Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Survivor Caramoan: Deciphering the Finale

My dry spell is over. I finally have a winning first pick in Survivor! For a die-hard Survivor fan, you'd think that I'd be better at choosing picks that are guaranteed to win. But who am I fooling? I easily fall for the hunky studs (*cough Bobby Jon, *cough Malcolm)! But I seriously thought I had it nailed last season with Malcolm since he is the ultimate combination of brains and brawns, and maybe a bit of charm that there wasn't a day since Malcolm first graced my TV screen that I didn't dream of him running away with the mill. But I digress, the star of this blog is supposed to be the newest winner - John Cochran! Cochran is the scrawny nerd who wrote papers on Survivor and I distinctively remembered asked Jeff during his first season to call him by his surname, just like he did with other Survivor greats. Jeff quipped to him, "Let's see if you earn it!". Fast forward to two years, here's a totally different Cochran who no longer just calls himself a "challenge beast" but also with the title Sole Survivor under his name.

The road to getting there was never easy. Cochran figured in one of the most controversy-ridden, twist-befuddled season that Jeff hyped up before premiere as better than the Philippines edition. For someone who loved the Philippines enough to relegate it as one of the top 3 seasons ever, I held high expectations.

Before the airing of the Finale episode, I had an inkling that Cochran had it in the bag. He had the advantage in jury votes in any given final 3 scenario. But I can't say I had some doubts lingering as the episode went by. This game seems to sneak up on you when you least expect it. And when you're complacent, it pulls the rug out of you. Just ask Andrea and Brenda. They got complacent and Cochran was smart enough to go after them because he knew either one of them would've given him a serious run for the money!

The first big twist of the finale episode was Erik's medical emergency. When the clip was shown last week, I knew it had to be Erik! They were building up this storyline of him being weak and out of his senses, especially since the timing was odd and it seemed even forced given that he basically had zero confessionals for the most part. It's like the editors forgot about him and they realized that he will be medevaced in the coming episode so they had to integrate that into the previous episode so it does not come as an entire shock to the audience.

The Erik situation gave Eddie a free pass to the Final Four. It's funny how Eddie thinks that if he can get to the finals that he has a shot at winning the million dollars. Who are you kidding, Eddie? I'm sure you're nice. But aside from flirting with any hot girl you can set your sights on and being bros with Malcolm and Reynold, you did nothing to merit a million dollar!

The first challenge promised a reward that was going to prep the winner for the challenge that matters - the final immunity challenge. Kinda anticlimactic, huh? I actually did not like this concept when they first used it in the Philippines. Jeff told the castaways that the winner of that challenge won an advantage to the Final Immunity Challenge! Hear me out here: it creates a sense of guarantee of winning the next challenge. I also feel it's a bit anticlimactic in a sense that their focus is torn between the current challenge and the one up ahead, which is the more important one. I'm sure it was a move done by the producers after Erik left rather unexpectedly due to medical reasons, since this was clearly being setup as another immunity challenge. Then again, Cochran ended up winning his third individual challenge and gets an advantage heading into the final immunity challenge that could seal his fate in the Final 3.

His advantage ended up being key to his final immunity win. I was expecting that the previous challenge would've worked more for a final immunity challenge than this win. Final immunity challenges typically require focus or endurance. This one was oddly similar to that same challenge that Malcolm won during the finale episode of Survivor: Philippines that earned him the advantage. But Cochran's advantage was huge! He struggled to figure out the puzzle early on such that Dawn ended up putting the first few pieces of her puzzle together. The competition might've kicked him into high gear as he ended up putting his puzzle pieces together quickly after he got the first one.

The Eddie vote at the Final Four tribal council was a feign attempt to make it seem as though Cochran will change things up. Earlier in the episode, we saw Cochran make a pact with Eddie about the Final 3 but we knew it was a defensive strategy on Cochran's part to secure his final three slot knowing that Eddie is the sole remaining threat to win immunity. And thus... the final three is Cochran, Sherri, and Dawn.

