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Survivor All-Stars
The Complete Season

review by Zach B.

 

 

Starring: Jeff Probst

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $49.99

Features: Audio Commentaries with the players, Bonus Footage, Behind The Dream Team, Anthology With The All-Stars, Casting the Castaways, The Big Night, Survivor Profiles, Promos

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Stereo, English Closed Captions, Episode Selections, Chapter Stops, Seven-Disc Set

Released: September 14th, 2004

 

 

Hard for me to say, but it's already been over four years since the original "Survivor" debuted and history, and perhaps a new age of television was born (it doesn't feel that long, does it?). In this current age, cheap reality programming has overtaken the branches of scripted programming (I prefer the latter). Reality shows have certainly become popular in the past few years, and we have "Survivor" to thank for that. Some have been more popular than others, but networks see overflowing primetime with these shows as appealing: they usually garner followings and good Neilsen ratings, let alone they're cheap to produce: no actors, no writers... reality has essentially become a quick fix (even if they have ripped each other off - hell, "Survivor" spawned "I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Out Of Here!" which CBS and mastermind Mark Burnett sued). There is the on-going debate that scripted TV will soon be dead. I don't think it'll ever be dead, but given the fact that networks don't nurse new shows like they used to (you have to be a hit out of the box or you're gone), it's hard to say when it will thrive once more.

Still, there's no denying that it really is because of "Survivor" that reality television - which was really nothing new with shows like "The Real World" and "Cops" being on the air for a number of years - was born again. Sort of like when ABC introduced "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire," a slew of game shows were slapped on the air within a matter of months. Same thing with "Survivor" as networks bought the rights to popular reality game shows from other countries and developed their own original franchises. Reality has been working for the most part (at least from the networks point of view): "The Bachelor" has been going strong for quite a long time now on ABC and who can't forget the game show-esque "Fear Factor" on NBC? But many times reality shows become a one-time thing: they're either stupid in the first place, or you really can't repeat the same kind of success twice (see: "Joe Millionaire" on Fox).

However, "Survivor" was truly a groundbreaking show and in a sense, set a new standard in just how wild and gripping reality television could be - it's easy to see why it became so damn popular. The basic premise is this (which would later evolve in future seasons): eight men and eight women are divided into two different tribes and must survive on an island. There they battle each other in competitions, eat rats to survive and basically take the saying "every man for himself" (or every woman for herself) to the extreme. And every three days, depending on who won what challenge and who lost, the losing tribe votes to kick one of their own off. The last survivor left after thirty-nine days gets a cool one million dollars. And during the course of the series, alliances are formed, arguments ensue and the normal kind of manipulation and treachery you'd come to expect. Of course, as most of us know, the tribes then merged once a certain number were kicked off (and with the name Rattana). Audiences were fascinated by all this tension and drama, while executive producer Mark Burnett had an instant hit and a reality franchise - some say one of the greatest ever (I wouldn't disagree given the fact it's still going strong and how much money its raked in) - was born.

Even though "Survivor" is now a staple on CBS' current network schedule during the regular TV viewing season (where it still does incredibly well), it was actually meant as a one-time show during the summer - you know, the time when people barely watch television. The show did start off with a decent number of viewers (especially for summer programming), but it gradually became a huge deal that people would not stop talking about or analyzing. Quite frankly, "Survivor" was an unexpected pop culture phenomenon. Millions and millions spent an hour each Wednesday during the summer of 2000 to see the Pagong and Tagi tribies do battle and who got the boot off the island. Again, the 20 something million who tuned in each week was astounding, because those numbers are unheard of during the summer usually. The big finale of the show at the end of August drew a whopping 51 million viewers, being the second most watched TV show of that year right below the Super Bowl.

Perhaps part of the original appeal of the show was that it was so different, original and new. It was prime water cooler chat, and even though some parts of the show did gross viewers out (Richard Hatch strutting around naked is a bad thing - worse than eating rats), I think the show did rest on who CBS cast to participate in this unique game show (even if it is branded reality now - the line seems pretty blurred between the two these days with some shows) - they certainly did a good job of that. Plus, the show was definitely a mind game and did require strategy, particuarly in how one faced off against the others.

The way I see it, you either love the show or you hate it. I know there are large groups of both. Personally, I was a fan of this first season and watched most of the second... and even though Burnett and his crew changed things up and added new elements to the series in future installments, my interest was waned by season three. However, I was really intrigued by the "All Stars" edition and while I didn't watch it religiously, I caught a few episodes and enjoyed what I saw (which is why I was more than happy to see what I missed and take in more "Survivor" madness with this DVD set). Let's face it, an "All Stars" version of the show was inevitable. Most of the contestents got a lot of publicity and established their own personas on the show (which fans love to debate)... so when you have a "best of" series there's certain to be a lot of chat and interest. Besides, we all want to see who the best is out of everyone, right? With that said, the show implemented a lot of interesting twists that definitely changed how the game was played. Of course, there are the usual challenges, alliances and a lot more that made this season dramatic and so damn entertaining.

