Thursday, March 31, 2011

Survivor Redemption Island E7: Long Live the...err, Wait a Minute.

"Let's not make a mountain out of a molehill," Phillip

"Do as I say, not as I do," Platitude

Off with her head! Though it started sooner than expected, the downfall of Zapatera is upon us. Consistent with the story we've been told so far this season, a pauper rose up and took down the queen. The queen, who was made to look really bad when she declared that she wanted to punch him in the face. The more interesting part of the Zapatera edit, however, is how it played into the big question from last week. Though they chose loyalty last week, the tribe chose spunk this week.

Emphasized by Ralph's "inability to understand" the word, the theme of this week's episode was cohesion. Because they chose Sarita over Stephanie, Zapatera was shown to be lacking cohesion. In fact, the entire Tribal Council was essentially a mediation on this subject. While the discussion was entertaining for its strategic musing, the main point of it was to demonstrate the division between Sarita and David as "what's wrong with Zapatera."

What's wrong with Zapatera? Like Stephanie, Zapatera members had been shown liking David yet considering voting him out. In contrast, the Zapatera members have been shown disliking Sarita, yet never considering voting her out. Choosing loyalty that is not based on common values and personalities. is not choosing loyalty at all. It is choosing the trappings of an alliance, but not the substance. It is why the vote was 4-2. It is why Jeff Probst ended Tribal Council by definitely stating that the tribe was not cohesive.

Over at Ometepe, in a clever bit of editing, Rob said to Phillip, "I don't want anyone to feel like we're not one cohesive unit." The irony is, of course, that Rob is building that cohesion by keeping their common enemy in the game--Phillip--where as, as David pointed out to his tribe, they voted their common enemy out earlier. Essentially, it comes down to "othering" another person. You "other" someone by excluding them from the group for their difference. A by product of pointing out that "other's" difference is you notice the similarities between yourself and the rest of your group. This is what has happened (editing wise) on Omepete. If you no longer have an "other," you don't notice the similarities in your group, you notice the difference as the natural process of finding the next "other" begins. This is what happened (editing wise) on Zapatera. It was the story of this episode: the continuing rise of Ometepe and fall of Zapatera. It's why, to continue the god storyline, Sarita closed the episode with a tongue-in-cheek "god bless them" for her former tribe.

(Note: it must be recognized that some of this othering process surely did aid Zapatera's initial cohesion and Ometepe's continued cohesion--just not as much as the editing might lead you to believe.)

No, god won't bless, Zapatera. You know who he will bless though? Matt, who once again references being at his mercy, saying that he'll stay in the game as long as god wants him to. And stay in the game he did, beating Stephanie in a tense duel as Rob and Phillip looked on. Yes, there were Zapatera members there, but they had nothing to do with the story, which was all about what Matt would do when he got back in the game. First, Stephanie ran her mouth, per usual, warning Rob that they were going to come after him (no duh) and telling Matt to go back to his tribe. Her diatribe served two purpose. First it foreshadowed Rob's upcoming showdown with Zapatera. Second it foreshadowed Matt rejoining Ometepe. Then, Phillip ran his mouth and the most important storyline of the episode gained steam.

What is so intriguing about Phillips turn in this episode is that it seems to have signaled his outgrowing his pauper status and his integration into the group. He began by saying one thing and acting completely against it. Though he said he was waiting for Rob to act first, he in fact acted first unintentionally by tipping his hand about not being cohesive with the group. Though he said not to make a mountain out of a molehill, he did so by acting up over Rob's Rice (which Rob should market after the show). However, despite these contradictions and being labeled as Rob's next target, Phillip about-faced after the challenge. He celebrated his tribe for their victory and claimed that he finally felt like part of the group, all right in time for the merge. It's very interesting, especially considering his behavior at the duel.

After Matt won, Phillip had to say something and basically sucked up to the Christian who is fending off the lions. This scene has significance for one main reason. Though it could easily just be read as Phillip bucking Rob's authority, it must be considered in conjunction with a scene from a few episodes ago. When they were both paupers, Phillip pulled Andrea aside and suggested they align with Matt if he comes back. Was this scene at RI further foreshadowing of such a three person alliance? It's unclear, especially considering Andrea's seemingly Anti-Matt comments last week. However, one thing is clear. There are no longer any paupers on Ometepe, as it is a cohesive unit thanks to their god.

Yes, I am finally comfortable declaring that Rob is the god this season. All of Matt's references, though on the surface are about big-G God, are clearly about him. It is now obvious for one reason. Zapatera will fall at the hands of Ometepe. Why? Because they spurned their Survivor god whereas Ometepe did not. Plus, Ralph pretty much said it at Tribal Council. "Then call me a loser." Ok, loser, I am so sure of the Ometepe beats Zapatera storyline that I am willing to make a few predictions. The remaining Omepete and Matt will at least make it to the Final 8--if not comprise the entire Final 7, the Final 3--if there is one--will feature at least two Ometepe, and an Ometepe will win the game. There are only a few questions I have remaining:

How far does Rob's godhood extend? Is his only purpose to help his tribe win or will he win this game with such a dominant edit?

What will be the result of Natalie's nu-Amber storyline?

What will be the result of the Phillip, Matt, and Andrea storyline?

What part, if anyone will David play?

