Friday, December 23, 2011

To Fill the Requirements You Must Know the Requirements

"Ok, so I'm just gonna cut to the chase. It's on our buffs. It's about outwitting, outlasting, and outplaying. And when it comes to outplaying I felt like I held my own in challenges. When it came to individual immunity, I won three individual immunities. When it came to outwitting, I definitely felt like there were two parts to it. And one part was the strategic part. And I felt like I did that well. I made a five person alliance from the beginning and I wanted to keep that five person alliance to the end. And it wasn't necessarily the easiest thing to do, but I made sure that my strategy revolved around it. And then the other half of outwitting I think was the social game. And I think it became more clear to me a couple tribals ago that maybe I wasn't so good at the social game. I felt like I made some genuine friendships back at Upolu, but, you know, I’m not a used car salesman. I came out here and I was myself. And I do think I was as honest as possible, so I think I filled the requirements.” - Sophie Clarke

If a player wants to win the game, he has to convince the jury that he is more deserving than the other two people he is sitting in the final three with (or other person, in the case of a final two). The sticking point here is "deserving." What does it mean to be "deserving" of winning the game? Aren't you just the person who played the game the best? And isn't the person who won the game the person who played the best? Well, yes, but when the game is still being played--which is true while the final tribal council is going on--it's impossible to say who is most deserving based on the criteria of "the person who won the game deserved to win." This is the challenge faced by the players arguing to the jury, and it's what makes Sophie's opening statement so incredible. For the first time in Survivor history--both externally and internally to the game--someone attempted to explain what the requirements are for being deserving of winning the game.

Sophie Clarke delivered the best final Tribal Council performance in Survivor South Pacific because she knew what she wanted to say. She broke her game and the game of Survivor down to their most basic level--what their defining characteristic or characteristics are--beyond the generally given "Survivor is Survivor." That statement is certainly true. A thing is what it is. However, it is not sufficient. In order for Sophie to know what she wanted to say, she had to know what she was talking about--the game of Survivor in general and her game specifically. Why? Because every argument is based upon a foundation, some fact or set of facts in reality that the points (and ultimately the claim) in the argument refer to. To better demonstrate what I mean, I'm going to quote Erik Caronda's jury comments from Survivor Samoa:

"If there's one thing that I've learned in this game it is that perception is not reality. Reality is reality, and you (Natalie) are sitting there and that makes you just as dangerous as any one of those guys there. You would say that you are probably the least deserving of the title of Sole Survivor, but maybe, just maybe, in an enviroment filled with arrogance, delusional entitlement, maybe the person who thinks she is least deserving is probably the most."

What Erik is doing here is explaining how his beliefs about the game changed because of what happened in reality. He does this through two steps. First he says that what happens in the game is what happens in the game. The people sitting in the final three are the people sitting in the final three. This statement is the same as the one I already made about who deserves to win the game, just taken back one round of the game to the final three. Second he defines what he thinks are characteristics that a deserving winner would NOT have--arrogance and entitlement. Since Natalie had neither, he deemed her most deserving and voted for her---and because of this content, Erik's speech is the logical predecessor of Sophie's.

What makes Sophie's speech more impressive than Erik's is its two major difference from it. The first is the level of detail. Erik only claimed that someone is, in reality, more deserving of winning the game. He then said that, in the specific instance of Survivor Samoa, Natalie was that person. It's great that he was able to figure it out for his purposes, but not going into detail about what it means to be deserving leaves a player like Sophie in the dark. She is forced to either argue that she deserves to win because she is like Natalie or figure out why Natalie deserved to win beyond the simple statement that she won the game. Sophie tackled that foreboding task with seeming ease.

Just as Erik stated why Mick and Russell didn't deserve to win, Sophie could have easily argued why Albert and Coach didn't deserve to win. Don't misunderstand me. Sophie certainly talked about why Albert and Coach (ok, mainly Albert) shouldn't win at some points, but the primary thrust of her arguments were positive--why she deserved to win. This perspective can clearly be seen in her opening statements. She stated a condition of what it meant to be deserving and then provided a concrete example of how she filled that requirement. She then stated another condition and then another relevant example. It was an approach that let the jury know where she stood and what they would be voting for if they wrote her name down. It was something that Albert and Coach did not do and perhaps the power that pushed her to the final victory.

Being able to argue for herself increased the value Sophie took from the game. She earned the title and the money. She is now a million dollars richer (well, pre-taxes anyway) and is in an elite group of 22 people. The title of Sole Survivor can never be taken away from her for the rest of her life. No matter what happens to her (barring NCAA investigations), she can always look back on her accomplishment and be proud. In other words, in order to be the most deserving, she first had to know what it meant to be most deserving. Only then could she go about checking the boxes and explaining how she did.

Unless we're one of the lucky few who get to play the game, we'll never have a chance to be able to check those boxes. However it is still to our advantage to figure out what they are exactly. Why? Because, like Sophie, the more we know about them, the more value we get out of Survivor. It is impossible to talk about what it means to deserve to win Survivor if you don't know what it means to be deserving. Yes, you can always say a player deserved to win if he won, but that only points back to the question of what does it mean to be deserving. Imagine if Sophie had argued that she deserved to win because she deserved to win. No one would have taken her seriously, and she might not have won at all.

The title of Sole Survivor is an achievement and people deserve to be praised for it. However, they're not the only players who deserved to be praised. Many players check many of the boxes but fail at the most important ones. Knowing what it means for a player to be deserving, allows us as fans to praise players for checking any assortment of boxes--and that is what being a fan is about. You appreciate the thing you're a fan of. I don't know about you, but I'm a fan of Survivor so I appreciate it and those who excel at it.

Erik taught us that Survivor is Survivor (reality is reality). Sophie taught us that there are requirements to fill to win the game. She also provided us with a good start as to what those requirements are. Now it's up to us to define them on a detailed enough level to know who the players we appreciate the most are and argue for them. Otherwise we're just doing Coach Things. I suppose that's good enough for three votes. I just prefer to win.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How to Slay Your Dragon

In hindsight, foreshadowing is obvious.

"Into every generation she is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the dragons, demons, and the forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer." She is Sophie Clarke. Survivor South Pacific is the story of her rise. Oh, who am I kidding. Her rise is in there and is certainly the payoff to the season long arc, but the story is really about the fall of returning players Coach and Ozzy and their tag-alongs Brandon and Cochran. Yes, that means one thing.

South Pacific is a tragedy. Beloved characters new and old were unable to get their hands on the million, falling victim to their tragic flaws. In essence, they were unprepared to deal with the game because they didn't know how to deal with themselves. It was a theme that began in episode one, as Rick told us that if you aren't prepared, you might as well be spitting in the wind. The assortment of characters then proceeded to tell us all about their pasts and how that would affect them in the game. Most notably, Coach and Ozzy recounted their past mistakes--Coach's inability to be humble and get over doing "Coach Things" and Ozzy's inability to break that final barrier and grasp the million. Then there was Brandon and Cochran, both youthful and tormented trying to make a name for themselves. Brandon wanted to resist the Russell inside and restore his family name. Cochran needed to overcome his inner insecure nerd to use his knowledge of the game to not experience prolonged failure. As we now know, none of them succeeded, and Sophie watched and laughed as it all happened.

Let's start from the earliest boot. Cochran's story is a prime example of how manipulated some of the stories can be. In reality, he was never bullied in the game. However, as the nerd, bullying became the crux of his story. We were meant to feel for Cochran. He was a nice, innocent guy just trying to survive. Unable to escape his past, he turned on his tormentors, leading to their Pagonging and him actually finishing worse than he would have had he stuck with them. The problem was though, he wasn't the only one thinking (I just want to emphasize here: story wise) in these terms. Jim was the one who brought up the cool kids table metaphor in episode two, and he saw himself as barely sitting at it. It was that baggage that caused him to blindside Elyse, which kept Cochran around, which led to the end of Savaii's game.

Then there was Brandon, a character we were supposed to be a bit more conflicted about, but still feel for. We've all (vicariously) experienced the terror of Russell Hantz. We can only imagine what it must be like to grow up under it. This season we got to see the effects of it first hand. Here was a married kid, and yes he was just a kid, with a history of gangs who is just trying to control every urge he has. His method of choice was religion. It was the concretization of everything wrong about him (and, not so coincidentally, Coach) that eventually led to his demise. Per Christian ethics, he forgave his friend Albert and as a gesture gave him the immunity necklace. He was promptly voted out. You see, his inner struggle between good and evil was too much for him and ultimately made the game unimportant to him. There was no redemption for the Hantz family as another name bearer lost the game embarrassingly.

Ozzy and Coach didn't fare too well in their quest for redemption either. Both were undone in the endgame by Sophie and what's surprising is how. Ozzy, in a huge epic storyline, dominated Redemption Island and swayed the jury. This is what he was cast for. It was the perfect storyline, when reality, editing, and how the producers imagined Ozzy all combined into to one runaway fan favorite train. He dominated challenges. He fished better than he ever had. He could let his laid-back likability shine through without any social politics to worry about. He could win his way back into the game and all the way to the end. Then the jury would finally vote for him to win. And he was on pace to do just that until the final immunity challenge when, like in the beginning (of his Survivor career and this season), he was done in by cold hard rationality. Sophie is perhaps the most rational character we've seen since Yul, and what sealed her final victory? It was a puzzle (clearly included to favor Rob Mariano). Despite his large lead, the weakness in Ozzy's game came charging back. Call it arrogance, call it entitlement, call it a lack of poise. Ozzy crumbled under the pressure and was slain by Sophie's poise, grace, and logical mind.

