Actually, that's not quite true. I saw 15 minutes of an early episode, and, I'm not kidding, it literally put me to sleep. Which is often a good thing, and if the nice folks at CBS would like to rerun the show at 11:30 p.m. ET (right after the 11 o'clock "Simpsons," thank you very much) I would be most grateful. It was all quite beautiful and quiet, all palm trees and long shots of ocean and people exchanging meaningful glances that meant nothing to me, and I at first thought that Terrence Malick had decided to try his hand at reality TV.
A critic caused quite a stir a few years ago by reviewing the Bill T. Jones dance production "Still/Here" by not reviewing it, saying that she would not actually watch the performance because she found the underlying conceit of the show (AIDS patients perform dances about their illness) to be callous, manipulative and morally bankrupt. While I wasn't under the impression that "Survivor I" had any of those qualities, my review without a review said that it had an even worse one: It was boring.
But then, in the last few weeks, it got interesting. At least, everyone was talking like it was interesting, and they kept asking me what I thought, and I could only fall back on saying things like "Oh, yeah, that Richard. He's a snake, all right" and trying to quickly change the conversation. I started reading the press coverage (including some very fine bits by our own Frank Pellegrini and Jim Poniewozik), which I suspect was more interesting than the actual show, and I began to know doubt. Should I have been watching all along? Was this in fact not a colossal waste of time? Social pressure is an awesome thing, and one you don't want to be on the business end of. So I want to watch "Survivor 2," I really do. But CBS has to meet me halfway. Some suggestions:
Get rid of some of these people right now: Sixteen is way too much; just ask any good dramatist. Nobody can tell them apart. This isn't a Robert Altman joint (is it?), and oh, by the way, do you not remember that most of Robert Altman's crowded-cast films, um, sucked? (Except for "Nashville" and "Short Cuts" that is, but even then they worked because the big group was broken down into four or five small groups). Whom do we remember from "Survivor 1," anyway? Just the last few: Richard, Sue, Sean, Rudy, Kelly (one was named Kelly, right?). One of the reasons I found that early "Survivor" excerpt so dull was that there were way too many people doing way too little. Cull the herd a little before we go on the air, let us know up front who the stars are, and let's get down to business.
Also, ixnay on the whole tribal thing: Yes, yes, I know. I've never seen one of those tribal councils that end each episode and result in someone getting the boot. So maybe they're really riveting. But c'mon. They sound goofy as hell. These are people from places like Long Island, for gosh sakes. The only tribal councils they're allowed to go to are Mets games. Instead, how 'bout something nicely understated, like they all sit down to dinner at places with their names on the plate, only get this one person doesn't have a place. Wouldn't that be nicely socially awkward? Yes. Yes, I believe it would.
Or go whole hog: When I first heard about "Survivor," I thought there was going to be this whole "Lord of the Flies" action going on. And I wouldn't be opposed to some actual violence. I understand that Richard was, as I mentioned before, a "snake," but, really, what did he do that was so slimy? Scheme to get people to vote for him? Big deal. Now, if he was scheming to have certain cast members barbecued, then I'm suddenly very, very interested.
Just ditch everything and go fishing: I don't know "Survivor." But I know what I like. And let me tell you, the good folks at CBS.com have made one heck of a nice "S2" fishing game. In the game, you get to select one of the survivors as your fisher, and sit on the bank and catch enough fish to feed the tribe before your time runs out and you all starve (for some reason, there's a lot of time pressure in the Outback). For those of you out there scoring at home, a tip: Rodger isn't much of a fisherman, but Jerri clearly knows how to hook the big ones. Is this a clue?
Get people who are clueless: Some 50,000 people tried out for this edition of "Survivor," eight times the number who tried out for the first show. And the winners all think they're gonna be stars. Which in my book means they're all gonna be insufferable.
In fact, maybe you can't make "Survivor" with an American cast anymore. The well's been poisoned; we all know too much. "This second group would squash Richard Hatch like a gnat; that's how much more prepared they are," says host Jeff Probst. "And they think they might have a movie career when it's over, so they are all playing to the camera." Somehow, this seems to take some of the magic out of it. And while I know part of the point of this is to be able to show lotsa hot chicks in bikinis, well, isn't that why we have "Temptation Island"? So, a modest proposal for "S3": Use real tribesmen, from, say Paupa New Guinea, and maroon them in downtown Newark for two months.
Now, that I would watch.