Based upon these questions, there are essentially two ways I can see the season unfolding, with three possible winners. Here are the two scenarios:

1. Rob controls everything and runs the table. He takes Ashley and Natalie to the Final 3. This explains several things: Rob's dominant edit, Natalie's Nu-Amber edit, and Ashley's bitchy queen edit. The Matt, Phillip, and Andrea stories would be used to explain how Ometepe beats Zapatera and as obstacles/reasoning as to how Rob gets to the end. Imagine if Andrea/Matt spurns the other and stays loyal to Rob, enabling this Final Three.

Winner in this Scenario: Natalie or Rob

2. Matt's rebirth into the game causes the paupers to rise up and overcome the power alliance of Rob, Grant, Natalie, and Ashley. This explains several things: the Matt as Jesus metaphor, the Phillip-Andrea-Matt foreshadowing, and the royal treatment foreshadowing. It would also make Rob's dominance and Ashley's bitchy queen edit obstacles/reasons as to why this group gets to the end. Here I see the Final 3 as Matt, Andrea, and Phillip(with an outside chance of David).

Winner in this Scenario: Andrea or Matt (with an outside chance of David)

Which scenario am I leaning towards? I believe the first will occur because there has been more end game foreshadowing around Rob and Natalie. I especially feel that the first couple episodes pointed to a Natalie win, although I don't think it can be denied that if Rob were to win, this would have to be the story the editors would tell.

There's a giant elephant in the room right now though. I haven't even mentioned Grant. He has no story. You just know he's going to get Gregg'd at some point. Don't believe me? Well then, there's one more thing you have to do, you know what it is:

(Do it, Rockapella.)

Think about it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Survivor Redemption Island E6: Loyalty or Spunk

"How's that God theory doing?" Carl Wonerfully Hagemann

"Pretty damn good. Thanks for asking, " Me

Just when I thought the god theory was on its last legs it combined forces with the royalty theory and created one giant super edit. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise really. Jesus was (is?) the king of kings, right? So who's the king of kings of Redemption Island? That's Matt, right? Except, he's a worshiper--not a worshiped (yes, I made that a noun)--so maybe the point is to follow and not lead. Now that would be quite a statement about the current state of the game--it's better to be a follower.

But Redemption Island isn't just the challenges, it's the show itself. Each tribe has their own royalty and people are going out of their way to protect those kings and queens, so maybe it's better to be a leader. Then again, those paupers are getting mighty feisty. So which is it, worship or be worship, follow or be followed? That question was exactly the one this episode asked us: what's more important, loyalty or spunk?

The episode began with a huge reminder that the god storyline is still in effect and who one of its major players is--Matt. If you don't think this storyline is serious, consider that for the first time ever we got to see the two RI players bond. Krista received her luxury item--a bible--in RI treemail (which is actually a good way to integrate the luxury items into the show again). She and Matt prayed before the challenge (in which Matt said lord about 42 times). Then they had the closest challenge yet--one which Krista legitimately could have won. She didn't though, and what was most interesting was what happened next.

First, Krista gave Matt her bible. Normally, such an exchange wouldn't mean much story-wise. However, this luxury item contrasted perfectly with the only other one we've been shown--Francesca's journal. Whereas Francesca's was a blank slate that she had to write words in, Krista's already has The Word written in it. This concretizes the importance Krista ascribed to the item. No, not that importance--the importance for the game. Krista declared that it would give Matt the strength to carry on. To carry on, as I already assessed immediately after Matt's boot, back into the game. Whereas Francesca--the first player to reach RI--had to figure it out herself (and failed to), Matt--the second player to reach RI--already has the way described for him. He only has to follow it. Then Krista followed up with the rest of her confessional. The two of them decided before the duel that whatever happened would be god's will. The logical cognate is, of course, that what happens in the overall game is god's will too (right Vecepia?). Which god are we talking about though, "big G" god or "edited-as-one-in-this-season" god? To find the answer, we have to look at our feudal societies.

Zapatera is dealing with the consequences of casting their god out--and he is a vengeful god indeed. With Russell gone, Zapatera has lost two immunity challenges in a row. Worst of all, his two priestesses Krista and Stephanie have warned them of their impending doom. Yet, they still continue down the path. They had a chance to embrace Stephanie this episode, but cast her out like Russell and Krista before her. Zapatera decided to choose loyalty over spunk--and they're definitely being edited as acting in line with that dichotomy.

Pick one word to describe the dominant five Zapatera members. You got it, boring. Now pick one word to describe Stephanie. You got it, passionate. Whether these people actually are boring and Stephanie is that much more passionate than them is a fact none of us can attest to. However, what's important is that they have been shown that way since Russell's exit. Consider who the most vocal and colorful person on Zapatera was before Russell's boot. You got it, Ralph. Who has disappeared in the editing? It's no coincidence, as showing Ralph wouldn't portray the tribe in the light the editors want to. It's why they've shown Steve and Julie so much. They're two levelheaded and mature people. I'm not saying this as a knock against them. In fact, in reality it is a positive. However, in the story, the editors are using them to create a certain image of their tribe. It could even be argued that, as part of the redemption of Survivor, Zapatera is being propped up as a bunch of boring soulless gamebots so that when they fail people won't thin positively of that strategy again.

(Note: Refer back to my episode four column. This shows how much the editors think you are weak to the edit. Zapatera actually is playing a decent game strategically. Voting out Russell was the right move. The merits of keeping Sarita can be debated, but the decision was definitely made to look worse than it was too. Simple logic dictates if there's a 6-3 vote then the three go first--and there was and they did.)

