Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 3: Tea Leaves

Betty:  Say what you always say.
Don:  Everything's gonna be okay.

What happened to Betty Draper Francis?  The formerly lithe beauty has, since the last time we've seen her, packed on many extra pounds.  Knowing how important her looks are to Betty, how she was hurt by her mother's harsh criticism and obsessive concern about her weight and how Betty defined herself in large part (no pun intended) by the fact that she used to be a model, it's easy to see that this change is going to cause her great consternation. She enlists Sally to try and help her squeeze into a dress so she can go out, but she is no match for the zipper.  Her efforts to get dressed having failed, Betty feigns illness—woman's problems she says—and passes on the chance to be on her husband Henry's arm at tonight's Junior League of New York event.

Contrast that scene with the still slim Megan Draper all dolled up to go out, her husband easily zipping her into slinky, mod dress.  She is acting as Don's better half tonight as he tries to wine and dine the Heinz Beans executive and his wife.  Betty used to fill that role, Don's beautiful partner charming the clients and their spouses.  But when Betty was Don's wife, he did the work, all she had to do was sit, smile, and be pretty.  That was a woman's job. Megan, by comparison, is not just his lovely wife, she's a coworker.   The client's wife jokes how tiresome the work talk is and looks to Megan for her sisterly agreement and Megan successfully feigns being completely bored with all the advertising talk.  But Megan is the very model of a modern working woman—and she is not just Don's dinner accessory, she is another creative with her own ideas and interests.

Back at the office, Roger is puffing out his chest and making his power moves to establish that he's still the rooster in the henhouse—making Pete come to his office for the meeting that Pete set up.  But with good news—Mohawk Airlines has returned to them as a client—the petty bickering between the two of them falls into the background.  Don has a new secretary, a black woman with the homophonic first name of Dawn.  Harry shows his utter lack of charm by joking to her about the confusion between their sound alike names and is then snubbed by Don when he tries to turn their venture to sign the Rolling Stones for an ad campaign into a bonding experience.  No Italian restaurant, no veal parm, just business. Poor Harry, the Rodney Dangerfield of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Back over at the "Betty is suddenly fat" subplot, Henry's plump mother comes over to tell her newly corpulent daughter-in-law that she needs to get back to her fighting weight and while we saw Betty sitting on the couch shoveling Bugles into her mouth, she tells the doctor whom she sees to get a prescription for diet pills, "I haven't had much luck reducing on my own for some reason."  He checks her out as she's hoping for an external cause for her problem.  He doesn't help by calling her a middle aged woman.  But things take a turn when the doctor finds a lump on her thyroid.  Panicked, she calls not her husband but Don.  She needs him to tell her what he used to always tell her, that everything was going to be okay.  They may be divorced, but she still needs Don and he is still able to comfort her.

She bumps into an old friend while at the doctor's office going to have the lump on her thyroid tested.  The friend has cancer and is getting radiation and they meet up for tea after Betty's biopsy to talk.  She asks her friend the tough questions that no one asks and she hears about the struggle and the desire to just give up.  While they're are sitting in the restaurant a woman comes over and offer to read the tea leaves that give the episode its title.  Don't worry, says her friend.  It's always good.  The woman reads Betty's leaves and tells her that many people rely on her and she is a rock.  This makes her breakdown as she in convinced the doctor will be coming back with bad news.

The agency needs another copywriter to take on the Mohawk work and Peggy is charged with the screening process for someone who will be her competition and could be, if Stan's warnings carry any weight, her eventual boss.  Stan suggests she tread lightly, find someone competent but not too good, someone who would not be competition.  But Peggy wants to hire the best and brightest.  Unfortunately, the best and brightest is a little kooky.  His name is Michael Ginsberg.  He looks like he put his outfit together form pieces found in a dumpster behind the local Goodwill, he keeps his resume crumpled up in the sleeve of his loud, poorly fitted jacket, talks a mile a minute and thinks about two seconds after random words come out of his mouth.

Peggy loves his work, but she passes on him.  He's crazy, he's certifiable, she tells Roger.  But Roger talks her into hiring him.  Don't worry, he tells her, he won't take your job.  And now that the agency has hired a black secretary, why not a Jewish copywriter.  It's so progressive of them!  She's worried Don will hate him, but Roger promises to smooth his path.  How much crazier than any other copywriter can he possibly be?

Don's new wife may be young, but the girls he meets backstage at the Rolling Stones' concert are young.  They are everything he isn't—free spirited, naive, open and in touch with the changes going on in the world.  Don is, as Megan tells us, so square he has corners.  When the show began in 1960 Don was relatively young and definitely fit in to the world around him.  Just six years later, he is out of touch, a relic.  He doesn't get the younger generation and their music and that would not usually be a problem, except for the fact that he's in advertising and his job is to understand people so he can sell to them.  If there is a whole new generation of people coming up that he cannot relate to, he won't be the great Don Draper for long.

Roger is also feeling like a relic.  He used to be the top dog at the agency, but now upstart Pete Campbell has the big office and re-signed Mohawk Air and is getting all the glory that once was Roger's.  He had warned Peggy about hiring someone too good, someone who might surpass her.  And then what he warned her about came true for him as the last person he hired was pushing him aside.  He goes off to mope in Don's office and complain about his irrelevance to the agency and Don stops him by telling him about Betty's cancer scare.  Real life and death is not what Roger wants to deal with and he walks out of the office, but not before asking "When is everything gonna get back to normal?"

Don calls the Francis residence and Henry answers.  He was surprised, and irritated, to learn that Betty had called Don about her tumor and he quickly tells Don that everything is okay without letting him talk to Betty or even telling her that Don called.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt, you can see that Henry wants to be enough for her.  He wants to be the one she turns to, not Don.  It is hard when you've been with someone for so many years, you have children together, you practically grew up together.  It's natural for her to rely on what's familiar, a place, a person with whom she felt safe.  But when you're the new husband, that has to sting.

We see Michael Ginsberg at home.  He told Peggy during the interview that he had no family, but we now know that is not true.  He's got a father at home who worries about him, who wants him to find a nice girl.  What to make of this mysterious young man who denies he has family while admitting to talking to himself?

