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an american badass.

What if I told you a story about an American who began life in captivity, broke free, then risked life and limb numerous times to save hundreds of men, women and children from a life of captivity. What if I told you a story about an American who fought for human rights? What if I told you a story about an American who worked as an armed scout and spy for the United States Army?

These are not different people. This is the same person. This person led a life dedicated to justice, freedom and ending human suffering; even if it meant dying for that cause.

You would call that person a hero. You would call that person an American badass. You would demand history tell this person’s story over and over. You would demand statues be erected and schools named in this person’s honor.

Who is this American hero?

Harriet Tubman.

a705fb06-4843-4a9c-904f-bfff8abf2d39.pngIf you’re surprised, it’s only slightly understandable. You probably didn’t hear much about Tubman beyond elementary school. That’s when I learned her story. We learned of her bravery in leading former slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Sure, she was covered in Civil War history classes, but not to any great extent. Her life’s journey is an iconic story of triumph over evil and of American exceptionalism.

Yet these days, if you listen to the rancor across social media, you don’t hear people championing Tubman as a pivotal figure in American history. You hear people cheering the decision by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to delay plans to put Tubman on the $20 bill.

Mnuchin claims this is not a high priority. Even if you take him at his word, the most troubling aspect of this story is the response from (white) people. At the low end, it’s ambivalence. But the most vocal proponents of this decision speak of Tubman as though she’s not an American, that she’s now worthy of the honor.

How did we arrive at this minor public debate? Last year, then-Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced Tubman would replace Jackson—seventh president of the United States—on the $20 bill. Tubman would be the first African American on the front of paper currency. The plan included keeping Jackson on the bill, but he’d be riding in the back of bus (on the backside).

For reasons beyond me, this seemed to cause quite a stir among conservatives. So much so, that rank-and-file conservatives cheered this week at Mnuchin’s announcement.

Personally speaking, I mostly don’t care whose face is on my foldin’ money. To me, the deeper subtext is more troubling; that people openly and vocally opposed this move with such vigor is disturbing to me. And, yes, the vast majority of the opposition is coming from white people, which confuses me. I’m a white guy (news flash!) and I don’t see the big deal about putting Tubman on the bill.

Some have argued Jackson, a former president, shouldn’t be pushed aside because Tubman was not a Founding Father or a president. My response: EXACTLY! There is no pecking order for whose face is placed on American currency. After all, did people make a stink over Susan B. Anthony coins? Probably, somewhere. But most people simply didn’t cotton to the idea of dollar coins in this country. Same thing with the Sacagawea coins. There might have been some quiet rumblings here and there about the person on the coin, but most people just seemed confused by the idea of dollar coins in circulation.

Fast forward to 2016 and the thought of a black woman on the $20 bill didn’t confuse people. It made people angry. In fairness, some of the backlash came from the left, as well. Some argued it was antithetical to Tubman’s legacy to place her image on currency. I’ll leave that to the liberal scholars and social justice warriors to hash out. You could say that argument is either absurd or warranted, but it’s not pernicious, like the not-so-veiled racist vitriol that flew around after the announcement.

Some said it was a form of “reverse racism” (which is both absurd and stupid). Others, like news commentator Greta Van Susteren, said it was “dividing the country.”

Huh?

Is this really where we are? People feel “divided” simply because a black woman will be on money? If that’s true, then those people seriously need to get a grip on reality.

At the end of the day, I honestly didn’t care one way or the other. Until Mnuchin made his announcement. By itself, the decision seems innocuous and, possibly, rational; until you look at the recent actions and decisions by this administration.

Before Mnuchin’s decision, you had the President of the United States referring to Confederate statues as “beautiful” and lashing out at decisions to remove them from public spaces. Prior to that, you had that same president give soft-pedaled denouncement of violence “on all sides” in Charlottesville. Oh yeah, he also said there were “fine people” on the side of Nazis, Klansmen and white nationalists (racists). David freaking Duke thanked him—THANKED HIM!—for his response. And let’s not forget the “build the wall” and so-called “Muslim travel ban” this president wants.

Never mind that we haven’t even discussed that this decision also feels oddly personal, since Trump is a self-identified fan of Andrew Jackson. That a president’s cabinet secretary would do the bidding of an American president based upon his own fancy vs. a decision that was put through a public vetting process during the previous administration is unsettling.

Now, I’m not saying this administration is overtly racist, but there is no question their policy decisions, their rhetoric and their actions clearly favor one group of people over others; so much so, that white supremacists have openly thanked the president.

Against this backdrop, Mnuchin’s Tubman decision—and those who applauded it—leave me feeling slightly queasy about people’s grasp of history and their understanding of what it means to be an American. Harriet Tubman is an American hero…FOR ALL AMERICANS. Her history is complex, brutal, angering and, at times violent. But it is also inspiring and champions those who made this country better for its sins. It is a testimony of how America is better for those who fought against tyranny in order to form a more perfect union.

