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Paramount Studios presents
Survivor All-Stars: The Complete Season (2004)

"Survivors ready! GO!"
- Jeff Probst

Review By: Jeff Rosado   
Published: September 21, 2004

Stars: Jeff Probst, Rupert Boneham, Amber Brkich, Lex Van Den Berghe, Alicia Calaway, Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien, Shii Ann Huang, Richard Hatch, Colby Donaldson, Rob Cesternino, Jenna Morasca, Jerri Manthey, Rudy Boesch, Tina Wesson, Susan Hawk, Ethan Zohn, Jenna Lewis, Rob Mariano, Tom Buchanan
Other Stars: Nicole (Amber's sister), Buckie Bo Buchanan, Sandy Buchanan, Mike Mariano, Lily and Don Huang, Patrick O'Brien, Laura Boneham, Reya Boneham, Sadie Lewis, Sabrina Lewis, Sheryl Brkich, Ji Lewis
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, blurred nudity, adult situations, Richard Hatch)
Run Time: 15h:00m:00s
Release Date: September 14, 2004
UPC: 097368799349
Genre: television


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

DVD Review

Note: This is the obligatory SPOILER alert disclaimer.

Wednesday, May 31, 2000. It's literally days after television's final annual prime time sweeps period with the networks bringing out the assortment of low-rated summer season fare that's usually forgotten quicker than a July fling. CBS is no exception. Kicking off their short term Wednesday night lineup is a rather ambitious series from unknown producer Mark Burnett pitting 16 ordinary citizens turned castaways, stranding them on an island in the South China Seas, where they'll have to fend for themselves as far as obtaining necessities in order to survive. Initially divided into two camps, players get opportunities to compete for special treats ranging from overnight stays at luxurious island resorts to hot fudge sundaes...and most importantly, an immunity idol that keeps their team from having to face tribal council, where one player will be voted out and lose their chance at the grand prize: one million dollars.

At the halfway point, it's every player for himself as the contest intensifies: friendships snap like tree branches in a tornado, alliances are tested, backs are stabbed (figuratively, but no less painful).

39 days. 16 castaways. One survivor.

Unlike many filler series during television's off season, Survivor became the best kind of television success: a word-of-mouth hit. Critics were ecstatic, major publications like Time, Entertainment Weekly, and People fawned over the show via cover stories (with some having fun by giving handicaps and weekly recaps) and of course, it's fiercely loyal core audience's water cooler raving multiplied viewership. By summer 2000's end, Survivor became the highest rated program in the country.

And so it has continued for eight seasons, from a middle-aged man parading around a beach in his birthday best to two normally sensible women nearly coming to blows over a soon-to-be-beheaded chicken. Hmm, what other unbelievable sights have its Thursday night loyalists seen? A man, bitten by a jellyfish, hollering for someone to urinate on his hand (with unintentionally hilarious cutaways), a he said/she said bit of sexual harassment, two va-va-va-voom cuties baring all during a competition for a taste of the much missed combination of peanut butter and chocolate, a Seinfeld-like scenario involving the smuggling of beef jerky into the camp (spelling curtains for a castaway in the early going), and In one of the show's most emotional moments, a male competitor learns of the tragic death of his grandmother via a family friend... but within moments, the supposedly mourning grandson says to a cameraman, out of earshot of his tribemates: "My grandmother's probably watching Jerry Springer now" reminding viewers of the three main strategies essential to achieving the goal of "sole survivor": outlast, outplay, and, in this classic Jon "Johnny Fairplay" case, outwit.

Unpredictability, creatively challenging competitions, exotic locales, well-chosen contestants, twists and turns, and a perfectly impartial host (Jeff Probst) adds up to a weekly hour of television that is ironically guilty pleasure and compelling viewing.

When the list of unforgettable competitors started tallying up into double digit territory, it was a given that a "best of the best" season would occur. So, looking to stay in the competitive mix with the last season of NBC stalwart Friends, CBS finally unveiled Survivor All-Stars in February 2004.

Among the most memorable contestants returning: Rudy Boesch, the Navy Seal who won hearts with his "tell it like it is" commentary; Susan Hawk, whose "rats/snakes" speech may be reality television's first defining moment; initial season victor and nudist poster boy Richard Hatch; Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien, and popular castaway Rupert Boneham, whose rugged exterior and gentle soul won him a faithful following.

