My last few Survivor pieces have been full of complaints about the show itself, so it’s with great pleasure (and no small bit of surprise) that I can now rave about the best season in ages. David vs. Goliath almost seemed like a response to mounting fan criticism,* as it more or less entirely reversed some of the show’s more annoying recent trends. The bulk of the focus was on the players themselves rather than the actual game, and so when we did get into the gameplay-heavier aspects of idols, twists, and blindsides, the audience was actually invested in the outcome. Nick Wilson somewhat represented the best of both worlds, presented as a player who was firmly invested in the “modern” aspects of the game, while still winning due to the tried-and-true method of having a lot of good relationships on the jury and simply being more liked than the other two members of the final three.
* = from fans in general, not just little old me….though obviously my opinion (and stomach) carries ENORMOUS WEIGHT
How He Won: Uh, well, he had a lot of good relationships with the people on the jury and was simply more liked than the other two members of the final three. Is there an echo in here? I’ve heard Nick described as a combination between JT and Stephen from Survivor: Tocantins, which is a pretty solid comparison. He has both JT’s genial, aw-shucks attitude* and Stephen’s more focused game-playing tactics, wrapped up into a pretty strong package. Nick is one of a handful of winners who never had a single vote cast against him in the entire game, which is impressive on a couple of levels. Firstly, it seemed like his David tribe teammates recognized immediately that he was a threat, and it seemed like he might’ve been targeted as the very first elimination had tribal council not been canceled due to Pat’s injury. It was an early portent of Nick’s ability that he was able to recover from that somewhat shaky start and then basically escape trouble for much of the game, despite being tribe-swapped into a 3-2 minority position and then being outnumbered along with the rest of the Davids at the merge.
* = I can’t stress this enough, I’m only referring to the JT from Tocantins, not the JT of his later appearances when he revealed himself to be a) rather a douchebag and b) kind of hilariously bad at Survivor without Stephen there to help. Stephen’s own failures in his own return appearance (Survivor: Cambodia) really underlined the strength of that partnership, as both really needed the other to thrive in the game.
More than a few Survivor winners (Yul Kwon, Natalie White, Chris Daugherty, Denise Stapley, or even Nick’s half-doppelganger JT) have come back from an underdog position to succeed, and in a way, it’s something of an advantageous position. It not only gives you a clear “winner’s story” for the jury, but it also almost gives you carte blanche to do whatever you want, gameplay-wise, since you can excuse it all as “hey, my back was against the wall, I had to do whatever I could.” As long as you’re not a completely obnoxious ass about it (i.e. Russell Hantz), a jury will respect someone who has to grind their way to the end, and obviously it helps that Nick just generally seemed to get along with everyone. Looking at the DvG jury members, it didn’t seem like any of them had a real bone to pick with Nick, with the possible exception of Christian — the show didn’t do much to highlight Christian and Mike’s friendship, so while it could have just been as simple as Christian voting for Mike because he liked him more, maybe Christian was also a little miffed that Nick turned on him.
Skillset: Nick didn’t get a target on him until late in the game, but he was able to win the last three immunity challenges to punch his ticket to the final tribal council. I wouldn’t call Nick a great challenge competitor, as it helped that many of the biggest challenge threats had already been eliminated, but obviously he was good enough to get it done in the clutch.
I’ve mentioned Nick’s social game already, and it was highlighted by his amusing tactic of forming final-two alliances with multiple people, all with a cutesy name — “Mason/Dixon” with Christian, “The Thoroughbreds” with Elizabeth, “The Rock Stars” with Mike. The latter may have been the most important, as it helped Nick evade the vote when he and Lyrsa were down 3-2 to the Goliaths on the Jabeni tribe. Nick was helped by the fact that Angelina and Mike were more than ready to turn on Natalie (who was incredible, yet somehow maybe only the third best “character” of the season), yet getting Lyrsa eliminated was Nick’s most underrated trick of the game. Going into a merge, you’d think Angelina and Mike would’ve been more intent on eliminating the more obvious challenge threat in Nick, yet Mike trusted Nick as a potential ally if Mike himself found himself in the minority amidst the rest of the Goliaths, so Nick escaped danger yet again.
