Thursday, December 20, 2012

Survivor Philippines: The Value in the Story

If you're familiar with this blog over the last few seasons of Survivor, you know it's been a roller-coaster ride of an attempt to focus on the story of the show. There were some glowing moments in the uncovering of the story of Redemption Island and the analysis of Sophie's brilliant Final Tribal Council appearance in South Pacific. There was the major blunder of privileging predictions over episode analysis resulting in an odd fascination with Mikayla's South Pacific edit and a stubborn exhalation of Troyzan in One World (both of which played important, revealing roles in their game's story if looked at in the proper context). The culmination of these highs and lows was my opting out of the ride this season and remaining largely silent. I wrote two early posts, a preseason statement and episode one analysis, before blending into the background. Now that Survivor Philippines is complete, it turns out that the statement is the much more interesting piece.

In explaining why I watch Survivor I wrote:
Survivor is art...I'll be looking at the narrative and what it tells me about life, about the constant mediation between the individual and the group.
Survivor does what good art should--draws our attention to a heightened expression of the human experience. Who wins is less important than why they win (though arguably those two things are inseparable).
What is so compelling about both of those quotes is that, in a season where an underlying theme was a discussion of story, they are exactly the reason Denise Stapley won so convincingly by a jury vote of 6-1-1.

It began in the premiere when Denise said everyone has a story and proceeded to try and figure out Zane. Over the next 39 days she proceeded to figure out everyone else. Around the merge Penner told Lisa that the story would be the evil of Pete, Abi, and Artis vs the good of Malcolm, Denise, and Carter and that the audience would be cheering for her to choose good. She did and as the finale rolled through, each member of the final four (her, Denise, Malcolm, and Skupin) each reflected on their story and how it would earn them the victory if they presented it to the jury. The error that three who weren't Denise made was that they privileged the story over the meaning. To say it another way, they privileged the game over their heart.

In my other early post, I explicated how the first episode set up Skupin's main dilemma.

Skupin is flirting with disaster by holding this game/heart dichotomy in his head because by doing so he is allowing RC’s experience and understanding of the game to hold supremacy over his. In other words, he is allowed her to tip the scales in her favor...You can’t go with the game (that’s pragmatism) or your heart (that’s emotionalism). Winning takes both. Skupin might be on the path to realizing that, and it just might be the theme of the season.
A “healthy” player will make sure his emotions and gameplay are in line because that is the only way HE can win.
Like Brandon Hantz in South Pacific and Sugar in Gabon, this season featured an unhealthy player that suffered mightily on the island because she was unable to reconcile her heart with the game. Skupin's closest ally on the island Lisa constantly bounced between wanting to keep her word and stay loyal to the people she liked the most and wanting to make the best tactical move, often bringing herself to tears. Ultimately it caused her and Skupin to run through the game unintentionally stabbing everyone in the back. At some point in the game they worked with or were allied with RC, Pete, Abi, Artis, Jeff, Carter, Jonathan, and Malcolm. At some point in the game, they worked against or betrayed RC, Pete, Abi, Artis, Jeff, Carter, Jonathan, and Malcolm. Yes, that's the entire jury. In this light, it's no surprise that the jury vote was a slaughter. They went with the game over their heart up until their last decision.

What Lisa and Skupin ultimately unintentionally played for was the right to decide who won the million dollars, Denise or Malcolm. The editors crafted this arc masterfully around the subtheme of going with your game or going with your heart. It began in the first episode with Skupin's dilemma and ended in the last episode with...Skupin's dilemma. After he won final immunity, the editors portrayed it as if he and Lisa had to decide between going to final tribal council with their heart (Denise, the player they were shown to have a closer bond with) or the game (Malcolm, the player that was built up to be more of a strategist and more honorable to beat). They chose Denise, who beat the subtheme into a pulp by steadfastly sticking to her strategy of putting the meaning in the story.

The key word in Denise's strategy was "value." She would constantly harp on showing her value to the other players and seeing the value in them. It remained a major piece of her approach even through the endgame. To the jury she explained exactly what I just wrote, that she was constantly seeking to demonstrate her value to other people. She constantly said she'd rather face the strongest players in the jury vote than take a goat with her and, in contrast to her closest ally Malcolm who turned on her out of fear of losing to her in the jury vote, she remained consistent, telling Malcolm she was willing to force a 2-2 tie with him and compete with Lisa in an elimination challenge. If things had gone that way and she won the challenge, she would have faced two strong competitors and decision makers, Skupin and Malcolm, in the jury vote. That gameplay is what made her story superior to Lisa and Skupin's. Her focus on "value" made it so that for her going with the game and going with her heart were one in the same.

In a recent fit of middle-of-the-night philosophical angst I jotted some story composition theory
Every good story is a progression of change from Point A to Point B that reveals a truth of the human condition. The storyteller's goal is to explain the how of that change by recounting its events in an entertaining and efficient manner that demonstrates their significance so the theme (the truth) is understood.
In Survivor the progression is obvious, the events that caused a player to survive each Tribal Council and go from one of eighteen players to the sole player remaining. Lisa, Skupin, Denise, and Malcolm (if he had made it there) were each prepared to explain their how. It is why the each firmly believed they had a great story. The problem is that they didn't have great stories. A great story has a strong theme, a truth that is revealed about the human condition. That is what Lisa, Skupin, and Malcolm lacked. They hapdhazardly said what they did (the game) without explaining why they did it (their heart). That is what Denise did, explained that she played (the game) based on identifying and offering value (her heart).

For seasons now, players have used the argument "I'm playing the game" or "I'm playing Survivor" to explain why they take the actions, usually deceitful, that they do. It's the perspective that leads to "gamebots" and "overplaying." Players like Albert in South Pacific saw their tower of cards (see what I did there) collapse as they offered no meaning to the jurors they mistreated. Nicaragua was the worst season for this. Everyone over played and the strongest players focused on numbers over people. The Final 3 included Chase who explicitly used the "I was playing Survivor" argument and Sash who tried to recant for "playing the game." It's why the other member of that Final 3 won. Fabio didn't apologize or waver on anything he did. He knew why he did it and explained himself. In other words, he brought his heart or his value and ideas on what value is to the game. Just as with Denise, there was no choice between the two for him to make.

Ten times out of ten the player who argues from this integrated (game and heart) point of view will win because he knows why he did what he did and can state it clearly while his opponents only seem like they made spur-of-the-moment decisions (whether they had an overall plan or not). A large majority of the time the player who plays from that point of view will win because he engenders the other players to support him on his way to and during the Final Tribal Council (and simultaneously minimizes random chance's ability to hurt him).

The editors of Survivor are masterful because they look at the game on this level. They don't merely show what decisions were made (the game), but why they were made (the heart) and trace those major whys throughout the season. That is how they construct their theme which in turns helps them tell a powerful story year in and year in. Uncover that theme and it will not only increase your enjoyment but your understanding of the show and the game.

Though sometimes the technical tactics may parallel between seasons (Denise herself played a very Sophie-like game), no two seasons will ever be the same because no two people are the same. They don't have the same "heart." That is what we learned from Denise Stapley because that is what she meant by "everyone has a story." Everyone has a "heart." The beauty (in her, the game, the show, and life), is seeking out the value in each series of events.

Last Man Standing S02E01: Revealing Why the Right Wing is Falling Down

I recently discovered that one of my favorite new sitcoms from the 2011-2012 season had already aired five episodes this fall. Last Man Standing starring Tim Allen follows Mike Baxter, an intelligent, hardworking, sarcastic father of three daughters and head of marketing for a chain of outdoor sporting goods stores. The plots and production are pretty standard, but Tim Allen's Baxter is enjoyable to watch for two reasons. First, his sarcasm is handled well by the writers and Allen. It demonstrates his enjoyment of life and frustration with others around him, not a hatred for the world that usually accompanies the character quirk. Second, he is a right-leaning football-loving guy with a caring streak that doesn't cause him to contradict what he believes in. Usually in sitcoms of this type the Baxter character would learn his lesson and do a 180 on his beliefs. Instead, this character usually just learns how to let other people, mainly his daughters, live and experience their own successes and failures.

Browsing over the summaries of the first five episodes I'd missed on Hulu made me immediately concerned. The first episode was called "Voting" and was about Baxter trying to convince his daughter Mandy, the shallow 18 year old party girl daughter, to vote for Mitt Romney. Uh oh, this was the perfect opportunity for Hollywood to undermine the character by making him do a 180 and vote for Barack Obama. I started the episode and my concern grew. The producers had recast Baxter's oldest daughter, single mother Kristin, and her infant son Boyd, increasing their age so Boyd is now 5, and recast and reintroduced Boyd's father as a regular character whereas last season he had been a one episode guest spot for Joe Jonas. Even more worrisome, Kristin and Boyd's father were both extremely vocal Obama supporters who demonstrated open disdain for Kristin's father's Romney support. Most worrisome of all, this pieces were put in place in the first three minutes of the episode.

Immediately I paused the video and Googled the casting change. Apparently it was the choice of a new showrunner. A change in that position, especially for such a young show, generally means a change in direction. Accepting that this would be the last episode if Last Man Standing I would ever watch, I glumly pressed play and awaited Mike Baxter's execution. I was promptly surprised by the stay he was granted. The lesson he learned was a reminder that what makes America great is you're allowed to make your choice without fear of persecution for it and he drove Mandy to the polls even though she decided to vote for Obama because he deserves a chance to finish what he started. I will continue watching this show. It's joyful simplicity is comforting, always finding a way to make me smile. The writing seems to find a way to break down contemporary cultural issues into easily digestible essentials that ring true, and the obvious reality these simple scenes revealed shocked me even more than the preservation of Mike's character.

