Producers stepped into the danger zone with a bold and retro editing technique featuring lots of Loggins.
The men of Survivor 45 stepped into the proverbial danger zone on this week’s episode of the reality TV series, and they didn’t even know it.
While Survivor has previously separated players by gender on seasons like The Amazon, Vanuatu, and One World, there was an cast-instituted division this week when, in a magic trick worthy of merlin himself, Emily Flippen won a reward challenge and selected the three other female players in the game to join her so they could eat food (turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, apple pie, and perhaps even a slider), sip wine, and cry over letters from home on a big ladies night out at the Sanctuary… which granted, is not exactly Hollywood, but close enough.
That left the four men of the tribe by themselves back at the beach for their own brodown throwdown, which kicked off with noted island jester Bruce Perreault ripping a massive fart by the campfire. All the men seemed determined to enjoy their time together, rather than worry about if their goose was going to be cooked by an all-female alliance. Nor were they going to waste their energy attacking one another like a cougar, viper, and wolfman duking it out on a beach until someone got hit by a stinger. But then things got really weird.
All of a sudden, montage images of chipper men flexing, and chopping, and fist bumping, and bro hugging before sundown danced across the TV screen. Even the cool, calm, and collected iceman of the tribe, Austin Li Coon, got in on the fun. Making things even weirder, this entire testosterone explosion played out to the music of Kenny Loggins’ “Playing with the Boys.” Of course, 1980s action movie aficionados will recognize that song as the soundtrack the world’s most famous homoerotic volleyball scene ever committed to film — that film being Tom Cruise’s Top Gun. But what the hell was it doing on Survivor?
In the latest episode of his On Fire podcast, host and showrunner Jeff Probst explained how this truly maverick decision came to be. Probst gives all the credit to editor Bill Bowden and producer Ryan Balthazor — first for creating a juxtaposition between the two groups, and also showing the second half of that juxtaposition through the eyes of its least manly-man member.
“They saw an opportunity for a great compare and contrast,” Probst says on the podcast. “You have this really beautiful civilized girls night, they’re drinking sangria and the Sanctuary is gorgeous. And then you've got boys night where they literally are talking about farting. I mean, it's a quintessential boys night. But the key to this on the boys night was the first clever idea that Bill and Ryan had, which is: Let's put it through Drew's point of view. Now you're in the social experiment part of the show. Drew's not used to being a bro, so he's trying to figure out how to do that.”
Of course, what makes the scene is the music, and it was originally a decision that could have gone two different ways. “They were debating heavy metal or cheesy 80s music,” Probst reveals. “I think originally they cut it to heavy metal and they showed it to [executive producer] Matt Van Wagenen… and Matt said, ‘You know what? I think it's a little more cheesy 80s.’”
And then, true inspiration struck. “Bill said, ‘What if we just go for it and we try to get the music from Top Gun — that song ‘Playing with the Boys’? What do you think?’ So Matt calls me and he said, 'Listen, Bill has this crazy idea.’ And I do remember saying: ‘That's all I need to know. If Bill has a crazy idea, I'm in.’ And he goes, ‘But just let me tell you: What if we cut it to Top Gun?”
The move was such a radical departure for the show, it turned out Probst didn’t know if he was in or not? “I'll be honest, I was torn because I didn't know if kids would get it. And Matt and Bill and Ryan said, ‘It won't matter. It's funny either way.’ And they were right.”
It’s yet another example of an idea found in the editing room that was never originally intended back when filmed on the island. “We didn't shoot this for Top Gun,” Probst explains. “We just shot it and then Bill saw an opportunity. So it's another reason working on this show is so fun because I get these fun surprises as well…. I get to learn from watching Bill and Ryan cut something, and then Matt gets his input by saying it should be cheesy 80s. And then somewhere we find the money to pay for the music from Top Gun and it all worked out.” (Top Gun being in the same corporate family as a Paramount film surely helped the proceedings.)
Like the Survivor players themselves who constantly have to think in terms of risk versus reward in the game, the producers decided this risk was worth taking and ultimately felt the need… the need for speed! “It's a big swing," says Probst. “And it's the kind of swing that if it works, you're a genius and if it doesn't, you're an idiot. Fortunately, our team is full of the former and not the latter. “
For much more inside intel from Probst on the latest episode, check out On Fire: The Official Survivor Podcast. And yes, I just worked the call signs of all 13 original Top Gun characters into the body of this article.
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