"Survivor" itself is still generally popular and there are plenty of people out there who still thrive on this kind of entertainment - which is either all in good fun or just manipulates people for the sake of our entertainment. Let's face it, betrayal and eating bugs just to have a shot at winning a million dollars may sound a little low. And then you have the magic of editing - which has the power to make people and situations seem a lot worse (it's never really better) than what they actually are - so you see what the producers want you to see, and so it's all gripping. No matter though - "Survivor All Stars" has something for everybody. Casual and new fans will certainly enjoying seeing the show's innovations and the players they are familiar with battle it out, while seasoned veterans are sure to relish (or did relish) in how all the players play the game, and how the different strategies and dynamics caused different effects. If any of this sounds appealing, then it's time once again to get back on the island!

 

As they were aired on television, the episodes (and after specials) are presented in 1.33:1 full screen and looking incredibly sharp. The footage shot with nightvision looks a bit grainy, while noise can be found on the episodes - all of which is expected and understandable, since Paramount seems to filter their TV series with high contrast. Still, none of these flaws get in the way too much as everything else looks wonderful. Fleshtones are organic and look realistic, the variety of ocean-esque, green and sandy colors are very bold and pop out and detail is surprisingly firm. This is a reality show after all, but the show's exotic location does add a lot - and these transfers get the job done right.

 

The episodes feature English Stereo Surround tracks, and they're terrific. Despite some limits of the tracks, you'd be surprised just how great these tracks are. The music definitely stands out, as it's bombastic and really corners listeners. Sound effects certainly pack punches, such as natural sounds at the tribal locations andt he immunity challenges. Dialogue is crisp and easy to hear, while the fidelity on the tracks are rather high. Hopefully Paramount will bring future "Survivor" seasons into 5.1 since it'd make things even better, but what's here on this set is rich and certainly satisfies. English closed captioning via television sets is also available.

 

The first Survivor set had its fair share of extras, and this second set to be released on DVD does not disappoint either. First up are the various Audio Commentaries with a variety of the players. The first four episodes feature Tina, Rudy, Jenna M. and Rob C. Episodes 11-14 feature Alicia, Kathy, Shii Ann and Lex while the two-part finale features Rob M., Amber, Rupert and Jenna L. Fans who can't get enough of the series will love having these tracks and listening to them. While I didn't listen to all of them, I did get tastes from each group. While it's a little disappointing not everyone was included, it's still nice these are here and a better number of participants get their voices heard on the episodes (and there are more episode commentaries here in comparison to the first season on DVD). While I suppose it is easier to have these people in groups and comment on a certain number of episodes, they should have mixed the players up as the dynamics are wildly different. Tina, Rudy, Jenna M. and Rob C. get it right on their commentaries - they have interesting things to say and are incredibly enthusiastic, plus they're a lot of fun. From what I listened to Lex, Alicia, Kathy and Shii Ann... it was essentially screaming matches to see who can get her voice heard, but decent comments popped up here and there. And the last group... some nice tidbits to be had but they're a bit more quiet and reserved.

Each disc (with the exception of the last) also features Bonus Footage from the series. When you add all of this footage up, it comes out to over an hour and a half (!). There are some excised sequences which are worth checking out (but I suppose the producers had a hard time fitting into some of the episodes or weren't deemed interesting enough), but a lot of the clips are extentions of the confessionals. Still, these are excellent additions that "Survivor" fans will probably consider to be the best things on the set.

Everything else is on disc seven. Lasting about five minutes is Behind The Dream Team where John Kirhoffer, the man who creates the show's challenges, talks about his work. It's a pretty good look at the process of those who test the challenges on the show. Kirhoffer talks about his "dream team" that does that work, and with footage we see them in action. It wasn't easy to begin with though - Kirhoffer describes the struggle in finding people to test these challenges when the show was first starting out.

Anthology With The All-Stars is a compilation of the best moments from the first eight seasons, set like a music video. Jeff Probst has his own introduction but eight seasons covered in four minutes? Surely this could have been longer, and presented less-gimicky.

Casting The Castaways runs a little over nine minutes and focuses on Lynne Spillman's process on casting the show. It's a pretty fun look, as we're presented with audition tapes from the players. It's a pretty tough job to cast the show, since a lot of it thrives on different personalities and those kinds of dynamics. Spillman talks about her work, while Jenna L., Rob M., Rupert and Amber talk about why the show appealed so much to them and why they applied. Worth a watch.

The Big Night, running a bit over ten minutes, has the players and the crew preparing for the show's finale at Madison Square Garden as and footage of the afterparty. Along with interviews with some of the players, we hear from someone of the hardworking crew and the work they've put into the franchise. We see footage of their work (such as art direction and challenges) and hear about what they do, and see the whole finale begin set up in the process. The All-Stars also watch the last episode and of course, there's the big engagement done live in front of a studio audience. Nicely done.

Rouding the set out are Survivor Profiles which run around 70 minutes in total. We hear from the players themselves reflecting on their past "Survivor" experiences. The interviews are thoughtful and well-edited. Also are promos for the first season of the show on DVD and the other seven seasons.

 

"Survivor All-Stars" was a great idea and sas just what the fans wanted. And as it'd turn out, putting all the best players together and shaking things up made for a really intriguing season. Fans of the show - be it die-hard or casual - will definitely enjoy watching the series on DVD, either to re-live the moments or catch up on what they missed. The set is wonderful. The episodes look and sound great, and the extras included give additional insight to the show and will please any fan. The price is quite nice too, so if you can't get enough of "Survivor" or want to re-live this very memorable series, then by all means pick this set up.