The main source of humor in the episode was the quips Mike and Kristin hurled back and forth. The retorts were boiled down representations of both sides' arguments that built to a scene where each presented his or her case to Mandy. Mike told his daughter about the inheritance tax and how Democrats wanted to take what they earned. Kristin explained, using the example of her son Boyd and how his father was losing his job, about how Obama's universal healthcare was intended to help struggling workers. Though the differences in the two arguments seemed to be couched in the same subjects the media harped on during the election (self vs others, money vs people), and the writers were probably echoing that intentionally, what it unintentionally revealed is a much more compelling difference:

Mike's argument was abstract. We earned this money and the government wants to take it from us.

Kristin's argument was concrete. Obama's universal healthcare is to help workers who are suffering due to the economy.

The issue here is accessibility of understanding. When something is concrete, it is easier to understand because the connection is direct, immediate, and apparent. When something is abstract, it is more difficult to understand because it is indirect, distant, and obscure. To state it another way, concretes refer to things that are directly perceivable by our five senses. Abstracts refer to evaluations that refer to things are directly perceivable by our five senses. Understanding statements that involve a concrete is easier because it requires less reasoning ability. You only have to understand what is being referred to. In contrast, statements that involve an abstract are more difficult to understand because it requires reasoning out why the thing being referred to is being evaluated in that way. Admittedly  I am being extremely abstract here, so let me ground this discussion in the concrete I've already presented.

Mike's argument was based on ideas of "earning" and "taking." These are extremely important concepts, as are most abstracts, but they raise a whole slew of question. What does it mean to earn something? What does it mean to take something? Does anyone have a right to earn something? Does anyone have a right to take something? There's are just a couple of questions off the top of my head. Many men with greater minds than me have written complex philosophical analyses of these concepts...and that's exactly my point. Mike's argument assumes a large amount of knowledge and understanding of philosophy (and other subjects) on the part of its audience. To get to his concrete--quality of life--you have to choose to exert a lot of mental effort.

Kristin's argument was based on the ideas of "universal healthcare" and "workers who are suffering due to the economy." Both of these items are defined perceivable existents in reality. The universal healthcare bill is written on a limited number of pages that can be accessed and read. Workers who are suffering due to the economy can be observed and interacted with easily. Kristin's argument assumes no knowledge and understanding of philosophy (and other subjects) on the parts of its audience. To get to its concrete--quality of life--you don't have to exert a lot of mental effort.

My point is not to say that Mike's argument appealed to the educated and Kristin's argument appealed to the uneducated. There are many educated people who struggle with the intricacies of the philosophical complexities of earning/taking and many uneducated people who understand them very easily (and this is just one issue in the vastness of the human experience). Rather, the higher accessibility of understanding by arguing with concretes creates a lower barrier to agreement, and if an argument has a lower barrier to agreement, it is more likely that a higher number of people will agree with it.

With all that is made about the differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties' approaches to government and elections, little if any attention is paid to this observation I am making. This simple difference in rhetorical approach makes the Democratic Party more accessible to more people. I'm not saying Democrats are wrong and Republicans are right and rhetoric is confusing people. There are far too many issues that are far too complicated to make such sweeping generalizations and both parties are very often wrong at different (and sometimes the same) times.

I am saying that the actual points of disagreements are often missed because the sides are talking past each other and thus people aren't presented with a real choice. They're presented with "think about this" vs "look at this" and when they're basing their decision on who can do things, they're always going to choose the side that is saying "look at this" because that is the side that is identifying a problem rather than asking you to identify it yourself. 

If the Mike Baxter's of the world want more people to stand with them, they might find it worthwhile to focus their arguments on concretely identifying the problem(s) they want to fix. Otherwise, they'll continue to fall.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Survivor Philippines E01: Go with the Game or Your Heart?

As has become tired convention on Survivor, most of the strategy and the players’ perspectives on it unfolded predictably. There were discussions of leadership and how taking it on is bad, the immediate alliance formation, the Russell Hantz, and socially adept hands subtly steering the ship. Sounds like the makings of another boring hum-drum season, right? Perhaps, except floating onto this island like the ghost of Survivor past is Mike Skupin. One of the originals, as Jeff Probst called him, Skupin has never seen this fast and furious gameplay (let’s hope it doesn’t reach Tokyo Drift proportions) which was apparent as he didn’t even feign excitement about his alliance. That reluctance and his subsequent confessional about it asks us a question that nu-strategists often forget (or never knew):

Is there a dichotomy between going with the game and going with your heart? There are three ways in which to approach this question.

1. Emotions are not a separate function from the brain. They do not emerge out of nowhere.

Actually, the complete opposite is true. I’m no psychologist and I’m not going to pretend to be, but I will say the following. Good emotional health is checking your emotional responses to see if they are in line with reality. For example, if you were to punch a guy who stole something you would likely feel something about having taken that action. If you felt bad about your action, maybe you didn’t feel the man deserved to be punched. It would then be important to ask yourself if he deserved to be punched, which is a two-fold question: A. What is the standard for someone deserving to be punched? B. Did this man meet this standard when you punched him?

The difficulty with emotional responses, and why they seem to come out of nowhere, is that the above process I’ve described is often automatized. It happens so quickly, because it is second nature, that we don’t realize it is happening. Thus it’s important when you feel very powerful emotions or are making very important decisions to take that step back and evaluate yourself because:

Emotions are a result of the ideas you hold and the way you see the world being applied to your immediate experiences.

2. Your heart should be in the game. If it’s not, don’t play.

I know, I know, it’s a cliché, but I’m not saying this from the perspective of “other people deserve a chance” or “care about winning.” What I mean is, don’t just care about playing, care about how you’re playing. You guessed it, just like emotions, how you play is a result of the ideas you hold about the game being applied to your immediate experience. Likewise, if you aren’t aware of it, your gameplay will be automatized and seemingly happen magically. This lack of self-awareness is what Zane tried to capitalize on unsuccessfully (Russell Hantz did so successfully). He thought everyone else would just operate off of trusting his charisma. Unfortunately for him, he was stuck on a tribe with a therapist who demonstrated what I’m talking about perfectly. Though she liked Zane, Denise knew there was more to his story and questioned her impression of him. It foiled his plan of being the only one who cared about how he was playing (rather than just getting ahead three more days).

3. If you play the game with emotional stability, you are more likely to do well.

Now let’s combine points one and two. Emotional stability means checking how you are feeling against yourself and reality. Strategic stability means the same thing. Imagine what would happen if you were keeping tabs on both of those while on the island. You’d be so much healthier than everyone else. Is that healthiness an advantage though? I’m tempted to say “yes, healthiness means you’re surviving,” but that would be begging the question. How does constantly making sure your emotions and strategies are in line with yourself and reality make you “healthy” in the game? Only you know what is best for you, what approach to take to challenges, what players will help you last longer. No one else can tell you that. In fact, quite the opposite—which gives us a deeper understanding of point two. Not only would Zane be more active than everyone else, he would be tipping the scales in a manner that favors him over everyone else. A better example is Chelsea in One World. She kept “going with the game” even when it contradicted what she knew to be right. Ultimately this came back to bite her majorly in the jury segment of the game. She didn’t keep who she thought was good around and the jury members held her accountable for it. In other words, Chelsea allowed the scales to be tipped in Kim’s favors. A “healthy” player will make sure his emotions and gameplay are in line because that is the only way HE can win.

Ultimately what makes Survivor so interesting is figuring out how the scale got tipped in the winner’s favor along the way. Sometimes the winner is a very healthy player (such as Kim, Boston Rob, Earl, or Tom) other times he is simply the least unhealthy remaining (such as Bob or Fabio or Danni).  Every time it is a mix (even with the winners I have already named), but one truth remains. You can only win as YOU. That means the way you experienced and understood the game has to be considered the superior experience and understanding of the game that season, a fact that is concretized by the jury vote (and demonstrated in jury speeches such as Erik in Samoa and David Murphy in Redemption Island).

Skupin is flirting with disaster by holding this game/heart in his head because by doing so he is allowing RC’s experience and understanding of the game to hold supremacy over his. In other words, he is allowed her to tip the scales in her favor. Will this continue? I’m inclined to say no, as him being able to identify that his mind his going in two different directions (the ideas he holds are saying go with Lisa and his experience in this particular game is telling him to go with RC) means he will have to reconcile that split. Otherwise he’ll find himself on neither side very quickly. Boston Rob’s double blindsiding of Matt Elrod shows us how a player adept at tipping the scales in his favor understands the need to eliminate the confused immediately.

You can’t go with the game (that’s pragmatism) or your heart (that’s emotionalism). Winning takes both. Skupin might be on the path to realizing that, and it just might be the theme of the season.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Survivor Philippines Pre-Blog: WHY I Watch

Something new happened to me while watching One World. I stopped caring.

...end blog post, right?

Not exactly. I still love Survivor. What I don't enjoy is the fan discussion about it. Call me elitist, an asshole, arrogant, stupid, rude, Russell Hantz, or whatever other snide Sucks-esque label you can compose, and I'll embrace it gladly. Why would someone allow himself to be degraded like that? Because if you're hurling the insults, you're the one who finds it degrading. I take it as a badge of honor.

The truth is, the show is on season 25 and fan discussion has grown stagnate. There is a large chasm between the evolution of the show on the screen/the game on the island and the fan discussion. It's like a football analyst who continues to insist that statistics are the sole or main determinant of a player being good. Reality has simply proven otherwise. Likewise, Survivor fans (yes, that is a generalization and I have found many wonderful exceptions) are stuck in a rinse cycle that never gets them clean.

Kim's domination of One World was the perfect confluence of events to expose the bitter stubbornness of the fan community. Not only was she the pre-season pick for most people, but she is an intelligent, likable, technically good-looking young woman. In other words, she was the fans' holy grail, the precipice that will never be reached again, a once-in-however-many-seasons (unless she played All-Stars) occurrence. Her victory validated their genius. They know how the show/game operated to the point of being able to predict it in the pre-season and Jeff Probst is a talentless asshole who hates women and minorities.

