…And Justice For All (but not you)

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Justice is lost
Justice is raped
Justice is gone
Pulling your strings
Justice is done
Seeking no truth
Winning is all
Find it so grim, so true, so real

Metallica, …And Justice For All

Animal rights activists have found a new target:  James Hetfield, lead singer and the brains behind the legendary metal band Metallica. Continue reading

The Parable of Scott’s Tots

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Awkward moments of pregnant silence, social clumsiness, and outrageous blundering comments uttered by Michael Scott will forever be hailed as the most hilarious moments of early 21st century television.  Some say that the series became a little too outrageous around the sixth season, and they may be right, but the show has bits of insightful social commentary if you dig deep enough. Continue reading

Post-Survivor Observations

It has been nearly two months since I last wrote in my blog, but certainly not since I last wrote.  I participated in “NaNoWriMo” this year — short for “National Novel Writing Month” — in which the goal is to write a novel of 50,000 words in a span of 30 days.

Somehow, I managed to succeed.  I cranked out at least 2,000 words a night, which explains my sudden absence here.  And then, not satisfied with only 60,000 words, I continued writing with the goal of 80,000 words and eventually reached a little over 90,000.  I now have a full first draft of a novel and will begin editing it in the next few weeks.  The break from it should allow me to approach it objectively, something I can’t do at the moment because the novel is “my baby”, so to speak.

Anyway, I thought we’d kick the blog back into gear by starting with something a little less controversial than usual.  Survivor ended a few weeks ago and the winner was given a $1,000,000 check, setting the stage for a new season (which seems will have a few twists in the way the game is played).

This season wasn’t the most exciting; in fact, with Coach’s presence, it was probably the most “honorable” season I’ve seen.  No big backstabs, no huge blindsides, and no big fights throughout the entire season, which is unusual for Survivor.  You put 18 people on an island together with no rules and no food and there’s bound to be social problems — or so you would think.  But not this time.  The players were generally respectful which, while refreshing for reality TV, did not make for a very interesting season.

Also, it was the most religious season I’ve seen.  Never before have so many players been so open about their Christian faith (we had Matt Elrod in season 22’s Redemption Island, but he was less vocal about it), and it was certainly a huge motivating factor for all the players — even those who weren’t religious.

“Coach” Wade – The Mystic

  Coach was a huge surprise — and a huge hit — this season.  I was completely incorrect in my predictions of his performance.  He wasn’t strung along by anybody and ended up controlling practically the entire game, which was a stark contrast to his entrance (being snubbed by everybody on his team save Edna).  However, this worked against him in the end when the other players viewed his leadership as “manipulation” and “backstabbing”.  Granted, Coach did tell many different people he would take them to the final three and in the end had to renege on his promises — but that’s Survivor.  This isn’t a charity contest, and his hypocrisy was probably ousted so quickly only because he carried on about “honor” so much.

In the end, I feel Coach got a bad rap and should have won this season.  I found myself rooting for him because he was making an honest effort to do the right thing without acting like a loon which was marred his performance in past seasons.  He was much more reasonable, level-headed, and likable this season.  Not once did I hear him refer to himself as the “Dragonslayer”, and whenever anybody referred him as such, he blew it off.  It’s clear he genuinely wants to take a different track in life, and I was sorely disappointed when he didn’t take home the grand prize.

Brandon Hantz – The Closet Sociopath

Brandon was another surprise this season.  At the beginning, he came off as psychopathic and under control of his “inner demons”.  Even Coach alluded to his “demons”, saying that he was suffering from their influence.  Throughout the show, though, Brandon made it clear he just wanted to play an “honorable” game alongside Coach, and he was incredibly open about his faith.  However, as Sophie pointed out toward the end of the show, he truly believed any of his mistakes could be waved away with a simple apology.  God may work that way, but Survivors certainly don’t.

In the end, it was his clinging to his “honor” game that cost him the game.  He gave up his immunity necklace to Albert, a weasel of a player, and was thus voted off.  Surely, he knew that he was going to be voted off — the expression on his face revealed this fact — but he should at least be commended for his attempt to do the right thing.  I won’t quickly forget his defense of Cochran after he decided to join the Savaii tribe post-merge.

