How many times have we had some stupid reality show tell us it's the most "shocking," "amazing," or "dramatic" episode ever, and how many times have we watched it only to be horribly disappointed? Just about every time (except when it was Joe Millionaire). When CBS started touting that last night's tribal council was the best of the 404 tribals that had been on the show, I was incredibly skeptical, but, man — did they deliver. They really F-ing delivered. Wow, this is why we all still watch Survivor even after 13 years, and why we slog through horrible seasons just so you can get to that one true nugget of gold. And at the end, Secret Agent Phillip Shepherd, one of the most exasperatingly annoying people to ever play the game, was finally ejected. Thank god! The angles all played their horns last night.
However, I am going to say — and this may be controversial — that Malcolm did it all wrong.
We'll get to that in a minute, but first we have to address Dawn. At the end of last week's episode, the "Next week on (dramatic pause) Survivor" was all about Dawn's breakdown. Why not start touting the amazing tribal council then? Instead, we all tuned in thinking that Dawn was going totally crazy pants and was going to quit, and it turns out she just lost her retainer and had a bad day, like she was a 14-year-old whose mom wouldn't let her to go a Justin Bieber concert. That's it. That's what all the blubbering was about. A bad day and her missing flipper, like she's on Honey Boo Boo. I feel bad for Dawn, but that wasn't really what I wanted to watch, especially when they made it look like she was going to have some dramatic crack-up about the morals of the game or something. It turns out she was just hungry and tired which, of course. We all get completely bonkers when we're that crazy and tired.
There was a reward challenge where two groups had to dig up bags of balls (I swear all of these challenges are rigged so that Jeff Probst has to say things like "bag of balls" over and over again until you are sure that he means something totally nasty), and then shoot (groan) the balls (hehe, again) into a big pole (this is getting ridiculous). I only bring this up because there were two teams and on one team Malcolm went first and dug up all the bags for his team. On the other team Eric went through, got one bag, and then Reynold came through and dug up the remaining four in less time than it took Malcolm to get all five. Jeff didn't say a thing about how much more slowly Malcolm did it, costing his team. Instead, when Shari didn't do well on the balance beam, he railed against her the whole time she was running the challenge.
This is really starting to annoy me. Probst did it all last season with the "Abi is sitting out another challenge" bit. He always picks on the weak and the women, and never says anything about the strong men, even when they mess up. When Eddie botched the immunity challenge by not getting his ring on the post, he didn't drone on and on about what an "enormous, game-changing blunder" it was like he would have if it was a girl or Cochran. I know Jeff really likes the strong guys, but he might want to try to dish out his scorn equally.
Now, speaking of strong guys, I can't help but wonder how they all stayed in the game. Malcolm, Reynold (who does not rap), and Eddie have a tight alliance, and there were four people and three zombies (Eric, Shari, and Brenda, who don't say a word but shuffle around limply from week to week) up against them. First Reynold won immunity while Phillip sat out. Then Malcolm went and found a hidden immunity idol that was put back in the game after he used it at the last tribal council. Now, this is what I call into question. I don't really know because the idols are usually held until much later in the game, but if one idol is used after the merge and there is still one in the game, is that first one usually replaced? I can easily see the producers putting it out there, knowing that Malcolm and the Three Amigos would find it. (PS — Between the Three Amigos and Stealth R Us, every alliance has a name. Is this Big Brother all of a sudden?) Speaking of Big Brother, was this Jeff Probst bending the rules to keep the strong men in the game and make for a more interesting show just like BB always does? It seems beneath Survivor, but I don't know.
So, Reynold won immunity, and Malcolm found an idol in front of Andrea and Dawn so everyone knew he had an idol. It looked for sure like Eddie was going home. Still, the four people and three zombies of Stealth R Us decided to split their vote with four people voting Eddie, and the three zombies voting Malcolm so that if they decided to switch idols around, one of them was still going home. But all did not go according to plan.