They celebrate with a feast in the morning before the real deal begins. Cochran delivered what I believe was one of the best opening speeches at tribal council. He covered all the grounds - he pointed out that he wasn't the best strategists nor was he the most physically competitive (although it's hard to ignore the fact that he won the most individual challenges this season!). He also pointed a realistic element to his gameplay that helped get him far and showed that he's a real smart player - timing. According to Cochran, his success in the game can be relegated to the fact that he managed to strike at his opponents before he can be struck at and he owned it!

Dawn took a beating at the final tribal council with several of the jury members thinking that she used relationships to gain an advantage in the game. However, she raised an essential point that these relationships were the key to the success of his alliance with Cochran because if it weren't for those relationships she built, she wouldn't have been able to gather the information needed to make their next big move.

Sherri, on the other hand, seemed to have been lost in the equation. The only memorable thing about her stint at the final tribal council would have to be her snide remark towards Erik who tried to ridicule her game and Eddie trying to make fun of her insistence that she got carried to the final 3.

However, nothing could've been more unforgettable as the Brenda-Dawn moment. Still reeling from the Dawn betrayal, Brenda refreshed everyone's memory of the day when Dawn lost her retainer and she dove in the water to get it. In doing so, she asked Dawn to take out her retainer so everyone would see what she looked like that day. Brenda lost a bit of favor with me for that particular move. While majority of the jury understood the strategy involved with taking them out, she seemed to take it the hardest and made an unconscionable move by asking Dawn to take out her teeth. We all know she voted for Cochran anyway, so what's the point with that? Apparently, she wanted to humiliate Dawn. And I think she crossed the line there. And the worst part of all, Jeff Probst even pushed Dawn (on live TV at that!) to apologize for Brenda! For someone whose seen this game first-hand and witnessed worst betrayals and backstabbing, I don't think Jeff was in a place to push Dawn to apologize for voting someone out! That's just plain ridiculous.

That moment, though, was only one of several awkward moments in what I thought was one of the worst reunion shows EVER! For someone whose seen all 26 seasons to date, it's saying a lot! After Cochran's announcement as the winner of Survivor Caramoan, the reunion show went downhill from there. Jeff had the decency to ask Dawn and Sherri for a short comment right before the reading of the votes. Little did we know that those were going to be Sherri's last words for the night!

It was also starkly obvious that the pre-jury members weren't on-stage. I thought that this was the setup during the reading of the votes, but as the show went on it was slowly dawning on us that the pre-jurors weren't going to have a part on the show. The worst part is that not even their presence were acknowledged! I understood the reason behind this was to make it less obvious that Brandon wasn't there - I caught word that he was banned by CBS from attending the reunion show! But who cares about Brandon? I'm sure a huge percentage of the fans would be pleased to know that the CBS producers finally got back to their right senses and not invite Brandon back! But what they had done to the pre-jury members was a disservice to those people who, regardless of how long or short they stayed in the game, were critical part to the journey.

While the pre-jury members were ignored, we got unnecessary airtime from Boston Rob (ugh), Richard, and Rudy, and some random girl. We know how great Boston Rob is and how Jeff Probst kisses the ground he walks on. But why not use that time instead to catch up on the Survivors that we haven't had much chance to see on the show? Do we really care about some stupid book that BRob is trying to promote?

The revelation of the Player of the Season was probably my only personal consolation during the finale. Malcolm won the title and the $100,000 that goes with it! I think it was well deserved because he undeniably played big. Come on, Episode 10 tribal council was memorable mainly for Malcolm! But above all the charades, he played a strong game but it just did not work out for him as he did not have enough people to make his plan work!

In conclusion, this reunion show did not do the season justice. It wasn't my favorite season despite the fact that I am ultimately satisfied with the winner and was entertained for the most part, although I would gladly do without the Phillip and Shamar antics, as well as all the drama with Brandon early on. But the strategy and gameplay at the latter part helped to save what would have been a disappointing season. I hope this only applies to this season's reunion show because it would be an insult for CBS to exclude the people who were out before the merge like they did this time out.

