Thursday, May 21, 2015

Survivor Season Rankings (Updated May 2015)

After a wait of a couple of years, I have finally updated these rankings. I tend to rank gameplay seasons higher than "entertaining" seasons, but that's not a hard and fast rule. Mostly, it's just my opinion of how entertaining the seasons are. I haven't really watched any back (despite my many promises that I will) so some are going off of memory, which could skew the rankings.

Without further ado, here are my rankings, first summarized, then a bit more detailed.

Ranking Summary:

0.  Survivor: Borneo (Season 1)
1.  Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20)
2.  Survivor: Micronesia - Fans vs. Favorites (Season 16)
3.  Survivor: Peal Islands (Season 7)
4.  Survivor: Cagayan (Season 28)
5.  Survivor: Samoa (Season 19)
6.  Survivor: Amazon (Season 6)
7.  Survivor: Blood vs. Water (Season 27)
8.  Survivor: Worlds Apart (Season 30)
9.  Survivor: Caramoan (Season 26)
10. Survivor: Phillipines (Season 25)
11. Survivor: Palau (Season 10)
12. Survivor: China (Season 15)
13. Survivor: Australian Outback (Season 2)
14. Survivor: Cook Islands (Season 13)
15. Survivor: Tocantins (Season 18)
16. Survivor: Africa (Season 3)
17. Survivor: Redemption Island (Season 22)
18. Survivor: One World (Season 24)
19. Survivor: Panama (Season 12)
20. Survivor: San Juan del Sur (Season 29)
21. Survivor: Fiji (Season 14)
22. Survivor: Guatemala (Season 11)
23. Survivor: Vanuatu (Season 9)
24. Survivor: South Pacific (Season 23)
25. Survivor: All-Stars (Season 8)
26. Survivor: Marquesas (Season 4)
27. Survivor: Gabon (Season 17)
28. Survivor: Nicaragua (Season 21)

29. Survivor: Thailand (Season 5)

DETAILED SUMMARY BELOW (With some spoiler space)

0.  Survivor: Borneo (Season 1)

It is difficult to rank the first season when compared to the others. It is the season that laid the blueprint for how every other season was played, and yet the one that also helped to define how we, the viewers, were to watch the show. So I cheated, and took it out of the rankings.

1.  Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20)

In this case, familiarity helps. Knowing each of the players going in and how they were likely to play set some expectations. The season lived up to it and more. The casting of players and characters was fantastic. The winner was a bit disappointing, but the lead to the final tribal was great.

2.  Survivor: Micronesia - Fans vs. Favorites (Season 16)

A lot of blind sides, the single stupidest move in Survivor history and some interesting characters introdued. Awesome season.

3.  Survivor: Peal Islands (Season 7)

Rupert is overexposed now, but in Season 7 he was an amazing character, one whose embracing of the Pirates theme of Pearl Islands gave the season a great start, and then gave us someone to root for throughout the season. Plus, you get Johnny Fairplay and the greatest lie ever told in Survivor (until poor Ice Cream Scooper Erik and the giving away of immunity.) And we have possibly the greatest player ever to play the game (especially if you go by results) in Sandra playing her first season.

4.  Survivor: Cagayan (Season 28)

Rupert. Johnny Fairplay. The season that Survivor became fun to watch for reasons beyond the actual game.

5.  Survivor: Samoa (Season 19)

Putting aside the jury vote, this season was a win simply because of Russell. His play reinvigorated the show and the game.

6.  Survivor: Amazon (Season 6)

The first season where alliances were fluid. The game was played in a much different manner than before, with votes moving continually.

Oh, and chocolate and peanut butter.

7.  Survivor: Blood vs. Water (Season 27)

A lot of people groaned when they heard the details about this season. Half returning players, half family members? The return of Redemption Island? "UGH," they said. As it turned out, both twists helped to carry the season through what would have been (frankly) a boring end game. Instead of just getting (essentially) a Pagonging of the minority, we also saw an emotional challenge between mother and daughter where the loser gets eliminated, a DRAWING OF ROCKS where the clear cut favourite could have been eliminated and some of the most aggressive Tribal Council play from somebody who knew his time in the game was on the line from Hayden. And that's not even the half of the season.

8.  Survivor: Worlds Apart (Season 30)

The only person who could win and make it an acceptable season did win. But the season itself was great for gameplay, and not so great for misongyny and general not niceness from people who truly believe they are in the right. Unfortunately, the latter definitely overshadows the former, which ends up hurting the season.

9.  Survivor: Caramoan (Season 26)

The focus on the big characters in the first half of the season was a bit ominous for those who prefer the strategy of the season, even if it was interesting to watch (enjoyable doesn't reflect how uncomfortable it could be to watch Brandon break down and Shamar be Shamar.) But once the merge hit, the blind sides came non-stop, we had a shocking tribal council with two idols in play which caused us to see the first ever scramble during tribal council, someone getting blindsided with an immunity idol in their pocket, one of the greatest speech ever getting voted out, a generally likeable cast from final 9 onward and yes, even a satisfying winner. Pretty well everything that you could want in a season, you got.

(Though the bullying of Dawn was awkward at best.)

10. Survivor: Phillipines (Season 25)

This season had a couple of epic tribal councils and the most inept tribe ever, and a complete flip of the game when that inept tribe ended up in the final four. Plus Penner's final jury questions/speech. Combine that with the existance of Abi-Maria and you have a very great season.

11. Survivor: Palau (Season 10)

The first season where we saw a true dominant tribe. Then came Stephanie's survival for 2 weeks, then Tom's bold move to threaten to tie a vote to get people on side with him (looking back at it, it doesn't seem to be as bold but at the time it was an amazingly ballsy play). Very underrated year.

12. Survivor: China (Season 15)

Looking back on this season with the knowledge of how Todd has fallen apart since it aired, it does make ranking this season within the context of just the season more difficult. But looking at it from just the season itself, it has James' stupid non-play of a hidden immunity idol, Todd wearing his bad deeds, and Amanda's first final tribal council failure. A pretty good year.

