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the best of (and worst of) survivor.

the-best-moments-fro

Survivor’s been on American television since the summer of 2000. Tomorrow night, Jeff Probst will bestow the title of Sole Survivor on the 37th recipient…and a check for $1 million. You’d think winning the game is enough to cement your name into immortality with the fans, but does it really? Who won Ghost Island (the season prior to David vs. Goliath)? Do you even remember? I don’t. Winning does no guarantee Survivor immortality.

In preparation for tomorrow’s season finale, I thought it would be fun to take a trip down Memory Lane through a few lists. Who’s been the best Sole Survivor? Who’s been the least deserving? Who were the best players to never win the title?

Let’s take a look…

Top Five Sole Survivors
In 36 seasons (and counting), some champions played the game better than anyone else. Here are the five best Sole Survivors (in no particular order):

Survivor_Yul KwonYul Kwon: Cook Islands
To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. And that’s exactly what Yul did in the Cook Islands. In a three-person final Tribal Council, Yul defeated Ozzy Lusth by a 5 – 4 vote. In a season with a deep bench (including future winner Parvati Shallow), Ozzy was the original challenge beast. Yul’s strength was in strategy, alliances and most of all, jury management. It’s one thing to vote out a player. It’s another thing entirely to know when to vote them out. Yul’s only played this game once, but he was arguably one of the smartest Survivor players ever.

Survivor_Sandra Diaz-TwineSandra Diaz-Twine: Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains
The only two-time Sole Survivor. Sandra’s strength was her craftiness. She was not gifted with athleticism, but made up for it in her strategic alliances and a whole lotta luck. Yes, luck goes a long way in Survivor, but what is luck? It’s opportunity meets preparation. In the Pearl Islands, she won because her runner-up, Lillian Morris, allowed her heart to speak louder than her head. Lillian refused to take Jon “Johnny Fairplay” Dalton to the final Tribal Council, opting for Sandra instead. Fast forward to Heroes vs. Villains and Sandra defeated Parvati Shallow and the evil Russell Hantz for her second title. Winning once can be chalked up to chance. But twice? Nope.

Survivor_Natalie AndersonNatalie Anderson: Blood vs. Water
Full disclosure: I hated Natalie when she and her sister Nadiya were on The Amazing Race. Hated! She was obnoxious. On Survivor, though, she channeled her weapons into a crafty win in a season where everyone started as part of a pair. That she made it to the end was slightly surprising to me, honestly. Though only winning individual immunity once, Natalie played an aggressive game and pulled some epic blindsides on her way to victory.

Survivor_Brian HeidikBrian Heidik: Thailand
You probably don’t even remember Brian. He was the Sole Survivor all the way back in Season 5. It was his first and last time playing Survivor. Brian is roundly considered one of the least likable players in Survivor history because of his serial killer-like approach to the game. Like him or hate him, Brian executed one of the most masterful magic tricks over the game that we’ve ever seen: he won without ever shining a light upon himself. Did he crack the code? Sort of, but it’s because he was emotionally detached. Sure, he won challenges, but he read his competition perfectly and played them against one another. He closed his magic trick by dragging a stooge to the end who was less likable than he was.

Survivor_Sarah LacinaSarah Lacina: Game Changers
This was one of the deepest competitions in a long time. Sarah had to beat some fierce competition to claim the title. In fact, one might argue her runner-up, Brad Culpepper was more deserving. I’m not sure about that, but I do think he played a championship-caliber game (he certainly didn’t deserve to lose 7 – 3 in the final Tribal Council). The fact that Sarah built alliances across the entire game is testimony to her victory. On paper, Culpepper should win, but he was too aggressive and, at times, a bully. Sarah was sharper at reading the room, which went a long way to jury management. She also positioned herself as a crucial swing vote and could pick off players like a sniper. That’s a powerful place to be.

Honorable Mention
Survivor_RIchard HatchRichard Hatch: Season 1, Borneo
The first champion and arguably the inventor of much of the strategy that still carries over today. No, Richard never had to deal with Exile Island, hidden immunity idols and other wrenches thrown into the game today, but he’s the one who understand jury management and used it to his advantage to beat his competition. Yeah, he’s a bit of a knucklehead, but so what? He still deserves respect for his game play.

Five Least Deserving Sole Survivors
One thing I hate about Survivor is the best player rarely wins. Petulant, red-assed jurors would sooner reward a bad player than a good one because the good player outwitted them. Talk about cheap. Yeah, yeah. If you win, you must be good blah-blah-blah. Screw that. So, here are the five doorknobs who backed their way into winning this game.

Survivor_Aras Asshole_CROPPEDAras Baskauskas: Panama (Exile Island)
Talk about your garden-variety load. Aras had no business making it past the merge, much less winning the game. I maintain this was the season that pushed producers to opt for three-finalist final Tribal Councils, since the best player that season (Terry Deitz) didn’t win. Aras was an obnoxious, immature, punk-ass little bitch the entire game. A loudmouth who was dragged to the final Tribal Council by Danielle DiLorenzo because she knew Terry would be the runaway champion if she didn’t eliminate him.

Survivor_Natalie WhiteNatalie White: Samoa
It may not even be her own fault, but Natalie did NOT deserve to win this season. She was up against the most feared, the most hated and the most strategic overall player in Survivor history: Russell Hantz. Natalie was a stooge and a puppet to Russell. The jury knew that, too. But they hated him so much that they refused to give him the money and the title. Credit where credit is due: Natalie won. But she sure as shit didn’t deserve it.

Survivor_Tina WessonTina Wesson: Africa
She is and always will be the blueprint for a coattail-riding, ingratiating, do-nothing who wins by duping the best player into trusting her. Yeah, she won, but she wasn’t a good player at all except for reading Colby Donaldson as a stooge. Donaldson was, hands down, a better player. Come to think of it, the jury was a bunch of morons, too.

Survivor_Vecepia ToweryVecepia Towery: Marquesas
For the most part, I never minded her game. She was an under-the-radar competitor who seized a target of opportunity at the end to avoid facing a player she probably couldn’t have defeated (Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien). Indeed, Faustian bargains are a part of Survivor. I can dig that. What I found most galling about Vecepia is she didn’t own it. She instead “give it to God.” WTF? Screw you, you condescending jerk! Just own your strategy instead of feigning some bullshit religious piety, eh?