Harriet Tubman’s history is American history. We all should celebrate her, whether she’s on the $20 bill or not.

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if i were the white house communications director for a day.

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Yes, that is my giant, jack-o-lantern-like cranium perched atop Anthony Scaramucci’s tiny, Lilliputian-like body. And yes, it’s bad PhotoShop. Sorry. My graphic designer sucks.

Presidents have to wear many hats. Outside of the actual duties of the job, as laid out by the constitution, they also have to sometimes serve as moral leaders, mourners in chief and wise, empathetic “dad” to the American public. The good ones know how to give voice to our anxiety, our pride, our pain and our anger. Where Ronald Reagan was masterful at communicating to the American public with sincerity, our current president—who burns through communications directors the way Spinal Tap burns through drummers—is the exact opposite.

Because I’m a communications hack by day, I’ve been viewing the post-Charlottesville events unfold through my public relations prism. Bottom line: this president and this White House couldn’t have botched it more if they tried. If I were the White House communications director for a day (which is about how long they usually last), I have my own thoughts on how I would’ve advised this president on what to say in response to Charlottesville.

Let me break it down for you in parts.

Part I: The Initial Statement
This is a delicate matter. In times of national crisis and/or tragedy, the nation looks to the president for reassurance and validation. Trump blew it. He absolutely blew it. You don’t tweet at an event like what we witness last weekend. That should never be the president’s first reaction.

Instead, the president must deliver a statement that conveys empathy, condolences and a sharp rebuke against Nazis. In the pantheon of political no-brainers, opposing Nazis is about as easy as it gets; or so we thought.

Anyway, if I were the White House Communications Director, I would’ve advised the president to deliver a statement that goes something like this:

[BEGIN]
My fellow Americans.

You are all aware by now of the awful tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. Like you, I am appalled, saddened and angered by the violence and tragic loss of three lives. The awful events of this weekend were set in motion by a gathering of hate groups with long histories of violence in this nation. These racist organizations took to a college campus to foment fear, hatred and to spread their racist ideology.

Let me be clear: these hate groups are an abomination to our American values and our American way of life. Nazis, white nationalists and racism have no place in civilized society. In no uncertain terms, you are not welcome here. I am instructing the Justice Department to conduct a full and thorough investigation of this weekend’s tragic events. I am also instructing the Department of Homeland Security to regard these hate groups as terrorist organizations that must be eradicated.

Our constitution avails all Americans the right to free speech, but it does not avail rights to hate groups to spread their pernicious ideology of hatred.

What cannot be lost in all this is the loss of human life today. We mourn for Heather Heyer, a bright young woman who felt her true purpose in life was to spread a message of love and hope. We also mourn for Virginia state troopers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Pilot Berk Bates who tragically died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the protests. I offer my deepest condolences to the families of these three victims.

Throughout the history of our great nation, we have encountered civil unrest too often as a result of racism. While I understand and appreciate the passion and dedication of those who speak out against racism in all its forms, I implore you to not resort to meeting violence with violence. We must appeal to our better angels and spread a message of peace, inclusion and togetherness. Answering violence from this awful scourge with violence will only dampen our efforts to achieve a more perfect union.

I encourage you to continue to speak out, to not allow racism to take root, but to do so peacefully.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” I call upon each of you today to carry Dr. King’s message forward and continue to spread love throughout your communities. This is the only true way—the American way—to stamp out this threat to our great society once and for all.

May God bless you, may God bless our fallen victims and their families, and may God bless these United States of America.
[END]

I know it’s not perfect, but it’s a first (and only) draft. Either way, you get the point. You offer empathy. You offer condolences. You tell the Nazis they are not welcome. You let the counter-protestors know you’re with them, but you ask for calm and nonviolent means to achieve their goals. You’re knocking it all out in 500 words or fewer.

That’s what a president does. You don’t step in a bear trap. And, by bear trap, I mean the false equivalence of “both sides.” No. Wrong. You condemn violence, but you do not lump counter-protestors in with racists. If you do that, you’re essentially validating the racists’ ideology.

A statement like this inoculates him from falling into a combative, disturbing and horrifying press conference where he gets into a push-and-shove over Confederate statues. Which leads me to…

Part II: The Great Statue Debate
Simply put: PUNT!

I say that because this president doesn’t share my views on the matter. But even if he did, I would advise against taking a hard position on it. Doing so would undermine and unravel the above statement that calls for unity and nonviolence against hate groups.

The goal is to keep the president aligned with the larger issues and to not get pulled into quicksand over hunks of bronze.

No, I’m not trivializing people’s feelings on the statues; but the president needs to focus attention on those about as much as he does the paintjob on Air Force jets.

Let the pundit class deal with the statues.

I would let the press secretary (eeeeeek!) say something like: “The president understands that passion runs deep on these statues in the communities. Therefore, the communities should decide for themselves how to address the issue. The president remains focused on addressing and eliminating future threats from racist hate groups.”