The reunion show was difficult for Brandon.  He described his family as not being so welcoming upon his return; in fact, according to him they said he was a disgrace.  This was punctuated by Russell Hantz’s comments during the live reunion that Brandon had “played the game all wrong”.  As if Russell knows anything — he’s lost what, twice now?

In the end, I was sympathetic to Brandon.  He clearly comes from a dysfunctional family and doesn’t quite have a grasp on what is “normal” yet.  I think he grew in a positive way from this experience.

Dawn Meehan – The Bipolar

Dawn did break away from her “craziness”, but she ended up being a minor player.  She was voted out 10th and became the third member of the jury, beating out Jim and Keith.  Once the tribes merged, she didn’t stand much of a chance; the former Upolu members successfully steamrolled the former Savaii members, including Ozzy.

Jim Rice – The Troublemaker

Jim was everything I predicted him to be:  charming, weaselly, selfish, and conniving.  All of these aspects, however, made him a good player.  He likely would have gone much further — but would not have won — had he not been forced to face the full weight of the Upolu tribe after the merge.

His attitude toward Cochran was despicable and certainly received his full come-uppance once the tribes merged.  In a satisfying twist, his downfall came at the hands of Cochran’s switch.

John Cochran – The Overconfident Kid

I was right about Cochran on all notes.  He started out soft-spoken, overconfident, and weak.  He remained rather weak throughout the first half of the game, his fate generally in the hands of others.

However, there was some fight in this kid.  He managed to stay alive for quite a while, and once the tribes merged he pulled off probably the biggest move of the season.  Afterward, he questioned if he had done the right thing; in my mind, it was unequivocally the best move he could have made.  He avoided the tiebreaker (which consisted of drawing rocks), entered into an alliance with Coach, and probably most importantly made it clear to his former tribe mates that they were not in control of his fate.

Cochran was probably the most interesting player this season, and did grow as I had expected.  He was the low man on the totem pole throughout the entire season, but he managed to overcome most — if not all — adversity and pulled ahead of his former tribe mates to become the fifth jury member.

Mark Caruso – The Nice Guy

Not much to say about Mark Caruso (“Papa Bear”).  He was the third to be voted off, likely due to his poor performance in challenges.

Sophie Clark – The Winner

Sophie was definitely not in my top 5 — or even my top 10 — players who I thought may have a chance to win.  I figured she would hang around on Coach’s coattails, do poorly in challenges, and eventually lose her stride and go home.

However, she managed to fly under the radar and performed surprisingly well in the challenges.  Overall, her attitude and intelligence gave her the lead.  During the last few days, it became clear she was not accustomed having her character called into question, and the final tribal council was quite difficult for her.  She nearly burst into tears and her voice was shaky the entire time; despite this, the jury voted for her over Coach (who they found hypocritical) and Albert (who they found overtly conniving).

Did she deserve to win?  I think the answer lies in the fact that she did win.  Anybody who wins Survivor deserves to win it.  That’s how the game goes.  She wasn’t in my list of favorite players, but I certainly didn’t dislike her, either.

This season was, in all, uneventful, but managed to retain my interest.  I’m looking forward to next season, in which the two tribes will live together (the preview portrayed their living arrangement as a big treehouse, which could be interesting).

I think it’s in Survivor’s best interest to refrain from pulling in any past players — it’s time for some fresh blood, and I think the game works best when none of the players know each other.

Survivor South Pacific – Observations and Predictions

Survivor is back for its 23rd season and premiered last night.  As with previous installments, this season features the return of two veteran players in an attempt to establish quick leadership on each tribe (Upolu and Savaii, both named for islands in the Samoan island chain).

Redemption Island is making its second appearance, so once a person is voted out they still continue playing the game, albeit in a secluded area away from the main camps.  Once the next person is voted out, these two square off in a duel that determines who actually leaves the show.  Redemption Island was anything but exciting last season, and ultimately became the home of one Survivor for almost the entire season (Matt Elrod, the charming Christian boy with wavy locks).

The season has started out strong, with a few players already popping out of the woodwork and making names for themselves.  After watching the show for a few years now, I can’t help but notice many of the same types of players resurfacing.  We may see some repeated strategies, but hopefully the producers (and especially Jeff Probst) can shake things up enough to topple leaders, shatter alliances, and send people packing in unexpected ways.

