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I have utterly and completely failed to document my episode-by-episode joy with last season, even though (actually because) it was INCREDIBLE. And I am probably not going to get to it unless and until CBS All Access offers a 1-month free trial again (I ain't wasting my one shot on a week, are you kidding? come on. I know you can do better than that). And that's the worst feeling, because it's in my top 5 of all time and could possibly even be crowned my favorite.

But what I can do is offer a vague overview of the impact it had on me in a completely disorganized stream-of-consciousness manner, so at least Future Self can appreciate that.

For starters: there were zero awful people. ZERO. Has that literally ever happened before? The person I probably would have liked least, just for having less natural charisma and not really vibing with anyone else, was out first (Pat), and I was satisfied with basically the entire boot order. I was happy with the winner. I couldn't get enough, so I watched honestly almost every single "secret scene" and extra confessional available on YouTube, even from the people who weren't my faves. I even started reading multiple exit interviews for everyone starting with John Hennigan.

In fact, I loved this whole cast so much that for at least 2 weeks post-finale, I made a part-time of job out of tracking at least half a dozen of their social media accounts, visiting daily to round up favorite tweets, save Insta Stories, etc. I camped out in the Survivor subreddit (and frankly am still there on the daily, lurking because I suck at committing to accounts on new platforms) and they kept me apprised of anything cool I missed.

So, back up...how did we get here?

First of all, I once again failed to recap the finale episode of the preceding season (Ghost Island), so all I really remember is that the first tie in history was awesome and I was super SUPER happy that smiley Wendell won. But after finale night, I did not think about the show or the upcoming season once until the premiere started.

From the very first episode, I was amenable to this season, because I took one look at Christian's shirt on the boat and went, "Huh. That looks exactly like something my boyfriend would wear." He was, of course, my immediate favorite, especialy after he went on to dominate the challenge and use his algorithm-based skills to solve a slide puzzle in 5 seconds flat.

But where the season completely won my heart was in episode 2 with the (now iconic) "do you want to play with me?" / "Oh, in the sand?" scene between him & Gabby.

I had liked them before based off their initial "I like you because you're smart" meeting, but after that? OF COURSE the shipper bonfires went up in my heart, and while I tacked a lid on them as best I could, I knew from that moment that their Totes Platonic Friendship was going to be the highlight of the season, and it was. When they got put together on Tribe Tiva -- which, I'm sorry, is the greatest tribe name of all time because of its Tony/Ziva association, and it's even on the same network -- it was like this season had been ordained in holy fashion.

Naturally, her tendency to cry and need comfort-hugs and reassurances from him did not hurt the heart bonfires one bit, even though it was not long before I had started looking up extra scenes online and found out he had a girlfriend. And that was fine. As soon as I heard "been together 13 years," my showmance-shipping notions were DOA and I was enthusiastically on board the real ship, sight unseen**.

But that did not for one second lessen the sweetness of Christian & Gabby's friendship, nor my enthusiasm for watching it. As much as I liked everyone, I was also tuning in the most to see them interact, and thank god for the fact that, as Christian says in a post-game interview, they were never separated for more than about an hour until she was voted out.

(**Speaking of the girlfriend -- while I was doing my social media dive, I turned the internet inside out and upside down until I was satisfied that I had dug out of everything of relevant academic interest on Christian's career, figured out Emily has no social media presence to speak of, at least not that she is comfortable sharing with the crazy horde that loves her boyfriend and/or its crazier subsection that thinks he should dump her and date Gabby. Which, I mean, good for her, but that zero percent lessens my belief that, based on her five minutes of TV fame and six or seven quotes about her, she would be a really cool social media presence. Us quiet & shy ones always are.

And the family visit? I hoped against hope that she'd be the one coming, and I thought it was unlikely so I was OVERJOYED when she was. I had cycled a few different theories on what she might look like, and absolutely none of them were what I saw; my jaw nearly hit the floor when she walked out. Basically me! Basically looks like me with glasses, and she and Christian interacted in much the same way I feel like my boyfriend and I would interact in this situation, kind of awkward and joking around more than immediately falling into Emotions. ...well, my boyfriend would definitely be emotional. but man, the first thing Emily did was laugh in amazement at his ridiculous appearance and THAT IS SO ME.)

