Friday, February 29, 2008

Surviving Fans And Favorites

I should be putting my full effort into writing a book review or two. Instead, here’s an essay on the opening episodes of Survivor: Micronesia – Fans Vs. Favorites I wrote out while at work this morning. You’re welcome.

Four episodes into Survivor: Micronesia – Fans Vs. Favorites, I can say that it’s a slight improvement over the previous season (China). Even though players from both tribes (Malakal for the “favorites,” “Airai” for the “fans”) have shown a lack of brainpower, and there’s little to suggest that this edition won’t be a colossal fuck-up like any other “all-star” season on CBS, at least there’s some game-playing going on, misguided as it may be.

In last week’s episode, Malakal suffered a loss at the immunity challenge, and somebody had to go. At this point, there were two factions: a loose-knit coalition between couples Pavarti & James and Amanda & Ozzy, and the foursome of Jonathan, Yau-Man, Eliza and Ami (the latter two having zero business posing as “all-stars,” but that’s a gripe for another day). In the middle: Cirie, the couch potato-turned-power player from Exile Island two years ago. She got wooed by both sides for her votes. She talked with Amanda and Pavarti, and soon there was a move on her part to boot Yau-Man.

Let’s pause the action to reflect on this. Yes, Yau-Man is dangerous. He’s not at all big, but he’s wilier than any cartoon coyote you’re likely to meet. He managed to last 38 days on Fiji and came within one bad deal from winning the $1 million prize. But at this point in the game (nine days), wouldn’t you need somebody like that on your camp, winning challenges and making camp life bearable? To me, Cirie was thinking too far ahead. She dreaded the idea of Yau-Man going to Exile Island and retrieving the sole hidden immunity idol, a feat he pulled off in his first season. Here’s the problem: he would either have to be picked to go by Airai when they won a reward challenge, or selected by his tribe If they won. In my head, both were scenarios nobody would explore if they were smart.

So what happened? Jonathan took Cirie’s wavering as an insult, they had a verbal battle, and Yau-Man got five votes out of nine to get sent packing. One genuine fan favorite was gone, and the other two had a backlash against them over on the forums at Television Without Pity. Like I had posted there on that night, it was like a holiday dinner at your house where your favorite aunt and uncle from separate marriages yelled at each other, and the beloved granduncle keeled over into the mashed potatoes. And it didn’t help matters to see Eliza sick in the following episode, and a few tribe members realizing they got swept up in Cirie’s zeal. It was a hangover without alcohol (“We did WHAT to Yau-Man last night? Really?!?”) But at least Cirie was trying to play the game; if she had been passive in Exile Island, she would’ve been the first person off, and she’d be rooted to the couch today, watching this season with the rest of us.

Moving on to the latest episode, we had Malakal winning the reward challenge. For the third time, they sent Kathy to Exile Island. This was a smart move, since there was less of a chance a weak-looking player such as her would find the idol. And if they knew she was on the outs along with Chet and Tracy, she could be handed the idol and be sent back to make things go awry at Airai (I’m prouder of that phrase than I really should be). But the rub was that somebody from Malakal had to join Kathy . . . and this time, it was Ozzy.

Pause. As I write this at work, where I’m wide awake and haven’t done jack this morning aside from handing in my timesheet, I remember reading in the episode thread at TWoP where somebody had found out that Malakal had a system where there was an order as to who would go to Exile Island. The only way this is a good idea is if the person who retrieves the idol tells everybody else in the tribe about it, with the understanding that it would be played if the wielder was threatened. In exchange, the idol would be easy to track after the obligatory tribal shakeup, and it would be used as a weapon to take out any perceived power player from Airai. Hey, it makes sense in my head. Then again, I’m not actually there, and I can play “armchair survivor,” trying to figure out strategies in a week while the actual players would speculate over a few hours. So I understand why taking turns going to Exile Island might be a good idea.