Finally, we see Betty at home, sitting at the kitchen table with Sally.  She's over her cancer scare, and stuck with the reality that her weight gain is her own fault.  So how does she deal with it?  She finishes her ice cream sundae and then goes after Sally's.  The doctor suggested that gaining weight at her age can be a sign of unhappiness, anxiety, or boredom.  Is that what's plaguing Betty and if so how we she move beyond it?


Raymond: You know, back in Pittsburgh, everybody's pretty much who you expect them to be.

Pete (to Roger): Since you were here when they were here, they think you know their business.

Betty: Aren't you sweet to come all the way over here when a phone call would've sufficed?

Pauline:   I know how it happens.  You get comfortable and you give up a little bit.  And then it just gets out of control. 

Roger:  Mohawk is going to insist on a regular copywriter.  Someone with a penis.
Peggy:  I'll work on that.

Roger:  I want you to bring me a good-looking version of Don.
Peggy:  Oh, that'll be easy.

Stan:  Are you suddenly not competitive? The chick who races people to the toilet? 

Stan:  I hope you like him.  He's gonna be your boss someday.
Peggy:  I like working with talented people.  It inspires me.

Michael:  I insulted you because I'm honest.  And I apologized because I'm brave.

Peggy:  Then you're like everyone else.
Michael:  I've never been accused of that. 

Peggy:  You know, your book really does have a voice.
Michael:  That's what they said about "Mein Kampf."  The kid really has a voice.

Betty:  What is it like? 
Joyce:  Well, it's like you're way out in the ocean alone and you're paddling, and you see people on the shore, but they're getting farther and farther away.  And you struggle because it's natural.  Then your mind wanders back to everything normal.  What am I gonna fix for dinner? Did I lock the back door? And then you just get so tired, you just give in and hope you go straight down

Cecelia (tea leaves reader to Betty): You mean so much to the people around you.  You're a rock.

Megan:  My God, you're so square, you've got corners. 

Harry:  I'm Harry Crane.  I'm on the list.
Security:  There's no list.

Girl backstage:  None of you want any of us to have a good time just 'cause you never did.
Don:  No, we're worried about you.

Don:  I thought you were getting it for your family.
Harry:  You know what? Let them get their own.  You bring home a bag of food and they go at it, and there's nothing left for you.  Eat first.  That's my recommendation to people who say they're getting married and having kids-- Eat first.

Megan:  Why didn't you tell me?
Don:  I didn't know how you'd react.
Megan: What, did you think I'd be happy? 
Don:  I don't know what I thought.  I just knew she wouldn't want you to know.

Peggy:   Shouldn't we wait for Roger? Pete:  For what? He doesn't even come to the meetings that are important

Michael:  You wouldn't want me running all over town telling your secrets.
Don: Well, I wouldn't want you grumbling behind my back, either.
Michael:  You're right.  I shouldn't have said that.  I just wanted to make you smile.

Peggy:  You know, I thought you were crazy when I met you, and you have confirmed it by not acting the way that you acted with me.
Michael:  You told me not to act that way.
Peggy:  And the fact that you can control it really scares me.

Michael:  Come on, be proud of me.
I need it.  Nobody in the world cares I got the job but you.
Peggy:  Then I'm happy.

Roger:  You know, I used to love that kid.
I would hold his hand and help him up on the swing set.  He grew up.
Don:  What did you expect?
Roger:   I'm tired of it, Don.  I'm tired of trying to prove I still have any value around here.  I'm exhausted from hanging onto the ledge and having some kid's foot on my fingertips.  Bombs away.


The "fat Betty" storyline was a result of the producers fears that the pregnant January Jones would plump up and there would be no explanation on the show. They needn't have worried nor written in this silly diversion.  Jones gained a regular amount of baby weight, in the regular places, and a well placed box would have worked much better.  But it gives us a chance to delve into Betty's psyche, especially to see how she deals with losing the safety of her beauty.

The young versus old battle plays out in a number of different venues.  We see the difference between Don's two wives, between Pete and Roger, between the ad men and the girls at the concert and even between Peggy and Michael.  While the country itself is starting to move towards the generation gap on a macro level we feel the rumblings on a micro level. There's tension and fear and distrust on both sides of these various interactions.  Change is not welcomed but dreaded by the older generation and the newer generation feels it's their time and doesn't want anything to stand in its way.  

Roger is seeing a bleak future where he is irrelevant and unnecessary.  Clients don't need him. The firm doesn't need him. They're able to go forward without him.  And this scares the hell out of him.  

Nothing makes you feel as old as being around someone younger and not only does fifty-something Roger feel it, even twenty-something Peggy senses it when she interviews Michael Ginsberg.  Roger looks at Pete as that kid he hired who is now replacing him and he projects this insecurity on Peggy and suggests that she too may be hiring her replacement.  Will they still be relevant, will they be pushed aside, will there be a place for them in the future.  Time marches on and will you go with it or be left behind?

While the fear Roger is feeling is about his future at work, Betty's crisis is more existential. Her fear of the biopsy results is understandable and concrete -- that's not a vague fear of the unknown or an exaggerated fear of some vague obsolescence but a genuine fear for her life.  Hearing the fortune teller tell her that her family relies on her and how important she is to them only makes her upset.  While it's easy to assume she feels bad that she might not be there for them.  But part of me wonders if Betty is really facing the truth that she might not be there for them now.  

In the end, though, Betty's fear was not realized and she received a clean bill of health. Yet she was not relieved by this news.  Henry feels like he's been given a new lease on life, but Betty does not share his joy.  Betty is still a sad, unfulfilled woman and even getting this great news is not solving whatever is ailing her.   

On the other end of the spectrum we have the young enthusiastic Ginsberg who is bubbling over at the prospect of his new job.  His youth and social awkwardness makes Peggy feel old by comparison and there's something about his jittery eccentricity that makes her feel almost maternal towards him.  Her initial opinion is that he's talented but crazy.  But Roger tells her not to worry about the crazy, that's par for the copywriter's course. Roger would be more concerned by the talented part - as she doesn't want what happened to him (watching "the last guy" he hired move beyond him) to happen to her. 