Except it didn't validate anything. Predicting the future with any sort of reasonable consistency is important. Jeff Probst is a multiple-Emmy-award-winning host and producer of a long-running hit television show--and if he's an asshole, where's the bad press about him? There isn't any. He isn't. And hearing it repeated over and over again, with Kim being used as the counter-evidence, forced me to recognized the futility of watching the show with the awareness of that perspective. At the end of One World, I was barely having any fun.

I still love Survivor. It's still one of the highest quality productions on television. The casting, camera work, and editing are all top notch. That makes the show even more valuable for me in a season with so few exciting programs. Maybe "Elementary" appeals to you, but it's kind of hard for me to get excited about a watered down version of "House" and the BBC's "Sherlock." Ultimately, that's the thing that keeps me coming back to Survivor. It's premise, the game, is so unique and intelligent, and the crew understands that when producing the show.

I've said it before and I'll say it over and over again in my blog this season. Survivor does what good art should--draws our attention to a heightened expression of the human experience. Who wins is less important than why they win (though arguably those two things are inseparable). That is the reason I watch Survivor. I love observing, thinking, and learning about the human experience. Thus, that is what the focus of The Midside will be in relevance to Survivor from now on.

Survivor is art. If you don't agree, that's fine. If you want to pop more quarters into the machine for another cycle, go ahead. I won't be though. I'll be looking at the narrative and what it tells me about life, about the constant mediation between the individual and the group. If you want to join me, I'd really enjoy that (and think you would too). If you don't, I'd appreciate if you kept any negativity away from me. And one final note, I'm still 100% spoiler free, so please help me keep it that way.

Now where's Probst's helicopter? I'd like to catch a ride to the Philippines.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

It.Doesn't.Go.Away. (Part 2)

Thanks to a great recommendation, I watched "The Brady 6," an ESPN documentary about how one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history was taken behind six other quarterbacks in the 2000 NFL Draft. In it, you can witness the long lasting effects of a person feeling he was judged improperly, but also how to become a better person because of it. The most revealing and inspiring part was this statement by Tom Brady at the end:
"It's not really a chip on my shoulder. It's just that feeling that, man, maybe nobody wants ya. When I watch myself play at times, I still don't think I'm very good. 'Man, you're still not very fast. You know, you got a decent arm. You know, you made some pretty bad reads on that day.' That's what gets me up and motivates me. I always wanna feel like I'm the best quarterback for this team. I wanna earn it every single day."


Here's a quick follow up to my comments on Tom Brady in my "Buy Freeze Pop Factory. Rule World." entry. The anecdote is from this article on ESPNBoston by awesome reporter Mike Reiss. Hopefully it will drive home the point that when this stuff happens to you, or you do it to other people, it's almost impossible to completely erase. And this isn't just Brady towing the Patriot line. Make no mistake, he means it.

He said it with a straight face. 
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was surrounded by a scrum of reporters following Saturday's training camp practice at Gillette Stadium, and the topic of discussion was the team's stocked depth chart at receiver, filled with players with whom Brady has previously developed a solid rapport. Not all of them will stick around; at least one familiar face likely will be sent packing. 
The questioner began: "You're going to be on the team, but one of those receivers ... " 
Brady politely interrupted. 
"I hope so," he said. 
"I hope so," he said again, repeating the thought. 
Tom Brady not making the Patriots? Does the greatest quarterback in franchise history really believe that when Bill Belichick makes the team's final cut down to 53 players in late August that he might not be here? 
No, probably not, but it's the mindset Brady brings to the practice field every day. It shows in the fiery way he competes in training camp. 
"I still feel like a young kid out here trying to earn a spot," he said Saturday.

Friday, July 27, 2012

On Discussed Darkness

"...a man who regards sex, life, and himself as evil will not be attracted to a woman of intelligence, independence, and guiltless self-confidence, will not feel at ease and 'at home' with her romantically..."
-Nathaniel Branden, "The Psychology of Self-Esteem," pg 62

1. Since English doesn't have any gender neutral singular pronouns, the author chose "himself," but the statement would still clearly hold true if the genders were reversed.
2. Though inspired by a specific person, this blog is intended as an artistically exaggerated metaphor for general self-reflection, as I fear it applies to many people.

You told me once there was a darkness deep inside.
I told you about the theme of Dexter.
"Evil" is an exaggeration, but still...

You said you couldn't be yourself 
because I'm intelligent.
Except you were safe.
Except for the lyrics...

"She'll do anything
to make sure that she isn't the one
who lets her guard down
and gets her heart broken."

If you think heartbreak is all that's possible
your guard is always up
and you dream darkly:

Monday, July 23, 2012

Buy Freeze Pop Factory. Rule World.

I've lived most of my life by one principle. Keep your head low, stay out of trouble, and get what you can. I don't know how young I started living that way. Perhaps it was my high school years. I know that it's as far back as I can remember. My middle school years and earlier didn't have much abstract thought that I can recall. After that though, I'm not saying I was some great thinker. I wasn't. But I thought. Or rather, I tried to think. The problem was it often became too painful, so I distracted myself.

Some of my distractions were typical of high school, but none were predictable. I didn't drink. I didn't do drugs (though often found myself around smoking stoners). I didn't date. I played sports. I held a part time job. And the truth is, I didn't just do those things, I lived them. When I was in the middle of them, they consumed me. My mind was occupied by nothing else. I was always calculating how to get from Point A to Point B in the most productive and efficient way possible. On the field or mat I would figure out what my opponent was going to do and where and be there before him. At work I would devise systems and then try to complete them faster than I had before. None of this was about other people. I tried to better myself in the only ways I felt I had complete control over.

My use of the word "felt" in the previous sentence was very intentional as that is the territory we're swerving into here, feelings, so if that sort of thing makes you uncomfortable because it's nonobjective or for women, go back to reading "Ask Men," "Cracked," or "Noodlefood." Otherwise, if you're naturally curious and no topic is off limit to you, stick around and find out how a guy with "the best scientific brain in Middle School" whose roommate with a PhD in computer science always asks how he isn't a scientist became a writer. Because that's what it comes down to, feelings.

No, I'm not saying I indulged some wishy-washy timey-wimey random whim by declaring "pretty words make me feel nice." Rather, I'm Dr. Gregory House who didn't go into medicine. What captivated House was puzzles. He was drawn to diagnostic medicine because impossible cases had a solution that only he could solve. Well, I'm more of an idiot than House. I didn't want to diagnosis diseases. I wanted to diagnosis deceit. The great doctor is correct. Everybody lies, and the only way to figure out what caused their symptoms is to learn who they are. What did they lie about and why did they feel (by way of bad thinking) they had to lie about it? The best way to answer that question, to find the truth, is through the greatest deception of all--fiction. Every (good) work of fiction is an unequivocal truth removed from reality just enough to make us feel comfortable enough to acknowledge it.

The greatest works of fiction, of course, are the ones we tell ourselves, especially when we don't even realize we're doing it. That is the unequivocal truth behind the show House M.D., everyone lies including House, because sometimes we don't even realize we're doing it. Why don't we realize we're doing it? Because we're protecting ourselves from pain. It's exactly what I was doing when I kept my head low, stayed out of trouble, and got what I could. I was lying by convincing myself that there was nothing more to life. When asked what my goals were in life, I often replied with a snicker, "To not starve." Everyone would laugh because of the delivery, but deep down I knew the joke was the lie. That was my goal because that was all I thought was possible. Now that I know how ridiculously easy not starving is (especially in America), I'm forced to acknowledge the absurd level of self-deceit, and the ridiculous lies I told myself.

Perhaps no lie was more ridiculous than the ultimate re-formulation of "keep your head down, stay out of trouble, and get what you can." What follows is a story few people know because it is one of intentional fully aware self-deception. One evening in my junior year of college I was in my usual spot, on my computer in my single room in the apartment I was living in. Unbeknownst to me, one of my two female roommates was in the living room running lines for auditions for an upcoming play with two of her friends. At this time I was good friends with and had a bit of chemistry with that roommate. I was also well aware of her two friends. One had caught my eye the first time I saw her. I'd had a crush on her for over a year. The other would flirt with me so much when I saw her around campus and talked to her that my current roommate (the PhD in computer science) still gives me shit for not hooking up with her. Make no mistake about it. These girls were hot and in my living room, and I had an in with each. But what did I want? Freeze pops.

My confection of choice those days was colored ice in plastic. As I sat at my computer, unaware of the rest of the world, an impulse triggered to walk to the kitchen and retrieve some. I was completely unprepared (on about every level you can be) when I walked into the living room and saw the three of them. My only memory of their reaction was complete benevolence and welcoming waving. My only memory of my reaction was my brain shouting, "Get freeze pops. Get out." And that's exactly what I did. I waved back, headed to the kitchen, removed three freeze pops from the freezer, grabbed a paper towel, rushed back to my room, closed the door, and asked myself if that really just happened. Yes, Justin, it really did happen. You had an opportunity that couldn't have been scripted better and avoided it in favor of frozen sugar water like you were the bug villain from Men in Black on the planet Hoth.

"Get freeze pops. Get out." Though new words, it was the same old lie repeated, so there is no need to ask what I lied about. I told myself there wasn't anything more to life than not starving (with three very compelling counterfactuals literally sitting right there). Thus the relevant concern is why I felt the need to lie to myself. This is where the potentially wishy-washy timey-wimey stuff comes in. I'm no psychologist and can only speak for myself, but my feelings are a result of my intellectual knowledge and my experiential knowledge. That is, what I learn in books and what I learn in the mean streets of the US of A. I can be told an idea often and understand the logic behind it's truth, but if I don't experience the outcomes of its application in reality, it's not real to me. That is, you can tell me 108 times "don't whiz on the electric fence," but if I don't see this (or do it myself) I'm not going to believe that I shouldn't. Or, in other words, you can tell me "It's Only Natural" 108 times, but if I'm not getting laid (or anything else on the spectrum for that matter), I'm not going to believe it. And what I believe directly shapes how I feel about myself and the world.

