Friday, May 20, 2011

(I dare say) This is Survivor, not Jersey Shore.

Talking about heroes is difficult because so much of it is dependent upon personality. Essentially, it's looking at the achievement of another person and saying, "That could be me." You see enough of yourself in that person that he makes you feel like you can be successful too. That's where personality comes in. It's not enough that this person be successful--there are plenty of successful people in the world--but he also has to have a similar personality to yours. Maybe it's his sense of humor. Maybe it's his shyness. Maybe it's his enjoyment of PBR (Professional Bull Riding, not Pabst...ok, maybe Pabst Blue Ribbon too). I don't know what the details are. There are 7 billion people on the planet. It'd be impossible to know. The only details I know are my own.

On May 15th, 2011 I watched one of my biggest heroes not only win, but win big. In fact, it was a moment I never thought would happen. "Boston Rob" Mariano won Survivor Redemption Island by a vote of 8-1. Even when it was announced that he would be playing the game for a record fourth time, I never thought he had a chance. I figured he would last five episodes max and allowed that preconception to influence my analysis of the show. That's right. I was such a fan of Rob that I allowed myself to be biased against him. That error in judgment should prove to you just how big of a fan of him I am. It should also signal to you exactly how elated I was at his victory because not only did he win, he won in impressive fashion.

Because of that strength of victory, I think it's important for you to admire him too. No, I'm not saying you should be a fan of him. Fanhood is a deeply personal experience that I can't prescribe to you. However, despite all of the attacks swirling against him (and believe me, we'll get into them), he is deserving of your admiration. If you call yourself a Survivor fan, I dare say you should admire him. No, if you call yourself a good person, you should admire him. Better yet, if you call yourself a human being, I dare say you should admire him. He played "the perfect game," something that can only be done by a truly intelligent and benevolent man.

The label of "the perfect game" is where the problematic rhetoric surrounding Rob's victory begins though. The term itself is a misnomer. The best way to explain it is through Rob's own words. When asked about Jeff Probst's calling his game perfect, Rob replied:
Coming from Jeff, it’s definitely a huge compliment, considering he’s seen every episode of every single season first hand. I feel like I played the game to the best of my ability. Having said that, there have been hundreds of people who have played Survivor and 21 different people have won the game. Different people have had different strategies, and there’s no clear-cut strategy that works for everyone. I feel like the strategy that I employed worked for me and that’s the only way I could have played the game.
And in a separate interview where he was asked a similar question:
I don’t know, man. It’s a compliment coming from Jeff. He’s given me a lot of compliments and I’m really appreciative of it. But look, there’s been a lot of people that played this game and 22 different winners. So there’s different styles and different things work for different people in different situations. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the way I played was the best. I will tell you that I played it the best way that I knew how to play. Everything came together for me this time and I was able to get it done.
I've bolded the important parts. They demonstrate that Rob understands that the claim that he played the perfect game is a normative one that is inconsistent with reality as it drops context and ignores the human factor best quantified as personality and ability. Survivor isn't baseball. A perfect game in baseball is determined completely by stats. All a team has to do (like it's so easy), is get 27 outs, give up no walks or hits, make no errors, hit no batters with a pitch, and score at least one run. Sure, there are different styles of pitching and different player abilities, but to achieve a perfect game, all they have to do is meet that criteria because the game of baseball is not heavily dependent upon context. Though every game is unique, the rigid rules and mechanics are designed to impose similarity. That's why some sports have seven game series in the playoffs. If you do the same basic thing seven times, the better team will win most of the time. In Survivor, on the other hand, playing the game one, two, three, or four times doesn't mean the best player will more often than not win. It just means you'll have more evidence to understand who is best equipped to be successful in the game given the right context.

Every game of Survivor is unique as the determining factor is the decisions of the players in the unique situation. Even if you were to put the same cast together to play another game, it would be completely different as the situation would have changed. The players would have grown (or regressed) as people, they would have different knowledge, and their physical abilities would be different. This is what Rob is talking about when he says different things work for different people in different situations. Do you really think Skinny Ryan could've played the way Rob did? No, because he has a completely different personality and set of abilities and was in a completely different context. The truth is, Rob didn't even play my perfect game because, no matter how much of myself I see in him, there are important differences between us that make us unique individuals and if I were to ever play, the context I would play in would be completely different. So maybe Rob played his perfect game, but he certainly didn't play the perfect game because there isn't one. Rather, Rob was successful because his personality and ability meshed well with his context.

