survivor re-cap: nothing to see here, folks!

Game-Changers-e1486573854660.jpgIn a season called Game Changers, tonight’s episode would’ve been better off being called “predictable.” It was the obligatory loved one visit episode of Survivor tonight, followed by a whole lotta nothing to see here, folks! While I don’t mind the tears and emotion from the players (who’ve been completely cut off from their families and friends for more than a month, at this point in the game), it’s really only a part of Survivor as a McGuffin to create a little bit of drama where none otherwise existed.

Who’s going on the reward? Are they taking me? Why didn’t they take ME?!?!

Bah! Who cares? Let’s have some real drama, please!

”Calm down!”
There’s always one who overreacts in the moment. Not surprisingly, it was Michaela who took it all a bit too personally when she was left behind. While Michaela, Sierra, Troyzan and Tai moped in the ocean, a motley crew of Andrea, Aubry, Cirie, Culpepper and Sarahshared a jungle barbecue with loved ones. It is no exaggeration to call this the oldest trick in Survivor’s book.

The entire point of this challenge is to stir emotions, positive and negative. Despite a few post-challenge outbursts from Michaela (shocking), the players seemed to accept the results and move onto strategy. But I did love it when Michaela’s mother had a very “mom” moment and told her daughter to “calm down!” when Michaela was throwing a tantrum.

 

mayim-blossom

All that was missing was some sort of argument with Six over a boy…or something. I don’t know. I never watched Blossom.

Special Episodes of Blossom Had More Drama Than This
Even though there was some light chatter about sending Culpepper home, all the attention focused squarely on Andrea and Sierra. And I’m not so sure the players made the right move, but we’ll get to that later.

 

It was really a fairly quiet boring episode with little in the way of actual game-changing moves. Seriously, everybody just sort of muddled along until Tribal Council. Honestly, was anyone surprised? And Sierra, true to form, went out with a dull whimper. For someone who knew she was on the chopping block, she did remarkably little to save herself. Special episodes of Blossom had more drama than this, for Christ’s sake!

Perhaps that’s because Culpepper won his first individual Immunity Necklace tonight, thus rendering moot any thoughts of sending him packing. In terms of distinguishing oneself as a championship-caliber player in this game, Culpepper really needed a necklace. I’m a firm believer that a Survivor champion’s game should be an equilateral triangle of performance at challenges, big, strategic moves and a strong social game that keeps your name off the parchment.

NerdAlertBannerSquare.pngGame of Geometry
Right now, Andrea is the closest to equilateral, with Culpepper right behind. Everyone else is working off all manner of isosceles and scalene triangles. It’s not pretty (look it up!). The fact that Andrea has quietly moved herself into the driver’s seat of this game is a bit shocking and impressive. I’ve never doubted her Survivor acumen, but she really and truly snuck up on bigger, bolder players in recent days while having to fend off serious attempts to snuff her torch. If you consider Hali as a player who faced similar circumstances, look at the start contrast in strategy to survive and advance. Hali never started playing until Tribal Council. Andrea? She never stops.

160129104607-12-break-up-movies-breakup-super-169The Break-up
I understand the strategery behind voting out Sierra tonight. It was about splitting up a voting bloc to further put Culpepper in a deep hole. If you don’t break up a power couple in Survivor, they will run the entire game.

Poor Culpepper. His alliance has essentially crumbled all around him in a matter of days. Unless he can sweet-talk Tai and another free agent or two (Michaela?), he’s going to need to win a couple more immunity challenges to save himself. As it stands, Culpepper has become the No. 1 target with one remaining ally: Troyzan. And if Troyzan’s smart, he’ll start shopping for a new alliance soon, lest he wants to be picked off too.

242e304d9db88ff0763d03104f50f167Lord of the Jungle?
Let’s talk about Troyzan for a moment. He is an athletic player and seems to have a sense of strategy in this game. Yet, here we are again, looking at Troyzan on the wrong side of an alliance. Sure, it wasn’t as blatant as his previous turn in Survivor One World, but his alliance—which was fairly tight a couple weeks ago—has completely fallen apart around him.