13. Survivor: Australian Outback (Season 2)

The beginning of the Jeff Probst/Colby Donaldson bromance. Also the first ever major strategic blunder, though it was at least done out of some sense of loyalty. Plus Mike Skupin's epic injury, a bad tie-breaker being used to take out Jeff Varner and the launch of Elizabeth Hasselback's career.

14. Survivor: Cook Islands (Season 13)

Two of the most likable players in Yul and Ozzie. It also had the funniest Survivor moment, when Sundra and Becky "battled" to build fire. Taking 90 minutes to do so. After being given matches 30 minutes in.

15. Survivor: Tocantins (Season 18)

J.T. and Stephen dominate the year; we're also given the gift of the Dragon-Slayer, Coach!

16. Survivor: Africa (Season 3)

Oh, Brandon. You are still not forgiven for screwing over Kelly for no good reason. But with that said it is a fun season where we have our first tribe swap, and our first tease of a switch of the majority alliance.

17. Survivor: Redemption Island (Season 22)

The Boston Rob show gets up here because of Boston Rob's hilarious confessionals, his running of the show from start to finish and Phillip's wackiness. In an unrelated note, if Rob didn't win I would have rated it lower.

18. Survivor: One World (Season 24)

The removal of Colton stopped us from seeing him get his comeuppance that we so richly needed. But at the same time, we had great characters in Tarzan and Kat, an amazing situation where a tribe won immunity then decided to give it away so that they could vote somebody out and possibly the greatest game ever played on Survivor by Kim. It's tough to keep it this low, but predictability beats the game itself.

19. Survivor: Panama (Season 12)

The Terry year, where his loss of the final immunity challenge (under questionable means) ended up giving us Aras as a winner. Awesome for Terry's dominance, not so awesome for everything else.

20. Survivor: San Juan del Sur (Season 29)

The second coming of the Blood vs. Water was nowhere near as strong as the first 

21. Survivor: Fiji (Season 14)

I rank this higher than everybody else it seems, but Yau Man and Earl were fun to watch, and the drama of Dreamz not giving immunity to Yau Man at the final 4 (after being gifted a car by Yau Man in exchange for a promise of the necklace) made it enjoyable (even if the have/have not twist was possibly the second worst twist of all time.)

22. Survivor: Guatemala (Season 11)

Stephanie gets a second chance and turns into a mean person. And then she loses to Danni. But it did have Gary Hogeboom thinking he needed to disguise who he was from everybody else, lest they remember a backup quarterback from the NFL. And also, the first season with what is now a big part of Survivor, a hidden immunity idol.

23. Survivor: Vanuatu (Season 9)

Probably the most difficult to place. Chris's victory when outnumbered 5-1 and with not winning immunity was impressive, but the show was horrible before that.

24. Survivor: South Pacific (Season 23)

The editing ended up hurting this season, as they built it up to show why Coach lost, instead of why Sophie won. Maybe that happened because they had very little to use to show Sophie as a great player, but that's an even bigger damning of the season.

(Also, the first half of the year with Brandon acting very creepy towards Mikayla was uncomfortable at the best of times.)

25. Survivor: All-Stars (Season 8)

It gave us Boston Rob and Amber as a power couple, but it also gave us the biggest farce of a final council before Samoa. And the overriding theme of the previous winners didn't deserve to stay around becaue they had already won was annoying and uncomfortable.

26. Survivor: Marquesas (Season 4)

This should rank higher. It gave us Boston Rob, whatshername being carried to the island like Cleopatra, and the first shakeup of the status quo. But it was the most frustrating final two ever, with both not really deserving of being there.

27. Survivor: Gabon (Season 17)

You remember how great it was that Bob Crowley won, but when you think about it more, the season was pretty terrible. Bob Crowley was just a likable person, not a good player. When the most memorable things to have happened was an amusing fake hidden immunity idol and Bob making his buff into a bow tie, you know you have a terrible season.

(Though thankfully it did give us Corrine.)

28. Survivor: Nicaragua (Season 21)

It was a tedious season until Fabio went on his immunity streak. By breaking up the boot order, Fabio rode to victory, and gave us a likeable winner, which puts this ahead of...

29. Survivor: Thailand (Season 5)

Easily the most unlikable cast in Survivor history overshadows one of the greatest games played by Brian Heidik. The final immunity challenge was cool, but otherwise it was a horrible season to watch. No tribal swap, no merge until the jury and we were left with waiting for the Pagong-ing to finish. And one of the best games played was rewarded with a 4-3 victory versus a terrible person.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Survivor: Worlds Apart Final Five Power Rankings

With the Survivor: Second Chances ballot being announed 12 days ago, Survivor 30 seemed to become an afterthought. A season that had been universally praised preseason as a great one. Heck, the buzz going into San Juan del Sur was that 29 was a fine season, but everybody was thinkng that Worlds Apart was a homerun on the level of Caguayan. How did this happen?

Part of it is the excitement of us fans getting to choose the cast. Kelly Wiglesworth! Jeff Varner! Sabrina Thompson! (Well, maybe not all of the choices bring out the same sort of passion.) But the other part of it is that the end of the season seems somewhat straight forward. Everything that the show is telling us is that Mike or Carolyn win. Especially when combined with the preseason hype; we have to assume that production would not be pushing how great this season is if they knew that Will or Rodney win. Sierra could be sold as a likeable winner, but the show hasn't done anything to really feature Sierra. If the season is so great, you would think that they would at least attempt to make the winner one of the stars of the season.

Working under the assumption that it is a Mike or Carolyn win, then we know the framework as to how it will play out. Mike or Carolyn will win out in immunity challenges, and then will laugh to the bank, as the two people who go to final tribal are disliked by the jury. The only intrigue is with a Rodney/Sierra/Will final, but nothing that we have seen would indicate that to be a possibility. With that in mind, here are my final five power rankings. Normally I would include what the ideal final 3 would be for each player, but that should be readily transparent (Mike does not Carolyn in the final three, and vice versa. The other three do not want Mike or Carolyn in the final three.)

