Category Archives: opinion

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: the lady doth protest too much.

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If they were giving out awards on Survivor for most mercurial player, there’s no question who would win: Michaela; hands down. Just when I think she’s going to start playing the game for real, she resorts to her usual shenanigans (for this season, at least) of making a spectacle of herself at Tribal Council. And let’s be real for a minute here: did anyone buy her crocodile tears routine? If that’s gamesmanship, she’s going to have to explain whom she thought she was fooling. Was it her way of trying to swing a vote in the just-ousted Zeke? As though she were signaling to him, “it wasn’t me!” Do you really think Zeke would buy it, much less, respect it? After all, you’ve written Zeke’s name down THREE TIMES in the past four votes! C’mon, Michaela. Get real. The lady doth protest too much.

edbd2a54f2b5edf95a7f78fbcd0e7f87As for voting off Zeke at this stage in the game, it’s not a bad play. That being said, I was in complete agreement with Michaela about picking off one of the remaining bottom four players. This is where her understanding of the game is strong. She understands the numbers better than most players. She was keenly aware that going into the next Tribal Council at 6-3 is significantly better than 5-4. But then she completely threw that away and went along with Andrea’s plan. I suppose she knew it was smarter to just go along with the majority plan rather than rock the boat and bring attention to yourself.

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Mustache of Sadness. Zeke watches his torch get snuffed.

However, the alliances in Game Changers are proving to be fluid and ever-changing. So removing the greatest strategic threat when you have the chance makes perfect sense. Give credit to Andrea for backing her way into a smart play, even though she acting purely on emotion. Still smarting over the vote where Zeke targeted Andrea, she proved to be more about vengeance tonight than strategy. Either way, it opens the game up even more.

 

I have to admit, I thought for a moment at Tribal Council that Tai was about to make himself the dumbest Survivor player in history. He’s sitting on two immunity idols and openly states he feels like he could be at the bottom and possibly going home tonight. In fact, he even got some votes. If I’m Tai, one of those idols comes out tonight; if, for no other reason, just to be certain you don’t go home with idols in your pocket. It’s like being on house money. Even if you don’t need it, you make the remaining players believe you’re out of idols. At this point, Tai’s game can best be described as “better to be lucky than good.”

 

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Third Time’s a Charm? Andrea made it 30+ days in her two previous Survivor appearances. Can she make it to day 39 this time?

Move of the Week
This is a tough one, because the remaining nine players are making quiet, subtle moves. Even though it’s debatable if it was the best move, pragmatically, I’m going to say Andrea made the move of the week. Yes, she acted on emotion more than strategy, but coordinating a vote to blindside Zeke—one of the game’s smartest players—is a strong, bold move. Zeke plays a better three-dimensional game of Survivor better than almost anyone who’s ever played the game. Taking him out now is tantamount to taking out a queen in chess. But the prevailing question remains: was this the right time? Was it worth risking your six-person alliance right now?

 

 

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Yes, that’s really him.

Survivor Employee of the Week
Culpepper. Seems like a strange choice, given we don’t seem to hear much from him, right? That’s exactly why he earns EOTW honors. He went from the very top to the very bottom in the span of three days. He’s one of the last remaining dual threats in this game—meaning, strong at challenges, smart with the social game—and has yet to see his name written down. He’s playing a very quiet, very strong game. He did well to build a rapport with Zeke after the Reward Challenge. No, it ultimately doesn’t matter anymore, but it did force Zeke’s alliance to consider him a threat for flipping. No, that wasn’t Culpepper’s plan, but still…no one’s written his name down yet. He’s going to have his work cut out for him next week, though. With only nine players left, I’m pretty sure the shanks are about to come out.

 

sarah-lacina.jpgThe Haves
Sarah and Cirie are my only two definite Haves in the game. They’ve lined up strategies that include jury management as much as voting strategy. Given her voting advantage, Sarah has a chance to truly flip the game.

I give Sarah a better shot at making it to the end than Cirie, simply because Cirie has a reputation for being a smart player. Sarah is still in the shadows.

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I still think Troyzan has a decent outside shot at winning this game. But he needs a few stars to align first.

The Maybes
This is a long list: Andrea, Aubry, Culpepper, Tai, Troyzan and Michaela. Yes, Michaela. She earned an upgrade from me because she finally started playing the game this week. I’m still not 100 percent certain she’s got any votes on the jury or can win the game, though. I say that not because she had a hand in sealing the fates of Debbie and Zeke, but because she hasn’t orchestrated any big moves. Plus, her social game leaves much to be desired. Still, I’ll pencil her in on the low end of the Maybes; see what she does next week. But I have to be honest, I still don’t see her winning.

The remaining five Maybes all have nothing but opportunity before them. It’ll be toughest for Culpepper, I think, because he doesn’t have much of an alliance (nor any side advantages) to protect him. Troyzan and Tai, by virtue of sitting on idols, have tremendous opportunities to advance their positions in the game in a big way. It remains to be seen how strategic Tai will be, although he’s shown more game than people realize. Don’t count him out. Troyzan is a dark horse because he is a physical threat in challenges. However, like the last time he played, he’s always on the wrong side of alliances. He needs two votes to swing his way to earn a legitimate shot at making it to the end.

Aubry, still my favorite player, needs to start making moves right now. We’re down to nine and she has numbers. At some point she’s going to have to orchestrate a major move to take out a big player in the game. That means taking out one of her own; Cirie, most likely, in my opinion. Aubry’s smart and patient, but we’re making the turn into the homestretch. Time to get on your horse (yes, that was a Kentucky Derby reference).

