Showing posts with label Survivor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Survivor. Show all posts

December 19, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "It's My Night"

The challenge when analyzing Survivor is finding thrills when the finale reaches a predictable ending. This trend has happened frequently in recent seasons, with Malcolm’s exit from the Philippines being a rare exception. Even so, there’s still plenty to enjoy with Blood vs. Water’s conclusion. Tyson removes any doubts about a victory by taking the final two immunity challenges and choosing the right people. Underdogs like Ciera and Tina are too dangerous to face with this jury. Despite the editing focusing on Monica, she earns just one vote, and the rest go to Tyson. It’s hard to disagree with rewarding a guy who found two idols, built a solid alliance, and dodged stiff challenges from Hayden and Ciera. He’s come a long way from the goofball of the Tocantins or the guy who messed up his alliance’s game in Heroes vs. Villains. It’s a convincing finish to a remarkable season that has revitalized the show once again.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

December 14, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Out on a Limb"

In this current Survivor era dominated by returning players, it’s been intriguing to watch how they respond based on their previous experiences. Many over compensate and try to make big moves too early, while others avoid the target that doomed them. Monica Culpepper’s first appearance on One World showed her strength but also a vulnerable side that placed too much trust in others. It’s important to have allies, but placing too much faith in them isn’t wise. The key is recognizing what’s best for their game and if you fit in those plans. Despite more remarkable game play from Ciera to convince Monica she should flip, she makes the right choice this week and sticks with her alliance. Her situation is worse if she switches to the other side. Hayden and Ciera have become the lovable underdogs that the jury roots for against the people who betrayed them. Monica can’t defeat them in the end and is just handing over the million with that move. Voting for Gervase serves little purpose since it puts Monica in the number four spot when the Redemption Island victor returns. No matter who wins the final “duel”, they become the third person ahead of Monica if she betrays her alliance.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

December 7, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Ruffle Feathers"

It’s amazing to see just how vibrant Survivor feels this season, and the thrills are about more than picking rocks. It starts with the first scene of Hayden drawing out Gervase by crowning Tyson the victor. That conversation sets the stage for everything that follows, including an insane Tribal Council. It’s a rare case where a player with his back against the wall actually makes the correct arguments. By pressing the “Tyson as inevitable winner” story line, Hayden gets Gervase and Monica to say exactly what he wants. Ciera’s understated reactions say it all. She realizes that her road to victory doesn’t go through the Galang alliance. Monica’s reassurance that “four is better than six” isn’t what she wants to hear. Unlike the recent One World and South Pacific seasons, it’s wonderful to see everyone trying to win the game. They’d rather draw rocks than fade meekly into oblivion. It takes guts to accept a one-in-three shot to leave the game, so the fact that Ciera sticks to her guns is awesome. Katie is the ultimate loser by chance, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad strategy to flip the game.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

November 29, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Gloves Come Off"

One of the thrills of Survivor: Blood vs. Water has been watching everyone take a shot and really try to win the game. Even when plans blow up in their face, players aren’t meekly drifting towards their end. This makes it exciting for viewers who don’t want to see Boston Rob make a bunch of dummies look stupid. When Caleb and Hayden realize they can’t win against Tyson, it’s refreshing to watch them work to change their spot. Even though their strategy fails, that doesn’t mean the idea is false. If they had blindsided Tyson or removed Ciera, it would have put them in the driver’s seat to win the game. That risk is worth taking because the reward is a great shot at the finals. It only makes sense for Ciera to join them if it’s an improvement in her ultimate standing. That’s the big question surrounding her choice to reveal their plans to Tyson. He’s offering her a spot in the final three, but does he really plan to stick with it? Ciera has a story to tell the jury, and there’s a chance it might sway them. She’s thrilled to have a spot at the cool kids’ table and believes in this prime spot, despite the warning signs it won’t last forever.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

November 22, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Big Bad Wolf"

When Jeff Probst and the Survivor producers created the Blood vs. Water concept, they prayed for a moment like tonight’s vote. Ciera writes down her mom’s name to secure her place, but it isn’t even necessary for the 7-1 outcome. The heart of the episode is the conversation between Laura and Ciera about their future. While the music swells in the background, their confessionals show the value of having family members together in the game. Once Tyson decides to focus on Laura, her exit is set barring an immunity victory. Even so, that doesn’t bring down the episode because so much is happening beyond the game. When Laura tears up after Ciera discusses the possibility of voting for her, it’s a genuine moment in a competition based on lying. She’s played a naïve game and continues to trust the alliance that turned on her. Instead of trying to stop Katie from finding the idol, Laura should have been conspiring with her to flip the game. This blind spot hurts her chances, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of the Ciera vote. Even with the editors spoiling the result in last week’s previews, there’s enough real feeling to maintain the interest.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

