Back in 2002 my good friend Mario Lanza wrote a speculative novel for the web called All-Star Survivor: Hawaii
. The thing was massive. When printed out it was longer than almost any Stephen King novel. But it was just as addictive as the real show because his characters jumped off the page. Mario went on to write three more, including one exploring of the Second Chance concept fans are still waiting for.
Survivor: All Stars was supposed to be the ultimate season, but it was nothing like Mario's seemingly-realistic novel. It turns out that in real life heroes develop massive egos, great players get targeted from Day One, and intense competitors play like they're just there to collect a check.
Last night I felt like I was watching Mario's novel come to life. From the opening moments of the show - the iconic shots of Colby's hat and Coach's tattoo, Cirie's line that she's a gangsta in an Oprah suit - you knew that the characters we love were back.
The first challenge featured a shattered toe, a topless wrestler, Russell putting Tom in the Scorpion Death Lock, and a shoulder that had to be snapped back into place. Men, Tivo that challenge and watch it again. Sandra will teach you everything you need to know about unhooking a bra strap.
On a related note, Courtney might want to think in the future before shouting "Break her shoulder," however. She's got to realize that Parvati takes things a bit too literally sometimes. Speaking of which, what's with the Spiderman underoos they've got her competing in?
Tom is back. The man who wrestled a shark in Palau caught three chickens without breaking a sweat. Since this is the same beach Survivor: Samoa was filmed on just months before, you've got to wonder whether Tom caught the chicken Shambo lost. How great of a delayed punchline would that be?
Russell is back, and he's making the same mistakes as before. You just do not dress in a Southern con man hat and ask girls with a threatening twang, "Do you trust me?" Parvati had Russell sized up in seconds, which is why she has more of a claim to being the greatest Survivor player of all time than he does.
If the new season just recycled old material that would get old fast. Remember Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, where Macaulay Culkin set off all of the same traps to ensnare the same burglers? Yeah. Thankfully, some of these characters have evolved.
Coach is not back, but I really like the guy who stole his identity. He's a lover, not a dragon slayer. The mind boggles at the idea of Coach and Jerri falling in love on Survivor. I would have said JT and Colby made more sense as a couple.
Courtney and Sandra were cooing about it like an animated rabbit and deer in a Disney movie, and I thought we were going to get a nature shot of flowers coming into bloom.
Coach may have gone and foiled Survivor's whole schematic because I'm already not sure that he is a villain. You almost want to see them hold a secret ballot to have the tribes vote on who among them is living up to the title of hero or villain, and swap them based on that.
Boston Rob is not the same guy we once knew. There was a brilliant series of documentaries by Paul Almond that were decades before their time where a diverse group of kids were filmed from the age of 7 to 49. Viewers watched them grow and change over a 42 year period.
Survivor has done that for Rob. He's gone from being one of the sarcastic kids of the tribe to being the experienced older man.
The Heroes are much stronger, and they have fire, water, shelter and a chicken dinner. They should have cleaned the villains' clock. The villains had nothing, and yet it makes sense to me why they were able to win. Rob - or Boston Bob, as Sandra calls him - is just that good of a leader.
Already I'm worried for next week. I tossed and turned last night and I'm not sure it wasn't because of the terrifying image of Rob looking deader than Russell Swan on horse tranquilizers.
Not to give anything away, but I'm really glad I was able to meet Rob a few weeks ago because at the very least I know he's not dead. I'm just hoping against hope that he doesn't get medivaced. That would be a loss.
Otherwise, I'm filled with questions: What was Randy thinking when he argued against trying to make fire? How is it that Colby needed to get the Cliff Notes version of past seasons from Candice, and how did he allow himself to get dragged like a rag doll by Coach? And is it possible that the heroic music montage was a little overly congratulatory since these guys were building a shelter, not curing cancer?
What do you think?
-Henry Jenkins, BuddyTV Columnist
(Image courtesy of CBS)