Monday, May 30, 2011

Stanley Cup/NBA Finals Predictions

In hindsight, I should've known that I'd do a better job at predicting the Stanley Cup playoffs if I threw all manner of actual analysis to the wind. My trick this season was to pick the playoff matchups based on the powersets of the NHL Guardians which....ended up being surprisingly accurate. I nailed six of eight first-round matchups, with the only flaw being that one of those incorrect predictions involved my Stanley Cup finalists, the Blackhawks. Of course, in real life, the Hawks were an #8 seed and big underdogs against Vancouver, but damned if Chicago didn't defend their title with pride and take the Canucks to a seventh game overtime. Over in the East, my pick of the Lightning also nearly paid off as Tampa Bay took Boston to a seventh game in the eastern finals and only fell by a 1-0 score. Imagine if this stupid nonsense had actually been correct? The NHL Guardians would've taken over for Paul the Octopus as the most bizarre sports prognosticator in athletic history.

So that leaves us with our finals of Vancouver vs. Boston. With both teams suffering through a combined 80 years without a Stanley Cup (Boston not since 1972, Vancouver never), these finals will bring long-awaited satisfaction to one desperate fanbase. I also love the fact that Montreal and Calgary both won Stanley Cups the year after those cities hosted an Olympic Games, and now Vancouver has a chance to win a Cup a year after their Olympics. As it happened, my preseason picks (based on, y'know, actually thinking about things) forecasted a Stanley Cup final of Vancouver vs. Pittsburgh, so given that it ended up as the Canucks against a team in black-and-yellow jerseys, I'm calling this a win for myself. And since I picked the 'other' black-and-yellow team in October, I might as well continue riding that train. Bruins in six.

BONUS PICK: The Canuck vs. The Bruin. The Canuck Guardian wins this hands-down. Both have precognitive abilities, so one of the Bruin's big weapons is already canceled out. His other big trick is a "petrifying roar," but I'd argue the Canuck can counter that as well due to his sonar blasts. Also, if the Bruin's plan is to stand there and roar at the Canuck to try and intimidate him, that might not work so well.

Bruin: ROOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRR!

Canuck: (summons a giant whale)

Bruin: Ah nuts, I'm wicked fahked.

So yeah, the Bruin doesn't bring much to the table in this matchup. To recap, the Canucks have the more powerful Guardian, the Olympic history and the fact that they're the better team. All the Bruins have is that in the preseason, I picked...Pittsburgh to win the Stanley Cup. This doesn't bode well.

*****************

As for my NBA playoff picks, they were perhaps even more offbase. My Finals predictions of the Bulls over the Lakers, uh, didn't realize come to pass. I had both the Heat and the Mavericks going out in the second round, but lo and behold, they're our two finalists. It's almost like I don't know anything about basketball whatsoever, ha ha ha! (Groan)

Back in February, part of my reasoning in picking Green Bay to win the Super Bowl* was due to the fact that a Packers victory just seemed too perfect from a storyline perspective. The Pack were directly or indirectly involved in every major NFL storyline and beat several of those big stories (Mike Vick and the Eagles, the surging Falcons, the surprising Bears, and Ben "No Means No" Roethlisberger's Steelers) on the way to the title, while Green Bay's success in and of itself underlined the tragic comedy that was Brett Favre's final NFL season. This NBA Finals put me in mind of what the 'story' of this NBA season would be depending on who won the championship.

Obviously, LeBron going to Miami was the biggest basketball news of the year and for the Heat to actually win the title following all the controversy, all the questions about James/Wade/Bosh would play together, etc. would seem fitting in this Year Of LeBron. But, on the other hand, the Heat's run isn't exactly a heroic story. Unless you live in Miami, you hate this team, and therefore a more natural end would be to see the Heat hoist on their own petards and suffering a humiliating Finals loss. And, given how a big part of the LBJ story is how he turned his back on Cleveland, wouldn't it be fitting if LeBron was beaten by a team like Dallas? The Mavericks were the joke of the NBA 15 years ago before Mark Cuban bought the club, drafted a headline star in Dirk Nowitzki, and Dirk stuck around through thick and thin to finally get the payoff of winning the NBA title with his only team. Had LeBron stayed in the Cleve, Dirk's journey could've been his a few years down the road.

Let's look at the Mavericks' journey. They knocked off the Trail Blazers (good comeback story from a Portland team not expected to do much this season), beat the Lakers (retiring Phil Jackson and emphatically ending the latest Laker dynasty) and then topped the Thunder in the Western finals, underscoring the fact that young Oklahoma City is still not quite ready for primetime. Now, the last thing left is for Dallas to beat the Heat, avenge their controversial loss to Miami in the 2006 Finals and stick up for the idea of being loyal to the team that drafted you.

I've got to say, I like this story a bit more. And I like the story of Dirk and Jason Kidd (two of the 50 best players in NBA history) finally getting rings. Sorry, LeBron. Mavericks in six.

* = I'm required by law to remind everyone that THE PACKERS WON THE SUPER BOWL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YAHOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Out-Of-Context Texts In My Phone Inbox, Volume XV

Once the machines take over and most of the written word is obliterated, it's possible that the space travelers who happen upon Earth millennia in the future will find every remaining artifact of the human language to be out of context. If so, I'd like to think these posts will be judged the MOST out of context of anything.


"I don't understand"

"FUCK YEAH! Did you score that? If so, can I have....I dunno....your notes? Hot dog wrapper?"

"Hahaha! Awesome, thanks. D and me were discussing haircuts and baldness came up."

"Any luck getting D et al to come out for a drink?"

"I am returning to Ontario for 9 days. I'll arrive Friday night."

"K me too. See you there!"

"7 minute abs! Hahaha I'm laughing out loud right now. What movie is that from again?"

"I'm en route, but don't feel compelled to wait around for me."

"Everything good with the internet setup?"

"Ok I'll text you!"

"Best. Rapture. Ever. Who's up for some fun tonight?"

"[Mass Syndicate Message]: Is everyone ok w/ meeting at Ossington by 7 PM?"

"I can't do it. Am Worky McScrewed. I regret the lack of THOR"

"Don't tell me what to do! Is Goy there yet?"

"I think he's in too, but won't be there until 1030. I'll be there about 730."

"Snakes n lattes tonight at 9. So far it's three of us, maybe 5, open invites to any friends of friends."

"Ived this text"

"You in tonight? Jen are I are -- just email confirming"

"Blerg, not sure if I can make it but will let you know closer to 9"

"Yeah, very shortly. Fuck you all, then."

"Hey man, baldness question: how often do you shave your head?"

"I'm sorry, but I'm super tired and wouldn't be much company at Thor. But have a thundering good time :)"

"What's the plan? You in?"

"Ah! Maybe!"

"Hey hey, I'm at the Sheaf with a few Globies, so stop by anytime"

"Sarah and Ryan are goin @6:30 for pho at Golden Turtle if anyone fancies Vietnamese cuisine/women."

"Not Souter!"

"Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

UFC 130 Predictions



* Stefan Struve over Travis Browne, KO, first round
When last we saw Travis Browne, he and Cheick Kongo fought to a draw in one of those sloppy, toughman contest-esque fights that you just wish could end with Dana White cutting both guys on the spot. Browne is unbeaten in his career, but his record is a murderers' row of nobodies. His only UFC win came over James McSweeney, who was too small for heavyweight anyway, and oh yeah has lost four in a row and isn't in the UFC. Struve isn't at the point yet where he can hang with the top dogs at heavyweight, but Struve can certainly knock this clown's lights out.

* Roy Nelson over Frank Mir, TKO, second round
Screw it, I'm taking Big Country. This is a close matchup between two guys who are really good on the ground and can hold their own standing, with the difference being that Mir 'holds his own' on the feet while Nelson is a legit good striker. I see Nelson sneaking in a shot that staggers Mir and then Roy just swarms for the victory. We might even see his belly crucifix employed for yet another victory.

* Jorge Santiago over Brian Stann, submission, second round
The UFC would love, love, love to push Stann, who's a former Marine and a hard-hitting puncher. So naturally, since real sports don't work that way, karma will intervene and Santiago will probably take this fight. This one's a tossup, though. Santiago hasn't fought in the UFC in almost four years, and since then he's been on a roll fighting in Japan and in Strikeforce --- he's 11-1 since leaving the UFC. Now, his record has almost as many cans as that of Travis Browne, but Santiago does hold two huge wins over Kaz Misaki for the Sengoku middleweight title. On paper Santiago should win this and I think he will, but if Stann has truly turned a corner by moving to MW, then Santiago is in trouble. Really good matchmaking here, a tough fight to predict.

