If you want the status quo for Survivor these days, you need to look back to May 4, 2011, with the twelfth season of Redemption Island. Specifically, the immunity challenge. The deal: fit ladder rungs onto slots and climb to the top. The catch: each rung can only fit in specific slots. Also, it's 110 degrees in Nicaragua.
The guy busting ass up and down the steps is Rob Mariano, best known as "Boston Rob." He first played the game in Marquesas, the show's fourth season, which aired back in 2002. To give you some perspective, eventual second runner-up Natalie Tenerelli was about ten years old at that time. He failed to make the jury, what with being a pain in the ass to damn near everybody unfortunate enough to be on the same tribe as him. He was an entertaining pain in the ass, so he was invited back two years later on All-Stars. He wound up running the game, since most of the people he was surrounded by weren't intelligent at all. He also found true love with Amber Brkich, who was cast mostly because former "America's Sweethearts" Colleen Haskell and Elisabeth Filarski passed. Amber wound up winning the $1 million grand prize riding on Rob's broad back, while nobody challenged them. Rob had to "settle" for the $100,000 second place dough, as well as Amber's hand in marriage. I'll stop here before I dive into "Ramber" and their two appearances on The Amazing Race, as well as their televised marriage.
The man in the khakis doing commentary is Jeff Probst. Show creator Mark Burnett plucked him from VH1 obscurity and made him a household name. While Probst has earned a place on the Mount Rushmore for reality show hosts (along with Ryan Seacrest, Phil Keoghan and Anderson Cooper), he tends to get too involved in the show. Like, "interfering with the game" involved . . . like the time in Palau, when he pushed Janu Tornell (who probably wasn't fit to play going in) into quitting in order to keep Stephenie LaGrossa in the game. Or how about the time he shamed a tribe into picking a leader after Tribal Council? How about all the alpha males he's crushed on season after season? Right now, he is yelling about how Rob is "literally carrying his family on his back!" Literally, mind you. In actuality, Rob has a picture of his family (Amber and his little bambina) taped to his back. What's galling is that Jeff Probst just won his fourth Emmy as Best Host of a reality program. The fact that he's won more than once proves that Emmy voters take all of five minutes making up their minds before making a half-hearted decision, and this invalidates all Emmys awarded in the genre in the past, including the six that The Amazing Race picked up prior to 2010.
Anyway, Rob wins the immunity challenge, and he is wiped out. Probst gives him the immunity necklace, pausing to put his pom poms down first. Probst asks if he wants the medical staff to look at him, but Rob waves him off. Probst and a few of the other players do help him to his feet. As I watch this, I give props to Rob's efforts . . . but there's a small part of me that wants him to fall down the steps. I don't want him to die or break something. I want him to get just the right amount of hurt to get taken out of the game . . . because if that happens, the others have a shot to win the game. Granted, none of them deserve to win, but it would be a nice change of pace. The players go back to camp, and we don't hear Probst cheer, "TWO, FOUR, SIX, EIGHT! WHO DO WE APPRECIATE?!? BOSTON ROB! BOSTON ROB! GOOOOOOOOOOOO, ROB!!!"
What ended up happening was that Rob won the $1 million on his fourth try, and it was so easy for him. I kept hoping that Burnett would just stop the game and give him the money. The last episode wasn't a conclusion so much as a coronation. In the hearts of Burnett and Probst, Rob would run 26 miles and change, symbolizing the time he ran the Boston Marathon without offically entering it. He would then run up 117 steps, one for each day he played Survivor. On steps 22-60, Amber would ride on his back, much the way she did in All-Stars.At the end of the journey would be Probst, who would crowd him Sole Survivor, Ultimate Survivor, King of All Survivors. And then the blowjob would begin in earnest.
The last several seasons of Survivor haven't been that fun to watch, particularly the last four. To wit:
Samoa: From the depths of the lackluster cast comes Russell Hantz, a small man with a major set of balls. He became the definition of Chaotic Evil, dumping out water and burning a teammate's socks. Only two things kept him from getting voted off: he was seen as an easy opponent to face on Day 39, and he sniffed out hidden immunity idols like a pig seeking truffles. Seriously, aside from Russell and Shannon "Shambo" Waters the mulleted mental case, can you name anybody from this season? Well, there was the other Russell -- Russell Swan -- but he wound up passing out during a challenge and wound up getting booted out by the medical staff. There were also rumors of somebody named "Brett" on the show, but those were never proven. In the end, Russell got two votes, while Natalie White won the big prize.