Never one to be outdone, Coach met a similar fate at the hands of his alliance mate. No matter how hard the would-be Dragon Slayer tried, he couldn't remain humble. He had to fall back upon "Coach Things." You know how Coach always has to one up people? You know how he has to put on a big show and be a larger than life character? Well, previously it was only about being some amplified version of himself. This time, like last season's story, it was about the game itself. You see, Coach's new thing was to try to be Rob Mariano. Now I'm not saying it was some sort of intentional homage on his part (though I certainly think some of it was). I'm talking story wise. Here's a guy who came into the game and seemingly took control. He built a cult-like alliance. He made a big move involving an emotionalist young player at the merge. It all sounds the same, right? The only problem was it wasn't. Like every other Coach Thing probably is, it was all just a facade, and at the final Tribal Council Sophie let us know just that. She pulled the rug out from Coach, calling herself the strategist, agreeing with Albert that they carried Coach to the end, and, worst of all, labeling Coach and Albert as her two young girls she brought to the end. It was as tragic as a fall for a character as I can imagine in Survivor. Coach went from thinking he was Rob Mariano going into the final Tribal Council to feeling like he was Russell Hantz coming out if it. And it was all because he couldn't get over his Coach Things, making a big show of honor, integrity, religion, and being the Dragon Slayer.

The truth is Coach has never been the Dragon Slayer. What Dragons has he slayed? None. In the words of Mario Lanza, "Coach never slayed shit. He never even slayed the girl who smiled evilly." In fact, there's an editing pattern here: Coach calls himself the Dragon Slayer, Coach doesn't slay Dragon, Coach is mocked by young girl no one took seriously. In Tocantins, it was JT, Stephen, and Taj's move that slayed Brendan. Later Sierra mocked Coach, calling herself the Dragon Slayer. In Heroes vs Villains, Parvati domesticated Russell and mocked Coach by using the dragon terminology at the final Tribal Council. This season, there was Sophie.

Survivor South Pacific may have been about the fall of many, but it was also about the rise of the first and only true Dragon Slayer. While Coach joked around and prayed loudly, Sophie stalked around and preyed silently. She was the opposite of his over the top antics. While he was the center of attention, she observed from the back, taking her time and gathering all the details needed to make her moves--the ones that were always made over everyone else's. Did Cochran and Edna stay even though it was better for Coach that they did? Nope. When Sophie was in danger at the second final five, did Coach turn on her? Nope. And it was at that Tribal Council Sophie showed how to truly deal with your demons. As Ozzy barraged her with insults, pointing out her (possibly tragic) flaw and driving her to tears, she acknowledged it, put it in proper perspective, and regained her poise. Like with all the other information she had gathered, she turned around and used it in the final Tribal Council to argue her case. Most important of all, she actually slayed the dragon: after beating Ozzy in the final immunity challenge, she was knighted by Coach and then declared herself the new Dragon Slayer as she voted out Ozzy. Her victory in the storyline was sealed up at that point because it all comes down to two things:

"It's not how you start, it's how you finish." (Right, Ozzy? Sophie won that last challenge despite all your success beforehand. Don't worry, you can commiserate with Brady and Belichick over it. :/)
"Sometimes it's easier to believe a lie than to accept the truth." (Right, Coach? The more you pretended to be the Dragon Slayer, the less you realized what was actually going on around you.)

And just in case you needed some more evidence that this story of Sophie being crowned the true Dragon Slayer was very intentional, check out this clever inclusion by the editors that Mario Lanza points out here.

The only question left then is what the editors were trying to tell us. If Nicaragua was about why you shouldn't overplay and Redemption Island was about how to play, what was this season about? If you want to beat your opponents, be the Dragon Slayer. Be calm. Be cool. Be collected. Be Sophie. You see, Ozzy's attack against her is simultaneously her weakness and her strength. All season she was shown keeping herself at a distance, subtly and deftly pointing out everyone else's flaws and how they related to the overall picture. It's like she talked about in a post-game interview:

"Dalton Ross: Sophie, there were a lot of comments made about your character in the finale. Would you describe yourself as warm or fuzzy?

Sophie: Wait, are you seriously asking me that question? That is so funny because when I was in college I overheard this girl talking about me and her friend said to her, 'Who is this girl you’re talking about?' and the girl said, 'Her name’s Sophie and she’s not warm or fuzzy or anything!' No, I am neither warm nor fuzzy. I don’t want to be either. Would you ever want to be described as warm or fuzzy?"

Coach says, "I do." And that's why he's not the Dragon Slayer. He tried to be warm and fuzzy, preaching honor and integrity, and offering hugs to the recently voted out all season. What did Sophie do? Nothing except acknowledge that they deserved to go. Because that's how you have to play this game. You have to think about why people deserve to be where they are and what that means to the overall picture.

It's also important for me to be careful here. It could sound like I'm describing Albert, a player whose flaw was simply seeing the game as a board and the players as pieces (and not people). It was concretized visually in his checkers game with Cochran. Understanding that visual metaphor is important to understanding the difference between Albert and Sophie. She talked about it post-game:

"I think Albert seems to be a great guy. He’s attractive, he’s well-spoken, but then you realize that Albert has a superficial take on the world as well. His logic was, 'I gave Cochran a massage, there’s a jury vote.' Everything was black and white. He didn’t think about what does Cochran really want? Does Cochran really want to be sent out with a massage? I think that’s very telling about who Albert is. He’s too smooth."

Survivor is a selfish game. You have to get yourself to the end. But that also means recognizing that other people are selfish too. They also want to get to the end using their own ideas of how and why the game should play out. The key is figuring out what all the different hows and whys are and where they overlap and diverge. That is what Sophie did. When you only see one perspective--your own--you simplify every player down to a chess player and reduce your interactions with them to formulas. That is what Albert did. Why would Cochran want a massage, Albert? How would he respond to being given one? If Albert had heard Cochran's confessional after receiving the gift, maybe he would have changed his approach sooner.

The difficulty of Sophie's approach, however, is being able to vote people out once you learn all about them. This is where her hard exterior and perceived condescension come into play. She is confident in herself. She is there for herself and no one else. She's going to take care of her business. She assumes you're going to take care of yours as well. In Survivor, as well as life, it is the right perspective to have. It just gets difficult sometimes when Ozzy and Whitney bitch at you, fans get annoyed because you don't accept Facebook friend requests from them, and fans get on your case because you just want to spend the day in Hollywood with your family. With a million dollar check in your pocket though it's a lot easier to say, "It's your own life. Live it for yourself."

The truth is Sophie Clarke doesn't care about you. And why should she? It's the reason she won Survivor.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Walking Dead: How to NOT Become a Zombie

This is not a defense of The Walking Dead. I refuse to write one. Why? Doing so admits that the attacks against it have some sort of potency. They don’t. Rather, what this is about is what I have found in every negative review and critique of the second season--a disconnect from the basic reality of the show.

“It makes me wonder if we’re even watching the same show.”

If I'm watching a show with any intellectual depth—from Survivor to The Walking Dead—inevitably I or one of my most trusted and respect friends utter that statement at some point. It's hard not to after hearing such derisive responses to what is so obviously so good. That confusion was exactly what was behind my indignation when I read an article on's Grantland that says the following:
It’s important to remember that someone actively chose for it to play out like this, to begin the eagerly anticipated sophomore season of a highly rated show with a never-ending traffic jam and end it stalled out in a field. Whether the blame belongs to executive producer Frank Darabont (who was relieved of his duties at some point during the production of these episodes) or the bean-counters at AMC who decided that, post-Mad Men contract extension, the network could better afford a show in which characters argue about killing zombies rather than actually killing them (sort of like subbing in truffle oil for actual truffles or casting Stephen Dorff after Brad Pitt turns you down), this wasn’t a case of natural storytelling progression or even following the blueprint laid out by the comic. This was an independent and wildly wrongheaded decision to transform a promising series about surviving a zombie apocalypse into an overheated soap opera about rural campsite tension.
(The bolding is mine.)

The surety with which this writer stakes his claims is so disturbing because he omits something that is so on-it's-face obvious that it's laughable. That's right, it's both disturbing and laughable at the same time. Let's start with why it's laughable. The crux of the writer's problem is the second bolded selection from the quote above--that the show purported to be about the zombie apocalypse isn't actually about the zombie apocalypse anymore.


Once the zombie apocalypse starts happening, it doesn't stop happening. That's kind of the definition of an apocalypse (unless we're talking about the show Angel). Even if it's not the apocalypse and just a zombie outbreak, the zombies haven't been shown being cured or exterminated yet, so it's still happening. Why when watching would you ever think to yourself "man, it's like there isn't even a zombie apocalypse going on"? Do you not understand the literary concept of a "premise"? When you have that thought and see the characters trapped on a barren farm, making runs into a destroyed town, skulking through the woods in search of a missing little girl, debating the point of living, and cowering in fear of not only the world but each other, do you think they're all just irrationally emo and paranoid? Yes, part of storytelling in the television medium is visual, but these people aren't running around in Disney World trying to get on the teacups. They're navigating around abandoned, stalled, and destroyed cars. They're breaking windows and creeping around corners in a washed out and somber high school. They're wearing the same sullied outfits and sullen expressions. Why? Because there's a frickin' zombie apocalypse going on and they're always surviving it. You don't have to kill a zombie every episode for the story to be about that, obviously.

Not as obvious is what makes the writer's perspective so disturbing. Another excerpt from the article displays how:
But nothing summed up The Walking Dead’s creative rigor mortis more than the episode’s big reveal. As the smoke cleared from Shane’s barn-exterminating service and a skinny blonde child growled and hissed her way into the light, my first thought wasn’t “My God!” Or “Oh no!” It was: Who the hell is that? For a full minute, I honestly had no idea. Equally anonymous both before and after she had a hole in her head, Sophia was a meaningless MacGuffin from the start because we were never given a concrete reason to care about her.
Sophia was...meaningless? Anyone who knows me knows I am far from the hippie-namby-pamby-love-everybody type but, seriously? First I have to wonder how you forget who Sophia is and that she's missing when the characters mentioned her in every episode. Maybe it's the writer in me, but knowing this was the "mid-season" finale I was waiting for the reveal of Sophia's fate all episode. This forgetfulness is about more than plot mechanics though.

Sophia was, as the author acknowledges, a child. Doesn't that do anything to stir you at all? Are children not a value, especially in a world where the future of humanity is in doubt? Not only that, she was the child of a main character who we saw suffer through her daughter's disappearance--the disappearance which was the result of a mistake by Rick (the show's hero) much to his anguish. Actually, Rick's mistake and Sophia's disappearance directly affected every character and event this season. If it's impossible to drop the context of the zombie apocalypse for the seroes, it's impossible to drop the context of Sophia's disappearance for this season. Still, there's even more going on here.

