Monday, October 31, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E7: Preying on Their Idols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sometimes I write rhymes (2).

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

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

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

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E6: Other Coach Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E5: Or What Appendix

Sophie is Coach's Little Dragon

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

Survivor South Pacific E5: Or What

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

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

Cocky Ozzy vs Oddly Cochrane

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

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

Almost-Rob and Almost-Russell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E4: Circling the Drain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E3: Been There, Done That

In my analysis of episode one this season, I referred to Jeff Probst's comment about Survivor essentially being the same story told over and over again but differently each time. Now that we've settled into the second season of the Redemption Island era, we can better understand just how true that statement is. Just as the early story of Redemption Island flowed through Rob and Russell and their history in the game, setting up the end game (that continued to flow through Rob because he happened to win), South Pacific's stories are led by their returning players and the baggage they brought into this relationship.

As it always does, the "Previously On" segment made it abundantly clear how we are supposed to be watching this story and the parallel they drew between Ozzy and Coach was obvious. Ozzy has a five person alliance (this was set up in episode two). Coach has a five person alliance (this was set up in episode one). Each "legend" was then associated with one other element which was at the forefront of their story in this episode--Ozzy had the Hidden Immunity Idol and Coach had Brandon. This is the story set up. This is the key to the five person alliances. The only question is where we go from here.

The first two episodes this season were focused on the perspective and psychology a player brings into the game and how that affects his play. This episode was no different, as it demonstrated how the beliefs you hold and the actions you take because of them only have a direct and immediate impact on your game but an indirect and lasting influence as well.

Ozzy's baggage is the Hidden Immunity Idol and the fact that it would undo him was all over the alliance. First he tells Keith about it, who then turns around and tells Whitney "just in case something happens" where Ozzy turns on him or something. Then later at Tribal Council Cochrane is shown saying that looking for the HII may not always be the best move because it could signal to your tribe that you don't trust them and this part of the game is about building trust. Could there be a better summary of Ozzy's storyline?

Coach's baggage is his need to stick to being honest and loyal despite allying and making promises to people like Russell and Brandon. Christine foreshadowed it best when she called him King Farouk. I admittedly didn't get the reference, so I did some research and found this interesting description of the long dead Egyptian king on

"Although initially quite popular, the internal rivalries of his administration and his alienation of the military—coupled with his increasing excesses and eccentricities—led to his downfall..."
Could there be a better summary of Coach's storyline? But just for the sake of completion, let's revisit the Coach and Brandon story this episode. Brandon reveals he is Russell's nephew to the rest of the tribe and Coach calls it a mistake. Coach is then shown being wary of Brandon for the remainder of the episode, culimanting in a conversation with Sophie where she agrees he is a loose cannon and says: "I just hope it doesn't bite us in the butt." Considering how she has been shown as wary of Brandon all season, our story of Sophie leading the charge against Brandon and Coach is inching closer and closer.

This is all well and good and interesting, but it only tells us who doesn't win. In order to understand who does win, we need to look at the portrayals of Semhar and Christine at the Redemption Island duel were also very revealing.

Once again, Semhar delivered a tragic and disturbing poem, looking to give herself totally to a hypothetical man and describing the things she would do for him. (No, not like that, keep it clean.) And once again the editors wanted us to look at it a little differently. The key part isn't the romance and all that mushy crap, it's the devotion to another person and the declaration as to doing things for them. It contrasts with what Christine said to Jeff about why she wanted to win, for herself. It's a dichtomy we're supposed to pay attention to as Christine wins the challenge and Semhar gets a redemption of sorts as she admits facing her abandonment issues (or her focus on external forces) on the way out. Interestingly, another player axisis operated along this spectrum this episode.

In a post-Tribal Council confessional, Mikayla stated that Coach took the heat off of her and she hoped it stayed off of her. She was also shown to be extremely aware of and concerned with her place in the tribe. In contrast, Brandon continued to talk about how he was a Christian man and had to act right for his faith. Here is where it's important that Christine beat Semhar as it completely parallels with how Mikayla and Brandon were portrayed in this episode.

When Mikayla confronted Brandon, who was made to look better? When Mikayla was crying and Brandon was being tormented, who was made to look better? The best way to sum it up is to look at Sophie's narrative confessional where she points out that Brandon is torn between "whatever crazy religious beliefs he has and being a devious jerk." What's most interesting here is how negatively this comment paints Brandon's Christianity, especially in an episode where Matt was directly referenced. It has to be intentional by the editors to tell us that Brandon is bad news and that's supported by their portraying Brandon as Russell last episode, Coach saying he sees Russell in Brandon, and Brandon saying he let his flesh get ahold of him. In reality we know Brandon meant flesh in the sense of carnal desire. In the episode it was a reference to his genetics.

The Brandon-Russell parallels were present throughout his confrontation with Mikayla as well. First he tried to tell her that no one trusted her even before he said anything. Then he tried to bully her through intimidation in front of the entire tribe, asserting that she doesn't "have much of an alliance, period." Ok, BRussell, I'm sure she doesn't. It's just like how earlier in the episode you said you were 150% certain she was going home. Whoops. How did disrespecting and underestimating females work out for you in the past again? Oh, right, Natalie and Sandra both won. Somehow I'm guessing your assessment of Mikayla is way off too.

That's right, Brandon's disrespect of Mikayla, her confessional showing her awareness of the game, and the fact that the editors went out of the way to make her crying into a postive element in her storyline by making her seem like a frustrated and rational victim are more evidence of Mikayla winning this season. I mean really, besides Ozzy and Coach, who else has a storyline? Here's the short list, finally wittled down to three:

3. Coach - I've all but eliminated him, it's just that his edit is so carefully crafted that it's hard to ignore him.

2. Sophie - She's more of the intelligent narrator, but I'm sure she'll be around for the long haul. I more likely see her as an (ironic) F3 loser (as she makes some social mistakes as Russell did.

1. Mikayla - Yup, still going strong. Sometimes it's tough to see past her involvement with Brandon's storyline, but the best place to look this week was in the Previously On segment. Once again she was linked to Upolu's first Immunity Challenge win and Probst's comment to her of "Welcome to Survivor" was shown again. Look at these first few episodes and Brandon's shenanigans as her introduction to the game--one she has shown to be more than prepared for and will adapt to from here on out. She will reap the victory she has been sowing.