Gabby herself? Amazing. Wonderful. Flawless. My coconut queen. I loved her calling people out on social media whenever they tried to drag her for crying. First of all, I am ALWAYS gonna love the crier. I champion the crier. Crying is the fastest way to my heart, because of course, I am a crier as well. But I also found her to be really funny and just all around enjoyable -- there's a reason she was the first person from this cast I started following on Twitter, and her Instagram is still my favorite from this cast. And when she made moves, she was strong as hell and I loved that too.

Meanwhile, even more people were having awesome chemistry with each other. Brochachos?? I'm sorry is this season literally being scripted as fiction, because IT IS PERFECT. Dan has kinda been showing his ass on social media post-season, but not enough to make me dislike him, and while he wasn't a favorite, I was totally fine with him in-game (definitely was not feeling the chemistry with Kara, though. Thank goodness she pulled the plug on that. Although I did feel genuinely sorry for him after John got voted out and she was yelling at him for being a loner instead of empathizing with his hurt feelings at being left out).

John was definitely the surprise delight of the season. I don't watch wrestling, never have and never will. Also normally can't stand the look of super-bulky-muscled guys. But damned if I did not find this one fetching?? Like in an aesthetically pleasing statue way. More important was his totally delightful personality. All the other players have talked about how nice he is, and that always came true -- on screen during the game, at Ponderosa, and on social media now. That guy has such a great smile.

And he's so good at being hammy for scripted bits, e.g. the "brochachos" segment at the end of Dan's Ponderosa video. I just laughed out loud from merely thinking about how pleasant he is. Christian turned out to be America's Sweetheart, but I suspect this guy would have been the breakout star of any other season.

And, anyway, the way those two just took an instant shine to Christian The Charm Magnet was so, so cute, and the best part in retrospect is seeing that despite Gabby's weeping about feeling on the bottom, she did bond super well with Alison here, and if they HAD ever lost an immunity challenge, they & Christian would have teamed up to blindside Dan, while Christian definitely would have pretended to work with the bros to vote off one of the girls so Dan wouldn't use the idol.

Speaking of Kara, she made...really no impact on me at all during the game, she was almost Andrea Boehlke levels of non-entity to me, but when she showed up in her first and only jury appearance with her super-long hair all blown out, my jaw dropped. Where was she hiding that?? In the French braids she had, my impression was of her hair barely touching her shoulders.

Anyway, she has been a delight post-game on social media, partly because everyone has talked about how sweet she is and that's been clear to see, and mostly because she and Alec are a ridiculously cute couple; I don't have time to talk about that in depth tonight but please know that has been my absolute favorite post-show development.

Nick was another early favorite -- mostly because if you literally give me Stephen & JT 2.0 that is gonna be THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE, even if that alliance ended up not panning out too well -- and while he drifted out of my immediate circle of favorites as he got closer to Mike, Davie rapidly scooted into his place, starting with him playing the idol to save Christian and continuing to be more awesome and smiley each week (also, I loved his confessionals where he talked about being a Blerd and "the black guy white people love to approach" and how "unfortunately I haven't really had very many white friends in my life." It is probably the least inflammatory conversation anyone has ever had about acknowledging racial disparity and I still enjoy him talking about this kind of thing post-game.)

(I did fall in love with Nick again post-game. He's such a good ambassador as a Survivor winner. He's just so happy and excited to be invited to all these things; he's not always especially polished for public speaking or photo ops but damned if he isn't enthusiastic and game to try. I love that he & Davie are actually the ones who struck up a super buddyship that has lasted into the present day. Also his girlfriend is really wonderful and I absolutely love her blog. Yes, actual blog. She has one of those! Here's her post about what it was like to be the loved one left at home, privy to the whole application process but sworn to secrecy.)

Alison became one of my favorites basically the second Tribe Tiva came into existence and she started bonding with Gabby, and because of her bond with Alec he jumped into being a favorite at the merge. (damn Alliance That Never Was! if only you could have been inspired to pull in Kara instead of Mike The Paranoid and Secret Weasel) (okay, I am being way harsh on Mike White; I would have preferred he not get quite so far in the game, but he was pretty consistently fun to watch. especially on day 37 or whatever Alison's last day was, while he was stumbling around with glass of wine in hand, cursing at tree twigs that nearly poke his eye out ("ow! bitch...") and finding the lost idol clue in 2 seconds flat while calling the people who couldn't find it 'idiots' under his breath)

Back to Alec: I still can't explain what it is about him that made him so fun to watch, but he's pretty cute, and I just loved that he was so nice. He looks like THAT, but instead of being the macho douche that so many heavily muscled young surfer dudes have been before him, he's just this giant peace sign of positive vibes and good humor. While also being willing to bemusedly scorn Angelina and Natalia's paranoid tempers behind their backs. ("Angelina, you slimeball" is maybe my favorite quote of the year.)