5. Will

If there's anything transparently obvious, it's that Will has no clue how to play the game, and that there is a chance he has never watched an episode of Survivor prior to being cast on the show. His endgame is atrocious; my only guess on his thinking (assuming he is thinking about it) is that he thinks if he makes it to final tribal, the other people will be less liked than him, so the jury will give him the win. If he was thinking about that, his actions did not show it. His treatment of Shirin was terrible on a human level, but it was also horrendous on a gameplay level as well. Making a potential juror hate you is bad on it's own. Doubling down on it in front of the actual jury members who like your target is just writing off a bunch of votes.

He can't counter the unlikeability with his game play either. He is being carried to the end by his alliance; he doesn't win immunity (that was part of what made his "I want my letter, and I won't compete in this immunity challenge" gambit laughable; everybody knew that he wasn't going to win that challenge, so he would basically be getting something for nothing. Good on Shirin for stopping that charade.) The only play Will can point to is turning on his fellow no collar players; and even then it was a "Well, I'm just going to follow along with this alliance instead." He also made puzzling moves; when Mike showed his hidden immunity idol and said he was going to use it on Shirin while saying that Tyler would get a vote; Tyler panicked and voted for Dan in an attempt to save himself. Will also voted for Dan. Why? Nobody knows for sure. Will himself seemed to explain it by saying that he didn't know what was going on. If we take that at face value, then it's another example of Will not knowing what was going on in the game. If he was trying to protect some sort of secret alliance with Tyler, then why didn't he vote with Tyler the next week to at least attempt to force a tie with Dan?

Will is an awful player; possibly the worst to make it this far. If he wins, then Survivor will have jumped the shark.

4. Sierra
3. Rodney

I'm combining Rodney and Sierra because I oscilate between them when deciding who will win the game if Mike and Carolyn do not. Rodyney has been much more present in the show; he's been more active in playing the game, and has been arguably the driving force in the dominant alliance. That's why he ranks ahead of Sierra.

And to be honest, I think a Rodney win would be sellable because of that, and his apparent change in attitude when not playing Survivor. Many of the other players are complimentary of him outside of the game. Rodney's impressions are pretty funny and dead on as well. Would his win be ideal? Heck no. But it's something that can at least be swallowed.

But I'm not sleeping on Sierra's chances. She will be sitting next to Rodney and Will, who have managed to anger a lot of jurors. Her gameplay story is not that compelling; it's essentially Will's with a bit more anger about being betrayed by the Blue Collars. But she hasn't actively insulted anybody, nor has she acted in a mean way. If the jury is bitter enough, that could worth a million dollars.

2. Carolyn

Momma C is in a desperate situation. Even though there's a bigger target than her, she is still the second biggest target. She can only get away with not winning the final 5 immunity challenge if Mike also loses (and doesn't find a hidden immunity idol along the way.) Even if she manages to survive the final five vote, she must win final four immunity, or else she will be eliminated then. In short, she also much win out to win the game.

She also has a small hurdle to get over with the jury. Jenn, Joe and Shirin all seem to not like Carolyn. Their dislike of who she's sitting next to might be greater than their dislike of Carolyn, and Carolyn's moves in the last two episodes might make her more likeable in the eyes of the jury.

It will be interesting to see if she keeps Rodney along with her until the end. Her poor handling of whether to give him reward or not these last two weeks has probably made her less likely to receive Rodney's vote. So she has to wonder whether it is better to sit next to Rodney at the end, or to put him on the jury where his vote might be a lost cause.

1. Mike

On the most recent Survivor Know it Alls, Rob Cesternino and Stephen Fishbach discussed whether Mike's game was the same as Tony's. They concluded it was; I think that it's actually closer to Tony 2.0. The thing with Tony's game was that when he was in the lead, he was still looking to mix things up and do what was best for his game. Sometimes that lead him to make plays seemingly against his alliance and then patch things up after. Mike went against a member of his alliance once, when he voted out Joaquin instead of Joe. That angered Rodney, and set into motion the events that would lead Mike to be on the bottom of his alliance (even if he didn't know it at the time.) Mike was also the one to recognize that it was important to keep his tribe tight, even after they had blindsided Lindsey and alienated Sierra. Rodney and Dan did not see this in the same way, and it left Mike to make amends and hope that Sierra would not flip.

Mike also was able to suss out when he might be in trouble, and then act on it. Tony "got lucky" at the merge when he thought he had outsmarted the other tribe by playing an idol on LJ (thinking that was who they were voting out.) When it turned out he had read the other tribe wrong, he was only saved by Kass flipping.

Mike is number one on these rankings because he's going to win if he makes it to final tribal, and he's the most likely to win out in immunity challenges. But even if he doesn't win, we will see him again on Second Chances. That's pretty well guaranteed.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 5 Thoughts

After some thought, I realized why San Juan del Sur seemed like a boring season - it had a lot of decent game play, and was pretty minimal on the absurd and crazy. That might give somebody like me opportunity to discuss what might be the optimal play at any given time, but in general it makes for a boring watch. You need great game play to be captivating, but more important than that, you need some really bad game play. Survivor: Worlds Apart has been nothing, if not giving in the bad game play category.

So was our first bad game player, telling a giant lie that superfans Shirin and Max could see right through. We followed up with Vince, who was done in not by his own bad game play, but by Nina's horrendous decision to tell Will that Vince had been talking about targeting him. And of course, Nina's own play ended up being her own undoing.

Lindsay ended up yelling at her tribemates one too many times to move on, and though she was funny in confessionals, she took things too far when attacking tribemates. Max, aside from having annoying habits that alienated his tribemates, decided to continually talk to Shirin away from the rest of his tribe, which is a big red flag that any Survivor player can pick up on.

And then this week, Joaquin did not get away unscathed. He thought that he had smoothed things over with Sierra, and had her on board to be a part of a 4 person alliance with him, Tyler and Rodney. But he didn't think that Rodney would be an issue with Sierra, and he just kinda moved along, not willing to make sure that the wound had been healed.

And the bigger loser this week, Rodney, did not help his own cause by just assuming that it was a game and that Sierra could move past his brutal outburst 2 tribal councils ago. He just had to apologize sincerly to Sierra and things could have been just fine. Instead he chose to assume Sierra was good and not make any overtures to her. That, along with an arrogance that he was pulling one over on his tribe when his actions were rather transparent to them, lead to him being just as blindsided as his best bro Joaquin when the votes were revealed.

