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

April 20, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Zipping Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

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.

This week’s Survivor episode is thrilling for so many reasons. It forces players to make decisions on the spot at Tribal Council, which rarely happens. The dominant alliance loses one of its members and can’t take the easy route with the vote. The immunity idols actually change the game and knock out a comfortable player. A truly surprising idol play like this one hasn’t happened since Heroes vs. Villains. Those factors would be enough to deliver a truly great episode, but there’s a bonus that pushes it into the stratosphere. The ultimate victim is actually Phillip Sheppard, who put himself at the center of the alliance and has enjoyed running the show. Even if he was a figurehead, that doesn’t make his exit any less satisfying. He’s dominated the screen time for too long, and it’s refreshing to see the underdogs remove an obvious goat destined to reach the end. Phillip has not played an awful strategic game, but his social play has been awful and seals his fate.

Once Reynold wins immunity in a brutal swimming challenge, Eddie is the obvious choice to go home. The only chance for the three guys is to find a second idol, and that’s exactly what happens. Malcolm grabs it right in front of Dawn and Andrea, so they realize he’s safe. The excitement comes from knowing the majority alliance has no idea about his other idol. This is why revealing the idol is stupid! The editors hold back conversations where the guys discuss their plans, so it’s a surprise to the audience when they show their hand. Instead of trying to blindside Phillip, they inspire chaos by putting the idols in the open. This choice is brilliant, and it’s clear that Eddie, Reynold, and Malcolm are having a blast. Even if they don’t end up winning, this moment will stand out as one of the greats in this Survivor era, if not the entire show’s history. Cochran’s reaction says it all. He’s losing an ally but is giddy about such an incredible Tribal Council. He’s so endearing because he realizes it’s also a fun game. Malcolm has that same approach and loves messing around. True fans realize that this will be great TV and want to avoid the predictable outcome. Malcolm’s speech about getting rid of Phillip and making the game fun hits home and shows why he’s so entertaining.

The editors have telegraphed Phillip’s demise since the first episode and have gotten serious mileage in making him look ridiculous. He loves the spotlight and plays right into their hands. He provides fun television, but the lavish attention has grown old. His comfort level is clear when he sits out the immunity challenge due to a childhood trauma. Even if it’s a legitimate story, he could have gone through the motions and lost the first round. Putting a lack of concern front and center is rarely a wise choice. Once he steps out of the challenge, it seems more likely that he’ll be gone. At Tribal Council, only Erik flips on the Specialist and hilariously spells his name “Fillup” on the parchment. Even so, the other votes for Malcolm and Eddie are disallowed, so it’s just icing on the sake. It’s interesting to see Phillip and Brenda openly pushing for Andrea to exit, then not voting for her. Her place in the alliance is hardly secure and could be in danger if anyone flips to Malcolm’s group.

The episode begins with Dawn’s meltdown, which happens when she loses her retainer. It contains some fake bottom teeth, and she’s ready to quit the game without it. Brenda arrives to save the day and confirms her connection to Dawn. Also, she gets a confessional! Despite this recovery, Dawn’s paranoia remains due to lack of sleep and alliance concerns. Last week’s previews focused solely on her breakdown, but it doesn’t play a significant role. A revelation from Cochran that he’s not as concerned about going to the end with Dawn could be crucial. At the reward challenge, that duo joins Reynold, Erik, and Phillip to grab a fancy lunch at a resort. Phillip uses the pool as his bathtub, and it’s another example of his foolish antics. This could be the last straw for Erik, who’s been annoyed by Phillip since the start. Both challenges confirm that Reynold could make a serious immunity run. Erik is the only guy who’s on that level, and even Malcolm struggles in the reward challenge.

There’s far too much happening at Tribal Council to cover it in this recap. Erik brings up the wise point that Eddie and Malcolm could reveal their idols and then keep them. That tactic might work against novices, but it would have spelled their doom against these returnees. The guys wisely stick to their guns and live to fight another day. It’s amazing that Eddie and Reynold are now underdogs who have the audience on their side. They came off as tools in the opening episodes, and now they’re part of an outmatched trio. Their success makes for better TV and shows they won’t go out meekly like too many past Survivor contestants. Malcolm is the brains of the group, but they’re sticking with the plan and hanging strong against solid competition. It will be interesting to see if they can grab two players and flip the game next week. That vote will be critical in determining the direction of the season. If the majority alliance sticks together, this episode won’t be a game changer. Even so, it outshines last week’s excellent finish and reveals even more promise for the final weeks.

April 14, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Cut Off the Head of the Snake"

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.

There are many Survivor episodes where the outcome is predictable, and it’s fairly easy to describe what just happened. Those are the norm because players rarely stray from the safest move. Living in a different universe are the outliers that leave even the most able-minded fan yelling “what just happened?” This week is one of those wonderful episodes. Malcolm overplays his hand and seems destined to go home, but a desperate play to get Reynold’s idol keeps him safe. What he doesn’t know is that he isn’t getting any votes. Worried about her own security, Andrea leads the charge for a safer plan and gets the majority to take out Michael. They remove a less-threatening fan, but the shift ultimately saves her. The amazing highlight comes right after the vote, when Reynold stands up with intentions to play his idol. All it takes is a few sweet words from Malcolm to inspire him to pass the idol to his buddy. Even if Reynold keeps it for himself, it’s a wasted play because Michael is the target. The surprise is that he would jeopardize his success to save Malcolm.

From what the editors reveal at Tribal Council, it takes little convincing to change Reynold’s mind. It appears to be a spontaneous move by Malcolm after being spooked by Phillip’s words. This week’s excitement comes from watching so many players actively playing the game. Even the dim-witted Eddie takes a shot and tries to align with Andrea. It certainly doesn’t hurt for him that she’s cute. Inadvertently, Eddie’s bumbling chat right before Tribal Council gives her the information that changes their plans. Earlier, he awkwardly flirts with Andrea while claiming that he’s doing it “indirectly”. Oh Eddie. It’s possible that their connection might save him for a few more weeks, especially with Reynold losing his idol. The favorites are still running the show, particularly the “new Dawn” who keeps getting everyone to provide her with info. Barring the serious meltdowns promised next week, she could make the end. The question is whether it may come back to haunt her. Andrea’s in the hot seat in the dominant alliance because she’s playing so hard. That puts her in a more tenuous position than Cochran and even silent partners like Brenda and Erik.

The reward challenge is like a hockey shootout, and the goalies this time have the same chances as Martin Brodeur. Malcolm and Michael take turns flailing away as the shooters throw the ball into the net. Even Cochran scores a goal and does a dance right by Jeff Probst. An unseen schoolyard pick leaves Sherri as the odd person out. It’s too bad they don’t show these selections, which would have been interesting. There is plenty of footage of Phillip rambling about his silly alliance and the Redemption Island season. Many Survivor fans would prefer to forget about that installment and his constant references to it. The all-male team of Reynold, Eddie, Michael, Cochran, and Erik win and get the chance to rappel down a waterfall for a picnic. They have a “bro-down” and talk about how girls are icky and deceitful. Thankfully, Cochran isn’t swayed by the silliness from Reynold. His description of the “masculine tomfoolery” is perfect, and he seems amazed the “numbskulls” have invited him to join the cool group. Erik remains silent and may be gliding right to the finish.

Leading into the immunity challenge, it seems like Malcolm needs the win. The players must float in the water beneath a grated steel barrier as the tide rises. The last contestant to remain wins immunity, and it comes down to Brenda and Andrea. The aptly titled “Serenity” wins yet still doesn’t get a confessional. Will they even give her an exit interview? Brenda is having a great time and smiling, but that’s about all we know. She has voted with the majority since the merge, so she’s being considered as an ally by the dominant group. Like Cochran last week, the tribe is thrilled by her win. The question is how to ensure that a big threat goes home. No one knows about Malcolm’s idol, and he doesn’t recognize the danger until Tribal Council. He actually votes for Reynold, which is confusing even if he’s ready to turn on his ally. It will be interesting to see what happens with their relationship next week.