Also, what not to do: equate two Founding Fathers to Confederate generals. That does you no good at all.

Part III: When in Doubt, Denounce the Nazis
If you wish to be the president of all 50 states, don’t fall into the false equivalence trap. Don’t do the bidding of cable news hacks and Infowars. Just stay away from it. We aren’t talking about the ACLU vs. the Christian Coalition. We aren’t talking about Planned Parenthood vs. Focus on the Family. We’re talking about Nazis. NAZIS! No politician will lose points by denouncing Nazis. But the moment you start lumping other groups in with Nazis—and let’s be clear, NO OTHER GROUPS COMPARE!—you once again validate the racists. Simply put, don’t do it!

Of course, all this is predicated upon the belief that the president will be a rational, pragmatic, empathic, clearheaded and focused leader.

Your mileage may vary.

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survivor re-cap: who couldn’t see THAT coming?

Jeff-snuffing-torchAll season long I’ve been saying there is no way Debbie can win this game. No way. After last week’s power-play move to blindside Ozzy, I began to think she might’ve learned a thing or two from her consultation with Cochran. But this week, I found myself saying, “Oh yeah. THERE’S the Debbie we all know!” We saw it when she was dictating strategy to Aubry, ahead of Tribal Council. Aubry studiously listened to everything Debbie told her. And once Debbie turned around, Aubry’s eyeroll reflected the way most viewers felt.

Before getting to this week’s drama, let’s spend a moment on last week’s developments (since I didn’t write a recap last week). Voting out Hali was an easy move. For Hali, it was never a matter of if her torch gets snuffed, but when. The only time she really and truly began to play Survivor was at Tribal Council. That’ll work once, maybe twice; but not three times. I wish she had applied that gift of gab a bit better back at camp. She has the power to influence, but never used it until her back was to the wall. PIty.

And then there’s Ozzy. Sweet, handsome Ozzy: a man who was born half-fish and seems to thrive in this game as a fierce competitor and challenge beast. No other player seems more at home on an island in Survivor than Ozzy. And that ability to acclimate himself and win challenges means he’ll always have one of the biggest targets on his back. For all his athletic prowess in Survivor, Ozzy seems to have a blind spot when it comes to Survivor strategy. There’s no other way to describe it.

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No matter what, Aubry’s hair from last week’s two-hour episode remains my favorite Survivor moment this season.

It was certainly a smart move to take him out now, so props to Debbie for orchestrating that. However, she overplayed her hand—and her extra vote—in taking out Ozzy. By playing the second vote, she all but guaranteed she lost a jury vote. Had she kept the extra parchment in her pocket, Ozzy still would’ve gone home. Even if he didn’t, Debbie was still in a good spot with her alliance and could’ve easily taken him out another time. It was a simultaneously smart and dumb play, if you ask me. But that’s Debbie for you. She goes all-in on everything; doesn’t know how to manage her bankroll. And that caught up to her.

As the game moves into a chaotic plays of shifting alliances and occasional backstabbing, I was a bit surprised at how personally Andrea took it that Zeke pondered targeting her. Well, let me backtrack. I understand her being upset about it, but blowing up at Zeke, post-Tribal Council, is a surefire way to paint a target on your own back. Acting on emotion in Survivor is a fool’s gambit and often leads to torch-snuffing.

It probably should have, were it not for Officer Sarah flipping from her solid alliance to take out Debbie. And I have to be honest, I’m shocked by that. Sarah earned herself a true advantage by sneaking away the “steal a vote” advantage during the reward challenge. I can see that paying major dividends the deeper we go in this game. I’m not sure if Sarah acted on emotion or calculation in flipping the vote to Debbie at Tribal Council. Although, Debbie did bring it on herself by not-so-quietly betraying her own alliance by approaching Aubry to take Sarah’s place. To that end, sure, I can see why Sarah switched her vote. Will her alliance buy it? Therein lies the question.

If anything, this shows just how difficult it is to maintain a strong alliance in Survivor. Zeke correctly stated the deck re-shuffles after every vote. While a player like Brad Culpepper is in control when his alliance isn’t cracking, Zeke’s game opens up when the relationships remain fluid. As a fan of the game, I prefer the latter. It’s way more fun to watch the balance of power shift. Although Culpepper’s put himself in a strong, strategic spot. He’s well-liked, has a loyal core alliance (Sierra, Troyzan and maybe Tai) and seems like a threat in challenges. But it’s his game play at camp that’s earned him a shot at winning. He’s playing a very patient, quiet game. For now.

Yeah, we have to talk about Cirie.
Even Cirie herself would tell you she’s not a threat in physical challenges. That’s never been the strength of her game. And who among us haven’t been where she was, feeling like she failed her tribe in the reward challenge? It was in that moment we saw Cirie turn her weakness into a strength. Rather than being scorned by her tribemates, Cirie was supported, encouraged and pushed to complete the challenge, long after winning was an option.