This season hasn't shown there to be anybody who is going to make a really big play that leaves people stunned. But it has shown us a lot of players who are willing to make bad plays while boasting about how great a position they are in, thus feeding us a continuous buffet of comeuppance. Without the great bold player, this is the best thing that could happen in a season.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 4 Quick Thought

The exact moment when Max realized that Shirin might not be the ideal core alliance member.

More tomorrow when I process what the heck happened in this episode.

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Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 2 Thoughts

(03/18 Note: Somehow this did not get published when I first wrote it 2 weeks ago. So here it is now, unchanged from then.)

When I watch an episode of Survivor, I have a tendency to write little notes on things that I think might be interesting for a blog post. Normally I'll take them and combine them into bigger points and go from there. Today, I'm not going to to that though, mostly for expediency's sake.

Nina and Fitting In

This episode wa No Collar heavy for obvious reasons. And we got to know Nina a lot more as she inadverantly drove the boot this week. It all started with her inability to fit in with the rest of the group. The biggest takeaway from this? If somebody isn't fitting in, there is blame to spread around.

The other women in the tribe seemingly made an effort to include Nina, but I don't think they were fully aware of how they were excluding her as well. Nina's deaf. Speaking fast to her is not going to help anything, as she is concentrating on hearing you, so it will be more difficult for her to comprehend what you are saying. So while it is nice that you are trying to include her, you aren't going far enough.

With that said, Nina wasn't doing a great job of including herself with the group. If she wasn't understanding what they were saying, she needed to speak up. If you want to be included in a group, you have to do your part as well. If they choose to exclude you after that, then it's not on you and you can act accordingly. Nina skipped this step.

Max Has Glasses

I don't know how I missed this last episode, but Max is wearing glasses. And in an episode where he talked about paying homage to his Survivor predecessors, how could he have not tried to use his glasses to start a fire?

Next Generation Survivor Strategy

The paying homage to the previous Survivor players was interesting. Max made a point of going naked to swim in part as a tribute to Richard Hatch (I presume, unless he was also paying homage to the hot tub scene in Survivor: Cook Islands.) But he also made an interesting point that going naked keeps people away and gives you time to strategize without looking like you are strategizing. It's actually a smart idea, especially if you can make it your thing without setting off alarm bells. The problem for Max is that it is setting off alarm bells, if the confessional from Tyler can be believed.

The other interesting part is that Shirin picked up on this idea, and started doing it herself. She figured out that Max was using it as a ploy to get alone time and did her own version of it. Maybe this is going to be a power couple of some kind, or maybe it's only going to put a bigger target on both of their backs. But it is right now the main pair to watch.

(Except for maybe Joe and Jenn, because Jenn is my favourite player to watch right now.)

(And kudos to everybody involved in the Joaquin/Tyler/Shirin conversation for giving us the best view of the absolute absurdity of Shirin without any bottoms on chatting casually with Tyler and Joaquin, who are both fully cloathed. I really appreciated it.)

Worse Player: Vince or Nina

Vince's undoing wasn't necessarily his own. He played to his own instincts of self-survival and had it backfire in a way that I know he did not imagine could happen. And he had Nina to blame for it.

When Vince floated the idea of voting Will out, I think he did it with 2 intentions. The first was because he truly did want his tribe to stay as strong as possible, while not losing his main ally in Nina. But I also think that he floated Will's name to Nina, he was feeling her out to see if he could come up with an acceptable name that would keep both sides happy and just as importantly, keep him safe for now and just hope to get to a tribe swap. He had to know that Will was playing both sides, and even though he would end up at a disadvantage, he would also have Nina as a bit of a shield since she wasn't getting along with anybody.

Nina herself acted out of self-preservation as well, just in a different way. Her closest bond in the tribe is with Will. So her telling Will that Vince had mentioned voting out Will wasn't some sort of plan to get rid of Vince, it was an attempt to further strengthen her bond with Will. All Will heard though was "Vince wants me out."

Luckily for Will, he had all of the power in his hands. He knew that the plan was to have a split vote and on the revote Nina would be voted out. He also knew that his vote was going to be for Nina in this plan. By changing his vote, he would decide who would go home, and he had options. Hearing that Vince thought about voting Will out was all Will needed to chose to go with Joe et al. It's better to be at the bottom of the majority than to be a part of the majority but know that the majority thinks of you as a liability.

Will isn't out the clear though. By changing his vote, he broke trust with Nina, who was almost as blindsided as Vince was. But he also broke trust with the Joe group, as they were expecting him to vote Nina so they could vote her out. Now he might be able to explain that away, but he's in a tenuous situation. His being at the bottom of the majority could easily switch to being a part of the majority but not having their trust. And since the majority doesn't need his vote to decide who goes home, he could end up on the chopping block, or at a minimum he might have to turn completely against Nina.

Which is ultimately why Nina is a worse player than Vince. There was no reason for her to tell Will about Vince's musings of voting Will out. They had a plan that was going to work and was going to put her in a much better position. Telling Will about Vince's idea could only cause distrust between Vince and Will, and since Will has already told you that there is another plan out there which involves you getting voted out, you do not want to do anything that would rock the boat and might end up causing you to go home. At a minimum, if voting Jenn out doesn't happen, you are going to be in a much worse position and holding on for your life in this game. You can't just consider how other people's actions are going to affect you, you need to consider how your actions are going to affect others. I'm not sure that Nina understands that concept fully.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Survivor: Worlds Apart Episode 1 Thoughts

There's Never A Right Choice

They brought back a variation on the twist they introduced in Survivor Caguayan, where selected players were given a choice of getting a bit of food and a clue to a hidden immunity idol, or a larger amount of food. This time they put in a twist, where instead of one person having to make the decision, they had 2. This changed the dynamic significantly.

