Monday, December 19, 2011
Honour, Bitterness and The Hantz Family Name
And while the results were less than perfect (I liked Sophie okay, but I really did want Coach to win), the most interesting thing about the finale is always the jury speeches and the live reunion.
This year's jury speeches were the usual bull crap of bitter self-righteousness. I was expecting better from Jim, whom I'm convinced is a better player than he seems to be; he's held on to his anger at Cochran far too long and, though his was one of only 3 votes that rightly went to Coach, he's smart enough and a big enough fan of the game to know that resenting the top 3 for beating you is the mark of someone who doesn't have the head for Survivor. Rick, Keith and Whitney? They performed as expected, but I was hoping for a little more game perspective from Jim. Dawn was as expected, in a good way, because she's who everyone should strive to be like (thanks Sophie, for that line). Edna, on the other hand, was kind of great at final tribal council. She wasn't interested in lecturing the final 3 or trapping them with accusing questions, instead she laid down the law with the rest of the jury, pointing out what all real Survivor fans know: you signed up to be deceived, don't be bitter and just reward the best gameplayer. The fact that she then voted for Sophie over her long-time ally Coach was a bit surprising but she had the right spirit.
Which brings me to Brandon, the last man on earth who should ever be playing Survivor. Just FYI, for the purposes of this paragraph I intend on ignoring is creepy and sexist behaviour towards Mikayla, his terrifying emotional immaturity and his upsetting fundamentalism, because I've already covered those, I think they're a product of his environmental upbringing more than anything and they're somehow actually not relevant to the point I'm about to make about who I think Brandon is. Steel yourselves... I think Brandon's a good guy. No, I really do. I don't like him much, I certainly never want to actually meet him, but I think goodness comes down to intention and all Brandon wants is to be a good guy, and so, as often as he may fail, I think he somehow is. But here's the trick, I actually don't think Russell's a bad guy, and somehow we've gotten locked into a Hantz mythology in which Russell is the embodiment of all the evil that threatens to grip Brandon if he doesn't fight his darkest urges. Really? The re-writing of Russell's Survivor history actually drove me more crazy than anything else this season. He was a good strategist, that was all (not an evil mastermind, or a mastermind of any kind really, just a good strategist). Russell didn't spend his time yelling and screaming and hurling insults, he spent it convincing people of things that aren't true- that's very different. I may not be remembering correctly, but I don't recall Russell making anyone cry, I don't remember him telling anyone that everyone hates them or him lying about anything beyond minuscule Survivor loyalties, really (he pretended to be poor and that his dog died in Katrina, he did do that, but freaking Johnny Fairplay pretended his grandmother died and we didn't care this much!). I don't think Russell has a Survivor legacy, memory of his gameplay seems to have largely faded (for the record, he was a strong player who fooled people well and was always loyal to at least one person, though both times I think his partner in crime deserved to win over him- Natalie and Parvati), what Russell has is a mythology- a reputation that gets whispered about and tossed off like a curse word, based in very little fact, compiled upon itself. He himself seems to have lost sight of his own failings as a player and that arrogance doesn't help the cause, but it isn't enough to merit the abusive way the show treats him. Nothing made my thoughts on Russell clearer than the moment in this season's reunion when Jeff asked Russell to critique his nephew Brandon's gameplay. His response was to Brandon: "I'm uncle Russell, that's how you know me. But I'm also Russell from Survivor. So I can not say anything if that's what you want, or I can criticize your strategy". Does it not occur to these people who see Russell as the embodiment of evil that evil would never offer to be quietly supportive instead of stake its claim as the superior player? All season, Russell has watched as his nephew attempts to play the game he loves the way it is absolutely not meant to be played. I appreciate Brandon's desperation to stay honest and "good", but he shouldn't be doing it on Survivor, it's a game that requires moving people like chess pieces, a game that his uncle worships, and a game Brandon himself has very little respect for; it requires more than he was willing to give it, so he shouldn't have been playing. But it's still absurd and, frankly, heartbreaking that Brandon's family would turn on him for choosing the path of straightforward survival over playing a smart strategic game (the ultimate Survivor virtue), but that's not because his game was anything but obnoxious to true Survivor fans, it's because no one should be persecuted for the way they choose to play Survivor. It's a reality show for crying out loud, it's not a greater metaphor, no matter how hard Jeff tries to pretend it is. Brandon's disastrous strategies were laughable, not criminal, and Russell's were impressive (and temporarily, not ultimately successful), not villainous. What Brandon did wrong was assume that Russell did something wrong. He went on that show proclaiming that he was going to "clear the Hantz family name", right some wrong that simply didn't exist. I get that the kid is fighting against a family that pushes him to succeed at any cost (did you see his father?!), but the incredible judgement just needs to end. Russell loves the spotlight and he really loves the game of Survivor and what he believes to be his untouchable strategic approach to the game, and I'm sure that had a lot to do with him showing up to that reunion, but the proudest, most defensive, most in need of defending player in Survivor history was asked to offer his expert strategic analysis after a season that literally compared him to Hitler and instead of attacking, he looked right at the well-intentioned but misguided young boy who is nothing if not ashamed of his uncle and offered, as "uncle Russell" to not say a word. People, you may not like him, but that does not a villain make. Russell's not the nicest guy in the world, and Brandon's not the smartest, but neither deserves to be treated completely without compassion, and for inexplicable and opposite reasons, they both are, which is just not okay by any standard of "goodness".
*just a side note, this show is more than a decade old now, it's about time they upped the prize. This isn't Big Brother where a little public embarrassment and a lot of boredom earns you a fun social experiment and a shot at $500,000; Survivor is freaking hard- these people starve and work their fingers to the bone and put themselves in harm's way for challenges- and to actually win the game takes unbelievable social abilities, insight into the human psyche and the sort of moral compromise that can really eat at a person. And all they get is one lousy million MINUS TAXES?! Come on CBS, cough it up, would ya?