Thursday, June 23, 2016

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 7 Recap: At the Codfish Ball

And down goes Bluto.  While Sally Draper talks on the phone to her friend Glen, complaining about her evil step-grandmother, the telephone chord (remember those?) causes the old woman to take quite a tumble.  Of course, Sally lets the blame fall elsewhere and becomes the hero who saves the day.  But with Pauline out of commission and Betty and Henry gone for the weekend, this lands Sally over at her Dad's for the weekend.  That ultimately leads her to fall headfirst into adulthood as she experiences things way above her pay grade.  She dresses up to join the grownups at a big fancy dinner only to discover the adults around her acting like irresponsible children. And we're left wishing Sally could have stayed an innocent child longer and not been forced into learning some hard truths about her elders.


At the Draper residence, Megan's parents are in town for the weekend.  They bring baggage both literal and figurative and pull out some dirty laundry to shake out in front of their daughter and her new husband.  The Calvets are not happy and their favorite activity to do as a couple is snipe at one another which is what they precede to do within seconds of settling down in the Draper's "exquisitely decadent" apartment.  Dr. Calvet is particularly adept at managing to appear to be self-effacing while his actual target is his wife.  But then he doesn't reserve his condescending dismissiveness just on his wife, mocking the Drapers' wealth and extravagance.

While this married couple play out their version of George and Martha, Roger Sterling and his ex-wife Mona are getting along famously.  Roger is a changed man since he dropped acid and Mona likes the more mellow and self-aware person she sees beaming with happiness before her.  He comes to Mona asking for a favor and he is so honest and straightforward that she's captivated.  Plus, he does still support her so any success for Roger is a success for Mona. So she agrees to help him find out what potential clients may be ripe for the picking.

News that Pauline has injured herself and that Sally and Bobby will soon be visiting is a welcome relief from the marital battle at Chez Draper.  While Don is picking up the children, Emile turns his attention from Marie to criticizing the Draper's wealth and Don's attempts to seem high class.  The constant derision appears to much for Marie who excuses herself from the table no sooner than the children start in on their heaping plates of spaghetti.

Later that night, Megan sees the dynamics of her parents' marriage a bit differently.  She sees her mother as jealous of her - she's Emile's favorite - and notices that the jealousy manifests in her flirting with Don.  Don is oblivious, but then when you look like that you're probably pretty used to stray women flinging themselves at you.



Peggy is still seeing Abe and he's trying his best to work himself into her busy schedule, sharing lunch with her and her coworkers.  But Abe wants more.  When he suggests a special dinner during the week, Peggy knows something is up.  She thinks he's ready to break up with her - Stan did mention that Abe was too good-looking for her after all - but Joan suggests that maybe he's going to propose.  So Peggy takes Joan's advice, goes out an gets a fancy new dress for this special occassion.  And Abe does pop the question.  Will you...shack up with me.  This is not the proposal that the good Catholic girl was expecting, but that girl probably wouldn't be having sex out of wedlock with a Jewish guy so maybe she'll say yes.  Joan certainly makes her feel better by letting her know that it is a beautiful statement that Abe wants to spend more time with her.

Heinz has not been an easy client to please and the team is scrambling to make a new presentation that can keep the bean account.  Megan has an epiphany - a way to sell beans as a family tradition passed down through the ages.  Everyone loves the idea, even Stan who has to scrap all his work to provide artwork for the new pitch.  At dinner with the Heinz exec and his wife, however, there are some signs that it may be too late to keep the client as Raymond lets slip that he and his wife Alice have been in town for a few days.   

Don had planned on doing a formal presentation back at the office the next day, but Megan's intel from Alice that Heinz will be going with another agency forces their hand.  Megan whispers to Don that they're about to be fired and you see his wheels turn as he tries to figure out a way to keep Raymond at the table.  Megan adjusts on the fly and starts to direct the conversation towards the pitch.  And Don clicks into gear and starts doing what Don does - weaving a story full of familial love and bonding.  Over beans.  This resonates with the Heinz exec who thinks that everyone should feel as deeply about the little legumes as he does.  And Don assures the pitch's success by letting the client believe that he came up with something they hadn't thought of before (casting the same mother and child). 

Don is getting an award from the Cancer Society for his open letter against the evil tobacco industry and will be accompanied by his wife, her parents, and Sally, who ends up becoming Roger's de facto date to the dinner.  Sally looks beautiful all grown up in her Nancy Sinatra boots and sparkly modern dress, but Don is not ready for his little girl to be a woman quite yet (especially not after Emile's unfortunate malapropism).


At the dinner, Roger engages Sally as his date and co-conspirator for the evening as he tries to go to work on networking.  Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove are also there to swoop around for potential new clients.  Pete has an interesting moment with Emile Calvet when the good doctor (*PhD) tries to belittle him, asking what exactly an account manager does.  But Pete gets the upper hand as he schmoozes the hell out of Emile, buttering him up and playing to his wounded ego's need for reassurance, and after the French Canadian is fully puffed out Pete tells him - that's what I do.  Ouch.

Over at Peggy's place, her mother has come over (and brough cake) to hear the big announcement.  But Katherine, who we've seen as a good practicing Catholic with the local priest a frequent dinner guest does not want to hear that it's 1967 not 1947 or that all the kids are doing it.  Her daughter is not living in sin.  So she takes her celebration cake and goes.  But not before dealing out what she considers to be some hard truths.  Peggy, she tells her, is selling herself short.  Abe may not want to marry you but he will marry someone and start a family with them and it won't be you.  You think Katherine is being old-fashioned and unsupportive, but you later realize she's being protective.  Peggy is a grown woman, but to Katherine she's still her daughter and she needs someone to look after her and make sure she doesn't get hurt.

At the dinner, Emile is looking at Roger like he's a perfectly cooked steak and she has just come to the end of a long meatless Lent.  She laughs at all his jokes and notices when he moves around the room.  Emile, her husband, is invisible to her.  Not only has she been watching Roger all night, turns out he has noticed her as well.  They have a brief conversation about life and decisions, ambition and mistakes and next thing they know they're off in a secret corner and Marie is playing Aloutte on Roger's flute.  Or something like that.  At least that's the story Roger will try and sell poor unsuspecting Sally when she walks in on the two of them.

But before that, give Emile credit for being the first one in her orbit to notice that Megan is not deliriously happy with all her Heinz success, her fancy apartment and her dashing husband.  There is some emptiness in Megan that he sees.  He scolds her for giving up on her passion, for trading it for the Capitalist symbols of success.  She argues with him, but his words hit a nerve and speak to something that's been gnawing at her.  She may be very good at what she is doing, but isn't not making her feel very good.  Something is clearly missing.


Sally has a shocking experience when she walks in on Marie pleasuring Roger and her father has his own shock when Ken Cosgove's father spills some true on him while a bit inebriated.  The Cancer Society Board and all these big executives may love Don's work and shower him with praise, but they don't trust him, can never trust him, and will never hire him.  Don turned on his biggest client, they all saw it.  That's why they're there.  How can they not worry he'd do the same to them?  Don may be an advertising genius, but he's also poison.  So enjoy that award, Don.

Quotes:

Emile:  My daughter pretends to find interesting what I find interesting because she loves me.

Emile:  I see she's convinced you that she's particular.  I'm the proof she is not.

Roger:  My whole life, people have been telling me I don't understand how other people think.
And it turns out it's true.

Mona:  I thought you married Jane because I had gotten old.  And then I realized it was because you had.

Stan: Well, it's not fair that just because you're a boob-carrying consumer that your opinion means more.

Megan:  I think I have an idea.  It might be really good.  But it might be terrible.
Don:  Well, you've established a firm bed of insecurity.

Roger:  We are being lowered in a bucket into a gold mine.  I'm gonna bring my pick and crack something off the wall.

Roger:  Who knows why people in history did good things? For all we know, Jesus was trying to get the loaves and fishes account.

Marie: Every daughter should get to see her father as a success.

Marie: You seem like you were born in a bow tie.
Roger:  I didn't tie that one either.

Emile:  Don, there is nothing you can do.  No matter what, one day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away.

Katherine:  I need my cake.
Peggy:  Why?
Katherine:  Because I'm not giving you a cake to celebrate youse living in sin.

Peggy:   You want me to be alone?
Katherine:  You know what your aunt used to say? You're lonely, get a cat.

Observations:

Emile tells Don "My daughter pretends to find interesting what I find interesting because she loves me."  What Don doesn't know is that is what Megan is doing for him as well.  She's not in love with advertising and it's not her passion but she pretends because it is Don's passion and it means so much to him.

Don is reading "The Fixer" by Bernard Malamud.  According to Wikipedia, the book "provides a fictionalized version of the Beilis case. Menahem Mendel Beilis was a Jew unjustly imprisoned in Tsarist Russia. The 'Beilis trial' of 1913 caused an international uproar and Russia backed down in the face of world indignation."  Megan jokes to Don that her father won't mind finding out he reads James Bond, but this reflects Don's possible insecurity especially when dealing with a erudite scholar like Megan's father.  Don may be rich and sophisticated now, but down inside there is still lurking the country bumpkin who used an outhouse.