On a human level, it was great to see her entire tribe rally around her so she could overcome an obstacle. I don’t doubt it was a genuine moment. But somewhere within all that drama, I give Cirie credit for turning that difficult personal moment into a triumph. There was no heat on her at all, afterward. Make no mistake about it: Cirie is a serious threat to win this game. In a season where we’re waiting for a challenge beast to arise, Cirie still has a shot at winning because she knows how to manage the players.

And Then There’s Michaela.
I want to like Michaela. I did like Michaela the last time she played. But that kid simply cannot get out of her own way long enough to become a true threat in this game. She’s a smart, athletic player who could really become a top-tier threat. But her arrogance, selfishness, passive-aggressiveness (eating coconut at Tribal? Gimme a break) and petulance alienates her from the rest of the tribe. We see it, over and over.

Cirie surely would love to see Michaela on the jury, I imagine, because she’s got Michaela wrapped around her little finger. That’s a guaranteed vote for Cirie. But if I’m anyone else in this game, I want to be sitting next to Michaela at the end because no one will vote for her.

I wonder if she’s going to become a target anytime soon because of her inability to blend with the tribe. Either way, I see non path for her to win a million dollars.

The Haves
Right now, the players I see as having the best shot at getting to the Final Tribal are Culpepper, Tai, Troyzan and Sarah. Culpepper’s playing a smart, patient game. Sarah might be playing the best strategic game of all, right now; plus she has her vote advantage. That’ll come in huge for her.

By virtue of holding Immunity Idols, Tai and Troyzan have a great shot at getting deep in the game. And, to Troyzan’s credit, he’s worked his way to a decent alliance. We’ll see how long that lasts.

The Maybes
Cirie, Aubry, Sierra and Zeke are definitely positioned to make a move, but on the wrong side of an alliance, at the moment. That can change in a heartbeat, though. Zeke is a sneaky gamer, so I can see him pulling some serious moves in the chaos that arises out of Debbie’s ouster. That could improve Aubry’s game along the way. Cirie is like a sniper. She’s just waiting for her shot. Sierra? Until she makes a move, she seems to be riding Culpepper’s coattails.

The Have-Nots
Andrea and Michaela. I’ve already said Michaela has zero shot at winning a million dollars. She may make it to the end, but she’ll never convince enough jury members to give her the money. Andrea is simply on the wrong side of everything right now, but she can move into a strong position very quickly. She’s a bit of a free agent and could turn into a useful vote for one of the stronger players. If she can parlay that into an even bigger move down the line, she’s off the chopping block and suddenly holding an executioner’s axe.

9d39464d16ad785ad02ba59a65b3ddbbEmployee of the Week
Officer Sarah. Not only did her awareness earn her an advantage in the game, she has friends on both sides of the alliances. It was a slightly bold move to vote out Debbie because it shakes up the game. But I like it. She was immediately aware of her position in the Alliance of Six and took steps to shift the balance of power. I love players who do that.

Predictions for Next Week
No idea, but I’m sure everyone at the Ponderosa are unhappy that Debbie has joined them with so many more votes left in the game. She is wreaking havoc over there, I’m sure.

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voter fraud in nevada? put away your torches & pitchforks, turbo.

The SimpsonsReports came out last night that the Nevada Secretary of State’s office is investigating possible voter fraud in the 2016 general election. Though few specifics were released, Sec. of State Barabara Cegavske alluded to non-citizens voting . Where did they vote? How many illegal votes were cast? She wouldn’t say.

The SoS’s office is looking to the Nevada Dept. of Motor Vehicles for its practice of disseminating voter registration materials as a possible link. The DMV responded with a feigned, “who….me???” expression.

Here is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s take on the investigation:
Nevada investigation targets alleged voter fraud in 2016 election

Also from KLAS-TV 8 News Now:
UPDATE: DMV responds to illegal voting investigation

Before this investigation becomes politicized and polarized, before Rachel Maddow puts us all to sleep with a 20-minute, antiseptic, high-minded, snoozy, professorial lecture, before the monkeys at Fox & Friends start flinging their feces about the studio in excitement, let me just say:

Calm. Down.

Put away your torches and pitchforks. Take a deep breath, settle in and let the process play out. Right now, we know nothing. This investigation doesn’t play into anyone’s narrative yet. Should voter fraud be uncovered, it still doesn’t play into anyone’s narrative.

Historically speaking, in-person voter fraud has been decidedly minimal. It is not the scourge it’s been made out to be by certain media outlets. This 2014 headline on his 2014 headline on The Washington Post’s Wonkblog should keep James O’Keefes and Oliver Stones of the world at bay (it won’t, but I like to dream):

A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billon ballots cast

That works out to 0.000000031 percent. I don’t even know how to say that. Is that 31-quadrillionth of a percent?

Sure, that study has nothing to do with the 2016 election, but it does give us an indication of just on infrequently this sort of thing occurs. It also illustrates that in-person voter fraud is not a conspiracy.

