I was never a fan of reality television, and to this day only watch two reality shows, Survivor being one of them. Thus, I watched only one episode of The Australian Outback when it was on television. The first contestant voted off, Debb Eaton, lived in the next town over from where I grew up, so I tuned in to see how she did and after that, didn't tune back.
And now after watching this fantastic DVD set, I am disappointed I didn't keep watching. While I have seen only the three most recent seasons (All-Stars, Vanuatu and Palau) plus the DVD of the first season, I can understand why people who are big fans of this series consistently rank Survivor Australia as one of the best seasons ever. The perfect mix of people in a great environment led to a truly captivating series.
The second season provided some very memorable moments, moments that can probably be included among the very best in Survivor history. Of course there is the famous beef jerky incident where "aspiring actress" and resident evil woman Jerri Manthey accuses Army officer Kel Gleason of smuggling beef jerky. Who wasn't thrilled for farmer-schoolteacher Rodger "Kentucky Joe" Bingham when he confronted his fear of heights and his lack of swimming ability by leaping off a huge cliff into the water below? I am sure everyone was happy for gourmet (yes I think he can cook rice) chef Keith Famie when he proposed to his girlfriend in a quick internet chat from the Outback and she said yes. His emotion was genuine as he grabbed Jeff Probst and hugged him. Of course, the incredible relationship between Kentucky Joe and young footwear designer Elisabeth Filarski was a unique one, but one that kept them together until the last few days. Jerri's flirting with Colby Donaldson was amazingly pathetic, and it was actually funny to watch him as you knew he wasn't even remotely interested. And who can forget Michael Skupin's fall in the fire, the one move that essentially changed the game.
Of course, when Colby, the auto customizer from Texas, chose Tennessee mom Tina Wesson to join him in the final two, he assured he would finish second, but knew that Tina would be a deserving winner. This was a great moment in Survivor history, as a player put his friendship and alliance ahead of his own personal game. Not until Ian in Pulau did we see something quite like that again. It was a good move and Colby came out, although not with a million dollars, looking like the good guy.
Throw in some great characters, such as Maralyn "Mad Dog" Hershey, the retired cop from Virginia, Amber Brkich, the youngest of the group, who would go on to win the All-Stars edition, yet who in this edition was quite tentative, but hung tough, the conniving Jeff Varner who would start a battle between others and watch it brew, trainer Alicia Callaway and her finger-waving, and vegetarian Kimmi Kappenberg, the butt of much of Alicia's finger waves and you have the makings of a great season.
By comparison to the seasons now, these Survivors were given a lot to help their survival and the challenges weren't quite as difficult as the ones we have seen in the past few years, but they were still quite entertaining and it was great to see the original challenges that some of the newer seasons have used, or built off of.
The story of the season early on was the domination of Kucha at the challenges. They had Ogakor feeling down and depressed and it looked like, heading into the merge, that Kucha would have the numbers to just pick off Ogakor one-by-one. Then came Michael's fall in the fire. When he was airlifted out of the game, Kucha lost their advantage and the planning by Ogakor came into play and they were successful, as the final three were all members of the original Ogakor. In the end, it was Colby's domination that helped to push him to the finals, where he chose Tina to sit next to him and the rest is history.
There is a reason that five of these castaways (Alicia, Colby, Tina, Amber, Jerri) were chosen to participate in the All-Star version. This group of people was one of the finest casts assembled and the dynamics that came into play really made this season a joy to watch.
And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Elisabeth one more time. In the first season, the incredibly beautiful Colleen Haskell became "America's Sweetheart." In this season, the incredibly cute Elisabeth took over that role. Her relationship with Rodger gave her a very real feel, and to anyone watching, she felt like she would be someone you would be friends with in the outside world.
The bonus features on this disc are very solid. There are six different commentary tracks, with two from Alicia, Kimmi and Michael (including the one where he falls in the fire), two from Keith, Rodger, Amber and Tina and two from Colby and Jeff Probst, who really began defining the role of realilty show host in this season. To this day, there is nobody who has that role down as well as he does. The two with Colby and Jeff are really, really good, while the others are very good and insightful. There are a couple of documentaries as well and the mid-season recap episode is included. Also included in the set is the previously released "Greatest and Most Outrageous Moments" which among other things features little bits on every Survivor and their time in the Outback.
On a personal note, I was watching that bonus disc and during the spot on Debb, they showed her sitting on her motorcycle on my mother's front lawn, which happens to be right next to a covered bridge. It was pretty funny to see and took me by surprise.
So whether you've been a fan of the show since day one, or it something you are learning to like, this set is top-notch. You will not be disappointed. Now let's hope they consider releasing more season sets.