Survivor memory challenges and Jeff Probst’s dangerous game

Survivor challenges that test the contestants’ memory, such as Wednesday immunity challenge, were unlikely to return to the show for some time—at least until Jeff Probst listened to 17 people on Twitter and changed his mind. Really.

This started with Dalton Ross asking Probst in their weekly Q&A about the Dream Team’s testing of those challenges. As part of his answer, Probst said,

“Personally, I’ve become less and less fond of memory games. We may take a break from them for a while. (No promises, but that’s the gut feeling right now.) They just don’t have enough action to ensure they’ll be exciting, so you are forced to rely on a very close finish, which fortunately we had this week.”

That’s a reasonable answer, even though I disagree; I like variety more than consistent action, and would much rather see a memory challenge than a repeat of a challenge that tests the same skill (endurance, for example).

Anyway, Probst’s response prompted Dalton Ross to have what he describes as “a long back and forth about it discussing the pros and cons” with Probst, who then asked his Twitter followers what they thought. Here’s what Probst said after getting feedback:

“Based on your statement that you actually liked the play along factor of memory challenges — I went to Twitter tonight to ask the fans what they thought. Are memory challenges fun because you can play along or boring to watch? The overwhelming majority was ‘fun to play along!’ So never mind what I said about taking a break from them! They’re back in the rotation! I love getting direct and immediate input from the people who matter most — our fans.”

So, that seems pretty awesome. The executive producer and host of network reality show was willing to be challenged and listen to feedback, and changed plans for the future based on that feedback.

Except: That “overwhelming majority” was, as of right now, 17 out of 18 people who replied to Jeff’s tweet. To be fair, 219 people favorited his tweet; Twitter describes that function as “most commonly used when users like a Tweet” which “can let the original poster know that you liked their Tweet, or you can save the Tweet for later.”

Let’s make the wild assumption that all 219 were letting Probst know they liked his tweet—and not just that they liked that he was asking the question, or that they were bookmarking his tweet, but that they actually like the idea of memory challenges.

So, doing the math:

  • 9.35 million people watched Wednesday’s episode live or DVRed it and watched later that day.
  • 354,252 follow Probst on Twitter.
  • 236 of those people just affected the future of the show.

That’s awesome power. And absurd power.

We have seen this before; three years ago, Probst said a returnee was brought back because of Twitter; the evidence suggested that was Ozzy, even though no one replied to his tweet about bringing Ozzy back and only two people favorited it.

Back then, I agreed with Probst when he tweeted that “complainers typically have a bigger voice than those who enjoy something” and said that hidden immunity idols would have been gone from the game had he listened to those people.

But why listen to the memory challenge complainers and ignore the immunity idol complainers? It’s odd because this isn’t just Probst using feedback to justify his decisions; here, he actually changed his mind. That’s both cool and frightening—frightening because I don’t want the future of one of my favorite shows in the hands of the loudest voices on social media. Read the comments on Survivor’s official Facebook page’s posts and see how comfortable you are with those people making decisions, never mind the fear you’ll have for the future of our species.

I want creative people who work in television to make the best shows they can, making decisions they think are best, even if I don’t like those decisions. Sure, they should be aware of and listen to constructive feedback, and even incorporate that. But a knee-jerk reaction to what a handful of people say online is not a great creative decision. It’s scary, even if the outcome is a change I agree with.

You’ll never laugh more at people crying than with this Real Housewives montage

Jezebel has created a montage of “the best of the worst cries from” Bravo’s The Real Housewives shows: New York, Beverly Hills, Atlanta, New Jersey, D.C., Orange County, and Miami. The result is hilarious footage sadness—perhaps because, as the headline says, it’s “Real Housewives crying through Botox.” Or at least, attempting to cry.

If you think it’s mean, just wait until you hear what song they’ve set the montage to (hint: it’s “Tears of a Clown”). Watch it here. (By the way, there’s something super-ironic about a Gawker media property not allowing other sites to embed a video they created.)

Survivor’s Tony keeps playing with fire and burning others

After last week’s loss of the best player to play the game, Survivor Cagayan managed to recover with a crazypants episode courtesy of whirlwind Tony. Bravo to the editors for presenting the most coherent, linear version of Tony’s madness as possible, though I still had to pull out my whiteboard and map this out while it was happening.

