Sunday, August 31, 2014

Singularity '90

So I've been listening to a George Michael greatest hits album over the last couple of days while driving in my car, and it's not a bad disc.*  My only complaint is that, as a 29-song double album, it seems like there's more than a bit of filler here rather than a true collection of all Michael's true top songs.  A 20-song, all-killer no filler single disc would've been off the page but the actual version has a couple too many meandering ballads and a couple too many OOMCH OOMCH OOMCH dance tracks.  I'm such such tracks are great as background noise if you're in a club in Ibiza, but they don't quite work when you're driving in your car waiting for a proper melody to start.

* = as a very casual George Michael fan, I'm right in the sweet spot for this album's existence.  It has every GM song I like, a few more I'd never heard before but really enjoy, and about 5-6 others that I could take or leave.  "Greatest hits" albums aren't meant for actual hardcore fans of a musician, since a) they have all these songs anyway and b) any true hardcore fan has their own STRONG opinions over which songs are truly the 'best' that their favourite artist has to offer, and only they could truly hand-pick the perfect compilation.

So anyway, yeah, I've been listening to a lot of George Michael lately.  I finish the first disc of the album and go to change discs, and my radio automatically flicks on in between.  The first song on the radio?  "Faith."  Huh, well, that's an odd coincidence.  I just happened to have the radio set to an oldies station, and there it is, a George Michael song.  How about that.

Then I leave the car and go into a restaurant, and what song is playing inside?  "Father Figure."  WHAT THE WHAT.  What are the odds of this?  As far as improbable musical coincidences go, this is right up there with the time my iTunes shuffle randomly gave me U2's "Pride" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" right next to the live versions of those exact same two songs.  All four, right in a row --- Pride, Pride live, ISHFWILF, ISHFWILF live.

With all of this George Michael surrounding me, I half-expected to see Michael Cera walking down the street.  Part of me wanted to go to the nearest store to see if it too was also playing GM music on its sound system, though since the store was a Canadian Tire, I suspect this would've broken the streak. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Emmy On The Street!

Ok, so I was down on last night's Emmy Awards.  On the bright side, they did feature a fresh segment of one of my favourite things --- Billy Eichner running around New York with a celebrity and yelling at passersby.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I was upset about missing the Emmys last night but no problem, looks like I just missed a rerun.

Seriously, EVERY ONE of the major comedy and drama awards went to a previous winner.  The one 'new' winner was Allison Janney for "Mom" (a terrible choice, btw, since that show is terrible that even the great Janney is just hammin' it up), and even Janney already has a shelf full of Emmys from her West Wing days.

This is what makes the Emmys a tough awards show to follow, even acknowledging that all awards shows are pointless.  It's tough to see deserving talents lose year after year, yet it's also tough to say that none of the winners are good choices.  In fact, I personally did pick Breaking Bad (last year's Best Drama) and Bryan Cranston (already a three-time Best Drama Actor winner) to pick up trophies again because this past season of BB was just that damned incredible.  Still, as amazing as Cranston has been as Walter White, it just seems unfortunate that Jon Hamm still hasn't won in that category, or Hugh Laurie never won for playing House, or Michael C. Hall never won for Dexter before that show went off the rails.

My Emmy logic has always been that as long as a show or actor wins once, that's alright.  Did 'Arrested Development' or 'Seinfeld,' for instance, deserve more than one Best Comedy Emmy?  Sure, but I'm not complaining since at least they got on the board.  I'm even fine with shows/actors winning multiple times if their work is clearly deserving.  What bugs me if when an a "just fine" winner keeps inexplicably taking the Emmy year after year, a la Jim Parsons or Modern Family itself.  Did you know that Modern Family's five straight Emmy wins is a record, tying it with Frasier?  Modern Family, I enjoy you, I watch you every week, I like you quite a bit….but you, show, are no Frasier.

I'm reminded of years past when Candice Bergen and John Larroquette humbly stopped submitting themselves for Emmys since they realized that Emmy voters would keep awarding them in perpetuity, so they decided to share the wealth.  The issue with that now, however, is that with the rise of cable shows dominating the Emmys, these awards are in some cases the best showcase that their programs get.  'Veep,' for instance, is a hilarious show that is beloved by critics and awards' groups yet barely makes a dent in the ratings.  Its best advertisement is that it IS a "critically-acclaimed show" and Emmys are a big part of that, which is why Julia Louis-Dreyfus will keep nominating herself and probably winning every year, leaving deserving would-be winners like Amy Poehler in the dust.  In a vacuum, frankly, JLD probably is just as good or better than Poehler every single season --- yet geez, can't Amy score just one?  Just one measly Emmy?

Then again, if multiple winners weren't so sure they were going to win every year, they couldn't get together for pre-planned routines like this...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Other People's Writing

Should I get royalties for linking to these articles?  Have I been costing myself money for years and years with these posts?  I am a moron.

* Perhaps in honour of the VMAs this weekend (a.k.a. the most "God, I'm Old" night of the year), I'm linking to my first-ever piece from the MTV news website.  Okay, MTV had nothing to do with it, I'd link to any website that had an oral history of Galaxy Quest, one of the true underrated comedies in recent years.  It's the perfect kind of parody that both satirizes and pays tribute to the source material, and frankly, if you're a Star Trek fan that hasn't seen this movie, you have failed at life.  Funniest part of the oral history is clearly how everyone is trying to avoid outright saying that Tim Allen was (is?) an asshole.

* As wonderful as the Onion is, the fact that it has spawned a (non-satirical) phenomenal pop culture website in the AV Club is arguably of equal value.  The AV Club's John Teti, for instance, has the space and opportunity to rank all 30 of Mario Kart 8's characters.  It's a lot of fun, though I feel Teti is underrating Koopa Troopa, my preferred racer whenever I'm playing a Mario Kart game --- control trumps speed, bitches!  (Teti's write-up on Koopa Troopa, in fairness, is arguably the funniest one of the entire bunch.)

* As usual, there's a lot of Grantland in this edition of OP'sW, because what other website can bust out a fantastic article about a completely random topic as how the bridal invitation postmark business is essentially keeping the little town of Bridal Veil, Oregon alive.  Katie Baker is the author here, and I won't lie, I really miss her on the regular Grantland hockey beat.  Sean McIndoe's regular "hey, here's a list of things, most of which involve the Leafs" pieces are wearing a bit thin.

* There's nothing overtly special about this Grantland piece by Robert Mays about the Chicago Bears' revamped offence, yet I just really dug it as a quality piece of sportswriting.  Mays is a Bears fan and clearly knows his stuff, and it was so thoroughly solid that even this Packers supporter enjoyed the read.  Is it odd that even though I'm a Green Bay guy through and through, I don't really hate the Bears all that much?  In my generation of Packer fandom, the Pack have more or less owned Chicago, so it's hard to muster up much genuine animosity towards them.  Maybe I'll start getting more afraid since Marc Trestman looks like an alien.

* Grantland's Zach Lowe absolutely kills it with a straight-faced analysis of Space Jam, a movie he (a 36-year-old basketball junkie) has never seen before and knew little about.  It's basically a tongue-in-cheek real version of Krusty complaining about the Washington Generals' tactics against the Harlem Globetrotters, as at one point, Lowe feels that if the fouling rules were so lax that Wile E. Coyote was allowed to use dynamite, the Coyote should've played the entire game.  Man's got a point!

* Grantland's Shea Serrano is back with another matrix, this one evaluating several famous NBA "post-impressive thing on the court" celebrations over the years.  Pretty sure he left out the famous celebration of actually catching on fire when you sink….oh wait, I've confused life with NBA Jam.  Again. 

* Why doesn't New York City produce as much basketball talent as in years gone by?  Jordan Ritter Conn asks the question in a story that I enjoyed, if I had to roll my eyes a bit at the general "how could this happen in New York, the Greatest City In The World?!" hand-wringing tone. 