That may appear to put him in a bad spot, but he does have a hidden Immunity Idol in his pocket and I doubt he’ll be dumb enough to not play it. With the right votes happening around him, Troyzan could find himself in the catbird seat at the end of the game because, as of right now, he’s been a part of one, big move (Ozzy’s ouster) without voting against majority of the current jury. Could that play to his advantage in a Final Tribal Council (providing the jury members are smarting over getting betrayed and want to take it out on their Judas)? Too soon to tell, though, because Troyzan is not the only player with untold advantages in this game.

 

russell-crazyeyes1

No, Russell Hantz is not on this season of Survivor. But he is the Survivor Patron Saint of All Holy Hell in this game, no?

All Holy Hell
On the surface of the game, Survivor is in a very calm, predictable state…sort of like a powder keg with a lit wick. Sure, it’s calm, until the flame reaches the keg. That’s how I see Survivor right now. We’ve already had some great and explosive Tribal Councils this season, but I think we’re very, very close to seen All Holy Hell break loose!

 

Between Troyzan’s hidden Immunity Idol, Tai’s TWO hidden idols and now Sarah’s two advantages—having been bequeathed Sierra’s Legacy Advantage last night—the stars are aligned for a perfectly crazy night around Jeff Probst’s Tribal campfire! With so much hidden treasure waiting to be exposed (let’s not forget Sarah’s other advantage in the game: the chance to steal a vote) we could be looking at, quite possibly, the most explosive Tribal Council of the season.

Oh, I hope so. I really, really hope so.

Survivor-Game-Changers-2017-Spoilers-Week-10-Sneak-Peek-17-550x310Big Move of the Week
Officer Sarah has, once again, made a brilliant move to advance her game on many levels. In addition to gaining Sierra’s trust as a close ally in order to be first in line for the Legacy Advantage, Sarah also successfully rallied the votes to get her “close ally” bounced out of the game. That’s some gangster shit, right there!

Perhaps Sierra will wake up to the betrayal at the Final Tribal Council—should Sarah make it that far—but I doubt it. Sierra was too passive in this game. She really didn’t pose much of a threat and Sarah exploited that. Sure, they chose to take out a pawn tonight instead of a rook (or a bishop, or whatever, in Andrea), but Sarah made off like a bandit by acquiring Sierra’s wares. That’s a solid, Survivor move right there.

SURVIVORSurvivor Employee of the Week
I’m giving it to Culpepper. He needed a big performance and he delivered twice; first, in the Reward Challenge and again in the Immunity Challenge. Sarah’s a close second, but Culpepper gets it because he had to win tonight.

Sure, he lost his closest ally in the game, but he probably would’ve been taken out tonight otherwise. Winning a must-win challenge—even if you don’t realize it—is a big deal to me.

 

3c8df0_9af3c34ce75e4e00994dfcd32f651bf2.jpg_srz_969_1297_85_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz

Andrea’s moving her way up the chart. Fast.

The Haves
I’m still calling Sarah my top seed, but Andrea may have moved into a tie with her. Andrea’s been playing a more out-in-the-open game—and has staved off elimination twice while winning immunity twice—so her résumé is getting more and more impressive. Sarah’s playing more like a sniper, lurking in the shadows and maintaining a quiet dominance over the social aspect of Survivor.

After thee two, I’d put Cirie in at No. 3, but I’ve got to believe her backroom strategizing is going to catch up with her. She’s widely regarded as the smartest player out there by her contemporaries. And Cirie is the only player who can be a liability in challenges it won’t ever count against her. Figure that out.

 

The Maybes
If I had to rank the remaining five players, it would look something like this:

aubry-bracco-survivor-kaoh-rong-winner-620x3604. Aubry—Because she’s positioned herself on the right side of an alliance, but needs a big move under her belt to gain street cred. Aubry’s proven herself to be influential and perceptive—and a better competitor in the challenges than people might expect—but she needs to take out a big player to make people see her as a threat.

5. Culpepper—For now. He could fall next week, so he needs to step up and rebuild his alliance fast. No one is on shakier ground right now than Brad. If he doesn’t win the next Immunity Challenge, he will be going home.

6. Troyzan—He’s been an underdog this entire game, but found his footing when he joined the move to get rid of Ozzy. Culpepper’s been shielding him, to this point. Where Troyzan will either make or break his game is deciding when to stab Culpepper in the back. I don’t think he could win over the jury sitting next to Culpepper. Timing is everything.

