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Paramount Home Video presents
Survivor: Pearl Islands (2003)

"Your past has come back to haunt you."
- Jeff Probst

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: March 09, 2006

Stars: Rupert Boneham, Tijuana Bradley, Shawn Cohen, Jon Dalton, Nicole Delma, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Trish Dunn, Christa Hastie, Darrah Johnson, Lilian Morris, Ryan Opray, Burton Roberts, Andrew Savage, Ryan Shoulders, Osten Taylor, Michelle Tesuaro
Other Stars: Jeff Probst
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for television audiences)
Run Time: 12h:04m:00s
Release Date: February 07, 2006
UPC: 097368882645
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+A-B+ A-

DVD Review

After six seasons filled with nasty challenges, exciting rewards, and shocking twists, Survivor had become a staple on primetime television and attracted numerous devoted fans. However, it had also become a bit too predictable, and its last few casts had lacked the freshness of the earlier seasons. Understanding this trend, Mark Burnett and the creators decided to introduce several new twists that sharply divided fans and changed the entire nature of the game. They also focused more on composing a unique cast of diverse individuals who would create more buzz for the series. These castaways also divided viewers and generated the interest needed for a memorable season.

During this review, I will not reveal the million-dollar winner. However, my comments about the various twists and characters could lessen the enjoyment for viewers who have not watched this season. So you may want to skip this review and go rent the collection before continuing reading. For everyone else, I will now return to this eagerly anticipated DVD review.

Survivor: Pearl Islands takes place in Panama—a gorgeous beach setting that would return for the eighth (All Stars) and 12th (Exile Island) seasons. The 16 new castaways quickly face the first of several stunning twists that make this a unique offering. Although some of these changes are not welcome, this one works perfectly and immediately forces the contestants to think on their feet. Believing they’re traveling by sea for a photo shoot, the cast arrive in Armani suits, tight-fitting dresses, and even heavy jeans. They also have chosen luxury items and a small amount of clothes for the experience. Those materials are useless in this season, and host Jeff Probst’s revelation quickly sets the contest in motion. The twist mirrors this incarnation’s pirate theme and throws the players overboard with only the clothes on their back. With only a small amount of money to purchase supplies, 16 confused souls must search for a way to survive this nasty fate.

In typical fashion, the contestants are separated into two tribes—Drake and Morgan—named after two famous pirates. Drake appears to be this season’s smarter, more experienced tribe and includes the large hippie Rupert, goofy blond Christa, extremely devious Jon, subtly clever Sandra, overbearing Shawn, strong athletic Burton, adorable Michelle, and conniving Trish. Morgan struggles with near-starvation and includes the well-spoken lawyer Andrew, muscled Osten, sad Boy Scout troop leader Lil, wimpy skinny Ryan S., friendly Ryan O., outspoken and St. Louis native Tijuana, cute southerner Darrah, and young Nicole, whose outfit is definitely not suited for the game. Equipped with three players unable to compete physically with Drake, Morgan struggled in the early-going during nearly every challenge. However, this pattern built the arrogance on the Drake side that caused them to underestimate their more likable opponents.

The strange cast includes some of Survivor’s classic personalities, particularly Johnny Fairplay, the over-the-top character created by Jon to further his career once the game was over. He stays in the background during the early episodes, but several nasty arguments with Shawn, Sandra, and Rupert bring him to the forefront. Following the merge, he constantly shifts alliances and does everything possible to stay in the game. Jon also delivers “The Great Lie” at the family challenge and actually convinces the players, producers, and Jeff Probst that his grandmother had died. Viewing this moment with prior knowledge of his deception reveals some great acting from Jon and his buddy. Although these manipulations inspired hatred from many viewers, his intelligent strategy allows Jon to control much of the game. On the other side is the often-crazed Rupert, who was voted by audiences as the most popular Survivor ever. On a second viewing, he actually comes off much worse and maniacal than my first impression. Rupert speaks about “my island” and “my spear” and nearly punches a fellow survivor when he receives a vote at tribal council. His larger-than-life persona and strength in the challenges understandably inspired many Americans, but he is not the faultless nice guy marketed so forcefully by CBS.