"At the Codfish Ball" was a song and dance routine made famous by Shirley Temple in her movie "Captain January" in 1936.  Apparently, there was nothing at all weird or creepy about a bunch of grown men standing around as a little elementary school girl sashayed and swiveled her hips around.  Temple's dance partner was pre-Jed Clampett Buddy Epsen and their twenty-five year age difference was not meant to arouse any concern as they performed together.  The parallel between their pairing and that of Sally and Roger is clear (if they age gap much, much larger) and we see Sally the young girl being caught up in very grown up activities that the adults should be sheltering her from.  Stolen childhoods and misbehavior by the adults who should know better are strongly paralleled.


Don doesn't mind carrying the bags and doesn't see the need to bother the doorman, perhaps harkening back to his rural, no-frills roots.  Dr. Calvet seems much more to the manor born than Don and is more comfortable with being waited on.  For all his money, there is still part of Don that is the poor, humble farmer's son who was taught not to take any help.

The theme of children growing up too soon comes forward in Michael Ginsburg's discussion of how to market Playtex bras.  Peggy's approach, he says, is to sell sexy bras to old ladies whereas he believes that they should target young girls who are in a hurry to grow up.

In the Heinz pitch at dinner, the back and forth between Don and Megan is pretty erotic.  She's feeding him lines he's in her head and they're communicating on a nearly subatomic level.  She pretends the idea was Don's, inspired by her domesticity.  He accepts the credit but feels guilty enough to try and let Megan take some credit for at least a part of the idea. It's a pretty sexy scene between the two of them, not unexpectedly leading to a little make out session in the back of the taxi that leads, we imagine, to a longer one back at the office.

The next day everyone is celebrating, but Megan is fairly muted.  Peggy, whose account this was and who was fired for not making Raymond happy, is overjoyed for her, yet Megan can barely muster a toothy smile.  Why is she not ecstatic over this, why is she having trouble accepting praise and feeling celebratory?

Notice how Peggy's mom greets Abe with the formal "Abraham" and seems surprised when he tells her that ham is his favorite.  You get the feeling she's still processing her daughter having a Jewish boyfriend.  Not surprising then that her reaction to their big news is about as ebullient as Megan's reaction to landing Heinz.  But it's not his being Jewish that's the problem, it's his not putting a ring on it.  She's dealt with Peggy's unwanted pregnancy, her being a "career girl," and her dating outside of the faith.  But shacking up is a bridge too far.

When Bobby and Sally arrive at their Dad's place, Bobby tells Megan that Sally doesn't like fish.  Megan realized this so she made a different dinner for the kids.  But at the American Cancer Society dinner, Sally showed that she was dabbling with becoming a grown up and tasted the fish.  She wasn't immediately repelled and, as it turned out, it wasn't her worst experience with adulthood that night.  

The episode was bookended with two phone calls between Sally and Glen.  Glen is only a couple of years older than Sally, but he's always been the more mature one.  She was the wide-eyed innocent to his jaded adolescent.  But with what she perceived as Roger's betrayal (and seeing her step-grandmother in that position) she's now as world-weary as Glen.

*****************************************************************************
Spoilers - Don't read until you're all caught up.

Stan tells Peggy that Abe is too good-looking for her.  Typically joking around for the two work buddies.  But, a few years hence, Stan decides he's the right one for her after all.

Of course, Emile was right.  Being a copywriter was not Megan's passion.  She came to New York to be an actress and she was determined to make that dream come true.  So she eventually tells Don that she is going to pursue her passion, despite her natural gifts as an ad woman.  She had some middling success in New York, getting cast on a soap opera, but when she moved to Los Angeles she can't get arrested.

Marie is flirting with Don and she later flirts - and more - with Roger.  We see this as a sign of her unhappiness in her marriage, perhaps also her reaction to growing older and losing her looks.  But no one could have predicted then that she would ultimately find love and happiness with Roger!  Two old coots who lamented their lost years and lost youth coming together in the end to find the person they were always meant to be with.

Learning that practically no one wants to work with Don hits him hard, understandably.  That plus Megan's decision to quit working with him makes him go down a very dark, very deep hole from here on out with various levels of success and failure.  He almost completely bottoms out before rallying.  But Don will be battling the demon he created with "the letter" for years to come.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Survivor Kaoh Rong, Episode 6: Disbanding the Brain Trust

Anyone with a perfunctory understanding of reality TV narratives knew that the cocky, arrogant ER doctor who alternately proclaimed himself the smartest in the game and the best positioned was not going to win.  Peter Baggenstos was given the "Pride Goeth before a Fall" edit from day one. But with his former Brains tribe still in the majority, and numbers being crucial pre-merge, he would have to do something pretty dumb to get booted this early.  And he did.  In fact, showing again that the smarts necessary for success in the real world do not necessarily translate to Survivor, the doctor made not one but two strategic blunders that led to him becoming an undateable pre-merge boot.

But first, we come back from the last tribal council at Gondol beach with hugs all around for Tai Trang.  He managed to be more useful and lovable than Anna Khait and that bought him at least three more days in the tribe.  Tai basked in the compliments, especially hearing everyone tell him what a great guy he is.  How many would share that opinion had they known he had the hidden immunity idol and had led Anna to believe he was using it on her?  Tai doesn't have to worry because the only person left who knows about the idol, Scot Pollard, is keeping mum as he plans to use the info down the line.  Tai plans to continue to provide for the tribe with the tacit understanding that if they have to go to tribal again, it will be Julia Sokolowski and not him sent home.

But wait, before the smoke from Anna's snuffed torch has completely faded, Peter is scheming.  He pulls Tai aside and tells him that he's fed up to here with Joe Del Campo who is not pulling his weight and is more ripped that he is (and 40 years older).  That old guy and his six pack has got to go.  It occurs to Peter now, as opposed to, say, before tribal council, that he is the low man on the Brains totem pole and he needs to get rid of one of them before they target him.  Last vote, when Scot, Tai and Anna were scrambling for what to do and who to target, he could have pulled the three together against Joe and Aubry Bracco and picked them off like overripe mangoes.

It's like looking in a mirror
Over on Chan Loh beach, Nick Maiorano just realized he's on Survivor.  It's Day 13.  But, better late than never.  He does have a keen insight into the wonder that is Debbie Wanner and recognizes that what she admires most in others are their intrinsic and extrinsic similarity to her.  So he does his best to be what Debbie believes herself to be which is, among other things, a finely chiseled Greek god.  I'm a little worried about Debbie as the two quotes from her early in the episode are that her main goal is to make the merge (which we assume is next week) and that she can make fire with one match (which possibly hints towards a fire-making challenge).  Hopefully, though, the overwhelmingly loopy, fun, positive edit she's been getting was so strong that the producers decided to throw a few red herrings in there on the way to her ultimate march to victory.

At the reward challenge we have former professional NBA center Scot Pollard in a basket sinking contest against former amateur point guard (and Adonis, according to Debbie) Nick Maiorano.  Putting aside that centers are not that accustomed to shooting from the perimeter and that the buoys into a basket is not exactly the same as basketballs into a hoop and that Scot was not exactly a scoring beast in his NBA days, it looks like Gondol might have the advantage.  This goes from theoretical to actual when their go-to challenge beast Aubry manages to untie and free their buoys about an hour before the hapless Michelle Fitzgerald.  Nick is waiting patiently for his chance to show his moves which watching Scot go out to an early lead.  Eventually, they get their buoys and he makes it a race, but ends up losing in the end.  It was a feast for the reward which I'm sure Julia enjoyed after her two days alone in exile on To Tang beach.

"As long as it's not my name I'm gonna go with it, because I've gotta save myself."  Julia may be young, but she's not naive and she understands the basic rules of Survivor.  So when Peter comes to her after their feast to tell her he's thinking about voting out one of the Brains, she is all in favor.  She could have not gotten better news that the fact that there is a fracture in the main alliance and she may not necessarily be meeting up with Anna in two days.  Peter is pissed at Joe but he also recognizes that Aubry is a threat so he's gunning for both of them.  Or not.  He's spit-balling here, sharing his strategy with the only person lower on the totem pole than he is, trying to formulate a plan by saying everything he's thinking out loud and to the one person with nothing to lose.

Peter makes the fatal mistake of strategizing right under the watchful eyes of Joe and Aubry.  Scheming is not something that endears yourself to your old alliance and Peter is doing it blatantly.  So Aubry starts thinking that he may be more of a liability to the Brains alliance than he is an asset.

Meanwhile, the Chan Loh tribe is trying to forget all about the wonderful feast that they missed out on because Michelle failed to unhook the buoys until the other tribe had an unbeatable lead.  Michelle is worried that if they go to tribal council, she'll be the logical scapegoat/target.  She is consoled by Debbie who manages to be wherever she needs to be at all times and I have no proof that she's not actually a twin.  Debbie tells her (as she previously told Cydney Gillon) that she wants a girl to win and that her target would be Kyle Jason.  Michelle feels pretty good about their talk until Nick wet blankets all over her warning her that Debbie is manipulative and cunning and could be setting Michelle up for failure.

Let the man do all the thinking, little lady.
Michelle is not keen on being told what to think by Nick.  She is a grown woman with her own mind and she does not want to be babysat or handheld by the big strong guy.  Nick tells her not to trust Debbie or Neal and Michelle tells us that she'll do whatever she damn well pleases.  He tells us in his confessional that he has to coach Michelle, that's his job, making sure she's under his wing and says the right things.  And Michelle tells us that she plans to go along, letting him baby her and think he's controlling her, waiting in the wings to pounce at the right time.  I love their close trusting relationship!

