Riding Coattails: Survivor: Palau – The Final Frontier

Sarah: Maybe I was just suffering from a premature case of post-season depression, but I found the finale of Survivor: Palau to be a real bummer. And it wasn’t because I didn’t think Tom deserved to win or because nothing eventful happened. On the contrary, I was pleased to see someone so dominant and likeable walk away with the prize; I’ve often argued that the show whittles away some of the best opponents and leaves the mediocre ones in the finals. And who would have predicted another tie when the final four went to tribal? Or the fact that after eleven grueling hours, Ian would just give up everything to save face and fix his friendships with Katie and Tom?

Murtz: I think that the case of Ian is an interesting one. He was the player that I was the most wrong about. I believed that he was the game’s underhanded villain. The Richard Hatch consumed by the body of Gabriel Cade. Alas, I was proven wrong. He was a putz. Someone more concerned about how he would appear on TV to his friends than winning the game that many would give their right arm to play.

Sarah: I’ve had more than a week to ponder the effect that this show had on me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Katie’s position as one of the final two really annoyed me. Her strategy of aligning with Tom and Ian was a brilliant one and served her well, but she paid for it in the end. I knew (and so did she) that she’d never, ever beat Tom, so the last tribal council and announcement of the winner were just painful and anticlimactic. Plus, I expected to find some satisfaction in the tirades that ensued from the jury, but I hated every second of them. Coby, Caryn, and Gregg all delivered the high drama I’ve come to expect from bitter jury members, but something was different this time.

Murtz: I don’t agree. I think that Katie played a good game and while the odds were against her when it was determined that she would be up against Tom in the Final 2, the problem was not her strategy to get to the end, it was her lack of strategy when she got there. I will go on the record as saying that there has only been one jury performance that was worse than what we saw with Katie and that was Lill from Pearl Islands. Both Katie and Lill dismissed people and that is the worst thing that you can do in this game. I cannot even comprehend having the mental fortitude to outlast all of the other players on the island (twenty others in the case of Palau) only to lose because I could not suck up to the jury. While they are almost always bitter, they hold all the cards and that has always been my problem with the game. The jury shouldn’t determine who the best player was. Why should they decide when they clearly sucked at the game and then get to pick who played the best? That’s like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays deciding the World Series winner.

Sarah: Maybe I’m just tired of watching people get so nasty toward one another. Even though, at the reunion show, Gregg admitted to feeling horrible for bashing Katie so badly at the finale tribal council and others offered up sentiments of forgiveness, I continued to feel disturbed. In an era in which so many pray for peace between the U.S. and its various enemies, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that peace begins at a more local level. Although I know that the kindness and respect I show toward people in my daily interactions won’t solve the world’s problems, I’ve found a new motivation to spread as much goodwill and love as I can in my tiny corner of the world.

Murtz: Bah, that apology made me sick. I will never understand this need to apologize for one’s actions in a game. I thought that Gregg talked one of the best Survivor games of all time, but when push came to shove he just didn’t have the killer instinct that is necessary to be remembered as one of the greats. He waited too long before pulling the trigger on Tom and Ian, and it cost him. That is why I was so impressed with his final question as a member of the jury. He really stepped up to the plate. Then he pissed it away by apologizing at the reunion, which I guess is okay (considering the reunion is the end of the game) but I would have prefered if he retained some of that fire that we saw.

Sarah: Lest readers take my views as some kind of smug lecture, I can attest to the fact that I’ve definitely had my share of judgmental, mean-spirited moments, some of which are documented in my past columns. A few weeks ago, however, I was given pause to reflect when I received a letter from my grandmother, who wisely wrote, “We need to love more, criticize less, and do our best to best good citizens.” Well, I floss and pay my taxes, but I realized that sometimes, my attitude toward others could use a little work. It’s important to recognize and appreciate the positive in people.

