As August comes to a close, the Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, and SummerSlam, three of the WWE’s Big Four PPVs have come and gone. With those three shows in the books, there is only one more “Big” Pay-Per-View to look forward to during this calendar year, and it’s Survivor Series, the much-maligned redheaded stepchild of the WWE’s annual Big Four PPVs. For several years now, I’ve heard WWE fans complain about how the concept of Survivor Series has become tired and irrelevant. In 2010, the show was in danger of being dropped from the WWE’s PPV slate and rebranded, until the WWE decided to keep the show and its concept in their schedule.
Now I’ll be the first to state that the Survivor Series PPV and concept lack the box office appeal of The Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania and SummerSlam. Last year, The Rock returned to the ring for the first time in seven years and barely boosted the annual event’s buyrate (mainly due to the fact that the build up to the match was illogical and simply poor storytelling). What is the problem with the show and its concept that has people believing that it’s not worth seeing? I say it’s the execution (or lack thereof) of the event and it’s core concept, that have lead to disinterest in the Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Tag Team bouts that once were the primary draw for the event. Seeing the same formula again and again (babyface team is at a disadvantage, but battles back to win or almost win), the generic team dynamics, and the simplistic nature the Traditional Survivor Series matches have adopted, clearly has turned some people off of the event.
Rather than focus on the things that have gotten people to tune out, I want to look at what can be done to revitalize the fourth biggest PPV event on the WWE’s calendar. How can it be rebuilt stronger and faster than ever? Simply by remembering to establish three vital narrative dynamics that are certain to add interest to the ensemble event that the Survivor Series is. Establish what’s at stake, establish an interesting and layered story, and try something different with the traditional boundaries.
What’s At Stake?
Something that I find takes away from some of these Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Tags is that there is more often than not, very little at stake. Take last year for instance, where Team Barrett battled Team Orton. At the time, Barrett and Orton were embroiled in a rather high profile feud, so I understood why they would want to face-off at the PPV, I just didn’t understand what was motivating the other eight superstars in the match. What was at stake for them, other than winning the match? At a PPV, there needs to be more at stake. A win or a loss in a match at a PPV needs to feel more important than one on Raw or Smackdown. Last year for 80% of the combatants in the Traditional Elimination Tag Match, there wasn’t anything that made the match feel more important than any match you could see on free TV. There was nothing at stake for them, which subsequently makes me not give a damn. The same could be said about Team Mysterio vs. Team Del Rio from the year prior, or 2009’s Team Orton vs. Team Kingston and Team Miz vs. Team Morrison. Fact is I get why the captains are feuding with one another, but why do the four babyfaces and four heels picked to participate give a damn, and what is at stake for them?
A way to raise the stakes for these Traditional Survivor Series matches is to have surviving them mean something. Give each competitor an incentive to be one of the survivors on his team. A way you could do that is by having the survivors of these matches have to compete later in the evening in a bout to win a World Heavyweight or WWE Title shot at an upcoming PPV. If you have two of these Survivor Series Elimination matches, an each sees two survivors, then later on there will be a Fatal 4-Way to determine a new Number One Contender. Again, I’m just spit balling, and there is likely a better idea out there to make these matches have more at stake. I just think this kind of incentive gives everyone a reason to want to survive, and will make for some dramatic Team Dynamics.
Give Each Team a Story
Whenever a team is put together in a TV show, or a movie, there are certain characters that you know are going to pop up and make the dynamic of the team interesting. There’s the rebellious hothead, who thinks he can do it on his own, or the reluctant leader unsure of his ability to lead the team, or there’s dastardly second in command plotting the demise of the man he answers to. These characters as members of the team make the story more interesting because it isn’t simply will the good team beat the bad guys, its will they be able to work together to do so? 2012’s highest grossing film The Avengers has that kind of dynamic, teaming Norse God Thor who is a fish out of water, with an idealistic Captain America who hates teammate Tony Stark (Iron Man) and his snarky attitude, and finally throwing in a volatile and unpredictable element like The Hulk, makes your wonder not only will they defeat the evil forces they face, but can they survive each other and become a team?
This year at Wrestlemania, I suggested that the Miz be named to Team Teddy Long at Wrestlemania 28, after Johnny Ace decided he didn’t want Miz on his team. The rest of Team Long would question the decision because Miz is a heel, and they’ll think he’s up to something nefarious. In the weeks leading up to the big Elimination Tag Team Match (which the match would have needed to be to make this work), Teddy Long would take his team through a series of trust building activities and retreats, trying to get his team to accept and work with Miz. Going into the match, you have a compelling story to tell, not only are people’s jobs at stake, but you have the story of which side The Miz is really on, and can Team Long really trust him. The story can’t jut be Team Babyface vs. Team Heel, there needs to be a story being told within the teams themselves. No team assembled works as perfectly as the WWE makes it seem they do.
What Can Be Done Differently This Year?
A lot can be done to update a classic premise and make the resulting story interesting and fun to watch play out. Force conflict within the teams themselves and give the WWE Universe something fun and unexpected. Here’s an idea:
For this year’s Traditional Survivor Series Multi-Man Tag Team Elimination Match, have the two teams compete amongst themselves in a Battle Royal the night the teams are announced that will determine the Team’s Captain. So let’s say the match is announced as Randy Orton, Zack Ryder, Kofi Kingston, Brodus, and Christian vs. Wade Barrett, Cody Rhodes, Jack Swagger, Tensai, and Damien Sandow, that would mean on the night the teams are announced Orton, Ryder, Brodus, Christian, and Kofi would compete in a battle royal for captaincy of the team, and the same goes for the heels. Fans would expect Orton to win and claim the leadership role, but Kofi would surprise everyone and win the match and the captaincy.
Now you have an interesting Team Dynamic to play with. Orton can feel that he is the most accomplished of the members of his team and that he should be the obvious leader, but Kofi having earned being the captain will try to lead the team, causing the two to clash, The story will be can Randy put aside his ego long enough to let Kofi learn to lead. You could have the same kind of fun on the heel side, by having a guy like Sandow win the captaincy, and become a ruthless dictator, who takes delight in mercilessly whipping his team into tip-top shape and controlling their every move. He doesn’t tolerate dissension or insubordination and thinks his method of control over his team will lead them to victory. A story needs to be told by each team leading up to the match, to keep interest high. If the superstars have conflicts and incentives to compete for, if an underdog steps up to become a leader, or any other interesting plot takes shape, Survivor Series can be every bit as “Big” as the other Big Four PPVs.
There you have it, but I want to know what you think? What are your thoughts on Survivor Series? What would you do to garner interest in the event again? What are some of your favorite Survivor Series teams?
I also have a big announcement to make. Going forward, my pieces will be posted on Tuesdays rather than Mondays! Was that as underwhelming as 90% of WWE TV’s big announcements? Anyway, look for A Matter of Character and my other assorted weekly musings to be posted Tuesdays from now on.
Until next time, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!” One More Week!