* Thiago Alves over Rick Story, decision
"Horror" Story has won five in a row, and while three of those were over guys who aren't in the UFC anymore, the other two were solid victories over Brian Foster and Johny Hendricks. So it's safe to say that he's for real, while Alves is a known quantity and one of the toughest welters around when he's healthy. I'll add my usual caveat that Alves could miss making weight again or some nonsense and get him tossed from the card or fined, but overall, I just think Alves is a better fighter and should (get ready for a pun!) end the Story. The winner here probably faces the winner of the upcoming Carlos Condit/Dong Hyun Kim bout in a #1 contender's match for the welterweight title. (The WW belt will be on hold for a while since the rumour is that Georges St. Pierre and Nick Diaz will coach the next Ultimate Fighter season and then fight in December in Montreal.)

* Rampage Jackson over Matt Hamill, decision
This is the main event due to the postponement of the Frankie Edgar/Gray Maynard rematch. So, don't worry, the UFC didn't actually intend to headline a show with this pretty lackluster fight. An upset wouldn't totally shock me since Hamill is nothing if not a hard worker and he could eke out a decision...but in all likelihood, this should be a pretty straight-forward victory for Jackson. A win here puts Rampage in the on-deck circle for a title shot; either he would face the winner of the Jon Jones/Rashad Evans fight (whenever the hell it happens) or, if Evans is upset by Phil Davis in August, then Rampage moves to the front of the line and is Jones' first title challenger in the fall. Either way, it'll lead to some heated battles over the LHW championship.

Undercard....
* Rafaello Oliveira over Gleison Tibau, KO, first round
* Demetrious Johnson over Miguel Torres, decision
* Tim Boetsch over Kendall Grove, decision
* Renan Barao over Cole Escovedo, submission, first round
* Michael McDonald over Chris Cariaso, decision

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Handyman

I am not a fix-it guy. Even the most basic of household repairs are lost on me Perhaps this is why I was never a fan of Home Improvement....well, either that or the fact that the show used one plot for, like, nine seasons. But still, when it comes to fixing a simple problem around the house, I'm that guy who will call up a handyman/plumber/electrician/IT dude/mechanic/friend plied with the promise of a pizza and-or beer as payment to come in and take care of things.

Some might argue that, as a grown man, I should at least have the basic wherewithal to take care of myself in the face of a technological malfunction. Suppose the Rapture had indeed taken place two days ago and, since carpenter Jesus is part of a theological trade union and wants to pay his dues in the best way possible, all the world's handymen had been sucked up to heaven. Who would've fixed my plumbing then? Satan? Almost certainly not. If history has taught us anything about the devil, it's that he's singularly unhelpful. I know at least a few friends who've had renovations done on their houses who would claim that contractors are, in fact, the devil.

But anyway, back to my laziness. It's not *laziness,* for one, it's simple common sense. If I'm dealing with my car or my pipes or something important, I'd rather not fuck around and end up making the problem worse. Why try to be a hero when the end result could be a wrecked engine, water spewing everywhere in your bathroom or a piano dropped on you from three stories up? You forget, my life is basically a sitcom -- almost any situation I undertake can and will develop into some zany shenanigans that will be retold by my friends years down the road as one of "Mark's moments."

Anyway, all of this is preamble for the fact that this time, I ignored all of this common sense and had to take the bull by the horns. Last night, I returned home to the apartment to discover the toilet handle was broken. As in, it could be pushed down, but the tank wasn't emptying. Thankfully, I discovered this problem after I'd just used the toilet for, er, a fire drill, rather than a full-scale evacuation. ('Number one' and 'number two' are so 20th century.) But still, this was a big-time problem.

My first step was to go to bed. It was late, and also, whenever possible, I subscribe to the Homer Simpson method of problem-solving, a.k.a. hiding under a pile of coats and hoping that somehow everything will turn out okay. But, waking up early this morning, I realized that I simply couldn't sleep until I'd at least taken a stab at the problem. This was our apartment's only toilet, after all, and I don't know anyone else in the building whose toilet I could borrow in case of emergency. My building isn't too far away from stores and businesses, but a) public bathrooms are generally nasty and b) continually going from store to store over a couple of days to ask if I can use their restroom is pretty TF.

It's at this moment that I'd once again like to praise the invention of the internet. In days of yore, I would've fiddled around with the toilet for hours. Today, I just Googled 'toilet tank repair' and bam, ten thousand sites popped up. I quickly identified the problem was that the lift chain (the thing that connects the toilet handle to the main flushing mechanism) was disconnected. After a bit of trial and error in finding where on the chain to re-attach it to the hook to gain the proper tension for flushing, the problem was solved. Easy as 3.14159265. After a few practice flushes to make sure things were completely back on track, it was safe for a 'maiden run,' so to speak. I believe it was the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson who once wrote that "No piss is as satisfying as the one a man takes when he really has to go, and it's in a toilet he has fixed with his own bare hands." (Ok, I didn't study a lot of Emerson.)

Two comments...

1. I'm sure there are many of you shaking your heads and saying, "Mark, re-attaching a lift chain is child's play. Did you seriously just write a long post praising yourself for completing a very simple task? What next, a novel about successful tying your shoes?" To this I say, fuck off, I'm proud of myself. And what else do you want me writing about, dreams about parking tickets?

2. Just in writing this post, I'm of course seriously tempting fate by assuming that the problem is *fixed.* For all I know, I may have done the toilet equivalent of plugging a cork into a dam. While I'm patting myself on the back, the pressure is building and building and I'm going to have a toilet so screwed up that it's going to either explode or gain sentience like SkyNet and personally kill me. Never fear, if something goes go wrong in the follow-up, I am not so proud that I won't write a follow-up post titled "Well, I'm A Moron." For maximum irony, feel free to print that post out and read it to pass the time when you're next using the toilet.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The 30-Day Movie Challenge, Part 2

Part One is here, Part Two is down there!

6. A Movie That Makes You Sad -- Avatar
I'm not sad about the fact that this movie made umpteen bazillion dollars, since if people want to see a film just because it's visually impressive, that's as good a reason as any. I'm not sad about the fact that this film started the 3-D craze, a.k.a. an excuse for theatres and studios to charge you even more to see their product, since at the end of the day you still have the choice to just *not* see it in 3-D. I'm not even sad about the fact that 'Avatar' is a pretty bad movie, since there are a lot of bad movies and at least my pals and I spent the three (ugh) hours cracking jokes about the low quality.

What makes me sad about 'Avatar' is that James Cameron spent several years of his life and hundreds of millions of dollars on special effects, and about 20 minutes and 20 bucks on the script. It's sad that a director who claims to be so ambitious is solely focused on film as a visual medium, and nothing else. When a Steven Spielberg or a David Lean makes an epic, they also make sure that they have a story worthy of such an epic scope. At the end of the day, 'Avatar' was just a wasted opportunity.


7. A Movie That Makes You Happy -- The Sandlot
My own childhood baseball-playing career was pretty unmemorable. Let's just say I was so bad that the highlights of my house league career were once faking being hit by a pitch to reach base, leading my team in sacrifice bunts for about six straight years, and, oh yeah, the one year I was actually cut. From a HOUSE LEAGUE TEAM.

Needless to say, I sympathized quite a bit with Scotty Smalls in the beginning of the film, and though that's about where the comparisons between my life and the lives of the Sandlot kids end, it's impossible to watch this film and not get nostalgic, even if it's for a childhood you didn't actually have. For example, my friends and I never had to worry retrieving a home run ball from a monstrous dog, but that's because none of us ever went yard in the first place. Man, maybe we all sucked.

Fun fact: did you know they actually make two straight-to-video Sandlot sequels? None of them feature any of the major original cast members, and one of them involves, I kid you not, a time-traveling Luke Perry. I have not seen either of these films, since I suspect they are not movies that will make me happy.


8. The Most Disappointing Movie -- Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
I had to at least think about most of these entries, but this one took about two seconds. Indy 4 was such a letdown. The years of rumours weren't entirely promising (George Lucas wants to put a sci-fi spin on things? Harrison Ford is worried he's getting too old? There's going to be a "younger" Indy to set the table for future spinoffs once Ford is indeed too old?), but still, this was an Indiana Jones movie. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" were two of the best action-adventures ever made and uh, for the purposes of this paragraph, pretend that "Temple of Doom" was about 30 percent better. SURELY Spielberg, Lucas and Ford would hit upon a magic formula to make the long-awaited fourth installment live up to the rest of this legendary franchise.