As for the investigation in Nevada, Cegavske’s statement with more questions than answers. Do you have credible reports of fraudulent ballots being cast? If so, how many? Is there direct linkage between the ballots in question and the DMV? Or a specific DMV location/employee? What events took place to lead your office to open an investigation?

Her statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal was decidedly short on details.

“Based on new information we have recently uncovered, we have initiated an investigation into illegal votes cast in the last general election…Our office has been clear; we will investigate any allegation of election law violations that may jeopardize the integrity of Nevada’s voting process.”

Okay. Great. We can all go home now.

That statement says absolutely nothing that would merit anyone thinking it validates their beliefs, one way or the other.

Until the Nevada Secretary of State’s office answers these questions—and I sincerely hope local and regional media ask these questions—there is no there there. We’ll just have to wait and see.

And yes, I’m keenly aware I just turned into Rachel Maddow. At least I’m not acting like an agitated monkey though, right?

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survivor recap: a betrayal of the highest order.

Survivor Game Changers 06_Tribal

If you felt a gust of wind and the earth move under your feet last night around 8:45 p.m., that had nothing to do with weather patterns. It was the collective gasps and jaws hitting the floor of millions of Survivor viewers. Three-time player Jeff Varner knew his back was against the wall, heading into Tribal Council on Day 18. He wouldn’t be the first desperate Survivor player to pull out all the stops and go for broke in an attempt to save his own lot in the game. In his zeal to paint a target on someone else’s back, Varner did the unthinkable by publicly outing Nuku tribemate Zeke Smith as transgender, accusing Zeke as deceiving this tribe by withholding this information. Varner used Zeke’s personal life in an attempt to advance his position in Survivor. How’d that work out for him? Not great.

The remaining Nuku members—Ozzy, Sarah, Amanda, Tai and Debbie—were visibly shaken by Varner’s declaration. Even host and executive producer Jeff Probst was left speechless.

Hell, I was speechless! “This just stopped being a game,” I said to Dino as the carnage unfolded. It wasn’t fun to watch. It was sickening and infuriating. Sure, reality TV shows thrive on schadenfreude, but this was so much worse. This was a real-life attempted character assassination. There is no joy in watching that.

Survivor Game Changers 06_Ozzy Jump

There were challenges in this episode, but no one will be talking about them.

And true, Survivor likes to call itself a “social experiment,” but that always felt like a pithy way to distinguish itself from the nonsense of the Kardashians and the Honey Boo-Boo crap. It’s not a place to drag gender identity politics to the fore and call it entertainment. Sure, real life will creep into Survivor—Adam Klein’s mother from Millennials vs. Gen X, for example—but those are people owning and telling their personal stories within the context of life in a game where the players are cut off from society. It is not a place to use someone’s reality against him in a means to humiliate and advance yourself.

That makes Varner’s actions so much worse, if you ask me. He attempted to turn Zeke’s gender identity into a dividing line in the game and, in turn, damaged the integrity of the game. Survivor has very few hard-and-fast rules and Varner managed to piss all over them in one fell swoop. What’s even more aggravating: this was is big, master plan to make a big move in this game. He hyped himself heading into Tribal Council, as though he was about to make history as a true game changer. Seriously, Jeff? This is the best you could do?

What’s interesting, and heartening, is the reactions from the remaining Nuku members to Varner’s big reveal. They were not upset or angry with Zeke. They empathized with him. They were angry for Zeke. They were furious with Varner for outing Zeke in such a mean-spirited and selfish manner to the point that they essentially formed a human shield around Zeke. They refused to accept any of Varner’s weak excuses and rationalizations. They treated his actions as they were: a betrayal of the highest order.

For his part, Zeke remained silent and expressionless through most of this Tribal Council. When he did speak for himself, Zeke handled the outing with grace and class; embracing what had been heaped upon him with the subtlety of a branding iron and choosing to wear it proudly. It’s not for his own gain, either, Zeke said. Despite having no interest in being a role model, Zeke now hopes his experience will make it easier on young people who may be experiencing gender identity issues. He even showed class toward Varner through it all, but I have a hunch that may change once the game is over.

For my money, the betrayal also exposed Varner for the weak Survivor player that he is. Because you don’t want to get voted off a game show that you’ve never been particularly good at in the first place, you choose to rob Zeke of his choice in front of the entire tribe and the viewing audience at home?

What the hell, man?!?!

Survivor Game Changers 06_Probst

Even Probst was left speechless by Varner’s actions.

For weeks, I’ve been publicly saying Varner has no business being in this game. As he himself pointed out in last week’s episode, he’s never once made it to a jury. He’s not a game changer. He’s a stooge; a useful idiot whose only lasted 50 days in the game over three separate seasons. You aren’t even in Phillip “the Specialist” Sheppard’s class, man!