* Grantland's Alex Pappademas reviews and/or has his life consumed by the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood mobile app game.  This seems to be the latest method in which the Kardashian has generated millions of dollars through absolutely nothing, so by this point I have to throw up my hands and just acknowledge that Kris Jenner might be the greatest marketer in human history.  As always, upon mentioning the Kardashians, I feel compelled to mention that Bruce Jenner was legitimately considered the best athlete in the world at one point.  Seriously.  That guy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pawning An Emmy

Needless to say, this should be an actual show.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Random Nonsense

So, did the store just rip Nena off on that 99th luftballon?


You know you're living next to a crazy cat lady when you see her calling in three separate animals from her front porch, and you politely ask how many cats she actually has, and the answer is, "Four.  I'm allowed to have seven but I only have four."  As in, the page on the city's website that lists this ordinance is ABSOLUTELY bookmarked on her computer.

Then again, can she really be handed 'Crazy Cat Lady' status while still staying well below the legal limit?  Four cats is a lot, clearly, yet it's still just over half the maximum.  A true CCL would have seven registered cats, at least four more strays unofficially hanging out in her back shed and maybe with the word 'CAT' straight-up tattooed on her back.  My neighbour is keeping it relatively mild.


Ever get so flustered you combine two insults?  I was cut off in traffic the other way and angrily referred to the other driver as "diphead."  That's a very kindergarten insult for a grown man to use.  Then again, the alternative was calling him a "dickshit," which sounds really horrid.


So, my Maple Leafs embargo is over, and as you might've predicted, it was short-lived.  My reason for the embargo (I cannot support a team that is actively being ignorant about their sport) has been somewhat answered in the form of Kyle Dubas' hiring as the new assistant GM.  Actually, it might not even be the fact that the Leafs brought a young, seemingly stats-oriented AGM aboard as much as it was that they fired stunningly incompetent former AGMs Claude Loiselle and Dave Poulin. 

Now, while Loiselle/Poulin were two of the chief impediments in the Leafs front office, that still leaves Dave Nonis in charge, though I'm still willing to give him a chance.  Maybe he was just getting bad advice.  Maybe Dubas is like Andy Travis on WKRP and Nonis is actually like Arthur Carlson, a well-meaning but bumbling boss who is happy to let someone just take the reigns from him.  Extending this analogy to its logical end, the Leafs should make Nonis' secretary the team president and the team should DEFINITELY CANCEL any Thanksgiving Day promotions if may have in mind.


It's weird that "it's all downhill from here" and "it's an uphill climb" are both negatives.  When something is going really well for me from now on, I'm going to describe it as "yep, old Mark is just sitting halfway up the hill."


For Deadwood fans, it's a sobering moment when you realize that Al Swearengen basically looks exactly like Wario.  Man, was that entire show just a thinly-veiled MarioKart allegory?  Seth is Luigi (taller, moustached, also often shoots a death glare at people), Alma is Princess Peach, Sol is Toad, E.B. Farnum is Koopa Troopa, Dan Dority is Donkey Kong, Cy Tolliver is Bowser, Doctor Cochran is….uh, Yoshi?  The show lacked a Mario, which perhaps was a sign of the lack of the moral compass in the 1870's frontier world.  I may be stretching it here.


Robin Williams was such a huge part of comedy and pop culture over the last 40 years that it's hard to not feel affected by his death in some way.  Re-listening to his 2010 appearance on the Marc Maron's WTF podcast, Williams actually discusses the topic of suicide and seems completely dismissive of it, which is awfully sobering in hindsight.  (Even more darkly, this discussion is actually kind of hilarious with Williams portraying his conscience as a golf announcer.) 

In the aftermath of his death, there were so many stories of Williams' generosity and how he would appear at hospitals unannounced to entertain patients, or he'd tirelessly visit friends in need to cheer them up when they were facing physical woes, most notably Christopher Reeve.  I can't help but regret the fact that Williams, the designated cheerer-upper, perhaps didn't have anyone to lift him back up when he was at his lowest, though obviously I'm just speculating as a broken-hearted fan here.  He was a truly gifted talent and he'll be missed. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Ranking Survivor's Winners (Vol. 3)

click the links for part one and part two!

5. Brian Heidik (Thailand)
An initial draft of this list saw me drop Brian all the way down to eighth, since for a while I thought that Brian's critically-acclaimed victory was just a *bit* overrated by the fact that a) while he positioned himself well against just about the ultimate jury goat in Clay Jordan, he barely beat Clay by a 4-3 vote, b) Brian's game wouldn't hold up in a return appearance since now everyone would know he's a douchebag and c) Thailand was a pretty basic old-school Survivor alliance vs. alliance season and there wasn't really any strategy at play.

After thinking about it a bit more and seeing Brian's name sitting behind Earl's in the rankings, however, I reconsidered.  Earl's placement might've played a role since in many ways, Brian WAS Earl to the majority of his Thailand castmates --- they thought he was a salt of the earth, hard-working family guy who was just keeping his head down and being a good teammate.  It wasn't until the very end of the game, when Brian started breaking promises and treating his discarded alliance mates like garbage, that the mask slipped and the Thailanders realized they'd fallen for a Keyser Soze routine.  By then it was too late, because close vote aside, Brian wasn't going to lose to Clay.  It's telling that the people Brian directly stabbed in the back (Ted, Helen, Jan) all still voted for him to win the million just because they couldn't bring themselves to vote for the hated Clay, which Heidik knew and why he angled so hard to make sure Clay stayed until the end.

It's awfully hard to win this game if the jury actively dislikes you.  This might be a bigger factor than a jury respecting your gameplay, since while a jury member may vote for a winner out of begrudging respect, they don't generally vote for players they flat-out dislike.  Brian, however, took that decision out of their hands by making sure he was at the FTC with a player who was both disliked and not respected.  By the time of the Thailand final vote, he was both Kang & Kodos and Clay was the third party candidate.

It's still an impressive feat all these years later, and I'm not even sure Brian would necessarily be an easy out if he played again.  While he's the member of my top 10 who I'd bet on being the first eliminated in another Survivor game, the game has evolved to a point where it's generally a bit more mercenary, a bit more all about the money.  I could see him last the initial few votes because his tribemates figure he'd be a good goat to bring to the end, until Brian starts saving himself by winning a few immunities, makes some deals with the other tribe, and boom, Heidik is again looking like a threat.  Hell, maybe then his final jury speech is all about "learning lessons" and earning redemption from his initial season and he could actually get another win.  Brian's strategic game is underrated, given how he had to maneuver his web of alliances with Helen, Clay, Jan and Ted once they all got down to the final five.  Remember, this guy was a used car salesman.  If one selling point doesn't work, I can believe that Heidik can find figure out another.

So yeah, Brian Heidik, still a great Survivor player.  He's also the one guy for whom the "how would they do in another game?" argument might not apply given that since CBS and Probst hate his guts, there's a snowball's chance in hell he'd actually get to play again.

4. Denise Stapley (Philippines)
I've already gone in depth about Denise's win and why I feel it was so impressive, and ultimately I even ended up putting her ahead of Heidik since she managed to win despite a lot of obstacles thrown in her path.  A few more observations on Denise…

* it really is stunning how the Denise/Malcolm partnership mirrored Earl and Yau-Man teaming up, as the comparisons just kept leaping out at me as I was writing both her entry and Earl's entry.

* Philippines was a complicated season that didn't really follow an alliance vs. alliance pattern as much as it was a series of shifting partnerships.  After the merge it was basically Denise/Malcolm vs. Michael/Lisa vs. RC/Penner vs. Abi-Maria/Pete/Artis vs. Jeff/Carter, with the pairings teaming up with other groups to fit their purposes for that particular vote.  It was a very fun season strategy-wise and the eighth episode (when Jeff Kent is eliminated) features one of the all-time best Survivor tribal councils.  Kudos to Denise for not just winning but winning a particularly tricky season, particularly when she and Malcolm were seen early on as obvious targets.