The truth is, I can count the number of fair shots I've gotten in life on three fingers. I don't know if this is typical. My intent is not to denigrate the challenges anyone else has faced or craft a woe is me narrative. I can only speak to my own experiences and attempt to put them in proper perspective. I'd even state my previously claim more strongly. People have gone out of their way to give me an unfair shot. This is where things get really tricky. I don't think it's anything personal against me or anything being done intentionally or maliciously. I think so many people have no idea what they're doing. Once again, I'm not a psychologist, so I don't know the details as to why. All I know is what I've been through and as of late it hasn't been fair, at all.

Without delving into the details (as this is not the appropriate forum for that), I question the level of honesty I was treated with emotionally, physically, and intellectually. I was not judged and responded to based on my actions, words, personality, and possibly even looks. I was judged on preconceptions of what intelligent people and men are like. Even worse, I was judged negatively based on those preconceptions despite my many demonstrations to the contrary. "You're intelligent, so you wouldn't appreciate X." "You're a man, your motivation must be Y." Being dismissed in such a way hurts so much because it feels like a flippant disregard for who I am as a person. It's like finding this article and seeing that the reasoning listed for one of your favorite books is "Enough Said." Really, "enough said?" There's no need to ask the person what he likes about the book and why he connects with it because every person who likes it must have the same exact thoughts, values, ideas, emotions, and experiences? Unfortunately I think this is a practice far too many people engage in. I admit to being guilty of it far more often than I should be. It's one of the complexities that's led to me spending my life getting freeze pops and getting out.

There's only so many times you can repeat an action while expecting a different result before you become the rat in the cage who keeps touching that goddamn bar and keeps getting shocked. I'm tired. The puzzle is no longer interesting. Your quirks, vulnerabilities, baggage, and demons no longer amuse me. Like House in the final season of the show, I'm learning the fine line between stealing moments of pleasure and living a joyous life. What it comes down to is feeling, feeling like your choices matter just as much if not more than everybody else's, especially in your own life.

When you're rarely given a fair shot, it's hard to feel like your thoughts, feelings, decisions, and desires matter, especially if you're dealing with people who only recognize the terms they set. All relationships (from customer-cashier  to husband-wife) are a two way street where character matters. You trust that the cashier is going to give you your change instead of pocketing it based on your evaluation of him and the store that hired him. You trust that your spouse isn't going to cheat on you based on your evaluation of him/her. And your criteria for evaluation has to be more than actions and words. You trust the cashier because you understand that he values his job in the long term and that the store is going to hire people who help them create a long lasting business. You trust your spouse because you understand that s/he loves you and values love. These things can't be determined solely through observing actions and words. Doing so would be observing a trend in the past and betting that it would continue in the future based on that precedent. Such a bet ignores a defining characteristic of human beings, choice. Human beings are not machines. In other words, at any given moment, a person can choose to deviate from precedent simply because he thinks, feels, decides, or desires to. That is exactly why character matters so much, especially in more intimate relationships. You have to be sure the people you're dealing with won't engage in whim based decision making, either intentionally or unintentionally.

The moment you reduce the evaluation of other people to actions and words is the moment you repress your humanity, become self-centered, and stop giving other people a fair shot. It's when you decide that other people need to fit your formula of what a "friend," "student," "boyfriend/girlfriend," "husband/wife," or "player" should be. You can hand Peyton Manning the New England Patriots playbook but he's never going to run it as well as Tom Brady. Why? Because they don't have the same character. The why behind their words and actions are completely different. That's the error people make when they call Tom Brady a "system quarterback." The quarterback is the system as much as the system is the quarterback. It's not about probabilistically predicting which quarterback, Manning or Brady, will perform at a higher level most of the time. It's about knowing which quarterback will approach the situations he is put in with the higher character all of the time. Evaluating solely on actions (statistics) and words (press conferences) is exactly why Tom Brady didn't get his fair shot until he played for Bill Belichick. Most people think first downs and touchdowns win football games, not high character. What they don't understand is, high character leads to first downs and touchdowns.

Despite the fact that he is a three time Super Bowl champion, two time Super Bowl MVP, two time NFL MVP, and married to a supermodel who makes more money than him, Tom Brady still carries a chip on his shoulder for being picked in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, a result of him never getting the fair shot he deserved in college. "He was seventh on the depth chart when he enrolled at Michigan and struggled so mightily for playing time that he hired a sports psychologist to help him cope with frustration and anxiety." Even in his junior and senior years when he started, he had to constantly defend his starting job. As he described it, "Throughout my football career it always has been looking up at other people." One of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game spent time in college looking up at other people and struggled so much for playing time that it caused him enough frustration and anxiety that he needed a psychologist to deal with it. Let that one soak in for a minute. That's what not giving someone (especially someone of high character) a fair shot, what only evaluating him on actions and words, does. It causes him frustration and anxiety because his evaluation of himself and reality are out of whack with the treatment he's receiving, and those feelings are extremely difficult to get rid of (if they ever go away at all).

There are three possible responses to the frustration and anxiety: address it, ignore it, or embrace it. The only healthy response is addressing it. Guess which one I chose? Sticking your head in the sand and distracting yourself is ignoring it. Unfortunately, that only allows the feelings to pile on top of each other, especially when a fair shot never comes. That's what happened to me recently. I thought I was getting the fairest shot I ever had. What I ended up with is what I described above. In what seemed like a matter of hours, I shot down the depth chart and was granted a release all because, apparently, my character didn't matter. Or, at least, that's how it felt, and that's the point I'm trying to make here. I was driving down a one way street and didn't even know it. My effort, intentions, and feelings had no bearing on what she was feeling or the outcome. Worst yet, it didn't even matter who I actually am (or what my words and actions were). It only mattered what she thought I was. That's the dangerous thing about only evaluating off of actions and words. What you're really evaluating is your perception of those actions and words, making it more important than the actions and words. It's like how people continue to insist on the greatness of Peyton Manning when in 90% of high pressure situations he's collapsed under the pressure. It doesn't matter who he actually is and what he actually did and said. The perception is that he is great. Yes, perception can be right, but it can also be very wrong, especially when you're ignoring a person's character.

I'm a high character guy. I always have been and always will be. It's something I pride myself on. I'm not going to fake reality or approach anyone with malice. I want myself and other people to succeed and be happy. Isn't everyone like that though? In my experience, no, most people aren't, so high character has to be worth something. It's not like I don't have anything else going for me. Given the right opportunity, I could excel. That's the most frustrating thing, and it can lead to an anger that is directed both inward and outward. Seeing so many other people getting chances while you're seventh on the depth chart despite your hard work and ability hurts. It's the reason for ignoring things as long as possible. It's a fact of reality you don't want to think about. How did things get this way? Why do people accept it? And why does it seem like so few people see it?

There comes a time, however, when it's no longer feasible to ignore things. You realize that you can get freeze pops whenever you want, so relegating yourself to that (or any) baseline that will never change is pointless. Distracting yourself can only stave off pain for so long. Like the energy under the Swan Station in LOST, it'll build up until you have to push a button or this happens. The pain is real. Something is going to happen. You're not going to be ok.

What's the Hatch Implosion of mind and body? For me, the frustration and anxiety became an internalized anger I was barely aware of. Outwardly my naturally critical mind (a result of intelligence and the scientific method) has often been indiscriminate, which can come across negative. When you don't think you deserve to be seventh on the depth chart, you look for reasons that the six guys above you don't deserve to be above you (especially if they don't actually deserve to be). Inwardly my respect for reality has caused me to be angry toward myself for not being good enough by making the smallest molehills of flaws into mountains to explain why I don't deserve a fair shot. If you're seventh on the depth chart for long enough, you have to either accept that you're not good enough or that the people making the selections are broken. If you're seventh on the depth chart on multiple teams, it becomes a lot harder to accept the latter. Unfortunately, it's really difficult to understand that most of the people making the selections are saying "enough said" rather than thinking about each individual's character.

Freeze pops are a small chill applied to the slow burning furnace of anger and pain. They're the veteran sixth man added to your bench to stave off rebuilding for another year. They're the button push in the Hatch. My point? It's time to buy this, make like Desmond, and blow the damn. The answer isn't to get freeze pops and get out. The principle of keeping my head low, staying out of trouble, and getting what I can only enables the sayers of "enough said" to continue to repress their humanity and deny me fair shots. There's only one way to get what I deserve and it's not anger. It's Pirates' Code and justice. I'm hurt. It's fair to say that and respond appropriately, the open question is just what appropriate is. I'll figure that part out and know that one day it'll be "Buy Freeze Pop Factory. Rule the World." But for now:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Call Fives: Pop Punk's Awakening

It's interesting that Yellowcard released the lyric video for their new song "My Awakening" in the same week that I Call Fives released their debut album. Yellowcard's song longs for the awakening that I call Fives self-titled album arguably is.

In the song "Stuck in 03," I Call Fives situate themselves among Yellowcard's peers in the golden era of pop punk and then move beyond it. Fall Out Boy, The Ataris, New Found Glory, these are the bands (among others) that carried the genre to mainstream recognizability and attained that balance between vulnerability and aggression. This new-generation pop punk band accomplishes the latter before transitioning into happiness and hope, setting itself up for a possibility of the former.

The most compelling piece of the craftsmanship here is the lyrics. Each song has a way of discussing typical topics as if they were new again while making you feel as if it was written exactly for you. What follows is a list of the album's tracks with their most poignant lyrical excerpts and an explanation as to why those words were chosen.

