Before I jump into this week’s Baker’s Dozen, I’d like to thank you for all of the kind comments – and respectful debate – after last week’s column. I realize that I was asking you to question the very thing that brought you here – our shared love for Survivor – which, as many of you have pointed out, is incredibly unwise when one is attempting to cultivate an audience. If you’re back this week, I suppose no irreparable damage has been done – and we can get back to the business of analyzing the game.
That said, here are two heads up about this column: 1) I do need to address a few facets of how Probst and the other producers chose to handle Hantzageddon, but I promise not to get too preachy, and 2) this column is going to be brief by BD standards, because so much of the episode was Brandon-centric, and I’m tired of spending my time and energy thinking and writing about the Hantz clan.
Enough preamble… time to get baking. I’ll begin with a quick survey of my reaction to Brandon’s breakdown:Contradictory things can be true.[/caption]
1) In all likelihood, it was much worse than we saw.
Editing worked overtime to make Brandon appear sympathetic, but I’m not buying it. Watch the secret scenes – more than one of the other Favorites mentioned that they felt the need to hide the machete, and they weren’t kidding. Brandon was a danger to himself and others, and he should have been pulled from the game the moment he dumped out the rice and beans, if not before.
2) Brandon was playing to the cameras AND he was mentally unfit to play the game.
Contradictory things can be true: Everything Brandon did was calculated and premeditated. He was also not in control of his emotions and actions once he got going. Just because he wanted to be memorable doesn’t mean he wasn’t having a meltdown.
3) It was a quit.
Survivor castaways find a lot of different ways to quit – e.g. Shamar kept rubbing his eye rather than flushing it out with contact solution – and this was Brandon’s way to sabotage his own game. Author of his own fate? The protagonist of that story is a quitter.
4) Brandon’s meltdown shouldn’t have been edited as “just what the Fans needed.”
First, we get an extended look at the Fans suffering through a brutal rainstorm. Then, we see them speak about their suffering. “If only something good could happen,” they said, sounding utterly defeated. “We need to catch a break or it’s over for us.”
CUT TO: Brandon losing his composure.
Really, Probst? This is how you want to spin it? That a mental breakdown is manna from heaven for the other tribe?
5) The music used to accompany Brandon’s meltdown was ridiculous.
Might as well have piped in Darth Vader’s “Imperial March.”
6) Probst did NOT handle it well.
I realize I’m swimming against the tide here – heck, Probst won the coveted Fishy this week from Stephen (maybe he doesn’t know it all) – but if you ask me, Probst made a number of bad decisions:
** Once it was clear that Brandon was out of control and putting other players at risk, Probst needed to heed the rules of the game (as stipulated in player contracts) and immediately remove Brandon from the Favorites camp. He chose drama over safety, which is inexcusable. But sadly predictable.
** Probst decided to have a public Tribal Council for a number of self-serving reasons: it had never been done before (Probst loves unprecedented events), the presence of the Fans would exacerbate the situation and give Probst the camera-friendly reactions he wanted (Reynold’s giddy disbelief and Sherri’s calculating gaze first and foremost among them), and it allowed him to play up his “Caring and Compassionate” talk show persona. A visit to Tribal Council would have been perfunctory, and there’s nothing that Probst hates more than a TC without conflict.
** Probst let the whole thing go on WAY too long: once Corinne announced that the tribe was forfeiting the challenge and the reasons for this were explained, Probst needed to pull the plug. Instead, he kept asking questions until he instigated a verbal confrontation between Phillip and Brandon. Utterly unnecessary. Probst was trying to extract every last drop of drama from this mess – even invoking the name of Russell to get a rise out of Brandon – and he should be criticized for that decision, not praised for it.
