I'll keep this short and sweet, because really: The only people reading this review are those who already like Survivor and are curious to see how the most recent DVD package measures up. But for the sake of those who don't know my opinions on Reality TV, I'll re-quote a section from my review of Survivor Season 2 (The Australian Outback)...
"Despite the fact that I consider myself a snotty little cynic regarding many things, once in a while something comes along that I fully expect to hate ... and then don't. A good example would be CBS' Survivor. Allow me to make this clear and obvious: I hate "reality TV." A whole lot. Not only because the reality shows are overstuffed with obnoxious jerks doing moronic things just so they can become "famous" for 14.7 minutes, but also because, in most cases, there's no creativity or artistry involved. Hey, who needs writers and actors when we can just point a camera at Wanda Whitetrash from Knuckledrag, U.S.A.? It works for Jerry Springer! And all we have to do is pony up some big cash prize and viola! A new TV sensation.
Feh, says I.
But Survivor? Damn show had me hooked from Season 1, and I've yet to miss an episode. It's the combination of the disparate contestants, the exotic locales, the fun-time competition segments, and the non-stop psychological mindgames that fill practically every show. Sure, the producers will sometimes manage to edit "conveniently" so that you'll hate Jody from Omaha yet you'll love Sally from Pittsburgh, but that's just part of the fun. It's like watching a broad and sweat-laden soap opera in which one character gets jettisoned every week. And, despite my general disdain for nearly every reality show on the airwaves, Survivor (almost) never fails to entertain."
There, so that's how an admitted hater of Reality TV can also be a Survivor fan. (I also like The Amazing Race, but that's where it ends. Honest.) Survivor: Palau marks the popular series' tenth season, and while I certainly wouldn't list it among the very best, Palau does offer an admirably colorful cast of characters. And with a show like Survivor, that's really all that matters. (Well, the contestants and those crazy challenges, anyway.)
There's little denying that Survivor is getting a mite harsher in its old age: In the Palau season, 20 newcomers line up ... and two of those contestants were unceremoniously booted off in only the first episode!
Hats off to series creator Mark Burnett for always trying to bring new challenges, obstacles, and disparate personality types to the table. Even those who've been loyal to Survivor since Day 1 can tell when a show starts spinning its wheels, but Survivor is a show that actually tries out new experiments each season. Some are great, some are not ... but hey, at least they're trying, right? (The upcoming S13 promises to divide its four teams by ... racial lines!)
As with every season of Survivor, the fun moves kind of slowly at the beginning -- but once you get to know most of the characters (and some of the ones you love/hate start getting voted off), the show really is like a sport, a mind-game, and a soap opera rolled into one. Ah, and a comedy. Of course.
Plus, and I'm talking to the serious Survivor-ites now, Season 10 has the invincible fireman, the inspirational gothie, the overbearing yenta, the drop-dead adorable blonde, and the admirable beanpole. Fun folks make for a fun season, and Survivor: Palau had just enough of those to keep me tuning in. Those who missed the season (or those who really love it) should consider the 4-disc DVD set a solid buy.
Video: Very solid fullscreen presentation.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0. Better than the broadcast audio, which was pretty fine on its own.
There are five audio commentaries scattered across the four platters: Tom Westman, Stephenie LaGrossa, Ian Rosenberger, and Caryn Groedel provide commentary on the first and final episodes, while Gregg Carey, Katie Gallagher, Jennifer Lyon, and Bobby Jon Drinkard do the same for episodes 2, 8, and 12. The chat-tracks are actually quite a lot of fun, provided you're already familiar with the contestants. The commentators crack wise about their teammates, share some interesting insights about the production, and look back on their adventure with much fondness. Good stuff.
Most of the same contestants pop up for a quartet of self-explanatorily-titled featurettes: Welcome to Palau (11:56), Playing the Game (10:33), Down to the Wire (10:14), and Battle for Sole Survivor (11:29). Again, fun stuff for the fans, but nothing that's likely to convert the unimpressed.
Palau might not have been one of the very best of Survivor seasons, but it still rates a B+ in my book. Fans will get a big kick out of the five commentaries and four featurettes, although sometimes I really do wonder about Survivor's "rewatchability" factor...