In Caguayan, it was one person faced with the decision. That meant that only that person knew the truth about the decision (and actually was the only person aware of what comprised the decision.) This also meant that only one person had the knowledge of what was in the hidden immunity idol clue, and only one person had to keep up a lie. It was almost a no-brainer to choose the smaller amount of food and the hidden immunity idol clue.

By adding a second person to the decision, the thought process shifts significantly. All of the sudden, two people have to remain on the same page and keep up the same story. Considering that this is happenning on day 1, the reward for this choice is far out paced by the risk of having the other person blowig the story. As well, choosing the idol clue puts you into an alliance by default. Both you and the other person know what the clue is, so it only makes sense to team up to look for it and also haave it to use for both people who have the clue. This is especially dangerous because if it turns out that the person who you are tied to is a bad player with a bad attitude, you can't do much. You can't go to the other side and say that you had been lying before about the food received, but now you are telling the truth. All that is going to do is put a larger target on your back. So it is essential that you are partnering with another strong person who has been completely honest with you. Good luck in finding that.

We saw this play out with the No Collar and Blue Collar teams, where they chose the "Honest" box instead of the "Deceive" box. A main part of the reasoning was that there was no reason to antagonize their fellow castaways. But it also gave the players flexibility in that they can play the game as is. Now granted, there was some grumbling that the food they received was too little to be the "honest" selection, but that is much easier to overcome.

The white collar chose to the lesser food and to deceive, which ended up being a predictably disasterous play. The lie they told was found out to be a lie almost immediately, and put the target on So and Joaquin very quickly. Part of that was that the lie was not very believable, but it was also in part because the So/Joaquin pairing just weren't strong enouh players to pull off a move like that. And they also were not strong enough players to recover from their initial appearance of being deceitful. As Max said, he would have made the same choice as well, but he would have come up with a better lie.

I would be curious to see how they vary this twist the next time they run it. They have to swing back to makig the choice more tempting, so maybe the gain for the individual would be greater in some way. Or maybe they would just rn it the same as the first time the twist was run, knowing that the knowledge that the offer was being made would be in the tribes in the first place.

A Comparison Nobody Wants To Be Involved In

So Kim was originally supposed to play in Survivor: San Juan del Sur, but she and her sister were pulled when her sister experienced a medical emergency. Instead, So was put on the Worlds Apart cast. For her troubles, So was the first castaway voted from the game. But is this enough to make her the first boot that you felt most sorry for?

I think she ranks among the first boots that I feel the wort about, along with Franny from Survivor: Fans vs. Favorites 2 and Tina Scheer from Survivor: Panama. But ultimately, I put Tina's boot from Survivor: Pannama as the first boot that I feel the worst about. Franny's boot was kinda amusing in that we have symmetry with Sandra - one person who has won both times she has played the game, and one perso who has been voted out first both times she has played the game. And So just played the game horribly, including putting in a possibly all time terrible performance at Tribal Council.

Tina's story was similar to So, in that Tina was also supposed to play in a previous season (Guatamala), but was pulled at the last second. The difference is that Tina was not pulled because the person she was supposed to play with had a medical emergency; instead Tina was pulled because her son had died. When she played in Panama, you could tell that Tina was still dealing with the grief of her son's passing. It was difficult to watch her pay tribute to her son, especially knowing that she was ultimately destined to be voted out. You couldn't help but feel bad for her, and wish that she wasn't in the position she was in.

The Value of Being a Survivor Superfan

Being a Survivor contestant and a superfan comes with a lot of baggage to overcome. In the early going, it can put a target on your back as you are considered to have more knowledge of the game and thus an advantage over everybody else. But there are times when you need to use that knowledge to your advantage.

When Joaquin and So decided to take the immunity idol clue and thus less beans, they also had to decide how to spin their choice. Joaquin was not experienced in the game, so when So came up with the iidea of saying there were 3 boxes and they chose the "neutral" box, he didn't have the knowledge to disagree. But it was a lie that was doomed to fail, thanks in no small part to Max and Shirin.

The first problem with the lie is that to anybody, it would be difficult to seem plausible. There were 3 choices - honest, neutral and deceive - and neutral only gave a small amount of beans? Did that mean that deceive gave no beans but something else, and honest gave the most amount of beans? And even if that was the case, why the heck would you ever choose neutral?

The second problem is something that a superfan would pick up on immediately. Anytime there is a choice to be made by a Survivor, there is never a mushy middle option. When they ran this in Cayguayan, there were only two options - big bag of food, or small bag of food and an immunity idol clue. When you win a reward challenge, there is always a choice of who you want to bring with you for reward, but somebody isn't getting chosen. In other words, there are always consequences to your choice. Max and Shirin picked up on this immediately, and basically knew that they would have to consider anything So and Joaquin said to be suspicious.

There was also another moment where Max's superfandom came in handy. When he was considering who to vote with, he knew that he had a solid group of three - himself, Carolyn and Shirin. But Max knew that he wasn't in a solid enough position to just vote with Carolyn and Shirin, but instead was in a swing position with Tyler. So he went to Tyler and they both decided which pair they were going to go with.

The upshot of this is that Max put himself in the majority alliance with Carolyn and Shirin, did not alienate anybody in his tribe, and established himself in a power position without being viewed as a significant threat.

I'm deinitely going to have more to say about Max as the season goes on - he is by far the most fascinating player to consider from many different angles. But so far I am impressed by his game play and am looking forward to watching him play more.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Survivor San Juan del Sur Final Episode thoughts

Hello, and welcome to this post about the final episode of Survivor: San Juan del Sur (Blood vs. Water 2.) Tomorrow I will give you thoughts about the season in general, but tonight, it's about the finale.

(Note: these thoughts are written as the show went on.)

Final 5

The reward challenge produced one of the best advantages that Survivor has ever given out. It was a giant advantage for Keith, and did win him the challenge by being able to practice, but at the same time it could have been overcome if one of the others picked up how to handle the balls, or if Keith couldn't get it even after all that practice.

With that said, Keith made a dumb decision by sending Jacqulyn to Exile. It should have been Natalie. That way, he could have worked on Baylor/Missy/Jacqulyn so that he can stick around instead of Natalie (not knowing that Natalie had an immunity idol.) Sending Jacqulyn away doesn't change the game at all for him - he needs to win out on immunity to make it to final three. With Natalie out of the way, he might have been able to flip the script.

