This Sunday, WWE will pester its fans with the last of the “Big Four” pay-per-views, Survivor Series. There was a time when it had earned its place alongside the Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania and SummerSlam. It’s had its share of big moments throughout its existence, from its debut continuing the Hogan-Andre rivalry, to Sting’s arrival and the Montreal Screwjob — and also the one they’ll be celebrating throughout Sunday night’s show: The Undertaker’s first appearance.
WWE has to pump up the ’Taker celebration, because thanks to the worst habits and traits of its storytelling, Survivor Series has become nothing short of an incomprehensible slog.
Ever since the WWE decided to split its two shows, Raw and Smackdown, into two distinct rosters in 2016, it has used Survivor Series as a way to pit the two shows against each other. But thanks to the company’s habit of justifying stories with a, “Fuck you, shut up and take it, that’s why!” it hasn’t really made any sense. It bills it and harps on “brand supremacy,” but it’s never been clear what that means. In fact, it doesn’t mean anything. Especially now, when the strata of their two brands couldn’t be laid out more clearly, with Smakcdown being on network TV and Raw still on cable.
For instance, a lot of time on recent Monday Night Raws has been taken up by figuring out the constitution of their respective Women’s and Men’s teams for a traditional Survivor Series match (5 vs. 5). But it’s never explained why participants want so badly to be on these teams other than “because.” It’s never explained why they want certain wrestlers on the team and others not on the team, other than to make things happen. Which makes another of WWE’s most annoying storytelling tools, the “Can they coexist” trope, even less sensical than it usually is. Who cares if they can’t coexist? No one loses anything.
And if they win? Nothing. The whole thing is forgotten less than 24 hours later on the next episode of Raw. No reward for the No. 30 spot at the Rumble or a guarantee of being in the main event slot of Wrestlemania or anything close. At least that would provide a nugget as to why anyone cares other than “people who fake-fight fake-fighting because it’s what they do.”
Alongside that, Survivor Series runs each show’s champion vs. it’s corresponding champion. So your mid-card titles (Intercontinental vs. U.S.), women’s, men’s, and tag champs all face each other. And this can lead to some cool and intriguing match-ups. Hell, this Sunday’s Drew McIntyre vs. Roman Reigns has been a Mania match before, and could be a headliner in the future. But there’s nothing on this. Asuka and Sasha Banks have already lit it up a couple times this summer together. But with each there’s no build. There’s no reasoning. And whoever wins receives nothing. It’s just a match for the sake of having a match. There are no stakes.
WWE could see its way out of this mess by actually using three or four weeks to build up factions within each show and have Survivor Series matches for actual stakes. This time around it was already most of the way there. Raw has the Hurt Business and Retribution, as clunky and stumbling as the latter’s rollout has been. On Smackdown, Reigns’ recent heel-turn and forcing of his cousins Jimmy and Jey Uso to fall in line under him gives that show a dominating heel faction. It would have been so easy to align some faces against them in something of a bid to keep the heels from taking over the show. But no, we get this “bragging rights” horseshit.
In order to really build up what I just outlined, Vince McMahon would have to show an attention span longer than a gnat’s, which he hasn’t in a long time. Just last Monday, he took the Raw title off Randy Orton and put it back on McIntyre only a couple weeks after the reverse happened. No one can figure out why, and the whole thing smacked of tearing up a script mid-production and making it up as it went, which McMahon is famous for actually doing.
That seems to run in direct opposition with McMahon’s other favorite trick, which is telling a story so much and for so long the mere thought of it makes fans pass out from exhaustion. Logic has always been choked out between McMahon’s ears if you’re wondering how he’s capable of both at the same time. McIntyre and Orton had been feuding for months with seemingly multiple blow-offs, and it’s probably not done yet. Nia Jax and Shayna Bazler have put Lana through a table for eight straight weeks with no end in sight. Certainly there’s a story there about Lana enlisting allies to fight the big bads and other heels aligning with Jax and Bazler to get title shots down the road or just to be assholes for a real Survivor Series match, but nevermind that shit, here’s what you get.
It’s been obvious to every wrestling fan that McMahon and the company as a whole take a break from giving a shit as soon as football starts. That’s evident from “Wrestlemania Season” starting just after the turn of the year, when it just so happens there’s no more Monday Night Football. The Rumble conveniently takes place in the bye week before the Super Bowl. Survivor Series is the prime example of just how much of a fuck WWE can’t give during the fall.