1. Late Nights

"If I don't hear from you by two AM
I can assume that you found something better to do
I can't depend on you to leave me anything but all alone and empty
I'm sorry you're not sorry
And if you think I'm going to let this slide
You've got another thing coming
Aren't you tired of running?"

The opening two lines tells us what's at stake here, what's always at stake--uninformed abandonment. Drew Conte, the singer, has to figure out for himself, not by being informed by the person he desires, that she's not going to spend time with him, likely in favor of something better than him. It's instant identifiable vulnerability. The verse I've selected jumps into the aggression. Conte explicitly names the girl's faults, and they're all too conventional. Not only does she run, she doesn't express any empathetic understanding concerning her disappearance. Most important, and aggressive, of all, we find out why Conte is singing and why we're listening to him--he's not going to let this slide.

2. Obvious

"Can't get this bad taste out of my mouth
I'm lost in something and I've gotta get out
I should have seen this coming
Still stuck and left with nothing

I'd have to climb into a casket to get as low as you just went
I'm sick of giving into something (Is this the best that I can get?)
When it all comes down to the facts you can't admit when you're wrong
When it all comes down to the facts you can't admit when you're wrong"

What always follows the girl's cold departure is your bemoaning of your own lack of foresight. The title of the tune echoes Good Charlotte's single "Typical," a song with a similar story. After showing where the pain is coming from--inability to escape the situation--Conte croons one of the best lines on the record: "I'd have to climb into a casket to get as low as you just went." The words and their delivery are reminiscent of Andrew McMahon's Something Corporate days. Then, the aggression returns. He just wants to hear her accept responsibility for her actions. (Spoiler: She won't.)

3. Backup Plan

"So let me tell you a story of how it all began
You're fake, fucked, and boring
The same as all your friends
The same as all your friends
And while you stand there a walking bad habit
I'm moving on again cause I've had it

Don't make a sound
(Don't make a sound)
Cause you were another one that just kept me around
And I don't think that I can stand
Knowing I was a backup plan
And I told you once before
I don't want to feel that way anymore
So I'll let you go
And give it everything I've got to never come back home"

The aggression continues as Conte starts naming the girl's faults and reasserting his desire to escape. The opening verse ends with a strong rhyming couplet that captures those two elements. The chorus than proclaims the purpose of the aggression--the escape from the pain. That is where the vulnerability is tucked away in this track: "And I don't think I can stand/Knowing I was a backup plan."

4. The Fall Guy

"You make me miserable
Sometimes its more than I can take
I hope you're comfortable
Just watching as you throw your life away
I'm not sorry for a word I said
I'm not sorry for a word I said
I'm not sorry for a word I said
I'm not sorry"

What would pop punk aggression be without righteous indignation? The line that sticks in your head here is "I'm not sorry for a word I said." The aggression is not only about getting out, but (pro)claiming your self esteem. Handguns uses this theme almost exclusively. We also see Conte's need to apply his own judgment of the world on the girl's. Is it right to do that? I don't know. The point is, he's not going to allow his judgment to be ignored or derided.

5. Stuck in 03

"So finally I'm starting to see how little you think of me and it hurts
Couldn't care less but it couldn't be worse

I'm used to being bloody, broken down and beaten
I can show you all the scars that you've been leaving
Its plain to see there's nothing left between you and me
Useless memories
You're so wrong"

For the song that demonstrates the tone and content of an entire era of pop punk, you only need to look at the pre-chorus and the chorus. The focus here is vulnerability. Conte is grasping the reality of the situation and his response is a vintage I Call Fives line: "Couldn't care less but it couldn't be worse." This is where pop punk, and this new generation of bands in particular, excels. The point of identifying the pain is to move beyond it to happiness, not to revel in it and let it destroy you. That is what this song does. It transitions from the pain to the plain explicit condemnation of its cause.

6. Enemy

"Sometimes you just can't win
I'm more than happy to not fit in (with your friends)
I hope you don't make it home
Someday that you'll face it
Cause the world doesn't spin for you"

These short 42 seconds are a turning point in the album. The idea here is acceptance--accepting the way the world is for him and observing that the other person doesn't accept the way the world is.

7. Wrong Things

"Our chance is never gone

Keep moving on and on
I'm chasing my dreams
I'm settling for nothing
(On and on and it's the same old songs that hope for nothing)
You won't have to wait for me
Don't wait for, don't wait for me
I'll end this hopeless mentality"

What feels like the second half of the story kicks off with further transition. The vulnerability is still there, but it's focus has shifted to another p--positivity. Conte no longer wants to accept nothing. The backup vocals point out the overwhelming hope for nothing that exists conventionally. These guys understand that "hope for nothing" is actually hopelessness. THOSE are the "wrong things" they've been focusing on. It's almost enough to make me think this band is intentionally writing a critique of pop punk.

8. Two Sides To Every Story

"I hope this finds you
I hope this finds you well
Its just so hard to
To separate the truth
So when you feel like talking down to me
Just know that I can't hear you and I'm not listening
I'm not listening"

What, the lyrics of a pop punk song express empathy for the person of the singer's affection? This is a departure from "classic" pop punk and more recent songs such as "I Hope He Kills You" by Handguns. The important idea in this song though is the two stories and how Conte is still able to differentiate his from the other. The negativity has been tuned out.

9. We Were Right Together And We Were Wrong Together

"Long story short we can see right through you
You don't know what you've gotten yourself into now

Its hard to make amends when you turn your back on your friends"

Why isn't Conte listening? Because they all finally see through the bullshit. The empathy hasn't disappeared though. Within the context of the album, the line "Its hard to make amends when you turn your back on your friends" comes across more understanding the accusatory, especially considering the stated ignorance of the other person. Yes, this is clearly a different breed of pop punk.

10. Regrets and Setbacks

"I've been dwelling on my weakness, and it's been getting to me
How long can this go on?
Come to terms with the fact that you can't go back
There's always something to hold you down if you won't get off the ground

When you don't know which way to go
When you feel like you've lost all hope
Don't give up
Don't give anything to those thoughts in your mind
Get over saying sorry for overthinking all the time
Someday, you'll see how easy it is to forget
The ones not worth remembering in the first place"

This entire song is so good that it was difficult to omit any of it. Instead what I focused on was the further channeling of vulnerability. This is about how to find that hope, that positivity, within the pain in a manner reminiscent of City Lights' "Where You've Been." You can't dwell on your weakness. You can't validate those debilitating thoughts, even through guilt for having them. If you don't, you'll someday see the past and its scars fade away.

11. Sleep Well

"You're a mess and you're alone this time
The world is moving and you're what's left behind
And every word I ever wrote in every song
I let them go with you they're buried deep and gone
Sleep well tonight
Sleep well tonight
Cause when your lies catch up to you
You know there's nothing I can do but pull the knife in my back and give it back to you

And while your eyes are closed I'll tell everyone so you're exposed
The bright light creeping through the crack in the dark
You can't stop whats next in store"

Once again, it was really hard to not simply paste the lyrics from the entire song here. Instead I tried to focus on the answer to the question that "Regrets and Setbacks" raises. How do you not validate those debilitating thoughts? The answer is surprising, at least for this genre: justice. Justice, in essence, is treating people as they deserved to be treated. Here we see Conte treating himself well (he's letting go of the pain and the words he wrote about them) and treating the object of his desire as a danger (refusing sympathy in a dark moment and warning everyone else).

What drives a lot of the anger and resentment of youth and genres of music such as pop punk is the feeling that the world is unjust and we are helpless to do anything about it. By focusing our attention on the way we interact with others, rather than the things we do (as is mentioned in "Wrong Things"), I Call Fives highlights an important source of that feeling of helplessness. Justice must begin in your interpersonal relationships. You must respond to other people with the treatment they have earned, otherwise you'll begin to feel like your thoughts and emotions are being ignored by everyone else when really they're only being ignored by yourself. In other words, justice is the only way to make sure you stay awake.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

SSAC: Member Post 4/25/2012

For those of you wondering how The SurvivorSAC operates, here is a post by member Joe Coombs (@AttackoftheJoe on Twitter). Commonly we share ideas such as these and ask for feedback. The ideas and feedback them lead to further ideas and so on and so forth (as you can see, Joe's post is built off of a previous discussion):
This morning and I sort of had an epiphany, if you will, about JML's proposed final 3 of Chelsea, Kim and Troyzan and why it makes sense. Those three characters a.) each have the most story that really carrys them to that final day and b.) they each represent some place on a balance of how to act in the game. Chelsea is the emotional extreme. She realizes what needs to be done to the game but her emotions cause her to want to reject that reality. Kim is the non-emotional extreme. The cold-hearted bitch that knows exactly what she needs to do, who she needs to charm to get to the end and has no qualms whatsoever about doing so. Troyzan is the balance. He doesn't relish taking other people out. He knows exactly what he has to do to get to this point in the game, which is to win every immunity with his back against the wall. And while this upsets and angers him, it also drives him. He's not reacting negatively to the unfortunate reality ahead of him. He's having an emotional outburst about how he has rationalized what the game has become around him and how he has to adapt to it. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

SSAC Report: One World E10 Take It Like Troyzan

Troyzan: “I’m totally pissed off. I feel like I’m completely alone now. But when I get pissed off, I get fired up. I’m like now I’m going to win every damn immunity. I could give a crap about those people. This is no team anymore. I’m no team player. This is just Troyzan versus everybody else. That’s the way I feel.”

(Opening Credits)

Troyzan: "Listen, it's really not fair that there's three or four people...I don't even know what they're doing here."

Chelsea: "It's just the game."

Troyzan: "This is how ridiculous these people are. They think I'm supposed to come back to camp 'Oh, hey, it's just a game. We're just having fun here.' So I'm like, what are you kidding me? I have the right to be angry."

Chelsea: "As much as I hate to say it, you can't take it like Jonas. He took it like a man."