Survivor_Tom WestmanTom Westman: Palau
I may get some heat for this one. In fairness, Tom was one of the best players of this game. The reason he makes this list is because of the cheap way he and that load Katie Gallagher ganged up on Ian Rosberger. They henpecked Ian to death up to and during the final immunity challenge over “broken promises” toward that load Katie. Those two ganged up on Ian and played the lowest card of all in Survivor: the “integrity” card. I liked Tom as a player right up to that point. Ian was a fierce competitor all season long. He was the only player left who had a chance to beat Tom in the end. But Ian was young and allowed them to play on his emotions to the point where he conceded in the final immunity challenge and asked Tom to vote him out. It’s not dirty to win, but it’s cheap as hell to manipulate a player like that. Ian was a fool, no doubt, but to endure that shit for 12 hours? You won, Tom, but it was tainted. Tainted as hell.

Best Players Who Never Won
This is an easy one.

Survivor_Ozzy LusthOzzy Lusth
The guy who’s spent more time in the game than any other player ever. And only made it to one final Tribal Council. That just doesn’t seem right.

 

Survivor_Colby DonaldsonColby Donaldson
If you don’t take Tina to the end, Colby, you win. No doubt.

 

 

Survivor_Aubry BraccoAubry Bracco
I loved everything about her. Everything. She was one of the smartest players in this game but just found herself on the wrong side of an alliance.

 

SURVIVOR: REDEMPTION ISLANDRussell Hantz
A wretched human being, no question. But Russell went to back-to-back final tribal councils. That’s not an easy feat. I can understand losing Heroes vs. Villains, but he deserved Samoa. Still, he’s a soulless husk of a human.

Survivor_Stephenie LaGrossaStephenie LaGrossa
Remember her? Her entire tribe got eliminated during her first game (Palau), then she made it all the way to the end of Guatemala as a runner-up. She wasn’t really there in her third game (Heroes vs. Villains), but Stephenie was an impressive player.

 

Survivor 37

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survivor recap: the war on christian.

Survivor_David_vs_Goliath

And then there were six. Seems like yesterday we were trying to learn the names of 20 new Survivor entrants, competing on the deck of a boat in Fiji. Now, 12 days before Christmas, we’re counting down to the season finale, where one of the six remaining players will be crowned Ultimate Survivor.

The vote on Night 35 truly made the most sense, even though it likely disappointed many fans of the game. Christian became that player everyone loves to watch. He’s quirky, unassuming, doesn’t always fit in, but altogether likable. In that way, he reminds us of ourselves. Christian also became the unlikeliest of dominant threats in this game, although, that’s probably because the typical Survivor competitor has evolved.

So Smart They're DumbGone are the days when big, burly, muscular players are seen as the greatest threats. That it took so long to realize muscle is only one, small part of this game is a bit shocking to me. Even calling this season David vs. Goliath was kinda dumb and forced, if you ask me. Filmmaker Mike himself would probably tell you he’s not truly a Goliath in his real life. A successful filmmaker? Yes, absolutely. But Spielberg level? C’mon. THAT’S a Goliath!

I digress…

But I will say Mike’s game play has been rock solid all along. He’s made very few missteps and has recognized where the true threats lie. Earning immunity last night emboldened his plan to take out a big threat. By turning his attentions to Christian and away from Nick, Mike also flushed an immunity idol. That could burn Nick in the next Tribal Council.

Before we rank the final six players, I did want to bring something up that you probably hadn’t heard about. Did you know Angelina gave up a chance at immunity to get a bag of rice for the tribe? I mean, she doesn’t want to brag about it and she DEFINITELY doesn’t want any reciprocity from it, but you know, she wants you know what she did for you and that you TOTALLY don’t owe her anything for it. #puke

survivor-probst-rice

Here, Angelina. Here’s your bag of rice. Now maybe that will shut you up for once.

What an asshole. What an absolute asshole that woman is. Who do you think you’re fooling, Angelina? Seriously! You’ve been trading on that one moment for how many days now? And as much as you’d like people to believe this was part of some big strategy of yours, it wasn’t. Not even a little. It was a boastful move that did absolutely nothing—NOTHING!—to advance your position in the game. Really, it was self serving as much as anything else. And you proved how petty you are about it by cooking “revenge rice.” So, really, Angelina, cut the shit already. That move was all about you and everyone knows it. Quit being such an asshole about it.

Now then…

The Final Six.
Anything can happen and I have no earthly idea who’s going to win. I’d say there are three players with a legitimate shot at it, one is a maybe and one is definitely a ‘no’. Before we get to that, I want to underscore how impressive this entire season has been for game play. With the exception of a handful of players, the contestants have been smart, strategic and competitive.

Most of all, I appreciate that they moved beyond the emotional aspect too many players bring into the game. Most of the players understand it’s a game and it’s not really personal. Here’s to hoping that lasts to the end and we don’t get some whiny nonsense about someone’s hurt fee-fees over getting voted out. Grow up, you big baby!

There’s also been tremendous balance after the merge. Thus far, no one has won individual immunity more than once. That’s likely to change now that we’re down to six, but it’s an impressive stat in David vs. Goliath.

The Three to Beat
Survivor MikeSchool of Rock Mike
He’s been a quietly fierce player of this game. He’s controlled several votes at Tribal Council and has successfully kept his name off the parchment. And he just won immunity, too.

That’s a fairly impressive résumé right there. On top of that, he’s built alliances across tribes and played them to his advantage. He has a compelling shot with this jury.

Survivor DavieDavie
A behind-the-scenes beast in this game. Davie’s the quiet, smiling assassin this season. Along with Nick and Carl, Davie helped orchestrate one of the most elaborate blindsides in Survivor history when they knocked out SWAT Dan.

His alliance with Nick has been critical to his success, but that’s part of navigating a strong social game. And let’s not forget his nose for finding hidden idols.

Survivor KaraKara
From the beginning, I found Kara to be a sharp, focused player. She absolutely used Dan and who can blame her? He basically threw himself at her like a loyal puppy dog. Kara was the brains of that operation; so brainy that she never looked back once he got booted out.