A common way to undermine Rob's success is to turn the context against him, saying he had an unfair advantage playing for the fourth time. This claim is partially refuted by what I've stated above, but, again, it's important to look at what Rob said when asked about people who say him playing for the fourth time with rookies was an unfair advantage:
I'd love to see them do it. Look, there's always going to be people who have their opinions, and everybody is entitled to their opinion. I knew going out there, I had to reinvent myself in the game, I had to use my abilities and my experience in the past to help me while at the same time realizing that it may be a hinderance. And I was able to do it. So, I mean if they want to try to take something away from me, I guess go ahead. The check is already in my account.
If the "perfect game" claims drops context, so does the "playing four times makes it easier" claim. It completely ignores the fact that playing so many times can make you a huge target. Part of the appeal of Survivor is to see what happens when different types of people are thrown together. How will they be able to use their personalities and abilities to cope with the situation they are in? What will be considered a strength and what will be considered a weakness? On day one, a tribe can decide to judge on anything it wants. If they want to vote out all the brunettes, they can. To understand the application of this statement, you don't need to look any further than Redemption Island. Ometepe decided Rob's experience in the game was a good thing. Zapatera decided that Russell's experience in the game was a bad thing. Those responses had as much to do with the gameplay of Rob and Russell as it did the preconceptions of their tribe members. Rob was able to turn everything in his favor. Russell was not. Another example is Jimmy Johnson on Survivor Nicaragua, an amazing leader of men who has won multiple championships in college and professional football. If he had won, would his celebrity have been an advantage? Maybe, as he tried to use it in the same way Rob did ("help me help you"). However, it didn't work, so it's seen as a hindrance. Which is it then? Is playing multiple times an advantage (Rob) or a hindrance (Russell)? Is being a celebrity an advantage (Rob) or a hindrance (Jimmy Johnson)? Maybe it's neither. Maybe that's just part of the context a player has to play within, just like the other players he plays with are.

A common label used for the Ometepe Six this past season was "Rob's Zombies." It's used to denigrate Rob's gameplay, as people say everyone he played with was dumb, therefore the context he was playing in was too easy. However, a quick perusing of post-show interviews reveals how aware the other members of Ometepe were. For simplicity's sake, I'll only look at the other members of the Final Four, who all played competent and intelligible games. Let's start with the "crazy" one, Phillip. When asked if that was really him that we saw out there, he said:
The Phillip Sheppard you saw on television was a guy playing a game. That’s like asking me if the guy who threw the elbow in a basketball game, “Is that the real you?” Essentially at that moment in time, in that game, what you saw was a guy who said, “Go big or go home!” I went big and I’m number two to a guy who played four times. 117 days. For me to come in number two, I think there’s only been one other African American to go that far in the game — and he won. So I’m quite proud of the way I played the game.
Factual error aside, that is a pretty keen awareness of context and demonstrates Phillip's ability to adapt to it. If Rob had a big advantage playing for the fourth time, it was drawing that line in the sand that Grant wasn't able to draw. Phillip, on the other hand, appears to have been able to draw that line as well. Sure, he threw out a bunch of wacky antics for attention, but he was very self aware and measured in his actions. Former federal agents should be intelligent though. Early 20s "spa girls," however, have a much worse reputation. When Ashley was asked if she was just following Rob or had her own strategy, she answered:
I think it was a bit of both. I think in the beginning we were clearly taking our lead from Rob. But as it got down to less and less people, I was definitely thinking about making a plan for myself, and I definitely don't think Natalie was doing that at all. I was definitely thinking of all the different scenarios, and I knew that I had built up a good relationship with the players on the jury and that I was a big threat. So I knew I had to win those last 3 challenges in a row, and just came up a little bit short in that last one. I put that pressure on myself, but just fell short.
Ok, so we know she made a major error in waiting too long to try and get Rob out, but we also know that if she had made it to the end, she had a good chance of winning the jury vote, even against Rob. This quote clearly demonstrates that she was aware of that context, and that's mainly what is meant when people call these players dumb, that they didn't properly understand the context they were playing it, the "danger" of Rob. Except they did. Even Ashley's spa day bff Natalie did. When asked if she ever considered turning on Rob, Natalie explained:
And it was easier for me and less risky to just play with him than against him. And so if I would have went another direction -- say it was the girls, or something like that -- Andrea had made a lot of friends on the other side, Ashley as well. So the way I played was just a like very loyal game and I didn't try to make friends with the other tribe. So therefore, I don't think that my chances would have been any better if I went with the girls. So I didn't think that that was something I should do.
There's some errors in reasoning here--the major one being not making friends with the jury and hoping that can help you win a jury vote--however, Natalie was able to enunciate a clear and defined strategy involving making a deal, and it did get her all the way to the Final 3. Calling her a zombie and saying she didn't know what she was doing and what was going on around her clearly ignores her intentions and their results. It also ignores what makes Rob so damn good at this game.