Peter is still scheming and scrambling but "retired FBI guy" Joe sees right through it.  In fairness, Stevie Wonder can see right through Peter as he actively chases down everyone who is not Aubry or Joe and tries to pull them into his plan.  Joe wants to get to the bottom of this and he goes all NCIS/CSI on Peter, staring him down and demanding that he tell Joe the truth.  Peter, sadly, does not shout back, You can't handle the truth.  Instead, he stammers, looks like a cornered puppy standing next to an unfortunate puddle, answers questions with questions, hesitates and finally gives a too sincere and ultimately unconvincing denial.  Busted.  Peter knows he's been caught and all he can do now is a few mea culpas as he meekly crawls back into his alliance.  Or help his tribe win the immunity challenge and then he'll never have to worry about this conversation.

But Peter shows he's not only incapable of good game strategy, but also good challenge strategy.  With a twenty foot high tower of blocks to build, he decides not to build from the bottom up, loading the bigger squares first, but from the top down.  (Tai meekly questions, why are we stacking the small ones first, but no one listens).  Not surprisingly, this plan fails and though they were behind for most of the challenge, Chan Loh ends up winning.

Now it's really time to scramble.  Aubry and Joe don't trust Peter and know he's a liability and knows that he tried to turn on them and that he probably will bolt the next chance he has but, like the last vote, they decide to go with the devil they know and stick with him, voting out Julia.  Peter recognizes when he's beat and so he decides to go along with his former tribemates, bury the hatchet, and go with the original plan a - voting out Julia.  Scot comes over to Peter to find out what the plan is and he hears that Peter has abandoned the get rid of Aubry or Joe plan and is back on the voting out Julian bandwagon.

Scot has had enough of Peter's vacillation.  While Aubry and Joe may not be in his alliance, they at least don't tell him one thing one minute and another thing the next.  Peter is untrustworthy and unpredictable and those are not great traits in a tribemate.  So rather than go along with his plan to target Aubry or Joe, Scot talks to Tai and Julia about going after Peter.  Julia, who may be 18 but is pretty smart, recognizes right away that Joe is loyal and not likely to abandon his ally.  So she suggests they target Aubry.  And they have ammunition - Peter did throw her under the bus.  But will she believe them and be willing to take out one of her own.

So I just have one teensy weensy change in our plans.

Scot, Tai and Julia make their pitch to Aubry and she's not thrilled at what she's hearing. It was one thing for Peter to throw Joe's name out there, but a whole different thing when it's her name and her life in the game on the line.  Now she's pissed and now she's rethinking her devil you know strategy.  Why keep someone around only for them to stab you in the back.  Get them out before they can get to you.  So she goes to Joe.  You know how we had that long talk and we decided to let bygones be bygones and welcomed Peter back into the alliance and agreed to vote out Julia.  Yeah, let's forget that.  Let's vote out Peter.  Joe cannot believe what he's hearing and he thinks Aubry has fallen victim to island fever/game paranoia and is no longer in her right mind.  Joe is a loyal guy and he made a deal with Peter and he wants to keep it.  Aubry thinks this might be a huge mistake.  Or not.  It's day 14 or 15, it's volcanically hot, they don't get enough food or sleep and there are all manners of creatures feasting on them.  Give her a break, it's hard to think straight!

And so Aubry and the rest of her tribe go to tribal council with the vote up in the air.  And it's not at all clear what is the right move. More than likely, a tribal merge is coming and going into the merge 5 strong would be good.  But is Peter really Brains-strong or will he bolt the moment after Jeff Probst tells them to drop their buffs?  But if you vote out Peter, you guarantee going to the merge with a 4-4 split between Brains and Beauties, with the 3-member Brawn tribe potentially having the deciding votes.  Has Aubry noticed how close Scot and Tai are, who does she think the Brawn tribe will side with?  But on the other hand, Joe is her closest ally right now and he's asking for her to stay the course.  Does she want to break his trust?

At tribal council, at first, it looks like the vote will be the non-controversial, expected vote as Tai and Scot decide it's easier to go along with the plan to vote out Julia.  If Aubry, Peter and Joe are solid, it would be a 3-3 tie and no one wants that.  But it doesn't take much prodding for Jeff to get everyone talking about the elephant in the room.  Peter's bouncing back and forth beween different factions has brought him unfavorable scrutiny and so the logical vote of Julia is no longer a no-brainer.  You can see the growing recognition sweeping across Peter's face as one by one his tribemates point to his scrambling, his uncertainty, his unreliability as concerning traits going forward.  Meanwhile, Julia can only hope this conversation is having some impact.  And it does as we see Tai mouth something to Scot.

As the conversation continues, the two switch their plan on the spot and decide to go after Peter.  Peter has fallen into the trap that he himself created.  When Jeff asks him if he made the case on why the five should stay tight and vote out their newest member Julia, Peter instead mentioned how that is one way to look at it but that the tribe is more complex than that and there might be some fissures in it.  Peter basically admitted that he was not gung ho about the plan to get rid of Julia and had entertained other discussions.  Scot jumps on this to point out that someone - whose name rhymes with Meter - makes a decision then five minutes later changes his - or her, but really it's his because I'm talking about Peter - mind.

Joe picks up on how the discussion has taken a turn and instead of the farewell Julia show it's suddenly become the outing Peter for being deceitful show.  Joe isn't so sure where the vote is going either.  Meanwhile Tai and Scot have changed their plan and are now conveying the change to a surprised Aubry.  For those who think tribal council is an unnecessary waste of time, that the decisions are all make ahead of time, and that Jeff's questions and the Survivors' answers have no effect, this last minute whispering and rethinking is a big surprise.  On the fly, we're watching peple take in new information and make last minute decisions.  It may not be the optimal way to make a decision that could ultimately cost you a million dollars, but it's better than stubbornly sticking to a plan without giving it any additional thought.  Perhaps.  Time will tell.

Well that didn't go as I planned.
"As long as it's not my name that's written down, I'm cool."  And those are the last words of Peter as his former Brains teammate Aubry does what I don't remember seeing before - writes one name down, then crosses it out and changes her vote.  I'm not sure I love Aubry's play.  It's not that I don't think she should have voted against Peter, it's the uncertainty and seat-of-her-pants redirection that does not look good (and is not a great resume builder). She should have hammered this out with Joe better ahead of time and planned for various outcomes.  Instead, with this vote, she has shown herself not to be a strong ally and to make executive (and potentially rash) that potentially undermine her alliance.  At the merge, I'm not sure how strong the Brains will be after this vote and whether she was more at risk of Peter switching post-merge or of going into the merge down in numbers.  And don't think Julia will forget that her name was written down on that parchment first.

With Aubry's last second change of heart, Peter is the sixth person voted out of Survivor Kaoh Rong.  Peter was doomed from the beginning.  He was too cocky, he overplayed his hand and he was too unwilling to play the social game of Survivor, i.e., pretend to get along with people, pretend not to have to be right all the time, practice humility, and don't make yourself the center of attention.

Want more from Peter?
Peter the day after on CBS
RHAP interview
Josh Wigler/Parade interview
EW interview
SheKnows interview

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Survivor Kaoh Rong, Episode 5: How Not to Play a Bad Hand

Much was made pre-season of the fact that Anna Khait is a poker player.  This was supposed to give her an advantage over the other players, much as it was supposed to for Jean-Robert Bellande (voted out 8th in Survivor: China) and Garrett Adelstein (vote out 2nd in Survivor: Cagayan).   Anna ended up splitting the difference, voted out 5th her season and further establishing no correlation between poker prowess and Survivor smarts.  But while Jean-Robert and Garrett were most to blame for their boots, Anna was a victim of a poker player's worst enemy - the random deal of a bad hand.  But any poker player will tell you that it's easy to win if you're dealt aces, what sets the greats apart is what they can do when they get, say, 10-2.

Before the swap that ended Anna's run in the game, the Brains tribe is highlighted after having voted out Liz Markham the night before.  Dr. Peter Baggenstos continues to vie for the combined title of most un-self-aware, most narcissistic, and most tonally clueless contestant ever.  He recognizes he's at the bottom of the totem pole, but rather than show any contrition, any humility, he boasts to the camera how he'll play the game and pander to his tribemates.  He just doesn't get it.  Pandering to them is what put him in the position he finds himself.  But he reluctantly lowers himself and offers medical advice to Joe Del Campo whose finger is swelling up like a cantaloupe.  Peter will leverage his life-saving - or in this case, digit-saving - capabilities to make him an asset to the tribe that hates him.

It was not lost on the viewers that the tribe labeled the Brains had still not located their hidden immunity idol after the other two intellectually-challenged tribes had.   So this episode, Neal Gottlieb fixes that by going on a successful idol hunt (motivated by his desire that Peter not find it).  We now have all three idols located, one with Kyle Jason, one with Tai Trang and now one with Neal.  So it's a perfect time for Jeff Probst to utter those famous words - drop your buffs.