Sophia was the concretization of the basic question of this season: "Is there any hope in this new world?" Her disappearance revealed the basic psychologies and values of each character. They were forced to take a stand--where they might not in a non-zombified world--on whether to search for her or not, whether to stay or go. Even Carl, the other child member of the cast, took a stand. Why? Because he cared about her and he cares about the life he has. He wanted it to be better and the premise forced him to decide how to do that. How do you not care when even the kid who got shot because of Sophie's disappearance cares? The callousness of this opinion is best demonstrated in the opening to the review:
And so ends the first half of The Walking Dead’s deadly second season, thankfully not with a whimper but with a whole lot of bangs. Still, that’s all there is to be grateful for after seven episodes in which absolutely nothing happened, outside of Carol losing a child and Lori learning she's carrying one — which, when you think about it, is kind of a wash.
The death of a child is a wash? Moral incredulousness aside, I understand that this is fiction and no one's going to care the same way they would about actual people, so I'll turn to the grand point that all this culminates in: "absolutely nothing happened." Already I've discussed how the zombie apocalypse is all encompassing and the zombification of a little girl was emotionally defining, yet somehow nothing happened. How can that statement possibly be true? The only way to understand it is to look at what the writer would consider as something happen.

Return to the original selection I quoted. In it, I bolded the author's dichotomy between nothing and something: arguing about killing zombies vs killing zombies. He reinforces this point later by adding, "If the characters have nowhere to go, then there’s no reason for us to go along with them." The definition of "somewhere" and "something" here is completely physical. It is an understanding of storytelling that is completely devoid of humanity. As I stated before, television is a visual medium, so yes, wandering characters should end up in a new physical location to visually concretize their journey. However, if a character's journey is only physical--if it is only about going somewhere and doing something--then it's not a journey at all.

Look at other shows. How I Met Your Mother is an easy example. The physical location/action is laid out in the title. The end point is seeing the mother and Ted, the main character, in love, be it at their wedding, their family home, or some other romantic location. But the journey isn't simply just meeting her. Ted doesn't just date a bunch of women until he meets her. No, he finds himself in unique romantic situations that he learns from to come to a better understanding of romance, himself, and being a father. It's easy to see how a show about relationship would be less physically motivated than the zombie apocalypse (err, I hope, unless killing zombies is like sex to you), so I'll turn to another example.

As an avid Survivor fan, I see a similar "physical first" perspective when people discuss the quality of the show. Since it focuses on a game about voting people out where there is a winner, the emphasis is usually placed on who gets voted out, how they get voted out, and who wins. Zombie kills are blindsides (when a player is voted out without any foreknowledge). The basic argument is that blindsides are more exciting and the game is the point. But, like How I Met Your Mother, the journey isn't simply just people voting for each other over and over again. They interact, forge alliances, and literally survive on a deserted island together. An editing emphasis is placed on how the vote came about, not just what the vote was. If the latter was the case, episodes would be five minutes long. They're not though because good storytellers understand what happens when you take this "physical first" mentality to its logical conclusion.

A friend of mine told me about the time a director/producer came to speak at his job. The director's discussion concerned how he approached filmmaking. One "rule"in particular disgusted my friend. They insert an action scene every 20 minutes to keep guys from getting bored. Guys, men, I don't know the exact word that was used (this is second hand information), but think of the kind of person who would write for ESPN, the stereotypical "man." You know, the kind of person who would watch a Michael Bay movie where the emphasis is on explosions and action. You know, the kind of person who would watch The Walking Dead and say "more zombies, more killings." I'm not the only one to make this connection either. Actor Norman Reedus who plays Daryl recently said:
I know when people watch the show they go, "More zombies. More death." But you have to do a bit of talking. Otherwise it's "Transformers."
What Reedus is basically saying is that to include the dating, voting, and blindsides you have to earn it (to use a bit of writer lingo). "Earning it" essentially means explaining its meaning, explaining why things are happening. Now the "physical first" crowd is going to respond that the meaning is the premise. Ted dates to meet the mother. The players in Survivor vote to win the game. Rick and company kill zombies to survive. This definition of meaning though ignores one question, the one that only humanity faces--why. Why does Ted want to meet the mother? Why do the players in Survivor want to win the game? Why do Rick and company want to survive? I hope it's apparent now why I included the other examples. The answer to the last question seems obvious. You survive because there is no other alternative, there is no choice. Except there is, a fundamental one--life or death.

To choose to live is to assert that you want to live by knowing why you do what you do. It is to consciously select your values and the actions you must take to realize them. Doing so is not a "physical first" task. Just like a television show should have a physical end that concretizes the journey the characters have gone on, what you do is the physical concretization of the journey you're on. In television, both combine to make "the show." In reality, both combine to make "your life." You see, a story is at some level a reflection of life. I'm not saying it's not important to kill zombies and go somewhere. I'm saying it's important to do that as long as you know why it's important to do that.

In life it's nearly impossible to know the psychologies of other people and to understand the reasons they do something. Think of how difficult it is to understand yourself. Now consider figuring it out without being inside your own head. Nearly impossible, right? What fiction provides us with is the opportunity to be inside the heads of others, to know their psychologies and understands the reasons they do things. Yes, they're fictional, but that's the best part. It's a safe place to learn about how people different from--and the same as--ourselves think and interact with the world, which gives us an opportunity to improves ourselves.

Let me be clear here. I'm not saying enjoying fiction should necessarily be an introspective process. Rather, human beings are thinking creatures and if that reality isn't acknowledged, it's simply bad storytelling like say, Transformers, or any number of zombie features that only focus on killing zombies. Every person acts on some sort of motivation. If they didn't, they would be dead. Of course, isn't that exactly the question Rick's wife Lori asked this season? What's the point of living in the zombie apocalypse? Maybe there isn't one and they're just The Walking Dead.

Get it? The title of the show reveals it's theme, an ambitious use of the fantasy genre to ask the audience, "what does it mean to be alive?" By placing it in a far fetched premise, the audience is removed from the discussion enough to ask the question without feeling that they have a personal stake in it. Once again, I'm not saying you have to ask the question to watch the show. Rather, you have to understand that the show is asking it to watch it. Otherwise you'll be writing reviews screaming "physical first," "more zombies, "more death. That is why I find that perspective so disgusting. It not only ignores the identity of the show, it ignores what it means to be human. And why it does isn't an issue of intelligence or ability. It's an issue of effort. And if someone won't even try, what does that make him?

If you don't know why you do what you do, all that separates you from a zombie is that the zombie doesn't have thoughts it ignores. If we all don't know why we do what we do, then we're living in the zombie apocalypse already and don't know it. And when work that is so obviously so good is treated with reviews that miss the mark so badly, not due to a lack of intelligence but due to a lack of effort, that is what I fear--and it's scarier than any fiction that could ever be produced.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E10-11: Setup and Statements

It's been a cold three weeks for Survivor fans. Not only has a Pagonging brought about a two double boot episodes, but the latter of those two was largely a fluff piece which was followed up by the seasonal recrap. Yes, yes, the "Closer Look" was necessitated by the Thanksgivings which brought food, family, and fun. We all know that isn't enough for Survivor fans though. We want our twist, turns, and tribal councils and want them now. Yes, it was truly a harrowing predicament.

For a story analyst like me, the recrap presents an added challenge. It simultaneously makes me look like a genius and a fool. Entire scenes and storylines that I've focused on were completely ignored, forcing me to reconsider some of those ideas. On the other hand, certain threads I've harped on again and again were hammered home, reinforcing what I've been saying all along. For the sake of organization, let's work from my four major observations about the recrap to some thoughts on episode ten.

1. Upolu > Savaii, Coach > Ozzy

This observation can be summed up very simply in one Coach quote:
"Ozzy, no wonder you've never won Survivor. No wonder you always get blindsided. Because you're a friggin idiot."
Coach's evaluation of Ozzy has been the editor's evaluation of Ozzy ever since his loss in Cook Islands. It was especially prominent this season as the differences between him and Coach became the crux of the explanation as to why Upolu won the battle of the "most evenly matched tribes EVAR." This was a storyline I've harped on all season (and misinterpreted early on as Palau 2.0) that was capped off in this recap. You see, even though the tribes were trading blows in challenges, Savaii never quite seemed to be on the same level as Upolu. Now we know why. In the eyes of the editors, they never were quite on the same level.

This almost open commentary reinforces another point I have been stressing since Redemption Island. We have entered a new era of Survivor where the storytelling is very meta. It is about the show itself. In the beginning the show used to be more concerned with telling stories about humanity. Sure, those stories still exist. They have to, as the game and show are ultimately about humanity. However, stories about the show itself were always present from the beginning too. The importance of each has just been inverted. Why? It's probably a statement on who they think is their fanbase now...

2. Coach vs Mikayla

So Coach is the benevolent leader of the good family Upolu, huh? Notsofast! What's with his treatment of Mikayla? More importantly, why was the issue of her boot raised again in the recrap when there was so much other story that could be focused on? The answer is in what was added--footage of Coach treating Mikayla poorly. As she was sick from the pork from the challenge, he cooked up fat and ate it in front of her, which only proceeded to make her throw up. Coach's action wasn't portrayed as funny or endearing. It was shown to be a downright cruel Coach thing.

For someone who has been edited as almost-Rob, this emphasis and elaboration on Coach's treatment of Mikayla hammers home the point that the importance of her storyline and boot was to foreshadow Coach's eventual loss. There is no other reason to build it up so much and continually refer back to it, especially when it's being used to contrast Coach with Rob, given all the parallels that have been present of late with the cult, gangster, and family references.

3. Brandon

Scarily for Brandon, not only were his meltdowns brought up again, but even Edna and Rick were shown worrying about him being a liability and mocking him. Their comments make us have to seriously consider Sophie's comments to Albert that Brandon would be the first Upolu to go. Which leads perfectly into the next observation...

4. The Characters and The Players (And the pieces)

Of the remaining seven players, the recrap setup and reinforced the roles of certain players. Coach and Cochran are the major characters this season. I'd be shocked if either wasn't in the final episode. Sophie and Albert are the major players this season. Just as Albert was shown in the previous episode ruminating on strategy, he was again in this episode. And again Sophie was shown commenting on his thoughts. And that was the most interesting part of the recrap. After all was said and done, the story was recounted and the characters were explicated, who was given the final moments of the episode and the final say on it all? Don't get me wrong. Coach and Cochran certainly walk the line between character and player. Part of that is almost their wish to be "real" players though. It is a wish that Sophie then comes along and tells them why it won't happen. (In a way Sophie is sort of like the female Jim, except she wasn't shown to be flawed like he was.)