Because of the heavy editing of The Robfather storyline in Survivor Marquesas and Redemption Island--the bookends of Rob's journey--there is a mis-perception of fear being the defining element of his gameplay. There is certainly an element of that--as people are always intimidated by intelligent and able people and Rob swiftly targets anyone who opposes him--however, the main key to Rob's success was explained by Matt in episode two:
Every day Rob impresses me. It is unbelievable just how well he can talk to people and play this game and see what they need and fufill that need. It's absolutely amazing.
Rob is a master at cutting mutually beneficial deals. Not only is he giving other players exactly what they need, he is getting exactly what he needs in return. It's a win-win and nearly impossible to say no to because it's human nature at its finest. Think about it. If you're not in a game where everyone is competing for the same prize which there is only one of and there are resources aplenty, mutually beneficial deals are the ultimate form of respect and benevolence. Thus, Rob makes his way through the game magnificently and morally, upholding loyalty and respecting others. It isn't until the game necessitates deals be broken that things start to get ugly for him. When it is time to vote someone out, Rob assesses which relationship is beneficial for him. He's able to end that one because everyone else who isn't that person still has a win-win deal with him. By the time it gets to the point that not everyone has a win-win deal with him, Rob has the majority so that anyone in the minority's only option for staying in the game is to win immunity. It's exactly what happened to Zapatera. It's exactly what happened to Ashley. It's why people like Probst throw around the term "perfect game." If executed correctly, the strategy is nearly impossible to beat, short of some sort of twist impeding it (which, not-so-coincidentally, is what has always hurt Rob's games before Redemption Island). However, it's also nearly impossible to pull off, as it takes an incredibly intelligent, likable, and rare type of person to pull it off--the type of person that is worthy of praise.

Survivor fans love to demonize Rob as some sort of other that is unlike them, but that is simply not consistent with the reality. In fact, the opposite is very much the case, as Rob explained when he was asked why he came back to play again:
I love Survivor. I love the game; I love playing the game. One person’s pain is another person’s pleasure, and I love going out there and competing. It was something I always wanted to accomplish; I wanted to get to the top, I wanted to win because it was such a challenge. It’s the ultimate game. To vote everybody off and then get them to vote for you in the end, it’s hard! A lot of things have to go right, too, and there’s a degree of luck involved. There’s a lot of different ways to win Survivor, but to do it the way I did it, I think is really, really satisfying.
What people seem to forget is that if not for Survivor, Rob is just some guy in Canton (outside of Boston) doing construction work. He isn't married to Amber. He isn't on the Amazing Race. All of those people who complain about recruits taking away their chance to be on the show don't seem to realize that Rob is the biggest argument in their favor. Rob was an applicant who sent in a tape and has been immensely successful and brought success to CBS (hmm, another mutually beneficial deal). He is us, except he did it. He climbed the mountain. He got on the show and finally won it. How is that not worthy of admiration? How can you not see yourself in that? His respect and love for the game is apparent in his interviews before and after the show and his confessionals on it. Yes, he came back for a fourth time, but I don't blame him at all. He wanted to win. If CBS called me 1, 2, 3, 8, 12 times to play and I hadn't won yet, I'd keep coming back too. Even better, since he won, he said he's done, and I believe him because of his reasoning.