Troyzan: "These girls are kind of acting like what a lot of women act like in real life. They get their house. They get their food. They get all their stuff. Then as soon as they fell satisfied they go, 'Oh guess what? We don't need you no more. You're done. We're done with the guy.'"

I usually wait until after the season to write a broad sweeping philosophical analysis of the season’s themes and place them within the context of Survivor history and our culture, but the above exchange between Troyzan and Chelsea was too delicious to pass up. Rarely does a scene come along that encapsulates the essential tension of ideas for a story (unless that story is particularly well composed). This season of Survivor must be well designed, as the argument was one of those scenes. Here’s the set up:

-Initially, the men were the powerhouse tribe, building a perfect camp and the women needed to seek shelter from there, only barely surviving on their own.

-Post-Switch, nu-Salani dominated because of the muscle of Mike and Troyzan.

-Post-merge, Kim decided to vote out the men, starting with Jonas and then taking out Mike and Jay (though targeting Troyzan) once she had the advantage.

-In other words, the women, and most specifically Kim, gained the advantage in the game off of the ability of the men, which the men were then punished for (voted out).

-Troyzan is angry about this.

(As always the above is story analysis, though I do argue that the story is a distilled and romanticized version of what actually played out.)

In a confessional before the credits, Troyzan tells us his arc over the rest of the episode (and possibily the season). It’s him versus. everyone else. Not how in the merge episode he asserted that it was him versus. eleven other people and that was what he wanted. More importantly, he’s mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. He’s completely on his own, as his allies were all voted out (Jonas and Jay) or have turned against him (Kim and Chelsea) and everyone else won’t talk to him (Christina and Alicia). His frustration is completely understandable and justifiable. That’s what setups his exchange with Chelsea after the credits.

The two sides of the argument that are set up is “it’s just a game” and “the game is a reflection of reality.” Chelsea falls into the former category, as her only defense to Troyzan’s assertion that there is no rational reason for some players to be in the game is “it’s just a game.” This catchphrase has been repeated in recent seasons by players such as Russell Hantz and Chase Rice or displayed in the thought processes of players such as Sash Lenahan and Albert Destrade. No, that’s not very company to be in. Troyzan falls into the latter category, as he ends the disagreement with a confessional about the real life parallels with the situation. This broader perspective has been linked with some of the most successful and heroic players. What makes the clash of ideas interesting though is the interpretation of both players.

From Chelsea’s perspective, Troyzan is acting villainous. He is being overly emotional and erratic. There is no purpose to acting as if he does. Her and Sabrina’s responses to Troyzan throughout the episode followed from there. They were often disgusted and offended at his behavior. Likewise, this analysis is what many fans are supporting this week. The fun loving fan of the game that Troyzan was has become a bitter old arrogant jerk.

From Troyzan’s perspective, the women are acting villainous. They are ingrates who used the men to get where they are and deserve to lose because of it. His determination and approach to the game over the rest of the episode followed from there. He refused to shift his focus from defeating those people who were succeeding off the backs of others. Fewer fans are supporting this analysis this week. It is a difficult position to take in modern society where gender roles have been blurred and relationships between them are growing in difficulty (the divorce rate is about 50%, here’s a complex table about it:

What is being questioned this season is the definition of manhood and womanhood. This particular episode explicitly asked what it means to be a man when Chelsea told Troyzan to, “Take it like a man.” In her estimation, manhood meant to live silently and happily the way Jonas did. However, there are two major problems with her assertion. First, Jonas’ situation was a lot different than Troyzan’s. He had no alliance with the women (though he could have been understandably angry at some of the men for voting for him). Second, and more importantly, why is “taking it” what a man does? When did the definition manhood become silently and stoically accepting reality? This is what Troyzan is referring to in his confessional of the women getting their stuff and ditching the men. I have to wonder, do modern men just take it because that is what they are told manhood is? What about fighting for what you believe in, want, and what is rightfully yours? That is what Troyzan is doing.

(Note: This discussion traces all the way back to the first Immunity Challenge where Troyzan defended the men’s choice to take the win whereas the women fought against it and Kim complained in a confessional that the action wasn’t very chivalrous. I asserted back then, against the prevailing tides, that the men weren’t made to look bad and stand by that assessment. It is Kim who is yearning for an archaic definition of manhood, and that may ultimately do her in as Troyzan isn’t going to take it chivalrously.)

The response to these questions is that it’s not that Troyzan is fighting, but how he is fighting. He’s being abrasive and rude, angering everyone that he could work with or will be a jury member. This, however, begs the ultimate question of Survivor: who defines what is moral, the individual or the collective? In my estimation, Survivor, especially of late, has continually come down on the side of the individual…and it did again this episode. Troyzan played the ultimate trump cards in his disagreement with Tarzan. He stated that he was acting within his personality (and by extension he wasn’t intentionally attempting to harm anyone else) and that he hoped everyone else would act toward him as he was acting toward them. He has his standards and that is what he holds himself and others too. Then at Tribal when he was explaining the proper move to Christina, Tarzan, Alicia, and Leif, he told them that the move wasn’t right for him, but for themselves. Yes, though it was exacerbated by the game, Troyzan argued the logical end of individualism—rational self-interest.

That is the concept Survivor has always, explicitly or implicitly, brought to the discussion table. That is what good storytelling does, creates a slightly unnatural exaggerate situation that places ideas and the actions that stem from them at odds. That is what has made Survivor One World such a great season so far. Kim versus Troyzan isn’t just Kim versus Troyzan, it’s The Head of the Snake versus Beyond the Charm. It has been my and this commission’s assessment that this season has always favored the latter, and this episode only strengthened our resolve. We urge to re-watch the episode, especially the auction and the challenges, with the above discussion in mind.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SSAC Report: One World E06 Miraculous Miracle

Assembled deep in bowels of the interwebs is a group of Survivor fans, a gathering of bright and clever minds. Their mission is to analyze the story of Survivor better than ever before in the history of the universe. What follows is their most recent report. It represents that combination of their work. This project was commissioned by The Midside.

In regards to the sixth episode “Bunch of Idiots" in the 24th season of Survivor "One World," The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission has reached the following conclusions:
× An alternate thematic title for the episode would be “Miraculous Miracle”
× The theme of this episode was "How unpredictable events affect the numbers game.”
× In order to demonstrate how random events affect the numbers game, Christina was edited as the hero of the episode, Colton and Alicia as the villains, and Jonas as a interested middle ground.

After a summary of nu-Salani, the Previously On segment culminated with the plot question of the episode “With her only ally gone, can Christina hold on?” The new footage continued as the villains, Colton and Alicia, told us the answer was no. Colton even made an even bolder claim “There's nothing that can save [Christina]...I still have my idol so I'm going to run this game until I'm all the way at the Final 3.” Since everything he’s said so far has come true, we have no reason to disagree with him here. Every Tribal Council he’s been too, the head of the snake has been cut off, the person he targeted. In fact, it’s such a sure thing that what Colton says goes, it’s not really shocking that he and Alicia berate Christina…though that’s when Colton’s word start to foreshadow his own end: “Honestly Christina, you've been the season cockroach. You've survived things because of different things that have happened.” Different things like a medevac.

The Reward Challenge continued the good vs. evil storyline as Colton critiqued Christina for not really trying despite the rest of the tribe giving the same amount of effort and his princess being awful at the challenge. Except his words are prophetic in this scene too. As Probst says that the winning tribe can eat ice cream until his stomach hurts, Colton replies, "Please please please please please." It’s as if he’s asking for his impending stomach ache. Likewise, at the end of the scene, he gave another Christina confessional, “You can quit or wait and go home in two days, or you can jump in the fire and be medevaced, whichever is more convenient for you.” This is material that had to have the editors salivating when they found it in their log.

While nu-Salani celebrates their dominance, nu-Manono finally gets down to strategy. Colton repeats his fire-jumping comment to Christina’s face and as Jonas notes how personal it’s getting, Christina is finally spurred to action. She pulls Jonas and Leif aside and tells them, “Here's the thing. Alicia already has an alliance with the four girls over there. And if you guys want to win the game, if you vote Alicia out, I'm not part of that alliance obviously, so I know I'm gonna go regardless, so I'm just telling you strategies if you want to keep the guys strong, because if there's a merge Alicia will go with Kim, Chelsea, Sabrina, and Kat. You know, it's a numbers game.” Jonas is now stuck in the middle of the Alicia and Christina war and finds the information interesting because he knows nothing about Alicia. Well, he then learns a little more as Alicia shows up and tries the same routine on Christina she did at the first Tribal Council, berating her until she snaps. Christina doesn’t snap this time though, she keeps responding strategically, repeating the phrase “the numbers game” two more times. That is the most interesting detail in this scene. The phrase that this chapter of the story is about is repeated three times in one of the most heated scenes of the season so far. Alicia even admits that what Christina’s saying is true “Christina is for once telling a partial truth. I do have an alliance with the girls, which Jonas doesn't need to know. So yeah, I'm gonna give her a hard time. It's just too much paranoia for me, and I can't handle that. I need to be in control. So that's why she's going.” It’s a good thing the princess is aligned with her prince and his idol.

Here the episode starts to turn. The villain is felled with the stomach pains he asked for. And who is by his side, mothering him at night? Christina and she tells us why: “If someone is sick and needs help, I'm going to be there for him. I think this is also coming to my advantage as well, as far as strategy goes because Colton will realize that I actually am a good person and that I'm not this bad person that Alicia portrays me to be.” To translate, she thinks about doing the right thing first and strategy second. The villain, of course, sees things purely strategically, “Christina just stepped in and took on this motherly role...and of course Christina's going to do that because she's trying to save herself. She will literally do whatever she has to to stay in the game.” It’s echoes of Russell Hantz, a comparison Jonas made earlier in the season. Colton can only see the game as chess, just like Albert, and as we’ve learned since Samoa (however, Survivor historians like Mario Lanza have learned it since Borneo), you can’t take benevolence out of the game.

