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Image: Cast of "Survivor:Gabon"
Monty Brinton  /  CBS
One of these people will take home a million dollars when "Survivor: Gabon" ends in December.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/23/2008 4:26:46 PM ET 2008-09-23T20:26:46
COMMENTARY

Since the first season of "Survivor" eight years ago, temptation has always played a pivotal role on the show.

In a game that changes constantly, insecurity fuels the urge to change one's strategy, behavior, or allegiances. Those who go far make those changes smartly and carefully; those who go home follow temptation blindly, making wild decisions and not considering the consequences.

For its 17th season, premiering on CBS Sept. 25, "Survivor" returns to Africa and officially makes temptation its theme. "Survivor Gabon: Earth's Last Eden" has a subtitle that both reflects its physical environment and game.

The landscape of the West African country of Gabon affects this season's twist, which is suggested by its subtitle, "Earth's Last Eden." Besides untouched rainforest and hilly savanna marked only in many places by tire tracks that form bumpy, lonely, makeshift roads, Gabon also has distinct amphitheater-shaped hills. Those hills will host many of the challenges, which have been designed and constructed with the landscape in mind.

More significantly, large parts of the country, particularly those in the newly formed national parks, are pristine and stunning. In other words, it's Eden-like — and as with the central theme of the story of Eden, cast members will be faced with temptation.

Primarily, that comes as part of Exile, which has dropped the "island" this season because it's an open area near a body of water that's surrounded by trees. Those sent to Exile will not automatically search for the hidden immunity idols that became so pivotal to the game last season and lead to a number of stunning blindsides .

Instead, this season's exiled contestants will have a choice: They can opt for a clue that may help them find the all-important hidden immunity idol, or be tempted by "Survivor"-level luxury.

That seems like an obvious, easy choice: temporary comfort or an insurance policy that could keep a player in the running for $1 million.

It's immediate reward versus long-term gain, and for some of the cast members, that might not be an obvious choice.

That's because the 18 people competing for the $1 million are an interesting mix. The vast majority of them are in their 20s, except for Dan, who's 32, and Susie (47), Randy (49), Bob (58), and Gillian (61). They include actors, lawyers, teachers and doctors, and have faced everything from lives of privilege to adversity.

Good vs. evil
While that would seem to set up competition between the older and the younger, lines in the cast will most likely be drawn along the lines of good and evil, to borrow again from this season's subtitle.

As a group, they're relatively evenly divided. There are the arrogant, egotistical cast members who are there to play the game (often ruthlessly, or at least unapologetically), and those who want adventure in their lives yet seem too friendly and kind for a game often built on manipulation and deceit.

Although that oversimplifies and exaggerates the cast's composition, they are very distinctly different, at least in terms of why they're playing the game. Many were recruited by the show's casting producers and didn't apply on their own (personal trainer Matty, jeans salesperson Kelly) while others have been fans since the first season (retired nurse Gillian, who has applied 15 previous times). Some of those who were recruited actually are fans (lawyer Charlie, doctor Marcus). Others are experience junkies, want to challenge themselves, or just want to have fun (high-school teacher Bob).

As always, how those players are organized into tribes is most critical early in the game. Tribal loyalties often determine game play even long after the tribes merge.

This season, instead of being placed into pre-determined tribes by producers, the tribes will select themselves, with each contestant picking the next person to join the tribe. In some respects, they'll be responsible for their own fate as a tribe, and who they select is critical.

In pre-game interviews, nearly all of the 18 cast members revealed that they've formed distinct impressions of one another even though they were not allowed to talk or interact in any way in the days leading up to the game's official start. In some extreme cases, some had already decided who they think would be good allies, while others were ready to vote certain people off immediately.

However, that's not exactly anything new; first impressions have played a role on "Survivor" since the first season, as they do in non-reality TV competition life.

Perhaps the biggest change for "Survivor" this season is aesthetic, as the show will become the first non-studio network reality show to be shot in high definition. While viewers with standard TVs will see cropped images (the show will not be letterboxed), those with high definition TVs and cable will see the contestants, host Jeff Probst, the animals and their game-play metaphors with greater detail than ever before.

Now it's up to the contestants to make the game as stunning as the televised images. They have a difficult benchmark, as "Survivor" is coming off of two incredible seasons, China and Micronesia. But if they respond well to temptation, they just might be able to match them.

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