12. Vanuatu: Islands of Fire (Season 9) Rating: 6/10
Pardon the delay in this ranking. You didn’t think I’d get bored of doing these rankings, did you? I personally find it fun to talk about the better seasons of Survivor rather than always finding myself arguing about why a particular season sucks. (I’m still pulling out the trident from my body after the Australia write-up)
Now that we’re hovering around the middle rankings, I think it’s only appropriate to stick Vanuatu in here. If I had to ask all of the casual fans I know to name off all the seasons, Vanuatu would be skipped the most by far. I think when a season like Vanuatu is clustered in with Amazon, Pearl Islands, All Stars, and Palau, it’s doomed to be forgotten. Even if Chris made the biggest individual comeback in Survivor history.
Issues I had with this season:
1) The lack of recognition for this season. When it comes to Survivor seasons, bad press is better than no press at all. Just as much as when people praise their favourite seasons, bickering about their least favourite seasons can be just as effective in cementing a season firmly in a fan’s mind. Unfortunately, thanks in part to Jeff Probst now having his ex-girlfriend in this season, it will likely be ignored forever. Two years ago, Jenna Morasca hosted a TVGuide special about doing a ‘Where Are They Now?’ for each of the first eighteen winners of Survivor. I decided to time how much airtime each winner received. Chris had by far the least airtime because he was given a measly forty-five to fifty seconds. It’s a bit disappointing to know that’s how this season will be treated in Survivor history. I’ll go so far as to say it will be the one season that will never be represented ever again. Should’ve made a bigger mark in Fans vs. Favs, Ami and Eliza.
2) The first ever double TC. Losing entertaining figures like J.P. and Mia by episode three is just uncalled for. Forcing both tribes to vote someone out is also uncalled for. Who knew this twist would become a Survivor staple?
3) J.P. is gone by episode three. After I watch J.P. go home, I always find myself in a sour mood for the next hour or so and feel that my Vanuatu re-watch is pretty much a chore. That’s how good of a character J.P. was.
4) Rory goes home before the jury. I was surprised how many people absolutely detested Rory. I wasn’t a huge fan of the guy, but his delusion of thinking HE was the reason that the women turned on each other (poor choice of words when two lesbians are on the tribe, by the way), his speech about Mia’s celebration is one of the longest exchanges I memorized verbatim in any Survivor, and his random clashes practically carry the action at any tribe he’s at. Imagine this guy on a jury? That would’ve been TV gold!
5) Ami’s “I love my baaaabe” from the episode eleven immunity challenge still makes me cringe every time I watch it. I don’t know why, but it’s like intruding on Ami having verbal sex with her partner. On my last re-watch of Vanuatu, my whole family and a couple of random aunts walked in on me ONLY during that two minute window. Everyone would get a front row seat to me cringing. Also, this issue has a lot of unintentional innuendo. My apologies.
6) Julie getting so much airtime at the reunion. We get it Jeff, you wish to channel your Colby and Boston Rob feelings onto her. Can you leave her alone at the reunion show, please? Take the time to talk to J.P. or Rory.
7) The backlash of Twila swearing on her son’s name. If there is one event that tilts the ranking of this season downwards, this would most definitely be it. It almost taints the ending of this season because of how much it creeps into the last episodes. Sometimes I have to try hard to not fast forward through these scenes because of how irritating they are. Frankly, it just pisses me off. At a time in the game when the season should have been at its max in terms of enjoyability, the mood gets speckles of sourness to downgrade the quality of the game. It’s unfortunate.
Things I enjoyed about this season:
1) The format to the double TC is one of the least irritating of all time. The tribe that wins reward competes for individual immunity, then the person who wins goes to the other tribe’s camp to decide who receives individual immunity. Much better than “one of you guys will randomly be given immunity based on thirty minutes of hearing your pre-planned answers here at Tribal Council”.
2) The tribal switch format is by far the series’ best. It was a pick ’em among the chiefs, AND the thirteenth person got to choose which tribe they wanted to be on. Once Exile Island came along, the odd-numbered switches would change to ‘the last person remaining goes to Exile Island and will join the losing tribe so they have no real motivation to win the next challenge’. Just another fundamental flaw that Exile Island would exploit. Thanks Vanuatu for making sense.
3) The Final Four immunity challenge is my second favourite out of all twenty-two Final Four/day 37 immunity challenges in Survivor history. A vertical maze is just amazing. The only knock from the challenge is that the puzzle was very underwhelming. Still an AWESOME challenge though.
4) The final immunity challenge was great too. A lot of willpower to not let the spear pierce the paper. A very inspired and classic endurance challenge.