Christina doesn’t, and her emotional to strategic transition frames the responses to Colton’s medevac. The next day when she finds Colton in the middle of the jungle in pain, she immediately gets the medical team. Colton’s ally Alicia, however, does. When the medical team discusses Colton leaving the game, she says, “Colton and I always talk strategy. That's all we ever talked about, 24/7. We planned and we planned and we planned. If Colton is out of the game, I don't know about everybody else but, that puts me in a really bad spot. I mean, call me a bad person, but all I kept thinking about was strategy the whole time.” So much for the warm and sympathetic women Colton was telling the men about at their first Tribal Council. In reality, it’s Jonas who is benevolent and expresses the most sympathy for Colton, “It just kills me. I'm putting myself in his position and if I was him, I'd be heartbroken, you know?” Since Christina is the good guy in this story, benevolence is the proper response here, and this only reflects Jonas well. He can see all sides, even the villain’s. It’s especially interesting when Alicia’s strategy turns to anger when Colton keeps the Hidden Immunity Idol for himself, “You know what, Colton is a spoiled brat. He's going to keep the idol as a souvenir even though he knows he screwed me like the biggest. I voted off Monica. If Monica was here, the girls would have the numbers, and I wouldn't be in this position. So you know what? Screw him.” It’s the inverse of the transition Christina made in the previous scene and the inverse of the transition Jonas makes to close the scene, “The original plan when Colton was here was to vote off Christina first, but now that I have a little more power in the game I feel like it would be wiser to vote Alicia first. Alicia's got more ties with girls. Having Alicia in the game is more dangerous. I do believe that if there is a karma, Colton got some karma right back at him.” Sure, it was sad to see such a huge Survivor fan leave, but there are moral and strategic benefits to it.

The sun sets and rises over the island. With Colton gone, it is a new day. Still, the game moves on as Tribal Council treemail arrives, and Nu-Salani responds to it in exactly the same way they responded to the reward challenge treemail—with speculation. Mike is the worst culprit, spinning a one vote per person for anyone in the game theory based on the title “One World.” Kim, in contrast, is the most level-headed, continuing her wait-and-see edit, “I have no idea and I guess I'm just gonna go and take my idol in my back pocket just in case.” Nu-Manono is not so calm. With the head of the snake having cut itself off, the body thrashes around erratically as it prepares for Tribal Council. First, Tarzan declares that he is friends with everyone except Christina. Then, Christina tells Jonas and Leif, “I already committed to you guys so I'm letting you know that I'm giving 100%. The vote's going all to the guys.” Funny how quickly the seven strong broke under a little stress at nu-Manono and ran to the men—the men who are currently leaderless. Jonas is trying to change that though as he tells us “I'm ready to take the bull by the horns and make myself the ring leader.” His first act is to tell Leif to vote for Alicia. Except Tarzan has always fancied himself as the leader of Manono, nu or old, and tells Leif differently, “Christina is very, I call it, sycophantic, she likes to suck up...if we have to vote, please vote Christina.” Leif, the mental midget (err) that he is, channels his handicapable predecessor Heidi Strobel, “I'm stuck in between two hard places.” Yes, nu-Manono is now a clusterfuck full of easy gay and short jokes and in the middle of it Alicia has transitioned into full blow anger, “I'm kind of pissed about the whole idol thing. Colton should've given it to somebody. I was hoping that he was going to give it to me being that now I'm stuck with Christina and the guys. Lord knows I need it.” That’s not exactly the way you want to approach Tribal Council.

In regards to the overall themes of the 24th season of Survivor “One World,” The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission has reached the following conclusions:
× A thematic subtitle for the season would be “Beyond the Charm.”
× The men continued to prove they were “Beyond the Charm” by moving beyond their emotional reactions to the episode
× The most notable of the men was Troyzan, whose performance at Tribal Council demonstrated his charm avoiding skills.

Tribal Council is more than a reaction to Colton’s medevac as all the responses fit on the established spectrum to further develop the themes of the season. Probst asks Troyzan how it affects the game and he responds emotionally, “Geez, I don't even know where to start. You know, I feel sad for Colton cause I know how much he loves this game. I mean, that's my reaction. I'm sad.” Kim, conversely, responds to the situation strategically, “Yeah, absolutely. Another person gone is another person gone.” Except she’s not coldhearted, her reaction, like Alicia’s before, transitions, “Yeah, I've had my appendix out too and it hurts like hell, so I do feel sad for Colton. He was so excited to be here.” The strategy comes first but then the emotion emerges.

Consistent with his edit all season, Troyzan’s Tribal Council experience transitions into strategy. After the merge reveal he says, “I'm actually counting numbers now, numbers of people, and where they're going, and who's with who, and who's not...I mean, everyone has their own agenda.” Yes, there is no more emotion. And to be fair to Kim, she does have something strategic to say about the merge, “I think everybody's trying to feel out the people they were previously on a tribe with going, 'Are the women together? Are the men together? Is Salani together? Is Manono together? It's gonna be really interesting.” Except she still ends with something emotional, “I'm excited. I'm nervous too, but in an excited way.” With the way good and evil was portrayed responding to Colton’s medevac on nu-Manono, is the editing revealing the beginnings of the post-merge edits for our two major winner candidates?

The question becomes even more interesting when you consider Troyzan’s response to nu-Manono attempting to bullshit about the idol. Alicia, and Jonas with the skills he learned from Colton, attempted to charm nu-Salani into confusion concerning their Hidden Immunity Idol. Though it’s unclear exactly what Troyzan wasn’t buying, it was clear that he confidently knew how to see through it as he has from episode one: “She is so full of it. I mean, look at her laugh and look at the smile on her face. I don't buy that at all. Not even close.” No other character has made these type of statements consistently throughout the season in such key moments and that’s why Troyzan remains ahead of Kim as our winner pick.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

SSAC Report: One World E05 The Numbers Game

Assembled deep in bowels of the interwebs is a group of Survivor fans, a gathering of bright and clever minds. Their mission is to analyze the story of Survivor better than ever before in the history of the universe. What follows is their most recent report. It represents that combination of their work. This project was commissioned by The Midside.

In regards to the fifth episode “Bunch of Idiots" in the 24th season of Survivor "One World," The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission has reached the following conclusions:
- An alternate thematic title for the episode would be “The Numbers Games”
- The theme of this episode was "How should the switch be approached to gain a numbers advantage?”
- To show how the women responded improperly, both the villain and hero of the Girl Power alliance were shown deviating from their alliance’s professed approach.
- Monica was portrayed as strong and loyal in order to drive home the point that her boot was a mistake.

After the “Previously on Survivor” segment reminded us that “the men and women are now even at seven and it’s anyone’s game,” the pre-credits sequences offered us the lens through which to view the rest of the episode—just as it did last episode with Troyzan and Tarzan’s discussion in the water about booting Bill. Over some interesting ominous music, Sabrina—the rational and logical woman—reminds us “it’s a new game” and then observes “The guys are much more of a mess than we thought...the girls are sticking together on this one.” The rest of scene echoes this sentiment as Alicia says “If we're gonna stick as a tribe of all girls, we need to be seven going in strong” and Christina echoes, “We have to stick together because we don't know what the heck these guys are thinking.” Their agreement sticks out because they’ve been at odds the entire game and end up on the same tribe post-switch. The women seemed to have finally reached a homeostasis that could give them the game thanks to the men’s temporary insanity. Alicia’s scene-capping confessional says as much and ends with a foreboding prediction “The guys messed up big time. If we come in strong seven, we're gonna blow them away. We're gonna beat them today in our challenge. They are so dumb. They handed us a million dollars.” The key to understanding the truth behind this prediction though is the word “if.” “If” the women stay “seven strong,” then the men handed them a million dollars. It’s likely Alicia was just talking about the challenge in this confessional, but the editors’ twisted it to make it seem like her topic was the entire game in order to use the rest of the episode to show the women going against that.

The major plot mechanization of this episode almost immediately forced the characters into their roles. The most notable responses were all from women (and Colton). First, Monica was shown struggling to take off her Salani buff saying, “I don't know how to take this thing off.” It may play like a throwaway line, but this is her boot episode. It is clearly meant to symbolize her inability to move forward from original Salani and Girl Power. Kim, on the other hand with her new tribe, says “I mean, this couldn't have gone better for us.” “Us” can only mean nu-Salani. So much for Girl Power. And who can blame her really? Colton rightly observes “they have all the muscle” and “it’s Greek Gods vs. Peasants” and the challenge edit backs this up. Even though it was a reasonably close challenge likely decided by nu-Manono not staying under the faucet for slightly too short of an amount of time during one of their trips, Probst’s commentary and the shots of Kat and the three guys hauling the Nu-Salani tub made it seem like their strength was the difference. Still, Monica and Christina object to Colton’s characterization. Already disagreeing with the new tribe’s “mastermind,” the two are again in an uphill battle as outsiders.
At the nu-Manono beach, that battle starts to take shape. Alicia goes against the seven strong women idea, almost immediately following Colton around, as they declare each other prince and princess. Neither of them are very high on their new tribe either. Alicia says they’re going to be the laughing stock. Colton says they’re on a tribe with people who suck. The two villains ending up together and their negativity infecting the tribe shows how the edit doesn’t create fiction, it reflects reality. And so does Monica’s confessional about aligning with Colton, "I hope you're not the puppet master master manipulator and that you really and truly aren't with the guys and us girls are going down 1, 2, 3. And I feel like I'm the strongest of the three girls, which would mean it would be me first.” Considering it was her first and the future doesn’t bode well for nu-Manono, this prediction could reach beyond this episode.