If anything, Dan on the jury works for her. I’m sure he’ll vote for her if she makes it to the Final Tribal. Along with jury management, Kara’s been tough in challenges and smart with her votes. Also, she’s avoided being on the tip of the spear.

A Puncher’s Chance
Survivor NickNick
He’s been the OG conniver from Day One, setting an early alliance with Christian and later bonding with Mike. Both pairings worked to his advantage. But I’m not sure he’s done enough yet to win this game. Compared to Mike, Davie and Kara, Nick is a distant fourth. Again, another smart player who’s received no votes.

I’m not sure that’s to be lauded, though. After all, everyone ganged up on Christian over three separate tribal councils. It’s no wonder Nick hasn’t received any votes yet. Now, though, he’s exposed. Sink or swim time, Nick.

Survivor AlisonAlison
She’s had more lives than a cat in this game. Always perceived as a threat over others, Alison has seen her name written down at the past three tribal councils. I suppose there’s credit to be given when you continue to cheat death, but is that really about strategic game play? Not so much.

She did win the first immunity challenge this season, but hasn’t done much to personally influence the outcome of a vote. Like Nick, she needs some big, bold moves at the end to have a shot at the million.

The Survivor Stooge
Survivor AngelinaAngelina and her Goddamn Bag of Rice
I’d be shocked if Angelina didn’t make it all the way to the final tribal council. Whether there are two or three finalist, having Angelina sit next to you only increases your odds of winning since I doubt anyone will give her a vote. Maybe SWAT Dan, if Kara’s not in the final tribal council. But after that, who? And more importantly, WHY?!?!?! Don’t get me wrong, Angelina is a smart player…at least she was until the merge, then better strategists took over. I seriously doubt she wins the million dollars. However, if the same rules apply this season as last, Angelina could be casting the deciding vote.

I guess we’ll find out next week. See you next Wednesday! And by the way…did you hear? Angelina gave up a shot at immunity to get a bag of rice! #PUKE #PUKE #PUKE

angelina

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survivor recap: no jacket required.

Probst-Meme_JacketThe immense sense of satisfaction a Survivor fan feels when that one player you’ve decided to despise finally gets her comeuppance after weeks of skating by is a moment I look forward to with every season of Survivor. It’s like waiting for Christmas morning…or your ear to pop after a head cold. Either way, the gratification is both immediate and somehow self congratulatory, even though you had nothing to do with it.

That’s how I feel about last night’s episode of Survivor. Watching Natalie’s torch get snuffed by Jeff Probst was my ear-popping moment. Of course, I’m also left saying, “what took you so long?” I’m still saying that. Some players get to the island and just can’t find their place in the game. Initially, we may have wondered if Christian and Gabby would end up on the outs with the Goliaths—and Gabby still has reason to worry, it would seem—but there was no question with Natalie. She just never found her footing but seemed to always find her way to piss off every member of her tribe to the point I thought they might kill her and feed her to an octopus or something.

Jackets and EggsBut then, at Tribal Council, she would turn on that smug, faux sincerity act and throw just enough doubt on any plan to vote her out and live another day. It made me want to puke blood. Her tribemates were obviously only keeping her around as an insurance policy, but is that really the best strategy in Survivor? Is that really playing the game?

Using a stooge as a human shield works, but not with a person who makes life so insufferable for others that they want to kill her. You don’t start dragging along a stooge in single-digit days. You do it after the merge when, within your alliance of four or five, two of you take control and bring in a No. 3 whom you prop up as the brains behind the operation. Remember Shambo? Russell Hantz perfected this strategy.

Survivor 37_Natalie

Natalie Napalm burned out before it ever ignited.

Anyway, no more worries that the Goliaths were going to pull this off because Natalie got the boot. Finally. You might say strategy took a holiday on this one, since the vote came down to preserving some level of civility on that teeny-tiny Jabini tribe. But I wouldn’t be so quick to call it unstrategic. Overdue? Yes. Easy? Yes. Strategic? Perhaps. More on that later.

In the meantime, here’s where we are now:

Vuku (Orange): Alec (Goliath), Davie (David), Elizabeth (David), Kara (Goliath), Carl (David).
Jabini (Purple): Angelina (Goliath), Lyrsa (David), Mike (Goliath), Nick (David).
Tiva (Green): Alison (Goliath), Wrestler John (Goliath), SWAT Dan (Goliath), Christian (David), Gabby (David).

Welcome to the Jabini Tribe: No Jacket Required
Let’s talk about Angelina for a moment. Early on, she struck me as a smart, crafty player who could very easily win this game. That still may be the case, but last night, she came off like she was running for the Asshole of the Year Award, making everything about trying to vote out a Lyrsa AND take her jacket. Turning that into a bargaining chip was one of the dumbest moves ever. What player on the chopping block would give up a personal item under duress in the hopes it will buy him or her anymore than three more days? That wasn’t strategy. That was arrogance, pure and simple.

Survivor 37_Jacket

Sorry, Angelina. Not this one. It says “Members Only.”

Angelina thought she was the puppet master and controlled all the moves…right up until she got blindsided and the strings of her puppet (Natalie) got cut. Natalie’s ouster was even more delicious because it completely blindsided Angelina. And then, after her cloyingly disingenuous embrace of Natalie on her way off the island, she immediately turns into “all about me Angelina” by begging for Natalie’s jacket. By completely ignoring Angelina’s whiny pleas, Natalie bought back a little respect from me. Thanks for that, Natalie!

Was it a smart vote? I don’t think you could classify it as smart or dumb, but it definitely made sense. Camp life harmony does matter in Survivor. Anyone who’s ever worked alongside a difficult co-worker can relate. There’s only so much acrimony you can tune out before the pot boils over. And again, why did they wait so long in the first place? I’m of a mind that getting rid of bad seeds early makes for a much cleaner, sharper game. Keeping them around only prolongs the inevitable and, if you ask me, benefits the real targets you should be worrying about. Natalie was a distraction. Distractions favor the weasels. They don’t help your game.

Meanwhile, over at Tiva…
SWAT Dan is showing himself to be a crafty, unassuming player with more savvy that I initially expected. By finding a second Immunity Idol—by choosing to look for it in the first place, while no one else was looking—Dan is lining himself up to become a power player. He’s still got Kara as a partner in the game if they both make the merge.

