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Survivor: Borneo
The Complete First Season

review by Zach B.

 

 

Starring: Jeff Probst

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $49.99

Features: Audio Commentaries with Jeff Probst, Richard Hatch, Gervase Peterson and Rudy Boesch on "The Marooning" and "Season Finale", Survivors Leave Los Angeles and Arive In Borneo, Late Show with David Letterman Top Ten featuring The Survivors, A Look Back with Richard, Rudy and Gervase, Survivor Season One: The Greatest And Most Outrageous Moments

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

Released: May 11th, 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. Richard Hatch, that corporate trainer, certainly knew all the tricks in the book as far as manipulating others. But no matter - all the original survivors became major celebrities. Hell, host Jeff Probst got to shine (and repeat the now-famous catchphrase he said toward the end of each episode over and over) while Colleen got to star in a Rob Schneider vehicle.

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. Still, as I said, the show is still 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.

CBS did repeat "Survivor: Borneo" for two weeks straight in September of 2000 - for those to see what they missed in case they got on the bandwagon late and probably to get as much juice out as they could while the show was riding high and the actual contestants were everywhere (actually, it was CBS competing against NBC who was showing the Olympics - the "Survivor" repeats weren't successful in the ratings). This original series hasn't been seen again... until now (thanks, DVD!). So if you want to take a trip down memory lane and just see how much the show has changed, or missed parts or all of this season to begin with (I'm sure some of you became fans of the franchise later on), then this fine DVD set is for you. Relive all the rat-munching, Hatch-nudity and emotional tribal councils - not to mention the two-hour finale, reunion special and that Sue and Kelly catfight. With the latest "Survivor" series set to land on DVD in August 2004 (the "All-Stars Edition"), it seems yet another popular show will be making its mark on DVD. The tribe has definitely spoken!

 

Presented in 1.33:1 full screen (just as they were show on television), all the episodes of this first season of "Survivor" look terrific. The only real flaws I noticed were some noise due to some high contrast, and the parts of that show that take place at night can look a bit grainy - but this is probably due to using nightvision on the video cameras. Other than that, there's a lot here that is very pleasing to the eyes. Fleshtones look outstanding, detail is very good and colors are vibrant, bold and well saturated - the island of Borneo with its green jungles, sand and deep blue ocean certainly looks very alive. The episodes themselves are pretty sharp too, making these episodes look pretty impressive. Well done.

 

All the episodes also feature English Stereo tracks, but they seem more like English Stereo surround ones to mean. No matter - these are pretty outstanding (too bad the episodes weren't mixed into 5.1, like the bonus fifth disc). These tracks do provide a certain ambiance as if you're on the island with the survivors themselves. The tribal music sounds rich and fulfilling (as well as the show's main theme), and really does spread out nicely. The dialogue is easy to hear and quite clear (even when the cast aways scream at each other), but there is a host of sound effects that do come out in all of this: ocean waves, fires sizzling, snakes, the challenges, the sounds of trees and nature... the list goes on, but when there's action it does come across strongly. The dynamics are pretty good on the tracks, and the fidelity is quite high on them too. A bit better than I anticipated, and fans will be really happy with these tracks overall. The option to have English closed captions on your television is also included.

 

Paramount has given the first season of the show its fair share of extras. There are Audio Commentaries with Jeff Probst, Richard Hatch, Gervase Peterson and Rudy Boesch on "The Marooning" and "Season Finale" (the first and last episodes of the season, respectively). It must be a bit surreal to comment on a reality show you were on (and perhaps finally tell those who listen about things that weren't seen, how things really were and a chance to defend oneself), but these guys make it work and don't necessarily retread what everyone knows or has seen. Probst and Hatch are pretty enthusiastic here, and they tell some interesting stories about being on the show as well as the aftermath. The comments aren't always screen-specific, but that's okay - the guys just keep going on and on and have a fun time remembering, and the tracks turn out to be pretty entertaining since there's a lot of fun remarks and amusing tales told. The guys are pretty frank overall, and there seems to be some gratitude that Hatch ended up winning. If you're a fan of this season and can't get enough of these guys and want to know everything "Survivor" related, then you'll find these enjoyable tracks well worth your time.

If anything though, I'm a little disappointed other cast aways didn't come to do commentaries - I would have liked to hear some female perspectives, and I think it would have been fun to mix and match contestants on episodes so everyone gets their say in (then again, I guess some didn't want to participate, couldn't or had nothing more to say). Keeping in theme with the commentaries though, we have A Look Back with Richard, Rudy and Gervase that lasts a little under eleven minutes. Using clips from the show, the three talk about how they originally heard of the show, their experiences on the program and how they played the game. Hatch, as his usual self, doesn't hold back and says he knew he was going to win from the get-go. There's some stuff here not on the commentaries, but the guys are pretty genuine (I don't think Hatch is THAT full of himself) and entertaining, making this worth a watch. Still, if everyone from the show participated in this at least, it would have been nice. But three is better than nothing, right?

Pretty fun is the Late Show with David Letterman Top Ten featuring The Survivors. I remember seeing this when it orginally aired, and it's a nice addition to the set. All sixteen cast aways appear on Letterman's comedy sketch staple, where they recite humorous things they learned on the island. It ends up lasting about three minutes. Coming in at seven minutes we have Survivors Leave Los Angeles and Arive In Borneo. This edited montage piece has the cast aways preparing to leave CBS headquarters in Los Angeles, go on an airplane and head for the marooning. We hear advice given to them, see them do publicity shots and it's clear they can't talk to one another. A nice little prelude if you ask me.

In a very nice move, Paramount has included the original "Survivor" Season One DVD which was basically a "best-of" program. So not only do you get that disc which highlights the actual survivors and the show in a summed-up fashion and never-before-seen footage (such as audition tapes), you also get these extras: Starting off is the twenty-one minute Survivor: Inside The Phenomenon Documentary. This makes for a pretty good watch to gain some more information and trivia on the series. Executive Producer Mark Burnett discusses his inspiration of how it came to be as well as finding the island and how he got the rights to shoot there. Host Jeff Probst gives his input on getting the job and the show in general as well. Each also talks about the cast and other aspects of the show. If you're interested in some background and the show's creative process, gives this "documentary" a whirl, it's worth your time. Again, Paramount offers subtitles on their extras, which is always a really great touch.

The next sections is more like the "Survivor Encyclopedia." Episode Summaries gives the title as well as all the important plot points on each episode. This includes happenings, challenge results and how everyone voted. To brush up on your "Survivor" knowledge and to get a glance back on the episodes in general, this section is for you. I found this to be a very worthwhile addition.

Survivors gives you the lowdown on all sixteen cast aways, where you learn their personal information, their favorite things, a whole voting history and their final words in a nice presentation with video where we hear and see the cast aways themselves on the final tribal council with the voting (and it is uncensored).

Finally, rounding it off is a whole section on The Island itself. There you can get a little map, and learn about the terrain, wildlife and climate. There are also pictures and text about some of the locations such as the Tribal Council and the tribe beaches.

 

Even though I'm not a die-hard "Survivor" watcher, I think the first season - which started it all - is definitely the best and a lot of fun (watching the episodes did give me some nostalgic feelings). Given the show's popularity, Paramount will probably maiing a killing with these nice, fair-priced DVD sets of the show. The transfer and sound tracks are good, and there are a decent amount of extras to be had. In case you want to re-live that magical first season or you're a fan of the show, then don't pass up on this boxed set.