I'm sure most of you have an inkling as to what the next edition of Survivor is going to be, so I thought that teaser was pretty lame. What do you think of the concept for next season? As for me, it's something I'm not too excited about as with the Redemption Island concept, but this one might be worse. Share your thoughts below.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Survivor Caramoan Finale Preview

Following the blindside of Brenda Lowe at the previous episode of the ongoing Survivor Caramoan season, the Final 5 head into the finale wherein viewers will be treated to over 2 hours of show followed by the reunion show. A part of me is glad that we can finally crown a winner to what has been an unpredictable and emotional roller coaster ride of a season, which holds true for fans as it did for the castaways who competed.  There has been a lot of drama, memorable moments, crazy moves, blindsides, and so much more!

But it comes down to the Final 5: Eddie, Erik, Sherri, Dawn, and Cochran. It's safe to say that these are the 5 that most people wouldn't have predicted to make it this far.

image: blog.zap2it.com

Eddie, for instance, was on the outs since Day 1. He fell on the wrong side of the numbers going in as their Cool Kids alliance was picked off one by one. Somehow, he managed to survive along with his buddy, Reynold. But he is the lone amigo standing and he continues to evade having his torch snuffed. For how long? We've yet to find out.

Like Eddie, Erik also fell on the wrong side of the numbers after the first tribal council wherein he voted against Phillip. Erik eventually found his way back into the majority alliance and even earned a name under the Stealth R' Us crew. But his under-the-radar game has posed him as non-threat status and is slowly slipping into the finals again.

Sherri is the other fan who had managed to drizzle their way into the majority alliance post-merge. She was out on the loop for a while since Shamar got voted off. Then, she got a new lease in life at the game after Phillip brought her into the Stealth R' Us alliance to the point that she earned the nickname Tenacity. But can she hang on longer to make it to the finals?

Dawn is the emotional wreck this season. We've seen her breakdown at her previous season and things are no different this season. In fact, she probably holds the record for most breakdowns in one season... ever! But you can't deny that Dawn came into Survivor Caramoan with a different plan. She played hard and big! Case in point: taking out Brenda last episode because she was the biggest threat this deep into the game. Will that be enough to make her way into the finals and win?

Cochran has shown the biggest improvement out of all the returning castaways this season. He was a self-deprecating, non-athletic, and socially awkward player who is a self-confessed Survivor nerd during his first season. Remember the guy who asked Jeff to call him Cochran, his surname, instead of his actual name, John? Seems like he's lived up to it because he certainly didn't last time. In this season, Cochran has even dubbed himself a challenge beast after winning two immunity challenges! Heck, not even Malcolm can get one this season!

Of the final five, who do you think has the best chance to win? Be sure to comment your answers below and let's discuss!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Survivor Caramoan Episode 13: "Likability is a Liability"

Episode 13 was the turning point in the game because the next step is going to be the grand finale. And what better way to segue into the Final 5 than with a cruel blindside, right? I can't say we've had more tears in one episode for years, even beating Lisa's breakdown last season and her family visit! This episode is also much talked about in the social media sphere with fans and castaways alike having mixed emotions about what just happened.

Voting out Brenda was, as Cochran dubbed it, a "smart move" because the easy one wasn't, in reference to the Eddie vote. This episode had an uncharacteristically huge airtime for Brenda, which hinted that something was up as she had basically zero (or limited) airtime and confessionals for majority of the season. But the remainder of her alliance (mainly the trio that voted her off) stand firm in their decision to blindside Brenda as being a strong strategic move because of Brenda's actions that might have earned her goodwill, not just among the players left in the game but also with the jurors. But before we delve deeper into that, let's go back to the start of this episode...

