Not-Jeff and The Pink Heart Of Darknessby Brandon Edmonds / 04.03.2011
Good writing is a unicorn on local television: it doesn’t exist. The first ten minutes of the new local season of Survivor got everything wrong. The editing was glacial. The soundtrack timid and ineffectual. The visuals rote and enervating. And the writing. Dunkin’ donuts the writing! A gratuitous BBC voiceover (the kind all over apartheid media in the 70s) spews this pointless cant: “It may seem like a Barnum & Bailey world, it may seem like a penal colony, a last mad fling of Empire, it may seem like a coral paradise…it isn’t.” He’s talking about the Maldives where this season will go down. Does any of that tell you anything you need or want to know about the Maldives? And what the fuck is a Barnum & Bailey world? And why would you deliberately orient a flagship show to appeal exclusively to desiccated Anglophiles, who still yearn for the glory days of Springbok radio, when you’re up against Sookie Stackhouse in hotpants for Christ’s sake?
We learned nothing about the island nation, its people or pastimes. Instead the show fixated on a dull factoid that the far flung archipelago was once a covert military base during, as clenched lunkhead presenter, 7de Laan’s Nico Panagio, put it, “the time of the Cold War”. Oh yeah that time. The time of VHS, super tense Olympics and brick-like cellphones you carried in a slingbag. We’ll call Nico “Not-Jeff” (given the breezy alpha assuredness of his superior American counterpart). Not-Jeff makes playing Host look thankless and hard. Dude you’re getting paid to be in the Maldives in shorts. Relax.
There is an off-putting, ill-judged brutalism to the local version of the long-running reality franchise. A hard-edged Staaldraad South African thing that also ruined the local attempt at Fear Factor. A humorless something that sinks any chance of grace or tenderness. Crime and grind has turned us all into Terminators. Regular contestants are labeled “Plebs” (a shitty word that has no business being a regular screen graphic). They’re soon “banished” to a bare-knuckle sliver of an island in ugly prison fatigues that look awful on TV while “Celebrities” (is that really the right word for the blonde void who played Wickus’ wife in D9 or the Parsons kid from Isidingo?) are made to abandon ship and paddle home in their cocktail best. Parsons can’t swim for shit. “A swimming pool in Broadacres and the sea are very different!”
The transitional scenes that make the original Survivor occasionally sensual and interesting (vivid National Geographic interludes of snakes being snakes) are absent here. The local version is slow where it needs to be urgent and dumb when its needs to be alert. And really the contestants suck. Their dialogue is slop, received opinions, rote maxims and inevitable self-help malarkey – its like being on a Translux. Are we generally less educated than Americans? Shouldn’t Model C schools be burnt to the ground and lets just like start over from scratch? “Let the games begin,” someone says. “Oh my word this is hectic!”
Oafish Hykie (an actor or something) is drawn immediately into an “early alliance” with fellow Afrikaaner Jacques (he sings and dates an FHM model) who rocks highlights and the kind of silky bland Highveld prettiness State Prosecutors pay good money for on weekends. The sublime Bonnie Mbuli is married now and all filled out which makes her even hotter somehow and she’s lost none of her slowburning bemusement: “Seriously hey this island. There’s nothing here except rats, trees and lots of branches!” Win it Bonnie. Win it all.
Things pick up a tad when steroidal He-man Lukhanyo (a rugby player) gets all existential on our asses: “You’re actually alone here even though there are other people. They also need to find themselves.” His enlightenment doesn’t stretch far. “He’s a patriarch,” someone says, and in a rare moment of inspired direction we cut to the ectomorph himself lifting something heavy after brushing a woman aside with “Don’t worry about it – that’s men’s stuff.” Later he takes a pretty contender out for a strategy session in the ocean, telling her “I will win all the Immunities! If I bleed I bleed for you. If you bleed you bleed for me.” Eeuw. Her creeped out “Thanks!” is priceless.
During the immunity challenges, Not-Jeff shifts from tolerably annoying to actively infuriating. He will not shut up! Why is he doing radio on the TV? It’s the kind of redundant narration that ruined Vicki Christina Barcelona. “Teamwork is very important here,” he says. “Yellow team runs to their demarcated zone.” No really? Is that what they’re doing? Because I’ve never seen people run before. He tells us nothing about the Immunity Idol. Does it mean anything to the people of the Maldives? This show has all the cultural sensitivity of Khuli Roberts after Jaeger-bombs. “A lot of talking,” Not-Jeff says, “not much action.” That, Alanis, is ironic. And then we are saved by a thrilling force of evil in pink. Her name is Roxy and she was a K-TV presenter. She’s barely formed but armed with the wiles of a seasoned Vegas card-shark. She hoodwinks Parsons into thinking she let him start a fire. “Tshepo definitely wants to be like a dominant alpha so I was like well this is how you do it but you can take the glory for making us fire!” The way her voice softened on the word “fire” suggests Roxy has a future on Broadway as Lady Macbeth. She didn’t really know how to start the fire. She then looks at the camera and tells us something that proves you don’t need a jungle to find the Heart of Darkness (just look into the heart of a K-TV presenter): “I don’t necessarily know that my true-true personality will ever come out in this game. Because my true personality would get me voted out very quickly!”
The rugby guy was voted off. Celebrities ate rats. I’ll be back for Roxy.