The respect Rob has always shown for the winners of Survivor is apparent. When he has lost, he has been gracious and humble. He never tried to buy the title of Sole Survivor--something Russell did with Natalie on Survivor Samoa. Hell, Rob is married to a former winner and he has never once said a negative thing about her win, even when many people would argue he has the right to tell her that he is the reason she won. Why? Because he has too much respect for the game. Beyond that, it's because he's a family man who actually respects and loves his wife. And that's ultimately what makes Redemption Island the best season ever.

The story of Redemption Island is the true hero's journey (not the Joseph Campbell monomyth crap). It is a celebration of the human spirit. It's not about a man of weak character or mind undergoing a major change and becoming a better person. It's not about a man believing in something bigger than himself which gives him the emotional power to complete his mission. It's the story of a man of intellect, power, and emotion using his abilities to conquer the one thing he has always wanted to in order to better his own life. In story of Redemption Island, "Boston Rob" Mariano is a true protagonist we can look up to. He doesn't complain about what he got himself into. He doesn't wonder if he's good enough to make it. He stands on his own, confident in his own ability, and does everything he can to achieve what he wants. And the ending to the story supports this perspective exactly.

Before this season, I explicated a dichotomy of Survivor strategies. You can either play as a president or a parasite. You can be the idea guy or the non-idea guy. The Final Tribal Council showed us these two extremes in the most pure form they have ever appeared on Survivor. Rob was the president. Natalie and Phillip were the parasites. In reality, as I quoted them above, Natalie and Phillip weren't complete parasites (as it's impossible to be alive and be a 100% parasite), but consider their arguments. Essentially they said that they did what Rob said and followed him. They were surviving off of Rob's ideas, off of his mind, and not their own. That is what Jeff Probst and others are getting at when they call Rob the greatest player ever. Arguably more than anyone in the history of the game, Rob Mariano won based on solely himself because he, as he admitted in a quote above, doesn't know any other way to play. That's what makes him deserving. That's what makes any player deserving.

When you talk about presidents and parasites, the further you move away from those two poles, the closer you get to the middle of them, and it becomes increasingly difficult to classify players as a president or a parasite. The perfect example is Fabio, the winner of Nicaragua. On first shallow glance, he was a parasite. He let everyone else make big moves and went along for the ride. Except if you look at his gameplay more you start to see that it was a very self aware strategy based upon his self knowledge and awareness of the context he was in. He was most certainly playing based off of his own mind and ideas. So which was he then, a president or a parasite? The correct answer is that he was a winner.

What makes Survivor so exciting to watch is trying to figure out who won and why--and the truth is that, most of the time, the jury votes for the person who they believe most used his own mind to get through the game. If a juror feels embittered and votes against someone, it's because he feels that player he feels embittered against took advantage of other people's minds to get to the Final Tribal Council by back-stabbing or power-grabbing or that player disrespected his own mind by coattail-riding or attention-seeking. In other words, the juror feels that his own or the player's personhood was disrespected by the player. That's where the bitter feeling comes from. That's why the juror doesn't think the player is a respectable person. That's where our answer for "how do we determine who is most deserving of winning the game" is found. The most deserving player is the player who gets to the end and most respects his own personhood and the personhood of others. That is the lesson of "Boston Rob" Mariano and Redemption Island.

Look, I don't ever expect you to hold Rob as a hero or get why he's a hero of mine. You wouldn't know what it's like to be a brash outspoken politically incorrect 19 year old Italian guy from Massachusetts who always wears a Patriots hat and see a brash outspoken politically incorrect 25 year old Italian guy from Massachusetts who always wears a Patriots hat play one of your favorite games ever. You wouldn't know what it's like to grow up watching him grow up and earn the life you're also striving for (maybe not in the concretes, but in the abstracts). You wouldn't understand the feeling of inspiration that his success me, because that's what a hero ultimately does, inspires others to greatness with his greatness.

You may not be able to understand why Rob is one of my heroes, but you can understand everything I just told you about him and Survivor. I dare say that if you're a true fan of the game and show, you'll admire or, at the very least, respect him. And if you don't, I suggest that you honestly reassess why you watch Survivor. If you've witnessed what you've just witnessed and consider it boring, lame, stupid, the worst season ever, or any other negative adjective, I have to wonder what you're looking for in Survivor that's not in any other reality show.