The dynamic between Don and Betty, Betty and Henry and Don and Megan this episode was fascinating.  How does a divorced couple who have children together stay involved in each other's lives.  And how does your prior relationship color future interactions, especially in a crisis situation?  When Betty gets a health scare, she turns not to Henry but to Don.  He had been her rock once and part of her still needed to hear him tell her everything was going to be okay.  Don was there for his ex-wife Betty, but was not willing to share the news with his new wife Megan.  How did he think she would feel that she was shut out of something so important?  How committed to her, to their marriage, is he if he's so comfortable keeping things from her? And Henry?  He was not thrilled that Betty reached out in her time of need to Don rather than him.  He lost the power in their relationship and was pushed to the side in his own marriage.  And so when he got the call from Don after he heard the good news about Betty's test results he gave a quick perfunctory response and then pretended the call never happened. Henry Francis with his powerful friends and important job was scared of and threatened by Betty's relationship with Don and so he petulantly kept the two apart.  

Jon Hamm directed this episode. 

Series Spoilers - Don't Read Until You're Caught Up

In Season 7, Michael Ginsberg has a psychotic episode at work.  The question was, has he always been nuts and everyone just ignored the signs or did this come out of nowhere?  The first time we meed Ginsberg, he is a bit of an oddball, but in a cute, nerdy Woody Allen way.  But he does drop some major hints that we can now see.  He tells Peggy, of his becoming a copywriter:  "I didn't pick this profession.  It picked me.  I didn't have any control over it."  He goes on to describe why he's the perfect employee:   "I have no hobbies, no interests, no friends.  I'm one of those people who talks back to the radio."   She refuses to hire him at first, calling him crazy and certifiable.   Yep, the clues were there from the first moment we met him.

It was funny how many people thought Peggy was threatened by Ginsberg, but it was Don who ended up feeling threatened by Ginsberg's youth, edge and raw talent.  Don's distance from and lack of understanding of the younger generation becomes more and more apparent as the show goes on.  He refuses to change with the times and fails to adapt.  It is in his final journey at the end of the series where he gets in touch with the wave that has been sweeping the country and finally believes (whether or not he understands them) he can reach the new, younger generation.

Betty gets another life or death scare from a doctor in the final season, but that time it's not a false alarm.  Contrast how she handled the news of her impending death, her calm, her self-possession, her maturity, at the end of the show with how she handles the news of possibly having cancer in this episode.  Here, she's almost angry when the doctor gives her the news that she is healthy, wanting some external excuse for her weight gain.  Even before that, she's scared and panicky and turns to Don for comfort.  Later, she finds strength and determination she never knew she had.  She is self-reliant, strong and poised and doesn't need a man to fix things for her. 

Don was so out of touch at the Rolling Stones concert.  He could not have looked any more out of place and his question what the music made the fans feel was as big a sign that he was the establishment as his suit and tie.  Contrast that uptight image of "the man" with our final view of Don Draper, relaxed, seated in the lotus position, at peace and most importantly feeling connected with the youth movement that had taken over the country. No longer feeling old and uncomprehending, he felt one with the new world around him.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Survivor Cambodia, Second Chance: Finale - Nice Guys Finish First

I try not to be one of those fans, the kind who says after their favorite is voted off of a reality show, "I'm done with this season."  But during Survivor San Juan del Sur, I was tempted to stop watching after my favorite, husband, father, firefighter, and all-around good guy Jeremy Collins was voted off. I was such a fan of Jeremy's that when he was up for Mr. Survivor on Rob Has a Podcast, I voted for him again.  He lost, to Spencer, and I was tempted to stop listening to RHAP, but knew I couldn't live without my weekly know it all podcast.  I had another chance to show my support when Jeremy was on the ballot of returning players competing to get another shot at the title in the first ever Survivor Second Chance.

This time, I never had to entertain thoughts of turning off this season of Survivor.  Jeremy went poll-to-poll in first place this season.  From his sweet confessional in episode one on how he was playing for his wife, the mother of his 2.5 children, Val, through his unwavering loyalty to Stephen Fishbach, to his disbelief that his trusted ally Kimmi would turn on him, this was a guy who played old school Survivor under the new school rules.  He used trust and loyalty, friendship and camaraderie, to build alliances.  Yet he was flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities to assemble and then break down various voting blocs to get him farther in the game.  He was only briefly in trouble, but had prepared for the worst by finding not one but two idols.  And he went into the final tribal council with the strongest, most compelling, and most heart-felt story to tell.

But before we crown this season's winner, there is a matter of getting from six down to one.  At the first tribal council of the episode it became clear why they started the final episode at six rather than the usual five.  This was a tribal council for the record books. After Spencer won a puzzle-based immunity challenge (insert shocked expression here), it at first looked like the strong four of Tasha, Jeremy, Spencer and Kimmi would target either Kelley or Keith.  But Kimmi, back after nearly fifteen years, did not want to be the last juror, the only one of her alliance not to make it to the end.  She saw, perhaps correctly, perhaps not, that she was at the very bottom of the four.  And so she made her move.

Kimmi formed a KKK, wait, how about a triple K alliance (yeah, that's better) with Keith and Kimmi.  She would join with them and vote out Jeremy, who they viewed as the leader and biggest threat of the remaining threesome.  The plan was for Kimmi and her former allies to split their votes between Keith and Kelley.  Now, this was dumb because if I understand the rules of the split vote, if there had been two votes against Keith, Kelley and whoever they targeted, those three wold have been exempt from the next vote and then the only people who would have been at risk would have both been from the majority alliance.  Spencer was 100% sure that Kelley did not have another idol (as he told the idol-hiding Jeremy, what were the odds that someone would find both idols) and so he pushed for not splitting the vote.

There was much back and forth with Tasha and Spencer trying to warn Jeremy that Kimmi was up to no good and Jeremy completely reading the situation wrong.  He was convinced that Kimmi was not turning on them and that there was no reason to panic.  But, fortunately, just in case, he went to tribal council with his hidden immunity idol.  At tribal, Spencer called out Kimmi.  He outed her plan to turn on her allies and join with Kelley and Keith to target either Tasha or Jeremy, most likely Jeremy.  Kimmi feigned shock at this accusation, but she was as convincing as was Spencer when he wrong-headedly tried to convinced Kelley that she was completely safe this vote.