And...nope. It's never a good sign when you can just cite various failed scenes in short-form, each of which elicits a groan. Try saying "CGI vine-swinging" or "nuked fridge" to a hardcore Indy fan and watch him bury his face into his hands. And, the less said about goddamn Shia "Mutt Williams" LeBeouf the better. AND, even less said about whatever Cate Blanchett's awful character's name was the better. I do not get Cate Blanchett. The woman has no medium button. Either she's fantastic in a movie or else she gives the worst, rock-bottom performance you've ever seen. For every Notes On A Scandal, there's a Benjamin Button. For every Life Aquatic, there's her (inexplicably Oscar-winning??) role in The Aviator. For every Elizabeth, there's....well, there's Indiana Jones IV.

In short, pretend this movie never happened and that the Indy series concluded with Indy, his dad, Sallah and Marcus riding off into the sunset in 'Last Crusade.'


9. The Weirdest Movie You've Ever Seen -- Synecdoche, New York
Ostensibly, this film is about a theatre director who's directing an elaborate play about "real life" that eventually encompasses his actual life and the lives of his cast. But I feel that I'm just scratching the surface about what this strange, utterly unique movie is really all about. Charlie Kaufman's scripts are usually odd, but only odd in the sense that they're each set in their own particular universe full of particular rules (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, etc.) and once you get the 'rules,' per se, the film's world is fairly easy to understand. SNY, on the other hand, seems to change its universe every five minutes until you're not sure what you're seeing. Roger Ebert cited this movie as no less than the best picture of the 2000's, which is going a *bit* far for my taste, but it's still a thoroughly interesting experiment of a film. I'll stick to 'thoroughly interesting' over outright 'good' until I see it again.

I think I'd love to see a documentary about how this picture exactly got made and how Kaufman pitched it to a studio. I can see him expounding for an hour on the psychological levels of self, shaking hands with the executives and leaving the room, while the execs are all just like, "I have no idea what's going on here, but it's Kaufman, he'll figure it out."

I'm probably doing my film studies days a disservice by ignoring dozens of purposely-fucked up experimental shorts in favour of "Synecdoche, NY," which it at least recognizable as a film starring actors, performed from a screenplay, etc. But, then again, as my first-year film prof Mike Zryd would argue, the avant-garde might not really be "weird" at all, it's merely our perception of these films that is skewed, so yeah, sorry for leaving out the Stan Brakhage shorts, Dr. Zryd.


10. Favourite Male Character In A Movie -- Kanji Watanabe (played by Takashi Shimura in the film 'Ikiru')
It's kind of funny this entry came up on the so-called "Rapture Day," since Ikiru is all about recognizing your own mortality and taking judgement of your life. I think it's just about universal that anyone, if given a grim diagnosis as Watanabe does in the film, would think that their life has been incomplete. In Watanabe's case, he goes out of his way to make his final days productive in a way that only a mid-level city hall bureaucrat can. The brilliance of the story is that Watanabe's life doesn't have a Pollyanna ending -- he doesn't reconcile with his douchey son, he creeps out his female co-worker, and his other co-workers openly admit they didn't bother to know the man, nor Watanabe them. But still, Watanabe channels his energy into one thing, and he leaves a tiny legacy, but a legacy nonetheless.

Takashi Shimura was a chameleon of an actor who was a big favourite of Akira Kurosawa. Shimura appeared in over 20 of Kurosawa's films and took on a wide variety of roles. To use Kurosawa's most famous three films as an example, Shimura played the meek Watanabe in "Ikiru," the weird-ass woodcutter in "Rashomon" and the bad-ass samurai Kambei in "Seven Samurai." These are three very different characters, yet Shimura is terrific in every part. Truly one of the all-time underrated actors.

This entry can also count as "Hey everyone, watch Ikiru once in your life."


11. Favourite Female Character In A Movie -- Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand in the film 'Fargo')
If I'm ever brutally murdered in Minnesota, I hope Marge is investigating my death. Marge is one of the most perfectly likable characters one could ever hope to find in a film -- friendly, quietly outgoing, funny in an aunt sort of way, and of course, awesome at her job. If we ever had some kind of alternate-reality Coen movie crossover, she's the only one who could take down Anton Chigurh, unless the Dude's bumbling antics got in her way. (p.s. I would pay $100 for a ticket to this movie.)

The genius of 'Fargo' is that the Coens establish this farcical setup and out-of-world setting (their Minnesota is some weird, polite hybrid of Minnesota, Sweden and Canada) but then they totally ground their story through the character of Marge. Her detecting competence is what underlines the fact that these deaths are actually happening and it's serious business, not just a clothesline for jokes about wood chippers and regional accents. It is awesome that Frances McDormand won the Oscar for playing Marge; truly one of the most well-deserved Oscars in Academy history.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bert Interviews Andy Samberg

Well, this is just fantastic. The Russian literature bit nearly legit broke Samberg up.



Monday, May 16, 2011

The Best Survivor Players Ever (Winners Edition)



Survivor has been my TV guilty pleasure for over a decade now. I've seen every season, every episode, once wrote a regular column about the show for an entertainment website (and, to boot, had to win a Survivor/Apprentice-style competition just to earn the right to write that column), still get really wrapped up in strategy discussions, and basically, yeah, am too into this show.

Ergo, with the 22nd (good lord!) season now in the books, I thought I'd take a crack at ranking all 21 Survivor winners to determine who the real 'greatest Survivor ever' is. Some of my criteria, which I reserve the right to contradict or ignore depending on the winner (ah, hypocrisy!)...

* how this person won their respective season. None of the winners are "flukes," since at the end of the day, a win is a win is a win. But, the degree of difficulty certainly plays a factor, or, in a few cases, dwarfing a degree of difficulty.

* THAT this person won their respective season, since I'm sticking to winners only. Yeah yeah, you can argue that Dan Marino is the best quarterback ever even though he never won a Super Bowl, but football is a team sport. Survivor is an individual sport, and unless you've actually been the sole survivor, it's hard to rank you over people who actually have the title to their name. Caveat: I'll probably end up doing a 'best Survivor players ever, non-winners category' as a follow-up to this post sometime in the near-future, so stay tuned.

* how a winner could win another season, or basically ranking their skillset. Could you see this winner succeed if they played the game again, or HAS this winner succeeded in a return trip to Survivor? This is certainly the most subjective category since *everyone* here has a winning skillset since, y'know, they won with it. It's also very subjective in the sense that since the rules and layout of the game changes with every passing season, the skills that could've won you Survivor in 2001 wouldn't get you anywhere in 2011. But, there are a few core tenets to success in this game that quite a few of these winners share.

So, without further adieu, let's break into the rankings. (May 2012 update: Check this post and this post to see where I put Kim Spradlin and Sophie Clarke, respectively, on the list. I'll update this master list at some point to reflect these two ladies and, frankly, to re-do some of my rankings since I've had second thoughts.)

21. Todd Herzog (China)
If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it's in all likelihood a duck. If it talks a Survivor expert, dives headlong into the game's strategy and carries himself like a real student of Survivor, he's probably a canny player, right? Well, no. I'll go into a bit of detail on this since Todd is pretty well-regarded among most Survivor fans and the low ranking may come as a surprise to many. But, Todd won his season for two main reasons, both based on the dynamics of your average Survivor jury.

a) Amanda Kimmel is the worst jury performer in Survivor history. This is less a 'jury dynamic' than it is a steadfast rule. Amanda's jury performances have cost her at least one season (China) and arguably two (Fans vs. Favourites) since she is TERRIBLE at answering simple questions and is so worried about coming off as scheming or mean that she ends up taking no accountability and coming off as wishy-washy. Rather than point out how she had to keep Todd from going off the rails on several occasions, she merely garbled her way through the answer session and let Todd stake a claim to being their alliance's strategic head, which he clearly wasn't.

b) Juries don't want to lose to someone they don't respect. This harkens back to Vecepia vs. Neleh (why do I make this sound like a legal case?) in Marquesas, when Neleh lost in large part because the majority of jury members didn't want to admit defeat to the hands of a naive, 21-year-old, puppies-and-rainbows princess. In this case, when the China jury was faced with the option of saying "I lost Survivor to..." either the worst jury performer in the history of the game, a smart-ass waitress who openly admitted she barely cared she was playing the game or a guy who wore his strategic cred on his sleeve from day one, obviously they were going to vote for Todd.

