I went into the first episode of Survivor: Micronesia–Fans Vs. Favorites expecting to hate it. First: considering that Survivor has now been on the air for over seven years, isn’t every edition pretty much a “fan” edition? It’s pretty rare that the show now finds a contestant who hasn’t watched the series, even if some of them still play the game as though they haven’t. Second: Survivor’s done an All-Stars season already, so can we really say we’re looking at the “favorites” here? I mean, no offense, but Parvati? It’s more like Survivor: The Best We Could Convince to Come Back.
And yet, somehow, for one episode anyway, it’s working. Survivor has long passed the point at which it should have lost my interest, but mixing up the regular and all-star formats really seems to have produced a different dynamic. The problem with the all-star edition–besides the fact that Rob and Amber ran away with it so blatantly that there was little suspense–is that when everyone knew each other, there was little room left for suspense. It’s an interesting test of what matters more: having played the game before or the element of surprise. (It’s Experience vs. Change! David Brooks, you have your next op-ed topic!) And since we knew, or kinda remembered, half the players, the episode got past the early-Survivor-episode problem of a bunch of unfamiliar faces blurring together.
The beginning episode held me, right down to the (let’s save the spoilers for the comments) weird tribal council elimination. The best moment had to be the introduction of the opposing teams, with the Fans watching the Favorites come out with a mix of admiration and hey-I-kinda-remember-that-guy polite appreciation. And when Johnny Fairplay sauntered out, with a “Will Lie 4 Food” baseball cap on–clinging to his 15 minutes of fame like some pathetic David Brent–it should have been chilling to the Survivor wannabes. Want to know what you’re playing for? This is what you’re playing for, my friends! Maybe they should have called it Survivor: Cautionary Tales.