All I'm saying is, if instead of looking for "Boston Rob" Mariano you're looking for attention-seeking, power-grabbing, and back-stabbing Italians, you're better off watching Jersey Shore.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ometepe! (And Other Obvious Truths)

I made a mistake. It's not the first time I've made it, but hopefully it'll be the last, because I'm kind of embarrassed about it. It probably won't seem like that big of a deal to you. Most people probably won't even consider it a mistake. They might go as far as considering it a virtue. But that's the problem right there, that phrase--"most people." Why did it even enter my brain there? Why was it even a consideration in a discussion of a mistake that I made? The fault was all mine. It had nothing to do with them, they, who are they anyway?

That pronoun, when not referring to a specific group of people, is a vague generalization used not to represent anything concrete but an abstract fictionalized perception about how people could react. Generally the user of the pronoun believes people will react that way, but they are generally incorrect. What the method is really used for is controlling the unknown--other individual's reactions and responses--so that they can't hurt the user. It's, if you'll excuse me Mr. Cheney, a pre-emptive strike on the faulty perception that mental terrorism is to come.

The trouble with strike is that while it is more often than not unwarranted, there are times when it is warranted. I'm no psychologist, but I can speak from personal experience (which is what this discussion is all about) when I say that sometimes the faulty perception is built upon past experiences. In other words, from inducing from a series of experiences, it is possible to build a faulty perception of "them, they." What would the error be in this induction? The series of experiences must actually be representative of "them, they." If they're not, the induction fails (which is most of the time). If they are, the induction holds (which is rare). The error I made--one which, in my experience, is far too common--is that I induced from a such non-representative sample of "them, they" and tempered my analysis to include what "they" were saying in order to not ostracized and demonized by "them."

The last part of that sentence was difficult for me to write because it is a logical conclusion I had not come to before actually typing the words. It is a psychological issue I need to work on coming out of this experience--this experience in which the facts were these:

-I first saw Survivor when I was 18 in my first semester of college, and it had a pretty big affect on me. I was never very social and the social experiment intrigued me to no end.
-Over the next three years as I earned my BA in Writing, I focused on becoming a storyteller and fell in love with the game of analyzing the editing in Survivor to figure the outcome before it aired. I managed a pretty piss poor attempt for the Amazon before coming really close for the Pearl Islands.
-During that time period I also more clearly defined my sense of self, developing my values and finding heroes--a process that culminated (for the moment) on Feburary 1st 2004 when Bill Belchick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots won their second Super Bowl right before Survivor All-Stars, the epic of Boston Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich, premiered.
-On September 22nd, 2004, the fall of my senior year of undergrad, my storytelling aspirations and analytic mind were drawn elsewhere--to LOST. That spring I began writing my episodic LOST analysis making Chris' epic comeback and Koror's dominance the last powerful memories of my first stage of Survivor fandom.
-Over the next six years my LOST column became my passion. I taught college English. I earned a MA in Professional Communication. Through it all though, my primary focus of writing was my analysis of the most recent episode of LOST. It's the most productive project I've ever undertaken in terms of concrete deliverables and abstract intellectual and personal growth. If I had learned a lot from Survivor, which I was still never missing an episode but watching in much a less intense fashion, I had learned four times that much from LOST.
-In the Spring of 2009, my college lecturer contract was not renewed--in spite of my highly praised performance--due to budget constraints. Living in South Carolina and knowing LOST would be ending in a year, I decided when it was all said in done I need to go to where there were more opportunities, especially for a storyteller.
-In the Summer of 2010, I moved to Los Angeles and, without a job until October, finished my first (as of yet unpublished) novel. I had successfully transformed my LOST-column productivity into my original-fiction productivity. I was doing it. It was the first steps in the process, but I had taken them all the same.
-Then the story went how it always did. In the Fall of 2010, I met a girl. There are many more sordid details that have no place in this discussion, but the important part is this. By December I was in deeper than I ever had before.
-Being in Los Angeles afforded me opportunities that South Carolina never could. In December, my long-time Survivor friend Mario invited me to meet some Survivors in Hollywood the night before the Nicaragua finale aired. It was the first time either of us had gone to one of these events. It was the first time either of us, despite being e-friends for a little over five years, had met each other. I brought the girl along.
-Over the next month or so the girl became a Survivor addict, watching almost every season on YouTube in preparation for Redemption Island. Then, without warning, at the end of January she up and left. I've seen her once since.
-Then, almost as if on cue (the day before, actually), on January 23rd, 2011 I found myself in this Facebook group called Previously on Survivor. Being lost without LOST, in a new city, and recently heart broken, I regressed to my undergraduate days of Survivor Suckage and became a PoS regular. Survivor was once again my focus.
-Over the next few months, my fire for life was reignited as one of my heroes Rob Mariano inspired me to succeed. The first episode of Redemption Island was so good--and my pride at predicting a Fabio win and following his story so easily silently the previous season was so beaming--that I got back into the game. I was an episodic columnist and a Survivor analyst again, and I was damn good at it--better than I'd ever been.
-Wanting to share my success, I endeavored to expand my circle of conversation beyond PoS. I ventured back to Sucks (and then off the internet where I met some pretty awesome people who taught me some pretty important things). What I found there was a former shell of a former shell of what it used to be--and an extremely rabid argument about the season I had never considered.