* one of my favourite film anecdotes is Howard Hawks describing how he made so many good movies, saying that he simply set out to have a picture with "three good scenes and no bad scenes."  I feel like this sort of sums up Denise's game, as she was generally good at every aspect of Survivor (the social game, working hard at camp, being trustworthy until it was time to not be trustworthy, holding her own in challenges, etc.) and didn't have any weaknesses.  This last factor could very well be the most important, since we've seen countless cases of a player seemingly sailing towards a victory only to be undone by a fatal flaw.  Cirie and Cesternino weren't able to win challenges, Amanda was awful at jury speeches, Matt von Ertfelda creeped everybody out…the list goes on and on.  Denise didn't have any noticeable weak spots in her game to hold her back, so even though she was an underdog for almost the entire season, she wasn't adding to her problems.

* during Tom's entry, I noted how I find it more impressive in some ways if a player can survive Survivor without any challenge wins, and Denise is a good example of that.  I'd argue that Denise was actually in the worst possible position challenge-wise --- you was always competitive in challenges but never actually won immunity.  You want to be either a legit threat to win or a non-factor so you can fly under the radar; you definitely won't want to be in the middle, where you can legitimately be targeted as a challenge threat even if you haven't won anything. 

If Denise played again and survived the first couple of votes (avoiding both the 'get rid of the older woman' and the 'get rid of the big threat' mentalities), I have little doubt she'd go on another deep run and quite possibly win again.  If there actually is an all-winners gimmick for the 30th season and Denise is involved, I'll go on record as predicting she'll win it.

3. Parvati Shallow (Fans vs. Favourites)
As I wrote last time, "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."  Well, now I'm ranking her third-best, so you're still not crazy, friend!

Parvati takes a step back in the rankings for two simple reasons.  One, Kim hadn't appeared yet.  Secondly, Parvati's win did come in a veterans vs. newbies season, which is demonstrably not as impressive as winning on a level playing field of either all veterans or all new players.  Her win in S16 was in no small part due to those newbies, as Alexis and Natalie basically served as little more than Parvati fangirls after the merge.

In fairness, though, Parvati did almost pull off the hella-impressive feat of winning the all-veteran Heroes vs. Villains season and c'mon gang, Parvati is a GREAT Survivor player.  She's a physical threat, a mental threat, incredibly likeable and charming to be around and, despite the fact that the other players know how good she is, she's still able to maneuver her way through a game.  While Parvati doesn't have a Denise-esque lack of weaknesses, her strengths have been strong enough to produce a win, runner-up and sixth place in three Survivor appearances.

If I had to pick a weakness for Parvati, it might be that her preference to play an alliance version of Survivor caught up to her in S20.  She was forced into an alliance with Russell out of necessity when the two of them and Danielle were in the minority of the Villains tribe, but once momentum shifted in their favour post-merge, Parvati should've cut Russell at some point.  I can see why she ultimately didn't --- she obviously knew she'd destroy Russell in a final vote and she felt it better to stick with her original alliance when wading through a number of remaining Heroes players --- but in the end it cost her.  Her biggest mistake in S20 was not getting rid of Sandra at some point, since while Parvati clearly felt she'd beat Sandra at FTC, she should've realized that Sandra was the only remaining person that could've beaten her.  For all the worry that the Heroes were going to vote for one of their own, I don't see Parvati losing to Rupert (whose game is universally disrespected) or Colby (who was a mopey sad sack in S20).

You've heard the phrase "too big to fail," but Parvati's Survivor reputation at this point might be "too big to succeed."  As I mentioned, just getting to the end of S20 was a huge achievement given the number of canny veterans who had her targeted from the beginning, and she may have felt boxed into her Russell alliance since he was the only one who was more or less on her side.  If Parvati ever plays this game again with an all-returning player cast, I don't see how she's one of the first ones out since everyone will fear her too much.  If it's Parvati amidst a cast of half or mostly newbies, however, they'll all probably just agree on Day One to forfeit the game and award her the million on the spot.

2. Sandra Diaz-Twine (Pearl Islands, Heroes vs. Villains)
I'm about to make a few arguments here why Sandra is no longer my #1 Survivor winner overall, and I fully realize that all of these arguments can be rebutted with "she played the game twice and won twice."  I'm framing my argument by breaking down each of Sandra's two victories…

* in Pearl Islands, her alliance went into the merge in a five vs. five split with the other tribe (though it was more realistically a 4 vs. 4 with the two returning 'Outcast' players as possible swing votes).  Lillian flipped on her old tribe and thus got Andrew and Ryan eliminated, but then Jonny Fairplay and Burton flipped on the Christa/Rupert/Sandra alliance in order to oust Rupert.  So Sandra was essentially in scramble mode for the rest of the game, and would've been in trouble had Jon/Burton stuck with the Lillian/Darrah/Tijuana new alliance and not kept flipping back and forth to eliminate challenge threats.  Here's a case where Sandra's inarguable weakness in challenges probably saved her; players often make the mistake of targeting the physical threats over the social threats.  In the end, Lillian stepped up and won the final challenge, eliminated Fairplay and then Sandra easily won the final vote.

In all honesty, had this been Sandra's only appearance on Survivor, I'd probably have this win down in the early 20's or late teens of the list.  Her Pearl Island victory bears a strong resemblance to Danni's win in Guatemala, except Danni was able to help her own cause with a couple of immunity victories.  Sandra's win was also aided by what was clearly the most bullshit twist in Survivor history, which was the 'Outcasts' all having a chance to return to the game after their initial elimination.  At least with Redemption Island, Probst told the players it was happening in the first episode and how it worked.  With the Outcasts, they all just popped back up and inevitably a) turned on their old enemies, i.e. Lillian voting against Andrew and b) were total sitting ducks for a final tribal council vote.  The only way that Burton or Lill would've won a jury vote would've been if they'd been sitting at the end against each other, and even then, the jury might've instead given the money to Pete the Pelican.

* in Heroes vs. Villains, Sandra again found herself the victim of a broken alliance (thanks to Tyson's stupidity and Jerri/Coach flipping), yet it happened quite early in the game and she had plenty of time to recover.  She saved herself once by fooling Russell into souring on Coach, and played along with the Villains' alliance votes-wise while winning lots of social points with the future jury members by mocked the hated Russell at every turn.  You'd think veteran players would have more of a 'no hard feelings' attitude when casting jury votes but as we've seen in both HvV and the All-Star seasons, veteran players will definitely prefer a social game to a strategic one, which is why Sandra beat Parvati in the final vote.

It's hard to play the "if this was Sandra's only appearance…" logic with this season since it was specifically all-veterans and much of the strategy was informed by various players' past performances on the show.  It's also a win that doesn't really have a duplicate in Survivor history, as there hasn't been another case of a "back-of-the-alliance" member going on to win, though I guess maybe you could point to Denise's victory as a parallel of someone who could've gone home at almost any time even though they did well to keep themselves out of danger post-merge.  In any case, Sandra still navigated her way past 19 experienced players, and did so with a big target on her back as a former winner.  

So does a Denise-ish season plus a Danni season equal the best winner ever?  I ultimately can't say yes.  Sandra's game has a few big flaws (useless in challenges, has seen a couple of alliances crumble) yet obviously she's overcome them, and it's worth noting that her alliance breakdowns weren't her fault, and winning Survivor despite not being a challenge threat is impressive in itself.  Sandra was also fortunate to be up against such polarizing opponents as Fairplay, the Outcasts and Russell, and I'd put Parvati in this category as well given that Parvati's former-winner status allowed Sandra to escape some of that heat.  As well, the flaw in the 2-for-2 argument as an argument-ender is that over half of these winners have only played the game once; had everyone given or taken another crack at Survivor, it's possible we'd have more than one repeat champion.  If Fabio played again, used his exact same ass-backward non-strategy as last time and again somehow won, I wouldn't suddenly elevate him to the #1 spot, so I can't realistically say Sandra deserves #1 based on solely being 2-for-2.