This doesn't seem like an even split
Jeff explains that they had planned on going from three tribes down to two at 14 players, but with Caleb Reynolds' unexpected departure last episdoe, they were in an unusual situation where they were splitting at 13.  Now, they could have gone the Solomon way and cut up one of the contestants.  As Tai noted, Scot Pollard is like three Tais, so he could easily have been rationed between the two.  But since the show is shopping this short of actually killing any of its contestants, they instead decide to split up into two groups of six, with one person left out of the two tribes.  That person spends a couple days on the old Brawn tribe beach alone to wallow in misery and loneliness and thirst while everyone else scrambles and strategizes and hydrates.  After one of the two tribes loses the next challenge and votes someone out, that extra person will join the losing tribe and we'll then have an even 6-6 split.

After a random draw this is how the three teams (and let us all bid a fond farewell to the brains, beauty, brawn alliteration) split up:

Chan Lo (blue buffs):
Debbie
Neal
Cydney
Jason
Michelle
Nick

Gondol (yellow buffs)
Aubry
Joe
Peter
Anna
Tai
Scot

Lonely girl (red buff for now)
Julia

Chan Lo has a 2-2-2 split with no one tribe having an advantage. Gondol has a 3-2-1 with the Brains in the majority.  But within that group is Peter, the outcast, the pariah, the royal pain in the Brains' collective butts who they cannot stand and who resents his teammates and his status among them.  But it is Scot who seems the most in peril.  He is the lone member of the Brawns tribe and at 6'11" a gargantuan physical threat.  As Jeff surveys the new tribes and makes some obvious observations, you can see the survivors all taking in what he is saying and wondering how this all plays out for them.  Chan Lo is all lovey-dovey with a lot of hugging and laughing, but over on Gondol there is more contemplation of what this all means.  And then Jeff talks to Julia Sokolowski about being the lone wolf and she makes a huge blunder.

There is nothing in the Survivor rule book that says you have to speak the truth and you don't have to say anything to put yourself or your allies at a disadvantage.  But Julia does just that, saying that she is concerned about her position in the game - especially if a Beauty is voted out.  Right there she highlighted that whatever you might have wanted to do in the next vote, your only correct, logical, right, safe, and proper decision is to vote out a Beauty.  Only moments after being told the old tribe designations were over and this was a new game, Julia reminded everyone where her loyalties lie and that she would consider the loss of a Beauty member a loss of an ally.  Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.  Dumb.

Who's not dumb is Peter.  He may have absolutely no emotional or interpersonal intelligence, but the guy can do basic math and a 3-2-1 will become a 3-3 if they vote out Scot and Julia comes in.  Worse for the Brains, who currently have the majority, if they target him, when Julia comes in it would be 2-3-1 with the Beauties in the majority.  No matter how much Aubry Bracco may hate him, she has no choice but to agree that voting as a solid block right now is the only logical choice and voting out a Beauty if the only logical move.  Scot, realizing that as the lone Brawn in this new tribe he could easily by the target, is happy to join Peter and Aubry in targeting either Tai or Anna.  Smart move on his part.  There is no reason for him to wheel and deal and try to stir things up.  If it's not him, that's all that should matter right now.

I like your coconuts

Also not dumb is Debbie Wanner.  Loony as all hell, sure.  Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, most definitely.  But she looked at her new tribe and immediately zoned in on Cydney Gillon, recognizing not just her amazing physique but the fact that she's also a very smart cookie.  Cydney, who has only had a small dose of the crazy cat lady, immediately gravitates to Debbie.  This is a dynamic duo and I would love to see them stick together. Debbie tells Cydney that she and Neal are tight and Cydney agrees to get Kyle on board with them.  Debbie also tells Cydney that ultimately she'd like to see a woman win this season and Cydney is a-okay with that plan,

Speaking of a woman winning, Michelle Fitzgerald is devastated that her tight all-girls' alliance has been split up and she hopes she can get the band back together.  But with Julia on a brief exile at the old To Tang camp and Anna in the minority on the other tribe, she's not feeling too good about their prospects.   Debbie, though, is feeling pretty pretty pretty good about her position as the mastermind and the tribe shake up has not at all dimmed her enthusiasm that she is controlling the game.

While Debbie plots and schemes, Tai falls back on charm and talent to further himself in the game.  With a Beauty being the natural next target, Tai has to find a way to be more valuable (or less of a threat) to his new tribe than Anna and he does it by being the warm, lovable provider for the team.  Scot immediately takes a liking to Tai and a new bromance is formed.  Tai and Anna both know what they have to do - it's the old joke about two people being chased by a bear.  You don't have to outrun the bear, you just have to be faster than your friend.  So she directly targets Tai by telling everyone within earshot that he probably likely definitely has the hidden immunity idol and he indirectly targets Anna by being adorable and getting food for the tribe and talking zero strategy.  Let's guess which approach will work better.

Over at Chan Lo, Nick Maiorano is vying with Peter for most delusionally self-aggrandizing and giving the ER doctor a run for his money.  “When it comes to being manipulative, I think I’m the most intelligent person out here,” he boasts.   Nick thinks he's brilliant and charming and conniving and fails to realize that it is Cydney and Kyle who holds all the cards on their tribe.  He also is ignoring the huge threat that Julia poses to his chances as it would take a miracle for his team to keep both Beauties and let them have the majority once she joins up.  But this won't play out as they won't be heading to tribal council tonight.

It's another multi-stage immunity challenge, with a water, land and puzzle component and the only noteworthy thing is that no one died.  Chan Lo won with Neal and Debbie smoking the puzzle at the end, taking down Peter and Anna.  Then the theoretical turned into the realistic as Gondol now had to finally choose between Scot's man crush Tai and the perpetually plotting Anna.  Scot wanted to keep the little guy.  He liked his work ethic, his positivity and how much fun it is to toss him up into the trees.  But the pro-Tai tide came first from an off-handed remark by Peter.

Showing, for the first time, some savviness and, dare I say, good gameplay, he listened as Joe and Aubry presented their decision to vote out Tai and then tactically weighed in with a different opinion.  But he didn't Peter his way about it - showing them how stupid they were, taking control and masterminding everything with pompous glee. No, he subtly mentioned that he'd be okay with voting out the person who provides food for the tribe and never talks strategy and keeping the smart schemer.  He then oh-so-gently suggested that they might go the other way and vote out Anna, but it's okay with him either way.  And you know what, that approach actually worked.  Had he tried to bully them, Joe and Aubry would have immediately closed down.  They might even have rethought their plan to keep him.  But he used tact (something I didn't think he had in his arsenal) and the power of suggestion to get them on his side.

While Peter was working to get Tai to stay, Tai was targeting Peter.  Recognizing that either he or Anna were on the chopping block, he thought of a way to get rid of Peter.  He could play his idol and voila, one less Brain.  So he tells Anna and Scot that he has the idol and that he's going to play it at tribal.  Anna was down with the plan, of course, and Scot liked it as well. Because even after one day with Peter it was impossible for his new tribemates not to fall in loathe with him as quickly as his old tribemates had.  He wears his arrogance with all the subtly that Donald Trump styles his hair.  So, bye bye Peter.

Say hello to my little friend.
Not so fast.  Just as Anna was gleefully telling us that she loves blindsides and hidden immunity idols especially when they're played to get rid of someone other than herself, there was a change in plans.  Aubry told Scot that the new target was Anna, not Tai.  This got Scot thinking.  Let's pause for a moment.  Scot has voted in three of the four tribal councils this season and his votes have not always made the most sense.  In fact, he's often been at odds with his own alliance.  So seeing him thinking so strategically was a bit of a shock.  But when it came to his attention that Tai would not be the traget, he got to thinking.  If Tai stays, with an idol, then he, Scot, knows where two of the idols are in the game.  One with his new broski Tai, the other with his former BFF Kyle.  He would be sitting pretty.  So he did not want Tai to play his idol, even if it would get rid of the smarmy conceited doctor.

What I like about Tai's game is that he doesn't immediately decide which way to go.  He weighs his options - the risk of not playing the idol and getting voted out holding it, the benefit of using it o Anna to blindside Peter, the chance to escape tribal council safely with his idol intact - and decides to take it to tribal council and get a feel for what is going on while he's there.  He handles tribal council beautifully, telling his tribe how he wants to be straight forward to them while lying to their faces about not having the hidden immunity idol.  He also tosses in how he would love to continue to provide them food if they decide to keep him around.  It's a pretty brilliant pitch and would make me very nervous about going to final tribal council with this guy.

Conversely, whatever kudos I gave to Peter for handling Aubry and Joe earlier in the day I want to take away for his abysmal performance at tribal council.  Having learned nothing from his last trip there, he continues to go on about how unconcerned he is about the vote and what a position of power he is in and how he could not be in a better spot, blah blah blah. He is tempting the Survivor gods once again and he escapes again by the skin of his gleaming teeth only because Scot had other plans.  Peter had no clue he was one idol away from having his torch snuffed.

But you just lit it, Jeff!

Alas, it is the poker beauty whose torch is snuffed just moments after it was lit for the first time.  Could she have strategized better, should she have told the Brains that Tai had the idol, was she too trusting of Tai?  Tai comes off so genuine, so friendly, that it's hard to see him as a calculating game player, but as a poker player it was Anna's job to see through the ruse and read her opponent better.   Not only did she not see him for the dangerous competitor he turned out to be, but part of her was so fond of him that on her way out of the game she decided NOT to blow up his game by telling the rest of the tribe that he has the immunity idol.  When you can get someone you just turned on and helped get voted out to not undermine your game, you're doing something right.  Tai is on a roll.