Fearful that he was in jeopardy because the minority alliance voted against him (!), Tony decided to turn on his own alliance (!!). Instead of doing that directly, he lied to LJ about how worried he was about Woo (!!!) and that led LJ to basically agree Woo had to go (!!!!). Yet when it came to actual strategy talk after the immunity challenge, LJ kept his attention on the minority alliance: Spencer and Jeremiah, who I keep confusing with LJ. While Spencer/Jeremiah votes seemed to be the plan, Tony used the idea he’d planted with LJ to suggest that LJ was really the threat for turning on their alliance, and got his alliance to vote LJ out (!!!!!). That was most incredible to watch when Tony told Woo that LJ was targeting him, when, of course, it was Tony who’d targeted Woo.

I need a drink.

Tony’s game play strikes me as brilliant and insane all at once. It’s not quite out of control, but runs up against that line all the time. If Tony makes it to the finals I’d say he has a solid case; he’s spent much of this season dropping lit matches into a gas tank and has not been burned yet.

Earlier, after winning reward, Spencer told Tony his minority alliance of three were simply “pawns on the board.” All three of them ended up voting for LJ. In other words, the vote wasn’t even along alliance lines, though several members of the dominant alliance voted for Jeremiah as a back-up.

Tangent: I’m thrilled rewards are back but also remember fondly those days when rewards actually meant going someplace spectacular, not to a chair and camp shower set up on a beach.

I was glad to see a mental immunity challenge, which Tasha won, thanks to her ability to retain basic information—colors, in order—while listening to Jeff Probst babble on and on and on. Seriously, I don’t think keeping the colors in order was the challenge here; the challenge was keeping them in order throughout the long, drawn out process of showing one tile at a time while Probst did commentary. Just watching, I was thinking this.

That also seemed to be what everyone was doing at Tribal Council, talking around their collective decision to dump El Jay as Probst prodded. The most reaction came from the jury bench, such as when Sarah looked like she was going to jump up and beat Tony over the head with a torch when he was talking about trust and then identified himself as a construction worker.

Next week, Woo falls out of a tree (!!!!!!).

Top Chef spin-off gets new name, host; hit reality shows with black audiences ignored; NatGeo shake-up

Our semi-regular round-up of stories you may have missed:

  • The top executives at National Geographic’s U.S. channels, Howard T. Owens and David Lyle, are unexpectedly leaving. The channels’ marketing executive, Courteney Monroe, takes over as CEO, and 21st Century Fox’s David Hill becomes chair of the U.S. channels. The Hollywood Reporter’s analysis says last year “ratings surged to 12-year highs” but “growth stalled, and no truly viable unscripted hit has been produced.” (Uh, Brain Games?) But Deadline notes that the channels’ high ratings following the executives’ “makes the executive housecleaning puzzling” but “follows speculation about a discord between Hill and NGC’s leadership team of Lyle and Owens who turned the network around in the past three years.” Variety confirms that by reporting “Lyle and Owens at times clashed with execs on the Nat Geo Society side.”
  • Last weekend’s edition of The Hollywood Reporter magazine explores Race and Reality: The Quiet Success of the Black Unscripted Boom, says that it’s “one of the biggest trends in television” that reality series with mostly black cast members—such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Basketball Wives—are hits but their networks don’t mention that they have largely black audiences, perhaps because “there long has been a disparity between advertising revenue for white viewers — black audiences still command smaller rates for networks.”
  • Bravo announced last week that its summer series Top Chef Extreme will be retitled Top Chef Duels and hosted and judged by Curtis Stone. Of course it will. And that significantly reduces my interest in the show. I do not understand the obsession with him at Bravo; he was perfectly likable on Celebrity Apprentice but is grating as a host/judge, inserting himself way too often on Top Chef Masters. The other judges are better: Gail Simmons appears to be the other permanent judge, with appearances by Wolfgang Puck, Hugh Acheson, and others.
  • If you want to make yourself sad, read all the other reality series Bravo is working on, such as Friends to Lovers?, Manzo’d with Children, and Euros of Hollywood.
  • Bravo’s Princesses: Long Island was quietly cancelled.
  • Piers Morgan’s cancelled show will be replaced by reality series and documentaries, including what essentially is the revival of Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs and what is essentially the revival of Lisa Ling’s cancelled OWN series Our America (the new show is “a gritty, breathtaking journey to far corners of America, immersing herself in sub-cultures that are unusual, bizarre and sometimes dangerous,” kind of like her old show). Other series include The Hunt with John Walsh, which “will tell stories of ongoing international criminal investigations in which the suspect is a fugitive at large.”
  • Jersey Shore production company 495 Productions, which was recently acquired by Fremantle, is the target of a class-action lawsuit filed by a former editor who claims 495 had “unfair business practices and saying they failed to pay for overtime work, violated minimum wage laws and acted improperly in other ways.”
  • The GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program went to Fuse’s Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce.
  • So You Think You Can Dance host Cat Deely is starring in Hulu’s series Deadbeat; she told Emmy magazine, “I get to play a real baddie” but the switch to this kind of role “terrified me.”
  • The “surprising laid-back process” of auditioning for The Bachelor.
  • Bachelorette couple Trista and Ryan Sutter are among the reality star couples who will appear on WEtv’s Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars.
  • The trailer for Lifetime’s upcoming True Tori “looks uncomfortably real,” which is a surprise after all the scripted crap that Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott produced for Oxygen.
  • Middletown, New Jersey, is “discussing requiring TV and movie crews to obtain film permits because of the explosion of reality TV home-rebuilding shows since superstorm Sandy,” The Asbury Park Press reports. Jersey Shore The Situation’s new show The Sorrentinos will film in the town soon, though officials said this new ordinance is unrelated.
  • Why Neil deGrasse Tyson was selected to host Fox and National Geographic’s COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey.
  • Time suggests Five Pop Culture Documentaries That Hollywood Should Make
  • The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Art of the Real is an annual “nonfiction showcase” that this year “features new work from around the world alongside retrospective selections by both known and unjustly forgotten filmmakers. It is a platform for filmmakers and artists who have given us a wider view of nonfiction cinema and at the same time brought the form full circle, back to its early, boundary-pushing days.” The New Yorker describes it as “extraordinary” and discusses its evidence that “documentaries have always been fake.”
  • Lindsay Lohan told David Letterman that her OWN show Lindsay was “a really interesting experience” and but said things were “taken out of context,” and said “I don’t have control of the editing.”
  • There’s a new The X Factor knock-off coming (HA) called The Sex Factor, which calls itself “a reality competition where eight guys and eight girls will compete for porn stardom and a ONE MILLION DOLLAR PRIZE. None of the sixteen contestants have been filmed before and America will vote to decide the winners.” It’ll be hosted by Duke University porn star Belle Knox.
  • An injury suffered by the person behind a “reality pub” in Buffalo, NY, means that it won’t open for now. The bar, Fat Augie’s, is a “bar and live music venue that had planned to film willing employees, patrons and performers for a YouTube reality show,” The Buffalo News reports.
  • Pawn Stars Chumlee, aka Austin Russell, who did not die last month, but has lost 75 pounds.
  • This short film, “An & Ria’s First flight,” follows two 70-something women who take their first flight. (You may have seen Ria on a roller coaster.) It’s sponsored by Vodafone—hence all the product integration, never mind the private jet—but it’s incredibly moving for an advertisement.
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    Chrisley Knows Best is so addictively awful

    On Sunday, I discovered that I can no longer make it through an episode of Mad Men: it’s well-acted and the production values are strong, but the pace and repetition of themes from earlier seasons leaves me incredibly bored. On Monday, I started binge-watching USA’s Chrisley Knows Best and couldn’t stop watching.

    I’m deeply ashamed.

    But let’s talk about it. USA just renewed it for a second season, having finally found a reality show with strong ratings after failing with shows such as Summer Camp. I initially ignored Chrisley Knows Best because of the preview, which showed Todd Chrisley discovering his teenage son was watching porn and throwing his laptop in the pool, and which seemed more like the staged crap cable networks shovel our way.

    The surprise was how real the show seems. This isn’t a fly on the wall documentary by any means, but it surprisingly does not feel scripted. Instead, it feels like a throwback to the era when reality TV followed people who were living their lives but were acutely aware of—and often playing to—the cameras. That said, there are certainly moments and scenes that are clearly set up for the sake of the production, and some feel just fake (like Todd throwing Chase’s iPhone into the lake). And I’m not yet sure if 7-year-old Grayson is just being a kid or is sometimes being coached.

    Regardless: I’m watching because Todd Chrisley is a terrific character, a crazy, entertaining bundle of contradictions, a super-rich flamboyant straight man who has been sued for sexual harassment by both men and women.

    He’s an insane parent who has absolutely no trust in his kids and is obsessively controlling with his entire family. Yet it’s oddly tolerable, even compelling, to watch, only because he’s aware of what he’s doing and has a sense of humor about it. And his one-liners are pretty hilarious.