Make no mistake about it either. Zapatera will fall. Why? Because they're too worried about protecting their "princess" Sarita. (Remember, I'm talking about the edit here.) Still think I'm making this royalty thing up? Julie was the one that called Sarita "princess" and then described what made her one. Steve likewise gave Sarita his own royal nickname, "uptown girl." Over the remainder of the episode, the two gladiators decided if they wanted to protect their royal highness or not. It was either that or agree to the assertions of the two paupers, Stephanie and David. This was the story we were told. If you're asking me where Mike was, that's the point. He wasn't part of it. The point of this edit was Zapatera (the gamebots?) choosing loyalty over spunk.

Ometepe, in contrast, are as spunky as they come. There's Rob, the mischief maker who buries clues, creates games, and tells cameramen what to do--all just for shits and giggles. There's Ashley, the beauty queen who flaunts Kevin and taunts Phillip. There's Grant, the super athlete who runs around and snips at Rob's heels like an overly energetic but not-too-smart little dog with his tonguing hanging out and ears flopping all over the place. Then there's Phillip. What can be said about Phillip? If you thought Zapatera paupers Stephanie and David were being uppity and bold, then Ometepe's pauper Phillip must be going (ok, already is) insane. First, he dared to besmirch the queen herself, Ashely--who, like Sarita, is getting the royalty edit as she lays around all day and does nothing. The pair's fight was Funny 115 material without-a-doubt, but what's important to take away is that Phillip was supposed to be the good guy. Second, he dared to include himself in Rob and Grant's HII "hunt" at the reward. After Rob mocked him, Phillip gave us another Funny 115 worthy moment, but the fact remains--he was supposed to be the victim.

Like Julie and Steve on Zapatera, Rob and Grant are the gladiators protecting their queens. When Phillip bitched out Ashley, who stepped in to talk him down? You got it, Rob. Who excused the girls' actions in a confessional? You got it, Rob. Who won the immunity challenge single-handedly, fulfilling the girls' wish for a spa day (that was a nice in-episode foreshadowing edit I hope you caught)? You got it, Grant. These girls are the queens, while Phillip and Andrea are the paupers. Phillip is definitely the Stephanie of his tribe--loud, vocal, and obnoxious. Andrea is the David, except she's being edited differently. Rather than take a stand, she is laying low and letting what may come. (Though non-editing wise I would argue they are both making good strategic moves.)

The most interesting moment of the episode, however, came at the beginning of the reward. As Ometepe sat down to eat, they were shown as if they were sitting under a statue of Jesus--a statue that Rob was being shown asking "Who do you think that is?" As Rob is an Italian from Boston and wears that chain around his neck that I'm pretty sure has religious meaning, I'm pretty confident he's Catholic. Yet, this scene makes it seem like he doesn't have a clue who Jesus is, especially as everyone chimes in with what basically sounds like a "duh." What the inclusion of this scene does is make us consider where Rob fits into this god storyline.

Redemption Island does one thing, it brings a player back to life (in the game). Matt stated he wants to be more like Jesus. Well, he will be as he wins his way back--and when he comes back we'll all be reminded about what Jesus was all about. Jesus wasn't in it to win it. He was in it for the weak. He died to forgive sins. Notice how the Jesus story lines up perfectly with the royalty story. Extra bonus points for noticing how Andrea is one of the paupers. Yes, Matt's return will mean the salvation of the weak--just as Jesus' did.

Where Rob fits in all depends on how you interpret his edit in relation to Matt. At this point, it could go either way. If Rob is meant to be a false god as Russell was, then Matt's return will signal his end. This fits well with interpreting the reward dinner scene to be Rob disrespecting Jesus. Interestingly, Russell declared that he wanted Matt to win, so it could be said editing wise that Russell blessed Matt and will once again have one up on Rob (editing wise)--especially as it could be argued that Rob decided to keep around those who would be loyal to him rather than those who had spunk (Francesqua, Kristina, and Matt).

Hold on a second though. There is another way of interpreting that reward scene. What if Rob wasn't supposed to be disrespecting Jesus, but reminding everyone of him, almost as if to say "don't forget my ace-in-the-hole, Matt will be reborn." This interpretation lines up with a number of things. First, Matt has been shown worshiping Rob throughout the season--from talking about how great Rob is right before being blindsided by him to saying he wanted to rejoin Ometepe when he returned. Consider if he does rejoin his old tribe. Andrea's cause would be greatly aided, and Rob has already been shown considering keeping Phillip around. Yes, the paupers would be aided. Craziest of all (and to be honest I've never been quite clear on this), Jesus isn't god himself, he is the son of god (even though he is often called god--I told you I wasn't clear on this). In this scenario, Matt would be Jesus and Rob would be god--and editing wise it would be said that Rob chose spunk over loyalty, as the major Ometepe storyline to start the season was the decision to keep Phillip (Spunky Brewster) over Kristina (gamebot?).

Rob might actually win this thing, especially considering the last piece of evidence that is really hard for me to explain away--every episode he has been shown saying one small thing about how things are going perfectly for him. This episode, he mentioned how Ashley and Natalie looking bad only makes him look good in the long run. Factor in that he has been shown a lot less since finding the HII (Ometepe's edit has been dominated by Ashley and Phillip), and Rob's storyline grows ever intriguing.

