Of all the gamebooks ever written, few manage to simultaneously soar to new heights while falling just short of mastery... time and time again. Despite a mixed critical reception upon release, the four Survivor gamebooks have stood the test of time well, fulfilling far more than their tie-in merchandise origins would naturally lead one to expect; Erica Pass, though perhaps-all-too-clearly commissioned to write what Simon Spotlight Press wanted, didn't hesitate to make an invigorating, original play on the "choose-what-path-you-want" formula. It's quite interesting how the book (Survivor: Thailand) (having nothing to do with that season, I might add), despite faults on numerous levels, manages to wholeheartedly succeed - and it really acts like a classic, no matter the limitations.
It is perhaps best to, first and foremost, note that the book rather severely presents itself as something it isn't. The iconic-feeling "you choose the game... you choose the outcome" slogan falsely advertises a first-person narrative, where in reality the book's third-person limited omniscience just has the reader deciding how things end up. More specifically, pre-merge the reader decides how challenges are played and whether to skip scene building or not; there's no say in who stays or goes. This is unfortunately too linear in comparison to the second half of the story, which is considerably more expansive (though then again, understandably, the path splitting from the first tribal council would have been humongous should deciding the elimination order entirely have been included). From the merge, the reader (usually) decides who wins challenges, as well as who goes on rewards; between two candidates at the two merge tribal councils the reader decides who the swing vote player should eliminate. A bit of spontaneous mystery is half-arbitrarily saved for each final three set-up - deciding who wins the final immunity challenge and who goes to the end - with six possible finale endings (all five merge makers can win, one in two scenarios).
Though the characters may seem shallow or trope-heavy at first, it actually isn't that hard to care for each individual on a personal level - the characterization is done just right, without any component seeming heavy-handed or at the expense of the narrative. With respect to length, the dynamic relationships between the characters similarly seems well-measured and thoughtfully designed. A negative can be drawn from the odd decision to shorten the length of the game, the fact that the host, Jake, fails to either be played straight or as a spoof, and - worst of all - the fact that the contestants are apparently children. This is neither accounted for nor appropriately accommodated in any way, and to measure the book up as a "junior version" just by fitting in that detail feels both very forced and elementary. ...Of course, this was most likely forced upon Ms. Pass by her commissioner - and besides, it isn't right in this case to really nitpick since most of the faulty details can be very easily overlooked.
As far as the narrative and stylistic elements go, one would not be easily disappointed by the book's offerings. Kwam Gla (April, Hannah, Carlos, Peter, Will) and Pom Likit (Zoe, Lily, Brenna, Samuel/Sam, Randy) are very memorable and all-around likable (save for the latter two members of the former tribe). Even so, it's hard to say whether any of these players - except for April, Hannah and perhaps Zoe - would have actually done well on any real incarnation of the show, since most characters don't think once over strategy (save for the third and fourth boots, who obsess over it painfully). The reader is drawn through the experience and permitted to share in the pains, joys, sufferings and efforts of each player on a human level quite wonderfully - and as a result, each moment is long-lasting and quite often multi-dimensional. This isn't heightened to a new level since the game isn't very long... but what could be done with just ten players was accomplished with care. Pass clearly knew what she was working with - and the fun typically comes through, too. With a high replay value and a strongly timeless feel, in creatively melding what she could come up with into the source material she had to adapt I can't help but commend the story's decidedly purposeful sense of intrigue. (Minor SPOILER: The pre-merge boot order feels all too typical and introductory (Will and Brenna have given up, Peter and Sam fail on the emotional aspect of the game severely), the fifth tribal council pulls off a shocking blindside that is highly polarizing. Zoe and Lily's ending is the most natural-feeling, next to April and Lily's. Further, it makes little sense for Carlos to make the final four, by the way - and neither he nor Randy ever seem worthy of winning at the end. Oh, and... you will feel for Hannah and Zoe a few times, I must warn you!)
Ultimately recommending the book warmly, I encourage those in search of a solid gamebook to give Survivor: Thailand a closer look. It's not what it looks like - but by using that to its advantage, it manages to reach depths of intimacy and objective completeness that allows readers a truly original second look at the format known to many. ^^
(Mysteriously disappears into the shadows.)
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