Sunday, May 11, 2008

39 Days... 16 People... One Winner... THIS Is "Survivor"...

Judging from the show’s tagline of “Out Wit, Out Play, Out Last,” it really should be no surprise that the sixteenth season of Survivor ended up with an all-girls finale. What should be surprising, however, is that it took so long to turn out that way.Life on the island (whichever one it may be depending on what year/twist it is) is not easy for the sixteen castaways that embark on a life-changing journey and a quest for a one million dollar prize. While some reward and immunity challenges seem designed for the physically fit and muscle-bound, there is no arguing that the majority of the game, namely the politics that go on in camp in between challenges, is mainly mental. Time and time again we have seen big guys cut down from lack of nourishment (like when Michael, light on his feet from hunger, fainted into the fire in season two) as well as lack of alliances (James was blindsided during both of his seasons, despite being a generally well-liked, not to mention quite possibly the buffest dude ever to grace CBS’ screen). Meanwhile the perky and petite girls, often originally written off as non-threatening due to their size, slip by week after week, worming their way into hearts and beds… or what passes for beds on the Survivor islands, anyway. Some succeed by hooking onto another player and riding coattails, sure, but that can only last for so long, and the truly smart players use that as only one part of their game. In that multi-faceted way, Survivor is truly a woman’s game.

Take Parvati and Amanda, for example, in this season’s Micronesia: Fans Vs. Favorites: in the beginning they cozied up to James and Ozzy, respectively, knowing that both guys were the strongest competitors but also the biggest targets. By aligning themselves in a fearsome foursome, they solidified themselves as players to be reckoned with: Parvati and Amanda gained the respect of anyone looking at them from the outside by simply being buddy-buddy with two of the most-liked guys in the competition. They knew enough not to stop there, though; they knew enough not to share everything with those guys, assuming the others would gun for them once the merge occurred (if they were all still around at that point… and Parvati and Amanda seemed pretty sure they would be). They also knew enough not to stop befriending the newbies just because they might have the ace in their pocket that was Ozzy.

Despite being relatively quiet during the first half of the season, Natalie and Alexis appeared to be the Parvati and Amanda for the “Fans” camp and deserved to be in the finals perhaps more than anyone because their lack of screen time in the beginning implied they didn’t start any unnecessary controversy or drama. They were there to play the game in full: lean and limber during physical challenges, quick as whips during intellectual ones, and always willing to lend a hand around camp, they did everything a good Survivor needs to in order to win over their tribe mates and the at-home audience. They made friends without making enemies and didn’t seem to take elements of the game personally-- ironic considering television usually portrays such powerful women as catty, conniving, and vindictively petty. It’s something the men could easily do, too, if they wanted; we’ve seen it happen on reality shows before (hell, we’ve seen it on CBS reality shows, too, with the Big Brother bromances), but for some reason, on Survivor, they don’t… or can’t. Maybe it’s because when they’re taken into the wild, into the elements, they’re stripped down and resort to their most primal instincts. Perhaps for men that often doesn’t include making room for too much emotional support or survival; they instead focus on hunting and providing—two things very important in this game, but not the end-all, be-all.

Social aspects aside, though, many of the challenges were designed as mind over matter, as well, giving the advantage to the girls who can keep their cool, too. Analytical thinking certainly helps; after all, even nutty Eliza very quickly dismissed a weakly carved stick as the immunity idol to Jason’s insistence it was the real deal. Once Amanda pulled the coveted individual immunity idol out of her bag, though, sending Alexis packing with only two votes against her, it was clear whose game this was. Though Erik still sat among the ladies, a physical threat for his quickness and agility, his youth and naivety (and perhaps a bit of blindness from the stars in his eyes of being surrounded by “Favorites”) made him an easy target to manipulate. Yet, when Jeff snuffed his torch, he could only offer a weak “You girls” in an “Aw, shucks” sort of way that proved he wasn’t even mad at them. They played a better game than he did, and they deserve their spot in the finals.

This season’s Survivor proved that when women work together instead of in competition as they are often trained to do from a very young age, they can beat everyone and everything. It’s just unfortunate it took them eight years and sixteen seasons to figure that out.

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