Want more of Anna? Check out:

Interview with Josh Wigler/Parade
Interview with RHAP
The Day After on CBS
Interview with Dalton Ross/Entertainment Weekly
Interview with RealityTVWorld

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Survivor Kaoh Rong, Episode 4: Pushed Too Far

I may sound like a hypocrite, but that wasn't fun to watch.  This comes from someone who watches pro football even knowing about the risks the players face due to concussions, from someone who did not get morally outraged at Chase Utley breaking a guy's leg in a MLB playoff game, from someone who questions how daring aerial acrobats are if they're wearing a harness.  But watching people who haven't had much to eat or drink for ten days digging in the sand in 118 degree temperatures for 45 minutes is not my idea of great entertainment.  Someone could have died.

I get overheated when it's in the high 80s and have been known to embarrass my family by pulling out a small battery-charged fan if I'm the least bit uncomfortable in the summer.  And this is when I'm standing still.  The survivors were physically exerting themselves beyond the point of collapse while just out of camera view, the crew filming the show have chilled water, fans and umbrellas to stave off the sweltering weather.   But the Survivors had no respite from the intense direct sunlight, ambient heat, crushing humidity and the solar radiation soaked sand.  It must have been like being trapped in the seventh circle of hell while running and digging.  And for what?   A million dollars?   No.  For some salt and pepper.

It was a low moment for Survivor and showed a cavalier attitude towards the survivor's safety and a startling lack of awareness that these are human beings who have normal physical limitations and not TV characters immune to their surroundings.  The show is not live, like Big Brother, but shot on film for later broadcast.  If it was too damn hot to run the reward challenge, you don't run the reward challenge.  No one needs coffee and spices that badly.  If you were wedded to having that challenge run, then put up some lights and run the challenge at night.  We understand that Survivor is punishing and grueling, but even within those parameters, there needs to be some common sense.

What's disturbing is that last season --  which was filmed AFTER this brutal season -- there was a challenge held during the middle of the day with the sun bearing down on the contestants as they held a pole aloft, looking straight into the blinding, cloudless sky.  Joe Anglim, the buff young stud, collapsed during that challenge.  So even after three contestants went down in one challenge, during the very next Survivor -- filmed at the very same location -- the powers that be again scheduled and ran a competition in spite of the conditions and one of the contestants again passed out.  So not only did Survivor not learn its lesson from the evacuation of Caleb Reynolds and the heat-induced collapse of two others (Debbie Wanner and Cydney Gillon) but they actively put more contestants into harm's way, pushing them beyond their limits while the cameras rolled.

It is not enough that Jeff Probst sounds concerned or that Dr. Joe swoops in to save the day.  The contestants should not have to risk death to be on a reality tv show.  Should Survivor be hard, sure.  But living on restricted rations, with little shelter, exposed to the elements, feasted on by all matters of bugs and physically and mentally challenged is enough.  Doing so in 118 degree weather is inexcusable.

There won't be a recap of this episode.  Caleb was pulled out of the game, airlifted to a hospital where he spent five days.  According to his post-show exit, it took him months to fully recuperate.  Alecia Holden was voted out with no help from Jeff who took her boot as a fait accompli.   Caleb is fine now and will likely make a return to Survivor.  Alecia is having fun on Twitter poking at her island tormentor Scot Pollard by mentioning his not-very-impressive NBA stats.  Bur if you want to read more, here are some links:

Caleb and Alecia with RHAP
Caleb with Josh Wigler/Parade
Caleb with Entertainment Weekly
Caleb with Inquisitr
Alecia with Josh Wigler/Parade
Alecia with Hollywood Life
Alecia the day after on CBS

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Survivor Kaoh Rong, Episode 3: Never Underestimate the Cat Lady

Hubris is generally defined as "a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence." In his treatise Rhetoric, Aristotle defined hubris as "doing and saying things that cause shame to the victim…simply for the pleasure of it. Retaliation is not hubris, but revenge.…Young men and the rich are hubristic because they think they are better than other people."  When Muhammad Ali proclaimed he was the greatest, that was not hubris.  It was boasting, sure, but it was not a put down of his opponents, just a clear statement of his own superiority which he was able to back up.  Hubris is not just building yourself up, it involves tearing others down just for the fun of it.  And it involves a complete lack of awareness of your own shortcomings.   We've seen it this season over at the Brawn tribe as Kyle Jason takes verbal swipes at Alecia mostly for his own amusement.  And we see it this episode repeatedly coming from two self-satisfied members of the Brains tribe. 

It is understandable that if you are put on a tribe designated the "Brains" you might get a big head about your mental capabilities.  Even more so when you are, say, an ER doctor or a quantitative strategist who graduated from MIT.  Peter Baggenstos and Elisabeth Markham gave us so many classic hubris-filled quotes this episodes as they smugly surveyed their kingdom and plotted how to dispose of their lowly subjects, you knew that the Survivor gods were going to make them pay. The only question was who was going to be sacrificed to the gods.

Over on the Brawn tribe, excessive thinking was not a problem.  Coming back from tribal, Scot Pollard explained to Alecia Holden that he wrote her name down because he knew she was safe and he wanted to keep his promise to Jenny not to write her name down.  Pretty straight forward.  But according to Alecia, "that was the stupidest thing she ever heard."  She's obviously not been listening to Donald "I have the best words" Trump's campaign speeches.  Try as we all might to knock Kyle for his verbal attacks on "Blondie," the girl does not help herself when she says things that can't help but make her seem demonstrably thick.

At Beauty beach, Tai Trang is getting more than his share of TV time so either the producers think he's this year's Rupert, or he's set for an early exit.  We watch his efforts to get the key to open the lock that will finally give him his long-awaited immunity idol.  About an hour of the 48-minute show seems dedicated to Tai kissing things - clues, keys, idols, trees, rednecks.  If he's not kissing things he's talking at length to the cameraman who is apparently paid by the word.  He is one of the most camera-aware contestants I've seen in a long time and everything that comes out of his mouth seems calculated to create a lovable odd ball fan favorite, but it's not working for me.  With all the coverage of Tai, however, we never see how he manged to hide the idol considering all he was wearing was a skimpy bikini brief.

It's FLOTUS and POTUS  .
Back to the Brains tribe, Peter starts his litany of unfortunate quotes.  Why is there never a camera to record Survivors watching the episode where they repeatedly insert their foot into their flapping mouth?  "Here we are strategically planning how to win this game and we have a guy working on his six pack.  This is the Brains tribe" Pete sneers at Joe's exercise routine.  He and Liz "are managing two separate groups of two."  They are "in control."  Debbie Wanner and Joseph Del Campo "are goats."  Liz chimes in how they are looking for a group they can "shepherd" into the merge.  If you miss what she means, she's saying that they are looking for sheep.  Debbie is the "court jester."  Joe is a "loyal soldier."  Aubry Bracco doesn't want to talk game.  The only person they don't speak of dismissively is Neal Gottlieb (at least until tribal).  He is smart and they worry that he could turn on them post-merge.  So he is their target.  They will tell Debbie and Joe who to vote for.  They have this in the bag.  "We're actually doing this in an analytical sense. ...  We're putting it together and we ]have a good plan," says Pete.  "I think we have our finger on the pulse," says Liz.  "We're acting like bosses right now," says Pete.  You two are so dumb, says Jeremy.

So remember last week when Pete was wondering how many cats Debbie has?  Well, he should have been thinking whether crazy cat lady was really a calculated, savvy player in disguise.  Because Debbie may be nutsy cuckoo on the outside, but inside she is observing and thinking and plotting.  She recognize Pete's arrogance and the tight bond he and Liz have and how their plan is to control the tribe while everyone does their bidding.  And she is having none of that.  She gets Joe on board with her plan to target Liz (not Pete because she thinks he's necessary for challenges) then she goes to Aubry and beautifully plays that moment. She asks a question she knows the answer to - does Aubry like and trust Neal.  Of course she knows the two are close.  But this gives Debbie the chance to say I agree with you and I like him too.  Rather than imposing her will she pretends she's going along with what Aubry wants.  Then she goes to Neal and tells him she wants them to be a solid four, all while Pete thinks she's talking to the clams or dreaming up sweaters to knit for her cats.

Nick Maoirano continues to try to undermine Pete's attempts to be the douchey-ist guy on Kaoh Rong, giving confessionals about how robotic and unemotional he is and yet how great he is at faking it.  The girls on the Beauty tribe are having none of his BS and so they reach out to Caleb to join them in voting out Nick.  If they ever lose, which, of course, will never happen because they have probably the most physically fit player on their mis-labeled tribe. Over at Brawn, there is a mad dash for the hidden immunity idol after Alecia finds the first clue while Cydney was standing nearby.   Alecia, Cydney may have voted for you last tribal, but she's not your friend.  Oh, nevermind, she probably wouldn't understand.  As she said, "it's completely confusing."

Cydney immediately told her allies and the two guys went off to find the idol and there was a ridiculous three minute segment where we had the two huge guys work together, ultimately pushing aside the 90-pound girl to grab the tool to open the box that contained the idol.  I miss the old days when we could talk about finding an idol, if at all, in one sentence.  Soon there'll be a riddle that takes you to a location that has a puzzle that you unscramble to create a map that leads you to a native singing a song that you need to translate to get a clue to a pictogram that you have to decipher to lead to a location where you dig for an immunity idol.

How is this guy not a Brawn?