I’m truly baffled that anyone who understands how an episode of Survivor is assembled can honestly believe that Probst did the right thing here. He knew exactly how this ostensibly impromptu Tribal Council was going to go – he and the rest of production had it planned out because a show like Survivor leaves little to chance – and he thought that this was the best way to handle an emotionally troubled young man’s departure from the game. Watching it all play out left me with one lasting impression: Probst is a man whose moral compass no longer points true north – he’s allowed the showbiz lodestone to send the needle askew. Yes, ratings are important, but they’re never an excuse to treat players – people! – poorly.
7) Three quick observations about Phillip:
** There is NOTHING about this guy that isn’t scripted. He had Stealth-R-Us and the BR rules all ready to go on day one, that much is obvious. But I’m willing to bet that before the season began, he thought through other things he would do for airtime, including, but hardly limited to, shouting out Roots references during challenges.
** In one of his conversations with Brandon, Phillip referenced a deal they had made for Brandon to finish higher than he did in South Pacific. Phillip realizes that Brandon came in 5th, right? And that he was promising Brandon 4th place or a spot in the Final 3? Yet another reason for Brandon to lose his cool: Phillip went from promising him a seat at the Final Tribal Council to talking about throwing a challenge to get him gone. That aside, my main reason for bringing this up: Phillip is clearly making endgame deals with people outside of his alliance. Playing this aggressively pre-merge is going to catch up with the Specialist, and there’s no way he makes it past 7th place.
** Another reason that this is true: Everything that he says and does is all about him. When he pulled Andrea aside to tell her that Brandon had to go, he said, “I want him gone… I’ll be upset if he isn’t voted out.” It’s impossible to be an effective strategist when one is narcissistic; ego impedes the empathy needed to think like one’s opponents. To lead a pre-merge alliance, one must abide by the mantra, “We not Me”; Phillip’s insistence on flipping that around and focusing on himself is going to cost him in the long run.
8) From an editing standpoint, it’s clear that Sherri is around for the long haul… and yet, we’re getting decidedly contradictory messages about her overall narrative. On the one hand, she is keeping her emotions in check as she wisely keeps her mouth shut about eliminating Laura despite continuing to lose challenges; she is also anticipating the merge with an eye towards the players with whom she wishes to work (she plans on bonding with Dawn and kissing up to Phillip). On the other hand, she’s constantly being outed as a challenge liability – and one of the more telling shots of the Gota camp had her standing outside a circle of Fans looking lost and forlorn. So what’s the theme of her story? Triumph over adversity? Or the folly of a Fan fighting against Favorites?
It’s time for me to debut a new feature to the Baker’s Dozen! As you know, every week I include Fortunes Rising/Falling and an elimination prediction, and occasionally I’ll do a Probst Probe. This newest addition will provide a place where I can indulge my analytical skepticism in a controlled environment and call into question what the Survivor producers want us to believe (for example, that Abi Maria’s individual immunity win last season was totally legit and not the end result of producer manipulation). And thus I give you:
The Tin Foil Hat Conspiracy Theory of the Week
As an added bonus, this week we have not one but TWO conspiracy theories for your entertainment pleasure!
9) TFHCTofW #1: In an effort to protect the Favorites, the producers refused to DQ Brandon.
The rationale: If Brandon had been a medevac, and Bikal had gone on to lose the immunity challenge, the Favorites would no longer enjoy a complete numbers advantage at the swap, and there’s no way Probst would risk his carefully laid plans like that. He wanted and needed both swapped tribes to be 4-3 in favor of the Favorites; pulling Brandon would have jeopardized Probst’s preferred outcome. Since he had the power to prevent it, he did precisely that, while getting himself a promotable episode in the process.
10) TFHCTofW #2: The producers are helping Reynold find idols.
Fact #1: Reynold found both of the idols after searching for fewer than 20 minutes each time.
Fact #2: The islands the show is using are, according to Mike Skupin, no bigger than a football field.
Fact #3: According to Corinne, there aren’t a lot of trees that make for good hiding spots (one with knot holes).
Fact #4: When Reynold found this latest idol, he said that the burlap sack containing the idol was STICKING OUT of the hole.
