I’ve been a fan of the show Survivor for many years now, and I’ve become even more intrigued by the show since I started blogging about it at the start of season 29. Now that San Juan Del Sur is over, and there’s a solid two month gap until season 30 starts, I thought this would be an interesting time to look back at the seasons I never watched. Unlike most serious fans of the show, I didn’t actually start watching from the beginning in Borneo. In fact, I only started watching Survivor during the Cook Islands season, but I haven’t missed an episode since. I thought maybe I would write a ‘Survivor Rewind’ blog series about the old seasons as I finally watch them, starting now with Season 2: The Australian Outback. Here are my thoughts on that season:
- I think season 2 probably had one of the best casts I’ve seen on Survivor, which made the season quite enjoyable to watch. Not only were there an incredible amount of likeable castaways on the show, but there were a lot of genuinely interesting characters. Colby Donaldson, the enigmatic Texan, became an instant favorite of mine, as he not only played the game well socially, strategically and physically, but had an abundant amount of respect for the game of Survivor and the land around him. I knew Colby and fellow Austalian Outback cast member Jerri Manthey from their appearances on season 20, and while they both played tamer versions of their game that season, it didn’t take me long to realize why Jerri was cast as a villain. Jerri came across as having a larger than life personality, which tended to work to her detriment more often than not, but also tended to make for great TV. Watching her fight with her teammates, or give devious and bitchy confessionals was extremely fun. And her flirtations with Colby were some of the funniest scenes from the season. Then there were other interesting characters like Michael Skupin, the sort-of self-proclaimed leader of Kucha, who seemed just a tad bit unhinged for most of his run before he got tragically medically evacuated from the game after falling into the fire, a young Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who was the young darling of the season, and wise ol’ Kentucky Joe, a.k.a. Rodger Bingham who was also very much a heroic figure. All 16 cast members brought a little something different and memorable to the season, and most importantly, most of them seemed to be gamers, which is a striking contrast to the modern seasons which often feature a lot of duds. This season had one of the best casts, top to bottom, and the game play of the season definitely proved to be at a superior level because they were all very much in it to win it.
- While it was the Kucha tribe who got off to an early challenge lead, winning 3 of the first 4 immunities, the Ogakor tribe was very much the center of story in the early season. That tribe featured many of the strong and enigmatic personalities of the season, Tina, Amber, Keith, Colby and Jerri, and was also the center of much of the drama. Basically from day one, the tribe suffered from a significant amount of infighting and conflict. Kel was voted out early after suspicion arose that he may have been sneaking food, Keith and Jerri constantly fought over the cooking of the rice, as Jerri seemed to love undermining the professional cook mostly for her own amusement, and Colby and Jerri had an ‘Odd Couple’ type relationship that constantly found him being annoyed at her buttering up to him at every chance she got. The tribe was so dysfunctional all the time, but one player stood out as being rational and calm under pressure; Tina Wesson. Tina comfortably managed to build strong relationships with her dysfunctional tribe early on, proved her weight around camp and in challenges, and strategized well enough to break the young players’ alliance that was building by convincing Colby to vote with Keith and her to vote out Mitchell and take strategic control away from Jerri. The ups and downs of the Ogakor tribe made for terrific television throughout the first half of the season, and their alliance became the one I was rooting for after the merge.
- One of the most striking things about watching a season from over a decade ago is how real and drastic the survival aspect of this game seems compared to the modern game. While today’s Survivor contestants seem to arrive basically right at their camps, the castaways on this season had to gather supplies with a time limit and use their orienteering skills to find their campsites in the middle of the Australian Outback. We saw throughout the season how tough the landscape they lived in really was. Forest fires threatened to come close to their camp at one point, and you could physically see the haze in the surroundings of the camp shots as the Survivors scavenged for resources in the barren land. Fire also lead to the first medical evacuation in Survivor history, as Michael Skupin was airlifted from the game after passing out in the fire and suffering serious burns. I bet this was the moment in the show’s early history where it became undeniably clear that Survivor was not just some game show, but it was a game of survival with that could come with serious consequences. While I thought Skupin was a bit of a loose screw in the game, it was extremely heartbreaking that he had to leave with such a serious injury. The Survivors also had to deal with considerable rain after the merge, and with the rain came a limited supply of dry wood or natural food sources. The desperation of the tribe grew serious as Jeff Probst was forced to come to camp and give them more rice after their rations ran out. This was probably one of the earliest instances of Jeff intervening on behalf of a tribe, and much as we saw in San Juan Del Sur, more rice comes with a cost, and the cost for the Barramundi tribe was their tarp and comfort items. Without a tarp, the rains started getting to the final six castaways; Amber, Colby, Tina, Keith, Elisabeth, and Rodger, and they weren’t even aware they would be in for one of the worst Survivor moments I’ve ever seen. A flash flood came with heavy rains after a reward challenge at final six, and the flood washed out their camp and lots of their belongings, leaving the already beleaguered castaways at their lowest. This was legitimately one of the saddest moments I’ve ever seen in any season of Survivor, and I could viscerally feel the pain and sorrow of them all as they found their camp destroyed by mother nature. Overall, the season seemed like it must’ve been extremely hard to have lived through, and I tip my hat to all of them for surviving the elements in the way they did, all the while playing the game of Survivor.