November 15, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "My Brother's Keeper"

Considering the tremendous amount of footage that’s shot on each day of Survivor, it’s remarkable that the stories flow so smoothly. The combination of camp life, challenges, and Tribal Council works swiftly to keep the audience engaged. When the producers choose to cram two eliminations into one episode, it cranks up the pace to a ridiculous level. The story becomes a frenetic ride through challenge/Tribal Council/challenge/Tribal Council, with a bit of strategy thrown in the middle. The downside is the lack of much context to the votes and alliances set in place for the future. On the other hand, it avoids the drag of predictable exits. Vytas and Tina are the obvious choices to go next, and the cracks are just a set up for the battles to come. They join Aras at Redemption Island for an epic battle that will remove either a former winner or one of the season’s most intriguing players.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

November 7, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Skin of My Teeth"

In one of the most telegraphed blindsides in Survivor history, this week’s vote flips the game on its head and pushes the once-confident leaders to the brink. Rarely have the editors spent this much time setting up a pivotal blindside. Unlike nervous players like Monica and Laura Morett, Aras doesn’t have a past failure to make him worry. He’s confident that the game will work out and doesn’t recognize the danger of standing in front. The key mistake is trusting that Gervase and Tyson will let the couples run the show. And that’s hardly the only miscalculation. Tina makes a ridiculous gaffe and tells Monica she’s fifth on the totem pole. The amazing part is that she sells it like a benefit. It takes some convincing from Tyson, but Tina’s comment sends Monica scurrying for the exits from a sinking ship. This foolish reveal from such a normally wise player shows that complacency can ruin anyone in this game.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

November 1, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Swoop in for the Kill"

Survivor: Blood vs. Water has been filled with personal stories and conflicts that have made it one of the most consistent seasons of recent years. Even an arrogant goofball like Brad Culpepper offered plenty of entertainment with his failed strategy and the anger he inspired in others. We’ve seen players truly moved by the plight of their loved ones, and there’s been a greater sense of fun during the challenges. On the other hand, there’s the story of Laura Boneham. After being voted out on the first day and saved by her husband Rupert, she settled into a background role. Others have called her annoying or ridiculed her attempts at strategy, but her position was secure. Why vote out someone who’s barely a threat? Laura seems like a nice person, but she doesn’t have the type of personality that thrives on Survivor. Her face doesn’t exude warmth like Tina or fun like Tyson. It’s hardly fair to diminish her value in this way, but it’s the nature of this game. If a player doesn’t bond with tribe mates and seems to act irrationally, they may decide to remove the question mark. Playing under the radar is a successful path to the end, but straying so drastically can change the score quickly.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

October 24, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "One-Man Wrecking Ball"

In the pre-merge game of Survivor, it’s easy to think too far ahead and step into the muck. During her first appearance in One World, Kat believed in her alliance and felt betrayed when they kicked her out. She was a fun character who talked constantly and didn’t really understand the game. Kat’s goofy personality drew a return invitation, and she has spent this season under the radar. Of course, this week reminds us that changing your limited game isn’t so easy. Her feeble attempts to stir the pot blow up in her face and kick her right to Redemption Island. Apparently Kat hasn’t spent much time watching the Australia season. Tina is an intelligent player who has no qualms about stabbing others in the back. She’s immensely loyal to her alliance, but there’s fierce determination behind the kind façade. All Tina needs to do is pass some information to Monica and watch the dominoes fall towards the less experienced Kat.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

October 17, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "The Dead Can Still Talk"

Considering all the twists in Survivor: Blood vs. Water, the old-school vibe has been a refreshing surprise. The family connections are forcing the editors to show the personalities of more than just a few star players. Laura Morett hasn’t received many interviews, but there’s been enough to show her place in the tribe. She thinks creepily flirting with Aras and doing well in challenges will keep her alive. Meanwhile, Laura Boneham is struggling to connect with players who’ve known each other for years. The promos spotlighted a huge blindside, but the logic in the vote is pretty simple. The five-person alliance picks their second or third choice with hopes of thwarting Brad Culpepper at Redemption Island. The “no strategy” plan is keeping several players in the dark and hiding the alliance’s existence. It hearkens all the way back to Rich’s approach in Borneo. The alliance works a lot better if its existence isn’t obvious.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

October 12, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "One Armed Dude and Three Moms"