The biggest problem with such an embarrassment of immunity riches is complacency. Dan’s already setting his sights on voting out Gabby, but that’s going to be a tough needle to thread. For better or worse, Dan is still thinking in terms of David vs. Goliath. Unless he pivots and realizes he’ll need to rope in a David or two, Dan could very easily get blindsided.

Vuku’s Alec Problem
The post-blindside fallout behind Alec’s back is exactly what I predicted would happen. But winning immunity buys him precious time to talk Kara and others off the ledge. I still think he’s a man without a home until the merge, if he makes it that far. And if he does, it’s clear the Goliaths are not all that loyal to one another. Without having to sacrifice too much, the David tribe finds itself in a slightly powerful position just now. Goliaths are viewing their own as a threat more than any of the Davids. In my mind, you ignore them at your own peril. At least on Vuku, the Davids hold all the cards. We’ll see if they wield the power to their own advantage, or pile it into a tree as Goliath is currently doing.

Survivor

Two Immunity Idols = EOTW

Survivor Employee of the Week: SWAT Dan
You already have an Immunity Idol and are sitting in a relatively comfortable spot within your tribe. So what do you do? You take it upon yourself to find another idol. And you do. AT THE IMMUNITY CHALLENGE!

I still think SWAT Dan is a bit of a chucklehead, but he’s got a nose for Survivor and keeps proving that. If he can keep this second idol to himself and not blab about it, he’s got a shot to get deep into the game.

 

Predictions for Next Week
Goliath will continue to cannibalize itself. Angelina will go into overdrive, trying to ingratiate herself with Nick, Mike and Lyrsa. Jeff Probst will wear a blue shirt.

Survivor Probst

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survivor recap: gabby gabby hey!

Survivor S37E04Survivor is at its best and its most entertaining when the game is unpredictable, when there is a villain you love to hate, when tribes are swapped, when the underdog you love succeeds, when alliances are broken, big moves shake everything up and blindsides are afoot. Episode 4 of Season 37, Time to Bring About the Charmpocalypse, checked all those boxes.

Time to Bring out the Charmpocalypse

Survivor: Not the Bee’s Knees. David tribemate Bi had to drop out due to a sprained MCL.

So much was packed into that hour, I bet you already forgot Bi tapped out of the game at the very top of the show. Disappointing, only because I think she could’ve been fun to watch in the challenges, given her MMA background.

Drop Your Buffs
Thirty-seven seasons into Survivor, the #DropYourBuffs moment no longer shocks players or fans. The only stunner about this last night is it broke into three tribes of five and Truckdriver Carl walked buffless to Exile Island. The trio of new tribes, chosen randomly by the players themselves, put three Goliaths and two Davids on each tribe, eliciting Christian to astutely refer to the exercise as “gerrymandering.” He was right, since the David Tribe got cracked-and-packed into permanent minorities alongside their Goliath competitors. But Survivor is rarely so tidy, is it? Just because Goliath maintained majorities doesn’t mean the alliances carry over. There are always fissures to be exposed and the one thing a majority alliance needs the most in these tenuous times—patience—is usually washed away by torrential rainfall, sleep deprivation and personality clashes.

For those of you scoring at home (or if you’re alone*), here are the new tribe rosters:

Vuku (Orange): Alec (Goliath), Davie (David), Elizabeth (David), Kara (Goliath), Natalia (Goliath).
Jabini (Purple): Angelina (Goliath), Lyrsa (David), Mike (Goliath), Natalie (Goliath), Nick (David).
Tiva (Green): Alison (Goliath), Wrestler John (Goliath), SWAT Dan (Goliath), Christian (David), Gabby (David).

Tiva: Will Dan’s Heart Go On Without Kara?
While SWAT Dan initially fretted over losing his schmoopy, Kara, in the tribe swap, this is actually the best thing that could happen to him. Their two-headed monster strategy has a chance to lie dormant and be forgotten while they build reinforcements. If I’m a former Goliath, I would be working hard to get rid of whomever is nearest Dan or Kara right now. If Dan and Kara make it to the merge, they become a much stronger alliance to defeat. Mark my words.

survivor-Christian-Hubicki-Gabby-Pascuzzi

Christian & Gabby. The most adorable pair in Survivor history.

The best thing for the viewing audience to come of this switch is Christian and Gabby remained together. Honestly, I love everything about these two and love watching their interactions together. Both are easily fan favorites because we all can relate to feeling like an outsider. Christian is able to channel it and make it work for himself by finding commonality with everyone. Gabby, on the other hand, still struggles with it. And who can’t relate to that? Like she said, it’s like she’s trying to ask for a seat at the cool kids’ table.

But the divisions aren’t as stark and concrete as it might seem. John, a professional wrestler, is clearly a good performer, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously and seems like a sincere and nice person. In fact, all the players at the so-called “cool kids” table are like that. Nevertheless, it was a readymade awesome moment of reckoning for Gabby in the Immunity Challenge when she cooly and calmly directed her tribe to a first-place finish. She is this season’s Little Engine That Could and, thus far, has succeeded with flying colors.

am-goliath-strong-natalie-cole-on-the-third-episode-of-survivor-david-picture-id1052203060Jabini: Natalie Being Natalie
Over on Jabini, everyone seems to be getting along just fine. Well, almost everyone. Natalie is still Natalie and, in all honesty, I’ll give her a lot of credit for not flexing her personality. She is who she is and she’s going to ride that pony as far as it’ll take her. Perhaps it’s stragery to be a prickly pear carried to the end of the game to make someone else look better to the jury, but I doubt it. I think Natalie is at a stage in her life where she doesn’t feel the compunction to apologize or change for anyone. On some level, I respect that. But as a Survivor player, it must be a challenge to not confront her more about it. After all, “bossy” players (women, especially) usually don’t fare too well in Survivor. But if Natalie can white-knuckle her way through one or two more votes, she could be a dark horse in this game. It remains to be seen if her tribemates are willing to continue putting up with her, though.

Tribe chemistry aside, School of Rock Mike rightfully identified Jabini as the tribe of misfits, at this stage of Survivor. But he found a quick and easy alliance with Nick, who had to act fast after his Mason-Dixon Alliance with Christian got separated. This was a smart move for Nick. Similar to Dan and Kara, Nick and Christian have a strong alliance. If Nick brings in Mike after the merge—you know Gabby will be there, too—and suddenly, this foursome could become a power alliance.