Final three?  Sounds good to me.
The whole lead up to the vote was a cluster-eff of people overacting and telegraphing their positions.  From Kimmi going out of her way to get alone time with Keith and Kelley, to her over-the-top pretend outrage at being called a turncoat, to Spencer and Tasha practically having to hit Jeremy over the head with a sledgehammer to see that their alliance was falling apart, to Keith's comfort at tribal, it was clear that the lines in the sand were drawn and exactly how this was going to play out.  And so, it was no surprise that when it was time for Jeff to ask if anyone had a hidden immunity idol, Kelley decided now was the time to play hers.

She barely had time to let the big smile fade from her face when Jeremy decided to "me too" her.  And that's when the craziness started.  All six votes - three for Jeremy, three for Kelley - were negated.  We had a 0-0 tie.  With a tie, there is a revote  Those who have immunity - Spencer - and those who were voted for - Kelley and Jeremy - are not eligible to be voted for.  That left Kimmi, Tasha and Keith as the only ones to be considered.  Having identified Kimmi as the one who voted for him, Jeremy, along with Spencer and Tasha, voted for her, while Kimmi, Keith and Kelley voting for Tasha.  Again, a tie vote.  The rules state that under these circumstances, the remaining four voters can agree unanimously on who to vote out.  If they do not, it goes to rocks.  The only player(s) without immunity draw rocks - in this case, just Keith.

Spencer and Jeremy are NOT changing their votes.  Keith and Kelley are asked to agree to vote out Kimmi or Keith goes.  Kelley wants Keith to stay but in what is either the most magnanimous moment or the dumbest one in Survivor history (move over Erik Reichenbach) Keith offers up his spot in the final five to Kimmi, the single mom.  It brought tears to my eyes that he would sacrifice his game and a shot at $1M for her, but Kelley was having none of his chivalry and snapped Keith out of his gallant stupor.  And so Kimmi Kappenberg, lover of chickens, made it far deeper in the game than she did in Australia, becoming the eighth member of the jury.

Down to the final five, the rest of the show was rather predictable.   With Kelley winning the next immunity challenge (which was a combination of stamina and puzzle solving and which Keith of all people was not that far behind), the obvious vote was Keith.  Kelley tried to work some magic and created a fake idol for Keith to use at tribal to try and get the three to panic and turn on each other.  But Keith did not go through with the ruse and so he was voted off 3-2 with a colorful necklace parting gift from Kelley.

The final four immunity challenge involved, as is a requirement in at least one challenge per Survivor episdoe, Jeff mentioning balls.   The challenge itself required timing and the ability to stay calm and it was the first and most important individual immunity challenge win for Jeremy all season.  His immediate reaction to realizing that his Survivor Second Chance dream was about to come true was one of the great moments of the season - raw, emotional, honest.  And you also felt for Kelley who in the moment her ball dropped, had the opposite reaction, realizing her dream was going to fall one spot short.

Kelley did make a valiant attempt to sway Jeremy's vote, but it was never really in doubt.  Kelley had played a great game - from her individual immunity wins, to her finding and playing two idols, to fighting from the bottom the whole game - and she was almost universally loved by the jurors.  It would be, to quote Jeremy, "so dumb" for someone to take her to the end.  Spencer, who had a good narrative to sell of having voted out his cerebral counterpart and taken over his spot as Jeremy's right hand man, did not have the same close connections as Kelley had with the jury.   Maybe he'd get a vote of two for his scrappy fighting, but he was not the potential threat that lovable spunky Kelley was.

And so Kelley became the last member of the jury and we had our final three.  The jury questioning segment was unusual as it did not begin with opening statements and for the most part the questions ran the gamut from tame to lame.  Kelly Wiglesworth made a nice callback to the first ever jury vote on Survivor asking the finalists to pick a number between one and ten and Jeremy showed that he's never watched The Price is Right by choosing 2.  Andrew "have I told you my wife is a super model" Savage had his pot-kettle moment asking Jeremy and Spencer about their arrogance and I spit out my hot chocolate.  And the unsubtle Abi-Maria asked the three their most subtle moments in the game.  But then the very last  question gave us the most memorable jury answer in Survivor history as Kelley Wentworth asked the final three what their second chance story was.

Jeremy, who had been holding a secret for 39 days, let it rip.  His story was that he was playing not for himself but for his wife Val, his beautiful daughters, and the new baby they are expecting - his son.  As Jeremy and the rest of us with any shred of human emotion teared up, Spencer and Tasha realized that their hope of becoming the sole survivor had just evaporated.  If there was any question how the ten jurors would vote, it was eliminated when the producers were unable to show us any of the votes.  They only do that if it's unanimous.

And it was.  Jeremy Collins was the winner of one of the best seasons of Survivor we've ever seen.  He outlasted a field of players who each came prepared to right the wrongs of their season, who played their hearts out and who wanted this season to be memorable.  And it was.

Want more Jeremy:
Entertainment Weekly
Local newspaper article
People Magazine

More of the eliminated players:
Kimmi the day after
Kelley the day after
Keith the day after

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Survivor Cambodia, Second Chance: Finale Preview

Tonight is the last episode of Season 31, the very successful Survivor Second Chance, which gave fans of the show the opportunity to have a say in who would be brought back to try and redeem themselves after an unsuccessful first time on Survivor. Not only were the fans who voted in the returning players invested in the game like never before, the theme of a "second chance" and the honor of being selected weighed heavily on those players.  Players were concerned with not making the same mistakes that plagued them in the past as well as playing as hard as they could to show their appreciation to the fans who gave them their second chance.

With six players left, it's a good opportunity  to look at their second chance stories so far and predict where the story may end for each of them.  I went back and rewatched the first episode of the season to see how each of the castaways were introduced and what the beginning of their story was and how that may relate to each of their stories might end.   

One thing we know for certain, the Survivor producers have hundreds of hours of footage to show us and so what they do choose to air has some significance for the story.  A good example from the debut episode is Joe Anglim discussing his greatest Survivor regret being having missed out on the loved ones' visit.  His story played out with that circle closed as he managed to stay in the game just long enough for his father to run out of the jungle and into his arms. 

What of the final six?  What was their redemption story as shown in the first episode and how will that story be resolved?