"They" were talking about this girl Andrea, who I saw as completely inconsequential and unimportant to the story. Sure, she was in Ometepe and would likely be around a long while because they were primed for longevity in the story, but she clearly had no type of overarching arc. The storyteller in me told me so with every neuron of my brain. To use an apt metaphor, she was basically like Claire in S6 of LOST--a cute blonde that writers had to include because she was there and would probably look oddly attractive if dressed as a Goth. Actually, if you think about, the longer the two of them stayed on their respective "islands," the more they looked like each other. This comparison should have been enough for me...but it wasn't.

The "problem" that led to my eventual mistake was how fervently "they" were defending and arguing for not only Andrea's longevity in the game, but her victory. For awhile, I disregarded them, confidently saying her edit revolved completely around the character of Matt. However, as the season progressed and I became more and more passionate about it, I began to read Sucks more and more often. "They" were so passionate about her. "They" were so convinced. There had to be something I was missing then, didn't there? There's no way anyone is that enthused about something if it has no merits at all.

No, there didn't have to be something I was missing. The game progressed as I thought, but I had started to factor "their" analysis into mine. I had Andrea going deeper into the game than I initially thought she would. Except, she didn't. My original analysis of her edit revolving completely around Matt proved to be correct. I had listened to "them" for no good reason and found weeks of my column and comments I had made in PoS marred by my error. My roommate reminded me how he had said what happened to Andrea would happen to her. I held myself accountable the best I could. I gave credit to people who called me out on my awful predictions. I apologized to myself and expressed my remorse to people who deserved to hear it. Still though, it wasn't enough.

Listening to "them" and what "they" say is an error that runs deeper than analysis of one Survivor season and one player. It's a psychological crutch that prevents me from attaining the life I want. I've reached a certain level of success and happiness in my life, but because I listen to "them," I don't count the success and happiness as anything and believe it's the highest level of success and happiness it's possible for me to reach. Why do I listen to them? Because over the course of my life I've been inundated with so much of their fervor that I'm falsely associated it with some sort of merit on their part. Essentially, "they" have convinced me of their necessity when "they" don't even exist."They" are a hypothetical that stands in place of and harms the interaction of individuals.

Someone awesome taught me how to block on Facebook. I had never used to because I had never interacted with randos on the book. I also never thought blocking was acceptable either. Who was I to silence someone? However, this person explained to me how blocking was actually the right thing to do too. It was so obvious that I was ashamed of never having thought of it in my life before. I only wish I had taken this important lesson to heart before I made the Andrea mistake.

Someone talking doesn't mean they have something to say. Someone living doesn't mean they have something to contribute. These truths are obvious. I'm glad I can write that statement now and understand it--and the error I made to previously not understand it. Now I can work on integrating it into my everyday life so I can be as happy and successful as I want to be by standing steadfastly by mind and its voice!

All I need to remember is the song that's stuck in my head right now...

..and the song that will be stuck in my heart from now on.