Once Varner realized he made an awful mistake by outing Zeke, the gravity of his actions began to set in. I do believe he was embarrassed and regretful of his actions; not only because he mounted such a personal attack on Zeke, but because he may also wind up a pariah within the LGBTQ community. But remorse alone cannot unring the bell; especially given the ugly and divisive history of public outing within the LGBTQ community.

Once upon a time it was a popular weapon of homophobes who sought to damage peoples’ lives and reputations. In the 90s, it became a weapon of choice for the pro-gay activist group Queer Nation. I’ve got to believe there are still people bearing scars from those actions, and that’s what makes Varner’s actions even more troubling. He’s 50 years old. He lived through those battles. And here he is, using that shameful tactic himself. But not even in the name of activism. He did it for personal gain. That is inexcusable.

Though Varner tried to weakly defend his actions, Probst and the Nuku tribe were having none of it. Ultimately, he gave up and copped to committing an awful deed, resulting in what felt more like an excommunication than a vote. Probst all but announced he himself was voting Varner out of the game; not even allowing a proper vote. My impression is Probst was pissed off that Varner would not only use Zeke’s personal life in such a manner, but he stained the game. It will make for an interesting reunion episode, that’s for sure.

Outside the game, I’ll be curious to see if Varner can repair the damage he’s done to his own reputation. I may be in the vast minority here, but I’ve always believed a person deserves redemption if he or she truly wants it, earns it and works for it. Zeke may or may not ever be able to forgive Varner for what he did, but I do hope Varner is allowed the chance to redeem himself.

Either way, I’m pretty sure Varner just played his last game of Survivor.

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survivor recap: the queen is dead…long live the queen

Queen is Dead.pngActually, I don’t care that much about Sandra to actually call her “the Queen,” but let’s be honest. You don’t win Survivor twice without being a pretty savvy player. As the only two-time winner of this game, no one came into the Game Changers season with a bigger target across her back. For my money, Sandra lasted much longer in this game that I expected. She isn’t a particularly physical player, but her ability to manipulate and work the alliances to her advantage to make it past the first one or two Tribal Councils this season was pretty impressive. In fact, I was bracing for her magic to work one more time and blindside Tai, who’s currently sitting on two Immunity Idols.

Sanddra Torch

After 94 days, Sandra’s torch was finally snuffed out.

Alas, it was not meant to be. I’m wondering if Sandra’s tribe mates were throwing a little kabuki theater out there to make her believe she was still in the game and Tai was about to get his torch snuffed out. I honestly don’t understand why they had all that whispering drama if the numbers were already there. Nevertheless, Sandra went out fighting right to the end. I’m guessing she knew the jig was up, but wasn’t about to throw in the towel. I respect her for respecting the game to not give up. And while I thought it was classy that her tribe mates applauded her out of respect as she left the island, I’m pretty sure it was the goats who were really happy on this night!

How Did We Get Here?
After (yet) another shakeup, reshuffling the castaways into two tribes, players were once again scrambling for alliances. Well, everyone but Tai. He was busy collecting Immunity Idols like Star Wars action figures. Because of the odd number of castaways, one player was the odd man out. Naturally, it was the oddest of them all: crazy Debbie. She was sent off to “exile” for a few days. Of course, her exile experience was pretty sweet: a boat stocked with food and a visit from Survivor: Caramoan Sole Survivor John Cochran who came aboard to dispense wisdom and advice to the most wisdomless player in the game.

Look, we get it. Debbie’s good for TV because she’s…eccentric. She’s also hard-headed, tone deaf, immature and consumed by pride and insecurity (though she’d never admit it). Watch her conversation with Cochran. Everything she said with her mouth was completely contradicted with her body language; up to and including a creepy and invasive hug that went on nearly too long. I Cochran is a budding television writer, but his acting skills to keep Venus Flytrap at bay and (somewhat) on message was impressive.

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“Somebody, help me. Please? Someone? Anyone? Help?”

Better than the food and visit from Cochran, Debbie also collected an advantage to be played later in the game: a second vote at Tribal Council. On paper, this sounds like a great advantage—and it is—but Debbie’s going to have to be smart to play it. The last time we saw this advantage in play was during Survivor: Second Chance, and it didn’t work out so well for Stephen Fishbach. He used both of his votes in the very Tribal Council that saw him get eliminated. Fishbach was one of the smartest players ever in this game. Giving this advantage to Debbie is like giving a gun to a chimpanzee: even though the monkey has no idea how to use it, someone’s gonna get shot.

sandra-camera-face-survivor-dirty-deedOne More Word About Sandra
Here are a few more points to consider about Sandra. She’s now played Survivor three times. She won the first two times (Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains). Prior to this season, she’s only had three votes against her in 94 total days in the game, placing her in eighth place on the Most Days list. Here’s the most interesting stat on top of all that: she’s never won individual immunity. Not once.

People often associate challenge dominance with being favored to win, but Sandra is the exact opposite. This is why I’ve always believed people inside and outside Survivor place too much emphasis on physical threats. Look at Ozzy. He’s won 14 individual challenges during his four seasons and has only made it to the Final Tribal Council once (Cook Islands).