Now I can return to episode ten and point out the two key quotes of the episode, both by Sophie:
"Albert is showing his true colors more and more, which maybe are similar to my true colors that I'm strategic and I want to win the game. And this is our one shot to make the big move because you have two free votes hanging around."

"Albert is trying to take control of this game and I'm the swing vote. So now I'm debating whether to stick with Coach or go with Albert's crazy plan. At the end of the day, it's a question of what will take me to the end."
The first shows what her role has been the entire season--the narrator who points out everyone else's flaws (in this case, Albert's "true colors" as wanting to make a big move too badly, a semi-recurrent theme this season). The second portrays her in a way that is important for any winner--aware of both the current situation and the broader significance, as she has been all season.

For these reason I think Sophie is the winner and this season is all about personal demons/flaws causing everyone else to lose.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E9: The Self vs The Tribe

"Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder," Elim Garak, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Second Skin

Sometimes simplicity is the best technique for a single episodes. These are the good guys. These are the bad guys. Here's how the vote went down. This was the merge episode. Just as Redemption Island built to Matt's epic second blindside, this season built to Cochran's flip. Upolu had been sufficiently set up as the more cohesive tribe. Savaii had been established as the unstable physical-emotional tribe. Cochran's insecurities and quest for self-respect compromised one of the season's most predominant story arcs. That's why about halfway through the episode the only outcome that made sense was the "bully" Savaii getting their comeuppance from the burgeoning hero.

The problem with falling back on simplicity in a story, especially in the middle of a story, is that nothing actually is that simple--especially in "nonfiction television." People are rarely cardboard cutouts of villains and heroes. No one completely likable or completely unlikable. When you fall back on such black and white good and evil storytelling, you have to under described every character and even involved. In Survivor this means under editing the characters and strategy. In this instance, it didn't matter why Upolu was sticking together. No attention was paid to any of their long term plans. It didn't matter what the perspectives of each of the Savaii were. All that mattered was 11 people were voting along tribal lines and one wasn't. Cochran flipped because he was bullied.

Being "bullied" isn't an acceptable why though. Just as we didn't know the motivations of any of the other eleven players, we didn't know what it really meant to "bully" someone. Sure, Savaii wasn't too nice to Cochran, but was it really fair to label their behavior as bullying? And Cochran did flip on his tribe, but was it really fair to label his behavior as cowardly? This complexity is what the most recent episode of Survivor South Pacific sought to sort out--and the key, as it has been all season, was the Ozzy and Coach dichotomy.

The first half of this episode transitioned Coach and Ozzy from two players heading in different directions in this game (one up and one down), to two characters headed to the endgame. The foreshadowing of Ozzy running the gauntlet at Redemption Island was so obvious it's barely worth addressing, especially because if there's one person the twist was designed for it was him. What's much more interesting is Ozzy's conversation with Cochran at the beginning of the episode and Coach's reference back to it at tribal council.

In the post-flip fall out, Ozzy was the first Savaii shown to confront Cochran. That conversation contained more philosophical complexity than the entirety of the merge episode. First, Ozzy brushed off Brandon's attempt to protect Cochran by declaring they weren't gangsters in this game. It's imagery, though only a fortuitous coincidence for the editors, reminded us of last season's merge episode and the Mariano Mafioso--especially when Jim told Albert and Sophie later in the episode that they were the only two not drinking the Kool-Aid and not in the cult. To defend himself, Cochran appealed to notions of self interest and self preservation. In a confessional, Ozzy explained what the non-gangster perspective was, "Cochran said that it was all about self preservation, and sure, that's the easy way out. That's how a wiener plays." A wiener, really, Ozzy? What's interesting here is he's shown saying this and he's the one on the way out of the tribe because of his continued instance to be selfless. All season Ozzy has been about the tribe's success and not his own, even going so far as saying that if he didn't win, he wanted a Savaii to. He echoed the sentiment here, telling Cochran that he hope he'd go far. Combined with the foreshadowing of Ozzy's Redemption Island success, it's clear that he's not made for this game and his tribe went down because of it.

Not willing to accept to his fate like Ozzy, Jim hatched a plan to use the ideas his leader had taught him, At tribal council he appealed to Upolu on the basis of selflessness, declaring that they could send a message to future players about how to play the game and what happens when turn on your tribe. Essentially he was saying the game would be better if you were loyal to tribe even if it was detrimental to your individual success. Like I said, it's an argument based on selflessness. For you philosophy nerds out there, it's also an argument based upon a disembodied Platonic ideal. The game is not some thing disconnected from reality. Every iteration of the game is unique based the players and events that occur in it. No message sent by one vote carries any validity because it improperly attempts to extrapolate a general rule from a specific situation. That is sort of what Cochran was trying to tell Ozzy when he said his move was about self interest and self preservation. He even said it at this tribal council, "It's about taking control of my own fate and making decisions that I can be happy with." More importantly storywise, Coach echoed these words.

In response to Jim's idea about a message being sent, Coch put forward a different message he believed would be sent if they voted out Cochran, "I think that it would send a message to everybody that if you stick up for yourself, you're gonna get screwed--and I'm not gonna see that happen." The statement referred back to Coach's conversation with Cochran in the merge episode, Coach's entire story arc in Survivor, and the basic (seeming) paradox in the game of Survivor. To get to the end, you need to take selfish actions. At the end, you're most often held accountable by players who expected you to act selflessly and villainize you for not doing--while they act villainous in berating and badmouthing you in long winded self indulgent speeches. Brandon and Whitney argued these two opposing sides at the second tribal council. Whitney felt like she was being unfairly villainized even thought she told Cochran he disgusted her and refused to see things from his perspective. As she cried, Brandon said that Upolu were the villains all of a sudden because they were in control now. Likewise, the Hantz blew up at Dawn, critiquing her for acting selfless at the challenge and then pointing out how Upolu wasn't selfless by eating at the challenge. Which is it, Dawn, Brandon asked. Are you selfless or selfish? Were you competing to Upolu could eat or are you upset because they did eat? Those ideas contradict. reconcile them.

The first tribal council reconciled the ideas for us. Coach's comment contrasted starkly with Ozzy's selfless comments earlier in the episode. Whose tribe is going to come out on top in this game? Even if Cochran wins, it's by embracing the mentality of Upolu. And to make it even clearer, the editors embarassed Jim. Before tribal council, Jim promised a selfless move, saying he'd give the immunity necklace to Ozzy. At tribal council after presenting his argument based on selflessness, Jim didn't hand over immunity as promised. Why not? Because he was afraid and acting selfishly because of it. Yes, that's right, after declaring Cochran a coward and asserting the correctness of selflessness, Jim couldn't play in line with either ideal because he was worried about his longevity in the game--and then was voted out next anyway. That, fellow Survivor fans, is called a villain edit.

Before he left though, Jim participated in on other key scene. In an attempt to save himself, he outlined the tribe dynamics to Albert and Sophie, "We've got Coach with Cochran, Edna, and Brandon underneath him and Rick who's given his word to Coach and Rick's the kind of guy that would never go back on his word. We've got you two, you're the only two people that aren't drinking the Koolaid and aren't in the cult. And then we've got Dawn, Whitney, and me over here." What's most interesting about this description is it seemingly leaves Albert and Sophie out in the cold and sets up Upolu as Coach's Ometepe. And that's been Coach's storyline all season. Is he playing a Rob Mariano-esque game or is he the almost-Rob? All the storylines turn on that comparison.

Albert is getting an edit similar to Grant's. He isn't really doing much wrong strategically, but little scenes are seeded that foreshadowed his losing so we'll accept it when he does. This week he was shown trying to convince Coach and others to vote out Dawn because she's more dangerous than Jim. Was this foreshadowing Dawn helping to vote out Coach or was it just a single episode edit because Dawn was the only other possible target? It's safe to say Dawn will be the last remaining Savaii so this likely setups lots of teasing of people flipping at F8. I doubt this all saved her. It more hurt Albert, especially as his partner in crime Sophie disagreed with him.

Sophie is getting an edit similar to Grant's. She's going along with the tribe and plan, but little hints of her possibly switching the game up and going against the returning player are sprinkled through out. This week her curious comment was her confessional about Albert's strategizing, "Albert, he's getting nervous. He's thinking a lot right now about switching up the game, and I think those are important things to think about in general Survivor strategy, but I'd like to stay pretty rigid with the plan." What's the plan? We're led to believe it's Coach's plan, but is it something else? Andrea's curious edit was explained by her being the second Redemption Island returnee. With that seemingly being Ozzy's victory this season, why Sophie is getting such an intricate edit remains an open question. Is she the winner or just Coach's final strategic hurdle a la Ashley and Rob last season?

The biggest boon to Coach's chances of winning is that the season's theme directly relates to him much more than Sophie. You can't let your demons hurt you in this game. You have to play based on the game, not them. What has always hurt Coach is "Coach things." His antics have alienated people. His instance on blind loyalty to promises has gotten him into harmful alliances. This season the same questions remain. Will he stay loyal to Brandon and will it cost him the game? What's interesting is that Cochran's failure and success in this game both perfectly fit the Coach story. Cochran is destined to finish no higher than third because of "Cochran things." His insecurities and quirks hurt his social game early on which necessitated his flip. However, it's also likely Cochran will get third (whereas he wouldn't have before) because he didn't simply stick with loyalty and promises. He made the best move for his game.