To that end, I thought that the best moment of the finale occurred when Coby showed everyone a picture of his new daughter and announced that he named the girl Janu. It was such a beautiful example of the camaraderie that can come out of this show. I also enjoyed hearing more of Wanda’s musical stylings, but was once again saddened by the reminder that she would have been extremely entertaining had she been allowed to play the game. Her smile just radiates her incredible spirit and zest for life. She’s an inspiration.

So is Stephenie. After having watched her in the Survivor Live interviews and seeing how she conducted herself at the finale, I am further convinced of what a class act she is. I hope that Mark Burnett continues to cast strong role models in the show, although I understand that he has to leave room for a few villains. I mean, what would Pearl Islands have been like without Johnny Fairplay? How much drama would have gone down in the Outback sans the inimitable Jerri Manthey? Would the Amazon have been half as fun minus the crafty Rob Cesternino?

Murtz: Sarah, you are killing me. Sure, you can help a blind guy cross the street or help some old bag by carrying her groceries to the car… but that is in real life. This is a game. Playing nice is a vice.

To be honest, casting nice players is another problem that I have always had with Survivor. In every season, I see players that are there simply as sacrifices. Sonja Christopher. Ashlee Ashby. Diane Ogden. Debb Eaton. I would much rather see cold-blooded killers in these positions. You say that you cannot imagine a Pearl Islands season without Fairplay. I ask you to imagine a Pearl Islands season with 16 Fairplays! I want to see as many as villains as possible in this game. I am tired of Wanda’s syrupy songs and Debb’s incessant barking.

Sarah: Maybe that was the whole problem with Palau. The villain was absent. Although I thought that James bore a striking resemblance to Gollum/Smeagol, he wasn’t in the game long enough to do any real damage. Coby tried to cause a bit of mischief, but again, his torch was snuffed before he could really stir things up. Gregg had a conniving master plan, but it didn’t work out, so he ended up looking more like a victim than a perpetrator. Katie ticked some people off, but if she was as “cruel” as Caryn claimed, why didn’t we see more of it? Aside from butchering snakes and sharks, there wasn’t much else going on over at Camp Koror for a long time. Burnett should have included a more consistent storyline about Katie’s antics. The wrath that some of the jury members had toward her at final tribal would have made more sense, and perhaps been a bit satisfying to watch. As it was, Katie also took on the role of a victim and I winced when Gregg called her “pathetic.”

Although Survivor: Palau offered a compelling cast, there was no one I loved to hate. Maybe I’m mellowing with age, or maybe everyone was just too damn likeable. I’m hoping that Survivor: Guatemala brings in a sly, cut-throat competitor who doesn’t care what anyone thinks and weasels his or her way to the top. I rant is no fun to witness unless it’s well-deserved.

Murtz: Perhaps there is hope for you yet. This is the Sarah that I was waiting to see.

Sarah: Well, this Sarah has been beaten down a few times by some of her supposed fans, so she’s trying to be nicer. And I know what you’re thinking, Murtz. I’d make a lousy Survivor contestant. And you know what? You’re right.

And maybe that’s why I’ve been a bit kinder in my observations about the behavior of the contestants on Survivor: Palau. Week after week, I sat on my sofa, swirling a glass of chianti and marveling at the fact that people keep signing up to be tortured and humiliated on national television. True, there’s a shot at a winning some serious coin, but of the 150 people who’ve gotten onto the show, only ten have walked away with the big prize (well, eleven if you count the fact that Amber probably shares her winnings with now-husband Rob). Those are still better odds than one would get playing the state lottery and many players get the added bonus of having amazing epiphanies after getting their hands burned off or being abandoned alone on an island for one night.

My final assessment is that most of these people get exactly what they deserve: fame, riches, embarrassment, life-changing philosophical realizatoins, or an effective weight-loss program. Like any experience, the survivors get out of it whatever they put into it. And as long as they don’t mind vomiting on camera or being bitch-slapped by Probst, it should continue to provide defining moments for dozens of lucky participants in the future.

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