Vuku: Goliath’s Self-Inflicted Wound
After losing the Immunity Challenge, Vuku predictably went into scramble mode. More accurately, Davie and Elizabeth went into scramble mode. For Davie, this had to be the most stressful of Tribal Councils yet. He’s sitting on an Immunity Idol that no one even knows about. Given the numbers, he knew his name would come up tonight. The blessing and curse of an idol is you don’t want to play it when you don’t have to and you don’t want to go home with it in your pocket. Fortunately for Davie, some Goliath members had big moves on their minds.

maxresdefaultSure, this resulted in one of the most entertaining early-game Tribal Councils I’ve seen in awhile. As a fan, it was fun and exciting to watch. But if I put on my Survivor Strategy Hat, it was really dumb game play on the part of the Goliaths: Alec, Kara and Natalia. In a vote that, at its easiest, could’ve been a slam-dunk, turned into a self-inflicted wound borne out of emotion, paranoia and overzealousness.

Think about it. Early on, Natalia got paranoid over Kara and Elizabeth bonding over horses. Horses! She immediately hit the panic button and branded Elizabeth her Public Enemy No. 1. By pushing everyone at camp so hard—Davie included—to vote her out, she got branded as bossy and rude; the one thing that happens too often to competitive women in Survivor. Even her bestie, Kara, could see it. That was all it took for Davie to expose a crack in the armor. He smartly played it up to Alec. By the time they got to Tribal Council, Natalia was already on the spit and didn’t even know it. I don’t know if Alec planned it this way all along, but his whispering campaign at Tribal led to a big, loud blindside of Natalia that completely changed the dynamic of this tiny little tribe.

Appearances Are Deceiving

That Moment When…Alec realizes that THIS was the alliance he should’ve trusted.

The #CluelessKass Moment of This Season
Alec’s blindside of Natalia was a shock, especially to Kara. It was big. And it was completely unnecessary. Voting out Natalia falls into a category I call #CluelessKassMoments (I refuse to call that amateur player “Chaos Kass.” She was a self-absorbed moron). Yes, it was a big, bold move. But did it really improve Alec’s lot in the game? Not even a little. If anything, it hurts him both in the short-term and the long-term. Had he, Kara and Natalia stayed the course, Elizabeth would’ve been voted out and Carl would’ve joined. The numbers woudln’t have changed. They’d still be in control. And if this trio could make it to the merge along with Dan, they become a powerful alliance of four.

As it stands, though, Alec has lost the trust of Kara, the numbers to David and, if he makes it to a merge, his former Goliaths will regard him as a Benedict Arnold who can’t be trusted. Alec will be on an island. And for what? A big move on Night 11? Please.

NataliaNatalia’s Heart > Natalia’s Head
Natalia also has only herself to blame. I loved her competitive spirit and wish she could’ve tempered her paranoia about Elizabeth, but she just couldn’t get out of her own way. Instead of feeling threatened by the bond between Kara and Elizabeth, Natalia should’ve made it work to her advantage. She was already tight with Kara and Dan. The smarter move would’ve been to embrace Elizabeth and, along with Kara, pick off Alec or Davie and seize control of the tribe. If there’s a lesson to be learned here: don’t let emotions guide your strategy. It’ll get your torch snuffed out.

I can’t say I blame her for her grumpy exit from the game. I’d probably be just as pissed off, too. Sometimes, I wish more players stared daggers into their blindsiders while Probst snuffs their torches. It was an honest reaction. By now, though, I’m sure Natalia recognizes where she went wrong. And it wasn’t trusting Alec. It was making Elizabeth a vendetta.

Meanwhile, on Exile Island
Carl comes into Vuku with a whole lot of power. He can rejoin Davie and Elizabeth and also has the sweet-ass new Survivor advantage: Idol Kryptonite! It’s a tricky, risky advantage to play and I can’t wait until the night he plays it. If Carl is smart, he’ll keep his mouth shut until it’s time to play the advantage. Mostly, I just want to see the looks on everyone’s faces when it gets played. It will be better than Russell Hantz and his plethora of idols.

Gabby Bikini

Gabby Gabby Hey! Being a challenge beast earns you our first EOTW honors of the season!

Survivor Employee of the Week
Even though I give Davie credit for quietly orchestrating Natalia’s ouster, the Employee of the Week is Gabby. If anyone needed a victory for purely personal reasons, it was her. And it wasn’t an artificial win at all.

She was literally and figuratively in the driver’s seat of that Immunity Challenge. In a do-or-die challenge, Gabby calmly and deftly guided her blindfolded teammates through a maze and a puzzle to win the challenge like she does this for a living. You don’t have to be a Gabby fan to appreciate that.

Predictions for Next Week
Natalie continues to drive her tribemates to the brink. Alec gets too big for his britches and Christian continues to say things that make me love him.

Survivor 37

EDITOR’S NOTE: The line, “for those of you scoring at home (or if you’re alone),” belongs to Keith Olbermann. It was one of his signature lines when he was a Sportscenter anchor on ESPN. It always made me laugh, back in the day.

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survivor david vs. goliath recap: everybody loves an underdog…right?

fullcast2
Every fall, I begrudgingly trudge into the first episode of my favorite reality show, Survivor. ‘Begrudgingly’ because fans of the show are attune to the fact that the first four or five episodes are more of an exercise in introducing the season’s players and the dynamics at play in each tribe. Who’s the good guy? Who’s the villain? Which ones are the vapid assholes who are going to spend their time spooning and coupling up? As much as I love the show, the first handful of episodes are not as enjoyable as the last few.

So, as we plow into Season 37’s opening episode, I’m sort of steeling myself to white-knuckle through it. But this time around, there were subtle differences that made this inaugural episode one of the franchise’s best. Sure, we still had the contrivances of producers clearly identifying for whom we should root and for whom we should jeer, but they did it in such a manner that was more compelling than I expected. Instead of hand-picking one or two players to be our plucky, little-engine-that-could common man or woman (think: Rupert Boneham or Donathan Hurley, or Stephanie LaGrossa), producers decided to make it easier this season by playing out Revenge of the Nerds on a tropical island.