So yeah, while I said that no Survivor winner is a fluke, I will say that Todd was very fortunate to find himself the first beneficiary of Amanda's shittiness at final tribal councils. But, he was also fortunate that China was a very weak-ass cast. It's a fair counter-argument that since the name of the game is ultimately jury management, Todd was simply doing what he needed to do, and fair play to that. Could Todd do well if he played the game again, however? Doubtful. He'd either have one of his errors blow up in his face without an Amanda-esque stable alliance partner there to bail him out, or he'd get voted out very quickly simply by dint of bragging about being a real student of Survivor strategy.


20. Jud "Fabio" Birza (Nicaragua)

The low ranking may be because this season is so fresh in my mind and Fabio's win hasn't has a great chance to quite settle yet. But doing very little to win arguably the worst Survivor season ever pretty much guarantees that he'll be at or near the bottom of this ranking for a long while. He deserves credit for winning a string of immunities near the end of the game when a loss in any of those challenges would've probably meant his doom, but other than that, Jud was a non-entity. His stated plan to fly under the radar and not make waves worked too well, since the other players got irritated by his laissez-faire attitude. Or, in my opinion, Jud didn't know what the hell he was doing and just decided on incompetence as a strategy. Man, did this season suck. I noted that Todd was lucky to win in a weak cast, but there are probably a half-dozen people from the China cast that would've whipped ass over the mediocrities, quitters and non-entities that comprised the Survivor Nicaragua cast. In most other seasons, his physical abilities make him a target and his wishy-washiness definitely gets him offed, since nothing will get you voted out in Survivor like unpredictability. (Uh, unless you're Dreamz.)


19. Jenna Morasca (Amazon)
It almost feels like a cliche to rank Jenna this low, since she is widely considered to be one of, if not the, worst Survivor winners. I feel obligated to point out her two clutch immunity wins upon reaching the final four, and the fact that I suspect if she played the game again*, she would do really, really, well and everyone would have a Parvati-esque about-face about her skill at the game. But I dunno, the overall arc of the Amazon season was Rob Cesternino's attempt to turn the game on its head with each passing week, and in some sense I feel Jenna was fortunate to be one of the last ones left standing once Rob's house of cards collapsed for good. Despite the low ranking, I'd still consider Jenna to be a decent winner -- Todd and Fabio are the only ones I'd consider to be kinda crappy players, so it's all uphill after that.

* = Jenna did return for the original All-Stars season, but had a change of heart about playing since her mom was suffering from cancer and left the game after about a week.


18. Bob Crowley (Gabon)
The fact that a 57-year-old man was able to win three, crucial late-game immunity challenges to stay alive is extremely impressive, and I tip my hat to Bob for that great run. As opposed to other winners, however, Bob was aided by the unusual twist of having someone in the game who wasn't playing to win, but rather to make herself look good on television. Had Sugar not switched her vote at the final four and kept Bob around (which anyone trying to win would've done, since Bob was a lock in the final tribal council), then he's eliminated and is remembered just as the poor man's Yau Man in Survivor history. I will give thanks to Bob for winning Gabon, since he was one of the few players on this season who wasn't an asshole, sociopath or miscreant in some form or another. Bob's only flaw was that he just seems really, really boring. And man, that damn bow tie.


17. Aras Baskauskas (Panama/Exile Island)
Ah, Aras. I hate to rank the winner of the funniest season ever so low on the list, but man, I'm not even sure this guy realizes he won Survivor. Aras was one of those guys that always seems like he just smoked a joint before speaking, which was accentuated by the fact that he was a yoga instructor and generally spoke in vaguely new-agey terms. Exile Island was a thoroughly fun season and a rarity in that it was a year when most of the big, memorable personalities actually made it to the end of the game, largely because they all stuck together in the comedy gold that was the Casaya tribe. They basically delivered a straight-forward 'pagonging' of the other tribe, but because the Casayas were all crazy, you thought they would splinter apart at any moment, but never did.

Anyway, Aras was ostensibly the leader of this alliance and his main purpose was to be the physical threat, or as it turned out, The Guy Who Came In Second To Terry Deitz In Basically Everything. Aras doesn't rank very high on this list because I feel his survival in his season was due in large part to the fact that he was kept around largely because the Casayas needed someone that had a shot at beating Terry in an immunity challenge. Had Cirie (the real brains behind the Casayas) ever decided to directly target Aras, he would've been toast. Though Aras' physical ability and laid-back attitude would theoretically give him a good shot in another season, I dunno, he was a Casaya -- this was a tribe comprised of oddballs who all seemed like they would be voted out first or second in any normal season. Maybe that taint sticks to Aras too, who knows.


16. Ethan Zohn (Africa)
In putting together this list, I had the winners grouped under a few different headings to help sort out their basic games. Ethan was put with JT, Aras and Fabio under the heading of 'amiable dunces.' Basically all four guys got along in the game by not making waves, not being too deep into strategy, being well-liked by everyone else, holding their own in physical challenges but not so much that they came off as super-big threats, and just generally coming across like good dues. Now, Ethan isn't a perfect fit into this category since, unlike the other guys, he didn't come across as a dunce. Also, Ethan was easily the weakest physical player of this quartet since he had a nasty habit of choking in challenges -- odd, since Ethan is a former pro soccer player. But I rank Ethan ahead of two of these guys since Ethan had the advantage of playing an early season of Survivor, so his geniality made him a great fit in the classic 'make an alliance and go to the end' Survivor game. I can't even hold his showing in All-Stars against him since he carried the 'past winner' stigma with him, and maybe should be credit for lasting the longest of the past winners in that season.

In short, I dunno, I think Ethan would be a solid contender in the modern game with the hidden immunity idols and the redemption island and the GLAYVEN. He wouldn't make a boneheaded move like JT, nor would he be so adverse to strategy (like Fabio) that he'd alienate everyone. Since it looks like Survivor will be doing all-star seasons on a semi-regular basis now, I'd love to see a simple concept of taking players from the first 6-7 seasons and putting them into a modern Survivor game with all the new twists. It'd be great to see who could adapt the best and then Sandra would probably win again. That said, Ethan's big weakness is that I'm not sure he'd adjust to something not working out for him. Africa was basically a clockwork season that didn't really test him, and he got ousted in All-Stars when his simple alliance plan turned on him.


15. Vecepia Towery (Marquesas)
Of all the winners on this list who haven't been back for a second go-around on Survivor, I think Vecepia might actually be the one I'd be the most interested in seeing play the game again. This is in large part because I still feel like she's the most anonymous of all the winners, given how little she was featured during her first season. The big story of Marquesas, of course, was that it was the first time an alliance was actually overthrown in the game, and once that huge move went down, the focus shifted to big personalities like Sean and Kathy, and the father/daughter dynamic of Paschal and Neleh. Vecepia still stayed largely in the shadows until the last couple of episodes, when it was like, "Oh yeah, Vee's still here and, holy crap, she might win this thing."

So needless to say, this was your classic under-the-radar Survivor win. Given that it even flew under the radar of the show's editors, I'm almost forced to rank Vecepia relatively low simply because I need to see more of her. Also, what the hell, I'll cite the 'purple rock controversy' as a tiny asterisk on her victory. It wouldn't shock me at all to see Vecepia make another deep run into the game if she did ever play again, a la Sandra....or, wait, since she was doing 'anyone but me' before Sandra did, maybe I should say a la Vecepia.


14. Danni Boatwright (Guatemala)
Danni's game was sort of an amalgam of the previous two entries on this list. She and Aras were both were part of an ever-tenuous alliance, with the difference being that Danni's actually did collapse, and more importantly, collapsed with her as the target. Danni had to win a couple of key immunities to save herself and also count on Rafe's boneheaded "I release you from our promise to not vote against each other" play in the final immunity challenge. Danni is like Vecepia in that I still don't feel like I really got a good sense of her victory, since like Vee, Danni was largely cast aside by the editors in favour of bigger personalities like Stephenie, Rafe, Stephenie, Judd, Bobby Jon, Stephenie, Jamie, Gary and Stephenie. I will give Danni some bonus points for managing to crack the brilliant disguise of Gary "Hawkins" Hogeboom. Truly a deduction worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself.


13. Amber Brkich-Mariano (All-Stars)
You'll notice I've factored the relative quality of Survivor seasons into my rankings, or more specifically, the relative quality of each season's cast. This falls under the aegis of 'degree of difficulty,' since obviously it's more difficult to win if you're competing against a few other sharp minds, rather than just a bunch of relative dullards. Winning an All-Star season is an added layer of difficulty given that everyone is more or less on the same playing field as a returning player; everyone is used to living in the wilderness, being away from home, and they all have a frame of reference and know what mistakes to avoid. (Well, unless you're Russell and you screw up in exactly the same way.)