The immunity challenge is, naturally, a walk in the park for the Beauty tribe and so it comes down to a race between the twice-defeated Brawn tribe and the super confident Brains tribe.  Cydney fails in her first two attempts to get her ball in the hole, but her tribe trusts her to give her the final ball and she edges out Debbie by mere seconds.  And finally Brawn will not have to see Jeff and find another excuse for not voting out Alecia.

Pete is not worried about finally having to go to tribal council.  In fact, he's looking forward to seeing his and Liz's plan put into action.  "Now Liz and I are going down the hit list like a mobster and the first one is Neal.”

Liz is feeling great about going to tribal council because she and Pete have a plan and they're in control.  They will simplify the process for the slower, elderly members of their tribe.  "They don't have to think about anything complicated."  Which is good thinking, since it frees them up to organize a blindside of her.  Now, I know that the producers probably egg people on to give good confessionals, but the glee in Liz's eyes as she denigrates her fellow Brains is unsettling.  "I am so confident that this is going to work out the way we want it to.  I think losing today was a blessing in disguise."  It was, Liz, it was.

"Although Liz and I are good looking people and we have great smiles, we’re actually out for blood.”  You can't make this up.  What question could the producers have asked him to elicit that quote?  And how would they know he'd follow that up with, "everyone else, they're like clay that we mold.  they are indecisive unless given a decision.  They need paternal direction and I"m that paternal person providing them direction."  At that moment, I run to check Pete's bio and heave an audible sigh of relief discovering that in fact he is not anyone's paternal person.

At tribal council, Pete mentions that there are three voting units - not to be confused with voting blocs or voting alliances.  They are Pete and Liz, Debbie and Joe, and Neal and Aubry.  He of course is confident that the two Oldie McOldsters are going to vote in lockstep with him and Liz to target Neal, who they perceive as the only strategic threat in the group.  But the other four do not see things Pete's way.  What is cool is how they don't let on during Jeff's questioning that Liz and Pete are in for a big surprise.  The only possible crack is Neal's comment that each of the "brains" may think they're the smartest person in the game.  Because that comment certainly hits home for Pete who knows that he feels that way and knows it's true.

There is a good discussion of emotional intelligence versus intellectualism and how good people are at reading other people,  Pete tells us that reading people is a great skill of his that he needs to have as an ER doctor.  I'd say the better skill is decisiveness, focus and the ability to process information quickly.  I'm not sure understanding people is a big part of his job.  It was a big part of Joe's job, as both a cop and an FBI agent.  Those skills carried Tony Vlachos to a deviously-earned victory.  But Pete, the great judge of books according to their covers, takes Joe's background as a sign that he is a trustworthy person.   He then decides he can needle Neal a bit on his way out, telling him that the plan going forward is not Neal's plan and calling him a potential snake in ice cream pants.


Before they go to vote, Jeff asks Liz about whether tonight's target sees it coming.  She responds, cluelessly, "I think the person who goes home tonight will not be completely shocked."  And slowly, first in the 2-2-2 vote and then in the 3-0 revote, Liz discovers that she and Pete were not in control and that she was the target all along.  And with that we have this week's example of pride going before a fall and the super-confident, super-cocky duo of Pete and Liz shot down at its first tribal council appearance.

Want more Liz?
Entertainment weekly
RHAP exit interview
Interview with Josh Wigler/Parade
Interview with Reality TV World


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Survivor Kaoh Rong Episode 2: Take One Foot, Insert into Mouth

I guess there was a reason Jennifer Lanzetti was not put on the Brains tribe.  Having formed a solid alliance with Scot Pollard, Kyle Jason and Cydney Gillon and successfully uniting to vote out the personable Darnell Hamilton on Day 3, Jenny had nothing to worry about even if her tribe lost another challenge.  Alecia Holden was firmly at the bottom of the totem pole and would be an easy vote out, guaranteeing Jenny what every Survivor player covets most - three more days.  Instead, the insect that had crawled in her ear had apparently done some damage to her cerebrum and she lost all rational thought.  She managed to talk herself out of her alliance and out of the game in what would otherwise have been a pretty boring, predictable episode.

Coming back from the first tribal council, Alecia was appreciative that her tribe kept her and she promised to step it up.  Now, despite having said in the premiere episode that she "is a mental giant," Alecia seems to be confused about where she stands with the tribe and whether the three votes against her meant anything.  But, God love her, she takes the setback and the confusion with good cheer.  The next day, as her tribemates lay around, she works that flint over - for hours - trying to make fire for her lazy, ungrateful, non-allies.  What she lacks in smarts, and fire making skills, Alecia more than makes up for with a positive attitude and determination.  Grudgingly, I'm starting to like her. Especially when after her malapropism - calling an ember an embryo - Alecia gives us the quote of the night: "Me and my words."

Over on the Beauty tribe, everyone except for Tai Trang is in the ocean, discovering the oversized clams which in Survivor 31 Kimmi and Monica butted heads over.  Tai finds himself in a bit of a Catch 22 - he went looking for an idol because he worried he was at the bottom of the tribe and his looking for an idol has put him at the bottom of the tribe and so now he has to find the idol while his constant searching is only going to further separate him from his tribe and keep him on the bottom.  Either the rest of his tribe is oblivious or the Survivor producers really wanted him to find the clue, because as he looks around there is a bright neon sign pointing towards a clue jutting about five feet out of a tree with a myna bird on a twig above it chirping, here's the clue, Tai, here's the clue.   But there's a twist.  First he has to dig under the tree to find the box containing the idol and then he is instructed to climb a four hundred foot, smooth sided and well oiled, tree to get the key that unlocks the box that has the hidden immunity idol.  Bonding with the tribe may have been easier.

This looks so much easier on TV
Tai tries to channel his inner Ozzy, but he does not have a muscular, agile 20-something inside him (much to his great sadness) and so he fails in his attempt to fetch the key.  Somehow, with all this going on - and his body being cut up by the effort - his tribe has no idea that Tai found the clue to the idol.  But today ended up Tree 1, Tai  0 and he will have to (1) hope no one looks up and wonders why there's a  box attached to the top of a palm tree and (2) grow wings overnight so he can fly up to grab it if he wants this idol.  Or his team can continue to not lose.  That would work too,

Speaking of non-losing teams, we next go over to the Brains tribe where the gift that is Debbie Warner just keeps on giving.  Every word out of her mouth is pure Coach-ian gold, all full of bravado and a startling lack of self-awareness.  She gets into a dispute with Elisabeth Markham over the wisdom of boiling water before you drink it.   Debbie is, after all, the chemist and if she says the chances of their being any organic chemicals in the water that they need to boil out is "virtually slim to none."  Liz is unconvinced and worried about parasites and pathogens to which Debbie scoffs.  She has the "immune system of a horse" she tells Liz.  Unfortunately, according to horse.com, 
"When a horse is stressed, lacking in proper nutrients, or old, he says, the immune system can't function appropriately and pathogens are able to breach the defensive lines."  So if a horse were on Survivor, say around Debbie's age, it would probably want its water boiled as well.

What's interesting in the battle between the two Brains is actually how Thanks, Obama handles the dispute.  Peter Baggenstos knows Debbie is nutty cuckoo crazy in the head out of her mind, he listens to her and gives her positive feedback and does not at all signal that he thinks she's stark raving mad.  Then he turns to us in the confessional and asks the million dollar question - does she have thirty cats at home or forty.  That's how you play Survivor.  You coddle and nurture the crazy lady and stay out of her way, while bonding with your fellow sane tribemates about her litany of accomplishments. 

We go back over to Beauty and someone has replaced Big Brother's bombastic, stalkerish Caleb Reynolds with this sweet, tolerant, cuddly guy who agrees to keep Tai warm at night.  I don't know why being out in the oppressive heat and humidity of Cambodia, sleeping on logs and having virtually nothing to eat or drink has brought out a completely different side of this guy than we saw living in the comfy house built in the parking lot at the CBS studios in Burbank.    Michelle Fitzgerald and Julia Sokolowski each provide small sound bites about the Southern hunter and the San Francisco gardener being an unlikely pair and it's either the start of a beautiful friendship or it may end up putting a large target on both of them.  But right now, it's just fun to watch especially as Tia tries to wrangle a kiss from his fellow Beauty.

While some people are good at either getting along or at least not being a pain in the ass, Joseph Del Campo is showing how not to win friends and influence people.  He is stubborn, bossy, opinionated, and condescending.  He fights with everyone (except his pet, Debbie) about everything and he's right and they're wrong.  He's either never seen Survivor before or he's watched it in reverse.  He manages to bring Liz to tears simply because she wants to do what every Survivor contestant has done since the beginning of time, or at least since 2000 - boil the freaking water.  This shouldn't be a contentious idea.  If the water doesn't need to be boiled then all the charities bringing fresh water into impoverished areas can refocus their efforts.  According to Joe and Debbie all water is good and safe to drink, so guzzle up!

So you hit this do-hickey with this thingamajig?
Over at Brawn tribe it's scrape, scrape, scrape as the tribe tries to get a spark with their flint to get fire so they can boil their water so it's safe to drink.  Too bad they didn't get the memo from Debbie that all they have to do is channel their inner horse and drink all the fresh water they want.  So after the big, brawny guys give up on making fire, Alecia decides she is going to make fire no matter how long it takes her.  And even with her teammates all sleeping, she keeps at it until miraculously she makes fire!  Not only does that get them clean water to drink, but they can now cook one of their chickens and feast.  Her hard work pays off and Jenny can't help but be impressed with Alecia's tenacity.  Unfortunately, this will shortly come back to bite her.