Now that I've dropped Sandra from the top spot, let me now explain in detail why I love Sandra's game and why anyone who thinks she's an overrated or lucky winner is nuts.  From my original rankings…"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 they figure 'hey, it's 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 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."

This kind of ties into what I feel is Sandra's biggest strength, which is her flat-out likability.  I daresay she's one of the most popular players within the Survivor castmaste fraternity, which will always be a big factor in a jury vote.  It still boggles my mind that she was placed on the 'Villains' tribe in S20 since seriously, who didn't like Sandra?  If you flip Sandra and, say, Candice (whose presence in the Heroes tribe likewise made zero sense) at the start of the game, the entire complexion of S20 changes immeasurably.  Cirie and Sandra joining forces on the Heroes tribe?  Good god, Lemon!
How well-liked is Sandra?  Consider that she won S7 by openly putting herself up as a swing vote, which is usually death for a Survivor player when they try to play sides against the other to benefit themselves.  Anyone but Sandra wouldn't have been able to get away with it, but she turned her biggest weakness (she can't win challenges) into a strength by arguing "I can't win challenges and you can get rid of me anytime, so let's target the bigger threats instead."  Her "anyone but me" ethos is the very essence of Survivor play; it's as basic as Survivor strategy gets, yet it's all Sandra basically needs since as long as someone else is always going home and she makes it to the end, she'll win because she is so well-liked and so well-respected by her fellow castmates.

Sandra's purely social game is the kind that can't always be conveyed as well on TV, or isn't as overt as immunity idol trickery or challenge dominance.  This is why she still gets some disrespect as a twice-undeserving winner when, in a vacuum, I would love her chances of winning any Survivor game she enters.  If she comes back a third time, surely NOW her fellow players will realize she's dangerous and will vote her out immediately, yet if she were to last even a few rounds, look out.  But, Mrs. Two-For-Two is only #2 in these rankings, behind….

1. Kim Spradlin (One World)
I mentioned this anecdote in my write-up of Kim's victory, but it bears repeating since it's so extraordinary.  Sabrina was talking about Kim's game during a confessional, I believe in regards to Kim trying to keep Kat in line but eventually setting her up to get voted off.  Sabrina noted that Kim "had the magic ability to make everyone believe her" and could thus certainly fool Kat….and while Sabrina was certainly in another league of intelligence than Kat, Sabrina didn't seem to realize that she was under the same spell.  Of course, the writing might've been on the wall by that point.  Sabrina and Chelsea couldn't try the last-minute Earl/Denise move of voting out their Alpha alliance partner since Kim kept winning immunity challenges and only cemented her place on top of the One World season.

Some of the winners on this list won via dominance and others won via surviving a number of obstacles, yet Kim showed her quality by essentially doing both to a greater extent.  The women's tribe was outnumbered early, yet Kim lucked out thanks to some incredible stupidity on the part of the male tribe (forfeiting an immunity win to go to Tribal and eliminate Bill) and some pretty good luck when most of her alliance stayed together after the tribal swap.  After that, Kim was basically unstoppable --- not only did she win challenges and have a hidden idol in her pocket, she made things even easier on herself by keeping her core alliance together and ensuring that she could claim at FTC that Chelsea and Sabrina were essentially coattail-riders.

If you look at all the winners who essentially dominated their seasons, Kim has the edge on all of them in one way or another….

* took her only one try to win, unlike Rob, Tyson, Cochran, or Parvati

* she was clearly calling the shots in her core partnership with Chelsea and wasn't a winner who had sort of a tag team partner to success, unlike Earl (who had Yau-Man), Tom (who had Ian), Todd (who had Amanda), or JT (who had Stephen)

* didn't have an ultra-immunity idol, unlike Tony or Yul

* won a complicated season that involved hidden idols, gender-divided tribes and a blind tribal swap, unlike Richard who won the basic original version of the show.

* easily beat two strong and well-liked players at the final tribal council, unlike Sophie (who beat two goats, though good on Sophie for getting herself into an alliance of goats…even I may be still be underrating Sophie given that she and Kim are similar in many ways) and Brian (who came within a vote of losing to his goat…then wrote a note, put on his coat and floated down a moat on his boat).

When you put it all together, Kim is just simply the best.  She fought back from a tough early start and when she finally got an inch, she took a mile.  She is an overall outstanding Survivor winner and basically the only argument you can make against her being the GOAT is that unlike Sandra, she didn't win twice.  This being said, she obviously hasn't had another chance to win, so let's hope she's game for another crack at one (or two?) million bucks and this 30th season Champions League becomes a reality.  I want to see how my rankings are thoroughly dashed and made irrelevant by real life!  Remember, everyone is just one "letter to Russell" away from a ten-point drop!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Ranking Survivor's Winners (Vol. 2)

Click here to read part one!

16. James "JT" Thomas (Tocantins)
To think there was once a time when JT was considered one of the better players ever in the wake of his unanimous victory in the S18 final vote.  While several members of this list elevated through reputations through future appearances, nobody did more harm to their reputation than JT thanks to his howlingly-bad showing in the Heroes vs. Villains season.  Now, in fairness, he did purposely go out of his way to employ a different strategy in his second appearance with the logic that everyone knew how he played the game the first time around, so maybe you could argue that his Constanza-esque "do the opposite of your natural instincts" plan isn't a reflection of his actual ability….or, more likely, JT just crapped the bed.  While his flip-flopping of plans led to some good moves on paper (I can't fault someone for wanting to eliminate a major threat like Cirie as quickly as possible), it also wrecked any trust his tribe had in him.  Then you have the whole "letter to Russell" situation, which isn't only one of the funniest Survivor moments ever, it is a perfect example of a player overthinking things and burying themselves.

It's the 'thinking' part that was never really JT's strong suit.  In Tocantins, his alliance had Taj handling the social game and Stephen handling the strategy, so all JT had to do was win challenges and be his natural likeable self.  Perhaps even his S18 win was a bit overrated, as while JT/Taj/Stephen were in a minority following the merge, they were up against a majority alliance that was a) led by Coach and b) actively trying to alienate Erinn and Sierra, the two members on the bottom.  Hell, JT didn't even really seem under too much heat as a target given how much Coach loved his 'warrior spirit' and was halfway in an alliance with the guy himself.  With all this in mind it's likely I would've given JT a bump down any rankings even if he'd never returned for another appearance.  It's possible I'm still overrating him and he deserves to be down in the Ethan/Aras category, yet still, I won't totally throw him under the bus given that he genuinely did play a good game in Tocantins.

t14. Rob Mariano (Redemption Island)
Few people know the ins and outs of Survivor like Boston Rob, yet I can't in good conscience rank him in the upper tier of this list for a few reasons.  It took him four tries to win, that fourth try came both against a team of newbies AND it was a Redemption Island season.  Now, in fairness, it could be argued that a win in these circumstances was pretty impressive given the huge target on Rob's back during this game --- heck, this very season saw the opposing tribe throw a challenge to get rid of Russell Hantz because he was perceived as a threat.  That said, the veteran advantage and the Redemption Island twist probably saved Rob since…

* Rob was on the much younger tribe, which immediately took to him as a leader figure since he knew so much about building a shelter, getting food and all of the little outdoorsy things that are often overlooked since Survivor has deemphasized the actual "living in the wilderness" part of the show.  To his credit, Rob also quickly targeted Francesca and Kristina in part because they were older and could more easily see through his bullcrap.  Also, Ometepe's early ineptitude also saved Rob since as they kept losing challenges, the more they needed him as a physical threat to try and save themselves.  Had Ometepe been more adept, they could've easily done what their opponents did and thrown a challenge just to eliminate the biggest threat.

