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Survivor Watch: In a Town Full of Heroes and Villains

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Spoilers for last night’s Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains coming up after the jump:

In my reality-TV essay I noted early on how funny it is that Survivor has evolved, over a decade, from being a hot new TV phenomenon / potential scourge of civilization to becoming a comfortable, nostalgic family entertainment that appeals to old people. Well, I’m one of those old people now, and for now I’m hooked on Heroes Vs. Villains, if nothing else, as a refresher course in all the things Survivor has taught us, and all the things Survivor has learned.

(Not so much for the gameplay, though: Survivor is continuing its overreliance on beat-the-crap-out-of-each-other challenges, resulting in a broken toe and a dislocated shoulder in the first hour. Throw in an eye injury and you’ll have a trifecta of Injuries That Personally Freak Me Out.)

Above all, Survivor has learned what John Milton did writing Paradise Lost: Villains are more interesting than good guys. (And yet no one calls Paradise Lost an immoral work just because Satan is the most interesting character. But I digress.) I was fascinated, I’ll admit, to see Coach chatting up Jerri Manthey, or Russell trying essentially the same game on a new group of people. (Whom I’m guessing, though I don’t know the production timeline exactly, did not have the advantage of knowing how Russell played his game.)

Heroes, on the other hand—at least as far as Survivor is concerned—are interesting only insofar as they have villains to contrast with. So for most of the first night, anyway, I was checking my watch for most of the time that we spent with the Heroes tribe.Though to was nice, for instance, to check in on Rupert, who was tickled to be back, in his Hagrid-like innocent way, and took pride in being named a Survivor hero as if he’d been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

What will be interesting is that—as we’re already starting to see—some of the heroes are going to begin to act anti-heroic, making alliances and going cloak-and-dagger. In fact, the whole classification of heroes and villains on this show is tricky. For instance, I absolutely loved Cerie. But in what way was she any less of a “villain,” than, say, Sandra? Cerie was funny and delightful—but she was also a freaking strategic mastermind, and as she admits, she wasn’t above sweetly sticking in a shiv.

Conversely, one of my favorite Survivor players, Courtney, was put on the villains team. Why, exactly? I guess she rubbed some people the wrong way druing her season, but mostly I saw her as a physically overmatched player who used her wits to last longer than she would have otherwise, and had a sense of humor about it.

Maybe being a villain on Survivor simply means not being boring. And as things go on, I suspect we’ll start to see what a fine line there is between the angels and the fallen angels.