Besides the premiere episode, this was the best episode for Coach this season--though it's hard to tell if it was just because this was his victory over Ozzy. He's in control and it's hard to see the tribe falling out from under his control. The themes fit with him. His best F3 was even foreshadowed in the Previously On segment as he told Cochran, "You're sleeping right between me and Edna." Yes, all the ducks are lined up for the Coach victory. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. Besides Sophie's curious edit, Coach's edit has two other causes for concern. First this episode once again showed him doing traditional Coach things. He meditated in the sun, misquoted a historical figure, laughed about not actually wanting to compete in the second challenge, and meanly waved by to Jim after his torch was smuffed. Are these negative inclusions though or are we, as fans of the show, supposed to appreciate them as quirks of his character? Second is the way the choice between Edna and Mikayla was built up. So much was made of it that we're either going to look back at it as the moment Coach won the game by keeping a F3 goat and cutting off Sophie and Albert's possible future power base or the moment Coach lost the game by keeping the disingenuous Edna around who eventually turns on him.

Thus, the only question left is if Coach wins or Sophie wins. I'm even willing to say whoever it is will be sitting at the final tribal council with Cochran and Edna. Maybe I'm just in denial for a myriad of reasons, but I still see Sophie winning. I can't deny, however, that Coach has looked awfully good this season. It's just hard for me to believe that playing this game multiple times really gives you that much of an advantage over new players. Ometepe didn't seem to talk to each other and thought they were all going to the end with Rob. With the combined intelligence of Sophie, Albert, Cochran, and Edna can the same result really be reached? They seem to at least be being edited as a lot smarter and more game aware. Then again, this is Coach 3.0 and he came to win...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E7: Preying on Their Idols

(Note: Due to a technical malfunction, I lost all of my notes for this episode and can’t retrieve them. Thus, all content is composted from memory and all quotes are paraphrased.)

It’s always nice to receive a reminder that you’re on the right path, and Jeff Probst provided me with just that in the “Previously On” segment. In its closing moments, he summed up the storyline by saying the next challenge could change the balance of the game (or something of that nature, remember, paraphrasing here). With Upolu’s win and Ozzy’s sacrifice, many of the themes and stories I’ve been focusing on have come to fruition. What’s interesting, however, is that voting out Mikayla was supposed to be about choosing loyalty OVER challenge success, yet Upolu managed to win the key encounter. What was the purpose of building up the characters and theory for that decision then? I’ll answer that question later (as will the editors, hint hint). Right now what matters is how this challenge was won: idol warfare.

Over the first half of the season, much was made about the two former players having possession of the Hidden Immunity Idol. This episode culminated both those early game plot lines and parlayed them into late game storylines. Make no mistake about it either: the editors were definitely playing on the idea that these Survivor idols had the idol. It fits perfectly with the compare and contrast that has been set up as the general story for returning players and the specific compare and contrast between Ozzy and Coach. In many ways, this episode echoed episode one, reminding us that winning isn’t about needing redemption, it’s about being prepared to play the best.

Savaii’s story was completely focused on redemption. The only question was who would be getting a chance to earn it. We opened with a scene of our two main contenders for it, Ozzy and Cochran. The former challenge star told the redheaded stepchild that, in the worst case scenario, he would send himself to Redemption Island. Of course, when they lost the challenge, the discussion changed, highlighting the theme of the season. Whoever needed redemption MORE would be the one to leave. Dawn and Jim even voiced the sentiment, stating that was the point of Redemption Island—to atone for your mistakes that caused you to be voted out. Keith and Whitney agreed, saying Cochran should go. “God” intervened though and spared the nerd, which is where things got really interesting.

You see, it wasn’t just Upolu’s story that was religious. Ozzy played the Jesus figure for Savaii, embracing the notion of self sacrifice for his flock after receiving a vision (in this case in the form of a dream). The metaphor stands out due to the religious undertones of the episode, season, and show since Redemption Island was introduced. Sticking with Savaii for a moment, if we remember the end of the first play they voted out, there is some interesting information to account for. Before Semhar faced Christine, she recited another poem about succeeding for his love. Christine said she was winning for herself. Christine proceeded to win. In other words, here it isn’t about playing for anyone else. You play for yourself. Ozzy played for his tribe (as we saw last episode) and he is on his way out now. Of course, this also has implications for the other tribe.

The main person who has spouted religion on Upolu has been Brandon, though Coach has been by his side with it at times. In this episode, Coach brought the praying to a whole new level. First, he started again with Coach things, performing a kata in the water with the nice graphic overlay of the sun (a visual clue to us that this was indeed a Coach thing). Then he had the whole tribe pray before, during, and after the challenge. Sure, part of it seemed manipulative by Coach, but it can’t be ignored that he was shown saying over and over again that he was doing it for him (his heavenly father) and his glory. It’s all setting up turmoil to come.

Not only did Coach lie to Brandon about the idol, he used religion to do it. When Brandon inevitably finds out about the idol, he’s going to meltdown. That’s a well foreshadowed plot point, as it was again mentioned that this was the third Tribal Council in a row where Brandon had a meltdown. Likewise, Coach even mentioned having to Lenny him like in Of Mice and Men. Will he? That’s the question that remains open for Upolu—one of the two major factors that makes me think they’re around for the end game. The other is, of course, that Coach has been shown as the better Survivor idol.

And though I admit that I see Upolu winning, I also have to recognize that some of Savaii seem to have longer stories. The most notable being Cochran, who survived what Keith called “his time.” If this was his time to go home, does that mean he never goes home? I also have to consider that Keith talked about him and Ozzy winning all the immunities post-merge. Is that what costs Coach the game, his voting out Mikayla causes a cross-tribal alliance to form due to the minority winning all the immunities and Brandon going crazy? Exactly how much havoc are the idols and their idols going to wreak?

The other main reason I’m mulling over the idea of a cross-tribal alliance is I can only place two Upolu in the F3 due to their stories: Edna and Sophie. There is an outside shot Albert will be there, I just have a hard time seeing him there and not winning and he definitely does not win. Thus, I have to wonder if the third person sitting with them will be a Savaii. I could easily see Jim, Dawn, or Cochran there—and if there was a cross-tribal alliance, I would see it being Sophie, Albert, Edna, Jim, Cochran, and Dawn. Anyway, here are my three most likely winners:

Cochran – His needs for redemption (story wise) is his biggest hindrance, but it’s arguable that this time which was his time for redemption proved he doesn’t need it. He gave a confessional where he was seemingly aware of that (“I don’t need to be the hero”), which could also be a winner’s quote for a non-mastermind UTR win.

Coach – I still maintain he is getting the “almost Rob” edit, but he is the front runner in Upolu. If he does what Deena couldn’t do in the Amazon, keep the car on the road, then he has the game. However, there is just too much foreshadowing for me to believe he does.

Sophie – She is the other member of Upolu—besides Coach and Brandon—who has the most interesting edit. Though she is in the six, she has been shown as being distrusting and wary of both Coach and Brandon from the first episode. This episode, her distrust of Coach was highlighted again and her comments about Brandon’s crazy religious beliefs were reinforced, as she was the lone dissenter from the praying. Being the only person being shown doing or saying something in a long term story is a very good sign. Now the question is if Coach’s little dragon is merely his undoing or if she is the UTR non-mastermind winner this season.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sometimes I write rhymes (2).

You can call me a nerd but never call me a dork
I may be a geek but I put that shit to work
If you call him meek then the kid goes beserk
Just ask all the mods at the forums where I lurk
I call them JD because I'm bomb like a Turk
And it hurts cause I don't have my Carla
I feel burly like I'm Hurley, all I want is a Starla
Even Darla couldn't save me when she had our baby
When I turn to Angelus nothing can phase me
Here, learn what hell is: believing you're crazy
You try to be good and everyone else is lazy
You look to the future but your outlook is hazy
So you're on the 8 ball at this Roadhouse like Swayze
Protecting the night, all that's left is to fight
When you get LOST, you walk toward the light
Thinking you're right always talking about honor
Ally with the doctor and a head case like Connor
Call your tribe Donnor, your party's doggy baggin
Brandon's the reason it'll all turn to fraggin'
Me? Personally, I kinda wanna slay the dragon

Here's the story behind this one. Listening to Beefy's new EP while at the gym, the first two lines came to me. Then I messed around with the next couple while finishing my work out, culminating in the lurker line. On my long ride home, I used all the Abed that I am and started dropping references. The JD-Turk-Carla one got me going, and I loved the Starla rhyme, but what really sealed the deal was when I remembered Darla from Angel. That opened up a whole mess of double and triple entendres as I love the Angel finale and the last line is, "Personally, I kinda wanna slay the dragon." Of course, when you think about dragon slaying, you have to think of Coach from Survivor. It was then I realized that Brandon, Coach's ally in Survivor: South Pacific, is a lot like Connor--afraid he's evil because of his father figure, trying to fight against what he sees as his nature, and becoming a head case because of it. Once again, logically when you think of daddy issues, who do you think of but Jack from LOST? This gave me the perfect opportunity to mock that show's finale while writing a rhyme about a show's finale I loved (Angel). Jack being a doctor made it all come together as Coach and Brandon are allied with a Doctor--Edna.

...and that's how my brain works.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E6: Other Coach Things

I admit it. I was wrong about Mikayla. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, we can move on…except we actually can’t. I wasn’t completely wrong about Mikayla and why is a demonstration of the intricacies of Survivor editing and analyzing it. Her edit was extremely crafted for an important purpose. Namely, it tells us a lot about Coach’s story and his chances of winning (hint: they plummeted drastically). This episode could have been the Dragonslayer’s key mistake that costs him the game. I’m just unsure if the same can be said for Upolu. Thus, I’m left to ponder if Upolu is Zapatera to Savaii’s Ometepe or instead Coach's downfall is this season’s endgame.

Actually, the better question is which leader's strategy (Coach or Ozzy) is the heavier weight on the seesaw that will tip the advantage to his tribe for good? As Probst has continually reminded us and reality has demonstrated, the challenges this season have gone back and forth. Starting in episode one where Savaii won reward and Upolu won immunity, the tribes have exchanged the immunity idol every other challenge. This episode saw Savaii reclaim it from Upolu, will the trend continue next episode? Attempting to induce the next challenge winner from past results is bad reasoning, but doing it based on the content of the episode is not—and it’s hard to deny that this episode didn’t look too great for Coach or Upolu.