People You Love to Hate
Under the banner of David vs. Goliath, it’s obvious which side the viewers at home are supposed to support. The David tribe is full of lovable misfits with whom the average person can relate and empathize vs. a team full of smug bullies, bosses you hate and vapid morons looking to get laid between immunity challenges.

No, it’s not fair at all to the members of the Goliath tribe; especially when one of their members is Mike, who twice competed on The Amazing Race with his father as his race partner. How can you ever hate that guy??? And John the pro wrestler—and obvious Goliath—is already one of my favorite players because he doesn’t take himself too seriously and seems to be more down to earth than some of his tribemates (I’m looking at you Dan, you one-dimensional chucklehead). But this is Survivor and we need someone to hate, so it’s you we hate, Goliath tribe. It’s you.

Not really. I mean, they’re going to mix them up soon enough anyway, so let’s not get too emotionally invested at this point, eh?

The best part of this episode is producers seemed to want to spend more time getting to know the individual players early. Sure, there was the perfunctory drama of alliances forming, that one’s lazy, that one’s creepy, that one’s looking for an idol already, those two are already trying to be a couple, that one’s too bossy while building the shelter, blah-blah-blah. But it all seemed to work better in this episode because we had a challenge between the tribes before they even got off the boat. I loved that! The challenge served as a great device in creating a little tension between the tribes while getting to know some of them as individuals.

Admittedly, This vs. That is nothing new, especially for Survivor. We’re already used to it. And we’re already used to people placing far too high a premium on physical attributes in this game. Big and strong is good for moving heavy things, but the physical challenges on Survivor—even in the early episodes—rarely rely on brute strength. Guile, agility, balance and quickness are the skills you really need. Give me a swimmer over a power lifter any day of the week on Survivor.

About That First Challenge…
It was clear from the very beginning what lesson was being conveyed: judge not lest ye be judged. The Goliath tribe lost because it was supposed to lose. But what did it really lose? Nothing. Nothing at all. Nevertheless, it was more fun to watch than pillaging or whatever they’ve done in past first episodes. It gave the audience as much as the players a real opportunity to size everyone up.

Camp Dynamics
I suppose there’s no way to change this element of Survivor. We’re always going to see the same arguments and friction points play out. Once the initial jolt of serotonin wears off and is replaced by hunger pangs and exhaustion, the players immediately begin weeding out the miscreants and ne’er-do-wells. Already we see Natalie at odds with her Goliath tribe. And we saw a gruff and unvarnished Pat giving his David tribe some anxiety. At least Pat’s tribe recognized he has a strong work ethic to match his ability to lead the shelter-building exercise.

While this 90-minute episode was constructed with a clearer narrative to give us a better glimpse into all the players, it’s still going to take a few weeks to truly sort them out. But I still feel like we learned a lot more about both tribes in a balanced manner. And what I learned is simple: not all Davids are Davids and not all Goliaths are Goliaths. That David vs. Goliath banner is cute, but it’s just a MacGuffin. Don’t get too caught up in it, no matter how many times this season Jeff Probst throws it at us.

Enough with Immunity Idols!
Even though I knew better, I hoped against hope that we might see an end to hidden immunity idols. Once upon a time, this was a great and interesting way to shake up alliances and shift power in the game. Now, it’s become the most predictable of game twists that producers don’t even have to bother with hiding clues. Players just go look for them now.

The reason I’m weary about hidden idols is because it completely upends the strategic element of Survivor. It’s like a game of chess being interrupted by Pac-Man sweeping across the board, gobbling up all your players. Sure, I get it. Hidden idols are a contrivance to foment drama and keep an air of unknown heading into the most perfunctory of tribal councils. But if there’s a hidden idol as a threat in every tribal council, how is that interesting? Hopefully we don’t see idols brought into the game too much this season, but I have no faith in that at all.

Immunity Challenge: Patdown
Admittedly, I was rooting for the David tribe to win the Immunity Challenge. I felt like Goliath’s maiden Tribal Council would provide more fireworks. Alas, it was not meant to be. It’s clear producers are once again creating physical contact between the tribes in challenges to ratchet up the conflict. Sure, whatever. I’m still not entirely certain Wrestler John’s strategy of playing defense was the best use of his time on the obstacle course. In fact, I think it was a complete waste of time. I understand the thinking, but I still think it was utterly pointless. Players in Survivor often outwit themselves in this game. John was thinking too hard there, if you ask me.

And the Davids weren’t thinking enough when they nominated Carl to dig the hole under the log. Survivor loves to see it’s players dig and slither under logs. The David tribe would’ve been better served in picking Bi for that portion of the challenge. She’s an MMA fighter, so we know she’s got strength and agility. I think she would’ve whipped through that challenge in no time.

In the end, though, I suppose it didn’t matter. Sadder still, we didn’t get to see the requisite post-loss scramble ahead of David’s first Tribal Council, thanks to a boat ride from hell that sent Pat to the hospital. Even though producers clearly took some creative license with how the footage was edited, the injury was clearly serious enough that they had no choice but to remove him from the game. I’m not sure which is worse: getting voted out or getting airlifted out. One outcome means nobody wanted you and the other outcome means you’ll never know just how far you could’ve gone. Mostly, though, it just sucks because you competed, you dealt with the elements and you dealt with the game. Only to get injured in the least competitive element of Survivor.

Where Do We Go Now?
Too soon to tell for either tribe. My hunch is Pat wasn’t going to be the first player voted off the David tribe, but there’s no way of knowing. Right now, if I had to pick two favorites from either tribe, I’d go with Wrestler John and Angelina from the Goliath tribe and Elizabeth or Christian from the Davids. But I’m writing their names in pencil. I’m not sold on them yet. My hunch is John’s going to end up getting voted out because his size will be seen as a threat and Christian will get booted for being too manic.

My Favorite Players (So Far)
Wrestler John and Gabby. John seems like he’ll be fun to get to know and Gabby seems like the nicest person on the island. So far.

Stay tuned. I’ll continue to break down this season every week and I’m looking forward to analyzing actual strategy when we get to it.

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survivor: ghost island prediction.

