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Buy from Amazon

Buy from Amazon.com

Paramount Studios presents
Survivor Borneo: The Complete First Season (2000)

"We're not evil; we just play bad people on TV."
- Kelly Wigglesworth

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: October 21, 2004

Stars: Jeff Probst, Sonja Christopher, B.B. Andersen, Stacey Stillman, Ramona Gray, Dirk Been, Joel Klug, Gretchen Cordy, Greg Buis, Jenna Lewis, Gervase Peterson, Colleen Haskell, Sean Kenniff, Susan Hawk, Rudy Boesch, Kelly Wiglesworth, Richard Hatch
Director: Charlie Parsons

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (rat roasting, bug chewing, censored full frontal Hatch)
Run Time: Approx. 654 min.
Release Date: May 11, 2004
UPC: 097368779044
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-BB C

DVD Review

These days, it's hard to imagine a time when there were more actors and actresses on TV than everyday people obsessed with fame, willing to whore themselves out for their 15 minutes. Like any other genre in any other medium, there is good reality TV and bad reality TV, and I've enjoyed my share of the former (The Amazing Race, The Apprentice) and tried to avoid the latter (Playing it Straight, Who Wants to Lose Every Shred of Their Dignity and Eat Pig Anus for a Chance to Win $50,000). (I might be getting the title wrong on that last one.) And I have to admit, though I can't stand most reality shows and the way they've pushed scripted television to the backburner for the Big Four networks, when it's good, it's good. And Survivor, the one that really started the whole unscripted television ball rolling, was, and still is, to a degree, very, very good.

The concept is familiar to most everyone by now: Sixteen Americans, chosen not for their survival skills but for their brash, TV-friendly personalities (and, often, TV-friendly looks), are flown to the middle of nowhere (someplace warm, as to provide plenty of skin for the cameras—an island in Borneo, in this case) with minimal supplies, split into two teams, and forced to compete in physical and mental challenges for luxuries like food and blankets. Every week, the team that loses is forced to vote off a member during an amusingly over-the-top "Tribal Council" ceremony, even as they try to work together to form, as hyperbolic host Jeff Probst loves to say, "a new society." Eventually only one Survivor will remain—the $1 million winner. Though a version of the show had been a success in Europe, no one knew if it would work in America when it premiered in the summer of 2000.

The fact that the series is currently prepping for its ninth incarnation is proof enough that it did. The show was an instant smash success, the kind of series fans talked about not only the next day at work, but on the internet immediately after it aired. Obsessives loved to debate the merits of their favorite cast members—the pompous, openly gay exhibitionist, Richard Hatch; the stereotypically lazy African-American Gervase; America's sweetheart, the adorable Colleen; politically incorrect, elderly ex-Navy man Rudy—people fascinating to watch because they were real. And though the situation is contrived, Survivor remains interesting because the drama, however influenced by editing and the producers, feels genuine and unpredictable.

Unpredictability was what kept people tuning in that summer. Neither the contestants nor the viewers knew what to expect, and every week's elimination was a shock. Even on DVD, years after the original airings, the material holds your interest—the personality clashes and strategic maneuvering quickly become the dramatic center of the series, though the cheeseball physical challenges (relay races, building an SOS signal that can be seen from the sky) are entertaining too. It's fun to watch the less shrewd players slowly realize the game isn't about surviving the island environment, but surviving each other. There is also a great villain, one you can't help but admire even as you pray every episode he is voted off.

After eight installments, including Survivor All-Stars, which brought back contestants from previous seasons, the Survivor concept is wearing a little thin, but it's still good television. Despite the (deserved) negative image of other reality programming, the show proves that, at its best, the genre can do what all good television should do—create drama and suspense with a carefully crafted story and a compelling cast of characters. And sometimes, people eating rats.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Survivor is shot on video, and though it doesn't look as sharp as film, it still comes off quite nicely on DVD. The images have a fair bit of depth for video, with crisp colors that show off the island scenery quite well. Darker scenes tend to look a little grainy, though that might be a side effect of the "night vision cam." I didn't notice any digital artifacting or edge enhancement, and I think this is about as good as this material is ever going to look, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereono


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in a stereo mix that serves its purposes. Speech, though recorded on the island with directional microphones, is also clear, and the soundtrack gives the material a bit more presence. There isn't any support from the surrounds or stereo separation, but the track is serviceable nonetheless.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 84 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by with host Jeff Probst and Survivors Richard Hatch, Rudy Boesch, and Gervase Peterson
Packaging: Thinpak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. The Late Show with David Letterman Top Ten featuring the Survivors
  2. Previously released Survivor: The Greatest and Most Memorable Moments
Extras Review: Survivor Borneo makes for a pretty nice DVD set, provided you weren't such a fanatical fan that you purchased Survivor: The Greatest and Most Outrageous Moments when it was released back in late 2000, because 80 percent of this set's extras come straight from that DVD. Literally. The same disc, with the same cover art, is tucked into the season set's slipcase. I'm not going to rehash that material (Lord knows, Survivor fans have to deal with enough rehashing watching even new episodes of the show), as Kevin Clemon's review does a perfectly good job of explicating its mundane nature. Plus, I found it boring enough four years ago, when I didn't have the actual episodes sitting in front of me.

Happily, there are a few new features as well, including a pair of commentary tracks that are indispensable for the true fan. Host Jeff Probst and Survivors Richard Hatch, Rudy Boesch, and Gervase Peterson provide commentary for the series premiere and season finale. Rather than a rehash of "insider" info disseminated years ago in dozens of talk show interviews, the four reminisce about what that first season was like, before the show became a hit and before anyone knew whether it ever would. They aren't exactly candid about what they thought of other contestants at the time, so people looking for more dirt on off-screen antics will find plenty of gossip fodder as well.

The only other new extra is a 8-minute featurette entitled A Look Back with Richard, Rudy, and Gervase. Though it doesn't repeat material from the commentary, it sadly (and obviously) only includes comments from the same three Survivors. You'd think more of them would be willing to whore themselves in front of a camera, especially four years after their initial day in the sun. Anyway, this piece is a little short on substance, but includes a few interesting details on the game not covered in the commentary.

Rounding out the package is a clip of the Survivor edition of the Top Ten List from The Late Show with David Letterman. It's worth a chuckle.

As for the packaging itself, well, it's a little bland, but not bad—the discs are housed in individual, ultra-skinny thin packs that fit into a slipcase along with the previously discussed bonus disc. And if you don't know the outcome of the show, stop reading now, so I can say to Paramount... nice spoiler, with the final six on the cover. Why not just tell us all that Darth Vader wins, because he's Luke's father, no his brother, no his father and his brother, and he's really dead and it's not the 1880s at all, it's modern day and oh my gosh, I was wrong, it was Earth all along. You've finally made a monkey out of me, Paramount. Bravo.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

I can hate Survivor for what it has done to television, but I can't fault it for what it is—a standout example of the oft-maligned reality TV genre, artfully assembled and edited to turn the bickering and scheming of 16 ordinary people into wholly captivating entertainment. Later seasons have been both good and mediocre, but none will ever match the water-cooler factor of the first, and best.

 


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