Along with providing great drama, this unpredictable episode produces intriguing questions. Can Reynold find a third idol? If not, is there any chance for him to stay afloat? Malcolm could claim he voted for Reynold because he’s with the favorites, but his move to grab the idol negates that claim. He’s shown an ability to rebound, and he still has the idol. That device gives him the chance to pull a blindside and stay alive. The question is whether that success will be enough to get him to the end. Losing a desperate ally like Michael who’s a guaranteed vote is going to be tough. His best chance is to hang around long enough and try to recruit Erik and Brenda to take out the leaders. Cochran remains the favorite to win it all, and Phillip’s antics make him a prime candidate to return to the Final Tribal Council. Even so, it feels like anything could happen in the rest of this season. That unpredictability has turned around this contest and could deliver a stunning finish.

April 6, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Blindside Time"

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.

Brilliant. Thrilling. There isn’t enough hyperbole to describe the excitement of this week’s episode. It provides a clear reminder of why Survivor continues to shine. The editing has promised a showdown between Phillip and Corinne for weeks, and she finally makes her move. The problem is that she plays way too hard and trusts the wrong person. The favorites are set to vote out Sherri and give Corinne and Malcolm’s “Broliance” a key numbers advantage. It’s a superb move because it doesn’t show their cards like trying to take out Phillip. The failure reveals why it’s so hard to thrive at this game. Corinne is thrilled to make a power move and fails to recognize the danger. She underestimates Dawn’s resolve, which is becoming a theme this season. Revealing the entire plan serves no purpose at this point, and it starts the dominoes falling towards her elimination.

It’s interesting to note that Phillip simply lucks out because he chose the right allies. This result makes it clear that Andrea, Cochran, and Dawn are dialed in and determined to maintain their position. None of them are playing for third place in their second attempt. They lucked out this week, and the game would look entirely different if Corinne had survived. Malcolm would be in charge with a trio of fans in his pocket. Instead, he’ll need to scramble next week to regain his standing. The immunity idol should keep him around in the near future, but he’s no longer playing under the radar. Strategy is the focus this week, and having so many returning players leads to plenty of great discussions. Cochran and Andrea’s ability to regroup and grab Erik and Brenda shows their mettle. One of the night’s best moments has Erik just asking Andrea to point at the tribe flag about their target. This isn’t a guy who’s ready to take charge, but he’s a valuable swing vote. Brenda has been silent for so long that it’s starting to get comical. The editors give a shot of her smiling periodically but no confessionals. She was a major strategist and had plenty to say on her original season, so the lack of air time is baffling.

The episode begins with Phillip again talking about throwing last week’s challenge, which appears to set him up for a fall. The editors love making him look stupid, and that pattern continues once again. Then it’s merge time! A boat arrives to take the Gota tribe over to the Bikal beach, and everyone is thrilled to have a feast there. The real game begins this week, and Malcolm and Corinne prepare to take charge. The plan would probably go smoothly in a normal season, but this group of players is different. Also, Corinne isn’t that tight with most of them, so it’s easier to pull the trigger. She also makes a mistake by refusing to adapt to even better situation. When Phillip raises the possibility of splitting the vote, she continues to push for Sherri’s exit. What Corinne fails to recognize is that the split vote plays right into their hands. Four favorites would each vote for Reynold and Eddie, and their alliance has five committed members. They don’t even need Erik! They can easily remove Phillip and accomplish their primary goal right away. The best Survivor strategists are constantly adjusting to the best possibility and rarely have tunnel vision. Corinne believes so firmly in their plan that she dismisses an easier one that involves fewer people.

The gross food immunity challenge is a personal favorite because it requires different skills. Cochran proves that no one is better at eating nasty food, and his excitement at grabbing his first win is infectious. It’s remarkable to see everyone cheering for a guy who’s just won immunity. He’s in a solid position and clearly has strong allies. The chosen foods include pig brains, a duck egg, and even some live bugs. There’s nothing easy about any of the selections, even when players are starving. Cochran barely edges out Malcolm in the end, while others like Sherri and Reynold fail miserably. Malcolm even throws out an endearing Kobayashi reference to prove his dorky nature. This is why he’s a lot easier to like than a goofball like Eddie, who’s concerned that having to eat nasty food will hurt his future chances with the ladies. His lack of self-awareness reaches new heights each week. Cochran throws in a boxer dance after winning, and it’s clear to see why people like him. If he makes the end without committing any major errors, he has a great chance to win.

Tribal Council focuses on Corinne, and it’s clear that she has no idea the vote is coming. Sherri plays it right and talks about having no chance. She looked like a major player in the early going, but it’s clear that she’s just a pawn at this point. Even so, she doesn’t overplay it and wisely seems resigned to her fate. As the votes start piling up for Corinne, her “Oh my God” reaction is priceless and shows the right way to execute a blind side. By keeping it simple, the power players avoid any last-minute turnarounds and secure their spot. Even so, the presence of two immunity idols and swing votes like Brenda and Erik should keep the future weeks exciting. This episode feels similar to the wonderful post-merge chaos of the Philippines season, so more surprises are likely on the way. It injects serious life into a middling season and shows a lot of potential as the game heads towards the end.

March 30, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Tubby Lunchbox"

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.

The “Fans vs. Favorites” concept on Survivor is tricky because there’s such a big difference in playing as a newbie. The returnees are savvier in both game play and hogging the camera, so it pushes the fans into the background. Such is the case with Julia, a quiet 21-year-old who seems nice but lacks the big personality. It seems unfair to be too critical of her; not everyone can be Phillip. Despite the editors’ attempts to show dissension in the favorites’ ranks, it’s clear that none of them are going home. Their numbers advantage makes it a foregone conclusion, and even volatile players recognize the importance of proving their trustworthiness. Cochran wisely explains that their former allies are going to be skeptical if they don’t follow the plan before the merge. It’s down to Michael or Julia, and it’s a mild surprise that she’s the one to exit. He seems like the more capable player and is more interesting for viewers, but it might not help the favorites to retain him.

“Tubby Lunchbox” is a light episode and spotlights the delusions of Phillip. Not since Coach’s first season in Survivor Tocantins have the editors found so much enjoyment in making a player look ridiculous. The problem is that it’s taking time away from other players. Under-the-radar challengers like Brenda and Erik are still rarely getting to speak, and they could play a major role in the outcome. Phillip does provide one of the season’s best moments when he claims to have thrown the immunity challenge. Because he failed to dethrone Reynold and be the hero, he obviously wasn’t trying to win. The camera closes in on Cochran’s face as Phillip rambles on, and it’s priceless to watch him struggle to not laugh. Corinne also takes more shots and calls the specialist a “tubby lunch box”, which is a new favorite phrase. Her snarky comments remain in full force this week, though her game play is questionable. She’s so focused on aligning with Michael that she’s missing the danger. A bold prediction: Neither Phillip or Corinne even makes the final eight. Both are the obvious targets if a favorite wants to flip on the alliance and take charge.

Speaking of seizing control, the rare Gota scenes show Malcolm building a relationship with Reynold. This is clearly not an equal meeting of the minds, which benefits the returning player. Reynold giddily reveals that he has the idol, which gives all the power to Malcolm. He can’t believe his good fortune and starts plotting to make a big move after the merge. His “alpha male” alliance is smart because it puts other strong guys in front of him. They’ll be the targets first, particularly fans like Reynold and Eddie. Malcolm learned that it isn’t wise to be the strong guy battling weaker players near the end. His chances of winning the top prize are much higher with similar foes at that time. With only four fans remaining, they could still play a huge part in determining which favorites move forward. If Malcolm can find a way to get Michael and Corinne to join their group, then it just takes one more vote to change the game. The immunity idols could also flip the numbers and create serious havoc when it becomes an individual game.

