And so begins my long overdue thoughts on Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. It’s a shame we have to start on such a sour note.
A few weeks ago my mom and I were talking about the Tiger Woods scandal (it was what she came up with after brainstorming topics for dinner conversation) and she asked me if there was some one in the public eye, a role model perhaps, that would really break my heart if they were exposed to be in some kind of scandal or lascivious activity. I told her that as I’ve become an adult I’ve learned to let go of such things, that as a 26 year-old you can’t put another person, especially a public persona, on such a pedestal. She suggested that we should hold these people to a higher moral standard, but I argued just the opposite, that with celebrities – actors, musicians, athletes, politicians – we should expect less adherence to a moral code. These are people who are told they are great, they are special, and thus think they are exempt from common behavior, that they are above the law, both legally and morally. Now there are, of course, exceptions, but too often their celebrity status goes to their heads, and they think the rules don’t apply to them. And the bigger they are, the harder they fall, and the less we should be surprised when they do. Sad but true. So to answer my mother’s question, there was no one I could think of whom I believed in so deeply that any discovery of indiscretion would be utterly soul crushing (unless it was revealed that Tom Hanks has cheated on Rita Wilson with a harem of Golden Corral buffet attendants, but I can think of almost nothing less likely).
However, a couple nights later I sat down to dig into the premiere of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains and I realized that I was mistaken. There remained at least one person I felt that strongly about, whom I believed to be nearly infallible, with whom I couldn’t fault and would be shocked to learn of one. And that man is former Brooklyn firefighter Tom Westman. Yes, as a fellow Long Islander I’m biased. But the way he so thoroughly dominated Survivor: Palau is really unparalleled in the show’s history, and he did so by a mixture of uncanny physical prowess and the utmost integrity. In my eyes he played a flawless game, and perhaps became the last role model standing.
It was with much excitement that I learned he’d joined the cast of Heroes vs. Villains, as he demurred the chance to participate in Fans vs. Favorites. But there was also much trepidation. To me, and to many (mostly on Long Island), he was the definition of a hero, the classiest, strongest, and perhaps even handsomest (silver fox!). But that was based on one turn in the game that went historically well. What if this time things broke differently? What if he followed in the footsteps of fellow castaway Rupert Boneham? After his stint on Pearl Islands Rupert emerged as perhaps the most popular Survivor contestant ever. His grizzly beard, his tattered tie dye tank, his gravelly voice and hearty laugh won us all over. He was a gentle giant, a master fisherman, a friendly pirate, and a decided fan favorite. And yet, he turned around after his season and returned to the Pearl Islands for All Stars only to disappoint, and diminish legacy. In his return engagement he executed several gaffes, including designing what Jerri recently claimed was the worst shelter in Survivor history. Simply, after just a handful of episodes on All-Stars Rupert had gone from Boneham to bonehead (nailed it!), saved only by his alliance with season mastermind Boston Rob, and because of this my giddiness over Tom’s triumphant return carried with it some sincere reservations.
And now, five episodes later, Tom is gone, discarded by a tribe who deemed him weaker than a rude dude with busted knee (in a move Jeff Probst described as the “DUMBEST DECISION YET“).
However, Tom can hold is head up high, and so can I. Because now there are no heroes left (with the possible exception of Colby, but clearly without Tom he wouldn’t have lasted as long as he has). Tom proved himself to be the man we saw in Palau, a gentleman and a warrior. He stood up when James roid-raged on Stephanie, and even confronted him back at camp. There were times when I wanted him to keep quiet, not because he was going to say anything untrue or unsavory, but because by telling the truth he might damage his place in the game. But Tom can’t live that way, and he played the way he lives, with honor (and with all due respect, Coach, you’re not the most honorable player out there (and, also, I’m not sure how much respect is due)). When Tom and Colby’s proverbial lives were on the line last week he engineered one of the most brilliant blindsides in Survivor history, taking out Cirie, who brought little physical ability to the tribe but a lot of dangerous strategy. With his immunity idol as his ace in the hole Tom made a brilliant play, one that deserved to get him further. And when JT aligned with Tom and Colby last week I thought we saw the birth of the real Heroes tribe, three men who play with respect and integrity. But after flip-flopping again last night JT showed that he’s no hero, he’s no Tom. And, in the end, all JT did was punch his ticket home because no one is going to trust him now.
Tom had a bullseye on his back from day one, and he knew that, so it was really a charming fanstasy to think he could get far in this game, let alone be the last one standing. He’s already won, and he’s in the older crowd, that’s two strikes right there. Factor in that he plays the game on the straight and narrow, well, then he never really stood a chance. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t make it to the jury, because he’s as qualified as anyone to judge character, to decide who’s more deserving of the title of “Ultimate Survivor.” And perhaps an even bigger shame is that his beard was just coming in. Why should we be deprived of such dashing facial hair?
In his interview following his exit Tom took a few digs at Rupert for not wising up and switching his vote, for valuing a weak alliance over a strong team. Rupert has continued his descent begun in All-Stars, slipping from bumbling ogre to selfish, shallow bully. Maybe he can still turn it around. But even if he does one thing is certain: he’s no hero, he’s no Tom Westman.
It’s going to be hard to go on with this season now that Tom is gone (and Colby likely to follow) and the rest of the Heroes playing like villains/3rd graders. Luckily (and usually I’m very upset about this) we have a week hiatus for basketball, so hopefully by the time the show returns we’ll have washed this rancid taste out of our mouths.
As I mentioned, this is hopefully the start of weekly reaction to Heroes vs. Villains. I haven’t watched the show in about 4 years, but Tom brought me back. And even though he’s gone, and the pain may never subside, I’m hooked. For the weekly commentary I’m going to sum up each episode with some sort of ABC, “Always be _____ing” phrase. In previous episodes possible candidates included “Always be Coaching,” “always be Cirie’ing,” “always be curmudgeonly (Randy)” and “always be conniving (nearly everyone on the Heroes tribe).” But to embody this week’s episode we were inspired by Tom description of James as “all mass, no class.” So while “always be chocolating” was a solid contender, this week’s ABC phrase is:
Always Be Classy
And these words apply not only to Tom, who we do implore to remain the classy, virtuous, honest man that he has always been, but also to all those young Survivor fans out there.
Celebrities – from golfers to reality show stars – don’t choose to be role models, we choose them. But they can choose to be heroes. And the world still needs heroes.
Even if they suck at puzzles.Vodpod videos no longer available.
2 responses to “Sorta In Memoriam: Tom Westman (and a brief discourse on celebrities and moral turpitude)”
ALWAYS BE CAPTAIN TOM WESTMAN-ING
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