Instead, Natalie chose to flip the script. She thought that Baylor would have made Missy's final 3 argument stronger. That has some sense to it, in that Missy could argue that she was playing for 2 and now has herself and Baylor at final tribal. But there's the filpside, which is that Missy and Baylor could have split votes, or been seen as a single entity (a la Parvarti and Russell in Heroes vs. Villains.) What might have flipped it is that Missy and Baylor could force a tie at final 4, and there's nothing Natalie could do about it. Essentially, Missy and Baylor would decide who was going to get voted out, whether by actual vote out, or by winning a fire building challenge. And by Natalie saving Jacqulyn, she demonstrates to the jury another big power move, and to Jacqulyn she demonstrates loyalty, which could be helpful if Natalie had to vote out Missy.

What would have been awesome is if Jacqulyn had voted for Natalie. That would have been the biggest move in Survivor ever.

Final 4

"She who wears the necklace has all the power." When exactly did Survivor become Big Brother? Jacqulyn is one vote. She doesn't hold all the power?

With that said, Jacqulyn woke up to the true problem with the final 4 she is in - Natalie and Keith are both in a position to win versus her. So she had to figure out exactly who is the bigger threat to win the game. She thought it would be Keith, which is defensible, but I don't think it's right. Natalie laid out that she had made the biggest move in the game. The jury knows it. Keith might have the inside track to Alex's vote (as well as having Wes's), but Natalie has Jeremy locked up, and her gameplay gives her the greatest edge to get Josh and Reed's votes. Not to mention that Keith might feel loyal to Natalie for saving him at final 6. That's a tough mountain to climb for Jacqulyn, and one that she could have avoided by flipping the script and voting for Natalie.

(And even if Missy decided to vote for Keith, you can make the vote 2-2 and go to fire making.)

"Everybody loves firemen" then a VICIOUS CUT to Jeremy brooding. Thank you again Survivor editors. (And also for another slack jawed Alex shot.)

Final 3

You know, I'm one of the few people who liked the Fallen Comrades portion of the final episode, where they go back and take all of the name plates off of the people voted out, reminisce about them, hen burn the name plates. But this year I miss it even more, if only because I wanted to hear what everybody would say about John Rocker. Would Natalie call him a racist homophobe again Would somebody break ranks and say something nice about him? Thanks for taking that away from me CBS.

Final Tribal, and Missy compares the jury's decision to an actual jury's decision in a murder case, calling them the same in impact. Look, I know what you were going for Missy, but let's stay away from hyperbole. (Also, a bad choice to say that what the jury decides will affect the rest of your life. It's probably going to affect the rest of Natalie's and Jacqulyn's life as well.)

"My deal is loyalty, from beginning to end." You were involved in the Jeremy and Jon blindsides. That's not a great thing to bring up.

Jacqulyn is actually going to play "I can't have kids" card to this jury? What she has to go through with not being able to have children herself is terrible, but are Wes, Alex (and Keith for that matter) your target audience for understanding and sympathy? 

Alex might legitimately be a mouth breather. That's the only explanation for his slack jawedness, unless they dope him up before he goes to tribal council.

Natalie starts out by saying that she made risky moves on her own. Um, I think you mean that you didn't have a loved one to stand by you, but it didn't come out that way. And don't mention how often you went to Exile, unless you went each and every time.

Throwing down the gauntlet by saying that you should have been voted out at final 4 is pretty strong though Natalie.

Jon starts out the questions with a strong question, asking Jacqulyn what big move she made that she was solely responsible for, and how did it affect the final 3. And Jacqulyn came up with the strongest answer she could - choosing to vote out Josh. By explaining that she would have been at the bottom of the Josh/Reed/bros alliance, she also gave herself a bit of an arch as to how she got to the final 3.

(At this point I feel a need to confess that I'm probably misspelling Jacqulyn's name. For that I amtruly sorry and I will likely correct it at some point.)

Keith asks Natalie "how does it feel that the last words were a lie?" He was not thrilled about being lied to and did not really accept that Natalie felt she had to lie to him.

Alex basically asks Natalie the exact same question that Jon asked Jacqulyn. Like I think he forgot his question and then heard Jon's and went, "Yeah, that's a good one." Natalie is smart enough to say that it was voting out Alex, which is what he wanted to hear. Oh Alex, you can't even hold a candle to Jean-Robert's self absorption.) 

Oh, more Alex questions. Asking Missy how she was the mother in the game. Directed votes, yadda yadda, yadda, built trust, etc.

Baylor is so proud of the final three y'al! And she talks to her mom and relates playing the game to what they've been through, including a terrible analogy.

YAY JOSH! Jacqulyn gets asked if she made it on the strength of her own merits, or if choice made by stronger players made it happen. The correct answer is a difficult one - admit that she was obviously saved by Natalie at final 5, but then point out that she made the decision to vote Josh out, and she made the decision to vote Jeremy out, and she was the one that had to eventually bring Jon back on board during their big fight. Maybe even point out that she told Jon to play his idol at final 6, but he had trust in his alliance that stabbed him in the back.

What she actually said was that she and Jon talked about everything, which wasn't going to satisfy Josh. So he asks the same question that Jon did - could you give us one move that was solely your move? That's a bullshit question Josh, because she took credit for your vote out and Jon agreed. If you call that a "group" move, then any move is a group move because it involves getting more than one person on board to complete it (unless you have a hidden immunity idol and everybody votes for you.) And she sticks with it, saying that her move was voting Josh out, and it was her idea. I don't know if Josh accepts it, but he seemed satisfied enough.

Wes wants to know what it was like to play with your loved one (awkward because Natalie is right there.) 

(BTW, the way this jury has gone, I think they're looking for a reason to vote for Jacqulyn, which is odd.) Natalie gets to bring up that she hadn't been away from Nadiya from

Jeremy is a student of the game and he likes big moves. So vote for Natalie. (That's a quarter David.)