If Rob doesn't win, the only other possible two winners I see are Natalie and Andrea. The editors have done a very careful job of making sure Ashley takes the heat for her and Natalie's laying about and pettiness. It's like they're flipping the Jenna and Heidi edit so Heidi takes the heat and everyone appreciates Jenna's win this time. The editors are also being very measured with Andrea, showing her as being aware, subtle, and patient. There hasn't been a bad thing shown about her. The forced assumption is that a jury would love her. Can anyone win on Zapatera? I don't see it, but David has the best shot, as he has been shown as intelligent, likable, and has the pauper storyline going for him.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Survivor Redemption Island E5: The Royal Treatment

“Most of the game revolves around who is best at hide and seek,” Mario Lanza

“I was going for the win,” Rob

The problem with removing the villain from a story is that the audience no longer knows who to root against. This is especially true if the heroes were only defined in relation to the villain—that is, they were only the good guys because they stood in opposition to the bad guy. Without that evil force, the heroes are downgraded to directionless everymen. Their roles are unclear because their goals are unclear. All they wanted was to slay the beast. When it’s slain in Act One, the audience wonders what reason there is to stick around through acts two and three. Redemption Island faced exactly this problem this episode and addressed it in the most logical way—by rebooting the story.

“We Hate Our Tribe” was the second premiere of the season, and it’d be hard to complain about not knowing the characters after the episode, because each of them was given a defining moment that reflected their character or the role they would be playing in the broader story. The players have already picked their god. Now they must play the game. To do so, they must turn back to the theme of the season—perception. How do you perceive your own role in the tribe? How do others perceive your role in the tribe? These were the two main questions that were asked, and the answers that were provided fit nicely into an organizational pattern that their chosen god defined. It’s Rob’s game now, and they’re all playing “The Royal Treatment.”

In a way, RT (not to be confused with “retweet”) is an old school way of playing the game. Well, it’s old school to the new school, but not to the likes of Hatch, Tina, and Lex, who played when alliances were truly formed by equals. Rather, it’s old new school, the second iteration in strategy that began to evolve in Marquesas with the chopping challenge. What that challenge revealed (mostly to Neleh and Paschal) is that it’s impossible in reality for there to be an alliance of equals, especially if the greater the number of people in the alliance.

Hatch, Tina, and Lex were all in alliances of three/four. Game-wise it makes sense why they would be equals. But in Marquesas, there was an alliance of six, something that was very difficult to manage, especially for John Carroll who was trying to play a very old school game. This old new school evolved further over the next two seasons as two all-time greats took different approaches to it. In Thailand, Brian Heidik did what John could not, managing his tribe perfectly, to the point that he ranked his “allies” in the infamous middle finger confessional. In Amazon, Rob Cesternino did the opposite of Brian, counting on the old school style players being poor managers and turning their numbers against them. Brian, of course, perfected his variation himself. Jonny Fairplay, on the other hand, perfected Rob C’s style in Pearl Islands. Then there was All-Stars, the culmination of the first era, and the dominance of Boston Rob.

What All-Stars represented was the collected knowledge of the first seven seasons of the show. The person who worked with and off of that knowledge was Rob, and he did it based mainly off of what he witnessed firsthand in Marquesas. As he said himself, his strategy was very simple. End his deals with people before the expiration date on the deal. Essentially, he cut people before they even thought of cutting him. It’s an anticipatory strategy that puts you in Brian’s position and minimizes the likelihood of a Rob C/Fairplay challenge to your authority. It’s also the basis of RT. Keep them distracted so they don’t realize their roles until after they’re already voted out. It’s why the HII was introduced into the game—instant role reversal. The most important information in RT, however, is what the roles are and who files them. What follows is a list of the roles with explanations and then an analysis of each tribe based on that list.

The Roles

King/Queen – They are the short term “winners.” Just like Rob’s game only offered fleeting pampering to the winner, so does the throne that these players sit upon. In the short term, there is no way they can lose. They’ve played the early alliance game early, but—as Stephanie and Krista portended—that is barely even half the game. And, like Rob’s game on the beach, while these players are winning in the short term, their focus on it has them distracted from the long term opportunities that exist. They will be dethroned.

Gladiator – Like their majesties they are fighting for, the gladiators are focused on one thing—winning in the short term. They’re less concerned with the politics of it all and more concerned with challenges and the Hidden Immunity Idol. Even more to the point, their long term game is tied up with the success of the king and queen, they just think the king and queen’s success is their success. That is not exactly true. Luckily, it also means that the king and queen’s failure is not necessarily their failure either.

Pauper – They are the disenfranchised and destitute, the have-nots. Some legitimately have no skills and deserved their spot. Others have lots of skills and have just not been recognized by those people in power. In the short term, they seem screwed—and some of them are. However, not all will become victims of the king and queen. In our modern day anti-monarchal and pro-proletariat Capitalist/Marxist narrative, we love to see the weak and poor rise up simply because we assume they are disenfranchised—that they are unjustly ignored by those people in power. And that is definitely the story being told here. In the long term, some/most of the paupers will turn the tables on the monarchy/establishment.

Jester – S/he is kept around for one reason—his personality provides some sort of value to the king, queen, or gladiators. This role can be played intentionally or unintentionally, but is almost always marked by the jester thinking s/he is not the jester. A larger-than-life persona and character is also a must for this role.