Heroes Vs. Villains: Having carved a niche as perhaps the biggest asshole in reality television, Russell wound up earning a berth on the latest "all-star" season. He was put on the Villains tribe, along with Rob, who apparently doesn't have a day job. The two wound up butting heads, but Russell's alliance managed to get the upper hand, and Rob got jettisoned. Lots of other stuff happened, but the reunion basically was reduced to both "legends" dropping trou to compare sizes. Back in his undisclosed lair, Mark Burnett had a brainstorm: what if those two were on the show again? On opposite sides facing off each other? Brilliant!
Nicaragua: Since "Russell Vs. Rob" needed time to develop, Burnett's casting people threw twenty people into the mix, most of whom probably never watched the show. The breakaway "star" was Naonka Dixon, who surpassed Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth as the Worst Black Woman On Reality Television, EVER. Whether picking fights with Kelly Bruno (an athlete who had one leg and a prosthetic), playing the race card or breaking down, Naonka represented the shittiest tastes of the casting department. The kicker was that she wound up quitting the game along with Kelly Shinn (nicknamed "Purple Kelly" by Probst for reasons that make sense in his little mind) . . . and both of them wound up making the jury. Worse, their two votes made the difference for Jud Birza (aka "Fabio" for being an airhead) to win the big prize, and CBS never disclosed the final votes of the jury, since they thought fans would be too stupid to put two and two together.
Redemption Island: The "Russell Vs. Rob" angle got jettisoned quickly when the Zapatera tribe wound up voted off Russell after somebody else -- Ralph Kiser, a backwoods Yeti -- lucked into the hidden immunity idol. However, Russell had a safety net, since those voted off wound up on Redemption Island, where players had to fight to stay in the game, making Tribal Council -- and Probst's main line, "The tribe has spoken" -- meaningless. Sadly, Russell got beat in the do-or-die challenge, making him cry like a little girl before vowing never to come back.
With the Russhole gone, the asshole slot had to be filled. Enter Phillip Sheppard, a one-time "special agent" who proved that the casting department had no qualms with making black people look bad. He fucked up pronouncing one player's name (Francesca . . . how can that be hard?!?), played the race card during a fight over rice, and generally getting on everybody's nerves. I felt he needed Cee-Lo Green following him around singing "Crazy." Or hell, make up a song:
Here's the one who's worse than you and me
An ugly person as you can see
He's the guy you gotta hate
A certified Section Eight
He roomed with Teddy's dad in Stand By Me
Special Agent Phil
Special Agent Phil
His attitude really sucks
And Rob's gonna win the million bucks
[Note: I only had the fourth and fifth lines worked out and the chorus, and I'm sorry if the parody was too lame]
In the end, Rob got his precious million bucks. Phillip got second place and $100,000 thanks to a sole dissenting vote from Ralph. Natalie got third place and torn apart by the jury. And a guy named Matt Elrod wound up staying on Redemption Island for 29 days broken up into two trips, showing that the "twist" was an abject failure. So, naturally, it's popping up again on the upcoming season, Survivor: South Pacific.
In addition to Redemption Island, South Pacific will bring back two past contestants. Before the rumors were confirmed, I was thinking that Naonka and "Purple Kelly" would get the call. That's how little I think of the casting department these days. Probst and Burnett have sworn up and down that anybody who had quit the show would never be invited back, but with the show spiraling into the abyss created by genre shows airing on MTV and VH1, I wouldn't have put it past them. Fortunately, we wound up with Ozzy Lusth and Benjamin "Coach" Wade . . . the former having come within one vote from winning the $1 million on his first try (losing to Yul Kwon on Cook Islands), the latter's insanity now seeming quaint compared to that of Phillip.
Will Redemption Island be tweaked to actually work? Can Ozzy and Coach not take up all of the spotlight? Will the other sixteen contestants have enough brain cells between them to at least look intelligent? We'll start finding out this Wednesday on CBS. I'm not hoping for the best, though . . . I'm estimating that production staff will have to pry Probst off Ozzy's leg by the fourth episode.