Reed is last and he loves watching Natalie game. Reed loved getting to know Jacqulyn. And now here comes the "snake and rat" moment of Final Tribal. She says that Missy cast herself as the mother figure, but everybody will see that she was the wicked step mother. She spoiled her children (not sure how that's a wicked step mother) and she took things she wasn't entitled to. She "gave her children extra rice?" This coming from the guy who's tribe bartered with Jeff Probst to get more rice? C'mon man. The rest was worthy of a Broadway actor who wanted to prove he had panache and could sell a scene. 

(If you're going to do a rant like that, at least bring it to Goldsmith-ian levels. You'll never reach Hawk-ian levels unless you truly hate the person and are not concerned about looking good on TV.)

And Reed is now proud of his speech, which crushed Baylor. Good job?

So it looks like the votes are going to go this way:

Natalie gets Jeremy and Reed.  Probably Alex, possibly Josh. She probably doesn't get Keith
Jacqulyn gets Jon and probably Keith.
Missy get Baylor.

Wes I have no clue.

So Natalie wins, probably 5-2-1, or maybe 4-3-1.

This runover is terrible. Too many cutaways, obviously (Did we need Jeff with the random fans saying they don't miss an episode?)

Reed voted for Jacqulyn? Um, what? What? No seriously, what? 

Might my 4-3-1 involve Jacqulyn getting Reed's vote, and Natalie getting Keith's?

(In reconsidering the runover, I don't know if there's that much to discuss.)

Jaclyn - Jon's vote
Natalie - Jeremy's vote
Jaclyn - Reed's vote
Missy - Baylor's vote

The best player won this season, though she had help from Jon being a fool and trusting her too much. But that's nitpicking. She was the one who played the best game, and if she didn't win it might have actually knocked this season even lower on the season rankings (coming soon!)


(Because this is obviously important.)

Jeff's first cutaway was the most awkward by far. Didn't we learn our lesson last year about Jeff talking to little children live on the finale? Nothing good can come from it, unless you enjoy awkward exchanges. And who has bacon and eggs for breakfast, then a burger and fries for lunch, and spaghetti and garlic bread for dinner in a typical day?

After all that, the segment with Austin (the Make a Wish child) was great, if only for the ending. His "You're welcome" for the challenge he designed was great.

Also fun as the segment with Keith after tribal, and then Keith's wife.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Unsatisfying endings suck


The season finale of the Amazing Race Canada just finished, and I'm left feeling unsatisfied.

The overriding story of the season was the dominance of Meaghan and Natalie - winning 7 of the 11 legs heading into the finale. Their two opposing teams (Mickey and Pete, Ryan and Rob) had not won any legs to date. So when Mickey and Pete won the final leg and thus the Amazing Race, all I could think was "What an anti-climatic end."

The underdog story is a simple story, but one that can be very powerful when done right. You get a likable person or team who might not be the most skilled, but they show a great effort, never give up and show an improvement from where they started to where they are now, and you have a great underdog for a story. But for the story to work, you need a great foil, one that is dominant, one that seemingly has all of talents necessary to win, but one that you want to see fail.  Mickey and Pete were great underdogs - ones that as the race went on, you could see coalescing as a team and becoming a team that could win the race if things broke their way.  The problem was with their foils in Meaghan and Natalie.

Meaghan and Natalie came into the Race as the most recognizable team (or second to Rex and Bob.) Their story of being members of the Canadian National Women's hockey team that won the Olympic gold medal, coming back from a 2 goal deficit with 5 minutes remaining in the gold medal game. Canada already knows of their perseverance and loves them. We know that they are highly skilled and great competitors. During the race, this view was reinforced. We were cheering with them as they dominated the race like no other all female team, and we were never really given a reason to dislike them. Heck, Meaghan ran the race with a broken hand, which was an incredible hinderance. They had their faults, sure, but most negatives were minor. In short, we had no reason to root against Meaghan and Natalie; they were a lovable giant, not an angry and hateable Goliath.

I can't blame the editors for this; it is a competition show so they have to work with the results they are given, and the actions of the teams to frame the story. That doesn't make me feel better about the results though, and obviously there was not enough negative actions by Meaghan and Natalie to make us want to see them fail. This is a shame because the season itself was a great season. Between the Alain and Audrey engagement, the emotional Normandy pit stop which struck the right tone of both reverence, respect and historical significance without overweighing it with a sense of patriotism and even the ending of the final four leg where Sukhi completes the final task while her brother knows that they have lost, it was the most fun season of the Amazing Race I have watched, regardless of the host country.

I'll try to remember this season for all of the great moments; however I fear that all I will remember is that it was the season that Meaghan and Natalie should have won.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Survivor: Cagayan Episode 9 Power Rankings

7. Jefra

My struggle with Jefra is that I don't know what her story is. What I mean is that should she get to final tribal, I don't know what she will say to convince the jury that she deserves the win. She can't really play the underdog card; going back to her alliance this week made sure of that. Personal growth? She is very young, so I can see that as a possibility but a difficult sell. The problem is that it isn't easy for her to explain her personal growth. She didn't have to struggle, really. Other than LJ's blind side, she didn't really have much adversity. Stuff like living in the wild sounds great in theory, but most people will just shake that off as irrelevant to the game.

I think Jefra has a good shot at making it to final tribal, but even if she does, she has virtually no chance of winning.

Best final three: Kass, Woo

In this case, she has orchestrated Tony's demise some how, and Woo hasn't gone on a massive immunity streak. So she's banking on Woo not having a story either, and Kass having a story that angers the jury. I don't see it happening that way though.

6. Spencer

Spencer has a strong chance to win if he makes final tribal. He has a great story of overcoming adversity; he has big moves that he can point to; and he has immunity wins to boot. With that said, he's in a lot of trouble because everybody knows that he is a huge threat to win the game if he makes it to final tribal.

He has to start to take a page from the Sandra playbook and just play 3 days at a time with the attitude of "Anybody but me."

If Tony has a crazy idea to vote somebody else out? Great! Who'd you like to take out Tony?

Kass wants to stir up some more chaos? No problem! Tell me what you want to do!