Queens Ashley and Natalie: We’ve seen this before. The pretty young girls think they’re prettier and younger than the other girls. Unfortunately for this season’s Jenna and Heidi, Andrea’s not deaf, so she has to pretend to care about their vapid conversations. It’s a good thing they have their “big brothers” Rob and Grant to protect them. Still, as long as the two guys are around, these girls have their golden ticket.

Editing wise, could the royalty designation have been made more obvious? This duo took a major hit this week as they laid on the beach, admittedly harming my Natalie wins prediction. However, she may possibly just be the Jenna to Ashley’s Heidi, as Ashley was made to look worse this episode. I don’t think that comment about not wanting to massage Phillip was as bitchy as it sounds (I wouldn’t massage Phillip for a dozen donuts either), but was surely edited to make her look that way. Yes, Ashley’s Heidi is clearly head for a fall. Natalie may still win though. Jenna was only 21 when she won Amazon (spoiler alert).

Gladiators Rob and Grant: It may be controversial to call Rob a gladiator and not a king, but I do so because of a flaw in his game. At this point his new-Amber Natalie is more likely to win than he is. He, unintentionally in this season and Marquesas and intentionally in All-Stars, becomes the white knight for the girl he is carrying through the game. Does he actually realize this error and will he fix it? We’ll see, but it still means he isn’t as safe as Natalie.

And though Rob is planning long term, he and Grant are mainly concerned with one thing: winning challenges. Rob is the brain and Grant is the brawn. Without them, the tribe would be sunk. Unfortunately, however, unless Rob is incredibly self aware, things like won’t go in his favor. As for Grant, poor Grant, he is not really looking like anything more than Rob’s stooge. Still though, he is likable, so it’s tough to tell if a jury would see him as Mick or JT—which makes me wonder, are Rob and Grant the most potent pair in Survivor history? Are they Stephen and JT on steroids?

Pauper (Cinderelly) Andrea – She is the definition of a have-not. Part Christy and part Alina, she goes along with her evil step sisters, but she also goes along with Phillip. Why? Because she has no other choice since her tribe took her closest ally away. Really, all she’s waiting for is her Prince Charming Matt to ride back into the game on his white horse. The only question is if she’ll make it that far or not. She will be avenged though, and at least the worst of her evil step sisters (Ashley) will not win.

Jester Phillip – Remember, we’re talking about editing, and in it this guy is as big of a jester as they come. His pink underwear is a joke. He’s constantly shown throwing spears at crabs. First he didn’t realize that Rob was leading him on. Now he doesn’t realize that Andrea is just nodding her head at him. Look, I think he’s actually a smart decent guy, but in this show he’s at everyone else’s mercy and will only get to the end if someone drags him there.


King and Queen Mike and Sarita – From Russell’s comments at Redemption Island last week and Mike’s comments at Tribal Council this week, it’s clear who is the safest here according to the editing Sarita is pulling the strings, as much was made of the fact that she made the decisions during the challenge. Mike, on the other hand, is the man who is playing the game without anyone—or at least Krista and Stephanie—realizing it. He is completely confident, almost smug, in his sub-alliances. Mainly though their position is determined by the fact that they’re both being set up for a fall, especially Sarita, and by process of elimination.

Gladiators Julie and Steve – This pair is concerned with one thing—challenges. They are both strong athletic competitors. One is a former NFL player. The other is a ripped firefighter. More important is the perspective they’ve been shown as having. Steve is all about the good of the team, not any individual. He’s definitely not taking a leadership role—to the point that he didn’t speak up at the challenge in favor of David when he wanted somebody too. What happened to leading by example? Julie, in contrast, has been consistently shown as worried about challenge momentum. (Considering after Julie said that, Zapatera lost again, she may have been predicting something.) In her other major scene in the episode, Julie was shown talking one on one to Sarita, lobbying in favor of Stephanie. It did show that Julie has some sway, but it still came across as her lobbying to Sarita. It’s unclear what will happen to Julie and Steve, but for now it’s clear they’re working for Sarita and Mike.

Paupers David and Stephanie- Do I even need to explain Stephanie? The main important thing in her edit this week was her comments to Rob about two more. The two was emphasized by the editors by showing her repeating it. Clearly that’s going to come into play. David, on the other hand, was shown being disenfranchised by the queen Sarita. Though he is clearly talented and respected by the rest of his tribe, Sarita decided to go with Stephanie. No one was happy about it either and in their big group discussion David expressed himself freely. It’s also important to note that David was not at all mentioned in Krista’s exit rant. The editors were even sure to include a reaction shot from him at the news. It’s clear that at some point he will turn the tables on Sarita and get the upper hand. The only question is whether it will be part of Stephanie’s two with Rob or not.

Jester Ralph – If there is anyone who wasn’t in this episode, it was Ralph. I suspect it’s because he’s a nonentity. Sure, he found the HII and has had some colorful antics, but does that make him anything more than a clown. This label is especially true if you consider his treatment of Russell and his spelling, which I still suspect might be a gimmick. The edit definitely hasn’t shown any of his relationships with his tribemates. Even if he does have strong alliances, we aren’t supposed to be thinking about it.

