Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Walking Dead: How to NOT Become a Zombie

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E10-11: Setup and Statements

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

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

1. Upolu > Savaii, Coach > Ozzy

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

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

2. Coach vs Mikayla

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

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

3. Brandon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Survivor South Pacific E9: The Self vs The Tribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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