Keeping going with my Survivor Rewind series, and my crazy quest to catch up on all the seasons I’ve missed, I just finished watching the seventh season of Survivor, Survivor: Pearl Islands. Set up with the backdrop of a pirate theme, Pearl Islands was a fun season to watch, with really fun characters, really bizarre twists that kept the game interesting (and a little insane), and a dynamic end game that lead to an unpredictable final two. This season was kind of the best of both worlds for me; on one hand I absolutely loved the cast, and was enamored by how much they took to the pirate theme and all the twists, but on the other hand some of the things the producers threw into the game seemed incredibly unfair and ended up taking away from the game that was otherwise going great on its own. Still, I really enjoyed this season a lot, it definitely had about as much character as any season I’ve ever seen, and I would even go as far as to say I would welcome a redux of this season, with all 16 of them returning to play again. I don’t think I would say this about any other season, but this was just such a fun cast to have on this show. I think this is one of my favorite seasons actually, despite me loathing some of its twists. Here are some of my thoughts on Survivor: Pearl Islands:
- As the season started, it was clear that Survivor was pressing on with their quest to mix up the show. Season 6 saw the first try at a theme with the men vs. women twist, but Season 7 brought a whole other dimension to the game with the choice to go with a full season pirate theme. From the tribe names, Morgan and Drake after famous privateers, to the challenges, the pirate theme was strong throughout all aspects of the game play. Even though it was kind of a hokey concept, it actually played into the game fantastically, and added a lot to the experience. We saw it from day one when Rupert was taking shoes from the Morgan tribe’s boat in the Panamanian village, the contestants kind of took to the idea of being pirates, and I think just the thought alone created a cutthroat atmosphere that gave us great performances from the likes of Jonny Fairplay, Sandra, and Burton, to name a few. I really thought the theme would make the season gimmicky, but actually it helped to make the season what it was; pretty legendary.
- Another storyline became apparent from the first episode; the triumphs of Drake and the struggles of Morgan. The two tribes started off with equal footing when they were forced into the water with just the clothes on their back, but from there on it was clear that one tribe adjusted way better to the game than the others. When forced to barter for supplies, the Drake tribe succeeded from the minute they got to the Panamanian village they were dropped off at, with Sandra being able to effectively communicate with the natives in Spanish, and Rupert pillaging from the other tribe, whereas Morgan was shown to struggle with bartering and getting supplies. As the tribes settled in to their camps and got into the games, the disparity between the tribes became shocking. The Drake tribe took the game well, buoyed by Rupert’s great fishing abilities, and a lot of players who were eager to play the game and work together as a unit. Morgan, on the other hand, was a tribe that struggled, barely catching any food, and not coalescing as a unit. Starved and in disarray, the Morgan tribe lost the first three immunity challenges, in a mixture of disappointing and embarrassing defeats. It was kind of fun to see how the two tribes responded very differently to the struggle of the game, but it did get a bit too real for Morgan at times. The players on the tribe became very beleaguered and wary during the game, and morale for them was about as low as any tribe had seen before. Morale was so low that one of the players, Osten, even contemplated quitting after finding the game not to his liking. Nicole was the first one out after she played a bit too hard out of the gate, but quickly afterwards perceived outcasts Skinny Ryan and Lill were voted out by the inner circle of the tribe, Savage, Ryno, Tijuana, and Darrah. While they struggled to cope with the game, Drake got ahead and got comfortable, so comfortable in fact that they decided they needed to throw a challenge just to get rid of some of their strength. An alliance quickly formed between Rupert, Sandra, Christa, Trish, and Jonny Fairplay, and they decided to turn on the younger players, Burton, Michelle, and Shawn, who went out in that order after Drake threw that one challenge. It seemed as if Drake getting cocky as a tribe gave some life to Morgan, who may honestly have been taken out successively if it wasn’t for that reverse of fortune. After all the struggles of Morgan and the successes of Drake, it was amazing that the game went into the Final Ten with a 5-5 tribe split. But, that’s when things got complicated.