Carl didn't make a huge impact on me as a person, but any time he talked about his family and his hard work in life, it was so emotional that I wanted him to go far in the game. I also really liked the talk he had with Davie in the latter's Ponderosa video, and the discussion of America seeing different types of black male representation. These two alone covered a pretty diverse slice even before you factor in Jeremy. Come to think of it, that actually was one of the cooler things about this season. God knows how hard it is to have casual diversity on TV that doesn't immediately trigger my try-hard flag. But this season managed. I didn't even notice until I thought about it being unusual for a single season to have three black men, and then I kept realizing more and more pieces of diversity in the mix.

As for Angelina, I am definitely not one of her stans -- she represents a lot of things I dislike about the type of women who tend to go into business, especially in how she'll act like she's a victim of Survivor sexism in ways that Alison has been tactfully calling out in post-game interviews as statements that are true statements in general, but do not actually apply in Angelina's case, because her methods would have been considered abrasive from anyone.

THAT SAID, while she was definitely my least favorite once Natalie was gone, she landed there mostly due to the Omega Rule, where there must be a designated least fave in any given group of people. Do I want to see her back? Not really. Would I mind it? No more than I minded seeing Ciera back.

In any other season, she could easily have been an inoffensive middle-of-the-pack player, especially if there were genuinely weird/delusional women (DEBBIE) or hardass/angry women or blowhard jerks/misogynistic men. She WAS entertaining. She gave us so many memes. (Did you know that she got rice for her whole tribe?? That's one of many minor moments from this season I discovered thanks to Reddit. She also nearly died climbing approx. 100 feet up a rock wall for a hidden immunity idol. Truly a hero of these modern times).

Let's see, let's see, who else... Elizabeth! Elizabeth didn't make a huge impact on me in-game either, but I appreciated her personality (and talk of horses!). She seems really simple and down to earth, representing a really solid family, faith and country segment of the population. Her Twitter was a pleasant surprise, where she makes it clear that she tends to vote Republican, but is still appalled by Trump. I feel like more people our age need to recognize this type of person. She is sweet as pie, and clearly not voting that way out of hate for immigrants and gay people. You can't just write them off as "welp, they're complicit and therefore evil." /rant off.

I kind of wish Natalia and Angelina had swapped spots in the voting order. I might have lived to regret that decision, but Natalia was just so amusingly snappy and bitey all the time that I feel like instead of getting great memes, we'd have more hilarious and iconic quotes like her parting words: "Don't be sorry, shut up. Why are you SMILING?! Oh my god, I can't handle you right now." Also she kinda looks like Gia Mantegna, and that was neat to see.

Lysra, I will admit, is someone I was initially skeptical of. She definitely set off my Zeke radar. I didn't think I would enjoy watching her. But then, surprise! Her big, expressive eyes proved impossible not to be charmed by. She was kind of quiet, and a total sweetheart. I really liked her accent. I was flabbergasted to learn she's older than I am (because seriously, she could pass for 23, 24). And the friendship she struck up with her polar opposite, Elizabeth, was like something out of a children's book.

(notably, she also did not spend every second of her confessionals talking about how being a curvy Puerto Rican lesbian has caused her to be constantly discriminated against in both life and Survivor, which is not at all what I expected based on the personality of Tumblr users who share one or more of these charateristics, so that was nice)

ALSO, her Instagram is a place full of photos of her beloved fur-babies, a kitty and a new and adorable Boston Terrier puppy.

As for the other early boots:
-Natalie definitely started out as least fave, but again, I think it was more The Omega Rule than anything. It's never fun to watch humorless/deadpan people give orders on the show, but in retrospect, I really enjoyed her no-nonsense attitude. "Everything about me speaks power" is an iconic quote. I'd be terrified as hell to have her as a boss, but I can totally see how she'd do well professionally.

Also, she has been really cool on social media. For the same reason I'd be terrified to have her as a boss, I probably wasn't much fun to play with, but this season just skewed so young that I think there wasn't much chance of her finding someone she could connect with on a personal level. Said castmates have been very complimentary of her outside the game, and she's had a pretty good attitude about it despite her obvious disappointment with her portrayal, which I also think is fair. In sum, do I think they'll ask her back? No way. Would I watch her again? Absolutely.