* Redemption Island goes a long way in preserving post-merge alliances since everyone naturally bands together against the looming threat of whomever wins their way back into the game at such a late stage.  I have no doubt that had Andrea, Ozzy or Tina made the final tribal council, they all would've handily won a jury vote, and since the others all knew this, it made it easier for them to stick together.  This is another reason why the RI twist is so dumb --- not only does it give the RI winner a big advantage, it forces everyone else still in the proper game to vote perhaps a bit unnaturally because of who might eventually be coming back.

The biggest compliment I can give Boston Rob is that he's been a big factor in four different iterations of Survivor --- a 'normal' classic season, two All-Star seasons (one in the hidden idol era) and one vet vs. newbies season that also had Redemption Island.  It takes a good player to make an impact in all these versions of the game, so kudos to Rob for that.  Where Rob comes up a bit short, however, is that he can't help but draw a lot of attention to himself with his gameplay.  He goes big (a first and a second) or goes home (two non-jury finishes).

t14. John Cochran (Caramoan)
I basically said all I have to say about Cochran's win in a previous post, and while his win was pretty dominant, I can't rate it all that highly.  Not only did he win a veterans vs. newbies season, S26 featured an overall weak-ass crop of veterans.  Of the returning players Cochran had to beat, Andrea and Malcolm were literally the only real threats.  Who was the next best in that bunch?  Dawn, who was one step away from a nervous breakdown?  Brenda and Erik, who didn't do much of anything?  Nutty Phillip?  This wasn't exactly a murderer's row that Cochran had to overcome.  I'm not saying Cochran isn't deserving of his "Survivor savant/uber-fan" reputation, but between his unimpressive first appearance and his win over a very lacklustre cast, he can't be any higher than this.

You'll notice the tie between John and Rob here, and it's because I really couldn't quite figure out who is a better player between the two.  In my head I'm able to establish "so-and-so is a better Survivor winner than so-and-so because of…" when writing one player over the previous one in this list, yet I really genuinely couldn't come to a decision between these two.  It might tickle a superfan like Cochran that I consider him the equal of Boston Rob, though he probably would've imagined the tie might come a lot higher in a list of this nature.

13. Yul Kwon (Cook Islands)
I feel like I can just cut-and-paste the Yul entry from the previous ranking, with particular emphasis on the fact that the "special" kind of idol that can be used post-vote is ridiculous, and jeers to Tyler Perry for lobbying to get it back into the game.  Also, while I mention this in my past entry, I can't stress enough how decent a guy Yul seems, both when on Survivor and in real life.  I even feel bad for ranking him this low.  Yul, we're still cool after this, right, pal?

"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."

12. Chris Daugherty (Vanuatu)
It's a drop from my previous ranking, as I had Chris rated all the way up at #6.  If the average Survivor fan is biased towards Yul because he's such a great guy, I admittedly was biased by Chris because of how hilariously entertaining I found his victory.  My friend Mario may be to blame; he is an unabashed Chris fan and several parts of his immortal 115 Funniest Things To Ever Happen On Survivor site (a must-read for any Survivor fan) are devoted to extolling Chris' win, so I might've bought into the hype a little bit.

So let's set the record straight.  Chris had an incredible moment in the very first episode, when he almost single-handedly blew a balance beam challenge that lost his tribe immunity, and yet he received virtually no vote consideration despite the fact that he seemed like the clear physical weak link on his tribe.  That was our first sign that this guy was a gamer.  Then, to be frank, Chris was a non-factor for much of the season --- his tribe lost challenges, he and his fellow men went into the merge at a numbers disadvantage and he was the last man standing against the six-woman alliance.  Fortunately for him, Twila and Scout were willing to flip, and then Chris was able to convince Eliza to join with them to take out Leann and overturn the entire game.  So that's two big moves for Chris.

And it was all gravy from there, as Chris then manipulated both Eliza and Julie out of the game, won the F3 challenge and then delivered a "bullshit up to his ears" FTC performance that got Julie and Eliza back on his side and led him to a 5-2 win over Twila.  As hilarious as his jury performance was, it might've been unnecessary in hindsight.  Sarge and Chad were voting for him no matter what and Scout was voting against him no matter what, plus Leann seemed to respect his game play, so that gave him a 3-1 edge and thus needed only one of the remaining three women (all of whom had bad blood with Twila) to turn his way.  Chris laid it on awfully thick and it helped that Twila was so bluntly and anti-charming with the jury, yet still, I think Chris could've won this thing with only a B+ performance rather than the A++ he delivered.

I hate to drop Chris down a few pegs since, as I noted in the original ranking, Chris is the male winner I'd think would easily perform the best in a second appearance.  He's kind of forgotten these days both because he's never returned to show and because he's never done the media/fan circuit rounds since he's kind of a hermit in real life, but Chris' social adaptability and master bullshittery is hard to top in a game like Survivor.  Hell, Chris is such a smooth talker that he might be able to convince another cast that he never played the game before at all, and he's just some impressionable newbie.  

11. Tony Vlachos (Cagayan)

I was probably a bit too harsh on Tony in my original citation of him as a mid-tier winner, since the more I thought about it, he really did dominate his season.  I might've been simply put off by the brashness of Tony's game and the presence of the super-idol to recognize that he actually played a damn-near flawless game that saw him get into trouble maybe once or twice the entire season.  I tip my hat to the anonymous commenter who made a strong case for Tony and a lot of good points in response to this post --- consider my mind changed!  Unlike Yul, Tony's continued life in the game wasn't solely due to that super-idol, and in many ways, the Tyler Perry idol didn't really have much of an impact on Tony's win.

I will use Tony's brashness to dock him a bit in terms of this ranking, since his brashness would hurt him in any future appearance since he'd be an immediate target.  Also, in terms of the "would his game work in other Survivor environments" reasoning, Tony is hurt by the fact that a huge portion of his game is based around finding idols; if he had played in any of the first 12 seasons, he would've been screwed.  That said, there will never be another Survivor without a HII, so that's just a nitpick on my part.  From mid-tier to just outside the top 10, that's not a bad rise for ol' Tony V.

10. Richard Hatch (Borneo)
My original rankings placed Richard seventh, and here's that entire entry over again since I don't really have anything new to add…"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."

9. Earl Cole (Fiji)
Earl takes a slight drop from #5 in the old ranking since I may have placed too much emphasis on his rise from being a member of the "poor tribe" (one of the dumber gimmicks in Survivor history) to winner of the game.  While Earl and his fellow original tribemates were undeniably at a huge disadvantage early on, Earl himself was never really in any danger, and his fortunes changed greatly when the random swap sent him into the "rich tribe" camp.  From there, other than losing his alliance member Michelle in an even lamer gimmick (the never-repeated 'immediately go to tribal council' post-merge team challenge that saw Michelle lumped in with the Four Horsemen and thus doomed), Earl actually had a pretty clear path to the win.  Under normal circumstances Earl might've been targeted since he was a clear jury favourite, but he was saved since he was teamed up with an even bigger jury darling in Yau-Man.  Earl and Yau got everyone on board to pick off the Horsemen's threat, then he and Yau cannily used some hidden idols to get into the final four.

I hope I'm not giving the impression that Earl was in any way a sidekick to Yau, since it was pretty clearly an even partnership and not a coattail-riding scenario.  This said, if Yau-Man gets into the final three, he beats any combination of Earl, Cassandra and Dreamz, so Earl was clearly making a smart move by voting him out in the final four.  This may have been Yau's one misstep, as he had abandoned his plan of counting on Dreamz to hand over the immunity idol and instead approached Dreamz/Cassandra about voting against Earl at final four instead, I wonder if they would've gone for it.  Probably not since Yau still had to be perceived as the bigger threat, yet who knows, maybe Dreamz forces a tie vote to save face after going back on his promise to give Yau the idol.  Had Yau-Man gotten to the end and won S14, I would've ranked him higher than #8 due to the fact that he was a better challenge player than Earl (who never won any individual challenges).

