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Paramount Home Video presents
Survivor: Vanuatu—Islands of Fire (2004)

"If they want to be pampered, they should go back to the Holiday Inn."
- Twila Tanner

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: December 08, 2006

Stars: Jeff Probst, Julie Berry, Ami Cusack, Chad Crittenden, Chris Daugherty, Rory Freeman, Mia Galeotalanza, Scout Cloud Lee, Lea Masters, Eliza Orlins, Travis Sampson, Leann Slaby, Twila Tanner
Other Stars: Brady Finta, Brook Geraghty, Lisa Keiffer, John Kenney, Dolly Neely, John Palyok
Director: Varied

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for most television audiences)
Run Time: 11h:32m:00s
Release Date: December 05, 2006
UPC: 097368873148
Genre: television

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

DVD Review

Following the uneven All Star season, which provided high ratings but some awful creative decisions (i.e. giving an extra million to Rupert), Mark Burnett and the producers decided to go back to basics. For Survivor: Vanuatu—Islands of Fire, they mixed older, working-class folks with young hotties and placed them within an island location. However, some new contestants, particularly the older ones, had been watching the show for quite a while, and the simplest concept (form a strong alliance!) for succeeding was obvious. Several such groups emerged during the early going, which lead to a series of mostly predictable bootings. The result was a mediocre cast and one of the weakest seasons, which left some fans questioning whether Survivor should end its run before the creativity dropped even further.

Warning: 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.

This year's major twist is the division of the tribes by gender, which has been used before but with fewer long-term consequences. Burnett clearly wants to spotlight volcanoes and Vanuatu's tribal history, which might wow the contestants but feels icky when viewed at home. The inaugural ceremony denigrates the women and might be authentic, but it still feels unnecessary. Following this display, they easily win the opening challenge against the men, who appear shocked that they could lose to nine women. Where do they find these cast members? Was chauvinism a requirement on the application? Both tribes have serious divisions by age, with the young men apparently not realizing that even physical strength cannot overcome a 5-4 majority. While CBS cringes, the smart alliances boot much of the eye candy right away, which removes the chance for any type of Colby-like domination in the individual challenges. These episodes include the typical arguments over working, food, and other tired issues, but they lack the compelling drama or intriguing characters offered by the best seasons.

The notable figures in the male tribe (aka Lopevi), include Chad—a strong-looking guy with a prosthetic leg who immediately draws worries from the other guys. Their girthy fellows include Lea (known as Sarge) and Travis (known as Bubba), who do not share the most enlightened thoughts about women in television history. Even goofier is Rory, who spends considerable time complaining about everyone, then backtracks and hopes to stay in the game. This is not a wise strategy, but it actually may give him a chance against some dumb players. One of the more enlightened players is Chris, who fails utterly at the first immunity challenge on a simple balance beam. However, his understanding about using alliances could enhance his chances.

The female tribe (aka Yasur) includes several forceful personalities who search for any avenue to secure their position. The most notable is the initially friendly Ami, who quickly shows her ruthless ability to control the voting process. The season's most bewildering casting choice is Scout, an older woman with a bum knee that makes her almost completely useless at challenges. Even the mental contests become a major struggle for her. Scout should go home very quickly, but she's such a non-threat that she lasts for a while, and this type of player is always dangerous late in the game. This year's younger women include the attractive Julie, who actually started dating Jeff Probst following the show, and wide-eyed Eliza, who annoys nearly everyone with her constant chatter. This tribe quickly splits into older and younger groups, but the eventual result is less-predictable than Lopevi's voting.