The tribe swap last week created a serious discrepancy in challenge skills, and Bikal goes down hard twice. The reward challenge is a personal favorite, but it never gets rolling because one tribe is so much better. Teams must run around a water course carrying 20 pounds while chasing the other group. If anyone drops out, another player must hold their weight. It’s a brilliant challenge because it’s simple and requires strategy of when to pick up the pace. Phillip ruins any chance for Bikal to compete by putting himself in front and refusing to run. It’s a ridiculous moment and shows his delusions. Corinne is ready to explode, and everyone else wisely holds their tongue about it. Gota wins coffee, cookies, and other goodies for this challenge. Dawn wonderfully undercuts their win by claiming it will lead to a “diarrhea fest”. Apparently, that grisly mess was left on the cutting room floor.

Even though Bikal does better at the immunity challenge, they still lose and are headed for another Tribal Council. Reynold proves that no one in this world is better at throwing things. His grappling-hook skills push Michael and Julia to the brink. Phillip and Corinne continue to fight, particularly when she disputes the idea to split the vote. Her theories are incorrect, but he handles it badly. Cochran and Dawn act as mediators and are playing nearly flawlessly. Although she’s known as being nice, Dawn throws Julia under the bus without a second thought. She seems intent on being more strategic and won’t hesitate to backstab other players if it gets her further. The first vote is a tie, and Julia becomes the target on the re-vote. Michael handles being on the chopping block well, and there’s a strong possibility he won’t be in danger when the merge happens. This season hasn’t been great so far, so it’s going to take a serious improvement to make it a classic installment. Jeff Probst claims this is an excellent season, but that praise feels misguided so far. It’s mostly just setting the stage for the time when the favorites battle. The fun should begin next week.

March 23, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Operation Thunder Dome"

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.

After last week’s meltdown from Brandon, it’s so refreshing to watch everyone return to focusing on the strategic side of the game. Crazy behavior makes for good TV, but Survivor works best when players are scheming to try and gain an edge. Both groups return to camp shell shocked after Brandon’s outburst, but most are ready to move forward. Corinne and Phillip are upset about getting thrown under the bus, yet both should have time to recover. This prospect becomes more likely after the tribal swap, which gives a 4-3 edge to the favorites in each new group. Instead of looking for a way to flip a favorite, the fans are more than willing to turn on each other. This is not a good idea. The new Gota tribe is loaded with arguably the seven physically strongest players left in the game. They’re also the better-looking group, at least according to Eddie. His priorities are a bit skewed away from actual game play. When the immunity challenge is all about power, it’s clear that this group is going to walk away with an easy win. Julia seems most likely to leave because of challenge weakness, but Matt is the bigger threat and is heading home.

Gota includes Malcolm, Erik, Reynold, and Eddie along with Sherri, Brenda, and Andrea. That’s a filthy team that should have the other tribe begging for the merge. Reynold and Eddie immediately start gunning for Sherri, and her sights are right back at them. This is wonderful news for the favorites, who gain a greater numbers advantage with either exit. In the original Fans vs. Favorites season, the fans lost their edge after the tribe swap and never recovered. They may have a similar fate in this outing. The outgunned Bikal has Corinne, Phillip, Cochran, and Dawn teaming up with Matt, Michael, and Julia. With the exception of a ridiculous Phillip, they’re likable but hardly ready to compete in physical challenges. Matt and Michael will do anything to stay in the game, but they seem too united for Cochran’s tastes. He wisely recognizes the danger of pairs after the merge and pushes for Matt to leave. This is disappointing because Julia is so dull; a wonderfully snarky Corinne even calls out her boredom when considering the vote. Matt is the most interesting fan in this cast, so it’s devastating to see him exit. There’s little that he can do against superior numbers, and even nastiness between Corinne and Phillip isn’t enough to change the vote.

This episode works because there are so many new interactions among the cast. Phillip immediately starts talking to Julia and is ready to induct Matt and Michael into “Stealth ‘R’ Us”. Playing this hard and over the top provides comic relief, and it’s clear that the editors are setting Phillip up for a big fall. Corinne has a great time with Matt and Michael, who she repeatedly calls “the gay” in a strangely flattering way. She’s all over this episode and has plenty of barbs, including comparing Phillip to a baby on a plane with diarrhea. Corinne hasn’t said much during the first five episodes, but she has a big personality that comes out in confessionals. Though she’s annoyed with Phillip, Corinne recognizes that he’s trustworthy and wants to stick with the plan. No one seriously considers flipping to the fans, which shows the difference with returning players. They recognize the importance of numbers and can ignore petty reasons to take out a rival. If the fans don’t find cracks in the favorites pretty soon, there may be no coming back against the superior forces.

The immunity challenge is familiar and all about being able to flip over large crates quickly. It exposes most of the new Bikal tribe as much weaker than their opponents. Brenda and Andrea are pretty small, but they show their skills and roll through the end. On the other side, Julia and Dawn have problems even moving the crates, and Cochran isn’t much better. There is a puzzle to close it out, but Gota rolls to victory. Rarely has a tribe in Survivor history been so stacked with challenge monsters. It’s going to take a different type of challenge for Bikal to have a chance. Their saving grace could be a merge, which might happen as soon as two weeks from now. If it gets delayed for too long, comfortable players among the favorites could be in trouble. Strategy rules the day, so wise players like Cochran should be fine. His choice to take out Matt is smart and removes a formidable opponent. There doesn’t seem to be a major issue with keeping Julia around for another few days.

Matt’s exit is a surprise because the editing clearly points to Julia being history. She randomly targets Dawn and seems lost when strategy comes into play. She does get a rare confessional, which hints strongly that she’s heading for the exits. Matt was instrumental in several previous votes, and he was a top choice to compete with the favorites after the merge. If Bikal loses next week, the question is whether Michael will follow his ally out the door. Julia may be such an easy vote that she can stick around for a while. A Gota loss would provide a more intriguing episode and force them to remove Sherri or Eddie. Despite what the editing suggests, the favorites are unlikely to make a change until it’s absolutely necessary. Unless the fans make a dramatic change and start playing harder, they’ll all be visiting the Ponderosa well before the final Tribal Council.

March 16, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Persona Non Grata"

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.

When Survivor announced their cast of returning players for this second “Fans vs. Favorites” season, the one that stood out was Brandon Hantz. Although he provided memorable television in his first appearance, he’s also an unstable guy who demonstrated awful game play. Putting him back on the island felt like a bad idea, and it was only a matter of time before he lost his marbles. When his fragile state combines with nasty weather and other volatile personalities, it creates a powder keg that’s ready to explode. This week, a minor squabble with Phillip winds up Brandon and pushes him to new levels of rage. His choice to dump out the rice and beans is stunning even when compared to other wild moves. Never has a player so openly destroyed a tribe’s resources in front of them. It sometimes makes sense to keep a crazy player around for strategic purposes, but this situation is different. The favorites don’t feel comfortable having Brandon at camp, so gameplay considerations go out the window. When a tribe of returning players willingly forfeits immunity before a challenge, they want this nutcase out of commission as soon as possible.

The big question hanging over Brandon’s actions is whether he lost his mind or purposely acted insane to quit the game. Even though he isn’t a calm guy, Brandon knows what he’s doing. He’s been considering this type of move since Francesca was voted out in the first Tribal Council. This episode begins with Brandon talking about quitting, so he wants to exit the game with a bang. It’s like a disgruntled worker who walks into his boss’ office and keeps insulting him until he gets fired. While the employee doesn’t technically quit, the desired result is the same. The favorites try the diplomatic approach and have Corinne explain their desire to air their grievances at Tribal Council. Predictably, Brandon isn’t going to bypass his chance to grab the spotlight. He’s ready to fight Phillip in front of the cameras and the shocked fans tribe, but part of it is just bluster. Only the massage skills of Jeff Probst keep the situation from getting worse. Although he shares the blame as executive producer for casting Brandon again, Probst masterfully handles the situation and recognizes the story potential. He’s trying to avoid a horrible scene while realizing this is gold material.