At the immunity challenge it looks like Brawn will prevail this time as they go out to an early lead, but Scot was not up to the slingshot part of the challenge, which is understandable.  The guys is built more like Goliath than David, what experience would he have with a slingshot?  So Brawn is headed to another visit with Jeff Probst at Tribal Council, but Scot is not worried.  He has a solid foursome with Cydney, Jenny, and Kyle.  "I would be shocked if one of us turned."

Prepare to be shocked, Scot.  Kyle tells us, and probably anyone else who will listen, that Alecia is a ditz and a half.  She's dumb.  She's an ostrich.  She's useless.  We get it, Kyle, she's the blonde bimbo on the tribe.  Telling us you think she probably has a good heart doesn't take away from the fact that you are totally disrespecting her.  And it's not just we the viewers who see this, it's your fellow tribemates.  So sweet, goodhearted Jenny hears how Scot talks about Alecia and she's not happy about it.  She's having buyer's remorse with her alliance and the more she hears him put down Alecia, the more she wants to defend the girl.  But what Jenny forgot is there is no heart in Survivor.  You have to play with your head.  And you don't shake things up unless you can close the deal and showing any sympathy towards Alecia and trying to change the vote is very dangerous.

Kyle's lazy, entitled, gross and boorish attitude grates on Jenny, burrowing into her like a small insect in her ear.  And she can't take it any more.  So she goes to Alecia and asks her a question.  What's the best thing you can do in this game?  Alecia did not know there would be a test or she would have studied first.  So she tries her best to answer.  Be honest?  Nope.  Win a challenge?  Nope.  Soon, Alecia wishes it were a multiple choice test rather than a fill in the blank.  So Jenny gives her the answer - get out the strong players while you can.  Alecia loves this idea and Jenny comes up with the idea of a girls' alliance to target one of the boys (Kyle).  They tell Cydney they're idea and from what we saw she did the exact right thing - seem receptive and don't raise any unwanted attention.

The guys see Alecia and Jenny hanging out together and Kyle is a little suspicious but Scot assures him that he is 100% sure the two girls aren't teaming up and he is absolutely positive that their four-person alliance is rock solid.  What Scot doesn't realize is that being almost 7 feet tall means it takes a lot of time for information to float up to him and a lot is lost along the way, such as the fact that  the two women are thick as thieves, whispering together and hanging out much more than they should if one were voting out the other.  After allaying Kyle's fears, Scot goes to his ally Jenny just to confirm that they're good and she says they are but inside she's waffling.  She wants to make this big move and blindside Kyle, but she doesn't want to alienate Scot whom she does like.  What to do?

Jenny decides to second, third and fourth guess herself and flip flop back and forth  over and over again.  Vote out Alecia, vote out Keith, original four person alliance, new all girls alliance, safe easy vote, big move.  She drives herself and Cydney crazy as she can't make up her mind and they head off to tribal not having locked down the decision because deciding on the fly is always the best move.

Accio immunity idol
At tribal, Jeff does his usual.  He gives each contestant a little rope and sees if anyone wants to wrap it around their necks and jump into the abyss.  He asks Alecia a question and she gives a pretty good answer - how she knows she's on the bottom but she's tried to make a contribution to the tribe.  Then he asks Jenny how to approach tonight's vote -- go with the obvious totem pole approach or consider a girls' alliance now that they have the majority of votes.  Jeff is not a federal prosecutor, you're not under oath,  you don't have to give away all your secrets or answer truthfully to his question.  His job is to poke and prod and ask probative questions, yours is not to say something that will blow up your entire game.  But Jenny missed that memo and she answers Jeff truthfully telling him the vote and how to handle it was up in the air to which Kyle, Scot and Cydney each provide very GIF-able reactions.

Jenny tries to back track but the damage is done.  She tries to pin the strategy discussions targeting Kyle on Alecia, but "Blondie" is not dumb enough to take the fall for this.  She pushes everything right back on Jenny's lap.  That was your decision, your idea, your strategy.  I was just minding my own business, trying to remember how to get back to camp, when you came up with this whole idea.  Kyle had his suspicions back in the shelter and now they were confirmed.  Scot had gone to bat for Jenny and now he finds out she really was plotting behind his back.  This is no bueno.  Meanwhile, Cydney sits as quietly as she can hoping no one notices her or asks her any questions.  She lets the guys grill Jenny and lets Jenny and Alecia take turns pointing fingers at one another while trying to stay out of the crossfire.

Jenny, forgetting the first rule of holes, continues to dig deeper and deeper and the more she talks the less her now former allies like of what they're hearing.  She broke their trust and there is no going back.  Could she at that point have tried to rally the girls to go back to her first plan of voting out Kyle?  Perhaps.  But instead she tried to patch things up with the two people who thought they could trust her and just learned they couldn't.  That was her second and final mistake.  No amount of standing on top of the bench and pleading her case was going to save her at that point. She was a dead woman walking.

Wasn't this supposed to be "Blondie?"
So Jenny Lanzetti becomes the second person voted out of Survivor Kaoh Rong, aka Brains, Beauty and Brawn 2.  Pre-game is said of her that "her only problem on the tribe may be that she's not used to fading into the background and not giving her opinion so she has to worry about butting heads.  But if she lives by her "semper Gumby" motto (always flexible!) she might be okay."  Jenny was too flexible, going back and forth between two alliances and failing to commit to just one.  That and her insistence on actually answering one of Jeff's questions honestly rather than strategically were what brought her down and not the creepy crawly that had briefly taken over her life in Episode One.

Want more on Jenny?
CBS The Day After Interview
Exit interview on RHAP
Interview with Josh Wigler/Parade
Interview with CarterMatt
Interview with RealityTVWorld



Thursday, February 18, 2016

Survivor Kaoh Rong Episode 1: The Battle of the Scape Goats

As Tacitus famously said, Inquissima haec bellorum condicio est: prospera omnes sibi indicant, aduersa uni imputantur.  For those of you who aren't Latin scholars, this translates to: the injustice is that victory is claimed by all, defeat by one.  In the premiere episode of Survivor Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn part deux, the Brawn tribe's loss fell squarely on the young shoulders of postal worker Darnell Hamilton.  It fell like the goggles from his face as he dove into the water, etching his name in the pantheon of first boots.  We barely knew you Darnell, but we will miss you nevertheless.

In the introduction to the season, Jeff Probst is his usual understated self.  "This will be the most grueling 39 days in Survivor history."  And from what we've heard, for once Jeff is not being hyperbolic.  While the producers must have known something when they cast an ER doctor, from what we've all heard, they should have added a priest and a medical examiner.  We see glimpses of what's to come and it's not pretty and for a moment you wonder why the heck anyone would put themselves through this even for a million dollars.  Before taxes, as Richard Hatch would tell you.

The premiere gets off to a rousing, if reminiscent, start as the eighteen castaways were given two minutes to take as many provisions - from live chickens to machetes - as they can.  Just from the first shot of the boat, you can start to see the various personalities come through.  Nick, my pre-game pick as the biggest jerk, reclines with his leg dangling over the edge like he's in a men's wear catalog in the "sporty" section.  Peter Baggenstos the ER doc looks serious and supercilious as his confessional tells us it's not that he's arrogant, he's just smarter than everyone.  And Debbie Warner comes up with the weird quote of the night telling us that "puzzles lay down for me like lovers."  Now, does that mean that she's good at puzzles or that since no lover has ever laid down for her, she's actually bad at puzzles?

We meet some of the Brawn team.  Scot Pollard, who looks like a bigger version of the Mountain from Game of Throne and sounds like Andre the Giant, tells us his claim to fame is pushing people around for money and he's not going to put up with failure.  Kyle Jason Bounty Hunter is single-minded in moving aside everything that stands between him and the million dollars.  So they're taking their tribe designation to heart.

The Beauty tribe intros start with poker player Anna Khait who says she's more than willing to use her attributes, both of them, to her advantage.  And Nick Maiorano cribs from the old, don't hate me because I'm beautiful ads from the '80s while guaranteeing his victory.  What I'd like Nick to win is a mirror and a book on learning to grasp reality.

Beast Mode Cowby v. Feast Mode Chicken

The scramble to gather provisions has the castaways quickly deciding what they need and how to get it onto their float before time runs out and so you see some go for the immediate gratification (bananas) while some plan for the long haul (fish traps).  We have runaway chickens which leads to a great moment where Beauty tribe member Caleb Reynolds uses the head of fellow tribemate Michelle Fitzgerald to help him dive into the water.  Objects small and large are launched overboard and we get a few near misses but somehow no one is seriously injured in the melee.

The tribes get to know each other and the Brawn tribe feels good about themselves and their chances.  As long as there isn't a counting competition (I'm looking at you Scot "there are five of us" Polard) they should be golden.  They have a bounty hunter, a former pro athlete, a pro body builder, a construction worker and a postal worker and Malibu Barbie.  Two of these things are not like the others. Let's put a pin in this.