The first of them to get a confessional on the premiere episode was Spencer Bledsoe.  The young superfan from Cagayan, is just a year away from his first unsuccessful outing and he's come better prepared and, he promises, less cocky than the first time.  He tell us that last time he looked as his tribemates as chess pieces to be moved around.  This time he promised to be more emotionally aware and to use his improved social game to win this game.

So far, he has made good on his promise.  Even when he found himself at the bottom, he worked on the social aspect of his game to position himself as the lesser of two evils (with Shirin being the greater).  He opened up to Jeremy Collins and built a personal relationship there while also feigning closeness with Stephen Fishbach.  But the most notable part of his narrative so far was his admission to Jeremy that he had trouble articulating his feelings and had yet to tell his girlfriend that he loved her.  At the loved ones' visit, Spencer took that opportunity and it was highlighted.  That may be the end of Spencer's arc - the cold, robotic "brain" finds his heart,   It certainly could be.  But he was one of only two whose confessional included some promise of winning the game, so I can see him getting to the end. 

Next up is Kimmi "don't wave your finger in my face" Kappenberg from Australia.  Forever associated with Alicia's flying digit and her love of chickens, Kimmi is older and wiser but seems less haunted by her first outing and less desperate to win.  Her dream is not to have her time on Survivor cut short and to make it to the end.  From what we've seen, Kimmi has done a great job staying calm, avoiding drama, building an alliance, being flexible when she needs to be, and being (almost always) on the right side of the vote.  She has already far exceeded her run the first time out, but for a full redemption story she would need to be one of the final three. I think she has a good chance.

 Kelley Wentworth from San Juan Del Sur is eager to get back in and fight for the title, this time without the weight of her father dragging her down.  What she wanted this time out was to make the moves she wanted to make and have a better game.  Kelley has accomplished this goal with flying colors.  Her idol play that negated nine votes against her was a record and she has scrappily fought her way to final six despite being on the bottom for weeks.  She has rewritten her Survivor story even without making it to the end and so I don't see Kelley making final three.

Tasha Fox, another Cagayan castaway, went far but not far enough her season.  More a victim of ultimate Survivor Tony Vlachos' great gameplay than any failing on her part, she's promised to bring a little villainy to her game this time out.  "I'm here to win a million dollars and when it's all done I'll pray for forgiveness."  For that confessional to pay off, Tasha would have to backstab someone - probably Jeremy - before the end.  I see her getting to the final three.

Good guy Jeremy Collins from San Juan Del Sur is back for redemption which in his case means not getting too comfortable and being blindsided by your alliance.  This time out he was going to be more focused.  He wanted to win the money for his wife Val more than himself.  But the quote he gave is not exactly a winner's quote: "I just need to go through this again.  I'm back for some redemption."  As much as I love Jeremy and want him to bring the money home, I'm worried that this is not the quote of an eventual winner.

Notably, Keith Nale from San Juan Del Sur did not have an early confessional in the premiere episode.  His was much later, after the two tribes were divvied up.  He promised to be a better strategist this time.  And then he spit.  He admitted that last time he coasted to the end without an alliance.  Still, he said that fourth place was a hard pill to swallow (apparently everything is hard for him to swallow) and he was going to try and tweak a little bit this time out.  The second time was going to be different.  "No fumbling this time."

My prediction for the final three - based solely on the premiere confessionals - is Tasha, Spencer and Kimmi.  I hope I'm wrong, since my hope is that Jeremy makes it to the end because if he does, it's hard to imagine he wouldn't win the whole thing.  He's certainly been given a hero's edit this whole season and has played a really strong game - strategic, personal, calm.  But the other five would be, in Jeremy's words, "so stupid" to take him to the end.  Just a few more hours and we'll know.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance, Episode 13: How Do You Solve aProblem Like Abi-Maria

When we saw the title for last night's episode, "Villains Have More Fun," there was no question who  would be giving us that quote.  More even than Chaos Kass, Abi-Maria Gomes has relished her role this season as the resident baddie.  From her squabbles with Peih-Gee to her laser-like focus on having Woo pay for voting against her to her digs at some of the vanquished survivors, Abi-Maria has given we who voted her into this season all that we could have hoped for in blow-ups, tantrums and zingy soundbites.  But all good bad things must come to an end.

Coming back from tribal council, Abi-Maria was particularly gleeful to see Joe walk out of the game. Daring the karma gods, she said, of Joe, payback's a bitch and good riddance.  Joey Amazing fangirls around the country started up their social media attacks on Abi-Maria for speaking ill of their golden boy and formed a virtual prayer circle that Julie Chen would walk onto the set, announce a twist, and bring Joe back into the game.  The remaining survivors tried to sound upbeat about the vote, with Kelley mentioning as if it weren't the very reason for the vote that with Joe gone they all have a chance to win challenges now and Spencer showing that he has never taken an acting class in his life by most-unconvincingly replying that he never thought of that before!

While Abi-Maria thinks everyone is as happy as she is with the vote, the next morning Jeremy and Spencer are having a bad case of buyer's remorse.  They are still concerned that they just helped solidify an all girls' alliance that will take them out next and they are concerned generally with having the unpredictable Abi-Maria around to stir the pot.  Given the choice to get rid of Joe - who was not targeting them - and Abi-Maria - whose targets change with the wind - they worry that they made an epically bad choice.

Is there a return policy or are we stuck with Abi-Maria?
Jeremy and Spencer are two, there are seven left.  They need two more.  If Tasha is sincere about her final three deal with them and if they can bring Kimmi back to the fold, they're golden.  If the all girls' alliance is a thing, they're toast.

The reward challenge is one that was played before in San Juan Del Sur and is won, as it was the first time, by the middle aged miracle challenge beast Keith Nale.  The great thing about winning a reward, of course, is the experience - a chance to relax, to eat, and in this case to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The bad thing is that you will piss off the people that you don't pick to accompany you and you show your true colors - who you're allied with, who's your friend, who matters to you.  And in Keith's case, you'll also show whose name you can't quite remember!  Keith understandably picked Kelley who had only days before selected him for the loved ones' reward.  Then he babbled incoherently about why he chose Spencer, free-associating random words in an attempt to form a sentence or two that would serve to explain his decision before stumbling over Tasha's name. Tasha could not help but note that Keith had no trouble remembering her name the night before when he wrote it down at tribal council.  He can only get away with that aw shucks, I'm just a country bumpkin, bit for so long.