7. Michaela—She’s starting to move out from Cirie’s shadow and play her own game. Although she’s only moved herself up to “swing vote” status. No one respects a swing voter enough to give that person a million dollars. It’s like being a permanent traitor. I still don’t think she can win, regardless, but she needs to make a big move to give herself a fighting chance. That means she has to knock off Sierra, Andrea and/or Sarah. Good luck, kid.

8. Tai—Perhaps I’m being disrespectful of Tai’s game, but I can never tell if he’s operating on strategy or just rolling with whomever gains his trust the day of a vote. Unbeknownst to everyone else, he has two hidden Immunity Idols. Finding idols is a good skill, but not enough to advance your lot in Survivor. Knowing how and when to play them is going to be critical to Tai’s fortunes. He’s going to have to take big risks and play like free agent for a couple votes, I think, to move up into the upper tier. He may be sitting at No. 8 right now, but that doesn’t mean he can’t move up into The Haves next week. He most definitely could.

Predictions for Next Week
If the bottom five were smart, they’d start picking off Sarah, Andrea and Cirie as soon as possible, but that’s less a prediction and more wishful thinking to stir up the drama. More likely is the girls gang up on the boys and either eliminate Culpepper or Immunity Idols are played and we finally get the All Holy Hell Tribal Council! Hey, a fella can dream.

Also next week, we’ll start examining the jury to look at potential voting outcomes. Stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Filed under reality TV, review, survivor, television

survivor re-cap: the lady doth protest too much.

surv-0503-16

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.

S33_Ep12_SG_183a-850x560

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.”

 

survivor-andrea

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?

 

 

brad2

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.

Troyzan-Survivor-Game-Changers-670x388

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?

survivor-gamechangers-cochran-reward-debbie

Cochran’s still having flashbacks to this awkward moment.

Leave a comment

Filed under opinion, reality TV, survivor

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 1.31.24 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis, pop culture, reality TV, review, survivor

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?

242e304d9db88ff0763d03104f50f167

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis, opinion, politics

survivor recap: a betrayal of the highest order.

Survivor Game Changers 06_Tribal

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

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

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

Survivor Game Changers 06_Ozzy Jump

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the hell, man?!?!

Survivor Game Changers 06_Probst

Even Probst was left speechless by Varner’s actions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis, opinion, pop culture, reality TV, survivor

…until we meet again.

NYE-1993

Brit, TJ & I on New Year’s Eve, 1993.

I got the call yesterday that an old friend from my college days died. Even though TJ and I hadn’t spoken in several years, the news hit me like a kick in the gut. It knocked the wind out of me and left me at a complete loss for words. TJ and I met sometime during my freshman year of college. Our paths crossed often, as we ran among the same circles of friends. Like a VENN diagram, our paths kept crossing.

Somewhere along the way, our mutual interest in music clicked—probably when I learned he worked at Camelot Music at University Park Mall—and that’s what set the wheels in motion. Over the next several years TJ and I, along with several other students at IU South Bend—Brit, Tom, Robin, Mark, Pat…and too many others to name here—became the big circle of college friends. Between student newspaper, student government, campus activities, trips to conventions and trips to Florida for Spring Break, these were the people with whom I spent most of my time. Invariably, TJ became something of the hub for all most of us.

All the guys hung out at TJ’s house; “the Den,” as we knew it. Whenever I was hanging out there, I could count on seeing at least two or three other people who’d just show up. Usually, Brit, TJ and I hung out. Or Tom, TJ and I. Or maybe Rob H. would come over. And then Brit’s here again.

It’s a good thing TJ’s parents and sisters were so cool with it, because we spent countless hours in that Osceola basement room of his.

TJ’s collection of CDs rivaled mine; probably dwarfed it, actually. If you recall, this was long before the internet was a thing, so our only conduit to new music was MTV and Camelot Music. TJ had the hookup on the occasional new stuff coming down the pike. Our mutual interest as audiophiles evolved to a point where I purchased a cheap mixing board and would take it to TJ’s house, where we’d record what would be described as podcasts today. Our maiden voyage was TJ, Tom and I. Then, while I was away at Spring Break, TJ and Brit took over and made mixtapes.

51JRmCkgXJL

My continued love of Badfinger is all TJ’s fault.

In case you ever wondered whom to blame for my love of the 70s band Badfinger, blame TJ. He stumbled upon original vinyl pressings of Straight Up and No Dice. The sound quality was horrible, through no fault of TJ, but rather whomever previously owned the copies. “It sounds like they were played with a nail,” he once said. But we slapped those albums on cassettes and played the hell out of them on a daily basis.