Looking closer at the Brandon/Phillip conflict, it shows what happens when two oddball personalities come together. Phillip has spent his time grabbing camera time by giving silly nicknames and inducting everyone into his “Stealth ‘R’ Us” alliance. He’s in control on the surface, but no one takes him seriously. The exception is Brandon, who is carrying a major chip on his shoulder because Coach manipulated him in the South Pacific. Phillip tells him not to bite the hand that feeds him, which makes sense from a strategic standpoint. They’re in an alliance and can benefit by working together. The problem is that Brandon feels powerless to control his fate. Instead of working to usurp Phillip by getting votes against him, he decides it’s better to fall on his sword. While Brandon’s thinking is idiotic, it puts Phillip in a more tenuous place. The fans all witnessed the outburst and understand Phillip’s role in the tribe. When the tribes are likely swapped next week, they’ll immediately target him as a possible threat. His silly antics won’t blind them to his intentions to control the tribe. Brandon’s honest assessment of Phillip as a joke is actually spot on, and that makes it one of the most intriguing conversations thus far. If Brandon had channeled his anger towards beating Phillip, it could have worked given his good relationships with Cochran and Andrea.

Although the episode focuses on Brandon’s outbursts, there is some time with the fans. Despite eliminating a physically weaker player in Laura, they lose the reward challenge and are left scratching their heads. Sherri is on the outs after struggling, and the change for her has been stunning. Matt and Michael seem ready to work with Reynold and Eddie because they’re getting decimated. Speaking of Reynold, he also finds another hidden immunity idol. It’s pointless to complain about how easy it’s become to find these prizes. The producers clearly want players to find the idols quickly, so they hide them in obvious places. Reynold’s persistence serves him well, though telling Eddie is a mistake. Even passing information to an ally is unwise in this game. If Eddie’s back ends up against the wall, he’ll throw Reynold under the bus without a second thought.

Does casting a player like Brandon benefit Survivor? Yes and no. It provides compelling drama in this episode and makes it unpredictable. However, it also cheapens the show and shifts the attention too far away from strategy and game play. Reality TV gets criticized for showing insane camera hogs begging for attention, and this fits into that mold. Brandon has mental problems and serious inner demons, but this isn’t the place to exorcise them. Bringing him back and labeling him a “favorite” is questionable even if his mania doesn’t reach this crescendo. It’s a shameful move from Probst, Mark Burnett, and the other forces behind the scenes. They had to realize the potential for this type of breakdown when choosing Brandon. The refreshing part is that the issues happened early and didn’t poison the entire season. There is great potential with this group, and the remaining episodes could be great. The fans get a chance to regroup, and the potential for a shake up within the favorites is higher. With Brandon gone, Survivor is set to take off as it heads towards the merge.

March 9, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Kill or Be Killed"

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 past 25 seasons of Survivor, there are several prime examples of hapless tribes. Last season’s Matsing lost the first four challenges and was quickly absorbed into the other two groups. Back in Palau, Ulong never won immunity and remains the standard for the worst pre-merge tribe. They may not be in that company, but the fans are making a bid to enter the conversation. Their only challenge victory was a fluke when Reynold soared past Malcolm at the last minute. This week, they strive mightily to change their fate, but the favorites are a stellar bunch and grab both wins. After Shamar meekly exits with an eye injury, it seems like Reynold or Eddie is heading out. Although they haven’t always shined, keeping them around makes sense. The editing suggests the alliance will hold firm, but even forward-thinking players like Sherri realize the game has changed. Barring a tribal swap, they must change direction or risk having little chance after the merge.

Laura is clearly a fan who understands the importance of numbers. At Tribal Council, she calls out the strategic aspect of maintaining a strong alliance. Even so, she’s extremely thin and has struggled during challenges. Taking her out isn’t a huge risk because Reynold and Eddie still rest at the bottom of the remaining players. Even more importantly, they raise enough doubt to inspire Reynold to play his idol. It’s a logical move from his perspective; why take a chance of going home with the idol? Matt and Mike are clearly running the show now for the fans, and they maintain an edge while building new bonds in the case of a tribal swap. Without her primary allies Shamar and Laura, Sherri must follow the group or risk having no friends left. The power shift is drastic and happens within a single day. Matt takes the initiative and it pays off because he sells the benefits of the stronger guys. Eddie also isn’t a very wise player, so there’s little risk he’ll make a brilliant move. At the episode’s opening, he claims Hope was voted out because she’s the “best-looking” girl on the tribe. This assumption shows that he may not be an expert on strategic game play.

Shamar makes it easy for everyone to dislike him and spends most of his day in the shelter. He seems ready to quit unless they bring him rice, and that’s just the ammunition Reynold and Eddie need. It ends up being moot after vicious sand leads to a corneal abrasion. Take it from someone who’s had this injury; it’s much worse than it sounds. Jeff Probst makes a rare appearance at camp with the medical team, and they determine the big guy must exit the stage. It’s definitely one of the goofier four-episode runs for a Survivor contestant. Reynold finally gets his wish, but there’s still the immunity challenge to consider. Sherri is the killer this time and loses plenty of ground in another top-notch set-up. Players must run across water platforms and then swim to a massive structure. Once they reach the top, they must smash a tile and release a key to a chest back on shore. The ridiculous talents of Erik give the favorites a huge lead right from the start. Reynold makes a valiant effort to save the day with his throwing skills, but the gap is too large to bypass Phillip.

The favorites continue to live the high life and have little tension among the nine (!!!) remaining players. Phillip gives nicknames to Brandon, Erik, and Brenda, so now everyone is part of the “Stealth ‘r’ Us” alliance. The title is definitely misleading. The silliest one is calling Brandon “The Conqueror”, especially if the previews for next week are accurate. The editors clearly have little to show in terms of game play, so they’re sticking with the camera-ready Phillip. The favorites also win the reward challenge and get a visit from a local bushman. The diminutive guy is basically the cutest man imaginable and offers some tips on cooking and setting up the camp. It’s like they’re taking a high-priced vacation at this point. Part of this is the editing, which focuses on the fans during the nasty storms. The favorites are also dealing with similar weather, but that doesn’t match the story being told.

Although the fifth episode seems like the perfect spot for a tribal swap, the producers may let this ride to see if the rout continues. The fans are over matched in challenges; Brenda and Andrea in particular continue to rock all the tasks. Even so, the fans are bound to catch a lucky break at some point. If the producers decide against swapping the tribes, at least one favorite will probably leave in the near future. Of course, that still leaves a significant gap in numbers that could challenge even the smarter fans. In a strange way, it might benefit them to hit the merge way down in the numbers. The favorites at the bottom of their alliance could grab the remaining few and take out the leaders. Of course, that assumes any of the fans make it that far.

March 2, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "There's Gonna Be Hell to Pay"

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.

When Survivor premiered on May 31, 2000, it was set up as a social experiment where people with different backgrounds formed a new community in a remote setting. They were voting each other out, but the episodes involved the basics of getting along and surviving more than strategy. Richard Hatch approached the show differently and treated it like a chess game. This shifted the emphasis towards alliances and outwitting the others, but human interaction was still a key part of it. In recent years, the editing has focused almost solely on game play and tilted dramatically towards the competition. Even so, the players are still living together 24 hours a day and forming social bonds. That old-school feeling dominates this episode, which pits Shamar against virtually everyone on the fans tribe. He takes each questionable statement as an affront and doesn’t get over minor infractions. Will his alliance overlook the difficulties of battling the big guy and keep him around? It’s clear that his vitriol isn’t solely directed towards the trio on the outs. There seems to be a decent guy hidden behind Shamar’s gruff exterior, but living with him every day is probably difficult.

If the fans are going to survive against the favorites, they need to build a united front that sticks together after a tribal swap. Forming a strong alliance is a good move, and keeping Shamar solidifies the alliance of six for that purpose. However, they’re not going to win many challenges if they constantly argue at camp. The favorites are goofing around and letting Phillip provide the entertainment, and these guys are screaming at each other all night. That is not a wise move. At Tribal Council, Shamar reveals his “no talking list” where some tribe mates can’t speak with him. The producers really dropped the ball with the episode title this week. “No talking list” would have been a perfect choice. It’s impossible to unite as a group when Reynold and Eddie are prohibited from speaking to Shamar. Can they make hand signals? Despite all the chaos, Hope is the victim because she joined the wrong alliance at the beginning. Her fate is sealed because Reynold knows the idol is his main way to avoid the vote. Despite his outsider status, this guy probably still lasts longer than several other players. He’s a challenge monster and isn’t a huge strategic threat to flip the game. When Eddie has to explain the benefits of the idol to Reynold, it isn’t a good sign.