The Brains talk about how smart they are until Debbie decides to discuss the three hundred pound donkey in the room - what is the president doing on our tribe.  Well, Debbie, Obama went to Harvard so that should entitle him to be on the Brains tribe and he is a lame duck so what else does he have to do with his summer.  But, wait, no, it's not Obama (as the massive jaw should have alerted her), it's Peter the ER doctor who says he has to deal with this every damn day.  You could grow out your hair a little or try a goatee, maybe pin those ears back, but yeah she is the one who says what everyone else was thinking.  But there's more from Debbie. Not only does she blurt out the obvious, she decides to tell everyone her life story a la Coach and go on to boast about all her mad skills that will make her invaluable to her tribe.  And by invaluable, I mean not at all having any value and a complete annoyance that they will vote off the first chance they get even if that means throwing a challenge rather than having to hear her go on about all the things she does so amazingly.

Neal Gottlieb - the first person to use the word "dandy" on broadcast TV in the last thirty years - knows just how to deal with know-it-alls like Debbie.  Patronize her, let her do her thing, and watch as she implodes.  It does no good to argue with her or even make little suggestions.  She will do it her way until the bitter end.

It's hard to believe that Nick (of the Beauty tribe) has not only seen past episodes, he's blogged about Survivor.  So why he would give the "nothing can go wrong" soundbite is beyond me.  But he is full of bluster and confidence.  Michelle has her eyes on Nick, but strategically is building a alliance with her fellow female tribemates.  The women think the men will be easy to break up as the three of them could not be more different.  Well, that's not entirely true.  Both Tai Trang and Caleb Reynolds questions Tai's inclusion in the Beauty tribe, so they have that in common.  While the girls try and figure out which of the guys they can bring over, the three guys are doing the same thing, trying to find their foothold among the girls. Eventually, the three girls (Michelle, Anna and Julia) decide to team up and maybe bring in Caleb who one of them recognized from Big Brother.  What they realized about Caleb is that he is loyal to a fault and a great alliance member, so long as he doesn't fall in love with someone on the island.

Back at Brawn, Kyle is already over Blondie, aka Alecia.  She's not doing anything around camp and she's doing that girly, giggle, I'm so dumb bit that is not at all cool as she claims not to remember how to lace the palm fronds.  Everyone else is living up to their tribe name as they work to build the shelter, but she's looking for the best possible light for her time on camera.  She's the first boot (just like I predicted in my blog, what a genius.  Oh wait.).  He locks up Scot in his alliance (with Jennifer Lanzetti) and their plan to get rid of Barbie seems solid.  But Kyle, is hedging his bets and also joining up with Cydney Gillon who has her own alliance with Darnell.  So everyone's playing Survivor.

Brains tribe has a generation gap, with "old folks" Joe and Debbie on one side and the other four far, far away in their own group.  The four younger tribemates immediately target voting out Joe, dubbed most likely to be medevaced, and "Chatty Cathy who has done it all and is perfect at everything" Debbie next.  Despite his grey hairs, Peter is safely ensconced in the younger four and he's fine with going after the ones who will slow them down.

While we know that everyone with half a brain is looking for a hidden immunity idol, the focus is on Tai Trang's obvious, unsubtle, and completely haphazard scorched-earth attempt at finding an idol.  He decides that there are some trees planted on a path that look suspicious, so the gardener who loves all living things and cherishes trees, starts pulling up the trees, yanking them out of their home, like the giant in a fairy tale.  Probably concerned about reaction from the pro-tree lobby, Tai tweeted today that he carefully, gently, and with great love replanted all the trees.  Regardless, his efforts to look for an idol made him look sketchy to his teammates and  moved him from being in the best position in the tribe to the bottom of the beautiful totem pole.

The heat is braining my fries.
Well, Jeff did promise us the most grueling Survivor ever, so it should come as no surprise that we have our first meltdown halfway through the first episode.  Prep school grad and Boston girl Aubry Bracco had said in her pre-show interviews that her name meant leader of elves.  It's secondary meaning is girl who cannot deal with suffocating heat as she has a complete mental and physical collapse on Day 2 under the punishing Kaoh Rong sun.  Her tribemates are helpful and supportive and we'll see if she continues to join with the young 'uns against the oldsters after Debbie was the one to give her the most comfort in her time of need.

While Aubry was dealing with the demons in her head, Jennifer was dealing with an actual creepy crawly thing in her head.  The poor girl had a small bug that was building a small home in her ear and the combination of pain and the freakiness of having a living thing crawling around out of reach was almost too much.  She got no sleep and, sadly, not much sympathy from her tribemates who probably thought it was all in her head until they actually saw the damn thing crawl out of her bloody ear.  Finally, after the camera person spent enough time focused on her ear to get her oblivious tribemates to finally take a look, the guilty party came forward and was finally removed.  Jennifer literally did a 180, feeling completely better the second the evil thing left her body.

It's time for the immunity challenge and the tribes get a moment to strategize about who should do what part of the challenge.  Note that Alecia says she's not good at puzzles but Cydney tells her not to focus on what's she's not good at but be positive.  Me, it'd trust someone when they tell me they're bad at something.  Trickier is whether to trust someone when they tell you they're good at something.  The Brawn tribe goes with Darnell who says he's positive, he should be the one to dive.  LATER, Scot will tell us that he's an experienced snorkeler, but he fails to mention that - or the fact that at 6'11" he can get to the paddles faster than anyone else.

While all the divers go in head first, without their hands on their masks, only Darnell has the misfortune of his mask flying off the second he hits the water.  He climbs back in the boat, unable to see in the murky water without the mask.  Meanwhile, over on Brains, Aubry completely redeems herself by single-handedly gathering all the paddles for her tribe.  She then takes over the puzzle duties along with Liz and the two of them smoke the puzzle, giving Brain the first win of the season - more than making up for Brains' poor showing back at Caramoan.  Beauty tribe is cheating as the two they send to do the puzzle, lawyer Anna and college student Julia, could just have easily been on the Brains tribe.  Brawn almost catches up, despite their initial setback, but in the end they lose by one piece.

Alecia had to sub out for the Brawn tribe after a few idle minutes staring at the puzzle while Jenny worked fast on her part, so you would think the blame for the loss would be spread equally between her and Darnell.  But Alecia isn't worried, since she's not a puzzle master - which she told them in advance - so really it's their fault they lost, not hers.  Regardless, both she and Darnell do an apology tour of the camp as they each realize that their challenge blunders make them easy targets and when there are so few players and so little to go on when deciding how to vote, blowing a challenge is as good a reason as any.

While it seemed the obvious choice was to vote off the skinny girl who sucks at puzzles, for some reason unknown to me and not shared with us the viewers, Scot instead wanted Darnell out.  This despite the fact that as he was explaining to Alecia why he was saving her she waved huge red flags in his face repeatedly.  But he was dead set on getting rid of Darnell.  Cydney was as firm about saving Darnell and getting rid of Alecia, but she made the correct Survivor move of not fighting it when the majority in her tribe told her the vote was Darnell.  She'd do what she could at tribal council, but if he was going, she wasn't going down with him.

At tribal, Kyle showed little concern for making enemies as he told "Darnell and Blondie" that neither lived up to his standards and one would be going home.  Lost in this was the fact that the other one - either Darnell or Blondie - not only would not be going home, but would be heading back to the shelter with a huge chip on their shoulder.  But Kyle was caught up in the hubris of having the numbers and did not think of the future.  Speaking of hubris, Alecia explains that she should be saved because she's a mental giant.  If mental giant is someone who "isn't a puzzle god" and can't figure out how to weave palm fronds, then she's right.

So they kept the skinny girl who couldn't do the puzzle?
During tribal council, Kyle has second thoughts about his decision to vote out Darnell after hearing him talk about overcoming hardships.  He voices his idea about switching votes to Jenny, who is choking up herself  listening to Darnell's plea.  Yet, she stays united with Scot and their two votes, along with Alecia's, results in a 3-3 tie at the end of the first vote.  From what we can tell, there is no further discussion before it goes to a revote.  This time, Kyle goes back with his original alliance and votes off Darnell, keeping a useless Alecia and a disappointed Cydney heading back to camp.

Observations:

Those of us who saw Caleb on Big Brother may wonder if he had a complete personality makeover.  He came off tonight as sweet, sensible, hardworking and loyal - none of the over-the-top posturing we remember from the other CBS reality show.

The game was Tai Trang's to lose.  He was the fun, personable, non-threatening guy that neither the men nor the women on his tribe would target.  He could have coasted to merge and probably well beyond.  But then he makes the most awkward stab at finding an immunity idol by leaving his five tribemates alone for over a half hour and literally uprooting trees.  And he went from lovable to sketchy in about three seconds.  And after he was caught red handed, he hand deep in the cookie jar and melted chocolate chips all over his face, he asked for five more minutes to finish off the rest of the cookies.  He has a lot of ground to make up.

Debbie could not possibly have ever watched Survivor before if she thought coming in so aggressively, touting all her mad skills, and promising the world would make her popular.  You don't come in and tell people you can make fire if you can't. make. fire.  Better to set the bar low and exceed expectations that promise the world and deliver less.

Perfect contrast to Debbie is Neal, who keeps quiet about his accomplishments, is more a follower than a leader, and draws little attention to himself.  There is no reason to be on anyone's radar early in the game, so you get along and you go along and you don't put a huge target on your back.

Want more Darnell?

RHAP podcast
Interview with Josh Wigler/Parade
Interview with Dalton Ross/EW
CBS day after interview