Brilliant. In a season filled with twists, it’s the simple moves that can change the game. After watching his fiancé quit last week, Caleb steps out of the shadows and executes a stunning move at Tribal Council. Nothing ever happens at Tribal Council! When change-ups occur, they usually use the immunity idol. This move involves doing math and realizing it wouldn’t take much to kick out the figurehead. By announcing his vote for Brad in front of everyone, Caleb realizes he can sway the girls’ votes and create a 3-3 tie. Players don’t want to pull rocks, so the odds of taking out Brad are very good. There’s a chance that everyone votes out Caleb, but that still leaves the guys in power. It makes little sense for Katie and Ciera to follow that plan. With just a few words, Brad’s fate is sealed. The amazing part is that he lost the game with his blindside of John last week. That changed the numbers from 5-1 to 4-2. This gives Caleb a rare chance to flip and change the game.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

October 4, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Opening Pandora's Box"

Last season, the Survivor producers made the inexplicable decision to cast Brandon Hantz for a second time. He was clearly unstable during his first appearance, and it was only a matter of time before he exploded. The choice to bring back Colton is different because he controlled the game on One World before exiting. Even so, there are similarities. Colton is a nasty player who thrives on making others miserable. That strategy may work with newbies, but he’s found no traction with the returnees. Luckily for him, they’ve been rolling through the immunity challenges. He might coast for a while and find a way to reach the merge. Instead, Colton’s frustration leads to the lamest quit in the show’s history. Players do everything to play and avoid the vote, and he gives up after seven days? Brandon’s exit was horrible, but it came from a misguided feeling that he was leaving on his own terms. This choice is worse and proves that Colton should never have returned. Jeff Probst and the producers share the blame for giving him the chance. The only relief is that it happens so early. Colton exits with a whimper and comes off even worse in his second appearance.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

September 27, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Rule in Chaos"

During the early stages of Survivor, luck plays a huge role in determining players’ fates. The votes can knock out people who barely get a chance to compete. An alliance forms and starts taking out the others, and it’s a scramble to grab a chair before the music stops. The Blood vs. Water twists have added new reasons to vote out a fellow tribe member. Instead of just targeting weak players and potential threats, the majority must look at the other tribe. The change allowing players to substitute for their loved ones creates the scenario of removing someone to entice a strong opponent to “pull a Rupert” and jeopardize their game. This fate befalls Tyson’s girlfriend Rachel this week, and it’s frustrating to watch a good competitor leave so early. It may lead to great drama next time, but it means that less-exciting individuals may last longer. The choice makes sense from the guys’ perspective; the small gamble could pay dividends. However, it also represents short-sided thinking. If a tribe swap occurs, this focus on winning as a team might hurt their chances in the long run.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this episode through this link.

September 21, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water - "Blood is Thicker Than Anything"

When the many twists was announced for the new Survivor season, it felt like the producers were over compensating for a flimsy premise. Besides having a silly name, the Blood vs. Water concept introduced elements that didn’t mesh with the formula. How could family members vote each other out and truly compete for a million dollars? The challenge is selling that concept without making it feel cheap. When it’s added to Redemption Island and its related twists, the danger grows larger. This baggage makes the success of the premiere a surprise. There are some lunkhead players who get too much screen time, but the cast is more interesting than the normal group. Even returnees who weren’t inspiring on their original season like Laura and Monica seem more confident this time. The loved ones are mostly likable and aren’t just excuses to bring back popular returning players. There are smart competitors within the tribe that should go a long way in this game.

Check out the rest of my post for Sound on Sight on this premiere through this link.

September 18, 2013

Survivor: Blood vs. Water Preview

With each new installment, Jeff Probst and the Survivor producers keep adding new changes that move it further from the original social experiment. Fans are constantly asking if it's jumped the shark and claiming they won't watch. Somehow, the ratings stay flat relative to other shows. I complain about returning players, yet I still watch every season. What does that say about me? Am I a grumpy critic who will never be satisfied? It's possible. The more likely reason is wanting Survivor to build on its recent creative success and move forward. This season feels like something else entirely, but maybe it will prove me wrong. Regardless of the outcome, I'll be recapping each episode for Sound on Sight for the fourth time.