Taking this all into account, I still can't quite rank Amber's victory all that highly since after seeing her play the game twice, her strategy is clear. Her M.O. is to stick to a more overt, attention-getting player (Jerri in Australia, Rob in All-Stars) and hope that they garner so much bad feeling from the rest of the tribe and the jury will vote Amber for the win as the lesser of two evils. I should note that this is a perfectly valid strategy and Amber certainly isn't the only winner to employ it. Also, playing the "good cop" is an underrated role in an alliance. As we saw on Amazing Race, Amber is great at keeping Rob in check and keeping him from getting too carried away with his machinations -- without Amber, it should be noted, Rob didn't even the jury in either of his other two appearances. (Before this season, of course.)

But, what tends to cloud this strategy is that you can either hit big or miss big. In Australia, Amber missed by attaching herself to Jerri, though admittedly didn't really miss 'big' since she still came in sixth. You also run the risk of playing a bit too under the radar and giving the impression that your alliance partner did all the work, a la Todd and Amanda in China or Becky and Yul in Cook Islands. Amber is batting .500 with her strategy and her win is ever-so-slightly dimmed by the fact that the All-Stars jury was weirdly bitter due to real-life, broken-friendship issues involving Rob, Lex, Tom and Kathy.

After seeing Boston Rob in two of the last three Survivors, is anyone else really hoping that Amber gets back one of these years? I'd be interested to see how she defends her title and if she would alter her strategy or not. Hell, if anything, her marriage to Rob just deepens her strategy --- other players would still be inclined to dismiss her as "Boston Rob's wife" and they'd probably end up eliminated while Amber gets deep into the game once again.


12. Natalie White (Samoa)

And hell, since we're talking about the Amber Strategy, why not move to the most recent Survivor winner to employ it? A couple of major differences between Amber and Natalie -- firstly, Natalie was in a big hole, down 8-4 after the merge and she was key in the big Foa Foa comeback that got them all to the final five. Secondly, Natalie got herself into the final tribal council in a no-lose situation. She was up against a milquetoast player (Mick, who got no votes) and an obnoxious blowhard who just doesn't get juries (Russell "The Game Is Broken" Hantz). Amber, you recall, barely edged out Rob by a 4-3 vote, whereas Natalie easily coasted to victory.

So yeah, go Natalie. The "Christian warrior" stuff was kinda weird, but hey, she made the key play in the game, causing the big split in the Galu tribe that led to Erik's ouster and opened a door for Foa Foas after the merge. I really feel like Natalie's win was undermined by CBS' quest to edit Russell into the "biggest villain/mastermind ever." It was pretty obvious that Natalie, Mick and Jaison were the ones taking Russell to the end, not the other way around, because they all knew they would beat him in a final vote. The three have said as much in post-game interviews. However, since that fact would've interfered with CBS' chosen storyline for the Samoa series, we never saw any confessionals from the trio mentioning this. If Natalie gets just one, on-the-record mention outlining her strategy to beat Russell at the end (as Parvati did in the Heroes vs. Villains season), she gets a lot more credit as the winner of that game.


11. James "JT" Thomas (Tocantins)

Man, what a difference a second appearance can make. While several Survivors have improved their reputation with a second or third (or fourth, Rob) appearances on the show, JT's appearance on the Heroes vs. Villains season went about as well as Another 48 Hours did for the original 48 Hours. If I write this list after the Tocantins season, JT is easily in the top five with a case for being #1. In Tocantins he fought back from being outnumbered at the merge, won a few immunity challenges, shifted a few alliances around while sticking to his one true partnership with Stephen and did all of this while making no enemies, since he beat Stephen by a perfect 7-0 final vote. It was a superlative performance, and you can't take that away from him.

On Heroes vs. Villains, however, things went differently. You could argue that aside from Sandra, the biggest winner from the HvV season was Stephen, since his reputation went up immeasurably among Survivor fans as everyone simultaneously realized how Stephen must've been the total brains of the operation out in Tocantins. On HvV, JT felt he had to play a different strategy this time out, but only succeeded in irritating his tribe with his wishy-washiness and probably long-term shooting himself in the foot with several his votes. And of course, famously, JT made the legendarily stupid move of giving Russell a hidden immunity idol, believing him to be in trouble on the other tribe. It was just an all-around poor showing from Mr. Thomas. If he appears on the show a third time and continues on this downward slide, he'll be eliminated during the flight to the island by accidentally falling out of the plane.

Again, JT did a great job in Tocantins and that's why he's in the top half of the list. But it can't be ignored that of all the winners who have made a return appearance, he performed by far the worst. Even Tina, voted out first in the All-Stars season, came off better since Tina wasn't targeted for any reason other than she was an ex-winner, so she was in a no-win situation.


10. Rob Mariano (Redemption Island)

I had to think long and hard about where to ultimately slot Boston Rob on the list, and just inside the top ten seems about right. You can't deny that Rob is an influential player whenever he plays the game and given the massive target on his back during his victorious season, the fact that he still won was enough to overcome the fact that he was literally a senior playing against freshmen. For as much as Rob talked about how his game evolved over time, he still plays a very old-school Survivor game -- make an alliance, take it to the very end, then try to hang on once you're cannibalizing your own people. If managed properly, this can be extremely successful, and Boston Rob is nothing if not a charismatic, natural leader who now has a win and a runner-up finish in Survivor to his name. If managed improperly, however, it doesn't work, as we saw in Rob's other two appearances where he didn't even reach the jury phase.

So yeah, tenth seems right. I can't help but point out that had Rob seen placed on the opposite tribe on Redemption Island, he likely gets booted just as quickly as Russell did. Maybe he was finally due for some good luck on a reality show. After all, in the last decade, the Red Sox won the World Series twice, the Celtics won an NBA title, the Patriots won three Super Bowls and now Boston Rob has finally won Survivor. If this isn't incentive to put some money on the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup, I don't know what is.

(I've never been a particularly big Boston Rob fan, but darned if I didn't feel good for his finally winning last night. It was hard to not root for him when he broke down in tears after winning the final immunity challenge, locking him into the final vote and basically clinching him the game. Sure, Survivor is just a show, but in Rob's case, it's a show that made him famous and introduced him to the love of his life and the mother of his children. Good for him to finally conquering it....even if it took him four tries. And, if he ever comes back for a fucking fifth appearance, I'll hope he's the first boot.)


9. Yul Kwon (Cook Islands)
Aha, controversy! I'm sure most Survivor fans would have Yul comfortably in the top-five and possibly even at #1. But, while Yul may take the prize of guy you'd like to see your daughter marry, I feel his win was a bit overrated. His tribe's big comeback wasn't quite as dire as some of the other situations in Survivor history given that Yul had the pre-Crisis immunity idol that could be played after votes were revealed, so he basically had a second life in the game. Secondly, his alliance didn't exactly come back against a rock-solid force --- the Parvati/Adam/Candice/Nate quartet had some holes anyway, and that's not even counting the giant gaping hole that was Jonathan Penner that actually did come back to bite them.

So yeah, Yul certainly deserves credit for controlling his season in a methodical, logical way, which almost never happens in a game that's often chaotic. He also deserves some credit for sponging all the credit from Becky, who apparently was his equal in managing his tribe's strategy but was just seen as a hanger-on by the jury. While undoubtedly a very good player, I also have my doubts Yul could make it far in the game again.


8. Tom Westman (Palau)
Consider Tom to be the evolutionary JT. Like JT, Tom didn't do so well in Heroes vs. Villains, but Tom at least went out with his head held high, rather than voted out due to a boneheaded error. Also, as good as JT played in Tocantins, Tom did even better in Palau. I mentioned earlier how about I had the winners slotted into categories to help my keeping their games straight, but I just had Tom as 'outlier.' By all logic, a player like Tom should NEVER get anywhere near the end, but Palau was an odd season due to the legendarily shitty performance of the Ulong tribe. The Ulongs were the team that lost EVERY SINGLE IMMUNITY CHALLENGE until their tribe was literally down to just one person, Stephenie LaGrossa. Thanks to his tribe's unprecedented winning streak, Tom was able to maintain his role as their leader for much longer than usual and cemented deep bonds with such tribemates as Ian and Caryn. The latter bailed Tom out by refusing to join a proposed female alliance after the merge, and the former had a really odd father/son dynamic going. It call it odd since Ian had to have some unresolved daddy issues given that he quit the game in the final three rather than lose the respect of a man he'd known for, like, a month. That was some weird-ass psychodrama.