- The precedent on Survivor up until this point was to merge at ten, and everyone in the game was prepared for that to happen. Unfortunately, the producers decided they were going to try something completely out of left field, a shocking twist that would live in infamy in Survivor lore. As the Morgan and Drake tribe arrived at their next reward challenge, something seemed a little off. Instead of having two challenge apparatuses there were three, and Probst was quick to let them know that their “past was coming back to haunt them.” Just as would happen in the days of the pirates, the outcasts of the tribe came back as a unit to compete for their chance to come back into the game. This without question is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen on Survivor, as all six players voted out returned to take their place on the third mat laid out, with buffs adorned with skulls and crossbones or saying things like “Die Jerks” on them. Jeff let the tribes know the stakes; the outcasts would compete and if they beat either tribe they would get to vote someone in the game to take their place, and would vote two in if they beat both tribes. It was unbelievable to me that the show would go to this level with their twists, I think there’s a line between what’s central to the game of Survivor and what defies the logic of the game, and this move was closest to the latter. It’s hard for me to accept that they just let all of the contestants voted out, who got a mental break from being in the game, back in the game to compete as if there wasn’t a reason that their tribe’s voted them out in the first place. The Redemption Island twist isn’t my favorite either, but at least that’s a twist noted before hand, and one that keeps people in Survivor mode, starving and obsessing over strategy. The outcasts twist was one of the worst things I’ve seen the producers do to the game, it took a season that was going amazingly on its own and kind of derailed it, at least momentarily. To no real shock, the outcasts, seemingly well-rested, smoked both tribes in the challenge, and Lill and Burton were voted back in the game in a very strange tribal council, replacing Osten, who became the first person to quit the game, and Shawn who drew the ire of Jon from early on. I think the fact that we’ve never seen an outcast twist since this season says it all, it was a bad idea for the game, and it kind of tainted the results to a certain extent. Luckily, the play down the wire redeemed the season, but this could easily go down as my least favorite moment in the entire series.
- After the outcasts re-emerged in their respective tribes, Lill with Morgan and Burton with Drake, the tribes merged, taking the name Balboa, after a pet snake Rupert had that sadly passed days before. At that point in the game, the score was still gridlocked at five-five between the original tribes, with savage and his tribe targeting Fairplay, who had began to show some deceitful ways already. However, Drake had a secret weapon in the form of Lill, who may have been the biggest Debbie Downer the show has ever seen. The scoutmaster was still upset and pouting about being voted out at Morgan, and sought revenge on Savage who she blamed for her demise. Lill broke the tie after being promised final two by Burton, and Savage was voted out. The demise of Morgan seemed to be all but certain as Ryno was voted out unanimously next, and Tijuana and Darrah had an uphill battle to break into the remaining Drake alliance. However, the game suddenly got very interesting and animated at final eight. The big personalities on the Drake tribe started to mix up with each other as the infamous Jonny Fairplay started to spin his web of lies and deceit. Jon worked with Burton to ensure that Rupert couldn’t get any further in the game, a notion Jon was working on even before the merge. In what was probably the best strategic move of the whole season, Jon and Burton waited to get Tijuana, Darrah, and Lill alone and pitched a way to flip the game on the three that were in charge, voting Rupert out first. Much to Jeff Probst’s apparent dismay Rupert was indeed voted out, taking one of the most beloved character’s the show had seen out of the game. I was sad to see Rupert get voted out so early on in the jury phase, he brought so much enthusiasm and positivity to the show, and now I can definitely see what all the fuss around him was all about (seeing him on Heroes vs. Villains didn’t do much for me).