While it seemed like everyone recognized Nick as a threat, he was never anyone’s first choice to be voted out, which gave him some room to maneuver. Christian was Nick’s big shield in this regard, as everyone universally regarded him as the biggest jury threat since everyone loved the guy. Christian was an instant classic of a Survivor character, initially seeming like only a non-tryhard, non-jerky version of John Cochrane, yet evolving into just a nonstop source of comedy and a unanimous fan favourite.
(And even then, he still wasn’t the best character of the season, thanks to Angelina. Oh, Angelina. “Nonstop source of comedy” is an understatement. If Christian’s humour came out of his genuine nature, Angelina’s complete and total delusion about almost all aspects of her game was nearly Coach-esque in its depth. Mike, ever the screenwriter, perfectly described her as Survivor’s answer to Tracy Flick. There is a 100% chance that Angelina and Christian will be back on the show if they’re interested in a return appearance, and this will be one time when Angelina can actually easily win a negotiation. “Jeff, can I come back on the show? Jeff? Jeff?”)
Could He Do It Again?: Well, if he’s really like JT, Nick will crash and burn in humiliating fashion the second time around. I can see his tricks not working in a return visit, especially with his multiple final-twos. I’m not sure if Nick strikes me as the kind to ever want to come back, though he did seem like a pretty big fan of the show who might get a kick out of playing again. Frankly, the DvG players had to suffer through such godawful weather conditions this season that I don’t blame any of them for not wanting to go through another Survivor experience.
Maybe the bigger question here is if Survivor can do it again, in terms of giving the fans another great season. I’m really hoping that DvG is the start of a revival for the show, since the recipe for a quality Survivor season isn’t rocket science — just cast good people and then make the show about the players, not about the arbitrary nature of the game itself. If you focus on the players, then we’re excited when, say, the Davids have a bunch of idols and advantages and can save themselves, since we’re all rooting for the likeable underdog tribe. If you focus on the players, we know why each and every vote takes place, why relationships evolve or crumble as they do, and we get a sense of what all 20 people are like. (And even in this season, there were still a lot of fairly generic players, though the rising tide of Angelina, Christian, Natalie and even second-tier good “characters” like Gabby or the Mayor Of Slamtown raised all boats.). I won’t lie, the gimmick for “Era Of Extinction” and the choices of the four returning players don’t fill me with a lot of hope for the upcoming season, but after DvG, I’m now willing to give the series more leeway.
While I'm now suing Sony and Marvel for $100 billion for ripping off* my idea for a Spider-Verse movie, what I'm really most upset about is that they couldn't have found room to include the old 1960's cartoon Spidey. C'mon, Spider-Ham gets some play but 60's Spidey and his middle-aged man voice couldn't have been worked in there somewhere?
* = "Mark, didn't you just take your idea from the Spider-Verse storyline in the comics?" Be quiet, you!
Then again, based on this footage, it's doubtful that the 60's Spider-Man would have provided much backup to Miles, Spider-Ham, and the gang. He seemed to get knocked over by no less than a stiff breeze. (Or, as you see in the first few seconds, by a "vibrator," which, uh, I'm guessing meant something different in the 60's than it does now.) Also, I recall watching this cartoon as a kid and it might've actually been my first exposure to Spider-Man, but I remember NONE of this. When I got around to reading comics years later, the only thing I really remembered about Spidey's whole backstory from the cartoons was Aunt May, the Green Goblin, and the Daily Bugle crew. The Goblin is the only villain I remembered from the cartoons, so it was a surprise to see classic enemies like the Rhino, Dr. Octopus, Vulture, etc. pop up in this montage.
In fairness, about 15 years ago, I did a re-read of my old comics collection and Spidey really did take a lot of beatings. He almost inevitably always lost his first fight to a villain, or maybe the first two or three fights, before figuring out a way to finally defeat them. But even in the comics, Spider-Man was able to avoid, for instance, being knocked unconscious by swinging into a clock tower or....wait, being shot to death by Jameson?!
