Well, we all saw this coming. We saw this coming back on South Pacific when he accused Mikayla of being an evil temptress, and we saw this coming when he went back and forth and back with his relationship with God and spoke of battles with inner demons. And we saw this coming in episode two of Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit 2 Quit when, in beautiful night vision, his neck tattoo glistening in the twilight, he threatened to go on a rampage. So no one – no one – should have been surprised when Brandon Hantz finally lost it on Survivor: Caramoan. Which isn’t to say it was predictable, or that it wasn’t riveting, truly unsettling television.
But first, who’s that girl next to Michael and Eddie?!
Oh, right, Julia. That person that exists on the Fans tribe. At this point, she’s our pick to win it all, solely because everyone will keep forgetting that she’s there and no one will ever write her name down. Also, she might be a ghost.
Last week we talked about our disappointment in the casting of Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites 2 Legit to Quit, as the producers seemed to have emphasized loud, dramatic, troublemakers over solid, interesting, sane players. We drew attention back to Survivor: Palau, which featured none of those emotionally unstable, wildcard types and, yet, proved to be perhaps the show’s finest season. Why? Because this show is so good, because it puts ordinary people in such incredible, extraordinary situations, that you don’t need to manufacture drama. If you just let the game play out, let the interpersonal dynamics take over, then you have magical theater. The kind that we actually do get at the end of last episode of Caramoan. However, while the denouement was a pleasant surprise, what the episode mostly did was grant attention to the two most volatile personalities out there, Brandon and Shamar, validating their petulant and borderline-psychotic behavior.
Russell Hantz, for the record, was a fascinating, nuanced character (at least at first). Brandon Hantz, on the other hand, is all the worst parts of his uncle, all id, no strategy. He may have his uncle’s blood, but that doesn’t mean he got his gift for the game, or even his flair for havoc.
Actually , Brandon that’s literally how genetics works. DNA is passed down through generations. Although, what you might be feeling is those leeches sucking out your blood. You should probably get a medic to look at you.
There’s a tale we like to tell to novice or late-to-the-party Survivor fans. It’s a story – feels more like myth now – about a tribe called Kucha in a harsh landscape called the Outback. This is pre-Russell Hantz, pre-Boston Rob, even pre-Tom Westman. This is back in the second season of Survivor, when they had no idea that their initial success would continue nearly unabated for twenty-four seasons, that Richard Hatch and his flabby, hairy, naked figure strolling the beach in Borneo had changed the face of television forever. In season two the show was still in unknown territory, not yet a cultural institution with enough memorable moments to fill a double DVD and enough beloved (and reviled) players to field a competitive softball league. This was a long time ago. But all that time we’ve never forgotten about Michael Skupin. And never gave up hope – despite how unlikely it seemed – that he would return.
We often relate how this season featured a tribe that we found to be as formidable and as likable (save for Kimmi) as any tribe in Survivor’s prodigious history. It featured a pretty young face that we’d come to later know as Elisabeth Hasslebeck, football wife and The View co-host/conservative punching bag, then going by the surname Filarski. And while Kucha lacked the statistical dominance of Tom Westman’s Koror tribe in Palau, the team felt as strong and cohesive as any tribe, and it was getting stronger and more cohesive after each challenge and Tribal Council. There was Jeff Varner, the good-looking, drawling Tar Heel, and his partner-in-crime Alicia Calaway, who could have easily parlayed her Survivor appearance into a berth in the WWE. There was Old Man Rodger, who had formed such a sweet, good-natured, grandfather-granddaughter relationship with Elisabeth. And there was Nick Brown, the bright, young Harvard Law student. And they were all led by Michael Skupin, a midwest father whose receding hairline was more Bruce Willis than Ron Howard. Skupin served as heart and soul of the team, his intelligence and survival skills keeping Kucha focused and united at camp, his athletic ability pacing them in challenges, and his hunting prowess keeping them energized. With his guidance Kucha was poised to decimate the Ogakor Tribe, which featured such bickering, unlikable players as Jerri “the Black Widow” Manthey, arrogant chef Keith Famie, mama’s boy himbo Colby Donaldson, mama surrogate Tina Wesson, and another pretty face named Amber (yep, that Amber); it was a tribe that fell out of favor with us the moment they voted out Maralyn “Mad Dog” Hershey. Ogakor featured several future All-Stars and a couple million dollar winners, but after five tribal councils they were faltering, fractured and frustrated (Colby dousing Jerri with a bucket of water following a Reward Challenge loss, for example), and with one more Immunity Challenge defeat they were in danger of going into the merge down 6-4 to a Kucha Tribe operating with extreme confidence and bellies full of chickens and popcorn and, thanks to Mike, a pig.
And then, in the blink of an eye, it all came crashing down.
For the last few seasons we’ve become increasingly irritated by the presence of God, or, rather, some players’ insistence that he (or she!) has some influence on the game of Survivor, from Matt justifying his repeated exile to Redemption Island as part of Jesus’s plan to Brandon Hantz invoking the will of the Lord in his quest to purge Mikayla from the game (and maybe the Earth) because of her fictional harlot tendencies. For one season we can deal with these bible thumpers, but as it became a consistent aspect of the game, it became grating, obnoxious even. Sure, God may love Survivor, but as a true fan he would never get involved. When it comes to Survivor, God is agnostic, and if he had a dog in the fight, it wouldn’t be someone from the God Squad, it would be a rough and tumble champion, like Sophie or Lt. Tom Westman. But even if God had a rooting interest, we were sure that he (or she!) had no impact on the game, just like he has nothing to do with Tim Tebow (unless sending him to the Jets is God’s idea of a holy hilarious joke). However, after this week’s Survivor: One World! we’ve changed our mind. Because if that wasn’t divine intervention, if that wasn’t an instance of God reigning down vengeance from above, we don’t know what is.