Long-time Survivor fans yearn for the days when a fresh group of new castaways arrived each season to play the game. Those days are over. Only two of the last seven seasons (Nicaragua and One World) have not included returning players, and they weren’t very successful. The producers will continue to find new gimmicks to bring back former contestants. This fall’s choice has the ridiculous title of Blood vs. Water and includes pairs connected by blood or romance. Ten familiar faces are back alongside 10 first-time players. They’ll be split into two tribes in a set-up that mirrors the “Fans vs. Favorites” model that’s been used twice. It’s an intriguing concept with the potential to fall flat or deliver great drama. When the tribes merge, will anyone betray a family member? That prospect seems unlikely, but this formula depends on it. The premise is solid, but there are so many twists dropped on top of it. The risk is a messy season where fans grow exasperated with the drastic changes to the original game.

Check out the remainder of my Blood vs. Water preview for Sound on Sight through this link.

May 15, 2013

Survivor: Caramoan, "Last Push"

This recap was written for Sound on Sight, an excellent online spot for great writing on film and television. You can check out the original post at this link.

Despite the unpredictable second half of Survivor: Caramoan, a sense of inevitability dominates the finale. Cochran has avoided the vote throughout the game, and his victory feels secure after he wins the final immunity challenge. The only question is whether Dawn or Sherri will receive any votes, and the bitter jury makes it clear neither has much chance to crack the scoreboard. While Jeff Probst makes a huge deal about Cochran being unconventional, it’s not a surprise to see him win the million. Along with playing a strategic game, he has the likability factor that’s eluded powerful contestants like Russell Hantz at their Final Tribal Council. The jury needs to feel good about giving the million dollars to the winner, and only one possibility fits that requirement. Dawn received unfair nastiness from fans after Brenda’s exit, but that move’s role in her game isn’t in question. That move confirms the jurors’ beliefs about her cold play and makes her emotional outbursts look phony. Dawn clearly was not playing a character, but the contradictions are too significant. Instead of providing an underdog story of how she overcame adversity to reach the end, Dawn becomes a symbol of victory at any costs. Cochran voted out almost everyone on the jury, but it was always about the game. Whether it’s fair or not, the jurors decide to reward a likable guy who makes no qualms about his focus on strategy.

The Final Tribal Council includes several uncomfortable moments where the nastiness towards Dawn crosses the line. The worst is Brenda bullying her to remove her false teeth and humiliate herself. While her anger is understandable, this move is overly mean and accomplishes little more than making Brenda feel better. Cochran and Dawn worked as a pair since the start of the game, but his moves are applauded. Part of the issue is their personas from the South Pacific. Dawn was the mother of six who was too nice. Cochran was the Survivor nerd who was too nervous to play a successful game. Both returned this time with plans to change their perceptions, and neither leaves with the same impression. The elephant in the room is sexism, which allows some players to get away with moves while others suffer the consequences. It’s an intriguing subject that crosses gender lines, so it’s too simple to say that women are never considered great strategists. Parvati and Kim Spradlin both received credit for running the game and winning the top prize. On the other hand, Sophie and Denise were considered lesser-tier winners despite playing excellent games. There’s definitely a certain view among many fans of what makes a great player, and some will not live up to those expectations.

Sherri also reaches the end yet gets no consideration from most jury members. Erik tries to summarize their lack of interest, but he comes off like a jerk piling on after the situation is clear. Her journey began with strong play to build an alliance and take out the two couples. After the merge, she adapted and joined the favorites. In a strange way, the closest model to her game is Phillip on Redemption Island. She clung to Dawn and Cochran and avoided risks to ensure her spot at the end. While the jurors are mad at Dawn, they respect her game a lot more than the third wheel. Sherri seems like a nice person, but the editing rarely shows her bonding with anyone. She skipped opportunities to shake up the game, and that safe play is not enough to earn respect. Speaking of Erik, he makes a very brief cameo in the finale and is medically evacuated minutes after the previous Tribal Council. His exit was clearly set up last week and creates less tension for the next two hours. The main question is whether Eddie will get a chance to “bro down” in the finals. He reveals smarts in giving his assessment of Erik because of his EMT job at home. It would have been interesting to see if Eddie could have made the right points to challenge Cochran’s dominance with the jury.

Erik’s surprise exit forces the producers to shift gears. The winner of the “house of cards” battle receives an advantage in the final immunity challenge. This is unfortunate since it skews that key contest in favor of one player. While the edge did not benefit Malcolm in the Philippines, it helps Cochran this time. He struggles with the puzzle yet has a big enough lead to find the solution. The only chance for Dawn and Sherri leaves when Cochran wins that challenge. He makes the right choice and eliminates his last opponent towards victory. It doesn’t hurt that he also performs strongly with the jury and uses his trademark self-deprecating wit. When Malcolm asks about the differences between them, he brilliantly calls out his own uncertainty. Cochran throws Dawn under the bus without being overly nasty, and he even humors Eddie’s goofball question about hanging out at the bar. In other news, Reynold comes off like a jerk and ruins some goodwill by bashing Dawn, and Philip revokes Sherri’s membership in Stealth ‘r’ Us. How will she live? Despite the hate, it’s an interesting Final Tribal Council and shows why Cochran deserves to grab the ultimate prize.

