Tuned In

Survivor Gets Survivorer

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If you haven’t watched the premiere of Survivor: Guatemala and don’t want to know this season’s twist, stop reading. If you watched, I hope you’re as offended as I am. As promised, two past players returned to join the new tribes: they turned out to be the two last players standing from the decimated tribe in Survivor: Pulau—sweet, martyred Stephenie and poor, dumb Bobby Jon. (My guesses were Stephenie and Michael Skupin, who passed out into a fire on Survivor: The Australian Outback, then was carried off by chopper as if ascending to Heaven.)

What gives? It’s not the fairness aspect that bugs me; I know that any game that sets up a bogus "viewer’s choice" poll to hand charismatic Rupert a $1 million consolation prize is unfair. But if I wanted to watch desperate stunt casting, I’d watch Will and Grace. What’s next—visits from Cher and Madonna during November sweeps? A droll four-episode guest role for Alec Baldwin?

Twists aside, this season so far stands out for the copious vomiting in the first episode. I was also struck by how self-referential Survivor has become. Early seasons of Survivor—and earlier reality shows generally—usually didn’t break the fourth wall and remind you of previous seasons (and, thus, remind you that this is a TV show). But now we’re constantly told that Stephenie is "possibly the strongest female Survivor player ever" or that a challenge is "maybe the toughest Survivor challenge ever." One player even mentioned that he didn’t take a leadership role because the guy who does that in Survivor always gets voted off.

Survivor has become like chess; I’m expecting someone refer to the "Richard Hatch gambit" or the "Ethan Zohn opening" any episode now.