Sandra stood out by being smart and strategic and knowing how to make the luck work to her advantage.

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Nuku is Sarah’s roost to rule, now that Sandra is gone.

In the Driver’s Seat
With Sandra out of the way, Nuku’s got a vacancy for top dog. Ozzy seems the natural choice, but for all his physical attributes, Ozzy’s lack of strategery usually costs him in the game. For my money, Sarah’s about to become the real player at Nuku. This is her opportunity to step up and make a big move in this game. Watch your six, Ozzy!

Move of the Week
No brainer: voting out Sandra. Even her tribe mates understand what sort of a threat she is and finally took her out of the game. Until now, she’s been the sharpest, most strategic player out there. Without Sandra in the game, it’s going to open up for someone. That someone will likely be anyone but Ozzy. He’s the biggest buck at deer camp, in the eyes of his Nuku mates.

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Like Harry S. Truman sitting on two nukes, Tai is now sitting on two Immunity Idols.

Employee of the Week
I’m going to give it to Tai. He’s now sitting on two idols that no one definitively knows he’s holding. That’s a huge advantage; especially for a player everyone knows is sneaky and has a nose for the idols. He’s going to have to play them wisely, though. He should be able to cruise into the merge with them, so long as his Nuku mates turn their attention to Ozzy (which we all expect to happen in three…two…)

Is This the Week Varner Finally Starts to Play?
No really. Is it? So far, he’s been a 200-lbs. bag of wet sand the rest of his team drags from one challenge to the next.

Prediction for Next Week
In an attempt to win immunity for her tribe, Debbie noisily devours 25 live grubs before she can be stopped and reminded it is not an eating challenge. Meanwhile at Mana, Aubry furrows her brow in quiet consternation.

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survivor recap: his own worst enemy.

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J.T., walking us through his Survivor strategy.

In the pantheon of all-time dumbest Survivor moves ever, nothing will ever top Erik’s decision to give away his Immunity Necklace. Nothing. That’s the dumbest move ever, in a very specific sense. In a general sense, the dumbest thing a Survivor contestant can do is watch your torch get snuffed out by Probst while an Immunity Idol is in your possession. Enter: J.T.

Oh, J.T. Sweet, sad, stupid J.T. You are a former champion of this game who’s done everything in your power to delegitimize your authenticity as a champion every chance you get. Think about it. Here’s a guy who won Survivor: Tocantins over the vastly underrated Stephen Fishbach in a unanimous Final Tribal Council vote. And how did he follow that dominant performance? By cooking up the “genius” plan during Heroes vs. Villains to give his Immunity Idol to Russell Hantz—while Russell was on an opposing tribe, no less! That move, of course, led to J.T.’s ouster from the game.

If you considered that move to be an anomaly—an otherwise strong player overthinking the game during a season full of strong players—J.T.’s decisions this week should lay all that to rest.

It’s bad enough he screwed his own tribe last week, tipping off Culpepper about their voting strategy during Tribal Council (only to watch it backfire in most spectacular fashion). Forced to lie to this tribemates in the aftermath of that debacle, J.T. seemingly saved himself by finding a hidden Immunity Idol. Only to leave it at camp instead of taking it to the very next Tribal Council.

In a game where deception is often abound and players must have sharpened wits to sniff out blindsides, J.T. committed the Survivor equivalent of stepping on a rake. He was his own worst enemy.

How Did We Get Here?
Simple: Sandra is running the show at the Nuku Tribe. She locked onto J.T. after the previous Tribal Council and, like the cold-blooded serial killer she is, gutted J.T. like he was a baby goat. Think about how Sandra exposed a personal fissure between J.T. and Michaela at camp to her advantage. Remember how Sandra was, at one point, a target in J.T.’s eyes? That was ancient history once Sandra devoured all the sugar—in front of an obsequious and docile Jeff Varner, no less—and successfully convinced him it was Michaela who did it. I wouldn’t call that brilliant, but I definitely applaud the move as opportunistic and kinda funny. Although I wonder if consuming all that sugar made Sandra run to the woods. That could NOT have been pleasant.

After that, it was simply a matter of making J.T. believe everyone was onboard with him in voting out Michaela, which didn’t seem too difficult if he didn’t even bother taking his Immunity Idol to Tribal Council. I can’t call it a blindside since J.T. simply fell victim to his own inability to read the tea leaves. He missed not just one clue, but an ENDLESS SERIES OF CLUES!”

The Deadly Sins of J.T.
I know the Seven Deadly Sins: Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. J.T.’s Deadly Sins are much simpler to identify: STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!

From the moment he got back to camp from watching Malcolm get voted out, he knew he was a target. So he runs out, finds an idol, unbeknownst to his entire tribe. SMART!

He has a five-minute chat with Sandra, Aubrey and Varner about voting out Michaela. Did it not occur to him that Sandra was all-too-agreeable to his plans, despite her obvious frustration with him over the previous vote? Did that not seem a bit too easy, J.T.? STUPID!

