly, doing everything but scream "BURN THE WITCH!!" at Stephenie, since she was the last person from her original tribe (Ulong from Palau) left standing before the merge. And only two people stood up for her at Tribal Council: Colby (a long-standing Probst crush) and Tom (more on him later). Meanwhile, you had Rupert, easily one of the most overrated players in the show's history, go unnoticed even with a broken toe and a sour attitude. It's like looking like a poor man's Hagrid is enough to avoid the axe. Natch, Stephenie got booted, and Colby and Tom were exposed as the minority alliance.
Flash forward two weeks later, where the Heroes had to go to their third Tribal Council. Immediately, the majority alliance targeted Tom. Now, I don't claim to crush on anybody, male or female, but I like Tom a a lot. And what's not to love about him? He was a firefighter at the time of Palau; he was the clear leader of the Koror tribe, a team that won every immunity challenge they competed in, whittling Ulong down to Stephenie; he caught a shark; he won all but two individual immunity challenges, while not receiving a vote against him the two times he was vunerable; and he came to within one player-hater's vote (Coby) from getting the show's first-ever unambitious win. I don't care who you are . . . you have to be impressed. And I don't think he's a Probst crush because of his silver hair, so that's a bonus.
Where was I? Right . . . Tom was in trouble. He had uncovered a hidden immunity idol, which Probst would claim was selfish for the Heroes to search for (gotta love how production dictates him to lie like a dog during the "previouslies" before the show begins). The main alliance had a plan: split the votes between Tom and Colby, so that one of them would go out even if Tom played his idol. But Tom managed to talk JT into believing that Cirie was dangerous. And she was . . . one of the reasons why I liked her during Panama and Micronesia was that she was one of us, a fangirl-turned-Machiavellian genius with a gift for funny interviews. Sure enough, she got blindsided; Tom played his idol, lamenting that he would've wanted the team to use it against the Villains, and JT flipped his vote for a 3-2 difference. In other words, Cirie got Ciried. And I foolishly believed that the spoiler I had read was wrong, that Tom wasn't going to go out early. Apparently, I like hoping for the impossible.
Sure enough, Tom got voted out in the latest episode. Once again, the tribe couldn't pull it together in a puzzle-based challenge. Adding injury to insult, James had blown out his knee during the reward challenge, but was well enough to stay in the game. I ask you with all sincerity: who would you rather have: a guy who's more or less on the outs, or a guy who's hurt and could mess up the tribe's dwindling chances for a win? I've made it clear that I'm in the bag for Tom, but it's an honest question. Only Tom and Colby voted for James and his miserable attitude to go, while everybody else voted for Tom. Surprisingly, he didn't slug James in the mouth on the way out, choosing instead to lambaste James and Rupert in interviews. Can you blame him for being bitter? He leaves as the first winner to go out, departing from a tribe that includes Colby, a proven loser (Amanda, oh-for-two in Final Council decisions), a seat-filler (Candice . . . seriously, who the hell is she?), a wishy-washy flip-flopper (JT), and two injured jagoffs that can't leave the game fast enough for me.
Over on the Villain side, it's been all gravy. The only person they lost was Randy, a favorite of mine on account that he's so grouchy, he should be living in a garbage can. His boot and subsequent flinging of his buff into the fire hasn't dampened the Villains' spirit. One thing that's bugged me is the deification of Rob Mariano by forum posters. Look, a meathead rarely changes, people. I maintain that he didn't change his gameplay from Marquesas to All Stars, that the only reason why he lasted so far in the latter season was because the people he went up against (Lex, Kathy, Jenna, Rupert, Tom, etc.) had the intelligence of gravel. I figure that the others would get a clue and toss him over the top rope, but it looks like he's a lock for the jury at minimum.
Meanwhile, Parvati merely flips her hair back and wiggles around, and she gets attention that way. This time, she's snared Russell, who's been doing everything but visible whip it out and wank it on screen this season. I grew to like him during Samoa, which I chalked up to a reality television version of Stockholm Syndrome. But he keeps going on and one and freakin' on about how he's so great, obviously under the delusion that he won his season, where he (or anybody else at the time of filming) didn't know that he lost to Natalie. The annoyance reached its fever pitch when he brought the always "entertaining" Coach into the alliance, going so far as to "knight" the self-proclaimed "dragon slayer" of Tocantins. Even with the fun interviews from Sandra and Jerri (who got called a "bitter cougar" by Parvati in an interview), it's still getting to be one ugly season. I'm happy that my pick to win it all -- Tyson and his fugly bikini brief trunks -- is still in it, but I'm dreading the inevitable Coach/Parvati/Russell final three. And I don't think any serious Survivor fan can stomach such a terrible trio.
I've been asked why I watch a show that aggravates me. Maybe it's because I'm hoping for the best, where a dumbass like Russell or Rupert gets blindsided. Or maybe I'm just a masochist at heart. Either way, I'll be back for more punishment on March 24, when Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains goes back on the air. And who knows? Maybe the Heroes will triumph, and Rob and Sandra will be busy playing "keep away" with the dignity of Coach or Russell.