Thursday, September 17, 2009

Survivor: Samoa

I've decided that since this is a media blog, I'm going to blog about media stuff whenever I feel like it, in addition to writing for class assignments.

Having been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Samoa, I was morally obligated to watch tonight's season premier of Survivor: Samoa. Things started off ok, with the contestants paddling to shore in traditional outrigger canoes. Also, a fair amount of the set decorations have at least vaguely Samoan-looking patterns on them. However, of the few Samoan words that were used, most were mispronounced. Saying the name of the country with an American accent is one thing, quite understandable; but one of the two main team names (i.e. a word that will be repeated many, many times throughout the series) is egregiously mispronounced by everybody. The word is "galu." The host - and consequently everyone else - pronounces this "ga LOO" with a hard /g/ as in "gap." Now, in the Samoan language, the letter "g" is pronounced "ng," as in the last sound of the word "sing." (If only I knew how to get an IPA font on Blogspot!) In addition, almost universally, the second-to-last syllable in a word gets the emphasis. So the word in question should be pronounced "NGA loo." It seems to me that it wouldn't have been terribly difficult to ask someone about this before filming... on the other hand, the show makes it look like the country is completely unpopulated aside from the contestants, so maybe asking a local for help with pronunciation would've ruined the illusion.

(Galu means "wave," by the way; the other team name is Foa Foa, which means "conch shell." They didn't say this in the show - I had to look them up in my Samoan-English dictionary, which I imagine is not a resource that most CBS viewers have readily at hand.)

There were some very pretty establishing shots of the rainforest, coastal blowholes, and lagoons. Again, no indication of any local inhabitants. This is the first time I've ever watched Survivor, so maybe it's their standard operating procedure to use their locations merely as a physical backdrop rather than showing any interest in language, culture, history, etc. On the other hand, this was only the first episode - in the preview for next week it looks like they've got some variation of rugby going on for one of the challenges, which is definitely culturally relevant.

But will I watch next week? The reasons I've never watched before still hold true: I do not find the individualist-competitive-cutthroat premise to be entertaining. In fiction, sure, but when "real" people are involved I would much rather watch something that rewards teamwork and resourcefulness (not to be confused with deviousness).

On the other hand, I am tempted to see if they manage to incorporate anything of Samoa into the show, beyond superficial design motifs and insultingly mispronounced team names (I mean, come on, if they really cared wouldn't they at least TRY to get it right, or take two seconds to explain why the names were chosen?). Also, there is an utterly loathsome "villain" participant whom I would very much like to see kicked off the show. He established clearly that he is there to manipulate and betray people. He actually called himself the "puppet master" to the camera, and refers to most of his female teammates as "dumb girls." His expressed purpose in participating is to demonstrate how easy it is to win the show with his strategies. I find myself thinking that if he wins this competition, it will prove once and for all that the universe is unjust... which provides pretty strong motivation to keep watching. No wonder this show is still on the air.


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