I mean, you know what they say, right? No, I'm really asking you because I've never been able to figure it out and am no longer going to waste my time trying to. Good luck with that. I hope you find what you're looking for. I didn't. That much is as obvious as "Ometepe!"

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Survivor Redemption Island E12: You Gotta Dig (Deep! Deep! Deep!)

"They say some things just don't wash out
But I've been dying to know what getting clean is all about
And now years have gone by
But it's still stuck in my mind" -Some Things Don't Wash Out by You, Me, and Everyone We Know

"I feel like right now I'm playing my best game but even everything that's happened up until right now means nothing unless I can finish it. I need this. It's to make a better life for my wife and my kids. Even though we're at a point now where some people might be taking a break from the game and thinking about home, it just makes me focus. I want to win Survivor. This is something I've been trying to do for ten years now. I'm eight days away, so there's nothing that's going to stop me." -Rob Mariano

Well, at the very least Jeff Probst can't say that nobody listens to him--not that it's possible to ignore him really, with all the hosting, blogging, and tweeting. All these seasons he's been telling players to dig, and dig deep in fact, and finally one listened to him. In fact, this entire season is, in a way, Rob Mariano listening to Jeff Probst and is digging deep. His quote I began with represented several important things, not the least of which was a statement of purpose. Years have gone by, and Survivor is still stuck in his mind. Losing the game has never washed out of him (as we can all see from the arguments), so all he wants to know is what getting clean is all about. It's his entire purpose for being on the show. He's not there for the experience or to make friends. He already did all that in previous season. This time it's nothing less than victory.

The quote is more than Rob expressing his desires though. The editors decided to include it, to make it part of the narrative. They could have gone in any other direction with the family visit. In fact, they did. For most of it, the family visit went the conventional route. Everyone talked about how energizing it was and how it inspired them to go the distance. It was, you know, the typical story we've seen on Survivor many times over. Then, after showing everyone else first, the editors made the clear choice to juxtapose Rob sitting away from the group and commenting on how he was still playing the game. No, Rob wasn't participating in the conventional story because he's no mere Survivor player. He was watching over them because he is Rob-God.

It's no coincidence that moments before Natalie's mother had told her, "I was praying. I said if there was one time you want to look over her, now is the time, cause I need you right now. I think he was looking over you." Yes, she was referring to the literal god, but as we've learned throughout the season, the editors are coyly working in a double entendre about Rob. In this instance it's nearly impossible to deny. Rob is watching over Natalie. He's said as much since the beginning of the season. Heck, he literally said Phillip was under his protection a few episodes ago. That wasn't the only major Rob-God reference this episode either. After forgoing his, Matt's, and Ralph's family visits so Ometepe could have theirs, Mike explained to Matt on Redemption Island, "Well, I asked god to help me win and I think that's what he asked of me." Yes, he's talking about the literal god, but did you notice how that the duel worked out perfectly for Rob? Mike was pretty much the only guy who would have done that. Matt, Ralph, and Steve probably would have visited with their family members. Instead, the best possible outcome for Rob occurred. It's no wonder fans are declaring everyone else on this season stupid and complaining. They're being told a very specific story and conflating it with reality.

The final purpose that quote that I started this column with serves it to paint Rob in the colors of a hero. This isn't a player after money or fame or glory. This is a player who is in it for himself in the proper sense of the word. He wants to win for the love of the game, because he sees it as a value. Why is it a value? For the same reason anything is a value. It is a tool to improve his and his family's life. Ok, so I got a little philosophical right there, but the heroic edit is there. He wants to win for the sake of winning itself and to help his family. Those concretes are in the edits without-a-doubt. Rob got damn near about it emotional at the end of that confessional. Hell, I got damn near emotional about it at the end of the confessional--both times I watched it. And that's where my thoughts on the hinge.

If Rob doesn't win this season, what other ending would be emotionally and narratively satisfying. What I mean is this. I know there's a lot of irrational Rob hate around, but forget that Rob said these things and played this game. If it was just a guy named Joe, wouldn't he be considered a hero. Rather, how could he not be considered a hero? Look at the immunity challenge. We all know they're editing around reality, but did they have to make it so epic? Then did they have to have Rob say this afterwards, "Physically, the challenge, I had to literally give everything I have. Afterwards I thought I was gonna die. But, I figure that I'm seven days away and I'm giving it everything I got." They're embellishing on a whole new level that if Rob did lose, it would undermine Survivor completely. Pushing yourself to the brink of death wouldn't be good enough. Playing a perfect game wouldn't be good enough. These are all comments the editors included, comments they didn't have to include. Even more damning is their treatment of everyone else.