-Jeremy (hereafter known as The Worse Black Jeremy) was a hoot in his brief tenure in the game. He got me good in the heart muscle talking about his father having Alzheimer's and not getting to see the kind of successful man he turned out to be. But he has shown his ass all over the place online since early in the season ("John and Angelina [engaged and married, respectively] were in a secret showmance" SHUT UP), and I think it is very good he was the first Goliath boot. If there is one person I might hold a truly negative view of, it's him.

-Jess and Bi made no impact on me at all, besides the fact that they seemed kind of clique-y and shut Gabby out in doing so, which of course made me very AW HELL NAH and glad to see Jess go quickly. I would have been happy to see more of Bi, who definitely broke my heart when she had to pull herself so as not to risk her career that depends on her physical fitness and mobility, but I think I am just as happy to have seen more of the people who outlasted her. However, both of them were such an absolute delight in their Finale Week girl-bonding with Gabby (and Natalia) that I have to like them on principle.

Other Ponderosa Highlights
First of all, the overall theme of everyone being overjoyed to see everyone (possible exception: Dan being awkward about Kara, but that's his own fault) has been so great. That's definitely not always the case, so I love that this cast, especially post-merge, TRULY turned into one big happy family. As for individual people:

Dan: Jumping into John's bed and yelling "Wake up Brochacho!!" is hilarious. It's weird to remember he's a dad, because he's such a big kid here. But it looks like he became a dad at a young age, so there is probably an element of relishing the ability to act that way, responsibility-free, for a little while longer. Still, I loved his parent-to-parent chat with Elizabeth ("When I left, my youngest was like, 'Why are you leaving?' / 'Well, I have to.' / 'But why do you want to leave?' OOF. That was a tough one for me."), as well as his confessional about wanting to play while being a good role model for his kids. Oh man, watching it back just now reminded me that one of the reasons he was playing the game was to win and be able to buy a house for his kids instead of living in an apartment. OUCH. See, stuff like that, that's why I never reacted negatively to him in-game like some viewers.

Alec: I just love that the first thing he wants to do is give Dr. Joe a hug. (in related news I LOVE DOCTOR JOE, in case I have not previously made this clear)

-His reaction to himself in the mirror: "I look like a monkey!" It's true. It's hilariously true.

-I feel awkward about the confessional where he & Dan are talking about overeating pizza, and from Alec it's jokey and all in good fun, but Dan has some clear internalized self-hatred going on there. ("I go to my room and look at myself in the mirror and go, "You fatty! What are you doing? You were doing so good!" He's trying to play it off as a joke, but it sounds Too Real)

-He plays guitar and sings. I'm dead. I would be dead even if he hadn't started his first morning by serenading John, leading to the latter giving an abjectly delightful confessional in which he seems to think this the most amusing thing that's ever happened to him

Gabby: The thing I am always the most curious about, that I feel is impolite to ask unless the editors show it, is sleeping arrangements**. So I very much enjoyed Gabby complaining about how John LOOKED like he'd be really warm, but was actually like sleeping next to a "slab of concrete, actually sucking the heat away from me," and he'd just be shivering and all, "Gabby, please wrap yourself around me!" to which John laughs along and admits this is true.

(Also, may I just say that Gabby's "I'm sorry, Christian, I love you!" parting remarks were the sweetest)

**Christian later elaborated that post-merge, he slept on the end and Angelina would cling to him for warmth. Or in his exact words, he was "Angelina's designated cuddle-thing" and he'd have to extricate himself from her grasp to go meet up with allies to talk strategy in the night.)

Christian: The funny thing is, as much as I originally wanted  him to win this season, I was actually fine with Gabby going out in 8th place and Christian in 7th, because that meant:
a) they were separated as little as possible without getting to day 39
b) which is its own blessing because then they didn't have to fight each other at Tribal Council, nor did one have to put the other on the spot with questioning
c) this maximized both their in-game time and their Ponderosa time
d) Christian is just a little more fun to watch in game mode, so I'm glad he was the one to stay longer
e) by going out the week before the finale, I had maximum Christian screen time while also having plenty of time to savor exit interviews and his Ponderosa video* without all of it getting lost amid the madness of the post-finale hype, where everyone's talking about the season as a whole, managing 3 evictees + 2 non-winners, cheering the winner, etc.