Fact #5: Reynold fits the profile of a Probst pet: handsome, athletic, articulate alpha male.
Let’s look at the logistics of an idol re-hide: someone from the Survivor crew needs to tuck the parcel into place when the players are either A) competing in a challenge on another beach, or B) when they’re not looking. According to the secret scenes, Reynold found the idol six hours after he played it at Tribal Council, so that rules out option A, so the intern/dream teamer/cameraman had to hide the idol at a time when ALL OF THEM ARE LOOKING FOR IT. How hard is it, then, to stash it in the tree knot when Reynold – or whomever is production’s pet – is on his way towards that spot? Certainly would explain why whomever hid the idol did such a half-assed job of it, wouldn’t it?
Let’s go a step further and play the role of Survivor producer for a moment: You think Reynold is great for the show, you know he’s in trouble because he’s in the minority alliance, and you know he’s going to be targeted after the merge. What would you be tempted to do? My plan: Give him an idol to get him to the tribe swap… make sure he gets on the dominant tribe after the Fans and Faves are mixed… and make sure he has an idol to help him avoid post-merge alpha male assassination.
I’m not saying this DID happen.
But it might have.
11) Fortunes rising: Erik. I was tempted to say Brenda here because she’s done a great job playing the wallflower – not something I would have expected from her coming into the game – but then I noticed her limping pretty heavily in the reward challenge. So the edge goes to the ice cream scooper who, despite having horrible taste in friends (he grew close to Brandon during their two weeks together), is now given a new lease on life with the tribe swap. That’s one of the great things about this game: it’s always darkest before the Dawn. Speaking of which, that’s who Erik will align with after the merge – they seem destined to forge an alliance based solely upon being super duper nice.
12) Fortunes falling: Matt, Mike, Eddie, and Julia. Any Fan who doesn’t have a significant story at this point is going to be cannon fodder for the Favorites over the next five or six weeks. Sure, a Favorite or two will fall by the wayside (more on that in a moment), but the Fans – other than Reynold and Sherri, who are being edited as narrative factors – are going to be sacrificed as the Favorites struggle for supremacy.
13) Prediction time: Guessing what will happen at a tribe swap is usually a total crap shoot. Alliances are shattered, new ones are formed out of necessity and opportunity, and power dynamics can be turned upside down. But that’s not what’s going to happen in a season with newbies versus vets.
So I’m gonna parlay. In fact, I’m gonna go for a trifecta. Three predictions for the price of one!
Leaving this week: Julia. Here’s why: Since the Favorites will have a numbers advantage in both tribes post-swap, a Fan is definitely going home. I don’t have the numerical breakdown, but if I had to guess, weaker women are usually the target after a tribe swap – thanks to the desperate desire to win challenges and avoid Tribal Council while the new social dynamics work themselves out – which means that Sherri and Julia are the obvious targets. Sherri has a story and Julia doesn’t, which means Julia, we barely knew ye.
Next week: Corinne. Blame this one on the edit. First, we see her participate in the location of an idol, but it belongs to Malcolm. Then, the producers tease us with a brewing Phillip/Corinne battle. Following the Law of Promos – “Anything Shown in a Commercial Will Not Happen” – that conflict won’t be resolved this week, but I’m guessing that story will reach its inevitable conclusion the following Wednesday.
At that point, we’ll be at 12 players – which is the natural spot for a merge (three finalists and nine jurors). As I’m sure most of you know, that’s when individual immunity threats get targeted, and there will be a lot to choose from: Malcolm, Erik, Reynold, and Eddie. In the scenario I’ve laid out here, the Favorites will have a 7-5 advantage at the merge, and they won’t want it to get any closer than that, so I think it’ll come down to the dynamic duo (remember, you can’t spell dynamic without ‘dim’), Reynold and Eddie. One of these two has an idol… which means Eddie will be victim number three.
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation, leave a comment below!