You may recall me talking about Celestial Navigations recently (featuring actor Geoffrey Lewis in storyteller mode). I hooked into those recordings, courtesy of TJ.

Later on, TJ and I became de facto DJs for our friends’ parties: Kim Hall’s graduation party and Audrey Knoblach’s New Year’s Eve party. What I remember the most about Kim’s party is it rained like a son of a bitch! It poured buckets; so much so, that we had to move the party indoors, off the back porch.

Halloween-1989

Halloween 1989: The Phantom (me), the Sky (Tom) & the Joker (TJ).

Music nerd-dom aside, all the time we spent together back then continues to inform my decisions today. No, seriously. TJ was one of the most ridiculously organized people I knew. He had organizational systems for everything. When we were in student government together, I picked up on his systems and have used them in some form ever since. You laugh, but it’s true.

After college, we all went our separate ways, but kept in touch. Around 1997, when I moved back to South Bend for a job, TJ and I began a weekly ritual of getting together every Wednesday night at Mr. D’s for a beer (or three). We kept this ritual until I began working at a casino and my work hours prevented it.

Somewhere around Spring 2001, TJ called me from out of the blue. We hadn’t spoken much lately for the simple fact that we were just living our day-to-day lives. His father had gotten very sick and was in the hospital. From the tone of his voice, I knew it was serious; more than just a routine procedure. I know he reached out because we’re friends. I also assumed he reached out because, not even a year prior, my dad died.

I went up to the hospital the following night. TJ, his sisters, mother and entire extended family were there. Having been in similar situations, I could feel the tension, anxiety and stress in the air. Everyone was pleasant and chatty, but it was clouded by such a palpably nervous atmosphere you could cut it with a knife. I don’t know if everyone there realized how grave it was for TJ’s dad, but they put on brave faces and hoped for the best; TJ included. When I left later that night, TJ walked down to my car with me. This was the only time he let his guard down. I think he knew he had to be strong for his mother and sisters. “Kevin, I’m losing my dad,” he said to me when we were outside. I really didn’t know what to say.

To this day, I regret that. This is not about me, right now, but that always bothered me. I even apologized to TJ a few months later, after his dad died. I felt like I let him down. Having just gone through a similar experience with my dad, you’d think I would be able to offer some words of comfort or wisdom. I had nothing. I think I was too sad, knowing what they were feeling and going through.

And a word, for a moment about TJ’s mother, whom I always loved. At the funeral for TJ’s dad, she said to me (knowing about my dad), “this must be hard for you.” She just lost her husband and she’s looking out for me.

It’s probably been at least 10 years since I last spoke with TJ. The last time we connected was on Myspace, if that tells you anything. I knew he’d gotten married, but that’s about all I knew. Nothing bad happened. There was no falling out or anything. Again, life gets in the way.

Even though we haven’t spoken in years, TJ always remained a friend. He was still a part of one of those circles from way back when, even if that circle got a little less active. After all, most of us in that circle no longer live near one another. TJ moved to the Indianapolis area. I moved to Vegas. Brit’s over in The Region, near Chicago. Tom’s in California. Robin’s in Detroit. And several others I haven’t named have moved around too, I’m sure. If not that, people have families now. It’s fairly cliché, when you stop to think about it.

Anyway…I’ve spent a lot of time tonight reflecting on all those days, nights, weekends, parties, bowling leagues, student government meetings and other nonsense we shared back before I was even 21. Goddamn, we had some fun back then. Yeah, it’s nearly a lifetime ago, but those memories feel like they happened just yesterday. And even though years and miles separate us, I’m glad TJ was a big part of those memories.

But, yeah. It’s still like a kick in the gut today. That being said, I’ll leave it on this song, a favorite of mine and a favorite of TJ’s.

Until we meet again, friend.

17 Comments

Filed under Personal

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

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

Sanddra Torch

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

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

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

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

survivor-gamechangers-cochran-reward-debbie

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

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

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

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

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

S34_Sarah_Cast_Photo1

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

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

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

tai

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

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

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

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

aubry-bracco-survivor-kaoh-rong-episode-9-cbs_nzswrz

Leave a comment

Filed under analysis, pop culture, reality TV, review, survivor, television