While Keith and his chosen companions Kelley and Spencer go on the reward, there are four - a majority of the tribe - back at camp and strategizing.  They immediately hone in on Keith as Joe 55.0 and getting rid of the next challenge threat seems like an easy vote.  But when Tasha presents the idea to Jeremy, he hesitates.  Jeremy is still worried about being "the next threat" - he kept Savage around, Joe around and now wants to keep Keith around solely so that he's never the obvious next one to go.  And he's worried that if Keith were the next to go, the four women could easily pick him and Spencer off.  Tasha is willing to hear him out - but she needs some alone time with him.  And when she asks Abi-Maria if she'd give them time to talk, not surprisingly Abi-Maria does not take that well.

You can't blame her.  There are only four people at the shelter and, to her mind, they've all agreed on who to vote out next.  Hearing two of the four say that they want to talk out of your earshot is a huge, enormous, gigantic, gargantuan red flag.  And, indeed, when Tasha and Jeremy have time alone it is Abi-Maria's name they toss around.  As much as Keith may be a threat to win challenges, Tasha tells him, Abi-Maria and her unpredictable volatility are a bigger threat to their game.  Jeremy does not disagree and, in fact, he steers Tasha right into this decision as it corrects the mistake of the last tribal and gets the most volatile member of the other side out of the game.  He later gives us one of the great Abi-Maria themed confessionals of the season.  "Is Abi a Scorpio? Scorpios are crazy. I've got two of them in my house. That's why I drink."

Good thing this finger isn't loaded
It's time for the immunity challenge and it's both physical and mental.  The survivors crash and slam into things and yet keep going almost as if they're playing for $1,000,000.  We don't need Jeff to tell us how hard they're pushing themselves or how much this means to them as we watch completely exhausted people push themselves beyond their limits.  While Spencer solves the puzzle in record time, Tasha is still at sea, literally and figuratively, and has to be rescued. In back-to-back immunity challenges, the rewarding of the necklace is delayed while the medical team takes care of one of the spent survivors and the winner's celebration is derailed.

Now, when we saw Spencer fly through that puzzle like a savant, we all thought, wow, no wonder he was on the Brains tribe his original season.  But while we were right that Spencer is a brain, he's not a puzzle master.  Instead, he is a brain in the sense that he practiced this and other puzzles that might be on this season in advance so that he could beast them.  As the saying goes, success is 90% preparation and 10% banging your head on the obstacle course.

Tasha, having recovered from her near-drowning experience, is back to game mode.  If she and Jeremy are to get any farther, they need to get Spencer on their side.  They know he had time to bond with Keith and Kelley and assume that he was made an offer by them when he went on the reward challenge.  Which of course he was.  Spencer had agreed to a final three with Kelley and Keith just as quickly as he agreed to a final three with Tasha and Jeremy.  Now Spencer needed to figure out which promise he was keeping.  The choice Tasha gave him is to vote with them and vote out the "goats" - the less-strategic players who are considered the easiest to beat if you make it to the end with them.  Spencer's other choice is to stay with the "goats" - Keith and Abi-Maria - as well as Kelley, and hope he can beat Keith in the final four challenge.  But if he does that, according to Tasha, he'd be insulting those of us who voted the survivors in this season.  We may have voted for Abi-Maria and Keith and Kelley, but we couldn't have possibly wanted any of them to win.  Yeah, that was Tasha's argument.

Spencer makes a firm commitment to both sides and goes into tribal council with the safety of the necklace but with the weight of his ultimate decision making him quite nervous.  He questioned his decision to vote out Joe and keep Abi-Maria the last time, does he vote her out this time or break his deal with Jeremy and Tasha?  Which choice gets him one step closer to the win?

The jury walks in to tribal council and it's hard not to see a developing domino effect.  There is Ciera who targeted Fishbach, followed by Fishbach who targeted Joe, followed by Joe who targeted Abi-Maria.  Interesting.  Things may not be looking good for Abi-Maria of the pattern continues.

At tribal, one word keeps popping up.  Last week the word was "crucial."  This week, it's "we."

Everyone at tribal told Jeff that tonight's vote would say a lot about where we were, what we wanted, where we would be going.  But who was this "we" exactly. Not everyone can be part of the "we."  And so by the end of the night, some people were going to feel safe that they - we - are together and tight and others were going to realize that they - we - were lied to.

Keith was sure that he, Kelley, Abi-Maria and Spencer were going to target that woman whose name he conveniently forgets when it's time to hand out rewards but remembers when it's time to vote.  He was the only one who felt confident that his alliance would stick to the plan and he could not wait to get to the vote.  Abi-Maria was sure that she, Jeremy, Tasha and Kimmi were going to target that challenge master Keith.  Tasha was hopeful, but not at all sure, that she had convinced Spencer that the fans who voted them in did not want a goat going to the end and winning the whole season.   And Spencer admitted to admiring Keith's confidence but personally being very confused about what was going to happen.

Spencer was not confused for long as his we - Jeremy, Tasha and Kimmi - stuck together and voted out the explosive, volatile Brazilian who kept us entertained for 35 days.  Abi-Maria more than lived up to her reputation and while she does not have a redemption arc - her second chance ended up as did her first chance - she did show her toughness, her honesty and her fire.  Up until Jeff snuffed it out.

With six left the next two-hour season finale will be a whirlwind.  Will the four stay together to vote out Keith and Kelley?  Will Keith's challenge strength and Kelley's hidden immunity idol upset their plans?  And will we get a Survivor first, with two people playing their idols simultaneously and canceling out all the votes?  Finally, who will win what many consider not just a successful Survivor concept but one of the best seasons ever?  Stay tuned.

More Abi-Maria:
On Survivor Talk
With Gordon Holmes
With Carter Matt

Stephen Fishbach's People Blog

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance, Episode 12: Hey, Joe, Where're YouGoing Without that Immunity Around Your Neck

Do you hear that sound?  It's the sound of thousands of fangirls' hearts breaking across the country, it's the sound of their mournful sobbing now that their golden boy has had his torch snuffed out.  The great Greek God that was Joey Amazing was vanquished last night, after an inexplicably long, deep run in the game for someone who was so clearly the biggest target out there.  Joe was on everyone's radar before America's votes were counted and the cast for this season was announced.  The only sure thing going into this season was that the Frankenstein creation that melded Malcom Freberg with Ozzy Lusth into one challenge-beasting, fish-gathering, hammock-constructing, shelter-building god was going to be in the cast.