    That doesn’t change how crazy his parenting often is, though. He’s disturbingly obsessed with his kids’ sexuality, spending a surprising a lot of time focused on his daughters’ bodies and parts under the guise of being concerned about how others are looking at them, such as when he asked his 16-year-old daughter to bend over while trying on a dress.

    Todd Chrisley’s family acts as foils, whether his kids are openly defying him, secretly defying him, or just screwing with him. All of it creates light conflict between people who have a real bond, unlike most of the Real Housewives, who were just cast to fight with each other.

    In addition, Chrisley Knows Best offers an undercurrent of the typical rich person reality show thing where we feel superior to the people on screen even though they are better off than we are. This show mostly illustrates how money can be spent but really can’t buy certain things (e.g. perfect teeth). But that isn’t what makes it watchable; it’s more than that.

    A lot of networks have tried to air “reality sitcoms,” using real people’s lives to badly script unfunny scenes, and nearly all of them have failed. What the show’s producers, Maverick TV and All3Media, have found here is a family that does most of their work for them, just by being real—really nuts, that is. They’ve been compared to The Osbournes, and I hope the comparison stops before the point at which that show became increasingly, pointlessly scripted.

    Logo apologizes for Drag Race’s “insensitive” language, challenge; pulls episode

    Logo has pulled the fourth episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and apologized for what it called “insensitive” language and that others referred to as “anti-trans slurs.” In addition, the show will edit out “you’ve got she-mail” lines from future episodes.

    The episode included “Female or She-Male” challenge, which was guest hosted by someone from Us Weekly, and RuPaul asked the drag queen contestants to identify whether someone is “a biological woman or a psychological woman.”

    The network originally addressed the controversy but basically blew it off, saying in a statement last month, “We have heard the concerns around this segment.” At that time, the show’s producers, including RuPaul Charles, said “When it comes to the movement of our trans sisters and trans brothers, we are newly sensitized and more committed than ever to help spread love, acceptance and understanding.”

    The network’s new statement said,

    “We wanted to thank the community for sharing their concerns around a recent segment and the use of the term ‘she-mail’ on Drag Race.

    Logo has pulled the episode from all of our platforms and that challenge will not appear again.

    Furthermore, we are removing the ‘You’ve got she-mail’ intro from new episodes of the series.

    We did not intend to cause any offense, but in retrospect we realize that it was insensitive. We sincerely apologize.”

    In a post about Logo’s decision, GLAAD noted that the show’s production company, World of Wonder, has also produced “some of the most groundbreaking transgender media images of the past ten year,” including the show that just won a GLAAD award, Fuse’s Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, which follows a performer who “identifies somewhere on the transgender spectrum.”

    Why the Amy’s Baking Co. Kitchen Nightmares update was so embarrassing

    As adapted by Fox and A. Smith & Co. Productions, Kitchen Nightmares went from a terrifically entertaining, dramatic UK series to a loud, dumbed-down, badly produced mess. Throughout its run, it’s only gotten worse.

    But last year’s fantastic finale episode, featuring Amy’s Baking Company, was different. Sure, it had some of the eye-rolling bullshit we’ve come to expect from the Fox show, such as Ramsay feigning surprise that the restaurant was locked—even though he was being filmed by a camera that was actually inside the “locked” restaurant.

    But mostly, that episode had rich, real-life characters reacting in unexpected ways, and it was absurd fun from start to finish. (When Amy started meowing? Come on!) What happened afterwards was also entertaining. So, I was looking forward to last night’s season premiere of Kitchen Nightmares, a follow-up episode.

    Instead, we got a whole lot of evidence that the show learned nothing.

    Most of the episode focused on reaction to last year’s episode, which came off even more self-serving than it was. Ramsay narrated from the Hell’s Kitchen set as if he was a Dateline reporter. A lot of what Ramsay said was just absurd, like when he insisted reaction to the episode was “the number-one trending story on the Internet” (what does that even mean?!). At one point, he also non-ironically said “online bloggers,” which is a redundant and clueless phrase that unintentionally recalls Amy’s description of redditors as “online legion trolls.”

    Having a few journalists recap what happened last year and flashing tweets on the screen (including mine!) only told people what they already knew: it was a great episode. But by hammering that point over and over again, re-using the same footage, it unintentionally made the counter-argument. The show seems incapable of not blowing things out of proportion and revealing its desperate attempts to be entertaining.