The reunion is marred by the decision to move the non-jury members off the stage. It’s possible this move tries to disguise the absence of Brandon Hantz, who was banned from attending the live show. Either way, it creates a strange feeling all is not right in the Survivor world. Jeff spends too much time talking to Rudy and Boston Rob instead of the current players. It’s hard enough to find time to speak to everyone, so why waste time on distractions? The Boston Rob chat is obviously designed to plug his new book. That is not a good way to use the limited minutes. Jeff also seems to think Cochran’s win is a lot more surprising than it really is. There are past examples of slim guys taking the top prize. Todd Herzog and Bob Crowley were hardly alpha males. Cochran modeled his game after Rob Cesternino and caught the right breaks to finish the deal. Despite the issues with the reunion and some poor casting moves, there still was plenty to like during this messy season. The twists for the next installment may be an entirely different matter. Regardless, it’s remarkable to find a show still providing great entertainment in its 26th outing.

May 12, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Don't Say Anything About My Mom"

This recap was written for Sound on Sight, an excellent online spot for great writing on film and television. You can check out the original post at this link.

An interesting characteristic of this season’s returnees has been the goal to change the perceptions about their original games. Dawn wants to avoid following someone else and getting stuck in a minority alliance. Andrea tried to make big moves after being labeled a mindless follower of Boston Rob. Erik was so damaged by his massive blunder that he’s avoided all strategy. One of the most intriguing changes has come from Brenda, who stood out as a strong competitor in Nicaragua. After falling on the wrong side of the numbers in the first vote, she moved into the background and focused on being nice. This strategy seems limited but actually set her up brilliantly to make the end. Unfortunately, it also makes her a huge target once the numbers dwindle. Brenda’s a challenge monster who probably beats Dawn this week if she gives it her all. She’s likable and well-spoken, so Cochran is wise to recognize the danger in keeping her around. With Dawn backstabbing everyone, his path to victory is clear if he makes the finals. Sherri joins the duo in removing Brenda 3-2 with Eddie once again living to see another day. The last Amigo has put his fate in the others’ hands, and they clearly see no problem with letting him stick around for a few more days.

Looking closer at the choice to eliminate Brenda, it makes sense for Cochran because his biggest opponent leaves the game. Why give her a chance to win immunity next time? If he makes the end, there isn’t a scenario where Cochran doesn’t win the million dollars. The vote benefits Sherri because she’s locked into a final-three alliance that won’t see her as a threat. Her chances of winning are small, but she’s doing her best to reach the end. The question mark falls on Dawn, who casts the deciding vote to take out her ally. Brenda’s heartbreak comes from the betrayal of a friend, not just because she’s leaving the game. The line of players who will connect their exit solely to Dawn is growing very long. This fact shows that she’s played a strategic game, but there will be issues with her convincing the jury. Dawn has been unstable and struggled with taking emotion out of her decisions. Acting wishy-washy is not a good approach to earn others’ respect at the end. Dawn and Cochran have made the same moves, but the jury is unlikely to see it that way at the Final Tribal Council. She must consider taking him out to have a real shot at grabbing the top prize.

If getting voted out isn’t enough, Brenda is forced to make an impossible choice with another cruel twist after the reward challenge. It’s the family visit, where Sprint equals love. Yes, they actually say that on the show. The reunions are touching, and everyone breaks down when they meet their loved ones. There is plenty of crying and hugs from everyone, and it’s clear this group is having a great time. They compete in pairs with their relatives, and Brenda and her dad grab the win. It’s never wise to win an individual reward challenge because the producers always force decisions that will anger some players. This week’s choice for Brenda is possibly the worst in the show’s history. For the first time, a second family member is waiting for each person. Brenda can give four players the chance to have a barbecue with them, but she must take it away from herself and Dawn. This adds a new layer because she’s depriving another player. The producers tighten the screws by setting the barbecue in the water right next to camp. That’s overly cruel and manipulative even for this show. Brenda makes the right pick despite its negative effect on her closest friend.