Check out the video tribute to Joe Amazing

Joe came into the season with the largest target on his ripped and tanned back.  He was universally adored, benefited whatever tribe he was on, and was unstoppable in any challenge.  So, of course, famed strategist Stephen Fishbach tried his darnedest to stop him.  And while Stephen came up short, he did have a front row (albeit on the jury side) seat to the outcome he had been working for all season long.

So how did Joe's run finally come to an end?  You have to give it to Kimmi and Tasha.  With eight players left, those two and Jeremy were the only three who had voted together; they could very easily have been picked off next.  Maybe, Spencer was sincere in getting back with them, in which case they were in a solid four.  But with eight people left, who would they be able to bring over to make it five?  No one wants to go to tribal council with the vote split; no one wants to go to rocks.  But who would bend?  Kelley and Abi are tight, Keith and Joe are tight.

Kimmi played it perfectly.  Bring up an obvious target.  With the number one rule of Survivor being "anyone but me," hearing another name put forth is usually met positively.  So when she told Kelley that Joe was, of course, the next natural target, Kelley's first response was not, "You're on the bottom of the totem pole, sister, I'll tell you who's next."  No, Kelley was immediately receptive to the plan.  Like the sun rising, Jeff making sexually provocative innuendos during challenges, and someone saying the word "crucial," Joe being the next one to be voted out was accepted like a fait accompli.

Kimmi then took her talk a little farther, suggesting to Kelley that after Joe was gone there would be a majority of girls remaining.  Kelley gave the soundbite of the night, telling Kimmi "I would love to do all the women."  With the idea that Monica had unsuccessfully floated weeks earlier -- a girls' alliance -- gaining traction, Kelli and Tasha now another way to go.  As the idea was presented to Tasha, those two along with Kelley and Abi-Maria could target one of the boys and if they were successful, they could then pick off the remaining three to get them to an all girls' final four.

Who is playing who?
When the episode began, Spencer had some damage control work to do with Jeremy who he had just blindsided by voting out Stephen.  Jeremy was not thrilled with losing Stephen, but knew he did not have the luxury of telling Spencer to go pound sand.  And so they "bygones"'d there way into a tentative working relationship, with each wary of the other and each planning on using the other to further their goals.

While the two patched things up, Kimmi decided to start playing the game -- hard.  She worked her magic with Kelley and brought Tasha in on the plan.  And notice her pecking order of the guys -- Joe, then Spencer, then Keith and then Jeremy.  That keeps her closest ally, Jeremy, in to the final five where, if she and Tasha wanted, they could join to vote out Kelley or Abi-Maria.  Very nice idea planting by Kimmi, keeping Jeremy's name to last.  He's shown no ability to win a challenge, unlike Keith and Spencer who've each rocked the immunity necklace, so he should be able to skate to "Last Man Standing" position.

The tribe goes into the reward challenge, on Day 30, and are greeted with the news that they have all made the loved ones' visit -- only Jeff decides to mess with the minds of people who haven't slept or eaten well and are emotionally stretched to their limits and does a fake out before telling them that their loved ones are really there.  It is a highlight of the season as you wonder just how much people from back home must love their family to put aside the fact that they all smell like the bottom of a pile of trash that's been baking in the sun for a month after first being soaked in sewage.

Congrats, Dad!
One by one the loved ones run out and are greeted with the biggest hugs they've probably ever received and everyone is on the verge of tears over each reunion.  Jeremy gets to hear Val whisper the news he's been waiting for - "It's a boy."  Tasha gets love from her cousin.  Spencer gets to finally show his human side and tell his girlfriend that he loves her.  Abi-Maria proves again that she's not Satan's spawn as her adorable mom comes out.  Keith's awesome wife was introduced to everyone as "Big D."  Dale Wentworth came back and tried not to ruin Kelley's chances for a second time.  And then we were told how much the loved ones' visit meant to Joe, who had been dreaming of this moment for all his life.  Well, it was worth the wait, because his pony-tail sporting father ran out and they had an epic make out session that Jeff more delicately described by noting to Joe that "you obviously have a strong family bond."  I haven't felt this awkward since Colby Donaldson and his mother shared an overnight in a Pontiac Aztek in the Australian Outback.

Yes, some families are more, um, demonstrative than others.  Anyway, after someone grabbed a crowbar and separated Joe and his dad, Kimmi got a way, way overdue visit from her surprisingly young looking dad.

The family members didn't have to participate, they were assigned cheering duties from the sidelines. And while most shouted their encouragement, sweet, unassuming Abi-Maria's mom Vera did her best Jeff Probst and directed her daughter to "Focus!"  Too bad we didn't learn the Portuguese for "Dig, Woman!" since that was a major part of the challenge.  Despite digging furiously, sending sand flying and his rope to attack poor Keith, Joe does not win this challenge.  This is now two challenges in a row that Joe didn't win and there is a major disturbance in the force.  Keith was pretty funny, as he looked at the letters and kept telling Jeff that he couldn't figure it out as if he might get a hint.  Kudos to Abi-Maria for using spelling rules and logic to try and solve the puzzle, using a common ending -- "tion" -- as her base.

In the end it was Kelley who was the first to figure out the word puzzle at the end of the challenge and she wins the word -- nourishment -- in the form of a Survivor family BBQ.  Last week when Fishbach won the individual reward challenge (when there were nine players remaining) he was allowed to bring two with him.  That left six people -- a huge majority of the tribe -- back on the beach to plot and strategize against him.  Six people angry about not being fed, not being selected.  This time, Jeff lets Kelley pick four people to take on the reward, giving her a majority of the tribe indebted to her, well-fed, happy, and joined together.  But then, no one said that Survivor, like life, was always fair.

With the five enjoying their reward, the remaining three talk strategy.  Despite the fact that he had cut off their ally just a couple days before, Spencer offered Jeremy and Tasha a final three.  They agreed -- at this point in the game you agree to just about anything.  But what they didn't figure out was how the math would work out for them.  It's great to have a final three deal, less great when you're in the bottom of an eight-person tribe.  And as they were the only ones to say goodbye to their loved ones, there could be no question that their position in the game is precarious at best.

