Johnlakness_piratemaster_24Thursday (May 31) night marked the premiere of Pirate Master, Mark Burnett’s attempt to produce a summer installment of Survivor without diluting his already strained CBS franchise. [The following post will contain spoilers from said premiere episode, but you probably already knew that.]

It’s not Survivor because they aren’t living in camps as tribes, they’re living on a boat as a crew. It’s not Survivor because Jeff Probst has been replaced by Cameron Daddo, who, after one episode, is mostly notable for being not Jeff Probst. It’s not Survivor, because they’ve created a contrived and needlessly elaborate fictional history about the 14 buried treasures of Captain Henry Steel,all totaling $1 million, rather than just having the players compete for a single million dollar prize.

Camerondaddo_host_piratemaster_240My bottom line reaction is that while the show has potential and will almost certainly get more exciting as the season progresses (the combination of scurvy and gold is usually a good way to yield backstabbing and mutiny), but what Burnett and company displayed on Thursday night wasn’t very good.

Some problems:

The initial challenge was pretty dull. Two teams paddled down a river, opened a lock and paddled down the river some more. Somehow that activity stretched over 20 minutes. Then, after the winning team uncovered a chest full of gold and crabs, Cameron Daddo made them count out the gold, which appeared to take hours, based on the positioning of the sun. Nobody had to display any great strength, endurance or intelligence in the course of the challenge and the person who single-handedly one the challenge for his team was so insufferable about announcing that he single-handedly won the challenge that it lead directly to his elimination.

The contestants are anonymous. I know you start off a season and it’s hard to give screentime to 18 people, but there has never been a season-opening episode of Survivor in which so few people got screentime. By my count, Azmyth, Christina, Jupiter, Kendra, Laurel and Nessa weren’t introduced at all and Christian only factored in the beginning, which brings me to my next problem…

Christianokoye_piratemaster_240Not enough of the Nigerian Nightmare. For those who don’t follow the NFL, Christian Okoye was a two-time Pro Bowler with the Kansas City Chiefs, a beast of a running back. He was also possibly the greatest Tecmo Super Bowl video game character ever. While legitimate cases can be made for Bo Jackson, Lawrence Taylor and the Montana-to-Rice passing combo, I submit this superior YouTube clip as evidence of his pixilated greatness. This show needs more Christian Okoye.

John was hilariously awful and now he’s gone. The mystery before the show was how, exactly, somebody gets to be a scientist/exotic dancer. I guess now we know. John was a geek who still arrived on the ship looking like the man on the cover of a harlequin romance, talking in a whisper and showing off his ripped abs. He mentally and physically dominated everybody and made sure they knew it and then pouted when they didn’t recognize his brilliance. The gambit to save himself at the Pirate’s Court — he stole the only two compasses on the ship — was vaguely brilliant, but he was such a dingus that nobody cased about their absence of future navigation.

Nobody said "Yarrr!" the entire episode. What was up with that?

But, as I said, I’m curious where things go from here. I love the idea of power going to Joe Don’s head and forcing him to hire Jay as a spy. I’m intrigued by the captain and officers having to wear ridiculous hats and coats while the women are wandering the deck in, um, period inappropriate bikinis. I’m curious as to whether Louie will prove to just be a less appealing Rupert, or if his gregarious nature will eventually become distinctive. And I want to see everybody in the game jump on Christian Okoye’s back and have him carry everybody into the end zone.

What’d you think of the first episode? Are you going to watch again?

Posted by:Daniel Fienberg