The Outcome

There are two possible outcomes I see to this season. In the first, Stephanie and David join forces with Rob and his alliances and they run the table to the end. In the other, we have a repeat of Marquesas (as several people have already noted the parallels, most notably George Nicolaidis). Rob goes at the merge, the Zapatera four of Sarita, Mike, Steve, and Julie fills in for the Rotu four, and there is a cross tribal alliance of the paupers with Phillip serving as the Kathy crazy-turned-epic-player prototype. Who do I think wins in each scenario? In the first, I still think Natalie is favored. In the second, it is possible Natalie could squeak in somehow, but a more likely Final Five is Phillip, Stephanie, David, Andrea, and Matt. In that I could see Matt overthrowing kings Rob and Grant who looked down on him from their thrown at RI as he knelt before. The winner would be Andrea or David.

Story wise, it’s tough to figure out how far Rob will go, but he will have a major impact on the endgame, just like he did in Marquesas. I’m still leaning towards scenario one, however, because even though he is starting to be treated like just another player (which should make many people happy), he still has the HII. Plus, if there was one major theme of this episode (and season) it's how to play--and as I established in the beginning--this is Rob's game. Sure, there's an apparent big debate about whether to play true old school style (as the Zapatera tribe is doing) or new school (as Krista and Stephanie argued), but Rob knows it's all about finding that sweet spot right between the two--the new old school. And that's what he's being trying to do this whole time. It's why he's been hiding and everyone else has been seeking.

This was a long one and probably not my best writing, but I really wanted to get all this information out. As always, I only ask that you do one thing with what you read here:

Think about it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Survivor Redemption Island E4: My God

"It is not justice or equal treatment that you grant to men when you abstain equally from praising men’s virtues and from condemning men’s vices. When your impartial attitude declares, in effect, that neither the good nor the evil may expect anything from you—whom do you betray and whom do you encourage?" - Ayn Rand, How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society

"I'm doing this for my god," Matt

In reality--and his Christianity--Matt was referring to the supernatural conception of god, the first mover. Reality television is rarely real though, and the comment was edited in to convey a different conception of "god." This Redemption Island duel was different, as it was, for the first time, a face off between tribes--tribes that have been edited to represent opposing forces. It's a clash of the titans, both literally and metaphorically, and its of the utmost important that we take a stance on it.

When Matt said "my god," the editors wanted us to think about Rob. You know, the same guy Matt praised right before that guy blindsided him out of the tribe. Yes, his god is an awesome god. Except that's the entire point. When did Rob go from being a big villain to a big hero? Where are the confessionals from Andrea and Kristina about how much of a power monger Rob is? Where are the confessionals from Ashley, Grant, and Natalie about how much of a malevolent dictator Rob is as he disregards their opinions and makes them vote out Kristina instead of Phillip? They're conveniently left on the cutting room floor.

The lesson here is that, if you let them, the editors can make or break your conceptions of these characters. It's the same lesson Purple Kelly learned in Nicaragua. It's the same lesson Rupert learned in Pearl Islands and All-Stars. The editors will make a player into the character they need to in order to tell the story they want to tell. Do you really think Purple Kelly was irrelevant and had no impact on the game? Be real, they were punishing her for quitting. Do you really think Rupert was an epic hero in Pearl Islands and a doofus in All-Stars? Be real, they needed a foil for Jonny Fairplay (because every great villain needs an epic hero to battle). This is the point we would do well to learn.

The editors can make anyone a hero or a villain, but they only do so based upon how they expect you to respond. That's right, you are the one who is really in control of all this. The editors create heroes and villains not based upon what they thinks makes someone good or bad, but upon what you think makes someone good and someone evil. They do so in order to get you to continue watching. This process of pandering actually begins long before the editing. It goes into designing twists and casting the players. All of these decisions are made to keep you tuned into the show.

(Note: I don't think the editors and producers have ever completely pandered to the audience. If I did think that, I wouldn't watch the show. However, that topic is a much different column that I don't want to delve into right now.)

The lesson for us is to take seriously the immense responsibility we have--the responsibility to ourselves. What kind of show do you want to watch? Figure out your answer to that question and decide who your heroes and villains are, not based on the editing, but based on their statements and actions and your knowledge of reality. Now, there is a bit of a problem here, as out of the immense amount of footage that is captured, we're only shown a sliver. What we witness is necessarily limited. However, since we know that, we can factor that into our evaluation of the players. Admitting your own limited perspective is a big step towards expanding your perspective.

To get a better grasp of what I mean, take this entry from Mario Lanza's Funny 115 2.0. By turning Courtney into a "word assassin," the editors were looking to do one thing: turn her into an acceptable loser in the F3. They knew Todd won, so they needed to give you a reason to accept Courtney losing, so they turned her into a villain. Otherwise, you would have remembered her as the precocious underdog who overcame her physical shortcomings to excel in the game. They made you forget all that though by showing her "mock" another underdog--the not-too-pretty, not-too-athletic, not-too-intelligent Denise. I never saw Courtney as a villain though because I never saw her comments as mocking.

(Note: The worst "hit job" by the editors in Survivor history is the Thailand recrap, where they turned Clay Jordan into satan's spawn so you would accept him losing to a near-sociopath.)

Courtney's comments were just. To understand why, I had to look beyond the editing at all the other factors involved--competition, the game of Survivor, welfare, politics, government, natural rights, honesty, self esteem, and the nature of man (to name a few). I won't go into the details of my rationale (that's another completely different essay), but not only did I not find Courtney's comments to be villainous, I found them to be heroic. Why? Because, in short, it's never just to reward weakness and inability, and I want to see a Survivor in which strength and ability are the indicators of success.

(Note: Strength and ability are in no way limited to physicality.)