It's less than two months until the Academy Awards, and the show still doesn't have a host. That leaves two excellent options...
1. Hire me!
2. Just don't have a host, since a host is pointless.
The Academy was widely criticized a few months ago for its quickly-abandoned "most popular film" idea, though the other aspect of that story that went somewhat under-reported was how AMPAS wanted to ensure that the Oscar telecast was kept to a tight three hours, even if it meant relegating some of the non-headline categories to the technical awards ceremony a few days' earlier. Rather than screw over hard-working movie crafts people by robbing them of their rare moment of public acknowledgement, I propose that simply cutting the host entirely would be a much better time-saving tool.
What does an Oscar host really do, anyway? Opens the show with a 10-minute monologue of intermittent quality....pops up a few more times throughout the evening only to introduce people who are introducing other categories....has one or two designated "comedy bits" usually involving either audience interaction or some type of pre-taped piece. Examples include Jimmy Kimmel hauling a bunch of celebrities to the theatre across the street, or Ellen taking a selfie with a group of stars.
Now, I used quote marks around "comedy bits" since these segments were, at best, borderline amusing. (These bits also don't tend to age well, such as when Kevin Spacey shows up in your selfie.) If one had the option of snapping these routines out of existence Thanos-style, could anyone really be upset? Would anyone mind missing out on 10 minutes of awkward standup comedy from a nervous host in front of an often-hostile audience? Do we really need someone to present a presenter? The presence of the presenters also makes a host seem pretty redundant. There are already a few presenters that bring the comedy in their introductions, so that's all you really need to keep some laughs in the show.
The best Oscars opening in recent memory was Justin Timberlake kicking the show off with his nominated song from the Trolls movie, dancing through the audience and getting things off to an energetic start. It was more of a straightforward version of Billy Crystal's old routine of starting his Oscar hosting gigs with a musical routine about the Best Picture nominees, and it kind of underlined the many entertainment weapons the Academy has in its arsenal beyond just a stale monologue. If you just started the show every year with the Best Original Song nominee that was either a) the biggest hit, or b) performed by the biggest star, that immediately gets things off to a strong start.
For instance, who's tuning away if this year's ceremony begins with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper singing "Shallow"? Go from that into one of the Academy's beloved video packages about the magic of the cinema, then to some big legendary star (Hanks, Denzel, Meryl....someone on the same level as the star who gets to present Best Picture every year) for a general welcome to the Academy Awards. That big star then introduces the first presenter to hand out one of the supporting acting trophies, and away we go.
Losing the host cuts a good 20 minutes out of the telecast, plus it also allows the Academy to sidestep the increasingly difficult task of finding someone who wants to host the damn show. It's a no-lose scenario, plus you get to keep the random tech awards that film nerds like me delight in seeing.
Again, the alternative is just to hire me as host, which is also a great idea. My price tag is $5000, a personalized Oscar trophy, cameo in an Avengers movie, and permission to do the whole thing in cargo pants. Tuxedos are hella-uncomfortable.
Last winter, I was out with a friend on the streets of Toronto, waiting for a crosswalk. She happened to randomly mention the show Clone High, only for some stranger behind to immediately pipe up with "Say what? Have you practiced your finger snaps?" Then this stranger just walked away in the opposite direction with no follow-up.
Some might call this pretty thin criteria for determining a Person Of The Year award, but consider all the factors. Firstly, this guy happened to identify a relatively obscure show. Secondly, he proceeded to mention a funny reference from said show. Thirdly, and most importantly, he then just disappeared into the night. It would've been one thing if he'd stuck around to chuckle with us, but he didn't linger and threaten to ruin the moment. It was a George Costanza-esque instance of dropping a joke and leaving on a high note.
Legend. So legendary that if the government created a clone of this guy, it wouldn't be out of place.
Still a few weeks to go in December, but it'll be hard to top this one for the rest of 2018. I was working a Montreal Canadiens/Minnesota Wild game tonight, and kept my buddy Trev (technically a Habs fan, though very much a lapsed one) updated on the proceedings.