The immunity challenge is a test of endurance that increases in difficulty as it moves along. Players must keep their arms behind their backs and are cranked forward every few minutes. The guys fall quickly, and it comes down to Dawn and Brenda. After claiming she’s going to compete until the end, Brenda unwisely lets go and gives the win to Dawn. By this point, it’s clear that she’s in serious trouble and has no idea about it. Hilariously, Erik asks about food and has little motivation to compete. The episode opens with him climbing a massive tree hoping to grab a coconut. The creepy part is that he seems to welcome a possible injury from this daring feat. While this sets up his renewed energy after the family visit (this happens every season), Erik remains an enigma. It makes sense to take him out next, but he doesn’t appear to be a real threat.

This Sunday’s finale could include an easy victory for Cochran, but anything might happen in this unpredictable season. Could Erik, Eddie, or Sherri win the game? This trio probably needs to sit together at the end to make this happen. The editing hasn’t suggested they are working behind the scenes to blind slide the leaders. Eddie and Erik must win the last two immunities to guarantee their spot. If that happens, it makes Sherri more vulnerable than Dawn or Cochran. The previews suggest an unexpected event could drastically alter these considerations, however. Another factor is the level of bitterness of the jury, which can affect who gets the votes. This doesn’t feel like an angry jury, which means they would focus more on the actual game play. Regardless of the outcome, this has been one of the better post-merge runs on Survivor in a long time.

May 4, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "The Beginning of the End"

This recap was written for Sound on Sight, an excellent online spot for great writing on film and television. You can check out the original post at this link.

In the very first episode of Survivor Caramoan, Andrea faced serious danger by playing way too hard. She went after Francesca and received four votes from the minority group. The favorites’ dominance kept her off the radar for a while, but she’s survived a few close calls. Andrea’s chosen a risky game all season, and she faces the music this week. Once the other favorites learn that she’s targeting Brenda, they turn the tables and blindside her in the episode’s second Tribal Council. When Reynold falls off the perch in the first immunity challenge, his fate is sealed. He exits gracefully, and Eddie seems like the obvious next target. Like the departing Malcolm last week, it’s Andrea’s attempts to make a move that doom her fate. Her chances of making the end were already suspect because she’s a gamer. Even so, the early exit is unexpected with an obvious boot remaining. Some of the best Survivor moments happen with seven players remaining, and tonight is no exception. Players can see the end and stop worrying about sticking with their alliances. Everyone is truly playing an individual game, which sets the stage for an intriguing final two episodes.

Andrea’s big mistake is trusting Cochran, who spills the beans about her plans to target Brenda or Dawn. He just passes along this news, and all the pieces fall into place. It’s impressive because it feels like a group decision and not the smart removal of a key opponent. If Cochran keeps that news to himself, the consensus against Andrea might not have grown. Her other error is saying way too much to clearly outline her final three plans. Eddie will vote with her right to the end and is a long shot to win the game. The blindside is compounded by the fact that Andrea has the hidden immunity idol. She wins the same clue that Malcolm read last week, and the group locates this elusive prize. Erik grabs the idol but immediately gives it to Andrea. At first glance, this act mirrors his infamous move to give away immunity in his first season. That’s being way too hard on the well-meaning guy, however. Erik has spent the entire season trying to stay out of the limelight, and selfishly cradling the idol would make him a bigger threat. If he acts like it doesn’t matter, he looks harmless. Of course, this reading might be giving too much credit to Erik’s strategy.

The episode begins with an immunity challenge that surprises the complacent tribe. It’s an old-school Survivor test of endurance and balance. Players must stand on a small perch out in the water and progress towards a more precarious spot. Hilariously, Eddie jumps off quickly for a plate of donuts. Erik joins him on the bench, but his decision makes a lot more sense. The focus is all on Reynold, and he holds out for a while. This challenge isn’t made for him, though. If they were throwing something, he’d be in great shape. Instead, Andrea and Brenda easily outlast him. They both want the other to drop, but neither is ready to concede. The battle lasts more than three hours, which is an eternity in the modern Survivor era. It’s so easy that the girls actually decide to make it harder by lifting up one leg. Take that, challenge producers! Brenda goes a bit overboard with the leg raise and quickly falls into the water. Her competitive nature raises Andrea’s warning bells, but this concern inadvertently leads to her demise.