Ghost IslandTonight’s season finale of Survivor will bring to a close one of the least interesting seasons of the reality show we’ve had in awhile. Survivor: Ghost Island started off promising enough: 20 castaways, no returning players and a slew of second-chance immunity idols, game advantages and tribal council extra votes. It was billed as a season to wash away past sins. It amounted to a season of predictability, passive game play and an overall convoluted mess of middle-ground personalities seemingly locked into a battle for third place.

Throughout the entire season, players Dominick and Wendell have called virtually all the shots without the slightest challenge and it makes no sense; none at all. It hasn’t been this predictable and this boring since Survivor: Worlds Apart, where selfish weirdo Mike Holloway walked away the winner.

What Went Wrong?
Too many gimmicks, that’s what. Too many diversions and distractions have made the game nearly impossible to play. Sure, one or two immunity idols makes sense. But the inclusion of Ghost Island threw the entire game out of balance. I’m all for the occasional tribe swaps and whatnot, but every week a new twist?

That took away from the game play, if you ask me. I mean, where are the blindsides? Where’s the cutthroat game play? Where are the vicious personal battles? In other words, where’s the game of Survivor? Instead of all the ups, downs, ins and outs that make Survivor fun and interesting, we’re left with six pairs of khaki pants, all vying for your vote as Best Pair of Khakis. I want a do-over, but I won’t get one. So, let’s just get on with it and decide who’s going to take home the million dollars tonight.

The Likely Winner is…
Domenick. He’s been in control since Day One (well, sort of). He’s been conniving, scheming, plotting and planning. He’s been moving all the pieces around the board on his own. And he’s also got himself an immunity idol or two. The fact that he engineered a finale with a bunch of also-rans means he should win. Unless, of course, the also-rans pull off a legitimate blindside.

Finalist with a Chance.
Wendell. He’s smart. He’s likable. He’s athletic. But he’s attached himself to Dominick from the beginning. If he’s in the Final Tribal Council with Domenick, Wendell comes in second. It’s as simple as that.

How the Hell Did You Get Here????
Laurel. She is a promising player who hitched her wagon to Dom and Wendell. At multiple points throughout the season, Laurel had chances to assert herself, take control of the game and eliminate some of her biggest threats. She balked. Every single time, she balked. To make such a move right now would be expected and very nearly pointless.

Could’ve Been
Angela. She was a tough competitor whose back was to the wall from the very start. Seems she could never get a true alliance working. But she’s hung in there…and she ate a shit ton of really gross stuff to win immunity. That, alone, should earn her high marks. But not enough to win.

The Trouble with Donathan
Easily my favorite player in the game from the start because he was the little engine that could. Donathan’s trajectory in Survivor emulates with many viewers who like to root for the misfits and the underdogs. Underneath his wide-eyed, homespun demeanor, though, is a fierce, vicious Survivor contestant. Unfortunately, his strategy is to throw gasoline on the campfire and watch it burn. Still, I like the kid. But he seems to have no winning strategy.

Sebastian: Half Man, Half Alien
Seriously, that dude looks like an alien to me. And how the hell did he last this long. Of all the Top Six, Sebastian seems to be riding coattails. He hasn’t done much to distinguish himself in the game. I guess that’s why he’s still there, right? Nice guy, but not a Survivor champion.

We shall see if I’m correct.

And yes, I still believe i could win this game.

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survivor recap: go fish???

Logo_MainPage_SliderRemember last week, when I said we were heading toward all holy hell breaking out at an upcoming Tribal Council? Welp, we got it! With so many advantages, immunity idols and sneaky players floating around, it was only a matter of time before something broke and turned into a Jerry Springer episode. But before we get to that, let’s first mourn the loss of one of the players who truly had a shot at winning: Andrea.

She fought off Jeff Probst’s torch snuffer (that’s not a euphemism) twice in the past and maneuvered her way into a power position in the game. She was calling the shots and building a reputation as a gamer. But, if being a fan of Survivor has taught me anything, it’s that an alliance of five is held together with Scotch tape and hope. They are always much easier to break apart than hold together.

Vo_andrea_gcFor all of Andrea’s strengths in the game, she (and the other players) seem completely oblivious to the fact that Cirie is running circles around the rest of the players…and it cost Andrea dearly. But it wasn’t just Cirie who fragged Andrea. Sarah made a strong-yet-predictable move in pushing Andrea out of the game, too. Sarah’s been in a power position for a few tribals now. She rightfully recognized Andrea as a threat.

Though I have to admit I found it slightly shocking that the alliance of five—Andrea, Aubry, Cirie, Michaela and Sarah—broke up during this vote. It would’ve made more sense to give Culpepper the boot. He’s a perceived threat and did not have the immunity necklace around his neck. That belonged to the incomparable Aubry (full disclosure: my favorite player). The stars were perfectly aligned for the five to stick together for at least one more vote.

lfsfu0hr.pngWhat the Hell was That, Michaela?
Before going too far, I want to throw something out there: what the hell was Michaela’s plan in telling Culpepper to “go fish?” Seriously, what was that supposed to accomplish? For someone whom I thought was a smart player, Michaela’s done a lot of things this season that don’t make a lot of sense.

The fact that she’s made it this far in the game isn’t testimony to her game play. It actually speaks to her poor attitude. If I’m on that island, I want to be sitting next to her at the Final Tribal Council because I’d be certain she wouldn’t get any votes. Being an arrogant, mouthy, selfish ball hog doesn’t make you a champion. It makes you an insurance policy for other players. Cirie recognized that right away and seduced Michaela the first chance she got. And Michaela bought it hook, line and sinker.

Jury Strategery
Even though I love the drama of watching an alliance collapse upon itself, it didn’t make much strategic sense. Perhaps it’s about positioning for the jury or something, but even then, did it have to be right now? Looking at the current jury, Culpepper has probably only one vote in his favor (Sierra). He’s written Andrea’s name down three times. I doubt she’s going to reward that; especially since he didn’t orchestrate her ouster.

It’s pointless to speculate on the jury right now, though. Who knows what they’ll decide in the final Tribal Council? My only hope is they’re not big babies about solid game play. If a jury member holds a grudge over being blindsided, that jury member doesn’t belong there. Blindsides are a big part of winning strategy.