The favorites receive limited screen time again, but there are important moments that should pay off in the next few weeks. Malcolm and Corinne search for the hidden immunity idol, and he grabs it in a location that looks exactly the same as the spot for the fans. Are these identical islands straight out of Ocean’s 11? This scene feels very similar to last season, when Malcolm and Denise located the idol pretty early. Although they find it together, he has the control of where it goes. This discovery is even more significant when Andrea forms a group to take out Corinne. Along with Cochran, she recruits Phillip and even Brandon. It’s interesting to see Andrea playing so hard in the opening episodes. She’s determined not to become a pawn in someone else’s plans after playing with Boston Rob. It’s a dangerous game because it places a huge target on her back. When the inevitable tribal swap happens several weeks from now, Andrea needs to hope she ends up with the right people.

The immunity challenge takes place in a gorgeous location and tests swimming skills. The tribes must swim a long way to a cage to free a chest from beneath the surface. Once they release this heavy object, they return it to shore and construct a bridge. The trick is hooking the three pieces with a rope before they can drag the chest to victory. The tribes are dead even and Malcolm and Reynold must face off because it’s the law. However, it’s actually Phillip and Brandon who outdo Eddie and win immunity for the favorites. Shamar spends his time in the water complaining because he needs goggles, which gives him an excuse when they lose. The favorites also win a tarp and several chairs, so their camp is turning into a fancy location.

This episode lacks fireworks, but it’s interesting because of the conflict between strategy and unity among the fans. When Shamar gives away their plans to split the vote to Hope, Laura and Julia seem ready to turn on him. This decision seems rash because they’d be jumping to the bottom of a different alliance of five. Even so, the fans might profit in the long game by ditching Shamar. Sherri benefits the most from keeping around her ally, but some of the others could lose because of the loose cannon. Given all the conflicts in the early days, it seems unlikely that she can keep Shamar as “her Phillip” to the end. Boston Rob benefited greatly on Redemption Island from the lack of a tribal swap during that season. This group is not going to be so lucky.

February 23, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "Honey Badger"

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.

This week gives a clear reminder of the difference between liking Survivor and being an expert player. Even if these really are super fans like Jeff Probst claims, there’s still no substitute for experience. Brandon Hantz may be crazy, but even he would probably do a better job hiding the hidden immunity idol than Reynold. When he discovers this important prize with relative ease, he gives a confessional about making sure the others don’t learn his secret. Of course, this means little when this “bulge in his pants” gets exposed near the camp. Laura shows her smarts by recognizing the idol, but then outs him in a really strange and noncommittal way at Tribal Council. Their inept play makes even the goofball favorites look like geniuses. The final vote is handled well by the dominant group, who understand that while four is less than six, it never hurts to get a larger edge. Allie loses by association and exits quietly after being schooled in the wonders of math. She also doesn’t realize that smart players might want to keep around the really annoying guy at camp.

It’s hard to give Allie too much trouble, however. Reynold clearly thinks he’s running the show for the Gota tribe. He’s right that Shamar is pretty useless at camp and irritating, but the big guy realizes it’s all about the numbers. Sherri wisely calls him her “Phillip” and can use him as a shield. They can always vote him out later if he gets too ridiculous. Shamar may recognize his safe position, but that only goes so far. He probably needs to tone down his behavior if he wants to stick around. Staying in the shelter for 19 hours is a bit excessive. This vote reveals who’s really taking charge in this group. Sherri and Michael are the Survivor experts and have a capable ally in Matt. That trio should be able to maintain control, though Reynold’s immunity idol is always a threat. He’s a strong guy and isn’t going anywhere soon, and a tribal swap is always looming around the corner. The question is whether they can win some challenges to avoid getting picked off when the switch happens. The favorites should won last week too and dominate most of this contest.

The immunity challenge is another impressive one and uses a lot of real estate. Three tribe members are propelled out into the water to dive for nine tubes submerged beneath the surface. The favorites arrange their team well and put some of their best athletes onto the raft. Erik is a challenge monster, and Andrea and Brenda are both strong competitors. On the other hand, Julia and Hope look confused while Sherri tries to gather the rings by herself. Malcolm tries to choke away the challenge again, but Phillip swoops in to save the day and win it. The specialist rides again! The fans are clearly overwhelmed by the occasion and make inexplicable choices right up to the end. Along with taking immunity, the favorites also win a lot of fishing gear. They’re clearly loving life and even let Phillip go crazy and hand out many nicknames. Malcolm can barely keep a straight face while he gets dubbed “the enforcer” by the self-proclaimed CEO of the tribe. Although it’s ridiculous and just feeding Phillip’s ego, it’s also great television. He seems destined for a fall at some point, but his annoyance is secondary to another notorious guy creating greater havoc.

Brandon Hantz should not be playing Survivor. This has nothing to do with his strength or ability to battle the elements. Instead, his mental state is too fragile to handle one vote that doesn’t go his way. He’s ready to channel the blood of his uncle Russell and start poisoning their camp. This isn’t just a metaphorical term either based on the previews for next week. While most of his nastiness comes right after the vote, the calm feelings are short-lived. Cochran perfectly spells out the drastic personality changes that make Brandon so impossible to handle. Like Phillip, he’s also good television, so the producers will give him plenty of screen time. Corinne and Brenda are barely getting any footage; how can they compete with these crazy guys? Clearly, attractive women are no match for insanity. Dawn takes the brunt of Brandon’s anger, and she’s reduced to tears. Next time, I’m guessing she won’t try to explain their votes. When Brandon starts talking about his mad plans, Erik is the only one willing to listen. It’s clear that he isn’t too thrilled by this prospect, either.

Although the numbers are even after two episodes, the fans seem like they’re already self-destructing. They have a six-person majority, but all it takes is a few more Shamar tirades to break up that alliance. The numbers will probably stay close for a while, but this group seems over matched by the returning players. Sherri and Michael almost certainly will get their chance to make their moves, however. Phillip may claim to be channeling Boston Rob, but no one in this game is set to dominate. It should lead to more unpredictable results as the season keeps rolling along. Although the outcome is predictable, this episode has plenty of entertainment and moves quickly. The fans may be stumbling through the early stages, but the “fans vs. favorites” format is working great so far. There are so many different ways this game could go, and unhinged players will keep the chaos happening right to the end.

February 16, 2013

Survivor Caramoan, "She Annoys Me Greatly"

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.

For their second version of “Fans vs. Favorites”, the Survivor producers are clearly going for memorable television with their returning players. There are few examples of people who dominated their original seasons, and only one made the Final Tribal Council. A surprising choice is Francesca, who was voted out first in the Redemption Island season. She was good television and clearly knows the game, so bringing her back is an exciting change of pace. Strangely, Francesca enters this new season with a reputation as a strategist despite her limited time. Her former tribe mate Phillip is also back with her again, so the risk is high for a quick exit. Despite the dangers of repeating her prior difficulties, she falls into the same traps. Arriving with a big chip on her shoulder, she plays too hard in the early days and receives the same cruel fate. A 6-4 vote sends her packing once again right at the start. She’s intelligent and doesn’t deserve the reputation as the worst Survivor player ever, but that label’s now been certified in the show’s long history.

An interesting counterpoint is Malcolm, who’s a mystery to everyone because his season aired after this filming. He clearly recognizes the danger and immediately warms himself up to the entire group. He also sits back and doesn’t strategize much (at least on camera), which is wise because he’s an unknown. Andrea and Francesca are playing the hardest from the start, and this puts them both in jeopardy. Despite their status as experienced players, this group clearly hasn’t mastered the strategy. The exceptions are Dawn and Cochran, who quietly sit back and choose the best option for their long-term success. In a large group of 10, having an ally to trust is a key factor in surviving the early chaos. Their understated approach is going to keep the target off their backs and towards more aggressive players like Andrea and Phillip. Wild cards like Brandon can’t stay this contained for long, so moving away from his group is another smart choice. Even so, the scrambling right before Tribal Council shows that this tribe is a long way from reaching a consensus.