The family visit is always an exciting time in the game. It's Day 35. Aside from the starvation and the harsh elements, there is probably one other thing that is beating the player's down - missing their loved ones. Seeing familiar faces of fathers, mothers, husbands, and brothers is enough to bring your spirit back up. It did the same for Erik! He admitted to being at the end of his rope but seeing his brother's video gave him the rejuvenation he needed.

This season also set another historic moment with Jeff tearing up for the first time in 26 seasons! The father-daughter connection must've rigged into his heart, especially knowing that Jeff just recently had a daughter. He must've been really touched as I also felt the same witnessing Brenda talk to his father. Then, the rest of the loved ones came out and you can't deny, and I am speaking as a fan of the show for years, that this is one of the most anticipated moments too! Suddenly, you get to see these cunning people as humans, not as players that are cold-blooded and heartless. Seeing those emotions in Cochran's eyes were touching. My favorite moment was when Cochran and his mom came in last at the challenge and Jeff attempted to make a comment, but Cochran cut him off saying, "Don't say anything about my mom!". Ha!

Brenda ended up winning the reward with his dad and invited Dawn to enjoy the reward at a floating backyard BBQ party. However, the rapid swift of emotions in Survivor is no longer alien. Just as they were rejoicing at the opportunity to spend some time with their loved ones and get some food, a sickening twist came right before Brenda's face as there is another set of loved ones waiting to spend time with the castaways. But here's the cruel twist: she can choose to go to the reward and see her second loved one, along with Dawn's, or give it up so the remaining four can enjoy theirs. Brenda ended up giving her reward which ended in the other four castaways giving Brenda kisses and hugs, while Dawn was bewildered.

Brenda put on a brave face about it, even though her stomach wasn't agreeing with her, as she claimed. But Dawn was more upset about it. She was crying, slamming bamboos against the shelter, and crying some more... She didn't even show a slight hint of gratitude for Brenda to have picked her for the reward, even though they didn't get to enjoy it. Just to know that she picked you was something to be grateful for. And I felt like Brenda should've been more upset because she won it, not you, crybaby.

If that's not enough favor, Brenda felt the need to appease Dawn during the immunity challenge. The goal is to hold on to a rope behind your back as a pulley will lower you down at an angle to the water. The men go down first and it was pointed out more than once during the challenge that Eddie had to win or he'll be going home. When it was only Brenda and Dawn left, they attempted to strike a deal. But Brenda refused because she wanted to "challenge herself", cited Dawn. No deal was made but Brenda ended up jumping in before Dawn. That was a good ploy by Brenda in terms of trying to win back Dawn's favor. She wanted to give the immunity to Dawn but did not let her know that she intended to jump in because she wanted her to be happy and feel good about herself. Again, instead of feeling grateful for it, she returned to camp and started plotting her move to blindside Brenda.

"Likability is a liability."

Cochran cited how Brenda is the most liked person in the island right now after she allowed them to spend time with their loved ones. This puts Cochran into full gear as he discusses with Dawn and Sherri the possibility of getting rid of Brenda when she least expects it. At this point, if you were Brenda, probably the decision to jump off wasn't smart at all. It is just one of a series of decisions she made in this episode that are adding up to the reasons to vote her off. As she earlier claimed, winning in Survivor is always a double-edged sword but having personal immunity is something that you'd be too dumb to give up. It ended up being a million dollar challenge for her!

Cochran's strategic maneuvering is also to be commended here. Early in the episode, as Dawn and Brenda discuss the next possible threat to be voted off, she cited Cochran. I surely expected more of it to factor into the episode but it seemed to have been lost in the daze and confusion of the loved ones visit. It requires masterful manipulation for Cochran to divert any attention off of him while everything of that is dumped into Brenda, at least in this particular episode. I also give props to Cochran for how he presented the Brenda vote to them as an option rather than a desperate move behind his personal vendetta to get rid of an end-game threat.

Tribal council was rather short this episode. Eddie seemed to bid his farewell, citing that this could be his final rodeo. But when the votes were revealed and Brenda got the majority, she left them with a message that put all of the remaining castaways, even the jury, speechless. As Jeff snuffed her torch, she went back a last time and tell them how much she was hurting for the blindside.