It can't be held against Tom, however, that all his tribe did was win, so he's one of the rare alpha male Survivor winners. I do wonder how things would've shaken out had he faced Ian in the final two. That might've been a close vote, or it would've devolved into a scene from The Great Santini.


7. Richard Hatch (Borneo)
Well, here he is. When I use the 'how would a player do if they played the game again' criteria, I use it in a vacuum. Obviously, if Richard Hatch played the game again today, I suspect he'd get dusted almost instantly because a) he's Richard Hatch and b) uh, well, actually he can't play the game today since he's currently in prison for tax evasion. On the money he won from winning Survivor. Wow.

So while Richard is no brainiac in real life, he gets eternal credit for being the first person to 'get' the intrinsic point that Survivor is a game show, not the social experiment it claimed to be in its first season. He formed the Tagi alliance that won him that season and set the strategic foundation for every subsequent season. Rich's social game is also quite underrated, as he was able to earn enough respect to win the final vote and keep together such disparate personalities as Sue Hawk, Rudy Boetsch and Kelly Wiglesworth together until the end. (Well, Kelly was on the outs by the end, but Sean's idiotic alphabet voting strategy made him a de facto alliance member.) Rich's place in Survivor history is safe, and even if they do 100 seasons of this show, he'll always be mentioned near the top of any best players list.


6. Chris Daugherty (Vanuatu)
The king of lies! Chris had no business winning the Vanuatu season, being down 6-1 against an all-woman alliance and seemingly without an ally to be found. But then, Chris was spared thanks Twila and Scout making a move against the younger women, and Chris did his part by convincing Eliza to join the revolution. From then on, Chris spun such a web of bullshit that even a bull spider would've been impressed. My pal Mario compared Chris' performance in Vanuatu to that of Bill Paxton's character in True Lies for his sheer commitment to his lies, and while Paxton's lies eventually got him targeted by the federal government, Chris deceived his way to the million bucks. His final jury performance was particularly awesome, as he sniffled, aw-shucksed and apologized to the women he'd backstabbed along the way, and they totally bought this horsecrap hook, line and sinker. Chris is the anti-Amanda when it comes to addressing juries.

Chris is generally considered to be a middling winner by a lot of Survivor fans, but I beg to differ. If I had to bet on any male Survivor winner doing well in another appearance, Chris would be far and away my top pick. The guy just has an innate talent for talking his way out of situations. For instance, in the very first Vanuatu episode, it was Chris' failure on a balance beam challenge that cost his tribe immunity. Chris was clearly the goat and on an all-male tribe, failure to perform was seemingly paramount. Yet when the vote finally came, it was Brook who was eliminated. The fact that Chris was able to escape such a trap from day one made him a player to watch. I'll bet if Chris was on the show again, he'd manage to convince you that there were bigger targets to deal with and you'd believe him up until the moment he voted you out....and then you still might vote him to win the money.


5. Earl Cole (Fiji)
The only knock against Earl is that he isn't Yau Man, who had he won, I might well have put in the top two overall. Interestingly, Earl represents sort of the nice guy version of the Amber/Natalie Strategy -- instead of sticking to a polarizing figure to make yourself look better in comparison, Earl stuck to an even nicer guy who was an even bigger challenge threat than he and who was an even bigger lock in the final vote. Yes, that's right, Yau Man would've somehow won the final vote even more dominantly than Earl did, and Earl won 7-0. I suspect Probst would've also thrown in a vote or something. But because Yau was such an overwhelmingly class act, Earl's own status as a surefire final vote winner was kept under wraps.

Earl also gets points for being probably the biggest comeback win in history, bigger than Chris Daughtery's, bigger than Yul's, bigger than anyone's. He not only managed to make it through the rich tribe/poor tribe division in the early parts of the Fiji season (easily the worst twist in the game's history since, hey guess what, the 'rich' tribe won every challenge since they were well-rested and well-fed) but he also overcome the loss of alliance-mate Michelle after Michelle got ganked by the tribe switch/immediate vote twist, which was also pretty unfair. Earl had to overcome a lot to win Fiji, so I'll overlook the fact that Fiji didn't have a lot of brain surgeons in the cast.


4. Tina Wesson (Australia)
My friend and fellow Survivor obsessive Mario ranks Tina as arguably his favourite player in the game's history, and it's interesting that Tina is remembered so much as the 'nice' winner (no doubt being helped by coming after Richard Hatch) when she was easily willing to cut throats to get further in the game. That's the mark of a true player -- when you can pull off a few bad-ass moves and even afterwards, everyone is like "aw man, that Tina is so nice, let's give her the money!" In fact, you know that strategy I just attributed to Earl of playing tight to an even nicer guy so they become the target? That's the Tina Strategy. She formed a tight bond with Colby Donaldson, perhaps the evolutionary 'amiable dunce' player, and then beat him in the final vote despite the fact that Colby won a ton of immunity challenges and didn't make any enemies. That's straight-up impressive. I don't think Earl beats Yau Man at the end, but Tina beat her Yau Man.

Tina, of course, got voted out first in All-Stars since she was a former winner, and not because she was the biggest threat out there, which would've won the Saboga Tribe a lot more in-game respect had that been their reasoning. If she plays this game again, not only do I think would she go a long way, it wouldn't shock me at all if she repeated as champion. Theoretically the other players would realize she's a huge threat and vote her out as soon as it was convenient, but you can never predict how new players will treat a returning star. (See: Redemption Island.)


3. Brian Heidik (Thailand)
As with Rich Hatch, I'm somewhat bending my criteria of 'how would this player perform in the game again' for Brian because if he ever returned to the show, he would and should be voted out in a heartbeat. So why is he ranked so highly on the list? Because Brian dominated his season to such an extent that, to this day, it's probably still the most impressive single-season performance in Survivor history. Forget about Jeff Probst saying his buddy Boston Rob had 'a perfect game' on Redemption Island --- Brian Heidik had a perfect game years ago.

Thailand, not incorrectly, is regarded as one of the worst Survivor seasons and thus Brian's victory has been somewhat forgotten by history. But, I'd argue that one of the reasons fans look down on Thailand is because Brian himself was a particularly unpopular winner. To that point, he was the most unpopular winner in the show's history. Tina and Ethan were popular, Vecepia was generally popular though somewhat of a question mark and even Richard had a large group of fans that respected his ability to figure the game out. With Brian, though, nobody seemed like the fact that this borderline sociopath breezed through Survivor like it wasn't even a thing.

I say 'borderline sociopath' since that's how Brian approached the game. Watching Brian was like watching Dexter play Survivor -- he made no pretense about liking or befriending any of the other players, coldly dispatched his own alliance members when it suited his purposes and covered up this behaviour with a bland, likable persona as a hard-working family man. In reality, Brian was one of the wealthiest car salesmen in the country and an ex-softcore porn star, married to another ex-softcore porn star. Not quite a serial killer like Dexter, but still, not the kind of chap you'd think would win a jury vote.

This isn't to say Brian was some master actor, since the rival Sook Jai tribe saw through his act pretty clearly and his own alliance-mates saw the light after they'd been voted out at his hand. But yet Brian still won (and picked up all the votes from his former alliance) since he made sure that as unlikable as he was, his final tribal council opponent was the even more-unlikable Clay Jordan. So, as the lesser of two evils, he won the title.

(Brian's success, by the way, is another example of why Russell Hantz sucks at playing Survivor. Brian showed that yes, an asshole can win the game just as long as he makes sure he's there at the end with someone even worse. Russell never figured this out -- his ego and his own warped view of what makes a good Survivor player led him to believe he would easily beat the likes of Natalie, Sandra or Parvati at the end. Russell's strategy in Samoa should've been to get to the end with Shambo and Mick, the former who wasn't respected at all, and the latter who actually did seem to be a coattail-rider and actually got fewer votes than Russell did at the Samoa finale. In Heroes vs. Villains...well, yeah, Russell was pretty much screwed in any possible finale, unless he'd somehow managed to get to the end with Sugar and Randy. In short, Russell is a bad Survivor player.)

All this is to say Brian's success is ultimately unrepeatable for him personally, but if you are cognizant of the fact that you don't have a great social game, his is the perfect strategy to employ. You don't openly talk about how your opponents are idiots and pieces of trash, like Russell. You just keep your head down, keep your thoughts to yourself and hope your mask doesn't slip until it's already too late for your opponents. Brian is the living embodiment of the reality show cliche statement, "I'm not here to make friends." Those who feel that backstabbing and disloyalty aren't sportsmanlike in Survivor should remember Jonathan Penner's famous quote about how they are no villains if you're playing Monopoly.