After Tribal Council, Probst said: "Loyalty, as honorable as it may be, is not always the answer” which was followed in Mikayla’s final words by: "I'm just going to laugh if the next challenge is something physical." The former quote refers back to an early Coach comment from—well, almost every confessional he’s ever given really. Even early on in this episode, he gave a confessional about his relationship to Brandon, "I want to play this game completely honorably." Coach’s honor was even put on the line this vote when he had to choose between staying loyal to Edna or keeping the stronger Mikayla around. The former quote refers back to Mikayla’s constant edit as the difference maker in the challenges, which was once again emphasized in the “Previously On” segment through showing her “getting dirty” for the piece of ham Rick drop, the couple ounces that won the challenge. What does all of this mean? The editors are falling back on their favorite device, ironic mockery—and the words of some of our key characters, Albert, Brandon, and Coach, fill in the blank as to exactly how.

Albert took on the role of the dissenting voice this episode, which is especially interesting because he has previously been established as Coach’s #2 and the voice of reason on Upolu. The majority of his story this episode was attempting to keep Mikayla in the game, a plot that ultimately failed. His words are what really stood out though. As he argued for voting based on strength rather than loyalty, almost every line he said seemed to be foreshadowing. Multiple times he told people that the next challenge is make or break and if they don’t win it they’re in a terrible spot. He also informed them that Coach wants to keep Edna because he thinks she’ll listen to him, but she’s smart and that a smart person who realizes she’s the sixth in the merge will act desperately. These assertions bring attention to the affects of the vote on the next immunity challenge and Coach’s future in the game. When at tribal council Albert says that loyalty can be faked, he’s right. Even Brandon knows it.

Brandon may have been acting like a Hantz, but he had the same analysis as Albert. Though he still voted for Mikayla, he acknowledged that Edna was acting too sweet not to be playing them. It makes it especially ironic that he didn’t keep Mikayla around as he went on his Bible Belt Christian rant at tribal council about how even a half lie is a lie. Are we supposed to like Brandon? Are we supposed to hate him? It doesn’t matter anymore. What we’re supposed to see him as his an unstable element, kind of like Uranium in the hands of an Iranian. He’s going to blow up eventually, something that became apparent as his anti-half-lies comment directly clashed with Coach’s comment earlier in the episode that a half lie isn’t really isn’t a lie.

This divergence, and the first step towards the fruition of the continued foreshadowing of their split, makes it even more chilling that Brandon and Coach exchanged I Love Yous after Mikayla walked away. This episode began with Coach echoing Mikayla’s observation that you can’t get past seeing the Russell Hantz in Brandon and ended with Coach taking Brandon’s nonsensical side in voting out Mikayla. The symbolism here is clear, especially when considered in conjunction with all of Albert’s comments. By siding with Brandon and choosing loyalty and honor over strength in challenges, has Coach doomed his game? It’s interesting to consider that his character has actually reached a place that it can inspire such a discussion. Coach is finally being treated like a serious Survivor player, but there are dangers that come with that. When you’re a comic relief character or prophet, you’re one note. Everyone knows what to expect from you and appreciates you for it. However, when you’re an actual character, your complexity makes you controversial, and that more often than not means you’re being used as a fable.

The similarities between Zaptera last season and Upolu this season are numerous and disturbing. As Russell became the icon of a fable, so has Coach. As Zapatera made a key mistake that cost them the game (story wise), it seems as though Upolu may have as well. Over the first few episodes, Coach talked about how important winning challenges is and then voted out the girl who, in the story, was shown to have won them three challenges, that he himself called strong one episode. Why? Because this isn’t about Coach Things anymore, it’s about Other Coach Things: his arbitrary definition of honor that completely drops context (and alters his perception of reality, as he denied Mikayla was valuable beyond the first challenge). Coach’s application of his philosophy of honor and strength has been put directly in the crosshairs. If he truly cared about honor and strength, he would think about what those mean in each situation he’s in. Instead, he makes a promise and sticks with it, regardless if the other party doesn’t deserve his consideration anymore. In Heroes vs Villains, it caused him to not vote out Russell even though it made much more sense to honor Boston Rob, one of the strongest players in history, than Russell, one of the most duplicitous players in history. Rob, as it is recorded, was voted out that episode. Coach followed him out the next. This season, Coach once again stuck to his arbitrary promise to a Hantz and voted out the stronger player that even the Hantz acknowledged was stronger. Will it cost him as it did in his previous game? That is the interesting question.

Coach mentioned not wanting to repeat Heroes vs Villains as he saw the Russell in Brandon. The storyline may lead to him doing so. He has voted out Mikayla after he said how important immunity challenges are. His alliance is divided. Savaii looks as if they are bonded. It is completely conceivable that Upolu loses the next challenge. Who do they then vote out, Edna as the sixth? Hold on there. Sophie and Albert know Coach has the idol. What if the little dragon finally hatches like in the first season finale of Game of Thrones? If Sophie leads a blindside of Coach to flush the HII out, a major plot line and its foreshadowing would be satisfied. Factor in that Edna would want to try and save herself and that Coach said "[Edna]'s the one person out here who I think would lay her Survivor life down for me” and the irony that the editors love is invoked once again. And to round out the hypothetical, there is one last fact to consider. Christine is waiting for Coach on Redemption Island. If she were to beat him, return, and join Savaii at the merge, Upolu would be, in Zaboo terms, Zapatara’d—and Coach would once again be the player no should listen to. It’s almost too perfect not to happen.

Hold on a second though. Coach’s Survivor strategy isn’t the only one being put on trial this season. Ozzy’s calmness is the ironic center of Savaii’s firestorm and we can’t ignore that his leadership style was made to look so much worse than Coach’s in episode one. However, we also can’t ignore that Savaii’s side of the seesaw rose once again this episode, and it was due to the sudden flipping of Ozzy’s position in and treatment of his tribe.

In another moment of possible major foreshadowing, in their makeup scene, Keith told Ozzy, "We can either tear each other apart or unite as a tribe and win two in a row." It was the beginning of the return to the cool, calm Ozzy from the whiny, hissy-fit Ozzy that merged after the last tribal council. After his conversation with Keith where they also said they could run all the immunity challenges until the end (interesting possible foreshadowing considering how important challenges have been made out to be this season), Ozzy apologized to the rest of the tribe, uniting them and leading to half of Keith’s comment coming true. Savaii won the first of the next two challenges. Interestingly, in the “Previously On” segment, Ozzy was again highlighted saying, "It's all about keeping us as strong as possible." Clearly he is on Albert’s side of the debate (understandably, of course), which makes all this challenge foreshadowing so strong and the parallel stories between the tribes so obvious.

By now it should be an accepted fact that Cochran is to Ozzy as Brandon is to Coach. The success of the former is dependent on and at odds with the latter. In other words, if Ozzy fails, Cochran succeeds and if Coach fails, Brandon succeeds. Every time Coach seems to be doing well, there is a flash of Hantz in Brandon that causes rifts in the alliance, yet Coach keeps him around. Every time Ozzy seems to be doing well he focuses on strength and makes Cochran a target. Cochran even acknowledged this dynamic himself stating, "The less pleasant [Ozzy] is, the better it is for me." And he was right, especially as he was at his most likable yet calling Ozzy out on being a “little bitch.” Of course, by cognate, Ozzy’s reconciling with the tribe in the episode can only be a bad omen for Cochran. Still, the redhead’s story continues to trend upward as he overcame his sweater vest yet again by sliding down the rocks. It was an interesting detail that convolutes the story. Cochran’s success seems to be a major arc this season, but it is also at odds with Savaii’s success, as that is linked to uniting around Ozzy. It makes me wonder if we’re going to see a cross-tribal alliance post-merge, especially as the final parallel to Upolu convolutes matters further.

Whereas Albert is the other leader/mastermind of Upolu that Coach doesn’t listen to, Jim is the other leader/mastermind of Savaii that Ozzy was shown “listening” to. I put listening in quotes because he didn’t do so directly but rather was shown to in the editing. Albert talked strategy with Coach but was unable to convince the returning player to change his strategy. In a confessional, Jim stated the strategy Ozzy should change to (apologizing and uniting rather than being a free agent) and Ozzy went about doing so, much to the returning player’s success. Will the inverse hold true for Coach, Albert, and Upolu? We have now come full circle as that is the question I began this column with, and it’s also what makes this season so interesting

The strength of this season is how difficult it is to prognosticate a winner. It's the opposite of Redemption Island as this story isn't about a dominating performance, so anyone who says he knows who wins is either trying to fool himself or fool you. (More on this thought in a "making of" column released soon.) This episode was a perfect demonstration of why. Over much of the season, and very strongly in the first episode (which is always important), Coach and Upolu looked strong and Ozzy and Savaii looked weak. Suddenly the story has shifted and recent foreshadowing seems to point to Savaii succeeding because Upolu fails. Are we really supposed to believe Savaii’s sudden unity is genuine and not another high on the seesaw? And what does that mean for wunderkind Cochran, besides the fact that he gets to stick around? So many of the answers will be revealed by the result of the next challenge—and the audience thinking and feeling that anticipation is the mark of an enthralling narrative. The next chapter should always be the most important one. I’ll be more sure of who wins then, but for the sake of tracking now, here are my top three Jacob-esque candidates:

Sophie – If anyone wins on Upolu now, it’s her. Coach is on borrowed time, Albert’s story isn’t a full season arc, and Brandon has been made out to be too much like Russell to win. The only question is if she was prepared in episode one (which she arguably was). She is a non-mastermind and I’ve leaned towards one winning since the beginning of the season. Plus, if Coach really is screwed and Edna switches sides, Sophie could benefit greatly.

Dawn – The problem with Dawn is how unprepared she was in episode one. However, she is a non-mastermind with a strong story. Has she already had her redemption though with that challenge win?

Jim - The anti-Jean Robert, Jim had a strong episode one edit that fit the being prepared theme. Episode two seemed to be a chink in his armor as Keith seemed to be the one controlling things and not him, but Jim has since been shown as correct in both his analysis and strategic response to it. If a mastermind wins this season, it will be him, as his comment about Ozzy being the perfect post-merge teammate for him sticks out in light of Keith’s comment to Ozzy about their running the immunities post-merge. If a mastermind wins this season, it will be Jim. I’m just convinced one (or a Savaii) does yet.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E5: Or What Appendix

Sophie is Coach's Little Dragon

(Thanks to Mario Lanza of of the Funny 115 and his animated gif source.)