SurvivorGameChangers_TribalCouncilTribal Council Chaos
More on the jury later. We haven’t even discussed the last Tribal Council, which turned into one of the most revealing councils of the season. Culpepper winning immunity on Day 35 was big, although I don’t think it was certain that he’d get voted off the island; not with players like Cirie and Sarah in the eye of the storm. But his immunity win did force an already fragmented alliance to either band together or fall apart.

True to form, it fell apart. And that’s not very surprising, when you consider how it all played out.

With Culpepper wearing the immunity necklace, Sarah’s game play suddenly comes into focus a bit more for everyone. People took note of her feigned shock over Sierra’s vote a couple Tribals prior. Is Sarah playing to the jury? To Sierra? What’s up with that? It didn’t take long for Cirie to sort out that Sarah was legit. So why is it taking so long for everyone else to catch on that Cirie is a major threat?

After that last Tribal Council, though, I can’t imagine anyone is going to trust Cirie too much. Prior to going into Tribal Council, Cirie and Sarah seemed to be colluding to vote out Tai. Or was it Aubry? Now, I can’t remember, but for whom they were planning to vote was less important than what Sarah did next: she gave Cirie her secret “steal a vote” advantage as a show of trust. In the moment—and even right now—that made no sense to me. I’ve always been of a mind that if you’re holding any sort of advantage, you never let it go. Ever. Because the moment you hand it over to an opponent, it will be used against you. Perhaps Sarah was merely testing Cirie’s trust or she was genuinely trying to gain Cirie’s loyalty. Either way, it turned out to be the launching point to yet another epic Tribal Council.

Cirie kept her promise to use Sarah’s advantage (against Sarah?) at Tribal Council. Only there was one problem: it is non-transferrable. DOH! Did Sarah know that? She seemed to know that, which leads me to believe she was testing Cirie. And Cirie FAILED! She was planning to hoist Sarah on her own petard and ended up exposing herself as the rat.

With Cirie’s master plan lying in tatters at her feet, Sarah snatched back her advantage. And that’s when all order went out the window. Long story short: the whispering began again, Michaela got mouthy, Tai was somehow in the middle of it all and Cirie was pleading her case that she was actually acting in Sarah’s best interest (uhhh…what?).

In the end, Sarah decided to steal Tai’s vote (dowhatnow?), seemingly putting the target on Tai. But, apparently, that was a ruse to throw Cirie and Michaela off the scent of her actual plan: vote out Michaela in a complete and total blindside. Shockingly, Tai did not play one of his hidden Immunity Idols, despite receiving votes from Michaela and Aubry. Cirie, weirdly, voted for Aubry. Culpepper and Troyzan joined Sarah in voting for Michaela, sending her packing.

It was a lot to process in five minutes of TV time, honestly. Initially, it seemed Sarah would target Cirie for her apparently betrayal and vote her out. Instead, she went after her in a much more gangster way: she took out Cirie’s unwitting No. 1, taking away her favorite pet. The move only makes sense if Cirie is next on Sarah’s chopping block. If she’s not, then you’ve done nothing more than guarantee one jury vote for Cirie. Sarah’s been a smart player and must recognize that.

In spite of all the nuttiness at Tribal Council, the most baffling moment for me was Tai’s decision to not play his idol. He has two! For my money, that’s a HUGE gamble to take at this stage of the game. He put all his trust in Sarah, it would appear. That just seems crazy to me.

SURVIVOR game changers aubry eyerollThe Wrong Side of the Vote
And, once again, Aubry is on the wrong side of a major decision. As one of the smarter players in Survivor, that will certainly continue to bother her. She knows she needs to beef up her résumé if she wants a shot at winning. No matter the season you play, you have to have big moves in your column to convince the jury you’re worthy of the million dollars.

For better or worse, blindsides and bold moves outweigh any sort of performance in challenges or your ability to socialize at camp. Does anyone care that Ozzy was a great provider? Hell no! They don’t even care if you’re a challenge beast (unless you’re an unlikely challenge beast, like Cochran). All this is running through Aubry’s over-active brain, which is leading to her frustration. She’s running out of runway to ramp up a game as a serious competitor. Still, she’s my favorite player.

Survivor-Game-Changers-2017-Spoilers-Week-10-Sneak-Peek-17-550x310Big Move of the Week
Normally, Culpepper winning a crucial Immunity Challenge would qualify as the biggest move. After all, he’d probably be on the jury next week without it. But I’m going with Officer Sarah’s decision to hand Cirie her hidden advantage. Whether it was calculated or accidental, it created the flashpoint to a lot of chaos at Tribal Council. Most of all, it exposed Cirie’s game to Sarah. We’ll see if Sarah uses this information to her advantage.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 1.31.24 AMSurvivor Employee of the Week
In an episode rife with big moves, important victories and shocking votes, I’m going with my favorite player: Aubry. No, it wasn’t the biggest win of the season. But she’s my favorite player, so there!

Breaking Down the Final Six
I’ll provide a deeper breakdown of the remaining players next week. In the meantime, here’s how I’d seed the finalists:

1. Officer Sarah. She’s sitting on a legacy advantage and is playing a sharp, strategic game. But she’s got a big decision coming up: who’s the greater threat? Culpepper or Cirie?

2. Culpepper. He’s won two Immunity Challenges—none bigger than on Day 35—and has been adept at keeping his head off the chopping block. He’ll need to win another Immunity, more than likely, if he wants to advance.

3. Cirie. She’s still dangerous, but exposed. If she survives the next Tribal Council, it’s because she played either Sarah against Culpepper or (more likely) the other way around.

4. Aubry. She needs to be on the right side of the next couple votes; otherwise, she’s an also-ran in this game.

5. Troyzan. Dude is just floating along, avoiding suspicion. He’s won Immunity, has an idol in his pocket and hasn’t had his name written down once this season. This guy is a dark horse.

6. Tai. I love Tai. I really do. But I can’t tell if he’s crazy or crazy like a fox. He’s cheated death a few times in this game (as well as won Immunity once), but is he cheating death because of his game play or in spite of it? Normally, a player with two hidden idols in his pocket at this stage in the game should be a Top 3 contender, but Tai’s so unpredictable that I have no faith in his ability to play them properly.

Predictions for Next Week
Someone’s going to win. Michaela will roll her eyes. And Debbie will say something self absorbed and stupid.

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