SierraCovThe Have Nots
Sorry, Sierra. I just don’t see a path to victory for you. But this is written in pencil. It appears you’re about to step out from Culpepper’s shadow and start playing the game (finally!). To this point, your best move was really Tai’s best move. He saved you back on Day 11. Since then, you’ve been mostly coasting along. That might earn you a trip to the end, but it won’t earn you a million dollars (unless you’re sitting next to Russell Hantz). Make a bold move and we’ll talk in a week.

And I’ve just decided to downgrade Michaela to the Have Nots. Take a seat next to Sierra, Michaela. Yeah, you started to play the game, but you’re not going to win.

Predictions for Next Week
Something big is about to happen. A power alliance with Sarah in the driver’s seat will emerge. And we might see the first of three hidden Immunity Idols come into play. I don’t think the next Tribal Council will be the crazy one, but we’re going to have another nutty Tribal before we get to the end.

My only other predication is Debbie is going to remain the most obnoxious, least self aware player in Survivor history. You’re not as smart as you think you are, Debbie. And you can mutter “idiots” all you want from your perch in the jury box, but remember: you’re in the jury box. You were put there by players who were sharper than you. If they’re idiots, what does that make you?

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Cochran’s still having flashbacks to this awkward moment.

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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.

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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?!?!

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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: 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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survivor re-cap: “wait…what?”

Jeff-snuffing-torchIn a season called Game Changers, this week’s installment of Survivor may be the game changiest of all…so far. TWO tribes go to Tribal Council and vote off just one player? Wait…what? Whosever heard of such madness?

”My God…How Did We Get Here?!”
Since we were teased coming into this episode that two of the three tribes would be going to Tribal Council, I thought it would be a fun twist if they both went at the same time and got to listen into each other’s deliberations. Forcing them to act as two separate bodies to vote out one, singular castaway, given all the new rules on tiebreakers turned it into a near-chaotic, completely unpredictable vote.

Culpepper’s Master Stroke
The fact that Tai found an Immunity Idol just ahead of this first-of-its-kind Tribal added a wrinkle that ultimately blew up someone’s game in the most dramatic fashion possible. That “someone” turned out to be Malcolm. Once again, a potentially great player gets sent packing. For my money, this was Brad Culpepper’s master stroke. He was controlling his own tribe fairly handily. Now, his influence took out whom he considered one of his fiercest challengers.

Do I agree with Culpepper? Time will tell. But looking at the Survivor world through his eyes, it makes sense. He himself is an athletic, competitive and dominant player. He wants to be the alpha male and regards any other athletic, competitive, dominant men to be threats that must be neutralized. What remains to be seen is if Culpepper can recognize the more subtle threats.

He already knows Sandra is a force to be reckoned with, despite being somewhat enigmatic as a competitor. She’s not the greatest in challenges, so she relies on guile and smart alliances to advance her game. Sandra’s also taking a more aggressive approach to pushing around her alliance, asserting herself as the leader of her tribe. Give Sandra credit. Where most people want to avoid being a target, she stands up and embraces it.

Sandra vs. Culpepper?
Right now, these two are lining up as a pair of field generals, ready to go head-to-head in battle. It’s Rocky vs. Creed, Patton vs. Rommel and Brady vs. Manning…or something like that. The key question is can they survive their own tribemates to make it to the individual game.

I seriously wonder when Sandra’s Nuku tribemates will realize they are letting her run the game and need to take her out. I suppose everyone is thinking their best option is to be sitting next to her (and J.T.) in the end because she’s a past winner. I don’t buy that strategy. Not at all. I think these players this season will think nothing of awarding a past champion the crown again if that person outwit, outplayed and outlasted.

If I Were on That Island…
With that in mind, I’d take her out right now. If I’m on Survivor, my strategy is simple: take out the most immediate threat right away. Don’t wait. Don’t dawdle. You see a threat. You kill the threat. Period. Sure, keeping Sandra around is great for television drama. But with every passing day she wakes up on the island, that’s one more shovel of dirt on your own grave.

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After hastily playing his Immunity Idol for Sierra, I’m afraid Tai is hanging on for dear life.

What was Tai Thinking?!?!
Tai found the Immunity Idol. That nearly earned him Employee of the Week honors. But then he turned around and played it with very little strategic upside. This was a vote where you weren’t even in the mix, Tai! You were safe! Who cares if Sierra goes home??? Keep that idol until the merge, man! By playing his idol for Sierra during that crazy Tribal Council, he helped his Mana tribe win a battle. But it may have cost him the war.

In the Driver’s Seat
Same as last week, Culpepper and Sandra. There is no one else on their respective tribes prepared to unseat them. Of course, that could all change once they reach the merge. What about Tavua? Hard to say, since we saw very little of camp life this week. Ozzy is always a dominant player, but often forgets the strategic side of the game. I’d say Troyzan is in the driver’s seat, by virtue of holding an Immunity Idol.

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Someone’s got some ’splainin to do next week.

The Walking Dead
J.T. may have earned his way to TWD status. He was the first to shake up Tribal Council by approaching Culpepper to openly talk strategy. He went all-in and it backfired on him. He may be able to play his way out of this pickle, but it’s going to take immunity, I think.

Survivor Employee of the Week
Culpepper. He read the tea leaves better than anyone else during Tribal Council. He also backed it up by being a fierce competitor in the reward challenge. Perhaps he backed his way into it, but convincing Tai to give his idol to Sierra took guts. That was a bold move that paid off.

Move of the Week
Tai giving his Immunity Idol to Sierra. It worked, I must admit. But I do think Tai will live to regret it.

Prediction for Next Week
Sandra breaks J.T.’s glasses, Lord of the Flies style, then orders a Code Red on him in his sleep. Watch your six, J.T.!

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