5) Integrating the culture of Vanuatu in the game. One of the main things that has been stripped from Survivor in recent years. When you have to name seasons “Heroes vs. Villains” or “Redemption Island,” you can’t really acknowledge that you’re in Samoa AGAIN or Nicaragua AGAIN. In the past four seasons, I think there has been only one reward of having interaction with the locals, and it was a feast. Other than that, there’s been zip. With Vanuatu, they divided the tribes based on the treatment of gender differences during the ceremony. They spent the first twenty minutes of the episode for the players to drink kava and watch a pig get killed! They wouldn’t shut up about Roy Mata, as it would conclude with the contestants being Shyamalan’d that they had been living across from Roy Mata’s grave the WHOLE time! Dun dun dunnnnnn. Or who can forget the native guy who came into camp while the Yasur tribe was fighting? I think every visit by a local to one of the tribe’s camps has always made for hilarious and awkward interactions in Survivor. Vanuatu did an excellent job of integrating the environment without being annoying about it or making it seem pointless.
6) Scout’s ability to perform in individual physical challenges. It was this odd sense of dark Survivor comedy in every running and swimming challenge. You would think the other contestants jumped the gun because of how quickly they’re ahead of Scout. Maybe Survivor suddenly changed to Diddy Kong Racing rules and let Scout play Diddy Kong as everyone got to be Wizpig and get a two second head start. At least Scout didn’t pull a Dan Lembo and actually did try to work around camp and gave it her all in challenges. She could probably write one of her Survivors Strike Back blogs before completing three laps of the episode twelve reward challenge.
7) Rory’s speech about Mia’s celebration.
8) Chris teaches us a lesson about how to avoid being first voted out after pulling a Ryan Aiken/Dan Lue performance in the first immunity, then following up with a tutorial about how important a social game in Survivor really is. Doesn’t matter if you’re in the majority or if you’re down 6-1, a social game will get you the win. Winning once out of four attempts does not make you the ultimate social player in Survivor. Chris mastered this technique within the first three days.
9) A satisfying Final Two, and a satisfying Final Four. Eliza, Twila, Chris, and Scout may be the most mismatched group to head into a finale of Survivor, but that doesn’t make them annoying or bad people at all. I was very happy to see them in the finale. This is the first season on the countdown where all four players in the end were all ‘good’.
10) “HEY CHRIS, I JUST GOT SWITCHED AND IT’S ME OR RORY IF WE LOSE BECAUSE THEY HAVE ALL THE POWER AND I’M TRYING TO GET THEM TO TRUST ME, BUT KEEP IN MIND THAT IF WE MERGE, WE STILL HAVE AN ALLIANCE, RIGHT? WHY AREN’T YOU SAYING ANYTHING???? I WAS ABLE TO CAST A MUFFLIATO SPELL ON EVERYONE ELSE SO THEY CAN’T HEAR US. OH, AND I JUST GOT A CALL FROM STEINBRENNER, I’M GETTING A JOB WITH THE NEW YORK YANKEES!”
11) “You have a leg up on us, Chad. Get it, because you’re handicapped and only have one leg? Because you lost a leg to a rare form of cancer and now you only have one. Gasp, your mouth just unhinged! You’re so shocked I’d be this offensive, eh?”
12) “Ami…the laugh.”
13) A nice leaf for Survivor to turn over after a bunch of over-the-top and arrogant personalities in All Stars. It feels like real people who aren’t just mugging it for camera time. A highway construction worker, a soon-to-be lawyer, a person who works seven days a week and multiple jobs with kids, and a lesbian cattle rancher on day 37 is about as real as a Survivor cast as you’re ever going to get.
Redemption Island Final Five: Dancer/cheerleader, model, model/actress, reality TV personality, and an actor/camera seeker.
Nicaragua Final Five: model/actor/singer, country singer, richest real estate agent ever, real estate agent, and congressman’s wife.
14) The tables flipping on day 30 is a prime example of how Survivor should be played. Believe it or not, in Survivor lore the round with seven players left is always pumped up to be the most important round of the game because it will almost always determine who the Final Four will be and is the last chance for players to choose their path for the end game. Past players on TV and in the ORG world have said there is always this unexplainable difference in the game once it gets down to seven in terms of paranoia and having the urge to be thinking much more about strategic moves. I believe it is essential for the round of seven to be a 3-day cycle and have its own episode because it is such an exciting part of the game and will typically be the climax for all alliance clashes for control. Especially on the show, where you need the three days to think clearly after living on the island for a freakin’ month.
Survivor Samoa: round of seven is reduced to two days and about twenty-five minutes on TV in episode 12.
Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains: round of seven is reduced to one day and about twenty minutes on TV in episode 12.
Survivor: Redemption Island: round of seven is reduced to about thirty minutes (yes, even during filming!) and about five or six minutes on TV in episode 11.
So Vanuatu, I applaud you for making an excellent round of seven episode with a massive pay-off. Eliza’s and Ami’s exchanges at TC are great.
P.S. Did the producers really think “Islands of Fire” or “The Mayan Empire” from the Vanuatu and Guatemala titles would actually stick?
P.P.S. I would like to thank Mario Lanza for trying to promote Vanuatu’s image in the Survivor community. I completely missed out on some of those TC moments.