As is usually the case with overpromoted spectaculars like this one, the initial feeling in early episodes can be one of disappointment. A promising alliance paring Rupert and Rudy goes by the wayside when the latter suffers a combination of fatigue and foot injury prompting his fellow tribemates to vote him out. Jenna's shocking departure robs the show of its cover girl draw. And just when you think that impromptu goodbye couldn't be top, Susan Hawk bids adieu following a delayed reaction over an incident involving her Survivor: Borneo tribemate Richard Hatch, who himself gets "bamboozled."

Season Eight managed to stay afloat due to Boneham's charm, Jerri's refreshing attitude, the doomed alliance that pits Lex against Rob, and, after many highly touted romances that fizzle out, would-be "godfather" Mariano and Survivor: Outback dreamboat Amber Brkich eventually wind up engaged. While taking nothing away from the excitement of the competition, most of All-Stars best moments occur mainly during down time, with the most memorable perhaps being Rob Cesternino's perfect impersonation of host Jeff Probst as he and his fellow team members poke fun at their competition in a mock tribal council; a geeky Boneham's overnight spa trip with Amber and Jenna L.; Tom Buchanan's hilarious inebriated carrying on during a getaway (you'll see his flirtatious repartee with Kathy in one of the set's numerous extended scenes in the supplements); and the reactions of scorned contestants who stare down Rob and Amber in one of the series' most memorable final tribal councils.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: Though a smidgen less than I expected in terms of video perfection, there's enough sharpness, vivid colors, and clarity in this presentation superior to or equaling on-air playback. Despite the climate (which must be challenging at times), the behind-the-scenes Survivor folk sure know how to work around them and present a first-class production.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Yes, it's only a 2.0 job, but Survivor is one of the industry's truly excellent shows in terms of its aural delivery, particularly with its exotic background music which possesses a haunting effect as it's projected from the front to the rears. Excepting those whispering cases when dialogue is intentionally subtitled, cast interaction is always easily delivered in the front soundstage. Impressive low frequency response and an impressive room filling effect are notable, too.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 102 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Survivor: The Complete First Season
22 TV Spots/Teasers
12 Deleted Scenes
8 Feature/Episode commentaries by Rob Cesternino, Jenna Morasca, Rudy Boesch and Tina Wesson (Episodes 801, 802, 803 and 804), Lex Van Den Berghe, Alicia Calaway, Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien and Shii Ann Huang (Episodes 801, 802, 803 and 804), Rob Mariano, Amber Brkich, Jenna Lewis and Rup
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
7 Discs
7-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. 12 Extended/Deleted Scenes
  2. Confessionals (Extended Post-Tribal Council Interviews)
  3. Extra 3: Behind the Dream Team Featurette
  4. Anthology with the All-Stars Music Video
  5. Casting the Castaways and The Big Night (The Finale) Featurettes, Survivor Profile Interviews and CBS Promos
Extras Review: Survivor's all-star season is the first to be produced with the DVD format in mind, and does it ever deliver. Highlighting the extras are eight commentary tracks featuring 12 cast members, though not collectively (talk about a sound mixer's potential nightmare with all those open mikes). That's quite fortunate because, for the most part, this is one chatty bunch even in small groups of four participants per track. Taking center stage on the early installments are Rob C., Jenna M., Tina Wesson (the show's first female winner), and Rudy, who have a ball with practically no dead air, making light of everything from the overblown opening of the debut episode to Boston Rob's unmistakable accent ("wada"). But it's not all catty talk with some fascinating notes including the girls' agitation at being forced to go beachcombing while the men constructed huts and how Jenna's sudden exit from the game was much longer than what was presented on television (in one of the set's few missed opportunities, this raw footage unfortunately isn't included). Even more talkative and vibrant are the combination of Alicia, Kathy, Lex, and Shii Ann on the mid-point/homestretch installments, where they tackle such topics as blown strategies, difficulties in making/holding alliances, the real story of how Kathy's last-minute change of heart in not giving Lex her immunity necklace at tribal council was created by the show's producers (which still doesn't take too much away from his unforgettable reaction shot) and their befuddlement at just what Amber sees in Rob (something that still keeps millions of American men up at night). Speaking of those two lovebirds, the two-hour finale pairs them up with Jenna L. and Rupert behind the mikes in what strangely turns out to be the set's least compelling aural offering with lots of dead spots and little in the way of insight (what's the mada, Rob, Godfather got yer tongue?). Though thrilled at the sheer number of commentaries, I do have a couple of beefs with what is and isn't included. Despite my love for inside gossip and good-natured ribbing on the best of these chitchats, I feel that participants like Rob and Amber should have been given an opportunity to chime in on some of the early episodes, which would have been a golden opportunity for them to recount the genesis of their relationship; it's also slightly disappointing to not have thoughts from Rupe and Jenna L. on the early part of the competition. Worse, compelling installments from the early and mid-period points of the show are giving the silent treatment. No thoughts on the Soboga dismantling, Kathy's yacht trip with the Chapera gang as part of their reward, Rob's dismay as Amber is forced into another tribe via one of the show's game altering twists and most compellingly, Susan's meltdown following an embarrassing moment with Richard during a challenge (making her two for two in the "unforgettable moments" category of Survivor history). Even if producer Mark Burnette and host Jeff Probst would have played fill-in on these key episodes, it would have been better than nothing (and as a big Probst fan, I'm hoping he'll get the opportunity to contribute more to future season sets of the show, especially after his winning takes on the recently released debut semester).