The human relationships and the bonds they formed complicate the game and what makes Survivor interesting all these years. Seeing Brenda break down like that is a testament to how real the emotions are involved here. I've been reading a lot of tweets from fans and former castaways about this episode and I've never heard fans been so vocal in the past. If anything, I think that Dawn lost a lot of favor from the jury, just as she did with the fans.

What did you think of the blindside? Was it the right move to get rid of Brenda?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Survivor Caramoan Episode 12: The Beginning of the End

The title episode for this week's Survivor cannot be more fitting - we are approaching the conclusion of this season and this also signals the start of the destruction of the tight alliance of Stealth R' Us. For the most part, Andrea, Dawn, and Cochran had been in the steering wheel, especially after Phillip left the game. But with the final 3 dawning on them, we suspected that a shift in the game is going to take place soon.

The episode featured two tribal councils in one episode. The first half was rather predictable and went by fast! Reynold and Eddie congratulate themselves for staying and while they were saddened by the fact that Malcolm was gone (meaning, their plan on turning the game around didn't pull through), the fact that they're still IN the game means they're still in the running. Reynold also points out something that is important - they are two guaranteed votes for anyone in the majority alliance looking to make a big move. However, Reynold's fate in the game has been clearly out in the open - he needs to wear the immunity necklace after the first immunity challenge or he's a goner.

And speaking of the first immunity challenge, it was a variation of the final immunity challenge on Pearl Islands wherein castaways had to balance themselves in a floating platform. Wind and wave both played a critical factor in the success of this challenge. I knew right there and then that the women had a better shot at winning this (smaller feet and women are generally better at balancing than men). But in hindsight, I wanted Reynold to win in order to shake things up. And c'mon, you have to feel bad for the guy. Since Day 1, nothing had worked out for him in this game!

But Eddie, the other less cerebral component of the Three Amigos alliance, wasn't feeling concerned at all. He jumped off the platform at the first chance Jeff offered them food. Erik jumped in, too, for a donut. But we know that Erik isn't in trouble until this next vote. So, why the hell Eddie jumped, I have no idea! The girls from the majority alliance egged him on with Dawn saying, "Go for it Eddie!".

Reynold, on the other hand, had two great saves just when I thought he was about to go down the water. But he kept fighting until he lost his balance and off to the water he went! Sherri had no shame at rejoicing at all when Reynold dove into the water. Andrea and Brenda ended up slugging it out for the immunity necklace. Attempt at negotiation was there, but no one would give in. Andrea even told Brenda, "You know you're safe". But apparently, there was no trust in there, no matter how tight their alliance seemed because they were willing to stay there for up to 3 hours! Jeff was so ecstatic that the girls ended up making their own rules, just for the sake of novelty, as they both decided to lift up one of their legs just to make the challenge harder as none of them would be willing to jump in. Ironically, Brenda lost despite choosing which leg to lift up. Andrea ended up having immunity for the first time. But the bigger picture dictates that it shows exactly how competitive these two girls are and it was only a matter of time until they're threatened by each other.

The producers tried their darnest (or not) to make the following sequences seem more strategic and dramatic than it actually is. But we all know that the smartest move for them is to get rid of Reynold. Even though he was a useful vote for anyone who is planning to stage an uprising, he's still a threat to go to the end and make a case for the win. So, Reynold becomes the fourth member of the jury leaving Eddie on his own. Will he be able to survive the next vote? Or are things going to shake up soon as per the titular foreshadowing?

But before that, Andrea shared the hidden immunity idol clue she won during the previous immunity challenge with the rest of her alliance. They dug for the clue together, only for Erik to find it. But just as quickly as he found that idol, he also handed it over to Andrea. Cochran, once again, voiced out my sentiments. Apparently, he has a thing for the idol that he ends up giving them away.. to a woman. Andrea quickly grabbed possession of the idol, which makes the plot to get rid of their biggest threat seemingly impossible. Andrea's aggressive gameplay hasn't escaped the observant eyes of his alliance mates but Cochran noted how timing is critical in every move in Survivor, which is why he will try to be as patient as he can be before making the so-called big move.