I’ve always enjoyed watching these people struggle on an island, not because they’re searching for the meaning of life or learning to survive in the wild, but because of the intense psychological battles they endure.  It’s like watching a cutthroat office environment in which the printers have been replaced with palm trees, the desks with bamboo, and paper with sand.

We already have some interesting insights into certain players after only one episode:

“Coach” Wade – The Mystic

Made infamous from his stories of fighting off cannibals in the Amazon to naming himself the “Dragonslayer”, Coach is one of Survivor’s most iconic characters.  He doesn’t have a very strong personality and tends to be rather transparent, and I think in the end both of these traits will work against him.  He has never had the resolve to do what needs to be done, so I imagine he’ll be strung along by one of the trouble-makers until he’s served his purpose.

Brandon Hantz – The Closet Sociopath

Every scene of Brandon Hantz so far has depicted him as a reasonable young man who is trying so hard to shrug off the burden of being Russell Hantz’s nephew.  Indeed, he likened his relationship with Russell akin to being related to Hitler, and has so far hidden this fact from the other players.  It’s obvious, however, that Brandon is struggling with some other inner demons that are fighting to claw their way out.  He commented that Mikayla was “flaunting her body” while building a shelter, when she clearly was not.  These comments reveal a darker, more insidious nature under Brandon’s seemingly innocent demeanor, and I think it’ll be interesting when they are finally released.

Dawn Meehan – The Bipolar

On the second day, Dawn broke down and nearly quit the game.  She said it was because she was used to being the boss (of her children) and that being stuck in a place where nothing was familiar was too difficult to bear.  Ozzy had to have a chat with her for 10-15 minutes while she cried and the rest of the tribe watched, no doubt embarrassed for her.  This behavior at such an early point in the game certainly makes her appear at least weak, and at most bipolar.  She may hit her stride halfway through the season and become a strong player (remember Holly from season 21?), but she’ll need to overcome this crazy behavior quickly.

Jim Rice – The Troublemaker

In calling out Semhar after the first challenge, Jim has already shown that he isn’t afraid to cause a little trouble if it means getting ahead.  No doubt he will be one of the Machiavellian players this season, trampling on anybody he views as beneath him, breaking alliances, and using deceptive means to achieve his ends.  In short, the other players had better vote him out — and soon — if they don’t want to see their most trusted allies turned by a snake in the grass.

John Cochran – The Overconfident Kid

John’s very first scene involved telling Probst that he should be referred to as “Cochran”, not because it’s what he prefers, but because he felt all the great Survivor players in the past were referred to by their last name.  In so doing, he unwittingly announced to everybody in the game that he felt he was better than all of them. His inflated sense of superiority was based only on his obsession with the game and his ability to name previous players.

Needless to say, reality soon shattered his manufactured world, and it came crumbling down around him when his name was tossed around at tribal.  His knees almost started shaking when other players warned him he may be going home, and he made no political moves to stay in the game.  I feel he defended himself well at tribal council, using a very thoughtful and soft-spoken charm that he had failed to exude until that point.  I found myself rooting for him and even let out a sigh of relief when Semhar was sent home instead.  He’s going to be an interesting player — I have a feeling that, after this humbling experience, he will continue to grow and eventually become a strong player.

Mark Caruso – The Nice Guy

Mark’s strategy already is to just get people to like him.  I think it will work for a while, but once the numbers start to dwindle and they realize he can’t offer much else, the younger players will off him.  He also has the unfortunate disadvantage of being one of the older players, which tend to be voted off at the slightest mistake.  Within the first group get-together (some ocean swimming time led by Ozzy), he revealed that he was gay.  Either he was trying to get more people to like him because of his honesty, or he was somehow trying to get sympathy votes (“oh, you’re gay, life must be so rough for you”).  Regardless of the reasoning, these tactics won’t last long, and Mark will need to reconsider his strategy if he doesn’t want to go home within the first few tribal councils.

The main theme I’ve seen in this season so far is insecurities:  John with his body and pale skin, Dawn with her inability to adapt, and Coach with his poor leadership.  John has already broken his mold, but it will be interesting to see if the others can and how they face off against stronger players down the line.