*I must have watched the Ponderosa video a dozen times. at least. Christian excitedly babbling to Dr. Joe like a little kid: "dude, I got to talk to Jeff Probst for six hours! People would pay a lot of money for that!" // "I get to have a drink...I get to have a drink with Gabby! That'll be fun." // "I get off the boat and the first thing I hear is Gabby's voice. 'CHRISTIIIIIIAN!' and she runs up and gives me a hug." (fyi that hug healed my soul. it's so big and warm and they're both so happy to see each other. a little part of me was worried that Gabby was more invested in this friendship than he was, and this reassured me otherwise)

+ Gabby's story of being like, "You all stay here! I GET THE FIRST HUG."
+ Gabby walking him over to the mirror with her hands over his eyes, reminding him that "this is what Emily saw a few days ago," and the HILARIOUS contrast between her reaction to herself ("I don't look that bad") and his reaction to himself ("OH dear CHRIST," a delivery which still makes me fall on the floor laughing)
+ THAT'S NOT EVEN TO MENTION Dr. Hubicki's Survivor Lecture, in which I am completely unable to contain myself at the sight of him at a whiteboard and Gabby, among others**, dutifully playing the role of note-taking student) (**Alec really stood out to me, IDK why except that maybe at 24 he is only two years removed from being college age, and in another timeline, he feasibly could have been his student)

P.S. Oh my god that first shot the next morning, where he's washed his hair but still has the full beard? DAMN. There was Island Hot and then there was this whole other level of jaw-dropping. And then he shaved and it all just came crashing down wtf.

Alison: "I drop my pants in front of you guys all the time, so...we're just doing this now." HAHAHA! That was amazing. Alison doesn't have time to wait for a private bathroom mirror, okay, she wants to know what her underwear-clad booty looks like now, so down the pants go.

More than that, though, I loved the shot of her swinging in a hammock side by side with Alec. My shipper radar didn't even go off, that's how wonderfully sibling-like their relationship was, and it was so sweet to see. I love how Alec keeps calling her "his girl."

Kara: Gotta love Elizabeth and Gabby being mock-offended that Kara's reaction to herself is "gross." (Elizabeth: She was stinkin' beautiful! / Gabby: I've never seen someone come off of starving on an island for 38 days with no shower, no nothing, looking like a supermodel. It's not fair.)

Reunion
I actually do not remember very much about the reunion, because the online experience was so much more fun. Malcolm (beloved fave Malcolm!! With noticeably more weight around his midsection than before -- which I'm only pointing out because he made sure to point out the same of various faves at the start of Game Changers -- but still damn handsome) took over the official Survivor Instagram, and let me tell you, I thought I knew joy before, but having THIS GUY interact with my new favorite cast sent me over the edge.

Also, of course, I had spent all day on everybody's Instagram accounts, tracking their pre-show activities, watching all the IG stories, and just generally watching them hype it up so much that it felt like I was there with them. In fact, I felt so much like it that here is a post I wrote up for Tumblr until I decided would go better here:

The weird thing about the Survivor cast being so super open and heavily present on social media – and me liking them enough to pay attention – is that this is what it was like for me in college. I essentially only talked to people in passing or in class. If I got lucky I could corner them for 15 minutes between classes. I didn’t meet up for dinner (I can almost count the number of times I did not eat dinner alone across 4 years, and more than half those times were freshman year). I didn’t go to events with people or hang out in their rooms or have them come to mine.

What I did was make friendly acquaintances with neat people who lived near me or had classes with me, and then I friended them on Facebook or followed their blogs, and I watched them live their lives and engaged them in comment sections and status updates. Much like you can do now with celebrities. I had a few Hollywood crushes then but I was not a big personal fan of very many celebrities at the time, because who needed to look farther than their own campus?

Anyway, this long-winded self-pity post is all mostly to say that I just had the WEIRDEST sensation of watching this ET clip where they’re interviewing the cast after the reunion show, and my first thought was, “Hey cool my friends are getting interviewed on TV!”

Wait. No. They are not my friends.

But because I’ve just spent the past week watching them talk directly into iPhone cameras and observed them in green rooms and on cast transport and at after-parties all over, my experience is essentially indistinguishable from my experience being at college and showing up at campus events, happy just to get a glimpse of the people I liked. Except this time, without any anxiety about having to potentially talk to anyone and while being as invisible as I’ve always wanted to be in those situations.

And, I dunno, as weird as I’m making this sound, I love that I am so fond of this cast outside the game that for a moment there, they really didn’t seem like Survivor cast members on my TV – but rather, people I know who got to be on Survivor.

------------------------------
So, in a giant bag of nutshells, that's the D v. G experience.

P.S. Does "D v. G" look kinda like a weird owl face to anyone else or is that just me?

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