I am a devotee of the show "Survivor." That's not a secret. I was hooked from the start and I've watched virtually every moment of the show's 20+ seasons. Most recently, The Girl and I are watching the few seasons that are on DVD.
I signed up for Netflix, because I wanted to get every season of Survivor on DVD to watch the history of this magnificently popular show all over again. It surprised me that I was not able to get all the seasons. In fact, of the 20 seasons available, I'm really only able to get about six.
In a time when everything from TV movies to the cheesiest sit com get put on DVD, it was a very big surprise that not all the seasons were put on. Still, I've been watching the seasons I can watch, most recently, rewatching the awesome "All Stars" season, which we finished watching last night. But before we watched the finale of "All Stars" we watched episode three of the current season, as it aired on TV.
NFL coach Jimmy Johnson got voted off last night. Now, I was very surprised the 66 year old TV commentator even went out there. Face it, Survivor is a young person's game. Each year the cast gets younger, and more photogenic, and the older folks are few and far between. In fact, this season, it's the old folks against the young folks. The age divisions are everyone 40 and up on the old team and everyone 30 and down on the young team.
Yep, 40, according to Survivor, is old.
Here's the problem with this concept. When you're casting a show, a reality show where you want diversity and interesting people, by limiting the age groups right out of the gate, you're just not going to get very interesting characters. And then the show is boring.
Jimmy Johnson was probably the most interesting character on the old team. First of all, the man might be a bajillionaire, and as a Packer fan, I've cursed him out all the years he coached the Cowboys. But as a player on Survivor, the man had skills. He could have done very well if the other completely predictable, completely BORING old farts hadn't voted him off last night. Marty, leader of the oldsters now, is just not that interesting. He's a middle aged white guy who managed to take out the one guy who knew what was what when it came to planning a strategy at challenges. And, since the tribe is old and crippled next to the younger group, without strategy, they have nothing. Personally, looking at the old tribe, the seven remaining members are either frustrated jocks who think they know it all and can do it all, or meek little women who will do what they're told. The old tribe members keep saying they're all leaders in their fields. Well, that's not what I'm seeing. I'm seeing boring women, boring, predictable guys, and a losing tribe. (Except for Fire Captain Tyrone, who is funny, and plays things close to the chest. Watch for him to do well.)
That brings me to the younger tribe, or as I like to call them, the rainbow of bad stereotypes. You've got Nay, the PE Teacher who spends a lot of time and energy being loud, rude, and very...what was the term she called herself last night? Oh yes, very HOOD. (hmmmm, an African American woman who is loud and wags her finger at people and is pushy? I think that was done really well before...by Alicia in Australia and All Stars. So Nay is just a copycat, and sort of a mean one at that. Boring.)
And then there's Fabio. That's not his real name, but he has long hair and is sort of pretty. So everyone calls him Fabio. He's also as dumb as a stump, so it wouldn't surprise me one second if he's forgotten what his real name is.
Again, the youngsters pretty much fall into two groups: Boring jocks who think they're going to win and "get with" the pretty girls, and, well, the pretty girls. There is the one girl who has one leg, and I give her a TON of credit for being out there, but other than having an artificial leg, there isn't anything interesting about her. I don't even remember her name.
So I watched the episode last night and thought, "well, the most interesting person just got voted off, and it's only week three." Then I watch the finale of All Stars, which, even thought I knew who would win, was far more interesting and fun to watch.
What's my point in all of this? Even in reality TV, you need good, interesting characters. You need characters people are interested in, characters people care about. Other than Tyrone, who has the best facial expressions I've ever seen, and who is the one person in Survivor who knows to keep his face SHUT at tribal council, there are no interesting characters on this season. Not yet. Maybe some of them will grow on me. Maybe I'll just stop watching this season.
It's the same for writing. If your characters aren't interesting, no one is going to read your book. You could have the most fascinating plot on earth. But if no one cares about the people in the plot, it won't matter. Meanwhile, if you have a skimpy plot, but really interesting characters, you may have success with the book.
TV, movies, books. It's all about the people. I've watched movies that were terrible...but I loved a certain character in that movie, and I cared about what happened to them. I've read books sometimes not because the plot is great, but because I'm really interested in a character. It might seem like the two go hand in hand, but that's not true.
Why was "Gladiator" the best movie of 2000? Not for the movie itself. There have been a million action movies, gladiator movies, war movies. The difference was Maximus. Producers later bemoaned the fact that they killed Maximus, because he was such a strong character they could have made another movie.
Why are certain characters made over and over? "Robin Hood?" Because we love Robin Hood. Good movie, bad movie, it doesn't matter. Robin Hood is an icon that people care about.
Sherlock Holmes is another one. Face it, those books are predictable. You're not reading Sherlock Holmes to see "if" he's going to solve the crime. You're reading, and you're watching the movies, because you love Sherlock Holmes.
So it's the character, my friends. Now go forth and write!