Me: 5-0 Wild at the second intermission. Trev: Yikes Me: 6-1 now. Hope! Trev: They are toast. Me: Uh, 7-1 now. Less hope. Trev: Well-burnt toast. Me: Minnesota Wild....er Penfield! Late contender for pun of the year! Trev: You have my vote.
I may also be in the running for Canuck Of The Year, really. Can't get much more Canadian than citing both a Heritage Minute and a hockey team all at once. That's a double-double....hey wait, that's THREE Canadian references! Hat trick!
So apparently Marvel's official name for Thanos' action was "The Decimation," of which I take some issue. Firstly, I'd really gotten used to just calling it "The Snap," or perhaps the Snapture, or the Snappening if you will. Secondly, the word 'decimate' technically means to reduce by 10 percent, which isn't accurate in this case since Thanos reduced everything by half.
Anyway, that's my technical quibble. Otherwise, it's just AHHHHHHHH, I WILL BE WATCHING THIS ON THE FIRST SCREENING ON OPENING NIGHT!
I usually save these until the Packers' season is actually completed, though let's be real, when you lose at home to the Arizona Cardinals, your season is over. Yet I come not to bury the 2018 Green Bay Packers but to praise them, since if this frustrating season was what it took to eradicate the Mike McCarthy plague once and for all, then it was worth it.
The Packers didn't bother delaying the inevitable, firing McCarthy within a few hours of today's loss. As happy as I am about this coaching change, the unfortunate part is that it's happening now and not five years ago. I think it was during that stretch when the 49ers owned Green Bay over two playoff games when I suddenly realized, "huh, it probably isn't a good sign that McCarthy is being completely outcoached by the sentient pants model known as Jim Harbaugh." Compound this through increasingly soul-crushing playoff losses to the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Falcons, and the writing was clearly on the wall about McCarthy's near and total inability to adapt to an opponent's game plan. Or, even worse, his inability to adapt to how an opponent adapted to the Packers' game plan, which usually wasn't hard to do since I think Green Bay has been using a 1990's high school team's playbook for the last decade.
In hindsight, it's a minor miracle that the Packers actually won a Super Bowl with this guy on the sidelines, and if you're going to say "but Mark, McCarthy is a championship-winning coach," my counter is, so was Barry Switzer. So was Brian Billick. So was Jon Gruden. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and just as those coaches were gifted with Jimmy Johnson's talent, an all-timer defense, or the Raiders being idiots, McCarthy was gifted with Aaron Rodgers, as good a quarterback as has ever played the game.
Poor Rodgers has literally not smiled all season, since after suffering a knee injury in the opening game, he has had to suffer through indignity after indignity as the Packers have kept blowing games. First it's the referees deciding that Clay Matthews is public enemy #1 every time he breathes on a quarterback, only to have the NFL reverse course after three weeks and promptly never call any roughing penalties again. Then it's Ty Montgomery costing the Packers a game with an idiotic attempt to return a kick, or Mason Crosby single-footedly blowing a game by missing about 48 different field goals. I will freely admit that this is far from the most talented Green Bay roster, but my god, the incompetence. Even with a middling roster, no coach is more adept at getting the absolute least from his team than McCarthy, and the result has been nothing but awful losses. Well, and that hilarious comeback over Chicago, since LOL Bears forever.
I cannot wait to see who the next Packers coach is, since there's nowhere to go but up. Imagine bringing in some innovative Sean McVay type to bring the team's offense into the 21st century and take full advantage of Rodgers' ability. Rodgers will think he's won the lottery. Green Bay already made some progress in shaking off the doldrums with last season's front office shakeup, and it needed to oust McCarthy to finally get things on track. (This SI story about the Packers' dysfunction is pretty damning.) I'm calling it right now, the 2019 Packers will be back in the playoffs and, with a few breaks, might even make a quick turn-around to being Super Bowl contenders, a la last year's Eagles.
Have fun coaching a junior varsity high school team and/or the Browns next season, McCarthy.