- After Rupert was gone, the show became the Jonny Fairplay hour, and I’ll tell you this; I loved every minute of it. Fairplay came onto the show with hopes to be remembered, and he set out to be a villain in every way possible. From the way he leaped and bounded to vote at Tribal Council, to his verbal sparring with Jeff and other contestants, Jon stood out as a jackass, but he did so in hilarious ways. His confessionals were always on point, as he narrated his maneuvers through the alliances in the game, and it was to the point where every scene he was in was made better by his presence. Not only was Jon entertaining, but the fact is that he was brilliant at the game too. Jon always positioned himself between alliances to give himself options to go with whatever the flow of the game brought, siding with Sandra, Rupert, and Christa when he could have thrown in with Burton, Shawn, and Michelle at Drake camp, and later on when he and Burton brought in Tijuana and Darrah to flip the game on his previous alliance. But the quintessential moment of Jonny Fairplay was his performance at the family visit reward challenge. Jon’s loved one for the visit ended up being his good buddy Thunder D, who came out flashing what seems like the official Fairplay pose (peace signs with crossed arms) while running out to give his buddy a hug. Jon was quick to ask about his grandma after not seeing her for the visit and Thunder D had to let him know that she had unfortunately passed. This moment brought floods of emotion and sympathy from the others, who gladly allowed him to win his loved one visit to learn more about what happened. Of course, this whole thing proved to be an award winning performance by the duo, planned well before the game to hopefully give him some sympathy to play up. It was a horrible thing for Jon to do, and some say it’s one of the more despicable lies of the whole series, but watching it go down just made me love Jonny Fairplay more; he brought different layers to the game. It was a shame he couldn’t make it to the end though, just like Rob from season 6, he was the one I felt deserved to win the game, but ultimately was taken out by not winning the final immunity challenge. Jon was a big reason why I loved this season so much; while he will always go down as one of the biggest villains the show has ever seen, he was also one of the greatest and most entertaining players I’ve seen play the game in my opinion.
- This season produced another surprise winner, yet another way it parallels season 6. Nothing in the early narrative of the season really made me see Sandra as the ultimate winner, she was loud, brash, and argumentative, which is usually a bad combination to have in the game. Sandra was overshadowed by big personalities like Rupert and Jon, and by the redemption stories behind Burton and Lill, but she quietly kept herself in a great place throughout the game. With her infamous “anybody but me” strategy, Sandra outlasted sixteen competitors in the game by constantly going with the flow, being the extra vote needed to get the threats out, and flying under the radar compared to other power players. While it’s completely valid that Sandra won over Lill, who simply did not play the game or strategize in any meaningful ways, I can’t say her game was one I was particularly fond of. For some reason Sandra just wasn’t my favorite, she had some villainous streaks about her, like when she talked about sabotaging her tribe when they voted Rupert out, but she didn’t show the kind of flare that Jon did, the kind of flare that drew me to him. Whether or not Sandra is my favorite winner or not, I do have to give her credit for a kickass game, she played her strategy brilliantly to outlast everyone, and she deserved every vote she got on the way to being named Sole Survivor. She’s a very deserving winner of the title!
Survivor Pearl Islands was so fun to watch, it really helped to reaffirm my decision to watch all the seasons I’ve missed. It was amazing entertainment from all angles, with some of the best characters and players the show has ever seen, a surprisingly great theme and location, and twists that I loved as well as twists I loved to hate. With the exception of the outcasts twist, the season really was flawless, giving us a hero like Rupert, villains like Jon and Sandra, great gamers like Savage, Burton and Ryno, and good come from behind stories with players like Darrah and Lill coming on strong towards the end. I said it earlier, and I’ll proudly re-state it: if there was ever a cast I would invite back in its entirety to play an entirely new round of the game, it would be this one. Such a strong cast, such an amusing and hard fought game, I loved watching Pearl Islands, one of my new favorite seasons! Next up on my Rewind series will be Survivor: All-Stars, the first all returning players season, which should be a whirlwind to watch. It will be very interesting to see how the big gamers of the first few seasons adapt the second time around, knowing how intense the competition is going to be. It should be a fun watch; I just hope it can be even half the entertainment that Pearl Islands was. Even if you’ve seen it before, I highly recommend watching or re-watching Survivor: Pearl Islands, it might just be Survivor at its best and brightest.