The expected tribal switching finally occurs in Earthquakes and Shake-ups, but the gender makeup is still pretty lopsided within each tribe. This change does increase the enjoyment, with negative (Rory vs. Ami) and positive (Sarge and Julie?) relationships at least keeping you guessing. Now the Battle Really Begins includes the merge, which promises to offer some surprises. However, a strong female alliance could mean a quick end to their male opponents. Will the guys find a way to switch up the game? The season appears headed for a predictable end, but a few nasty allegiance shifts do give power to a new group of players. Surprise ... and Surprise Again offers the most nail-biting vote, which generates some nasty confrontations. Once the final four arrives, the million-dollar winner is not a huge shock, but differs considerably from my early-game expectations.

Survivor: Vanuatu — Islands of Fire struggles to provide consistent entertainment due to several key factors: mediocre casting, dull challenges, and too much predictability. The first two elements could have been improved by the producers if they'd avoided the ultra-safe approach. After dealing with wild-card goofballs in Pearl Islands like Johnny Fairplay, Osten, and Lil, they chose a safer route and cast fairly mundane contestants. An exception is the rough-talking Twila, who grumbles her way through sentences and detests some of the younger women. However, her demeanor blinds them to her smart, ruthless voting choices. Unlike most seasons, I can barely remember any challenges except those involving pigs, which are pretty tedious. With a few exceptions, the contests are less physical and not very complex. Thankfully, the producers would rectify this problem in the subsequent Palau offering. Finally, this season's predictable nature is largely due to the lack of complex thinking from many players. A few smart contestants find ways to keep the others at bay, which causes fewer shocking votes. Without overly likable cast members or impressive challenges, this element stands out as especially notable. The overall presentation is mildly entertaining, but falls short of providing the nail-biting moments that are common in the best Survivor seasons.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: This full-frame transfer includes plenty of volcano shots, which are impressive but lack the beauty of some other seasons. The picture remains solid throughout the collection and includes a minimal amount of grain. The images are brighter and sharper than the original television airing, which leads to a top-notch presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: This release includes a consistent 2.0-channel Dolby Surround transfer that presents the sounds effectively. Much of the show's audio is extensive dialogue between the players, which limits the transfer's complexity. However, the music and background effects do spring nicely from the central speakers. The overall quality isn't overwhelming, but it does warrant a recommendation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
4 Featurette(s)
5 Feature/Episode commentaries by combinations of Jeff Probst, Chris Daugherty, Twila Tanner, Eliza Orlins, Scout Lee, Julie Berry, Chad Crittenden, and Ami Cusack
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This collection follows the past trend and includes a solid group of extras, but these featurettes are less interesting than the last few releases. Split onto the four discs, the recaps each last for about 10 minutes and include quick comments from the major cast members. However, they also contain far too many clips from the actual episodes, which are basically unnecessary. Ami and Chris dominate the clips, with other contestants like Julie, Eliza, Twila and others speaking far less frequently. Jeff Probst and Mark Burnett also appear, but their statements took place during filming, which makes them less exciting. Fire, Fire Everywhere covers the show's early moments, including comments about the rough start and Chad's prosthetic leg. On Shaky Ground presents the next few bootings and the big earthquake, which seriously freaked out certain players. Solitary Man describes the female alliance, drunkeness after the tribal reward, and Ami's powerful tactics. Finally, A Taste of Home discusses the family member appearances, late-game confrontations, and everyone's desire to play again (fat chance!).

This release's saving grace are five episode commentaries, which offer entertaining recollections from many key players. These discussions are enjoyable and give plenty of background about the season's pivotal events. The best track occurs during the finale and reunion thanks to the return of Jeff Probst, who had not offered comments on the last few releases. The outspoken host joins Chris, Twila, Scout, and Eliza for this track, and it's good to hear an outsiders' view of the proceedings. Julie, Chad, and Ami also appear during several episodes to discuss their experiences. The chemistry between the participants is excellent, and everyone speaks openly about the game.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Survivor: Vanuatu—Islands of Fire is one of the series' weakest seasons, but it still offers high production values and some exciting moments. This solid collection should please devoted fans, but it is not recommended as a starting point for novices unfamiliar with the popular reality show.


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