Although Jon and Rupert stand apart, the other players contain plenty of notable people that raise the show’s entertainment value. Andrew immediately becomes the Morgan leader and does not generate the animosity often directed at the tribe’s boss. His surprising physical strength and likeability makes him an early candidate to win the contest. However, personal difficulties ensue during the merge that could end his chances. A less amicable player is Lil, who is arguably my least favorite player ever to appear on Survivor. Her consistent crying, moral dilemmas, and lack of a backbone make nearly every appearance on screen a trying viewing experience. One major surprise is Sandra, who excels at few challenges but stays off the radar using a wily strategy. On the other side, Burton does succeed at many tasks, but struggles with the mental game, until a major reprieve changes his outlook.

Survivor: Pearl Islands would rank as one of the premier seasons without a single twist that violated the basic foundations of the game. Following the removal of six castaways, they return as “The Outcasts Tribe” and compete against the Morgan and Drake teams. This unique choice is okay, but the problem exists when two outcast members are allowed to re-enter the game. These two players are even given immunity during the first tribal council, which provides them with a completely unfair advantage. The original idea of “Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast” goes out the window when you give the losers a second chance to play the game. While the producers have every right to alter the game, this level of manipulation plays a tremendous role in the eventual result and ruins several contestants’ chances. This devious twist does lead to a gripping two-part episode, but it cheapens the game and lessens the effect of a generally exciting season.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: Survivor: Pearl Islands offers a clean, bright version of the original full-frame transfer. The crystal-clear waters truly shine on the screen, and the grain often present on television releases is hardly noticeable here. There are some limitations based on the series' shooting style, but it fails to detract from the overall presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: This release provides a 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track that remains fairly centralized but offers an impressive experience. The music adds tremendous energy and heightens the tension of the challenges, and it sounds much better on DVD. The dialogue is also easily understandable, which is essential to catching the numerous twists during this season.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
1 Documentaries
5 Feature/Episode commentaries by Rupert Boneham, Sandra Diaz-Twine, and Christa Hastie on two episodes; Jon Dalton, Ryan Opray, Burton Roberts, and Andrew Savage on three episodes
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Game Strategies Videos
Extras Review: Survivor: Pearl Islands offers a solid collection of features, though the absence of Jeff Probst on the commentaries is a significant loss. It would have been intriguing to learn his motivations for taking a tougher approach to this cast of misfits. The individual extras are described in the following sections:

Commentaries by Rupert Bonham, Sandra Diaz-Twine, and Christa Hastie
Recollections from the cast members are always the best parts of these DVD sets, and these tracks fail to disappoint. However, the friendly trio of Rupert, Sandra, and Christa fail to offer as much excitement as the second group. They appear on the premiere Beg, Barter, Steal and the 10th episode Swimming with Sharks. Rupert is especially grating and spends much of the time ripping on Jon and others who failed to meet his standards. Christa has a bit more fun discussing her experiences, but she also retains some bitterness about the experience. Sandra generally sits back and lets the others talk, but she jumps in sometimes to offer entertaining comments.

Commentaries by Jon Dalton, Ryan Opray, Burton Roberts, and Andrew Savage
One new element for this release's commentaries is an increased amount of bitterness and downright hatred directed towards former castaways. These four guys are more than willing to rip Lil, Rupert, Shawn, and numerous other contestants during their tracks, which appear on both parts of What the ...? and The Great Lie. The frank nature of these discussions makes them highly entertaining and full of inside details not revealed during the original airings. All four guys contribute significantly, though Jon remains quiet during almost all of one conversation. Andrew and Ryan are especially unhappy about the Outcasts twist, and their opinions totally make sense. Even given their varying relationships during the game, all four speakers have a fun camaraderie that makes these commentaries a great listen.

Pirates' Tales Documentary (29:37)
This enjoyable half-hour recap includes recollections from Mark Burnett, Jeff Probst, and all the commentary participants. With the exception of the returning castaway, pretty much everyone hated the Outcasts twist, which totally makes sense. They cover all the major issues from the season, including the first big surprise, Rupert's mania (a bit too much), Jon's lies, and the ultimate winner.

Game Strategies Featurettes (28:47)
This compelling section includes brief pre-island videos for all 16 players where they outline their game strategies. Even better are clips from the actual show, which often contradict their initial statements. The most notable statements come from Osten and Jon, who directly speak about thoughts that could help or destroy their game. The worst are from Christa, whose ridiculous self-confidence is not endearing.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Survivor: Pearl Islands also includes the first moment of a player quitting the game without the need for a tribal council vote. This high level of unpredictability occurs through the season and leads to numerous enjoyable moments. Even considering the unfortunate manipulation from the producers, this release is consistently entertaining and deserves a recommendation.


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