Over the course of 38 seasons and 19 years–and counting–Survivor has aired nearly 600 hours of content. For longtime fans, that means we’ve devoted about 25 days of our lives to watching people eat rats, backstab one another, and celebrate the benefits of a kosher diet. (God bless you, Tom Buchanan.) That’s not even accounting for rewatching old seasons and endless time dedicated to debating the show online. Some of those hours were magnificent landmarks in the annals of television. Many of them were tedious if not downright painful to sit through. Don’t give me that “bad Survivor is still better than anything else on TV” line. I hear they were going to use One World episodes as torture devices in the latest Saw movie, but it was rejected as too inhumane.
“Do you wanna play a game?” “No,” answered everyone except Kim Spradlin.
Because I follow an insane line of thinking that being a fan of something requires me to over-analyze it to the point where any affinity I have disappears, I have given far too much attention, spent an unhealthy amount of time, and written more words about Survivor than any human should admit. I stopped for a while, but like a phoenix rising from the ashes, or like a father returning to his family six years after leaving to buy cigarettes, I’m back and I’m gonna repeat the cycle. Yes, Survivor has been on so long that I went from obsessed to hating it to mildly appreciating it and now back to obsessed. And because I’m a glutton for punishment, the only solution is smoke each one of those cigarettes one after another until I’m sick again. Then I’m going to review every unfiltered, tar-coated episode from my iron lung chamber.
The surgeon general says that pregnant women should not watch Survivor.
Again, because I can’t do things normally, I’m not just going to start from episode 1 and then pile through the seasons. Oh no, that makes too much sense. I’m going to use a random number generator and watch whatever episode my computer overlord tells me to watch. Plus side: I don’t have to watch Redemption Island all at once. Down side: I never know when I’m about to sit down and have to watch an episode of Redemption Island. But that sense of fear is actually one of the main incentives for doing this: to better appreciate what I view as lesser seasons. It’s easy to binge-watch Cook Islands and write it off as dull, but even off the top of my head I can recall four episodes in particular that I thought were pretty great. Will seeing those individually help me reassess the season as a whole?
If I don’t come out of this project with a newfound appreciation for Becky Lee, then what was the point?
Like any fan of anything, I have my biases, but I’ll do my best to judge each episode on its own. Of course, having spent so many years obsessively watching, studying, and over-analyzing this show, there’s no way I can watch each episode in complete isolation. I know how every season played out, and I remember how I viewed practically every contestant when it aired. For better or worse, my opinions may have shifted either via seeing a player return (it took me until the Heroes vs. Villains endgame to appreciate Parvati) or their behavior outside the game (take Michael Skupin, please).
“I’m going door to door to, uh, make sure you’re not smoking inside the house. Can you sign this to prove that I talked to you about fire safety? Don’t read it.”
On that note, I’m going to try to avoid reading other recaps for these episodes, but so much has been written about Survivor over the years that if I make an observation that’s similar to something Dalton Ross or Mario Lanza or another writer has made at some point, I hope they forgive me and take it as a compliment. Imitation and flattery and that sort of stuff.
It’s also worth pointing out that, while we all remember the big events–Erik giving Natalie immunity; Brandon and Frank going on a movie date; any Jeanne Herbert moment–90% of Survivor episodes are pretty formulaic. There’s a challenge or two. In later seasons, you might see people hunting for idols. Then after the immunity challenge, typically two targets will be identified and one of them gets voted out. So I’m guessing a lot of my reviews will turn out to be unremarkable and repetitive because a lot of episodes are unremarkable and repetitive. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Oh yeah, and fair warning, there are going to be “spoilers” here (for seasons that have already aired, that is). This show has been on for almost 20 years. Something that was nationally broadcast in 2004 has long passed the state of actually constituting a spoiler. Other fair warning, I can’t promise there will be a regular schedule for posts. I’ll do my best to get something up semi-frequently, but we’ll see. There may be times when I get multiple reviews up in a single week, and there may be times when I go months without posting anything. This is purely meant to be fun, and sometimes I’ll be busy and sometimes I’ll just be Survivor-ed out.
So that’s about it. TL;DR, the goal is to review every Survivor episode in random order (excluding reunions, recap episodes, and specials). I’m actually a fan of those mid-season recap episodes (though damn if they didn’t kill a bit of momentum waiting two or three weeks between vote-outs) because they often showcased some of the more fun and light-hearted moments that tended to fall by the wayside as strategy became more complex and required more airtime. There must be at least three episodes in between going back to a season. Edge of Extinction episodes will be added to the rotation once the season is over.
Scribal Council is sponsored by Camel Cigarettes. Outsmoke, outpuff, outcough.
The amazing banner gracing this website was courtesy of Ryan Kaiser, whose Kaiser Island recaps of current Survivor are well worth reading. Incidentally, they’re hosted on True Dork Times, which has been around from the very beginning and for my money has emerged as the greatest Survivor resource on the Internet. Survivor Wiki has been a fantastic source of images and information for this project. And I might as well give shout-outs to Mario Lanza’s Funny 115 and Redmond’s Inside Survivor, two other essential stops for any Survivor fan.
About the Author
Anthony Cusumano is a writer and performer living in Chicago. In addition to Scribal Council, he also maintains a blog ranking every Beatles song. He is not sure why he is writing in the third person here.