And then, so convinced Michaela was going home, leaves it at camp for the next Tribal Council. STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!

You never leave it at camp! Ever! Did he not see the red flags popping up at Tribal Council? Every time he tried to pile on Michaela, who was defending her? Sandra! Honestly, I’m not even sure J.T. recognized those as red flags. I think he was so convinced Michaela was going home that tuned out everything that was happening around him.

If J.T. were smart, he would’ve played his idol. Even if there weren’t as many warning signs, he should’ve played it. All signs pointed to a close vote. If you knew you were on the chopping block three days prior, chances are, you still are on the chopping block. Getting snuffed with an idol in your possession? STUPID!

It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!
As far as Reward Challenges go, this was almost a “who cares” challenge, to me. Yeah, food is always an incentive in a game where you’re starving yourself on rice and dirt, but it’s not like they were getting something really big. The winning tribes got every 12-year-old’s favorite lunch. Big deal. Especially given how physically taxing—and mentally taxing, if you’re cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs like you-know-who (more on that later)—the challenge turned out to be.

The hidden subtext to me was Michaela’s performance and how her inability to be a team player is going to bite her in the ass. In terms of sheer competitive will and intensity, no one comes close to Michaela in this game. She backs it up by usually coming through for her tribe, as she did in this challenge, digging out bags from the sand in record time. But she also leads the way in selfishness and bad attitude. I get it. I want players with a “gimme the ball” mentality. But when you turn “gimme the ball” into “all about me,” you lose me. That’s where Michaela is terrible as a team player. Her tribe knows it. I think she knows it, too. It’s unfortunate because she’s also a smart player in this game. I could very easily see her making it to the end, but her inability to get out of her own way is going to cost her votes if she’s not careful.

 

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Debbie, plotting her next psychotic break.

Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs
In case anyone forgot one a complete nutbar Debbie is, she reminded us this week. “Oh yeah,” said the audience during her onscreen meltdown. ”NOW I remember her!”

 

What. In. The. HELL! Is wrong with Debbie?!?! That Gordian Knot of bad wiring she’s got inside her head creates a bizarre and frightening worldview that I can’t even begin to comprehend, to say nothing of her complete lack of self awareness. She had a bad performance at the Reward Challenge. It happens. But instead of owning it, she turns around and unleashes a machine gun-like spray of vitriol, blame and insanity at virtually each member of her tribe. Best of all, she openly called out Hali for losing the challenge. Really, Debbie? Really? Is that the hill upon which you chose to die today?

On top of that, she carries that grudge into the Immunity Challenge to the point that she’s screaming and bellowing, “I was over first!” at her tribemates like a petulant child. Seriously, Debbie. How old are you? WHY are you, Debbie?!?!

I’ve been saying it all season long, Debbie will not win this game. If I’m on her tribe, I’m more concerned with my personal safety than winning a challenge.

Meanwhile…Over at Tavua
Who the hell cares? They keep avoiding Tribal Council, so we have no idea who the dynamics are playing out. Is Troyzan actually building an alliance with Sarah? Is Ozzy deep sea fishing with a spear to relax? Is Zeke’s mustache encrusted with charred rice and snails? No one knows.

In the Driver’s Seat
Sandra has her little Nuku minions marching to the beat of her drum. And she knows it. At what point do they wise up and realize they’re being pushed around that island like a bunch of chess pieces? Clearly, Sandra is dominating the team portion of Survivor this season. I wonder if she becomes a target as soon as we reach the merge. If she doesn’t, I question the brains of some of these players. Which ones? Any of them who’ve ever watched Survivor! It kills me that no one seems to recognize a growing threat until Probst is kicking them off the island. You let a player like Sandra control the game at your own peril.

The Load of the Week
Instead of Employee of the Week, I decided to change things up a bit. Who’s the Load of the Week? Varner. Dude is lying around the joint like Jabba the Hut, pretending to be some sort of quiet mastermind while waiting for things to happen. And that’s just his performance in challenges.

Back at camp, he’s no damn better. Varner over-relishes his significance in this game right now, playing up his “swing vote” status. Think about that, dude. You’re a swing vote. You know what that means? It means no one looks to you for strategy, because you’re a walking tactic. Swing voters are not big-move players. They are sneaky weasels who advance in this game by merely laying low. You can skate by for a long time in this game as a swing-voting weasel, but you’ll never win. My guess is Varner’s waiting until the merge to make moves, but that’s a risky strategy. On a tribe of five four, Varner is a distant last when it comes to a championship-earning résumé.

Move of the Week
Sandra proved that it doesn’t require A Beautiful Mind-like mathematical equations to influence this game. All it took was eating a pound of sugar to fool J.T.

Prediction for Next Week
Debbie continues her descent into madness, challenging Culpepper to a leg-wrestling match while Varner reveals to his tribemates that his spirit animal is a Coney Dog.

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