Ultimately, that is what you need to decide. What Survivor do you want to see? Based upon your answer--and only your answer--you can then pick your villains, heroes, and gods. Survivor has never been a frivolous game of messing with people's heads and/or living in the wilderness. It has always been--and always will be--a battle of morality that speaks as much about people in the way they play it as it does in the way that they watch it. That's why, when I watch, my god is Boston Rob Mariano.

Rob is the Survivor I want to see for the following reasons:
1. He always uses his mind.
2. He always enjoys himself (positive perspective, humor, and outgoing).
3. He calls it like he sees it.
4. He is honest, with himself and others--treating them as equals. (Don't believe me? Watch this Funny 115 1.0 entry.)
5. He always gives his best effort.

My point is not to get you to worship at the same altar as me, but to get you to take advantage of the opportunity the editors are giving you and worship at the altar of your choosing--not theirs. If you can't consistently, honestly, and intelligently defend your god, then you're not being just--and that hurts yourself. This is a matter of good and evil, and there's only one way you can help good win:

Think about it.

(Yes, this column is a moral statement on many levels. The inconspicuous absence is intentional, deliberate, and well though out.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Survivor Redemption Island E3: Break Ups and Pick Up(Artist)s

“A wise man knows much but says little, a fool knows little but says much.” – Unknown (If you know the source of this quote, please let me know.)

“Man it feels so good to play with you amateurs. You give away so much. You don't even know when to keep your mouth shut. Thanks for the memories.” – Rob Mariano

Dear Stephanie,

We have to break up. I took my stuff. I’m so sorry.

I wanted to like you. I really did. Physically, you’re one of the most attractive women to ever play Survivor, and for awhile I thought you had quite a brain in the pretty little head. Allying with Russell was a bold move that had the potential to pay off majorly. Everyone knew he was deceitful and abrasive, so they avoided him. You, however, were trying to use his personality to your advantage. You tried to train your dragon like Parvati, and for awhile I believed in you. Rather, I wanted to believe in you. I created a false conception of you in my head based upon what I wanted you to be. The editing plays funny tricks on a guy like that.

Unfortunately this week I learned that you’re not Parvati. Oh sure, you were playing the basics of her strategy, but we all watched Heroes vs. Villains. Any pretty young girl can flutter her eyelashes and suck up to Russell. Flirtation is not what made Parvati’s game—not even in The Cook Islands. No, what made Parvati is her discretion. Her flirting got her into people’s inner circles. She only used the information she learned there when it benefitted her most.

You, on the other hand, lack discretion. Rather than wait to strike like a coiled snake, you climbed out of your cave to pounce on Frodo when Samwise was hiding behind the rock face. Maybe that reference is too nerdy for you. I don’t know, but if it is I’m sure you’ll tell me eventually, because apparently that’s what you do. You run your mouth My only question is: why? I can’t think of what purpose it serves.

Do you just think you’re that much smarter than everyone that you can berate them at Tribal Council and still win the game? Do you think you’re too smart to make decisions that are harmful to your life in the game? Because you’re not. You clearly demonstrated at this Tribal Council that you can’t see beyond the tip of your own nose. Yes, you understand how the game works. Yes, you understand how to think about strategy. Knowing those things doesn’t guarantee you won’t make mistakes though. Sometimes you just don’t know everything.

If you do make a mistake, the best thing to do is admit to yourself you made one and keep your mouth shut while figuring out how to sustain the least possible damage from it. Except you can’t do that. Instead, you dug your heels in and went on a tirade, berating anyone who dare challenge your understanding of the game. Well, I hate to break it to you sweetheart, but you’re a day late and a dollar short. Barring a twist or your finding a Hidden Immunity Idol, you’re about to follow your guy to Redemption Island where I’m sure you’ll find about as much success as he will—none.

Seriously, do you not realize that your little tirade may have been what caused Julie to vote against you? Maybe she was on the fence and then decided she didn’t want to risk her entire game by allying with Hope(less) and Associates. I really can’t say because this is clearly a case where editing hid Julie’s decision making process, but it is an important fact to note. You don’t run your mouth at Tribal Council because it shows your cards. I’m sure you’ve heard Lady Gaga. What happened to your Poker Face?

Like Gaga in her new video “Born this Way,” you dropped the plumage and discarded the mask, and I don’t like what I saw underneath. Be sure to tell your little mentor the following when you see him again: personality matters in this game, and yours, like his, is so profane that without intimidation and idols, you’re nothing more than an early boot with a hint of potential.

Don’t ever call me—even if you’re on a coconut phone made by Greg Buis,

Now that I’ve taken care of that bit of unpleasant business—and trust me, it’s always unpleasant—it’s time I turned my attention to more important development in this episode: the destruction of the Survivor legacy of Russell Hantz. There are two perspectives from which to approach this subject (which is a hell of a lot more touchy than it should be): editing and strategy.

For two seasons, the editors ran the Hantz Train. Because everything worked out in his favor (except the final votes), Russell was untouchable. He was, as he said, the LeBron James of Survivor—building him up as unstoppable increased ratings and buzz. In exchange, Russell was unleashed like a genetic hybrid in Gremlins 2. He could pretty much do whatever he wanted, but it was all only going to end in one way—destruction. Then came the clusterfuck now known as Nicaragua, and the future of the series was in doubt. The editors had to do something.