The editors strongly push the idea that Reynold’s safe at Tribal Council, but it’s a smokescreen for the viewers. It makes no sense to leave a likable guy who’s strong at challenges in the game. If he makes it to the end, Reynold wins the million. He doesn’t give up the game for a plate of donuts. He seemed like an idiot in the opening episodes, but his persistence deserves respect. With two Tribal Councils this week, it recalls the quick exits of the doomed players in the South Pacific season. Thankfully for Eddie and the audience, these favorites are smarter than Edna and Rick. It’s clear that Andrea’s in trouble and has no idea she’s headed for Ponderosa. The stunned look on her face is classic and sends another strong player to the jury. It’s again refreshing to see a person exit and not look bitter. This show’s come a long way from the nasty departures in the original Survivor All-Stars. It’s clearly all about strategy and not personal for Cochran and his allies.

There are so many different possibilities for the remainder of the game. Cochran is the favorite to win it all, but Brenda and Dawn have strong chances. There’s even a scenario where Erik uses his “No Strategy” approach and takes it right to the end. He probably needs to sit next to Sherri and Eddie to grab the win, however. His immunity challenge victory in a physical contest raises questions about his effort in previous weeks. Was he holding back until Reynold and Malcolm were gone? Cochran has wisely navigated the tricky waters of being a strategic threat, but Andrea’s fate shows that he must be careful. He may need help from the remaining fans to make the end. A final three pact with Sherri and Eddie could be his best move to grab the victory. Brenda has shown her mettle and made few enemies, so she’s also in serious danger. This season is on a roll and poised to deliver one of the great finishes in recent Survivor history.

May 1, 2013

Podcast Spotlight: Rob Has a Podcast

My Survivor enthusiasm began all the way back in the first season when I caught the last few episodes. It was already a full-fledged phenomenon by that point, and I joined viewing parties with friends during the Australia and Africa seasons. The reality competition’s popularity has waned over the years, but a consistent fan base has remained and kept it rolling through 26 installments. My interest has been strong, though I did wonder during the low points if I should jump ship. Starting with the crazy Heroes vs. Villains season three years ago, the show has become must-see viewing once again. My interest has shifted more to the strategic side of the game, especially since I started writing recaps for Sound on Sight. Expressing my thoughts about the latest twists wasn’t enough, however. Was there a community of fans out there who enjoyed the show in the same way? Thankfully, I discovered the perfect outlet for my Survivor mania. One of its most acclaimed former contestants actually does a podcast covering the show and reality television in general. I started listening a few years ago, and it’s easily become one of my favorite podcasts.

Rob Has a Podcast takes a light approach and has great fun delving into everything that happens each week. It’s very entertaining and makes keeping up with the show more enjoyable. The main reason is the self-deprecating host, who clearly loves the world of reality television. This isn’t a case where a former contestant can’t get over his past experiences. Instead, Rob Cesternino has found a clever way to use his insider status and create something entirely different in the process. The show has taken off in the past year, and this popularity has helped him to bring in big-time guests. Jeff Probst took an hour out of his hectic day to talk with Rob, and that’s just one of many great examples. Russell Hantz makes frequent appearances, and I’m sad to admit that my negative stance towards him has softened after hearing these discussions. Rob’s secret weapon is his wife Nicole, who brings so much energy to each appearance and has a big personality that’s just right for this podcast. Their back-and-forth discussions go beyond the show and are a lot of fun.

Every Thusday morning, Rob gets the chance to interview the player voted out that week. The conversations are usually 15-20 minutes and provide valuable insights about what we didn’t see on the screen. Later that day, a feature guest joins for several hours to go much further into the happenings. Recent stellar examples include Jonathan Penner, Sophie G. Clarke, Marty Piombo, and Sandra Diaz-Twine. Few guests disappoint, and even the rare awkward conversations are usually entertaining for that very reason. If that wasn’t enough, Rob and Survivor Tocantins runner-up Stephen Fishbach record the live “Survivor Know It Alls” podcast on Wednesday nights right after the episode. Their immediate reactions are a treat even when the episode fails to bring fireworks. When we have a case like Phillip’s surprise exit two weeks ago, their excited responses just add to the fun. Looking beyond Survivor, Rob also covers The Amazing Race with his resident expert Jessica Liese every Sunday. It’s hard to keep up with the crowd of great podcasts each week.

The main reason for Rob Has a Podcast’s success is the way it remains smart while having a great time. There’s plenty of silliness on display, including some ridiculous impressions of Probst, Penner, and Boston Rob from the jovial host. Even so, the conversations also treat Survivor with respect and really explore the strategic decisions made by the contestants. It’s geeky but in the best way possible. If the idea of chatting about the show for hours sounds like a good time, this is the podcast for you. Rob frequently includes questions from listeners in the discussions, and it’s clear that he’s building a community of passionate fans. While the everyday person may ask “Is that show still on?” and anger people like me, there still are plenty who can’t get enough of Survivor. The show’s long-running success is because of this group, and Rob Has a Podcast is just the place for them.