- Another really great aspect of this season’s game play was the strategy of sticking with original tribal alliances. I’m so used to watching seasons of Survivor where there’s a lot of paranoia and expectations of alliance shifting and immunity idol play, but the final ten of Australian Outback played a very sensible game and stuck to their old tribal alliances, splitting the votes 5-5 between the alpha males of the respective tribes, Colby and Jeff Varner. In what seemed like a horrible injustice, one that I’m happy Survivor changed from the rule book, Jeff was voted out on the tie breaker of past votes. It was a 50/50 game, and despite the fact that there were obvious cracks in the Ogakor alliance, they stuck very true to their numbers, and put their differences aside to take out one of the big threats in the game. I truly think that if Skupin hadn’t been injured, Jeff could have won the won game; he was very savvy and was locked into the game from day one, but in the end he was too much of a threat to keep around. Ogakor’s alliance of five wasn’t perfect though. Jerri was a problem for everyone with her bossy personality and sense of entitlement, but the core alliance of Colby, Tina, and Keith, who were responsible for voting out Mitchell and inevitably swinging the power of the game, stuck with her and Amber long enough to vote out Jeff and Alicia, so they could ensure their chances and they’re numbers. It was very smart of the eventual final three to play with their heads before their hearts during their time at Barramundi, because they all seemed to bond with the likeable Rodger and Elisabeth during their time together, but they put their feelings aside and voted them out to keep their alliance. With the exception of Jerri, who dug her own coffin time and time again, everyone at the final ten played a real sensible, smart game, and while it worked for some and not for others, I was quite satisfied with the way the game played out until the final three.
- At final three, things did not work out well for Colby. To be more specific, he basically cost himself the million dollars solely by picking Tina over Keith to sit with him at the final two, which is about as bad as it gets. Colby was the challenge beast of this season, and it was amazing to watch his dominance. He successfully won the last five immunities to ensure himself a seat at the finale, and he had to choose which of his two allies to take with him. On one hand there was Keith, who he had clashed with days earlier over rice portions, but could be perceived as less likeable and strategic, and then there was Tina, his closest ally throughout the game, who had made plenty of friends on the jury. It seems like it would be a slam dunk to pick Keith, yet Colby spoke often throughout the season about wanting to balance voting out people based on strategy with taking deserving players with him to the end. He chose the latter when push came to shove, and despite the fact that he completely dominated the physical portion of the game, in the end the title of Sole Survivor along with the million dollar prize went to Tina, who the majority of jury members felt was the strategist behind the Ogakor alliance. I really don’t know what to say about this vote other than I think they got it wrong. I get that there’s a social aspect to the game of Survivor that Colby may have lacked, but how do they not reward the fact that he dominated the game? I do not understand how Tina is named the winner on this season over Colby, but I have to give her tremendous props. Of all the seasons of Survivor I’ve seen, Tina may have done the best job with jury management of any winner I can think of. Nothing about her game was vindictive or mean; she simply just did her part in camp, stayed true to her allies, and never had to stir the pot to ensure her safety in the game. So while the ending may not have been what I wished to see, I do believe Tina played a hell of a game, and even though I would’ve voted for Colby over her, I guess I can begrudgingly say that she deserved the title of Sole Survivor.
To be honest, I had so much fun watching this season of Survivor. I loved how the elements came into play so significantly throughout the season, I loved all the characters, in their good and bad moments, and above all I really liked the strategy and game play that we got to see come out of the second installment of this now classic show. It really is no wonder why this season remains the highest rated season of Survivor in terms of viewers; it had everything great that we’ve come to expect from Survivor, and was probably an essential piece in building the brand of the show. Next up in my ‘Survivor Rewind’ series will be Survivor: Africa, a season I know extremely little about going in to viewing. I’m excited to fill in another blank in my viewing experience, and I’m hoping that it will be as much fun to watch as The Australian Outback has been.