What they did was embarrass Russell in such a heavy handed manner it made Purple Kelly’s edit look benevolent in comparison. From moment one of Redemption Island, Russell was constantly being shown failing in contrast to Rob’s success (which they did again in this episode by showing Russell being stubborn and then Rob adapting by searching for the HII). Sure, it was possible to say they were trying to build Russell up for another underdog showing. Their edit of Russell was so harsh that it almost seemed like something else had to be going on. I can’t have been the only one actually believing that Julie was going to turn at Tribal Council.

Except this editing wasn’t about gameplay at all. Sure, Russell helped that along by playing the exact same game as he did the first two times. This wasn’t even about a good story. Sure, it helped that Ralph found the idol, but that didn’t amount to anything really. This was strictly personal. While watching the episode last night, my friend remarked that maybe the editors reworked the episodes once the spoiling story leaked. I doubt that’s true, but this edit was so harsh you have to wonder if maybe he had a point. They even made it a point to show him as being diseased AND mock his tattoo. “Keep Hope Alive” was not only scrawled across Russell’s shoulder by a kindergartener, but was the episode title. Too bad hope not only died, it was brutally murdered in a manner that would make even Dexter sick.

And the truth is, Russell may have taken his talents to Redemption Island, but he brought all of this on himself. His game hinged on two things: the unknown and the HII. Russell is basically a Survivor Pick Up Artist. He knows all the routines to perform, the sweet nothings to whispers, and the switches to flip. The problem is, being a PUA only works if the girl you’re attempting to pick up doesn’t know you’re a PUA. If she doesn’t know and you’re good, you can take on all the trappings of the nice guy, and she’ll buy it. Notice how Russell always did this, constantly saying how he was about the tribe, the numbers, and being loyal. He was only interested in those things in the same way a PUA is. In a true relationship, the partners are concerned about both involved people’s pleasure. They both derive pleasure from the fact that it is a mutual beneficial arrangement. Russell, on the other hand, like a PUA, is only interested in how a deal benefits him because he doesn’t care what happens to other people. It is a cold, callous, and calculating way of approaching the game.

Don’t understand what I mean? Consider past winners who have dominated strategically and who they got to the end with. Yul got to the end with Becky and Ozzy, two players close to his age, intelligence level, and athleticism. Earl went through most of the game with Yau-Man, a kindred spirit. Todd reached the end with Amanda and Courtney, all youthful and spirited players. When you establish a relationship with somebody, even in Survivor, you’re looking for things you value in them—and since you value those things, you’re going to want to see them be successful as well. And this works to players advantages, as who would you rather have next to you in the F2 or F3 and on the jury? Players who are more like you or less like you? (Hint: The players who are more like you are more likely to vote for you to win the game.)

Now consider who Russell took to the F3 both times, Natalie, Mick, Parvati, and Sandra. How did he end up with those people sitting next to him? Because he targets all the strong minded, confident individualists immediately—which is exactly what Russell is. Say what you will about Ralph this season, but the guy is secure with himself and has a game plan. It’s no wonder Russell targeted him so quickly. So if you get to the end with a bunch of followers and collectivists, who do you think they’re going to vote for? It’s sure as hell not going to be the guy who doesn’t give a shit about them and what they think. It’s going to be the girl that has empathy for them and loves them. Still don’t believe me? Look at who voted for Fabio in Nicaragua: Dan (UTR smart guy), Benry (UTR laid back guy), Purple Kelly (UTR laid back girl), Na’Onka (youthful and does what she feels), and Marty (smart and world wise guy). All of these players bonded with Fabio because they were like him in some way. This is the human side of the game.

The other thing a good PUA needs is a trick. Like a magician, he needs to distract you so you don’t think too much about him (because if you do you won’t figure out that he’s all image and no substance). Russell’s trick was the HII. By constantly finding it, he could be ignored and still have a chance in the game. People wouldn’t think much of him because he was in the minority. Yet, he would constantly come out on top. The best way to concretize this metaphor is refer to Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother. He literally does magic tricks to pick up girls. Don’t believe me that PUAs do that in real life? Girls, if a random guy ever jokes that he can read palms and grabs your hand, he was just looking for an excuse to touch you. Guys, if you see another guy do that, keep your eye on him.

Consider everything I just wrote and you’ll understand why Russell was dead in the water once Ralph found the HII. This season he was like the PUA in high school that everyone had exposed. It’s to the point that random people protect the new girl in town from him at parties, and they don’t even know if she’s a doucheasaur or not yet. Yes, that’s what happens when a PUA gets exposed. People would rather befriend possible doucheasaurs than him. And you know why? The PUA makes life harder for everyone else. Girls who get burnt find it hard to trust guys who actually mean things when they say them. Nice guys find it hard to be taken seriously because everyone starts to assume they’re a PUA.

The metaphor holds true in Survivor, and all you have to do to see how is go back and watch Nicaragua. All three guys in the F3 played the nice guy image intentionally, but were playing it up or faking it to some extent. Sash told everyone exactly what they wanted to hear (in true PUA style). Chase used his Southern charm, but defended his disingenuous gameplay with “it’s Survivor” (as PUAs say that this is how “the game” works), and Fabio pretended to be a hell of a lot dumber than he actually is (as PUAs often do). I’m not saying these guys are Russell. I’m saying his influence on their gameplay is undeniable.

Still want to deny it, huh? That’s fine. I don’t need you to agree with me. The editors knew all of this. That’s why they dismantled Russell’s legacy. I only need you to do one thing and you’ll figure it out eventually:

Think about it.