Our Redemption Island journey came to an end Sunday night, and while the home stretch of the season had been rather uneventful and predictable, if economical, we still had the chance for fireworks in the last two hours. Would Rob complete what was unquestionably one of – if not the – definitive Survivor performances, winning it all in his fourth attempt? Or, perhaps, would Matt fulfill his destiny and return from Redemption Island to become the Sole Survivor (if that was God’s will)? Or would Mike, the lone remaining member of Zapatera, the double threat of soldier and Jesus lover, reenter the game and lockup votes from his former teammates? Or would Grant, the remarkable physical specimen, go undefeated down the stretch, the jury rewarding his unparalleled athletic prowess with a million dollars. Or, finally, would Andrea prove victorious in the final Redemption Island duel and surprise us all by going all the way to the end? Well, there’s no way that could happen, right?
We sincerely apologize for the absence of Redemption Island recaps the last month; Gawker.TV ceased publishing weekly recaps and our day job has been monopolizing our time. But, with the finale airing tonight night, we felt it was our responsibility (and our pleasure) to give some thoughts on what’s transpired since our last recap and what is still to come.
Before we delve into the eliminations, duels, blindsides and bonehead moves of the past month, it’s come to our attention that we’ve been going easy on Matt and his love of Jesus. So, to right that wrong, we’re going to go ahead and dedicate the first part this post to Matt and his savior.
“Are you there, God? It’s me, Matt. Why have you abandoned me?”
“Because, Matt, I don’t care about reality television. I’m the almighty creator, and I have infinitely more important things to do than interfere with or preordain some reality show competition. And if I were to get involved with any of these shows, it wouldn’t be Survivor, hands down it’d be Top Chef, because a) I fancy myself as a bit of a foodie and b) have you seen the rack on Padma? One of my finest creations.”
“Oh, so that one set of footprints. That wasn’t you carrying me on your back?”
So this week we entered the post-Russell Hantz era. And for those of you who complained that Russell was a sneaky, nefarious player who only made it to the finals because he had no chance to win, and that his dominance was a product of editing, and that he was a bore and boorish, well, do you miss him now? Because, say what you want about the guy, there’s no denying that he made things interesting. Which is perhaps something you can’t say about last night’s Survivor
Imagine waking up in a beautiful seaside location, the crashing waves slowly lulling you out of your slumber, the faraway echoes of exotic birds gently coaxing you out of dreamland, a warm, refreshing breeze serving as nature’s alarm clock. And then imagine waking up after nine hungry days in a hot, humid, bug-infested jungle and the first thing you see is Phillip’s nasty, tattered, ill-fitting, sun-faded red underwear. Because that’s exactly the waking nightmare for the members of the Ometepe tribe as we begin this week’s Survivor: Redemption Island. Any momentum they had after defeating Zapatera last week is immediately erased by the actual sight of Phillip’s junk escaping from his delicates, forcing the Survivor editing team to employ their best blurring skills. But, to Phillip’s credit, he seems entirely comfortable just flapping in the wind. And completely oblivious. But since we’re watching this from the safety of our couch (and, thankfully, with the strategically placed blurs intact) we’re not complaining, because, besides Russell, Phillip is the most entertaining player on the show.
Over the last couple years we’ve become ardent devotees to the concept of “Occam’s Razor,” the tenet that the “simplest explanation is most likely the correct one.” There’s a similar paradigm that works itself into any season of Survivor, but focuses less on the simplest explanation and more on the theory that players will make their moves based on the belief that the other competitors will make the correct, smartest decisions. Unfortunately, as the show as often proved, playing that way does not always lead to the best results. And we saw an example of this again last night.
But more on that later. First, (as teased last week) Matt arrives on Redemption Island and Francesca is shocked (shocked!) it wasn’t Phillip who was voted out by the Ometepe tribe earlier in the night. He had no allies, posed no threat, and basically begged for mercy, so why would Ometepe (and its leader, Boston Rob) want to keep him around? Oh, yeah, for those very reasons. Phillip may be a loose cannon, intolerable, and borderline bipolar, but right now, as Rob says, he’s a loyal solider. Plus, he’s endlessly entertaining. Back at Ometepe camp Rob breaks down the alliance, explicitly telling Phil that he’s the fifth person on a five-person alliance and Phil is basically responds “Cool! Just happy to be here! Thanks, Rob!” And then they seal Phil’s blind allegiance with a first bump, which in the three federal agencies that Phil used to serve in is tantamount to swearing on one’s parents’ graves.
We started this week’s episode of Survivor: Redemption Island with our first glimpse of, well, Redemption Island. After being voted at the first Tribal Council, Francesca arrived at her new home and quickly found a signpost describing life on the island, “Welcome to Redemption Island: No Smoking, No Yelling, No Swearing; Daily Menu: Breakfast – Rice; Lunch – Rice, Dinner – Rice.” Francesca can’t find a flint, so she’s worried about freezing during night, but really she’s just happy to be away from Former Federal Agent (?) Phillip.