'Survivor' alum Rob Cesternino on how to improve the Hunger Games -- the event, not the film

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Image Credit: CBS/Landov

Rob Cesternino was a contestant on Survivor: The Amazon and Survivor: All-Stars, finishing 3rd and 15th respectively. Once called “the smartest player to have never won Survivor” by Jeff Probst, Rob regularly writes about reality TV series like Survivor, Big Brother, Celebrity Apprentice and Jersey Shore at his popular blog, Rob Has a Website.com. This Wednesday starting at 7:40 p.m. ET, he’ll chat live with you on EW.com, taking your questions and adding his running commentary to the latest episode of Survivor: One World. Below, he presents suggestions to Panem’s President Snow about how to improve the Hunger Games. Warning: SPOILERS follow.

This weekend The Hunger Games opened to the tune of $155 million. Based on those numbers, it seems as though everybody should now be familiar with the story of Katniss Everdeen and her journey as a reluctant participant in the 74th Annual Hunger Games — a televised battle to the death where the last surviving player is the winner. The depiction of our future society in the film is not a positive one. In this post-apocalyptic world, a dystopian regime oppresses the surviving citizens of the planet. But the most troubling part of all? Reality TV has taken one giant leap backwards.

Many comparisons have been made between the Hunger Games and the reality competition shows of today like Survivor. As a two-time participant of Survivor myself, it hurts me to think that all of the progress reality TV has made over the years will somehow be lost because of a little thermonuclear skirmish. However, if I could just get a meeting with President Snow, and smuggle in my DVR, I believe I could convince him of a number of ways to improve the Hunger Games franchise. There’s no doubt that the ratings are huge, but I understand that the people of Panem don’t have too many other series to switch to. I suspect, if they could, they’d rather tune in to The Real Housewives of District 12. If the objective is creating the best possible product to pacify our enslaved populace, shouldn’t we be doing everything in our power to tweak the Hunger Games?

First off, the participants are selected randomly from each district. This would never happen in 2012. On shows like Survivor, Big Brother, and The Bachelor, thousands of applicants are screened over months and months to find the most compelling, crazy and volatile personalities in the country. By picking names out of a bowl, you risk having people who are sane, boring and/or ugly — also known as the three cardinal sins of reality TV. My suggestion would be to take a page from American Idol and have a three-month long audition process. Think of all the hours of additional Hunger Games programming that would be made as we select the top 24, all of whom get to hear “You’re going to the Capitol, dawg!” Could there be a better opiate for the downtrodden masses than a Hunger Games tryout from a descendant of William Hung?

Then there’s the show itself. After the initial 15-minute bloodbath, it seems as though a large portion of the broadcast is like something between the Big Brother live feeds and watching paint dry. For every five minutes of cold-hearted bludgeoning we get to see, we are sitting through hours and hours of sleeping and hiding in the woods. With all this downtime, why don’t we inject a couple of “kill-free” nights into the equation?  How about we light some candles, throw up some tents, and drop in a couple of six packs via parachute? If Katniss and Peeta kissing in some dark cave was the greatest thing that’s ever happened on the Hunger Games, could you imagine what the conversation might be around the bread line tomorrow if we instituted a “smoosh room”?

We know it’s important for players to try and be likeable, so that they receive supplies from their “sponsors.” This is a big mistake. First, the producers could be creating additional revenue by determining what contestant gets the reward via a $0.99 text message. Second, you can’t have interesting reality TV villains when being likeable is increasing your chances to stay alive. If our reality shows had the same rules, the likes of Omarosa, Russell Hantz, and Courtney from the last Bachelor would have all been dead within days of the premiere. Okay, maybe you’re asking, “This is a bad thing?” But you get the idea.

All due respect to Haymitch Abernathy, but he did a terrible job of coaching Katniss and Peeta. Okay, the showmance thing was gold… a classic reality TV ploy to get more screentime. But if I were coaching District 12’s squad, I would have had Peeta propose to Katniss during the live finale. How else do they expect to get their wedding paid for and go on The Amazing Race?

While there are certainly tweaks to be made, there actually are a few ways in which the Hunger Games represent an improvement over the reality TV of 2012. For one, the live murder of the players spares us from having to watch a boring, hour-long Hunger Games “results show” every week. The producers have also resisted the temptation to go all out with product placement, much to the chagrin of the people from Ginsu Knives. And who doesn’t love how the Gamemakers are able to control the weather, throw fireballs and create rabid, genetically-engineered boars to heighten the tension? Though my sources tell me that Mark Burnett is working on this as we speak…

I believe by learning from reality TV’s past these changes can all be enacted in time for the 75th Annual Hunger Games. I am so confident that we will have a better product I’ll be willing to eat a breakfast of nightlock berries should any of my suggestions fail. Or if you’re still not happy with anything I’ve suggested here, there’s one other way to go for next season: The Celebrity Hunger Games.

Follow Rob on Twitter @robcesternino

Read more:
Who should play Finnick in ‘Catching Fire’?
‘The Hunger Games': Can Jennifer Lawrence score a second Oscar nomination?
‘Hunger Games’ poll: Are you Team Gale or Team Peeta?


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