For a season that had a pretty weak overall cast, Fiji still delivered two all-timer players.  Earl is the kind of smart, well-rounded player who I suspect would do quite well in any Survivor game; he's a natural leader who doesn't draw attention as a capital-B Boss of his tribe, he can adapt to terrible situations like a disadvantaged camp, and he can hold his own against both brainiacs like Yau-Man and total wild cards like Dreamz.

8. Sophie Clarke (South Pacific)
Another player whose win came after my original list, so she got some in-depth analysis.  In another world, a version of Survivor: South Pacific aired that gave Sophie's win the credit it deserved, as opposed to her being edited as an afterthought on the Coach, Ozzy, Cochran & Brandon Show.  While the show may not have given her much credit, I will --- she played a strong old-school alliance strategy to the end, seemed like easily the smartest person in her tribe, and was a very good performer in both physical and mental challenges.  Her only brush with elimination was when she broke down in tears at the final five when Ozzy was ripping her for being spoiled and pretentious, yet as I noted in my earlier post, this might've helped Sophie (by humanizing her) more than it actually hurt.

I actually considered putting Sophie a few notches higher were it not for the fact that the key move in her season (getting Cochran to flip on his old Savaii tribe) was seemingly engineered by Coach.  Sophie certainly played a part in helping make Cochran feel welcome within his new crew, yet Coach did the heavy lifting on that one, so give Coach credit for one A-plus move in his Survivor career. 

7. Tom Westman (Palau)
In my previous list, Tom was ranked behind Earl, Chris and Rich, yet while they all dropped in the ranks, Tom has moved up.  What the hell happened?  It's all due to a reconsideration of both how Tom did in the HvV season, and his initial performance in Palau.

Let's talk about HvV first, since Tom had a big target on his back from day one and (for almost the first time) he actually had to strategize since he couldn't rely on winning challenges.  Tom held his own, sticking around longer than he should've due to finding and playing a hidden immunity idol correctly, which shows that he adapted well to the modern Survivor game.  It was, all in all, a pretty good back-against-the-wall performance given that Tom seemed to be screwed from the get-go.

And then there's Palau, which allows me to discuss my stance on challenges.  If you can win challenges to keep yourself in the game, great….that's what they're there for.  If you can keep yourself in the game WITHOUT winning challenges, however, that's more impressive in my books, which could've coloured how I saw Tom's Palau win.  What's more impressive than winning a few challenges or winning no challenges, of course, is when you win SO MANY CHALLENGES you can virtually take a warp whistle through the game.  The fact that Tom (with a big assist from Ian, the Robin to his Batman) led his Koror tribe to a clean sheet in the tribal challenges was really one of the most astounding events in Survivor's history.  It might've literally changed the course of the season itself --- I half-believe the producers really just said, "Damn, we had a tribe swap planned but let's see if they can keep this going!"

Koror's dominance not only meant that they could almost entirely avoid votes (barring the one 'both teams go to tribal council' bone thrown the Ulong tribe's way) but it only entrenched Tom's position as the leader.  Without those extra days of being a united front, maybe Ian is more open to overthrowing his Survivor father figure, or maybe Caryn is willing to flip when Gregg proposes going against Tom at final six.

No discussion of Tom is complete without mentioning Ian, who would've also been a top-tier winner in this list had he been the one who'd outlasted the other during that epic final immunity challenge.  It was Ian who came up with the plan to save Tom at F6 by forcing a tie and strong-arming Katie into voting their way to avoid the purple rock, yet Ian seemed to just mentally fall apart later in the wake of his temporary decision to turn on Tom.  You could say Tom was being a bully by continually prodding Ian about his lack of loyalty, yet in a Survivor context, it was a great way to undermine a major threat.  Had it come down to Tom and Ian in the final, Tom would've won easily since Ian had come undone in the final days.

"Outwit" is only one third of Survivor's motto, so while I (and I think most fans of the show) appreciate a great strategic battle of wits, there's something to be said for someone who wins by just outplaying and outlasting you.  More than any other winner, Tom defined these other two elements to a dominant win.

6. Tina Wesson (Australia)
This was a fascinating case for my rankings, as I dropped Tina from #4 in my original post to #7 after a thoroughly interesting return performance from her in the Blood vs. Water season.  This was one of my beloved cases of a "classic Survivor" player being thrown into the modern game, with all the bells and whistles of not just the hidden idols and Redemption Island, but the even bigger twist of playing alongside family members.  With the usual caveats that RI is silly and a vets vs. newbies hugely favours the veterans, I came away with two major impressions of Tina in S27…

* telling Monica she was the fifth wheel in their alliance was a boneheaded move, and a shockingly poor play by someone as normally adept in the social game as Tina.  I think the tables had largely turned against the Tina/Katie/Vytas/Aras grouping by this point anyway, but man, alienating Monica like that just clinched it.

* even after losing the vote, man, Tina was a tough out.  She stuck around on RI for several rounds and eventually won her way back into the game; when an older lady (actually TWO older ladies, counting Laura Morett) can beat several young bucks like Hayden, Caleb and the Baskauskas brothers in challenge after challenge, that's admittedly impressive, my feelings about Redemption Island aside.

So that's one positive and one negative, though do they cancel each other out?  I'd argue pretty much, given that the alliance against the Wesson/Bauskauskas grouping was already happening with or without Tina's error with Monica.  Tina's gameplan is the Survivor staple of getting into a good alliance, riding it to the end, and then relying on a strong social game to help you advance into a final vote.  Let's not forget that Australia wasn't even a classic "Pagonging," as the Tina/Colby/Keith power trio actually switched their alliance partners after the merge, using Rodger and Elisabeth to oust Jerri and eventually Amber along the way.

Given how Colby played such a strong game himself in S2, the fact that Tina straight-up beat him in a final vote earn her an easy high place on this list.  Earl, for instance, is a winner who overcame his popular alliance partner by eliminating him at F4 rather than face him in a final vote; Tina didn't have that option since Colby kept winning immunity, so she just turned into the skid and beat him anyway.  Her beating Colby drew enough controversy in the Survivor fanbase that I think she's still somewhat underrated --- her win was in no way 'unfair,' it was just damn impressive.  Also, I think time has proven that Tina is a better Survivor player than Colby overall, given that without his physical prowess in S20, Colby was dead weight.

click the link for the third and final part of the rankings!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Ranking Survivor's Winners (Vol. 1)

(I've forgotten which website I found this image on, but kudos to them for the cool pic!)

Here we are, three years later, the long-awaited update to the original ranking of Survivor's winners.  We've had six more seasons since my last post and added some tremendous players to this list, so it was high time for a fresh re-evaluation of what it truly takes to succeed in this game, though I'll be heavily cribbing from my old comments for some of the players.  I'll get a few major caveats out of the way first…

* like last time, I'll be examining a player's skillset (how they won their season) and if their Neeson-esque particular set of skills is good enough to work again if they played Survivor another time.  Admittedly, this is subjective since for many of these winners, we KNOW how they'd play the game a second time since many of them have made return appearances.  For the winners who haven't returned, I'm not necessarily going to dock them for a seemingly unrepeatable strategy since I have only my opinion to back that up; you wouldn't have thought Sandra's strategy would've work twice, yet it did.  That said, if a player made several flaws in their game and still won, I'm going to hold it against them as possible proof they wouldn't do well in another game.

* I've written quite a bit about the huge advantage that veteran players have over new players, especially in seasons when it's an even split between returnees and newbies.  There's certainly a different set of challenges present in a "fans vs. favourites" scenario and those wins aren't to be ignored, yet it has been proven time and time again that returning players have a big edge.  All three of the vets vs. newbies seasons have ended with a veteran winning and the newbies being little more than pawns to be maneuvered around by the experienced players.  Even in the four seasons (S11, S22, S23, S25) when it's been only two or three returning players and an otherwise all-new cast, at least one veteran has always made the final two.  As such, I can't help but somewhat downgrade returning players who have won against newbies, no matter how impressive their victories were.