The second immunity challenge for this episode is a combination of basic Survivor challenge elements: moving a buoy through a series of ropes, untying knots, building a staircase puzzle, and raising a flag. Competition was tight but Erik, Andrea, and Brenda pulled ahead of the rest, with Erik solving his puzzle first and winning immunity for the first time.

Just as I was thinking the same, Jeff asked him about the idea of giving away his immunity necklace again (as if to forewarn him not to!). Erik quipped, "I'm too scared to do that this time." Still not the smartest answer as it indicated that he'd give away immunity if he felt safe. I seriously think that Erik has learned a lesson from last time. However, I don't totally count him out from making the same blunder again... whether or not by giving away his immunity, but I'm still not sure if he's totally grasped how you should play this game. Funny thing is, we hear him talk about being in control of the votes for the past few votes now. Just to clear it up, you're being TOLD who to vote for and you just pick which side to go to. That is NOT taking control of the vote (especially if you had to resort to pointing names in a flag!).

As soon as they're back to camp, Andrea goes to work. She worked on blindsiding Brenda because her previous performance in the challenges reveal she's a big threat for her competitiveness, plus she hasn't screwed anyone over (unlike her, or most of them, obviously). I felt a bit of haste in Andrea's move that she ended up confiding to the wrong person about her plans - Cochran. One of the biggest strategists this season, Cochran quickly caught on to Andrea's plan. He felt that if she should start targeting people she felt threatened by, it's only a matter of time until the bullet is pointed at him.

When the rest of their alliance caught wind of the plan to get rid of Brenda, they concoct a sub-plan to blindside Andrea. They are walking on egg shells, though, because she has the hidden immunity idol in her pocket. Thus, they worked on keeping the plan on the down low, reeling in both Sherri and Erik to split the votes between Andrea and Eddie, just in case she would play the idol. Once again, Erik had this soliloquy about being the swing vote and taking control over which side has the power on the coming days.

Tribal council was a wreck. With the finals looming, everyone had their sights on making it to the Final 3. Hence, Jeff brought up the possibility of castaways already thinking about who they can beat at the end, instead of sticking with their original alliance. Cochran openly stated making Final 3 promises to basically everyone, to which everybody else agreed on, including Andrea. But she also reiterated the fact that she had found the hidden immunity idol during tribal council, which is a nice ploy by the editing team. Andrea hinted that she will play the idol if she ever feels paranoid. Lots of nervous stares from the other people in her alliance while I can't read Erik's reaction. Cochran earlier noted that he was feeling nervous about putting the success of this plan on Erik's hand because he hasn't proven to be very good at the strategic side to this game. Nonetheless, Andrea ended up not playing the idol and we saw Dawn take a very deep breath as Jeff paused and the dramatic music cues us up for the reading of the votes. But after a few nerve-wracking seconds and Andrea did not play her idol, we see a smile register on both Andrea and Cochran's faces. Then, the reading of the votes came and Andrea looked confused when two Eddie votes came up and then her second vote came in... She dejected, "What????" to her alliance mates. She eventually became the first female jury member and fifth overall.

Aggressive play does have its price but you can't play too aggressively, or else your alliance mates will think you will be gunning for them next. I can't fault Andrea for trying to play big and playing to win in the end. Let's face it, sitting next to either Cochran, Dawn, or Brenda in the finals isn't going to be an easy win. Tagging Eddie along is a good plan but if you get too close to the enemies, your allies will be suspicious of your intent. And with that, Andrea also earns the distinction of being the first female to be voted off Survivor with a hidden immunity idol in their pocket.

Who do you think is the threat to win at this point? Be sure to comment below or vote on the poll.