Survivor South Pacific E5: Or What

As last week’s slower character development focused episode gave way to this week’s plot based blindside, the pacing of the season is becoming more apparent. Last episode was the end of the first “movement.” This episode was the beginning of the second. Just as Redemption Island began with a focus on Ometepe to set up their end game and gave way to explaining why Zapatera wasn’t going to win the game, South Pacific set the larger machinations in motion for Upolu (Brandon, his relationship with Coach, and his interaction with the rest of the tribe) over the first four episodes and pulled up on the gas in this one. The acceleration switched to Savaii not only because of the storytelling tendencies of the editors, but because of a constraint they must deal with that I don’t feel is mentioned enough. Survivor is not fictional. The editors are editing around what happened in reality—and they use the middle part of the season to explain why the losing tribe or alliance didn’t win. This season, they have to deal with Savaii being completely fractured because their returning player has no leadership ability.

The first clue that we were transitioning into a new part of the story was right at the beginning of the Previously On Segment. Jeff Probst narrated, "It's been a seesaw battle between two of Survivor's most evenly matched tribes." The key word here is been, as it sets up two things. Internally to the episode, it sets up Upolu winning the immunity by only two ounces. Beyond the episode it conjures memories of all the Upolu dominance/Palau reminiscent foreshadowing that occurred over the first two episodes, foreshadowing that was emphasized by a very old school Coach like confessional after the IC win: "Best part of today's challenge, beep beep, we're back in the driver's seat. I mean, we own it now." They own this season. Coach has been making prophetic statements about dominating immunity challenges since episode one. With Savaii now fractured, the domination will begin.

Cocky Ozzy vs Oddly Cochrane

What makes Savaii the short term tribe is that (almost) all of its plotlines culminated in Elyse’s blindside. Up to this point, the tribe has revolved around the Ozzy vs Cochrane dynamic. Ozzy has been trending towards the extreme of his former shortcomings in the game. Each episode, the show has stopped short of calling him cocky. Cochrane did so this week. In contrast to Ozzy’s downward arc, Cochrane has been on an upward arc (a necessity due to Elyse’s blindside). Each week his fandom and neurosis is put on trial and he always seems to move a bit closer to rationality. Just as Ozzy was explicitly called cocky, his story was ironically called out by name by Elyse as “The Little Cochran That Could.” This week he had two key lines. Right before tribal council, he said that this was the first time he felt reasonably safe going into it. This line stands out because generally in Survivor when someone is shown feeling safe before tribal council, he is voted out (see: Elyse). During tribal council, he said that the novelty of going has long since worn off. He is starting to approach the game as he should. Basically, Cochrane seems to have found that happy medium between confidence and paranoi while Ozzy has gone off the other side. Will Cochrane swing to the other extreme as other past players who pulled similar early coups did? It’s certainly not the last remaining bit of Savaii story.

The final piece of story for Savaii is Ozzy’s Hidden Immunity Idol. With it is the story of Keith and Whitney. It is no coincidence that the two of them voted for Dawn to try and stay in Ozzy’s good graces and they’ve been linked together in his HII storyline. Logically, knowing he has it, it would seem impossible to vote Ozzy out next, so what’s going to happen? The next logical victim on Savaii storyline wise is Jim, the cocky abrasive wannabe who backstabbed his alliance the most. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Keith and Whitney vote with Ozzy as he uses the HII. In that situation, I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Dawn vote with Ozzy. All three of these players have been shown as connected to Ozzy in some way this season (although Whitney was clearly shown accepting a coconut Cochran opened while Elyse refused it—was that symbolism for this episode alone or the overall story?). This fractured nature of the tribe is why, even if they win a few more challenges, they won’t survive at the merge. Thee truncated storylines are the definitive proof as to their not being around for the endgame. Jim is as doomed as Ozzy due to his cockiness. Dawn has already had her redemption. Ozzy’s only question is if he’ll be blindsided with the HII in his possession again, and Keith and Whitney are a part of that story. The only player with anywhere truly left to go is Cochrane, though he could possibly be finished as well. I see him as the “winner” of this tribe, as Stephenie was on Ulong in Palau or Mike was on Zapatera in Redemption Island, but his Survivor victory is just being the anti-Siska. Upolu, on the other tribe (see what I did there?), is being set up for the long haul.

Almost-Rob and Almost-Russell

The major indication that Upolu will be around for the endgame is the cool off that Brandon was given this episode. Rather than once again swing him in turmoil over being good or evil (his entire arc), he was given a bit of redemption (but only a bit). Continuing off of last episode’s tribal council, he cried his little heart out and explained how much it hurt for Mikayla to be prejudice against him for being a Hantz. This comment was stitched together by the editors in an obvious attempt to make Brandon say something ironic: "It was pretty prejudice./The way she handled that shows she had very little class at that time." Really, Brandon, that was prejudice? What about the way you treated her just for being attractive? You called her Parvati, but she hasn’t been shown being Parv-like at all. Wasn’t that class-less? Though, admittedly, that he can see prejudice and how it’s hurtful to its target is his tiny bit of hope for his redemption. He is learning.

Before I continue my analysis, I’d like to take a few sentences to comment on my interpretation of this scene. There are two possible ways to look at it. Either it makes Brandon look bad with a mild hint at redemption or it makes Mikayla look bad for doing to Brandon what he did to her. I think the latter is the incorrect interpretation for two reasons. First, Brandon has been shown acting like Russell (while Mikayla hasn’t been shown acting like Parvati) so Mikayla’s comments aren’t prejudice. Rather, they are judgment, as she is judging Brandon on how he acted even though she wants to trust he is a good kid. Second, the fact that Brandon is the one saying it, and no character is independently observing, makes us as viewers acknowledge the absurdness of what he’s saying—the hypocrisy. The only problem is, anyone who is going to say the confessional makes Mikayla look bad is going to say the fact that she was shown judging Brandon at all is a strike against her, as according to certain (incorrect, especially in Survivor) morality judging is bad. Without getting too complicated philosophically, judging is a good thing if done on the right evidence. Which side of this dichotomy do the editors fall on? My answer to that question is my final argument as to why this confessional was bad for Brandon but not Mikayla. As proven by Rob’s edit/story last season, at least within the game of Survivor the editors share opinions and philosophy with me. In other words, in order to win Survivor you have to judge people (who to align with, vote for, etc). Thus, until the editors prove I can’t trust their insight, I will assume they are making smart and valid commentary.

In summary, the little hint at redemption for Brandon is not to foreshadow any long term redemption on his part, but to tease the idea that redemption is possible for him because it is the key to the entire storyline. He is the almost-Russell. He has the same approach but, unlike his uncle, we were shown that hey, maybe he can learn things (and their tribal family likes him sometimes too). It is important to keep this possibility open because it’s the main question that Coach, the almost-Rob, faces, as it is concretized in Brandon’s final key quote: "If I can't win the game like that [as an honest guy], then I don't need to win it."

That dilemma which has always been Coach’s major weakness in gameplay was put back on the table this episode and, like Ozzy and his cockiness, will ultimately lead to his undoing. As this episode seemed to be an upswing for Coach with the finding of the HII, the solidifying of his alliance, and the foreshadowed dominance of Upolu, a confessional of his explicated his story: "Are the stars aligning for Coach or what?" Unfortunately for him, the “Or What” thread was pulled through the episode in the form of anti-Coach lying and dirtiness.

The anti-Coach sentiment at Redemption Island hit an all time high as Bitter Bettys Christine and Stacey met in a challenge and beforehand let loose about what was going on at team Coach. Both incessantly referred to him as Benjamin, to which Probst replied: "So your way of fighting back is saying you will not honor the Coach name?" The Coach name is Survivor lore which drips with his gimmick which includes “iron sharpens iron” honesty and dignity. Factor in Stacey declaring “those are liars” (at which point the camera shows Mikayla) and the Coach can’t win with honesty storyline ramps up, especially as she fingers Albert and Sophie as his accomplices—the second time her prognosticating powers said something about them with Coach (the first time which Coach ignored, the one that involved Mikayla). Then, as Stacey lost and left, Mikayla showed Albert that she has learned what to say and when to say it by telling him, “Don't even say anything." And neither of them did—until they got back to camp.

Back at camp, Albert and Mikayla told Coach what Stacey and Christine said and two interesting things happened. Coach began to come unhinged, saying how important it is that he’s called Coach. The gimmick is starting to rule the man again. Will his antics continue to show up? Then, though they were repeating the words of the women at Redemption Island, Mikayla and Albert were both shown saying Coach’s name wasn’t Coach, but Benjamin (just as Dawn was at Savaii). Considering the two have been linked with the turning on Coach storyline and that not honoring Coach has been linked with calling him Benjamin, it’s an interesting inclusion by the editors, especially considering Coach’s finding of the HII.

The most interesting thing about Coach finding the HII is that Albert asked him to keep it a secret between the two if them and Sophie. In other words, he asked Coach to lie, especially to Brandon who had told Coach about being a Hantz before everyone else. Are we really supposed to believe Coach is going to stay quiet or is he going to honor Brandon’s honesty with returned honesty? And if Brandon finds out about the HII and that Albert and Sophie aren’t telling anyone else about it, isn’t he liable to go on a Russell-esque rampage? It’s an interesting series of implications that are in line with the honesty vs deception storyline that are emphasized by Coach’s confessionals about the HII.

More of the Dragonslayer emerged as Coach discussed uncovering the idol. He explained the importance of keeping calm and collected by using the metaphor of putting his little dragon back in his coat. What’s interesting here is the visuals we were shown and the implications of the metaphor. Immediately after miming putting the dragon back under his arm, a shot of Coach hugging Sophie is shown as if to imply that she is the little dragon, a role that fits perfectly with all the foreshadowing of her leading the charge against Coach. Now think about what it means to be the dragon. In Tocantins, Brandon was the dragon, the manipulative mastermind who Coach needed to slay in order for honesty and virtue (in the form of JT) to win. Wouldn’t then, if honesty and virtue were unable to win this iteration of the game, the dragonslayer be unable to slay the dragon? Yes, which is how we know that, despite his Rob-like edit, Coach isn’t Rob at all, especially as he says: "I'm not running the show, but at the moment, pretty close." We all know what Rob would have said there, as he’s no ordinary man. Well it would seem that Coach is and is thus going to be target #1 at the merge (as he told us) and that’s when Upolu is going to get dirty—which leads us back to our potential winner.