However, this is a flaw in the system, and its called “Ozzy.” This guy is half-man, half-fish, all-amazing. If there is water involved in a challenge, Ozzy will rock it. In the reward challenge, Ozzy had the presence of mind (or instructions from his comrades) to stay underwater and move coconuts closer to the edge of the cage in order to make it easier for his teammates to retrieve them. Bottom line: Malakal had voted off the biggest threat to find the idol . . . and they sent the biggest threat to find the idol.

Back to the action: Kathy didn’t feel up for an idol hunt, perhaps still worn out after she and Cirie slogged through the water two episodes ago. At worst, she feels singled out by Malakal and only two people like her at Airai. At best, it’s like she’s at a Survivor fantasy camp, and she’s paid five grand extra to receive private sessions from former cast members. On more trip to Exile Island might bring her a romantic package with James . . . emphasis on “package.” Ozzy said he wanted to look for food, and she bought it. He read the clue. Swim, swim, swim, clue. Swim, swim, swim, clue. Swim, swim, swim, clue. Swim, swim, swim, idol. Now one of the strongest players in the game had even more power. I’m not saying Ozzy cliched a total victory, especially after dumbass James got voted off last season while carrying two idols last season. But Ozzy does seem to have a few more brain cells than the gravedigger. And in a salute to Yau-Man’s discovery of an idol two seasons ago, Ozzy crafted a dummy idol and put it in the hiding place. It would have been every better had Ozzy went into a giggling fit and flicked his tongue like Yau-Man, but you can’t have everything. It’s hard not to like Ozzy right now, even if he does have Jeff Probst hanging off his jock.

Fast forward: Airai has lost the immunity challenge – their fourth defeat in the last six challenges – and somebody had to be sent off. All common sense pointed out Chet as the obvious choice. He had been following Janu’s path from Palau with the lack of effort in challenges and camp, and the accelerated disintegration of the body. His only allies: Kathy and Tracy. Chief amongst the majority was Joel, a very large and tattooed firefighter who looks like he lives on a diet of puppies and orphans. Two episodes prior, he got it into his head that Mary and Mikey B. were a power couple, and he got Mary voted off, passing up a chance to oust Chet. He still had it in for Mikey B., even though the guy’s greatest sin was making people call him “Mikey B.” Reality fans with a masochistic streak already put up with a “Mikey B.” of sorts (Mike Malin, a.k.a. “Mike Boogie” from Big Brother), so why watch another? Getting back to the point: again, Chet seemed to be the correct choice to boot. Of course, we had somebody say that Chet was going home in the episode’s first act, so the seed of doubt was already planted in my mind.

Enter Tracy. Right now, I can’t tell her from Alexis and the other woman whose name I can’t be bothered to remember. In retrospect, you can understand her fear of a vote against Chet; if he got voted off and Kathy – a potential loose cannon – had retrieved and kept the idol, she’d be the next to go. So she came up to Joel and played on his loathing of Mikey B. The obvious move was to keep the tribe strong, especially when there was no obvious timetable for a merge or shakeup. But Joel listened to Tracy, nodded his head . . . and managed to talk a few allies into voting for Mikey B., who went out 6-3 and didn’t even think to punch Joel in the mouth for the change of plan. Also, Airai had Chet for seemingly the next few days, a loose wheel ready to pop off the axel in challenges. You can understand why Jason voted for Chet, looked into the camera and said, “Please leave the island.” But Chet is still in the game thanks to Tracy . . . and I’ve decided to think of Joel as “Mongo” from here on out, because he would so fall for an exploding candygram. Also, I wouldn’t put it past him to punch a horse.

Whatever beefs anybody has with no obvious weak links getting voted off so far have been rendered moot by the teaser for next week’s episode, where Jeff orders everybody to drop their buffs for a tribal shakeup. Now Cirie and Tracy will be seen as smart for getting rid of potential power players that could have gone against them. And maybe things will pick up for a franchise still reeling from the strategic vacuum that was China. At the very least, whomever wins this season will look like a saint compared to the winner from Big Brother 9. And no contestant has insulted the mentally handicapped . . . but the season is still young.

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