2. Parvati Shallow (Fans vs. Favourites)
You know how JT made that huge plummet between Tocantins and Heroes vs. Villains? Parvati made the opposite leap. If you had told me after the Cook Islands season that I'd one day consider Parvati (whose whole strategy consisted of 'flirt/align with the best-looking guys') the second-best player in Survivor history, I'd say you were crazy. But, Parvati went from being an also-ran in the Cook Islands to suddenly evolving into perhaps the best social game player in Survivor history by the Fans vs. Favourites season. Sure, the fact that she faced Amanda in a final vote helped her win, but it was Parvati's ability to coerce both men and women that suddenly made her into a star. Then, in Heroes vs. Villains, she compounded her feat by lasting to the final tribal council despite being targeted as a major threat from the outset on her original tribe. It seems almost unfair that Parvati is also quite good at challenges, which has saved her on a few occasions. I'd have to say that Parvati's ability to compete in any Survivor circumstance makes her the best player ever, aside from.....


1. Sandra Diaz-Twine (Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains)
My answer to the "who's the best baseball player ever" question has steadfastly been Babe Ruth for one simple reason: Ruth was not only arguably the greatest hitter in the history of the sport, he was also a very good pitcher. End of argument. The two main facets of baseball are pitching and hitting and Ruth excelled at both. Is this argument necessarily fair, since, y'know, Ty Cobb or Barry Bonds or Hank Aaron or any of the other GOAT candidates didn't get a chance to pitch? Possibly. But, at the end of the day, Ruth did pitch, and did it very well for a few years.

This same logic is what makes Sandra the no-brainer choice as the best Survivor player of all time. She's played the game twice, and she has won it twice. 2-for-2. Period. Since I've made the question of how a player's skillset would transfer over if they played the game again into such a factor in my evaluation, it's fair to note that less than half of these winners have actually gotten the chance to play the game a second time, so it's very possible that Earl, or Danni or Vecepia or whomever also have a second victory in them. But, the fact of the matter is, Sandra did play it twice and she did literally as well as you could possibly do in multiple attempts. Two for freakin' two.

Here is the only, ONLY criticism one could make against Sandra being #1 on the list -- she is useless in challenges. To this I say, who cares? Winning challenges is only one aspect of the game. And, if anything, the fact that she never won a challenge made her two victories all the more impressive. Other than the two occasions she had a hidden immunity idol during HvV, she came to every single tribal council with a target on her, but escaped every time. Hell, she only received three total VOTES against her in two whole seasons, and two of those ended up not counting because of her hidden immunity idol.

It's interesting that Sandra's alleged biggest flaw is her "lippiness," but I'd argue that her flat-out honesty is probably her biggest strength. Because she's NOT honest. Sandra has this reputation of being a tell-it-like-it-is walking curse word that will let you know exactly how she feels about you, but she only saves her invective for confessions. To a competitor's face, she'll tell them whatever they need to hear and they'll buy it because hey, it' Sandra, she's a straight-shooter! Interestingly, Sandra's two seasons have featured arguably the two biggest villains in the history of the show, Jon 'Fairplay' Dalton and Russell Hantz. Whatever steam Sandra needed to blow off in the game, she could just direct it towards them and the rest of the tribe would thank her for it.

So there it is, Sandra's the best. I'm sure some non-Survivor fans are wondering how it took me a few thousand words to come to the far-out conclusion that the only 2-for-2 player in the game's history is the greatest winner, but hey, if you're a non-Survivor fan and you've read this far, you may need a life.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Strange Career Path Of Eric Lutes

So I'm watching a Frasier rerun recently and let me immediately sidetrack myself by complaining about how dreck like That 70's Show or King Of Queens is shown around the clock while Frasier (in the running for best sitcom ever) rarely pops up in syndication. But whatever, I'm watching a Frasier rerun and it's the episode where Frasier invites his new boss at the radio station over for dinner with the intent on fixing him up with Daphne, whereas the station boss (who's gay) is under the impression that Frasier is actually asking him out. Classic, wacky, Frasier zaniness.

Anyway, we go to commercial and it's a Viagra ad starring none other than the guy who's playing Frasier's boss in this episode. He's a little older and grayer, but it's definitely the same dude. Did someone at TVtropolis notice this and intentionally schedule this commercial to run during this specific episode? Or am I giving their programmers too much credit? After all, this is the same channel that considers 'Wipeout' to be prime-time programming.

This piqued my interest so after a short Google search, I found this actor's name is Eric Lutes. He's popped up on scads of TV series over the years, played a dad in an Olsen Twins movie and basically is your typical working actor. Arguably his best-known role was on the old "Caroline In The City" show, where he was actually one of the regular characters. So in 15 years, going from an NBC Must-See-TV sitcom to a Viagra ad. Unfortunate. (Okay, I realize that 'Caroline In The City' was to the Must-See-TV lineup as the Charlotte Bobcats are to the NBA, but even still, that show somehow lasted four seasons. Surely someone must've watched it.)

I've always been curious about the actors in ads for products like Viagra or Levitra. You figure their thought process is a gig's a gig, and hey, if the middle-aged need some help in getting it up, what the hell, more power to them. But still, I'm sure these actors hear some flack from their buddies over the ads. It's different from taking a role on a lousy show since your exposure there is limited just to the audience of said crappy show; if you're on a vaguely embarrassing commercial, it can air any time and anyone can see it. You know that Lutes has heard about this ad not just from his pals, but from his grandma, his mailman, his minister, etc. Hopefully he has a sense of humour about it --- or, hell, maybe he actually uses Viagra and is totally, eerily, gung-ho about it.

Mailman: Hey there Mr. Lutes, I saw your Viagra ad. Looks like I'm the only one that's regularly delivering around here, eh? Heh heh.

Eric: Ha ha, good one, Bill! But seriously, have you tried this stuff? It's awesome! I went from a sad-sack to harder than algebra! I've got seven extra cases in my garage right now if you're interested.

Mailman: Seven cases? Wow...uh, I think I'll pass. I haven't consulted with my doctor about....

Eric: C'mon, don't be a wuss! All the cool kids take Viagra!

Mailman: For god's sake Lutes, keep it together. Just sign for this package...oh no, this is more Viagra, isn't it?

Eric: YEP

Then he tears the package open and starts popping the Viagra like candy, while the mailman looks on in horror. If you thought this scene was terrifying, just imagine the one with Lutes and his minister.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tiger Woods= Finished?



"Jack White is the Tiger Woods of Rock Music when it comes to work ethic and priorities. Everyone wants Tiger to save the world and speak out on social issues, and all Tiger cares about is winning golf tournaments…golf is his life. If his leg is okay, I'm sure he's somewhere hitting a golf ball (or thinking about it) right this second. While other musicians are trying to 'Make Trade Fair' (cough) or 'Save Africa' (cough, cough) all Jack White wants to do is make more great music…music is his life. I'm sure Jack White is somewhere playing his guitar right this second."

This passage in praise of the White Stripes' album 'Elephant' from my friend Misha might well be the most ironic thing ever written on this blog. It's a pretty stunning upset given a) the number of asinine-in-hindsight things I've written over the years and b) the fact that when Misha wrote this in 2008, the reaction if anything would've been to say it was too complimentary towards Jack White. Like, "Dude, Jack White is good and all, but c'mon, he's no TIGER WOODS. Save that kind of praise for the Beatles or Elvis."

It's crazy that just 18 months ago, Tiger Woods was less a man that he was a standard of excellence. Hailed as the best athlete of the decade, the greatest golfer of all time, the ultimate in determination/winning/competition, etc. You could know nothing about golf and still know about Tiger Woods. For those who do know golf, it wasn't a stretch to say that his impact dwarfed the entire sport itself. He won so often that my buddy Kyle and I once rated his major championship victories by how compelling they were. Hell, I once predicted that Woods would break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles by 2010 -- last freaking year.

Of course, the key sentence was in the third graph of that post: "I think it's pretty clear that Tiger is going to break the record barring an injury or assassination by Phil Mickelson." Well, Phil didn't need to go Gillooly on Tiger since the injury bug did the trick for him. It's clear that Tiger's 2008 ACL surgery on his left knee was the turning point in his career and life, since then, it's been all downhill.