Tribal council started off all nice and normal, with everyone talking about how one of the Three Amigos was getting shipped to the jury. Malcolm responded to this by putting on his hidden immunity idol. Jeff asked about how Eddie was doomed. But then, as soon as Jeff asked about how the three of them were ostracized at camp, Malcolm piped up and said, "Yeah, it sucks and it's going to continue to suck for them because I have another idol and here you go Eddie, we're all safe."
The faces on everyone else. Andrea's face should be a GIF that never stops playing in my mind. This was absolutely amazing television. Usually tribal is the most boring part of the show. Nothing that is said there ever changes the course of the game. Ever. The show is edited so that on any given week we have to wonder which of two people is going home, but it's almost always a certainty. The voting is as perfunctory as the voting at the Electoral College. But now, suddenly, everything that was said mattered. People started whispering and throwing around names. The dissembling was happening before our very eyes. Even Jeff didn't know what to do. He wanted to ask Malcolm questions, but he also wanted to get all the members of Stealth R Us talking about who they thought should go home. If I was Malcolm I would have said, "Jeff, we'll talk in a bit, ask them who they are voting for!" He needs all the fractures in the alliance exposed if this is going to work long term.
Now, this was amazing television, but it was horrible game play. The problem here is that Malcolm, Eddie, and Reynold are still on the flip side of the numbers. Next week they're not going to have the numbers or any immunity idols. What Malcolm should have done was get two or three members of Stealth R Us and say, "We have three immunity idols. We're safe. You can band with us and decide who we're sending home along with us, or you can take your chances at tribal and let everyone else decide who is going home, and it might be you." That way he expands his base and totally crumbles the alliance. He would have gotten rid of one of their members, none of them would be able to trust each other, several people would have flipped, and he could have turned the game around. If they got a solid six, they wouldn't have had to use one or both of their idols.
Instead, he blew it. Yes, the theatrics were great to watch, but not good to win. Malcolm said, "We're voting for Phillip. He's the fun sponge. He takes all the fun out of this game and I don't want to play like that anymore." I get it, I really do. He's horrible and awful and treats everyone like babies and pretends like he's running the game when really Dawn and Andrea seem to be calling all the shots. Philip said, "Say you're voting for me for strategic reasons, don't malign my character." And he's right. Saying, "We don't like Phillip and we want him gone," is not good game play. Either say, "He sat out of the challenge voluntarily for no good reason. That is an insult to all of us because he is not really playing, let's send him home." Or say, "Phillip is in charge of Stealth R Us, so he has to go." You have to give people and excuse to vote for him other than "he's annoying." It also screws Malcolm and co when he's a jury member if they make it to the end, because he will not vote for them out of spite.
The thing with Phillip is he wanted them to say that he was in charge, and that's why he was going home. I think he would like being kicked out for being a threat. Instead, he was kicked out for being annoying. And while we're talking about Phillip, I think it's the same sort of ego that made him sit out the challenge. Sure he had some BS about being trapped under a dock, but that didn't effect him last week when the challenge was, oh, I don't know, being trapped under a surface as the water tried to drown you? No mention of it then. I think that he knew he would lose so he would rather say, "Oh, I only didn't win because I didn't participate" rather than flat out lose.
So, Phillip said, "Let's vote how we're going to vote anyway, see what they do, and if I go home, so be it." And they did! I don't know if it was the confusion of the situation or if they were so tight no one wanted to seem like they were jumping ship, but they all voted the same way except for Zombie Eric who shuffled up there and hadn't eaten enough brains to know that Phillip is not spelled "Full Up." Maybe it's because Eric hated him and was filled up with annoyance when he jumped in the pool all dirty at the reward challenge.
Phillip went home and finally we can all enjoy the show without his saggy briefs and scene-stealing nonsense. But what is Malcolm left with. There was no flipping in the alliance. Only Eric turned, which still doesn't give him enough numbers, and no one in Stealth R Us talked shit about each other, so he doesn't even know who he can try to draw out next week. And he played all the idols. Yes, that was one of the most amazing episodes of all time (second only to when Parvati played two immunity idols and turned around the original Fans Vs. Favorites) but in the long run, it was a big mistake.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
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As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.