The show begins with the introductions of the favorites as they exit a helicopter to the smitten fans. It’s clear that most have no idea who some of them are, but Cochran and Dawn get big receptions. Brandon is described as “Russell Hantz’s nephew”, so it’s clear that he’ll never escape that bruiser’s shadow. They battle it out in an opening water challenge with plenty of tackling. Malcolm even loses his pants to win a point, which recalls a topless Sugar running to victory in the opening Heroes vs. Villains challenge. His prospects in the game are a bit higher than hers, however. The favorites seem united and enthusiastic, but that camaraderie is not going to last. One of the most prominent fans is Shamar, a very large marine who served in Iraq. His decision to sit back and not help with the shelter seems disastrous, but his fire-making skills compensate quickly. His choice to step up at the last minute and save the day is actually pretty brilliant for a short-term win. They struggle at first to get rolling, but the fans actually seem pretty capable at setting up the camp.

Starting too hard in Survivor is dangerous, but there are some basic strategies that anyone should use the right way. An important one is having a strong understanding of basic math. When a tribe has 10 people, building an alliance of four is no guarantee of dominance. This mistake is compounded when the other players see the connection and band up against the foursome. It isn’t rocket science! The self-proclaimed “best-looking” duo of Eddie and Hope immediately bond, while Reynold and Allie decide it’s wise to hook up on the first night next to everyone. If these four make the end of the game, it will be shocking. Reynold is athletic and smart, but he also cites one of the reasons for choosing Allie is because she isn’t the most attractive girl. Even if it works for him, this is still icky reasoning. Most of the other fans receive limited screen time, but they seem more likely to do well. Michael is forming solid relationships with everyone, and even bearded Matt seems to understand the game. Sherri also looks like a force who’s in the right position in this tribe.

The immunity challenge takes place in an impressive structure that stands four stories above the ground. The favorites grab a significant lead thanks to superhuman feats from Erik. This changes dramatically when Reynold proves his talents in throwing sand bags. He’s clearly had some practice at some local bars. He comes from behind and passes Malcolm to take the win. Phillip seems likely to exit, but no one seems that excited to get rid of the volatile guy. This makes sense because he’s unlikely to form real bonds with other players. The likable strategists are going to be a target if they don’t form the right alliances. Both Francesca and Andrea do plenty of legwork to solidify their position, but it’s tougher within such a large group. Even with some last-minute flips from Erik, Brandon, and Brenda, it still isn’t enough to change Francesca’s fate. This 90-minute premiere moves swiftly and has plenty of fun moments. Even with some dim-witted fans, there are enough solid players to make for an exciting season. Francesca’s exit is assured when the editors show her comments about “eating a rock” if she goes out, but it wouldn’t have been shocking to see Andrea leave. This unpredictability should lead to plenty of surprises and thrills going forward.

February 10, 2013

Survivor Caramoan Preview

This preview 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 his interviews during the very entertaining Survivor: Philippines season last fall, Jeff Probst claimed that the next installment would be even better. While this could just be an attempt to draw viewers, it still raises the intrigue for the show’s 26th chapter. The hook is the return of 10 past contestants for a second "Fans vs. Favorites" battle. It repeats the season 14 format from Micronesia. The returning players dominated that game and took the top three spots, with Parvati winning the top prize. The fans were not good players and star struck during the early going. This time, the show has pulled “favorites” almost solely from recent seasons. The familiar group is skewed towards craziness over stellar game play and includes few players who dominated their original seasons.Thankfully, everyone has appeared once previously, so there are no Hantz-like characters that will dominate the screen time.

The returning players are a diverse bunch that crosses the spectrum between sweet and insane. Malcolm comes right back after missing a chance for the million dollars in the Philippines. No one has seen his season, so he has the benefit of being mysterious. However, the memory of Russell making the end in Heroes vs. Villains may hurt Malcolm’s chances. If he survives the first few votes, Malcolm could make the end. There’s also one returning fan from the Micronesia season that is known for a stupid move of giving away immunity. Erik may have a better chance because of that reputation and being likable. On the other hand, Brandon returns with the same mistake on his resume but doesn’t seem as self-aware. He was a maddening player and not one of the better parts of the South Pacific game, but the producers clearly want fireworks. That’s also the reason they brought back Phillip, a self-proclaimed “specialist” who made the end on Redemption Island by acting crazy. The last male returnee is Cochran, and it will be exciting to see how he adapts. His big move changed the game in his first shot but ended up dooming his chances. The problem is that super fans don’t always do well in their second attempts; Rob Cesternino is a perfect example.

Several of the strongest players are returning women, who should be able to take control over guys like Brandon. It’s refreshing to see the return of Andrea, who has both the smarts and physical skills to go far. She played under the radar on Redemption Island and could do the same thing again. A player with similar skills but a bigger target is Brenda, who had a good run in the Nicaragua season. She’ll need a strong alliance to avoid an early exit. Another interesting surprise is Francesca, who was the first player voted out of Redemption Island when Boston Rob considered her a threat. She’s the definite wild card. In a similar mold is Corinne, who made a lot of enemies with her outspoken play in Gabon. It’s hard to know how she’ll do because this is such an odd crowd. The potential for chaos is very high. The final returnee is Dawn, easily one of the nicest players of recent seasons. She is strong enough in challenges to avoid an early boot and could last for a while.

While the favorites are familiar characters, it’s so hard to judge the new group of fans. The first question is how much they truly know the show given the producers’ knack for casting recruits. Also, the online bios and videos say little to truly indicate who will win. The reason they may do better is the fact that returning players usually go a long way. If the newbies recognize the threat and ignore their adoration for their idols, it might be different than the first version. One guy who seems destined for a quick exit is Matt, who’s most notable for having a giant beard. He’ll likely stand out in a very young group. The women also seem more capable in this tribe, particularly race-car driver Julia and pre-law student Hope. Guys like Reynold and Eddie seem pretty arrogant on first glance, which isn’t a great trait in this current Survivor era. One intriguing player is Shamar, an Iraq War Veteran who should have few problems with the elements. On the other hand, his bio frequently mentions playing with honor, which means he might not be ready to backstab the other players.

Here are some fearless predictions for the new season that will certainly be wrong:

First person voted out: Matt
Most painful television (again): Brandon
Favorite who might surprise: Corinne
Fan who might surprise: Michael
Million-dollar winner: Andrea

This season is destined to provide ridiculous moments given the goofballs that are returning. The question is whether they will take advantage of the fans or get stuck in petty fights. Picking a winner is difficult because there are so many unknowns. How long will the tribes remain in their original formats? Will injuries shift the dynamics of the game? Andrea is the best choice because she’s so likable and won’t fall victim to the early boots for strength. She already played with Phillip, so having this disruptive guy on her side is wise. If a fan wins the game, Michael is a strong possibility. He mentions Cirie and Rob Cesternino as similar past contestants, and they’ve shown the right way to play. His humble approach and understanding of the game could take him far. The two-hour premiere airs February 13 and should give plenty of time to get acquainted with the new players. Regardless of what happens, it’s shaping up to be another classic season.

December 19, 2012

Survivor: Philippines, "Million Dollar Question"

NoteThis review 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

Approaching Survivor’s 25th season finale, evidence pointed to a final two that might benefit Lisa and Skupin if the chips fell correctly. The problem was that they were planning for a final three and setting themselves up to lose. Malcolm and Denise are the clear favorites at the start of this episode, and the last hurdle is making the Final Tribal Council. Once Jeff Probst clarifies that it is a final three, the “million dollar question” is who gets the chance to thump Lisa and Skupin. Both could make a convincing argument, but grabbing enough votes from a bitter jury is another matter. Malcolm is set up by the editing as the favorite, which makes his ultimate demise more predictable. The reward challenge offers a big advantage to the winner in the final battle. It’s a strange move by the producers to give one player such an edge, but more on that in a moment. First, players must navigate a series of obstacles and put together a puzzle to gain the edge. Skupin grabs a lead in the physical part, but Malcolm’s puzzle skills give him a convincing win. He’s certainly heading to the final three, right? It seems like a foregone conclusion, but that’s why they play the game.