Beyond the subtle shot after Stacey’s “those are liars” accusation and the tenuous idea of the repetition of the Coach being called Benjamin line having meaning, MIkayla had a huge moment in this episode. When watching for a winner pick, I always look for scenes that would ONLY be included if a player had won, for scenes that would be completely pointless otherwise. This immunity challenge had a moment that referred back to what Mikayla was established as in the first two episodes—the girl that is ready to get dirty who won the first challenge for Upolu. Oops, she did it again. Upolu won this challenge by two ounces that Rick was ready to leave those two ounces in the dirt after he dropped them and I’ll let Probst tell you who didn’t leave them: "Mikayla will pick it up. She's not too proud." That’s right, Mikayla will get dirty (unlike Coach) and isn’t too proud (unlike Ozzy). In a season which is all about demons and personality flaws harming players’ chances, Mikayla was once again shown as the one who is most prepared to do what needs to be done to succeed in Survivor.

Iif anyone wins on Savaii it’s Dawn, and if honesty can win this iteration of the game and Brandon is redeemed, then Coach wins.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E4: Circling the Drain

Truth be told, I’ve had a hard time motivating myself to write this week’s column. Last week I turned in a subpar effort due to lack of time to invest. This week, though the episode was well crafted, the overall storyline became less intriguing to me. In many ways it was hampered by one of the most difficult challenges faced by any storytelling: treading water. In any story there are necessarily chapters that don’t have any “major” events or actions. If not handled properly, it can become obvious to the viewer/reader that the author is just “stalling” until that next plot point is reached.

I actually think this episode handled this issue very well by focusing on what makes these episodes necessary: character development. If the episodes were unnecessary, they could just be cut out—although in the case of Survivor every episode is necessary to the overall story (but I don’t want to go too deep into theory here). Ignoring my sure misuse of punctuation in that sentence, this episode took a breather from setting up the themes and the larger plot machinations to develop the players in the scheme. Most notably we got to learn more about Dawn and Edna. And truthfully, the episode was enjoyable. Due to its content it’s just difficult to write about. Thus, I struggled with motivation until I looked up the definition of suvivalism.
‘sur•viv•al•ist [ser-vahy-vuh-list]
a person who makes preparations to survive a widespread catastrophe, as an atomic war or anarchy, especially by storing food and weapons in a safe place.”

“Survivalism is a movement of individuals or groups (called survivalists or sometimes preppers) who are actively preparing for future possible disruptions in local, regional, national, or international social or political order."
The concretes in these definitions, especially the Wikipedia one, inspired me to look at the episode from another angle. As we were reminded in the Previously On segment, currently we are being told the story of two five person alliances being led by former players Coach and Ozzy. However, on each tribe there is a player that stands as a threat to that alliance. On Savaii, Cochrane’s nerdy game obsession threatens Ozzy’s alliance externally. On Upolu, Brandon’s inner struggle threatens Coach’s alliance internally. It is from this point, and Coach’s statement of “You’re either loyal or you’re disloyal,” that this episode builds.

As he swings in a hammock with Elyse, Ozzy is the one who tells us the episode title. Apparently he has been into survivalism his own life, which is pretty ironic (one of the editors’ favorite techniques) as his demise is the one currently being plotted in the jungle. You see, Jim fears Ozzy gaining too much power the way Rob did last season (a parallel we’ve seen drawn many times)—by having a pair of votes and dominating challenges. Except, as we know from previous episodes, Jim’s at the bottom of the alliance so any thoughts he has are just the complaints of the least popular kid. Enter Cochrane who makes Jim’s rebellion plans real with his love for blindside that make Survivor exciting (as any “true” Survivor fan does, otherwise the show is boring, right…right?!). Now Jim has ties outside the 5. This is in motion.

Except it still doesn’t make sense story wise. Ozzy is likable favorite. Jim is a villainous poker player. Cochrane is an empathetic nerd. Plus, as Cochrane points out, two is less than four. Luckily there was another player on the tribe that dominated the edit this episode—Dawn. You see, Dawn’s insecurities being calmed by her success in the immunity challenge weren’t just a one episode story to make her sympathetic. Inside of this story we saw her not only get on board with the plan to vote out Elyse, but critique Ozzy for his cockiness in not wanting other people to strategize. As she said that Ozzy’s mocking of Jim bothered her, we were shown Ozzy lounging in the shelter with Elyse—after the episode opened with him laying in the hammock with Elyse. Making Dawn likable and Ozzy unlikable all sets up Ozzy’s eventual ouster with an added level of irony. Rather than ally with savvy Dawn in the first episode as he easily could have after talking her down, Ozzy chose to chase the pretty Semhar and now the even prettier Elyse. No, this Survivor god is no Rob.

Likewise, as Stacey explicitly called him the god of Upolu, Coach is no Rob either, and the way to understand how this episode is the developmental of a woman’s character and story on his tribe—Edna, his Rob-like pairing. Edna was all aboard the plan and may have been with Coach until the end. The only problem was that Coach, because he is loyal and not disloyal, has kept Brandon around. And Brandon’s looking for redemption so he tells Edna there’s an alliance of five, not a six. This causes Edna to veer of the course and start strategizing on her own rather than following Coach’s plan. For her that means “upping” her social game by asking people questions all about themselves (this sequence had some interesting content which I’ll return to later). Yes her character took a major hit here, but the question is why? Edna seems to be unimportant in tribal politics, so why develop her at all?

Just like how Ashley Underwood was set up early in Redemption Island to be Rob’s final hurdle in the finale with a negative edit, just like how Clay was destroyed in the Thailand recrap to explain how he lost in the final two to Brian, Edna is being set up for the end game. Now when she doesn’t win and is supposed to be looked at in a negative light, we can all remember how annoying everyone else thought she was. Personally I see her as being in the final three because she joins in on the mutiny on Coach and receiving no votes. To understand we have to look at a few more prophetic comments by Stacey and Brandon’s latest shenanigans.

Bitter that she was on the outside of the alliance, Stacey used her way with words to skewer Coach and company. First she declared in a confessional, “That loyalty game plan stuff, I don't buy it at all." Later, as Coach tries to encourage the tribe to hug her when she is voted out, she tells Probst, "Everything was a lie that we seen today." What’s interesting here is not that someone who was voted out would make these comments, but how they were presented. There was no attempt to create a decoy boot. There was no attempt to make Stacey look bad. Instead, she was shown as the unfortunate outsider who told it like it was—which has to make us wonder what she meant by “everything.”

Coupled with loyalty being a lie, everything can clearly only mean the tribal dynamics and more specifically the alliance. Keeping in mind Edna’s new perspective, the key scene of the episode was when Coach attempted to calm Brandon’s paranoia regarding a possible Sophie, Mikayla, and Albert sub-alliance. Coach told him the game was going to get much crazier and he couldn’t believe everything he was told. Except, it was the beginning and end of this scene that made it interesting. As they started talking, Coach told Brandon to “let me know if anyone sneaks up on me.” In the background we see a small figure of Sophie approaching. At the end of the conversation, she is standing there, having snuck up on Coach, without Brandon saying a word. It’s dripping in ironic foreshadowing.

The editors didn’t let us interpret it any other way either. As they went into Tribal Council, Coach gave a confessional about needing to take care of his game first even at the expense of loyalty (see: Stacey’s quote about loyalty). It was the second episode this season where the editors left a nine month pregnant pause that said, “Brandon should be voted out this time.” The problem is that, despite his awareness, Coach still has his head in the sand and wants to see Brandon as a good kid because, as Edna said, “It’s easier to believe a lie sometimes than accept the truth.” It’s one of two perspectives to take on Brandon.

The other perspective to take is that he’s a Hantz and should be treated accordingly. Interestingly though Sophie seems like the smart strategist and is being given lots of foreshadowing as the person who brings down Coach, she is not being used to personify this perspective. Rather, Mikayla is the one voicing the opposite perspective. At Tribal Council she says that even though Brandon is a good kid, it’s always in the back of her mind that he’s Russell Hantz’s nephew and that blood is blood. There you have it, the other perspective. Brandon can’t overcome his past and can’t be trusted because of it.

Of course, Brandon has something to say about the comments and this is where the foreshadowing gets really interesting: "The proof's in the pudding. you can't help somebody who's done that to himself, but what do you do?” Yes, Brandon’s comments were about Russell, but weren’t they also about himself. The proof’s in the pudding. He has acted ruthlessly and erratically. So what do you do? Do you respond to him like Coach is or respond to him like Mikayla is? The proof being in the pudding makes me think it’s not like Coach, especially considering all the other foreshadowing and the interesting way they’re treating Mikayla’s character.

What’s intriguing about Mikayla’s edit is that though she’s supposedly not in the alliance of five, we haven’t been given any indication of her being on the outside of the tribe. After this episode the tribal politics seem to be the group of five and Edna on the outside…oh and Mikayla is on the tribe too. It’s a weird dynamic, especially considering the way Edna and Mikayla were edited this episode. As Edna was interviewing people, the only person she was shown talking to was Mikayla. It was a sneaky way of injecting some backstory for Mikayla. Then Mikayla was shown giving her perspective on Edna’s behavior. This wasn’t narration, as Sophie always gives, but opinion and analysis. This “showing the game from a character’s perspective” is a technique the editors use to make us identify with and understand key players. Most notably it was done constantly with Fabio in Nicaragua, especially at Tribal Councils with his catchphrase “What is going on?” Oh yeah, and Brandon’s “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”? Mikayla definitely isn’t starting in any power position on the outside of the power alliance and being harassed by one of its members.

Thus, my winner pick remains the same, with Sophie as my number two choice and Coach as my number three choice. I don’t see anyone else having a shot at winning. I’m even willing to predict a final three of Mikayla, Sophie, and Edna with a 5-4-0 vote. As for more proof, I leave you with the picture I started this column with, a screenshot from when Stacey was talking about how she proved she was stronger than the other girls on Upolu by holding the weight on her shoulders. First there was a shot of Sophie looking like she was holding the shelter on her shoulders. Then there was the above shot, your moment of zen.