This has to be his game for the next while, unless he plans on going on an immunity run. Even then, he's in a tough spot.

Best final three: Jefra, Woo

Jefra is a given; she is a goat for Spencer. Woo is a more difficult call; I chose him because he is more likely to be following somebody else's lead and not arranging a major move. Tasha and Kass are also possibilities here.

5. Tasha

Tasha's story is the same as Spencer's. The biggest difference is that Tasha seems to be sliding a bit under the radar. Spencer is still considered to be a bigger threat, and Tony still exists as a possible blind side (idol excluded from this conversation.) Tasha could just walk through to the final 5, without being threatened. At that point she needs to make one move and she could get into the final tribal.

The flip side is that if Spencer wins immunity this week, she is the bvious target. And this drags her down a lot.

Best final three: Jefra, Woo

What I said for Spencer, holds true for Tasha as well. Really, she and Spencer should probably bring the group of three that allows them to make final 5/4.

4. Woo

Here's the thing about Woo: he could very well be Natalie White to Tony's Russell Hantz. If the jury hates Tony, then Woo just needs to be a better choice than the other person he's up against. He seems to be friendly with everybody, and if he throws in another immunity challenge win, he's in a good spot.

The challenge for Woo is that he needs to provide a story for the jury. I don't think he can do it. Which means that he is very much reliant on a bitter jury, and I don't know that this jury is going to be that bitter.

Best final three: Tony, Jefra

Woo's best case scenario is that the jury does not like Tony at all and is looking for somebody else to give the money to. That's where Woo's best chance lies, and is going to require him to have a good tribal council showing as well. If he can reconcile how he let Tony make all of the decisions but still was an equal partner to Tony he will be laughing.

3. Kass

I don't believe that we are here. Heck, this might be too high of a rating. But somehow Kass has made her inexplicable flip make sense and put her in a position that she is the official dark horse to win this season.

This isn't to defend her decision, BTW. It was incredibly short sighted and put her in a much worse position. But there are two themes to this season: The person who makes the least mistakes this season will win, and it is much better to be lucky than good. I am definitely interested in seeing what she would say at final tribal; I am hoping her lawyer background will make her performance great, but I am also aware that it could go off the rails real easy. Probably the most intriguing finalist possibility, because what she is capable of at final tribal covers the entire spectrum of performances.

Best final three: Jefra, Woo

Tony could replace Woo or Jefra, depending on how angry the jury is. The key for Kass is that she has a big move she can point to that worked out for her. And she somehow survived after being a multi time flipper. But that's about it. If the jury is going to reward somebody for game play, Kass needs to be the one who has the best game play on the jury to win.

2. Trish

Since I'm comparing people to finalists, Trish is Stephen Fishbach to Tony's JT. Her plays aren't obvious to everybody, so she's going to have a difficult time explaining why she deserves the money over Tony. But her game has been great, even when it looked shaky after the Cliff/Lindsay boots. She likely won't get the credit she deserves, and she probably can't beat Tony. But she can beat almost anybody else, and that's important.

Best final three: Jefra, Woo

It's repetitive, but going in with 2 other members of her alliance who did virtually nothing will make her look somewhat loyal and make her game play shine.

1. Tony

I've discussed Tony a lot, so let me get this off my chest:

I want Tony to lose.

I want him to get booted before making final tribal. I want it to be patently obvious to him that he was going to get booted, and then he does.

Frankly, Tony's played a great game. But the arrogance that he's showing now that he's in control, and the immaturity he shows when he's being targetted is grating on me. It's as though he feels that only good things should happen to him, and if something bad happens, he doesn't deserve it and it's time to complain.

And the arrogance irks me because it shows a complete lack of awareness as to how lucky he is to be in this game. At the merge, he blew is idol play; if it wasn't for Kass and her flip his game would essentially be done. He needs to acknowledge this at final tribal, or else he could be in a lot of trouble.

Best Final 3: Woo, Jefra

Really, this is Woo and another member of Tony's alliance. Whether that's Trish or Kass. Tony can't risk bringing Spencer or Tasha, lest their underdog status beat his gameplay. Trish is too much of a risk to bring along; and who knows what sort of performance Kass will give. So instead, Tony can go safe and bring those that have the worst narratives for final tribal. From there he just hopes that the jury is willing to listen.

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Survivor: Cagayan Episode 9 Thoughts

An ode to the Tyler Perry idol...

A lot of people (including people much smarter than me) have basically put Tony into the final 4. They do this because of Tony's discovery of the Tyler Perry idol. I think this is short sighted at best.

The Tyler Perry idol is a throw back to Cook Islands (and Panama) and the idol that Yul Kwon used and abused with great skill to make it to final tribal to win. And it is this that everybody remembers. The problem is that using Cook Islands to guide your thinking on how the idol will be used going forward is a bit akin to applying strategy from Borneo to current day Survivor: While it might give you a bit of a guide, it can not be applied directly to current day Survivor. There are too many seasons that have passed, and the game has evolved.

What made the Tyler Perry idol so powerful in Cook Islands was that nobody had any experience in playing with an idol in the game, so when they were confronted with the fact that Yul had an idol, they basically did not see a point to vote Yul out. Now, people know how to play against idols. They know they can split votes if they know that an idol is in play. They know how to bob and weave around idols. Most importantly, people are less afraid of idols in general.

In this case, the only way that Tony would be threatened by being voted out is if two players from his alliance would jump ship against him. If that happens, then Tony would only have a one week reprieve, and then he would face a 3-3 split vote (at best). And then he would have to deal with the fallout of deceiving his alliance one last time, after swearing that he wouldn't.

But what if he were to reveal that he had the idol? He could hold it over everybody else, sure. But since he can not play it on other people, it would be easy for a majority alliance to work around him and take out his supporting cast. With

And with all this in mind, it is very important to note that Tony is in the majority alliance right now. The only way that he can even be targetted prior to, say, the final 5, would be if he lost a majority of his alliance. And if that happens, he will be targetted after that. So if it comes to that, he will still be in trouble.

In short, this defeatist attitude about Tony having an incredibly overpowered idol is based off of old history and a bit overblown.

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