Fallen Comrades! This slow walk past memorials to the departed players is hated by some but also good fun. It gives everyone a chance to summarize their game, which is silly for weaker players like Zane. The final immunity challenge is deceptively simple and just about balancing a ball on a stick. Malcolm’s advantage is a second chance that only helps if he doesn’t stink. Unfortunately for him, this is exactly the case. Malcolm loses twice before anyone else falters, and Skupin grabs immunity. There’s a lot of discussion about whether Malcolm or Denise will go home. This feels like an editing smokescreen, however. Skupin may want to defeat a warrior (a la Coach), but he will not beat Malcolm. In fact, Denise is also a battler and equally difficult to stop. Too bad Abi-Maria is gone. The interesting part is that Malcolm has a chance to force a fire duel if Denise stays with him. This possibility seems unlikely, but this opening ends because of his waffling on a final three deal before the challenge. At Tribal Council, Malcolm is devastated by the realization that his chances are gone. When Probst asks Lisa for a reason to keep him around, she can’t think of anything. Malcolm is such a fan that he takes the loss very personally as he heads for the jury.

After the traditional breakfast and burning of the camp, the remaining trio heads to the Final Tribal Council to face the music from the jury. This group is pretty bitter, though most of the questions aren’t that memorable. RC continues her downward trend from the Ponderosa videos and comes off poorly, and Artis just makes a general negative comment. It’s interesting that many speakers skip Denise and just ask questions to Lisa and Skupin, which raises the possibility of a surprise. Malcolm is clearly upset and takes his anger out on Denise and her “appeasement” skills. This isn’t fair since that’s one of her best skills, but it’s understandable given his fresh wounds. Abi remains upset at being called unlikable, and her vote seems up for grabs. This leads to Penner, who is determined to extend his screen time as long as possible. His speech is very entertaining, particularly when he calls out Lisa’s time on The Facts of Life. The younger jury members still have no idea about that show. Penner also does some fun self-deprecating talk with Skupin about their votes against during the game. It is grandstanding but entertaining because of his delivery.

Time to vote! The editors do a nice job convincing us that Denise may lose. Her answers are solid, but the others also do well. Penner votes for Denise due to her game play, Carter picks an unknown named “Skoopin”, and RC chooses Lisa for her warrior ways. It’s refreshing to see votes for all three, but the result is still lopsided. Denise takes the million dollars with six votes, and she totally deserves it. Lisa and Skupin are good competitors, but the jury makes the right choice. The finale seems bloated with only one immunity challenge, but the players are compelling enough to sell the material. It’s remarkable that Survivor remains so exciting after 25 seasons and has potential to keep the momentum rolling next season.

The reunion spends too much time on a few players but includes some ridiculous moments. Dawson interrupts Probst’s question about the kiss to jump down and plant one firmly on him. It’s a silly live moment, and he handles it well. The mood is positive from nearly everyone, and Abi does a great job continuing her redemptive arc. On the other hand, RC comes off really bitter and full of herself while sniping with Pete. It’s cool to see everyone get a question, which hasn’t happened as much lately. Probst is clearly smitten with Jeff Kent, but nothing reaches the Terry Bradshaw silliness of Jimmy Johnson’s appearance. The host also loves Malcolm and sets up a possible return in the near future for the popular guy. This is an excellent cast with a great winner, and no one questions Denise’s victory. She’s clearly overwhelmed by the moment yet comes off well. Lisa barely wins the fan favorite over Malcolm, and her excitement is charming. Despite some maddening behavior, she overcomes any thoughts of stunt casting and finishes well. Her story is one of many intriguing parts of this season, which ranks among the best in the show’s long history.

December 16, 2012

Survivor: Philippines, "Gouge My Eyes Out"

Several weeks ago, a four-person deal was struck on Survivor that wasn’t in any participant’s best interests. It seemed unlikely that either Malcolm and Denise or Skupin and Lisa planned to honor the deal. Apparently, this oath was stronger than considerations of what constitutes the best gameplay. Each pair would have benefited from betraying the alliance. Abi-Maria’s vote is up for grabs, and she is willing to do anything to stick around. Why wouldn’t someone grab her and try to control the game? The editing promises that Lisa and Skupin are planning to take out Denise, but they again pull back. The only chance that either has of winning is against the other, which gives them limited odds. Even though a final two is likely, these players don’t realize that’s a possibility. Lisa and Skupin are playing for a final three with little chance to win, and that’s maddening for viewers. I s there a scenario where this choice benefits them? If Denise wins immunity next week, she would probably join with them to take out Malcolm. In that case, a final two gives them a chance to force the jury to vote for one of them. Even if they make the end, this move would have sold the jury on a pivotal choice. For more details, check out my full review for Sound on Sight.

Looking at tonight's finale, it's tricky to make a confident prediction. My pick at the start of the season was Jonathan Penner, and he could have made it with a few different choices. All things equal, Malcolm is the favorite to win. The problem for him will be making the end of the game. If he doesn't win immunity, his chances go way down. Denise has a slightly better chance to make the end, but she faces some of the same challenges as Malcolm. I have no knowledge about what actually happens, but I'm getting a strange feeling that Skupin and Lisa make the end. If so, the conventional wisdom is that he would win because she's such a noncommittal player. The question mark is whether enough people like him to give out the million. Regardless of what happens, I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

December 8, 2012

Survivor: Phillipines, "Shot Into Smithereens"

When watching Survivor at home, it’s easy to play armchair quarterback. The editing is designed to paint some players as doing the right thing while others flounder. A consistent narrative in the post-merge episodes has been Lisa and Skupin’s ability to decide each player’s fate. There’s a path to the end for this duo if they’re willing to stick out their necks. Last week, they had the perfect chance to blindside Malcolm and remove one of the strongest players. This choice would have also split up the other tight pair left in the game. Instead, they voted out Penner and lost a possible ally. He was a threat to win at the end, but this isn’t the top priority in the final seven. This time, they plan to rectify their mistake and vote out Malcolm, but his immunity win spoils their plans. The obvious next move is to shift the vote to Denise, which eliminates another powerhouse and hurts Malcolm. By voting out Carter, Lisa and Skupin take the easy route but give an unfortunate pass to Malcolm and Denise. When the jury doesn’t like a player, that person needs to sit next to an equally reviled contestant. For more details, check out my review for Sound on Sight.

Here are some other interesting points that I didn't address in my review:
  • Poor Carter. He's likely received a poor edit since he didn't play a key role in the story. The other players have been complimentary of him after leaving the game, and several have been mystified by the way he's been presented on the show.
  • Speaking of the editors, they're apparently convinced that we're all fascinated to see Lisa repeat the same comments about her internal struggles to play the game every week. It's making me wonder if she's going to reach the final Tribal Council and face the music for this approach with a nasty jury.
  • Will next week go predictably? I'm hoping that at least one of the pairs realizes they can use Abi-Maria and take control. If both groups are vying for her vote, it will give a surprising amount of power to the ostracized player. 

December 2, 2012

Survivor: Philippines, "Hell Hath Frozen Over"

It’s been interesting this season to watch how each returning player has approached Survivor differently using his past knowledge. Russell Swan looked at his first appearance and decided to change his style. The problem was that he actually did well the first time as the leader before his exit. Mike Skupin competed during a different era where strategy took a back seat to physical survival. He seemed like a prime contender to leave early, but he’s maneuvered well heading towards the end. The surprise has been Jonathan Penner, who entered with a reputation as a strategist. He clearly understands the show and has studied how things work in the game. Unfortunately, his play hasn’t always reflected that intelligence. After surviving a few close calls after the merge, he got complacent and wasted an opportunity to solidify his place. When Lisa and Skupin approached him last week about an alliance, he dismissed their idea and broke a cardinal rule on this show. Even if the deal is bad, never push aside a chance to set up a concrete route to the end. If he goes to the end with Lisa and Skupin, Penner is the favorite. Penner is certainly kicking himself today for missing the chance. By the time he realizes the mistake, the damage is done and he’s heading to the jury. For more details, check out my review for Sound on Sight.