In this episode alone, everyone was made to be a fool. Andrea got perhaps the worst edit. The editors basically knifed her from her "Ometepe!" voting comment last week to her saying she felt completely safe at Tribal Council this week all leading up to her blindside. She looks especially silly when even 19 year old Natalie says this Tribal Council felt different and wasn't fun. Then, to top it all off, they have pre-Tribal Council comments from Natalie ("Plus, her relationship with Matt on Redemption Island is still dangerous") and Grant("Lovers are going to be reunited") that confirm to us that her entire edit for the season was about Matt. That infamous scene where Phillip said if Matt returns the three should align? That demonstrated Phillip's strategizing and how everyone saw Matt and Andrea as a package deal, and she'd never be able to get away from it. At least she wasn't treated as poorly as Phillip's strategy though.

Phillip gave two important diatribes in this episode:
"Early on in the game I made myself the villain so that everyone in my tribe feels like their best chance of winning against anybody is me." (This sentence was spliced together too.) 'It's brilliant strategy, and I need to kind of put a little salt on that wound every now and again to make sure folks don't forget that."
"I think Rob feels very strong that if it's him and I in the final that he can win the million dollars, but I have an oral argument that nobody here on my tribe, including him, has thought of it. And I know exactly what to say to make everybody think twice about voting for him, regardless of everything else I've said. Honestly, I think I can defeat Rob."
You see, all the crazy was an act, and the editors are building him up as the one to beat Rob in the Final 3. The Phillip and Rob showdown has been a story since the first episode. These quotes all but confirm what the story in the final episode will be. Best of all, Phillip actually sounds clear and cognizant in these quotes--and Rob backs him up when he says:

"To be honest with you, I'm having some second thoughts about who to take to the end...Phillip could be playing me. He's pretty good with words. He's a good speaker, so when it comes down to the jury, that could be a problem. Is he that good? I don't know...32 days of hard work could be gone just like that."

Do you mean Rob thinks he could actually lose to Phillip? That couldn't actually happen, could it? Though maybe it could, as Rob dominating from start to finish seems highly unlikely. You see, that's what the editors want us to think. They need to build suspense. But they also edited in two important clues in this episode. At Tribal Council, Probst asked Phillip about not being a threat helping stay around. Phillip replied with his "oral argument" skills, which only caused Probst to mock him: "Phillip, I'm making the argument that the reason to keep you is because you aren't a threat, and you raise your hand and say, 'I'm a huge threat, I just haven't had the right challenge.'"This is basically the same thing as Phillip saying "let your enemy move first" earlier in the season and then unintentionally moving first. It doesn't matter what he says, it matters what he does. And what he does is act crazy. That's why we now what Rob tells his sister is true: "Phillips a nut job. He's a wacko. But he's like the biggest goat. He's pissed everybody here off. If I drag him to the end, he doesn't get any votes." My only wish is that Rob had said "fruit loop" instead of "nut job."

Yes, Phillip is going to make the Final 3, but he's not going to get any votes. Rob has been calling more shots than Babe Ruth this season. It's even likely Natalie becomes Goat #2 by backstabbing Ashley at Rob's behest. In fact, the question we have to ask ourselves is if Rob is literally playing the perfect game. Will he get all of the jury votes?

I'm getting ahead of the story though. Mike is definitely coming back from Redemption Island, as he and Ralph's comments about a Zapatera winning it all of they make the end this week built it up, and Matt is definitely done, as his seeing his brother was made out to be his victory on Redemption Island. I'm sure we'll also see something sweet between him and Andrea next episode too. Game outcomes wise, there are still plenty of hurdles for Rob to jump over and hoops for him to jump through. It's just that, with the way this story has been told, I don't see how if anyone else won, viewers wouldn't feel robbed--and that's with me trying my gosh darn hardest to avoid my bias.

Think about it.