April 27, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Come Over to the Dark Side"

This recap was written for Sound on Sight, an excellent online spot for great writing on film and television. You can check out the original post at this link.

Survivor fans love players who make big moves and don’t coast to the end. They’d much rather see a strategist like Rob Cesternino jumping alliances and shaking up the game then watch a dominator like Kim Spradlin. It makes the game exciting and avoids the predictable boots that plagued the South Pacific and One World seasons. The danger for players is that going after the title often doesn’t work. The riskier strategy wins the love of the fans, particularly when it’s done without the arrogance of Russell Hantz. Can players win this way in the game’s current era, however? In a season of returning players, the paranoia is even higher. Telling the wrong person (i.e., Dawn) can ruin any plan. Last week, Malcolm executed a wonderful move that saved his alliance and turned the tables on the majority. They booted Phillip and were ready to shake up the game. Unfortunately, that approach only works if the remaining players feel a threat to their game. Unlike the tribe of new players in Samoa that self-destructed once Russell went on the attack, this group is more conservative. Malcolm is still in serious danger because he’s relying on swing votes to save his hide. When Erik and Sherri decide to play it safe, it boots the fan favorite until his definite third attempt at some point in the future.

What makes Malcolm such an interesting player is the choice he made at the merge to play a different game. Instead of following Erik and Brenda’s path and drifting behind the scenes to fifth place, he realized it would take a major shift to grab the victory. It’s common that a contestant who’s actually playing to win doesn’t get that close. Even so, staying in the background just delays the inevitable exit. While making for better TV, his moves also give him the potential to win the game. There are now eight players remaining, and only three (maybe four) have a real shot at the million dollars. The others are following in the footsteps of Carter, Rick, and other pretenders. There are a few weird exceptions like Natalie White and Fabio, but most winners have to stick their neck out in some way. Kim had the luxury of playing against a lot of goofballs, and smart players like Cochran are on a different scale. Malcolm’s only mistake this week is being unable to find the hidden immunity idol. That’s his only chance to survive, though he would have faced the same dilemma next week.

Auction time! It’s a Survivor tradition to hand players $500 and watch them go crazy for mediocre food. This one is especially cruel and brings back nasty food for unsuspecting players. Reynold barely avoids ending up with a rotten coconut, and Brenda isn’t so lucky. She receives a lot of attention from the editors this week and spends a lot of it crying. When her blind buy ends up being pig brains, she unsuccessfully tries to hide the devastation. It wouldn’t be shocking to see her quit in an upcoming episode, which might explain the “Purple Kelly edit”. If not, they may be trying to generate sympathy when she surprises and reaches the end. Other auction moments include Cochran buying the advantage at the immunity challenge while a clueless Eddie doesn’t bid. Malcolm gets a clue to the idol, but it does him no good in the end. It’s interesting that he’s found idols without a clue yet couldn’t decipher this mystery. It’s a nice throwback to a time when players had to dig and truly search for that prize. Andrea and Cochran catch Malcolm looking in the middle of the night, and she refuses to budge while he searches. It’s an odd standoff that is played up by the editors (Malcolm claimed today it only lasted 20 minutes) but is entertaining regardless of its impact.

The immunity challenge is a grueling and simple one that’s made less dramatic because of Cochran’s advantage. He gains a huge edge and plays it right to grab his second victory. Even with the odds stacked in his favor, it’s still charming to watch him knock out the big guys. Players must balance a lot of weight by holding onto a long rope, and it gets harder every five minutes. Eddie gives his best shot to outlast Cochran, but he they’re not on a level playing field. These wins give him more evidence to cite about deserving the million dollars if he reaches the end. The only warning sign is the fact that Malcolm plans to target Cochran because of his intelligence. If the other Three Amigos fall in the next few weeks, the focus will shift to strategic players. This could put the pressure on Cochran and Andrea to stay afloat. If the others are smart, they definitely won’t let him reach the end.

After last week’s fireworks, nothing could live up to that Tribal Council. Even so, there are still plenty of interesting moments this week. Sherri’s amazing delusion that she’s in control of the game is baffling. Most consider her a valuable swing vote but don’t give her credit for making it far in the game. It’s also interesting to note that only one fan has departed since the merge. This raises the likelihood that one of them could slide to the end. The jury would include three fans plus Malcolm, so a guy like Reynold might have an outside shot if he survives. The problem is that the target is solely on his back with Malcolm gone. He will need some serious help or a challenge run to even come close to reaching the ultimate vote.