* On the flip side, I will add some extra credit to returning players who win "All-Star" seasons of all veteran players….sort of.  You'll see what I mean in a bit.

* As I'll explain in the Tyson and Boston Rob entries, wins in Redemption Island seasons are downgraded due to the utter stupidity of the twist.

* And finally, this is all wholly subjective!  It can't help be as subjective as hell given that a) I'm basing these rankings off a heavily-edited TV show, b) the rules and structure of Survivor have changed wildly over the last 14 years, and c) luck is a massive element in every Survivor winner's victory.  None of these winners are capital-F Flukes since at the end of the day, they still won.  That being said, there are a thousand points in any game where a winner's plan could've gone south, be it from getting a bad draw during a tribal swap to being bailed out by an opponent making a dumb move.  If you could somehow do a computer simulation of a Survivor season and play it over 100 times, for all we know, the winning player might've lost badly those other 99 times, and the real-life edition was the only instance that everything broke just right.

So in short, take these rankings with a big grain of salt and enjoy hearing some guy rant about a game show.  If the rumours about Survivor 30 being an "all-winners" edition (maybe for $2 million), wild horses couldn't drag me away from watching that season.

27. Jud "Fabio" Birza (Nicaragua)
I ranked ol' Fabio 20th out of 21 players in my previous rankings, and since I had a minor change of heart about my previous last choice, congratulations to Mr. Birza for being the new bottom-dweller!  It was interesting to hear Fabio actually cited on the most recent season, as Kass referenced him in describing how a Woo victory would award a dumb player who basically just watched the game happen around him, meaning that even the modern Survivor players (and relatively clueless ones like Kass) regard Jud's win as a joke.  It doesn't help that Jud's season was also so terrible, and while my low ranking the first time around may have written in the heat of the moment regarding how brutal S21 was, time hasn't changed my opinions.  His victory was in large part due to two near-impossible to replicate factors --- two players quitting at final nine, and the behind-the-scenes controversy of Sash allegedly trying to buy off Jane's vote with real-life money and becoming a pariah to both the cast and the production team alike.  I just can't give Birza's win much credit, and if he were to appear on Survivor again, I could see him getting relatively far as dead weight in an alliance but at no point would be a threat to win again. 

From my previous rankings…."[Fabio] 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….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.)"

26. Jenna Morasca (Amazon)
I've always enjoyed my friend Mario's summation of the Amazon season as a retelling of Frankenstein.  Rob Cesternino is the mad scientist, Matt von Ertfelda is the monster who eventually learns from his creator to be self-aware and eventually overthrows him, leading to Matt throwing (in the minds of many viewers) the final immunity challenge in order to get Rob eliminated.  I guess this makes Jenna the Captain Walton of the scenario, as the one who sort of is just there watching all this and eventually having the last word.  She wasn't much of a player in her winning season and sadly enough she didn't really get the chance to re-establish her credentials in S8 due to her mother's illness.  Yet for all those who consider her a weak winner, just imagine how close we came to having a Matt/Butch final two in that Amazon season.  Would the jury reward Matt's immunity runs, or would their legitimate fear of him still lead to enough anti-Matt votes to hand Butch the title of sole Survivor, and also the Worst Winner Ever title for all eternity? 

From my last rankings, where I put Jenna 19th of 21.…"I feel obligated to point out [Jenna's] 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." 

25. Aras Baskauskas (Exile Island)
Down from 17th in my original ranks, I wrote the first time around that Aras's win "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."

Well, now we know.  Aras was certainly not an early exit in S27, though he was immediately targeted once he hit the merge because of the pre-game alliance between himself, his brother, Tina and her daughter…oh oops, I guess that shouldn't have been public knowledge.  No, he was just eliminated because he was a big threat, that's it.  *wink*  In all seriousness, a cannier player would've seen the target on his back and done more to avoid it than Aras did in Blood vs. Water, though I'm not sure it ever crossed his mind.  Not a fan of Aras' style of game, don't think much of him compared to the other winners.   

24. Ethan Zohn (Africa)
I had Ethan one slot ahead of Aras before so here we go again.  The two are pretty similar players, as while Ethan has more self-awareness, I think he shares a similar lack of ability to improvise.  In my original comments, I wrote that "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."  In a way, Ethan is perfect cannon fodder to have in your alliance, since he'll be perceived as a threat due to his athletic ability (though he almost always chokes in challenges) and possibly be targeted before you are. 

23. Amber Brkich-Mariano (All-Stars)
Big drop for Amber here, going from 13th in the previous rankings all the way down to 24th.  Last time around, I think I was so gung-ho around defending "the Amber strategy" (aligning yourself with a dominant personality and then taking advantage when they piss everyone off) as a legitimate way to play and win Survivor without actually stopping to evaluate what Amber brings to the table besides that strategy.  I noted how Ethan's strength/weakness is that he's a good solider in an alliance, and Amber shares that same trait, except she'll be the last one of your alliance left in a Pagonging situation (like in Australia) since the other alliance won't bother targeting her. 

On the one hand, you say "hmm, so a near-total lack of agency, why is she even 23rd and not dead last?"  Don't underestimate how important it can be to *not* make a move in Survivor, at times.  Amber's strategy was at least a strategy, putting her ahead of Fabio in the sense that she knew what she was doing.  Living under the radar always at least keeps you around long enough to potentially let the advantage swing back in your favour, whereas an Ethan or an Aras will always draw more attention.  Jenna saw her plans basically fall apart around her yet still won in spite of herself, while at least Amber's plan worked from day one.

I'm always interested in seeing the "old" Survivor players return to the modern game to see how they adapt to the modern rules and whatnot, yet I'll state again that I'd be particularly interested in seeing what Amber can do in another outing.  Modern players are cannier about breaking up alliances before they even develop, so perhaps Amber would be a target early on.  Conversely, she gets so little respect for her past victory that maybe she'd fly under the radar again and make another long run.  Amber's game basically guarantees that she'll either be one of the first ones out or she'll reach the jury at the very least, and since she's yet to be an early boot, you have to conclude that she knows what she's doing.  She isn't a coattail-rider, but her lack of any signature big maneuvers doesn't help her in a ranking like this.

I wrote earlier about how a win in an all-returnees season could help a player's ranking, which is another reason I'm not putting Amber at the back of the pack.  Like her strategy or not, she managed to beat 17 other "all stars" despite being arguably the least-regarded player of anyone at the start of the game.  A win is a win.  That said, I don't hold her All-Star win in as high regard as I do Sandra's in Heroes vs. Villains due to the alleged Rob/Tom/Lex pre-game pact that ended up somewhat tainting the actual game, and surely led to Amber beating Rob in the final vote.  Frankly, I may be overreacting to this --- if you're going to have an All-Star season, then the possibility of pre-arranged alliances is another twist to the proceedings, really.  Rob screwing over Tom and Lex could just be considered an elevated form of a normal Survivor backstabbing, but it generated such bad blood that I don't blame those who claim that Amber didn't her win her season as much as Rob lost.  (Well, "lost" in the sense that he met the love of his life and mother of his four children.  I somehow doubt Rob sweats the final voting result all that much.)

22. Bob Crowley (Gabon)
My previous comments basically sum everything up about Bob, and it's fitting that probably the most unlikely winner came from possibly the most peculiar season.  When I wrote that thing about a season's result only happening once in 100 simulations on a computer, Bob's victory was fresh in my mind.  His advanced age gives him extra credit in my book on the degree-of-difficult scale.    

"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."