Here are some other interesting points that I didn't address in my review:
  • I'm starting to get a weird feeling that Skupin and Lisa are going to be the final two. Malcolm or Denise is going to expect a final three and then get burned when it doesn't happen. This isn't the optimal scenario for fans, but it would be interesting to see if Skupin would get the win.
  • Is there any way that Abi-Maria can survive if she doesn't win immunity next week? If Denise had left this week, she might have had a chance by going with the numbers. That isn't the case now, and she's still an easy boot if they aren't looking for a goat to take to the end.
  • Penner was my pick to win the game, though it was mostly sentimental due to his status as a returning player. He survived when the odds were stacked against him, which makes it even more unfortunate that he didn't recognize the danger this week. He was still great television regardless of the final outcome. 

November 24, 2012

Survivor: Philippines, "Whiners are Weiners"

There have been plenty of cases on Survivor where interesting characters were lost in the shuffle. If the editors decide they aren’t pivotal to the story, they may provide a limited perspective on them. Artis is a good example of this trend; exit interviews revealed an energetic guy who enjoyed his time on the island. On the other hand, there are nasty individuals who clearly aren’t just victims of the editors. Colton was a good example of this situation last time, and Abi-Maria plays a similar role in the Philippines. She nastily attacks other players and gets personal, which creates an uncomfortable environment. This week’s Tribal Council is all about her and reveals a serious lack of self-awareness. Pete exits the game, but that departure feels almost secondary to the intriguing conflict before the vote. It’s stunning to realize that Abi doesn’t understand the effect her ugly behavior has on other players. When Denise calmly lays out specific reasons for why Abi is disliked, she isn’t willing to consider the truth in those words. Beyond what it says about Abi, this conversation also reveals more about Denise’s approach. She’s a fan of the game and is willing to go with a strong player to the end. While that might not lead to a victory, it’s a positive strategy for fans who don’t want to see an obvious winner strolling to an easy win. For more details, check out my full review of this solid episode for Sound on Sight.

Here are some other interesting points that I didn't address in my review:

  • I still can't figure out Penner's end game. Why would he reject Lisa and Skupin's final-three proposal? Does he have a better option? It seems like he's taking it one vote at a time, which makes sense but may come back to haunt him in the future.
  • Pete drew a lot of attention from the editors in the early episodes and talked a big game, but that means little if you don't retain the numbers. His mistake was alienating RC and Skupin and not realizing they wouldn't stick with Tandang. He also put too much faith in Malcolm right away.
  • Although it's hard to like Abi, her genuine hurt at being considered mean is still understandable. It's clear that she isn't trying to play a character like some past players and doesn't realize the effect her words have on people. It's possible she'll be around for a while, but the numbers are definitely against her at this point.
  • Does Skupin actually have a chance to win this game? I wouldn't have even considered it earlier in the season, but the group of likely candidates is dropping. Malcolm and Denise are the top contenders to win, but they also feel like the biggest threats from the remaining group. 

November 17, 2012

Survivor: Philippines, "Little Miss Perfect"

After two crazy episodes, Survivor pulls back this week and delivers a more slow-paced affair. The final outcome is surprising, but it lacks the dramatic chaos of past weeks. This episode is all about Lisa Whelchel and her moral dilemma about back-stabbing her tribe. She clearly has a stronger bond with Penner but worries about being disloyal. This is a common theme on this show, but it’s rarely been diagnosed to this degree. The stunning part of all this attention is the fact that Lisa doesn’t flip and still casts her vote for Penner. It’s a serious example of misdirection from the editors that induces more confusion than thrills. Why spend so much time on someone who’s staying put? Thankfully, it’s still intriguing because it reveals plenty about Lisa’s character and Penner’s understanding of it. His framing of the decision as a “good versus evil” situation is brilliant yet isn’t enough to change her mind. Probst claims the next installment is even better, which means it will have to be incredible to top this season. For more details, check out my review for Sound on Sight.

Here are some other interesting points that I didn't address in my review:

  • Although she doesn't seem to be in serious danger, Lisa's waffling could backfire and cause everyone to turn around and vote her out. There are examples in the past where a well-meaning player couldn't decide on a group and was sent packing because of it. I think the more likely scenario is the others realizing she's too likable to make the end. 
  • It's weird that the editors didn't show the schoolyard pick, which would have been interesting to see. I'm sure there was some extra time to cut in the long conversations between Lisa and Penner. 
  • Pete calls himself a mastermind, but he has done very little in recent weeks to affect the game. He survived last week mostly because Penner made a mistake. This time, he loses a key ally without doing much of anything. All the early bluster seems destined to lead to very few results when it matters.
  • If you're a big Survivor fan, you should definitely listen to this interview with Jeff Probst on Rob Has a Podcast. It's really interesting to hear the host dig into the criticisms that he's faced this season. Probst seems very concerned with the thoughts of the super fans and is surprisingly candid. 

November 9, 2012

Survivor: Philippines, "Dead Man Walking"

That was awesome. After last week’s remarkable Tribal Council, it did not seem possible that the follow-up could be even better. The chaotic build-up to the vote is stunning and ranks among the most unpredictable finishes in Survivor history. This is easily the season’s best episode and the strongest one going back to Heroes vs. Villains, if not farther. There are so many possibilities once Penner wins immunity. It’s his first individual win ever, and he beams with pride while everyone else scrambles. The logical next choice is Mike Skupin since he’s a returning player with few allies. Thankfully, Lisa decides to play and gets the ball rolling towards all-out mayhem. When she tells Pete about Malcolm’s immunity idol, it starts a chain reaction that incites mass confusion. The results are brilliant because no one is blindly going to their defeat. Tribal alliances mean nothing, and there is no such thing as an inevitable exit. There are still many possibilities for where the season will go in the upcoming weeks. For more details, check out my full review for Sound on Sight.

Here are some other interesting points that I didn't address in my review:

  • Jeff Probst needs to stop inserting himself in the game. His comment at Tribal Council after Jeff's vote showed just how subjective he is about certain players. He talks about a wasted opportunity, but that's only really true for the group on the wrong side of the votes. I usually cut him some slack when he takes criticism, but that comment makes little sense. Why didn't he say the same thing when RC was voted out? Obviously, it's because he didn't want Jeff Kent to leave. 
  • Pete has a real blind spot about Malcolm, and it could hurt him going forward. When he confronts Malcolm about the idol, it's clear from the way he reacts that the information is true. Even so, Pete decides that Lisa has false information. This makes little sense and raises serious questions about his intelligence.
  • In the exit interview on Rob Has a Podcast, Jeff Kent gave some interesting thoughts about Lisa, who comes out of nowhere and starts really playing this week. From his comments, it's clear that earlier moves weren't just getting skipped by the editors. Her risky attempts to change the game are surprising to everyone and don't put a target on her back (yet).
  • Much has been made about the angry clip of Jeff after he's voted out, but even his dig at Obama doesn't bother me too much. He played hard and was strong right until the end, and only Penner and Skupin's surprise votes knocked him out.
  • Abi-Maria isn't in danger at this point, but she has a terrible week. First, she reveals their alliance to Carter, then she gives even more information at Tribal Council. Finally, all it takes is a question from Probst about idols to inspire her to tell everyone she has it. Why? There's no logical reason for giving out this information, and it could damage her in the long run. 
  • Finally, Artis has an upbeat confessional where he sounded like the positive guy from his pre-show videos. I'm starting to wonder if he's set for a turnaround away from the duo of Pete and Abi. That might be wishful thinking, but I hope he doesn't just drift to the end with the two nasty players.