Scattered throughout the first six discs are a variety of bonuses including extended post-tribal council Confessionals with all outsted competitors, which is fun material to sit through as these mostly unedited bits are whittled down to 20-30 seconds as seen during closing credits. Some are revelatory, particularly Rupert's contribution, which shows an incredibly fatigued bear of a man who has given virtually a six months of his life to the program (including the Pearl Island season that preceded All-Stars) and may have walked away with the crown if he'd had a little more energy in his tank to spare. Twelve deleted/extended sequences are no big shakes save for the terrific yacht segment from Episode 807, when Big Tom becomes the life of the party and engages in a little dancing flirtation with Kathy, which was cut from the finished product. Great stuff.

Seven is definitely a lucky number in this set, for it is on this disc where a heaping motherlode of supplemental goods are featured: Suvivor Profiles features interviews with all 18 of the alumni with integrated clips from past and present Survivor excursions along with pop-up factoids (did you know Kathy once biked from Seattle to Washington in a charity event for the American Lung Association as a tribute to her father? That tough Alicia is actually a softhearted mentor for teens? Or that Boston Rob actually majored in psychology.... so that's the secret, hmmmmm). Behind the Dream Team (04m:59s) showcases the man behind the pulse-pounding challenges, John Kirhoffer. Featuring pre-production footage, this fascinating piece illustrates how the contests are rehearsed by volunteers (complete with camera crews and all), which in turn shows just how prepared the production crew is prior to the real thing and why the finished product comes off as well as it does. Anthology with the All-Stars video(04m:03s) is a bang-bang-bang paced memory triggering segment that somehow manages to include virtually every classic moment of the show's past eight seasons (Rupert's just outburst putting the fear of God into Johnny from Survivor: Pearl Island is a big favorite of mine, by the way). The Big Night (10m:28s) takes us backstage at Madison Square Garden as the reconvened gang preps for the traditional end-of-season live finale. Casting the Castaways (09m:12s) showcases the final fab four (Amber, Rupert, Jenna L., and Boston Robbie) recalling what gave them the impetus to try out for the show. Snippets of audition tapes handily illustrate what casting director Lynne Spillman calls the "key element" to landing on the program: "Personality, personality, personality." Closing the disc of bonuses is a whopping 22 promos from the CBS archives from the seven previous seasons (with the plugs for the show's debut instigating a wave of nostalgia). Curiously, no promos for the All-Star edition are included, but small whine in light of such archival generosity.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

This reviewer has spoken: don't wait for Jeff Probst's "go." Despite an anticipatory buildup that no big event could truly live up to, Survivor All-Stars: The Complete Season possesses enough of the series' hallmarks of excitement, drama, and fun combined with above average extras to merit purchasing.

 


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