We're holding our poles, Jeff.  We're holding them good.
It was time for the immunity challenge which, like most of the individual immunity challenges this year required a combination of strength and balance.   It also required Jeff to talk about long poles and holding them up and got me to thinking that the reward challenges
must be designed by two adolescents named Beavis and Butthead as they seemed to design each challenge around situations that give rise to double entendres for Jeff to shout at the top of his lungs. Two episodes too late for Ciera, this was the first challenge to have a female and a male winner.  Kelley quickly outlasted the other three women to win her first immunity necklace and not long after she won, Jeremy and Spencer quickly dropped their poles.

Yes, Jeremy and Spencer could not keep their poles up.  The were holding their poles and then they couldn't hold on any longer.  But Keith and Joe kept adding sections to their poles, making them longer and longer.  And they held tight.  Okay, this is exhausting. I don't know how Jeff does it with a straight face.  Anyway, after an hour and twenty minutes Joe and Keith were still in the game -- the young Greek God and the middle aged firefighter who chews nails and spits (a lot) rust.  Clash of the Titans, a battle to the death, whatever you want to call it, it was epic.  We all thought we were about to see the plan to get Joe out foiled, how could he not beat a guy over twice his age.  But then Joe's eyes got really wide and he crumpled to the ground.

That did not go as planned.
While everyone initially celebrated Keith's astonishing win, it took just a second or two to realize that Joe didn't just lose the challenge, he lost consciousness.  To keep with the Greek God thread, someone found Achilles' heel and aimed their arrow right at it.  Perhaps after feasting with the family, Joe spiked his blood sugar and coming back down to reality caused it to plunge.  Or maybe, as my daughter suggested to me, the hat that Keith was wearing gave him an advantage against the blazing sun.  Whatever the explanation, the unstoppable, unbeatable, Mr. Perfect lost his second immunity challenge in a row, his third challenge overall.  He was vulnerable for a second straight vote.  Would he skate by again?

Last week Joe tried to spin his safety on his great social game.  I said then, and I'll repeat now, that he owed his life in the game totally to Spencer's fear of Stephen Fishbach.  In Spencer's mind, the skinny, bespectacled resident Survivor expert was a bigger threat to his game than the muscular yoga practitioner with the flowing locks.  Spencer could not see a path for victory that had Stephen on it and he needed to make "the big move" and voting out the knowingest know-it-all was that move.  But with Stephen vanquished, Spencer was fine with voting out Joe.  So was Kelley.  So was everyone left in the game except for Keith (more on that later).

Joe did not have a great social game, he was a pawn in other game players' plans.  They used him and then once he was no longer useful to them, he was voted out.  While those of us who enjoy great gameplay found him as exciting as Splenda-sweetened, artificial vanilla flavored ice milk, there are apparently many on Twitter who were hoping against all hope that the vote would be Abi-Maria instead.

Joe tried to sell Jeremy and Spencer on taking out Abi-Maria.  She's unpredictable, she's an obvious person to be dragged along to the final tribal council.  Jeremy was completely unreceptive.  The easy vote, the smart vote, was to get rid of Joe while they had the chance.  This guy was willing to keep fighting for immunity until he literally passed out.  That is a dangerous guy to have around.

Everyone was on-board the get rid of Joe train, and then Tasha decided to alert her allies that the plan to vote out Joe was not theirs but was actually concocted as part of a bigger, secret plan among the girls to vote out all the guys.  Tasha told Jeremy and Spencer that she was bringing them this information so that they knew she was square with them, loyal to the end, holding no secrets.  They need not fear an all girls' alliance.  Their first target was not one of her allies but was Joe, there would still be a chance to get the band back together after that vote and target Kelley or Abi-Maria.  Absolutely nothing to worry about.  As Keith would say, let's stick to the plan and vote out Joe.

Yeah, Tasha, probably shouldn't have said "girls' alliance" to the boys
How could Jeremy and Spencer say no?  Uh, easily.  As soon as Tasha mentioned there was talk of a girls' alliance, they started to worry.  Big time.  Suddenly, voting out Joe wasn't the automatic move it was the moment he collapsed under the weight of his pole.  Now they were thinking, maybe we should target Abi-Maria first.  If the girls get together as four, after Joe is gone they can pick us off one by one.  But if we don't vote out Joe when we have the chance, will we ever get the chance again?  Will he just be punching his ticket to the final three?  If we go against Tasha after she confided in us, will we never have her allegiance again?  And why are we still debating alliances versus voting blocs?

In the end, Spencer and Jeremy decide to trust Tasha and join her and the rest of the tribe (minus Keith and his out in left field vote for Tasha of all people) in voting out Joe. Spencer is right, of course, in his voting confessional -- this is either a winning or a losing decision and he won't know which one it is until their alliance with Tasha and Kimmi is tested.  I can't say I agree with Abi's last words for Joe.  While I agree that the hair has got to go, calling him a moldy clown seems a little harsh, even for her.  But the best moment of tribal for me was seeing that wide grin on Stephen Fishbach's face as he saw that the harpoon he had put into Moby Dick was finally going to take that big whale down for good.

My brain's still a little scrambled, but didn't we do this before?
There are now just seven players yet -- three from Survivor San Juan del Sur, two from Survivor Cagayan, one from Survivor Philippines and one from the second season ever, Survivor Australian Outback.  The highest finish for any of the remaining players was fourth place -- which both Spencer and Keith settled for their seasons.   Next week, like this week, will again be crucial, crucial, crucial as we will see how the tribe divides itself.  Besides the question who will win the next immunity challenge, the other major wrinkle will be that two people potentially on opposites sides each have and might play a hidden immunity idol next week.  Could be exciting.

*Post show discussions reveal the answer to Keith's mystery vote.  Kelley had told Joe and Keith that Tasha was the target (hiding her girls' alliance plan to vote out Joe). Joe later talked to Spencer and Jeremy and thought he had convinced them to target Abi-Maria so he switched his vote to her but forgot to tell Keith the new plan. 

Want more Joe?

Exit interview with RHAP
Exit interview with Josh Wigler/Parade
Exit interview with RealityTVWorld

Fishbach's People recap.