It resonates especially loudly as Colton pretty much told us that all the heroes were on nu-Salani, “When I cracked that egg and I saw orange and I looked around and Jay was covered in blue and Troy was blue and I looked over and Kim had blue and Sabrina had blue and I just thought “beep.’” That’s the source of his negativity. He can’t ride the heroes to the end anymore. Likewise, Sabrina’s seeming hero edit finally transfers as she observes the results of the switch, “When we picked the egg, I said lord please let it be the same color as Kim, that's what I wanted. When I smashed it and she was blue, Chelsea was blue, that's like our first three in our alliance. Then I saw Kat and I was like is this really real? I can't believe four girls within the five girl alliance on the new tribe? Priceless.” Kim is the female hero of this story, but not only that, Sabrina’s confessional makes it seem as if these Girl Power women are still attempting to stay seven strong. The switch did work out perfect for that to happen considering four of the five of them are on nu-Salani and there are three women and Colton, the surrogate female, on nu-Manono.

Except it doesn’t work that way. In nu-Salani, the men rule the roost. Mike shows Chelsea how to catch crabs (go ahead and snicker if you must). Troyzan, in a scene that echoes Chelsea’s chicken catching from earlier in the season, catches a chicken using his defensive back skills. They even get in strategically as Troyzan and Jay talk to Kim about booting Mike and Kat. Jay begins, “Whenever a merge situation happens, let's intermingle, let's weave our way into it…” and Kim finishes, “...and when it comes time to vote we all have to tell each other what's going down and make sure that it goes not towards any one of us and then pretty soon we're in the majority and it doesn't matter anymore.” So much for staying seven strong. If even the female hero of the season isn’t going to stay seven strong, it doesn’t say much for the Girl Power alliance’s chances. Of course, Kim has never been totally into the Girl Power alliance, and she reminds us of that in a confessional, “This has been my thing all along. I'm trying to keep my options open. So if sticking with the girls works best in the long run, I'll stick with the girls.” “Open Options” is a pretty good label for Kim’s strategy and arc in this story. Is it the winning story though? The opening episode did seem to point toward traditional alliance play failing, or at least the original two alliances. That we can be sure of over the rest of this episode: Girl Power is dead.

Alicia’s attempts to strategize at nu-Manono force us to acknowledge this reality. First she tells Colton, “The girls are loyal. You guys are the ones who are crazy.” Then in a confessional she says, “I don't consider Colton as a guy, so I feel like we have four women against the guys...I need to keep my women here and get rid of the guys, so that we merge, I'm still there.” Any vote should be pretty easy then. Boot one of Jonas, Leif, and Tarzan. We know she doesn’t, however, and that doesn’t seem to bode well for her personal chances at the merge considering the statement. At the very least, this episode is the beginning of the end for Alicia as she stands in the water with Colton and says she’ll vote with him if he promises not to screw her. He then states his strategy in a confessional, “I've been getting rid of the head of the snake this entire game, Matt, Bill, now Monica.” And Monica may be the head of the Girl Power snake at the moment, but, even within this episode, Alicia is the head of the Girl Power snake in the broader game.

In contrast to the female villain, the heroine is reaching a high point in her game over at nu-Salani. Kim finds the idol, tells Chelsea, and declares she has, “Maybe one of the best feelings I've had since I've got here.” She’s truly having fun and enjoying the game. There aren’t much more heroic single episode edits in Survivor. If Kim does win, this was the turning point for her, when her voice was finally heard. Sabrina is listening to her. Troyzan and Jay are listening to her. The idol will make her be heard by everyone else, not that they matter with how dominant her tribe is.

Nu-Salani completely controls the immunity challenge and three things stand out. First, Monica scores the only point for nu-Manono and is built up as strong. This drives home her victim status as a wrongful boot. Second, though Mike scores all three nu-Salani points, that fact is never explicitly acknowledged, and is only a blip on the radar. Finally, though nu-Salani scores the second point, Leif’s fight and effort is made out to be the story of the leg of the challenge. These latter two points confirm that Mike is not winning the game, as this challenge would be edited extremely Tom-Westman-esque if he did, and are an interesting positive turn for Leif considering the beating he has been taking in the editing.

The build up to Tribal and Tribal itself do nothing to derail the train rolling down the tracks of irony. Christina and Monica try to turn the vote toward Tarzan to keep the tribe strong and everyone lies to them. Monica still thinks the women are sticking together as she incorrectly observes, “The guys have lost sight on the numbers game. It's Tarzan and I. In my mind I'm thinking that's a huge win for the women that the men are on board to take out one of the men” then continues her blissful unawareness to open Tribal itself: “Breaking up is hard to do. We'd gotten close, the girls. But it's actually turned out to be a blessing.” She’s right though. On its face, the switch looked like a blessing for the women, if only they had stayed seven strong in the numbers game.

In regards to the overall themes of the 24th season of Survivor “One World,” The Midside's Survivor Story Analysis Commission has reached the following conclusions:
- A thematic subtitle for the season would be “Beyond the Charm.”
- Kim’s, the heroine of this story, strategy was shown to be charm based.
- The men coming out one ahead in the numbers, and Colton voting with them as he said he would, bodes well for a man’s chances to win the game.
- The men were once again shown as being the most successful at surviving despite the fact that nu-Manono built an entire shelter themselves.
- Subtle references were made to “one world” with nu-Salani being shown as more successful for embracing the concept.
- Despite nu-Salani integrating the genders better, the men were still shown as carrying the tribe.

Though this episode didn’t feature heavy thematic seasons, several things stood out: the visual demonstrations of the men’s survival skills at nu-Salani, the gulf in tone between the two new tribes, and the portrayals of Kim and Troyzan. As noted in the episodic analysis, Mike was the one shown catching the crabs while teaching Chelsea how. Troyzan was shown catching the chicken. No one on nu-Salani was shown making fire and they didn’t have to build a shelter. On nu-Manono, the three women were shown failing miserably at catching a chicken, Tarzan tripped while building the shelter, and Jonas talked about how Colton never worked while the shelter was being built. Monica was briefly shown working on the shelter, but despite the fact that they had an entirely new decent looking shelter, nu-Manono was never shown building it. Plus, she was voted out, strengthening the case that her boot was supposed to be viewed negatively.

Nu-Salani was not only shown excelling in survival though. They adapted well to the switch. While Sabrina saw it as a good thing for the original Girl Power alliance, Troyzan, Jay, and Kim devised a new alliance on the beach. Jay described his perspective, “I think it's Salani vs Manono right now. I don't think it's men vs women...I don't mind at all working with these women.” This puts him in a different place than Sabrina and all of nu-Manono, as Jonas sarcastically feigned at one point “This is one world.” Kim seemed to be in line with what Jay was thinking and considering they were talking with Troyzan and the three have received the most glowing edits this season with Colton basically calling them heroes this episode, it makes sense why their tribe is being compared to Greek Gods. The tribe is working together as a unit, not looking to manipulate anyone.

In contrast, nu-Manono has clearly been infected by the villains. Jonas even admits to it “I could be Colton's bitch. I'll be whatever you want me to be. But just don't vote me out” as he observes Colton and Alicia’s deceit with amusement as they butter Monica up before and during Tribal. His confessional is ominous for his chances though as Monica echoes his thoughts “Just as long as it's not me. Tell me what to do.” The boot is her and it’s because Colton and Alicia have charmed their way into power in this tribe. Will Jonas ultimately be undone by enabling them as well, or is he supposed to be shown as sufficiently aware enough to escape that fate? He is being shown as removed from it enough in a way that is reminiscent of his early alliance partner Troyzan.
Troyzan’s edit from the start of the episode to the finish should not be underemphasized. As the women talked about staying seven strong, who was talking to them as he has been all season? He was, and he even explained how they dealt with Colton’s charm, “You know in the back of some guys' heads they were like 'oh, I don't want to agree with this, but it's a group thing,' so, I don't know.” That is exactly how Jay dealt with it last episode. That is exactly how Jonas dealt with Colton this episode. Visually, that’s also how Troyzan interacts with the women in this episode, just like has been shown in almost every episode. Could that be his path to victory, being in the charm but not manipulated by it? It’s important to consider, as his chicken catching scenes speaks loudly for his chances.

Since this is the first episode of the second act of this season, the chicken scene clearly echoes the chicken catching scene from episode one, except this time Troyzan was the one who caught the chicken. It also forces us to look back at Matt’s rooster speech to Troyzan. Matt was unable to catch a chicken in episode one, causing Chelsea, who caught them, to take the spoils and walk off. He was also unable to deal with the chickens on his tribe, causing them to turn against him and boot him. In contrast, Troyzan was firmly in power in the Misfit Alliance and has been shown dealing properly with the chick(en)s of original Salani all season. It makes his quote after catching the chicken ring loudly, “I mean, it was it. Game over. Sorry chicken, you lose.” It was extremely reminiscent of Rob Mariano’s “Ding ding ding, we have a winner” after finding the Hidden Immunity Idol in Redemption Island.

Someone did find the Hidden Immunity Idol this episode though, Kim, and this has been the high point of her edit. After talking with Jay and Troyzan earlier in the episode, she sat down with Chelsea to talk about the ramifications of finding the idol, “This could be a gamechanger moment where we take the numbers...and we need to be careful that they don't see us as a pair because then the other one would never have an idea. We just need to make sure that we have our hooks in as many people as possible.” No, Kim isn’t totally sold on Girl Power, but she’s using her charm as much as Alicia. She wants to get her hooks in people. She’s not talking about working with people like Jay did or using logic like Sabrina has expressed the importance of all season. She’s attempting to build connections and ride the best one to the end—at least that’s the story we’re being told. It does lead us to the only remaining question of the season, how will Troyzan (and possibly Jay) deal with Kim’s charm? The answer to that question in the plot will tell us how Troyzan becomes the greatest Survivor of all time. He is, after all, already a Greek God.