Sunday, December 16, 2007

Surviving Survivor

I got a job as a temp. I end up waking up around 5 a.m. and I start the workday at 7. For me, it's a battle to try and stay awake. I wrote most of the following on Friday, and I figured that it would be a waste not to share, especially with the season finale of Survivor: China minutes away.

As the fifteenth season of Survivor stumbles and stutters to its climax, I take solace that in the wake of the Mitchell Report, things could be a lot worse. After all, steroids aren’t a factor on competitive reality programs. Then again, there was that one time during Inferno II where Landon’s neck veins were bulging out in a suspicious manner. And Mike was always a wannabe wrestler, and we all know most grapples can be all about the needles. Well, that and the mysterious deaths, but that’s another entry.

Not that Survivor: China couldn’t use the excitement. Sadly, the fall seasons pale in comparison to the editions following them, with the exceptions being Pearl Islands (introduction of Rupert Boneham, the most overrated player ever; Jon Dalton and his attention-grubbing ways; wussy boy Osten Taylor, who ended up quitting the game, the return of Burton Roberts and Lillian Morris after their torches were snuffed, and the latter’s thorough spanking of Dalton in the final immunity challenge) and Cook Islands (Yul Kwon’s brains, Ozzy Lusth’s athleticism, Jonathan Penner whacking Jeff Probst’s ego like a pinata, the outnumbered Aitu tribe that overcame a 6-4 disadvantage to make it to Day 38). With a second “all-star” edition set to air in a few months, it feels like we’ve been running out the clock, as we speculate on which players would make the cut, waiting in anticipation to see the “best” or “most worthy” battle it out . . . and how bad things will be, especially after the horror that was Survivor: All-Stars in 2004. I’m still surprised that Susan Hawk didn’t luge for Richard Hatch’s neck at the reunion; the only thing between those two was Rob Cesternino, and I bet even an 80-pound girl like Courtney could plow through him, to say nothing of a truck-drivin’ bruiser like Sue.

So what happened this season? Well, the casting skewed young, and that resulted in me being unable to tell most of the people apart . . . and it didn’t help that the more recognizable personalities got booted early, like old farmer Chicken, WWE “Diva” Ashley, Dave the total Section 8 case. There wasn’t really one bandwagon that fans could board at any time. For instance, James was a very buff dude who cracked wise a lot, but he tended to act like an asshole around the others, and he wasn’t that big of a threat in individual contests. Todd became the latest Mormon to shame his religion on reality television, as he took great pains to portray himself as a poor man’s Richard Hatch. While Todd claimed Hatch’s gameplay and sexuality as his own, poker player Jean-Robert grabbed the rest: ego, hairline, facial hair, and gut. Amanda? I never got a grip of who she was. I didn’t think she rode Todd’s coattails so much as she trailed a half-step behind him, waiting to use him as a shield at a moment’s notice. As for other players such as Frosti, Erik, Peih-Gee, Courtney and Denise, I never sensed that they would end up winning, since the editing skewed towards Amanda and Todd.

There were some memorable moments, like Todd essentially giving both hidden immunity idols to James, and then having the gall to wine on-camera about how James should have offered to give one back. Then Jaime grabbed a plaque that she figured could be an idol, and she attempted to play it during Tribal Council. The result: Jeff declared it not to be an idol, and tossed it into the fire, giving the assembled contestants a good laugh. Contrary to what a certain recapper griped about, I didn’t feel the message was, “Durr, Jaime so stupid!” For one thing, any hidden idol in past seasons came with instructions. For another, Jaime and Peih-Gee threw an immunity challenge in order to vote out Aaron – whom they booted over James, both of them having transferred from Fei Long to Zhan Hu – and I viewed this as sweet comeuppance. Actually, James did try to botch things on his own, pretending to hesitate on eating balut, but Denise gagged on her plate, and James reluctantly finished to help Zhan Hu to a win. Yes, it has been that sort of a season.

Anyway, James ended up getting voted off after failing to utilize either idol, earning everybody else the right to yell “JACKASS!” at him for as long as they can remember his screw-up. I thought it would open up the field, but Denise’s unwillingness to budge from the status quo resulted in Erik’s departure. Honestly, aside from him admitting to Jaime that he was a virgin, are we even going to remember him this time next year? With Peih-Gee’s boot on Thursday, we’re down to three days remaining and four players: Todd, Amanda, Courtney and Denise. I figure that Amanda is the odds-on favorite to win because she’s ticked off the least amount of people. If she gets voted off, Todd stands the best chance of winning. Courtney is a longshot at best. I’d say she’s wasted away to nothing, but that’s how she started the game. At one point, she got cuddly with Frosti, and I was hoping they’d get affectionate enough for him to play her exposed ribs like a xylophone. The worst moment from Courtney came after Todd’s sister came over for a family-reuniting reward challenge, and she revealed that their younger sister had suffered a miscarriage. Courtney wasn’t the only one to speculate on whether the story was true; Jon Dalton and his friend’s lie about a dead grandmother still looms large four years after it happened. But Courtney escalated this in an interview where she openly mocked the idea. I feel that was a unbelievably stupid move on her part. First, I consider Todd to be a different species of jackass than Dalton. Secondly, it’s not wise for somebody who can be knocked back by a stiff breeze to disrespect a story like that, especially with a reunion to be had months later, where the aggrieved party will undoubtedly get front-row seats.

Finally, there’s Denise. Sweet, kind, unable-to-rock-the-boat Denise. In the teaser promo for the finale, each finalit got a nickname. Todd was “The Schemer,” Amanda got “The Chameleon,” and Courtney became “The Longshot.” Denise? She was “The Lunch Lady.” She received minimal exposure through most of the game; all we could see was her mullet, which she’d try to put in a ponytail. In key twists in voting, she was usually left out of the loop. She’s won two reward challenges, but the first was with the help of her husband, and the second was given to her by Courtney, who kept misfiring with a Chinese crossbow and hitting Denise and Todd’s targets. She was a guest of Peih-Gee’s in a reward that took them and Erik to a Shaolin temple, while Denise showed her black belt karate skills to the local kids. However, Denise left Peih-Gee out of her rewards, mostly to keep Peih-Gee weak. Sadly, Peih Gee ended up getting her bitch out, and it wasn’t pretty.

Lately, I’ve been reading forum posts, and I can’t understand the amount of hatred for Denise. Okay, so she’s not strategically-inclined. She could have joined Peih-Gee and Erik to force a tie against the Amanda/Courtney/Todd troika, but she stuck with her tribal alliance. She seems to play not to win, but to finish fourth. Here’s my question: what’s wrong with that? I mean, let’s say either she wins immunity on Day 38 or Amanda does not, and the others turn on Amanda. Even with a jury full of embittered assholes and bitches (and Frosti, who doesn’t fit either description) who would hate the idea of somebody who “coasted” to the finale, would you tell me that Todd or Courtney would fare any better? Besides, there’s no way a Denise win should be considered to be worse than Jenna Morasca winning The Amazon. Also worse: Amber Brkich winning All-Stars, especially when she functioned mainly as Jerri Manthey’s sidekick during The Australian Outback and wasn’t really a star, let alone an all-star. Amber won because Rob Mariano carried her, and Rob advanced as far as he did because most of the other players were morons and stooges.

In the end, Todd will get the final boot, Amanda will win, Courtney and Denise will be lucky to get one vote apiece, and Jeff Probst will do everybody short of fellating James at the reunion. And we can move on with our lives and to what really matters: the rest of The Amazing Race 12.

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