21. Vecepia Towery (Marquesas)
The most under-the-radar of the under-the-radar Survivor winners, benefitting from both the first major alliance overthrow in Survivor's history and possibly from a screw-up in the game's rules given the infamous purple rock scenario.  (Remember, Vee had immunity during that vote so she wouldn't have drawn the rock anyway, but had Neleh or Kathy been eliminated at that point in a fire-making tiebreaker, the game could've played out quite differently.)  Vecepia won a big immunity challenge to save herself at F4 and then was pretty canny in maneuvering her way into the final tribal council, not to mention the fact that she was savvy enough to avoid Boston Rob's original cull of any potential threats on the Maraamu tribe. 

This all being said, this is a great example of how a winner's reputation can be elevated by only playing the game once.  I'm putting Vee ahead of Amber, Ethan and Aras since they revealed game-playing flaws in their non-winning appearances.  With Vecepia, however, I only have her largely anonymous Marquesas season to go on, so she gets the benefit of the doubt.  I'd love to see her on Survivor again just so I could get more of a handle on her game and see how good she actually is.   

20. Danni Boatwright (Guatemala)
Last time I wrote that Danni was "like Vecepia in that I still don't feel like I really got a good sense of her victory…like Vee, Danni was largely cast aside by the editors in favour of bigger personalities."  This kind of obscures the fact that Danni's comeback win was pretty remarkable, as while she took advantage of some true self-cannibalizing idiocy from the post-swap Nakum crew, she also had to win a pair of key challenges to keep herself in the game.  Even in winning those challenges, she still managed to appear unthreatening enough that the Nakum brain trust (so just Rafe, plus Stephenie's dense contributions) still felt the need to vote out its own alliance rather than take the obvious move of cutting Danni loose.  I almost feel like Rafe, a good player who really overthought things, took a bit of a Russell-to-Natalie view of Danni, believing "oh, she's not a big threat, I'll take care of her later" until it was too late.  Sadly for Rafe, he failed to heed the lesson of Homer waiting to see Mr. T at the mall and it ended up costing him dearly.

C'mon Survivor producers, make that all-winners season happen and put Vee and Danni on the same tribe.  They'll join forces, run roughshod over everyone and you'll finally be forced to give them some damn camera time.

19. Todd Herzog (China)
Todd ranked dead-last in my previous rankings, so look at him now!  What a success story!  I docked Todd last time for three major reasons --- the China cast was pretty weak, he almost made a few stupidly impulsive decisions that could've/would've ruined him had Amanda not bailed him out, and he only won the final vote thanks to one of Amanda's legendarily terrible jury speeches.

Todd's rise was due to the fact that I've reconsidered my position on the China cast, which doesn't look nearly as bad, frankly, when compared to a few of the groups of morons that showed up in subsequent seasons.  Also, I'm not sure why I considered Todd's ability to play to a jury as a flaw when really, that's about the most important skill you can have in Survivor.  Sure, we the audience knew that Todd almost torpedoed his own game on several occasions but the jury didn't know this and Amanda sure wasn't going to get her foot out of her mouth long enough to bring it up.  Todd might buy into his "student of the game" persona a bit too much, yet he's a smart enough guy that I could see him learning from his mistakes and really stepping things up if he ever returned to Survivor.  He might not need to go back to the show, however, since this much of a bump in my winners' rankings is undoubtedly reward enough.

18. Tyson Apostal (Blood vs. Water)
Tyson's victory received its own full post only a few months ago, so rather than rehash everything, I'll just send you towards the link.  To fill space, I'll get into why I hate Redemption Island.

Of all the alterations that Survivor has made to the format over the years, RI is the only one that stands completely antithetical to the original concept of the show.  It's "the tribe has spoken," not "the tribe has spoken but you're still in the game."  You could argue that hidden immunity idols bring a similar cheat-code element to Survivor, yet at least with the HII, that takes a legitimate skill.  That's something YOU are doing to help yourself.  It's not taking a backdoor into some kind of Survivor limbo where all you have to do is win challenges and get to bypass the social element entirely (i.e. Ozzy's strategy in S23).  As much as Jeff Probst would hate to admit this, he's hosting a game that is ALL ABOUT the social element.  This isn't the Real World/Road Rules Challenge, it's Survivor.

Even the name is nonsense.  There isn't supposed to be "redemption" in Survivor.  The harsh beauty of this game was that you got one shot at the million bucks, and if you could sustain yourself through immunity wins or hidden idols, then more power to you…but once you're finally gone, you're gone.  CBS and Probst may hate it when one of their favourites gets booted early, but that's how the game goes.

If a player is ever eliminated via Redemption Island, wins their way back into the proper game and then wins the final vote, that player is automatically the Worst Winner Ever.  Period.  Fabio will be off the hook.  I can't respect the game of someone who won despite ACTUALLY BEING VOTED OUT OF THE GAME. 

17. Natalie White (Samoa)
Oh boy, I get to make fun of Russell Hantz again!  I've used this analogy before, but Russell is like a golfer who can blast 300-yard drives time after time, yet can't putt whatsoever.  Such a golfer is a big help in a best-ball scenario when partnered with someone with a good game around the greens (i.e. Natalie), but is a lot less useful playing as an individual.  As the saying goes in golf, you drive for show and putt for dough.  Russell's total inability to play the finesse game will make him lose every single time, not to mention the fact that he had a basic misunderstanding of what makes a good Survivor player --- if he was a golfer, he'd claim that he should win the Masters on having the longest drives alone, forgetting about the whole "lowest score" thing.

Anyway, let's get to Natalie, and it's kind of a shame that any discussion of her victory requires some obligatory mention of Russell.  As I noted in my previous post, Natalie's win was much more than just an "Amber Strategy" type of win given that she and her alliance came back from an 8-4 deficit at the merge to all reach the final five.  Furthermore, she made arguably the key move of the game before that first pre-merge vote when she convinced the ex-Galu women to all turn on Erik and get him out of the game.  True, the Galu crew (so many rhymes!) were over-confident and assumed they still had a big 7-4 edge, but this ended up being all it took for Foa Foa to really turn the tide thanks to Russell's idols and Shambo swapping sides.  Natalie's more measured arguments worked a lot better than Russell's I HAVE AN IDOL, YOU'D BETTER TEAM UP WITH ME argument and were it not for her, Jaison goes out in 12th place and the hole is too big for Natalie, Russell and Mick to climb out.

Natalie is another player who I'd love to see play again because I suspect she'd again go on a deep run.  That's the big difference between a good social player and a good challenge/idols player in Survivor --- those reliant on challenges and idols are screwed when they finally run out, while a good social player can always give themselves options even in the more dire situations.

Click the link to part two!

Sunday, August 03, 2014


So clearly I have some opinions about this possible all-female version of Ghostbusters, tentatively directed by Paul Feig.  The first rule is that Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts are required by law to have cameos in this movie....dunno how close this reboot will stick to the original's plotline, but Weaver as the mayor of New York and Potts as the librarian ghost would work.  No, wait, forget it, just keep Potts as Janine.  I want to live in a world where a middle-aged Janine Melnitz is still answering phones for paranormal exterminators after three decades.

As far as the cast goes, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Aisha Tyler, Rose Byrne, DONE.  Print it.  Just saved you a lot of time, Hollywood casting people.

(Or wait, maybe…Kate McKinnon, Emma Stone, Jessica Williams, Eliza Coupe?  That would be pretty terrific.)

(Hmm, hang on, Lake Bell, Anna Kendrick, Merritt Wever, Judy Greer?  Oh geez, that'd also be a great cast.)

(Wait, what about Lizzy Caplan, Danielle Brooks, Rashida Jones, Parker Posey?  Good god!)

(Or Greta Gerwig, Elisha Cuthbert, Amy Sedaris and Michaela Watkins??  How much money would I pay to see Amy Sedaris as a crazy cat-lady type of Ghostbuster?!  The answer is ALL THE MONEY.)

The possibilities are endless!  I realize that the odds are very high on Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy being involved in this project, and while I like those two in the right roles, let's branch out, people.  If those two absolutely have to be involved, let's use Wiig as the normal, suit-wearing version of Gozer and McCarthy as the mo-cap model for Slimer.