    Eventually, it got around to including never-before-seen footage that, at best, didn’t add much, and at worst, made this seem like an illustration of how badly produced Kitchen Nightmares really is. For the worst example: Trying to make the argument that Amy and Samy needed the show’s help, the producers had Ramsay introduce the couple’s “submission video” by saying they’d asked for help.

    But that “submission video” wasn’t a casting video that someone might shoot on an iPhone and send in, hoping to be selected for a show. Instead, it was clearly shot by producers, very possibly even during production of the episode, though the footage was filtered to look amateurish.

    Yet it included sit-down interviews with Amy and Samy, and included Amy acknowledging that she was being interviewed by a producer (“I can’t remember the questions you’re asking”) and talking to the camera crew (“can you film him?”). To label that as a “submission video” and pretend that was their desperate attempt to get cast is just absurd—and totally unnecessary.

    Amy and Samy finally appeared in actually new footage during the last few minutes of the episode, when Fox’s LA affiliate reporter Ana Garcia ambushed them. Yes, that’s literally the best they could do: sending some random reporter to barge in with a camera crew.

    Of course, it worked, resulting in more on-camera crazy. For example, Amy insisted that their social media accounts were hacked last year and that while “we didn’t say those things—now we are, because now you have lit the fire inside of us.” Amy also said Ramsay “tried to destroy us” and, going on a crazy, unedited rant, said “obviously the whole world thinks we’re psychotic because of the way they edited us.”

    But by that point, Kitchen Nightmares made it clear that it’s a show that lacks integrity, not that we needed Amy to convince us.

    At the very end, Ramsay said “what happened in Scottsdale was actually quite disappointing.” As Ramsay likes to tell people, he’s delusional: of course it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to the Fox series. If only the people that produced it knew why.

    Dirty Jobs, Project Greenlight each returning, basically, but with new networks, twists

    Two excellent but cancelled series are essentially returning to television, though on different networks and with slightly different formats. Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs-like series Somebody’s Gotta Do It will air on CNN this fall, while Starz’s first reality series will essentially be Project Greenlight, though The Chair has the twist of two different directors producing two different movies but using the same script.

    First, CNN announced that Rowe’s new series is “a brand new mission” but it sounds pretty similar to his cancelled Discovery Channel series, as it “brings viewers face-to-face with men and women who march to the beat of a different drum. In each episode, Rowe visits unique individuals and joins them in their respective undertakings, paying tribute to innovators, do-gooders, entrepreneurs, collectors, fanatics–people who simply have to do it.”

    In case there’s any doubt that it’ll be the same show, just with a wider range of people, it’s produced by the same production company as Dirty Jobs, Pilgrim Studios. The new format sounds like a logical extension of Dirty Jobs, as it will allow Mike Rowe to do what he does best, which is interact with and spotlight real people in their real lives. And I’m sure it will be better than NatGeo WILD’s shameless clone of Dirty Jobs.

    Meanwhile, Starz’s 10-episode fall series will be executive produced by Chris Moore, who produced and starred in the HBO (later Bravo) series; he’ll mentor the contestants along with Zachary Quinto and his producing partners. The network describes The Chair as “a competition documentary series that follows two directors through the process of bringing their first feature to the screen,” both of whom will use the exact same screenplay. The network will air the films, and the series itself “will document the creation, marketing and theatrical release of both adaptations.”

    Viewer votes will give one director $250,000, and because filming in Pittsburgh, Penn., has ended, the network has announced the directors and screenplay:

    “Filmmakers Shane Dawson and Anna Martemucci will adapt ‘How Soon is Now,’ a coming-of-age feature length comedy that chronicles the first homecoming on Thanksgiving weekend by a handful of college freshman who are fumbling towards adulthood, written by Dan Schoffer and produced by Josh Shader.

    While they are both first-time feature film directors, Dawson is an internet superstar whose YouTube comedy channels boast more than 10 million subscribers and over a billion views. Martemucci is a writer, actor and filmmaker who most recently received critical recognition for her independent film Breakup at a Wedding, which she starred in and wrote. Both directors will have creative leeway to develop their film using their own ingenuity and distinct experience. Screenplay rewrites, the casting of actors, hiring of crewmembers — even the name of the film — will be up to the directors and documented in the series.”

    That’s a really smart twist on Project Greenlight, which began as a competition for writers and directors but spent most of its season following the creation of a film. It was fantastic drama. (Alas, only seasons one and two are on DVD.)

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