Now, some might make the logical argument that the knee surgery wasn't nearly as crushing to Woods as his marriage falling apart and how his personal life kept the lights on at TMZ for about a year. After all, Woods won six tournaments in 2009 (his first year back from the surgery), but he hasn't won anything since the scandal broke. I disagree. The mental toll of a divorce, not to mention going from admired sports icon to punchline, was no doubt traumatic. But for any athlete, when they find they can no longer trust their body, that's the end of the line. Tiger has continued to have knee problems since, not to mention back and neck issues to boot. I'm not the first to point out that Woods is an OLD 35 years old -- he's been playing golf since he was literally an infant. That accumulation of rounds takes its toll on the body. It's possible Tiger would've been able to grit out his injuries, a divorce and his much-heralded "swing changes" individually, but altogether, they've crippled his game.

Can Tiger break Jack Nicklaus' record? Woods has 14 majors, so he "only" has to win five more. I use the quote marks since in the history of the sport, only 13 guys have ever won more than five major championships in their careers, so it's not like Tiger is just inches away here. But it's possible, POSSIBLE he can still pull this off. Consider: since the divorce scandal, he's tied for fourth at the 2010 US Open, and at both the 2010 and 2011 Masters. Since his knee surgery, he's had those results plus a second place at the 2009 PGA and he's tied for sixth at the 2009 Masters and US Open. So it's not like Woods is totally falling apart here. He's still been close on the big stages but he just can't sealed the deal. It's not like these tournaments are cocktail waitresses, hey-o!

The troubling part of those results, though, is that they all came on courses that he has been successful on in the past, so if Tiger couldn't snatch wins there, he's in trouble. Bethpage Black, Pebble Beach and Hazeltine aren't going to appear again in the major rota until Pebble gets the US Open in 2019. Let's look at Tiger's best results on the next nine US Open, British Open, and PGA Championship host courses.

Congressional: T19 at the 1997 US Open
Royal St. George's: T4 at the 2003 British Open
Atlanta Golf Club: T29 at the 2001 PGA
Olympic Club: T18 at the 1998 US Open
Royal Lytham: T25 at the 2001 British Open
Kiawah Island: Never played
Merion: Never played
Muirfield: T28 at the 2002 British Open
Oak Hill: T39 at the 2003 PGA

Not many Tiger-friendly courses in this lot. In 2014, things pick up with the U.S. Open at Pinehurst (Tiger has a second and a T3 at the last two Pinehurst Opens), the British Open at Royal Liverpool (a win in 2006) and the PGA at Valhalla (that epic playoff win over Bob May in 2000). So if you're counting on a great comeback story from Woods down the road once he's stabilized his golf game and personal life, 2014 is probably your target year. Of course, there's also Augusta National, which Tiger has dominated in the past and even come close to winning during these last three traumatic years. I feel he's going to snatch another green jacket just by sheer dint of always being near the top of the leaderboard at the Masters.

So here's my revised prediction. Tiger Woods will finish his career with 16 major championships. At least one will be a Masters. Given the current state of his game and health, it's hard to see him grinding out a US Open or dealing with the conditions at a British Open. The PGA is kind of a crapshoot every year, so it's possible Woods could pick up one of those titles. Hey, for all we know, maybe Tiger will take to Kiawah Island in 2012 like a duck to water and win there. So let's say one Masters and one PGA, or just two Masters wins.

Sixteen major titles is still, needless to say, extraordinary, and there will still be those who will champion Woods as the greatest golfer ever despite coming two majors short of Nicklaus. But 18 months ago, it was a foregone conclusion that Tiger sets the record. Now, the general consensus seems to be that Tiger will win at most a couple more majors or (perhaps) even none at all, since you can't win if you can't hit clutch putts. Tiger's knee forced him to quit after nine holes today at the Players Championship, but in a macro sense, his knee will keep him from reaching 18.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Seinfeld Archives

Jerry Seinfeld has launched a new website, containing literally hundreds of old clips from stand-up appearances. And I mean OLD. You go back to his earliest stand-up gigs from the 70's, when he looks like a cross between Woody Allen and Harold Ramis. It's everything from those long-ago performances to his most recent appearances on Letterman, Leno, etc. Very cool stuff.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Random Nonsense



This is the definition of bittersweet if you're an English major. Hollywood is making a movie, titled "Anonymous," about the Shakespeare authorship question, one of the most fascinating mysteries in all of literature. Frankly, it's long overdue.

Problem #1: The film centers solely on the theory that Edward de Vere (the Earl of Oxford) is the true author. Okay, well, that kind of gives short shrift to the other candidates (Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley, Sir Francis Bacon and my personal favourite, Henry Neville), but hey, okay, for the sake of a 100-minute film, I can understand the need to streamline things.

Problem #2: This is the trailer. Uh, it looks pretty swordfighty for a movie about playwriting, but still, ok, a movie's got to sell tickets and whatnot. Fair enough.

Problem #3: It's directed by Roland Emmerich. OH FUCK. As in, the guy who directed The Patriot, 2012, Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and a bunch of other shitty action movies. This is a bad, bad, bad sign.

Problem #4: The tagline is "We've all been played." Oh jesus christ.

In short, you can probably skip "Anonymous" unless you like stupidity. I pity the poor English teachers of the world, who will no doubt be faced with hundreds of essays from students citing this film as a definitive source. "My thesis is how Iago and Othello's relationship is a metaphor for jousting, which Edward de Vere was a champion at (as cited on Wikipedia), since we all know de Vere was really Shakespeare!"

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I would never, ever, ever, EVER use the automatic parallel park feature on a Ford Focus unless it was a completely empty lot. And, if the lot was empty, I'd just park myself and not waste my time setting the thing up. You are a brave soul if you see a narrow space between two cars and think, "Hey, let's let the machine handle it!" Presumably you can override it by jerking the wheel if you realize your back bumper is about to slam into the side of the car behind you.

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If you're a fan of Community (and who isn't?...uh, ignore Nielsen ratings), then you'll love this behind-the-scenes story of the creation of Magnitude, the life of every party at Greendale Community College. As funny as Magnitude is now, I must admit, the 'Event Horizon' name is even funnier.

Speaking of Community, I'll discuss the newest paintball episode once my pulse returns to normal. Not to sound shallow, but can Alison Brie wear that outfit in every episode? (It's a good thing I prefaced with that with 'not to sound shallow,' since otherwise that would've sounded really shallow.)

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I rarely get to use the blog's "brushes with greatness" tag since I may be the only person who's lived in Toronto for a significant amount of time yet has never run into a celebrity. Almost everyone has some random story of, say, standing behind Victor Garber at the supermarket or seeing the guy from Mumford & Sons buying a lobster at Kensington Market or seeing Drake at the Eaton Centre practicing rhythmic gymnastics. Something like that.

But hark, last month, a random celebrity run-in for the Markster. Some friends of mine run a small theatre company and were putting on a trio of one-act plays at a theatre near Kensington Market, so I dropped by to see the shows. One of the company heads, my pal Shawn, pulls me aside and tells me about a celeb who came to see the plays the previous evening -- none other than Rich Sommer, a.k.a. Harry Crane on 'Mad Men.' Well, hey, this was pretty cool, and I was mentally kicking myself for not coming the previous evening. Apparently Sommer is in town shooting a film and had some downtime, so he decided to check out some local theatre. He randomly saw a listing for this show and the rest was history. Take that, people who think it doesn't pay to advertise in NOW Magazine!

Shawn said Sommer hung out with the cast afterwards, bought everyone a round of drinks and just acted like the coolest cat on the planet. It was a pretty good story...and as he's telling it, who should walk into the theatre but Rich Sommer himself, back to see the third of the three plays the very next evening.

Now, this isn't all just some second-hand celebrity meeting. I spoke to the man myself, for upwards of three seconds. I believe my exact words were, "Hey, Rich Sommer, big fan of your show!" Theoretically I could've asked him what the deal was with AMC not scheduling the next season until January and trying to play hardball with Matthew Weiner on contract negotiations, but it was cold outside and there were wolves after me.

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Fuck Yeah Nouns -- Guaranteed MINUTES of amusement from this site.



It works for everything!



See?

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Hurt in a car? Call William Mattar! Holy shit dude, are you really basing the focus of your legal career over a rhyme? If your last name was Zweibel, would you only focus on libel lawsuits? Or on slander if you were named William Alexander? It's a good thing not all attorneys act this way. Clarence Darrow would've had to turn his Scopes Monkey Trial defense over to his much less-talented colleague, Kev Bolution.

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I'm walking down the street when two clearly stoned youths approach me and ask for a light. I inform them I don't smoke. As they're walking away, one kid is complaining but the other is more chill about the situation, telling his friend...

"That's good, old people shouldn't smoke."

Ouch. Ouch, random high teenager. I don't turn 30 until October. I'm still a young, rambunctious twentysomething. What you doing out so late on a school night anyways?