Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites, which was marked by it's unpredictability, has the most unlikely of winners: John Cochran. Yes the nerdy Harvard law student who was a Survivor superfan was not only victorious, but he won in a unanimous vote against Dawn Meehan and a zombie that told everyone its name is Sherri Biethman.
Though that seems very unlikely based on how Cochran played on his first season, Survivor: South Pacific, and the opening episodes of this game, where he was remarkable more for overcoming a crippling sunburn than he was for his bombastic game play, but as soon as the show started it seemed fairly clear that he was going to win. When the episode began, Eric had to be evacuated from the game for the reason that seems the mostly likely but has never stricken a player before: starvation. He was dizzy and about as crazy as Dawn on a crying jag in a bag full of wet cats. This seemed to take all the guess work out of the rest of the proceedings. The only person who seemed like he could possibly beat Cochran was now removed through no fault of his own.
What was probably going to be an immunity challenge was then turned into a reward challenge to give whoever won an advantage in the final challenge (however last season Malcolm won a reward challenge that gave him an advantage in the final too, so maybe there was just a challenge they scrapped and this was the intent all along). This type of challenge has become more popular with Jeff Probst than that one shirt with the double pockets that he has in every color and seems to be the only garment he wears on camera. It's a challenge where everyone has to build a house of cards to a certain height and the first one to watch all of House of Cards in one sitting wins. Wait, that's some sort of Netflix challenge. After more back and forth than the world's first Pong tournament, Cochran ended up winning.
That means at the final challenge – where everyone had to run up an obstacle course, collect bags of puzzle pieces, and then build a puzzle – Cochran didn't have to untie his puzzle pieces from a series of knots like everyone else. Though the advantage didn't help him out too much, he ends up winning the challenge and taking the necklace.
The big conundrum then became whether he should take Dawn (his ally not only in this season but their last one as well) along with him to the finals or if he should take Eddie, who is kind of stupid and didn't do much in terms of game play or winning challenges. Zombie Sherri was going to the finals because, well, she's a zombie and while she might have Outlasted, Outwitted, and Outplayed everyone on the jury, she didn't Outlive any of them. What really irks me about the final three setup is that the holder of immunity doesn't even get to make the decision of who faces the jury. When there is a final two, the fate of the finals isn't necessarily decided by the person who won immunity and I think that is not only unfair, but it makes for boring TV as well, which is the ultimate crime of any reality show.
But I think that keeping Dawn was a very clever strategy for Cochran. He said when casting his vote that he was doing it based on what he thought the jury wanted. They didn't want someone who played mean and cutthroat, which is what he would have been if he axed Dawn so late in the game. Instead she gets to be the one to take the heat for blindsiding Brenda and Andrea and he gets to look like the nice guy who took his friend along to the end even if it might have cost him a vote or two. It made him seem that much warmer than Dawn and like he was unafraid to face deserving players in the end.
Cochran was clearly the best player there. Not only did he own the strategic game, he also did a great job in the challenges, something he didn't really play up to the jury. In fact, everyone's presentations seemed to be short on specifics. Cochran says that he was a master strategist, but never told us why. Zombie Sheri kept saying she played a strong game, but never gave one example. She just groaned and shuffled and mumbled something about brains.
The final tribal council was the mix of stunts and speeches that we've come to expect, and which are always a letdown after Sue Hawk's genius oratory in the first ever Survivor finale. There were two really intense moments, however. The first was when Eric confronted Sherri and told her she did nothing in the game, which is sort of like the pot calling the kettle a zombie. Then Sherri told Eric he was wrong and she didn't need his vote and to sit down. I don't want to pile on Sherri because the jury already did, but that was really her only good action the entire season. The second moment to remember was when Brenda confronted Dawn and made her take out her teeth. Like so much else this season, it just seemed a bit mean. I totally know where Brenda was coming from, she wanted Dawn to do something to prove how painful it was to vote her own friend out by debasing herself. But still, man, it was hard to watch.
In the end it was Cochran's articulate levelheadedness played so much better than Dawn's teary-faced paranoia. After his winning votes were read, we had to endure the reunion show, where Jeff Probst completely ignored Sherri and everyone who didn't make the jury so that he could talk to a bunch of his favorite men, macho bullies like Phillip, Boston Rob, and Rudy (who managed to use the word "queer" twice in 20 seconds). I'm shocked that the entire Hantz family didn't get up there and sing some sort of choir number about treating people like crap and beating up your enemies. All this did was to show why Jeff Probst's talk show got cancelled so damn fast.
Then at the end of the reunion, we got to find out what is up with the next season of Survivor (which, I'm guess, Reynold, like all the other chauvenistic a**holes that Jeff Probst loves, is going to be on). It is called Survivor: Blood Vs. Water and it's totally going to pit family members against each other, right? I will say that it was totally gratifying to watch this season and have a bunch of scrappy misfits take out the cool kids and make it so far and to see Cochran, the ultimate underdog, take the top prize after growing so much as a person. That has always been the enchanting thing about Survivor from the beginning – that we all think that, given the chance, we could go out there and win a million smackerinos. Seeing Cochran, a guy who seems more likely to win a Magic: The Gathering tournament than a survivalist nightmare, walk away victorious only makes us think, even more, that we can win.
What isn't fun to watch is the cruelty that has seeped into recent seasons of the show. We saw it this year with the casting of Brandon Hantz (who was banned from the finale, even after supposedly being cleared to play the game) and with Brenda and Dawn robbed of their loved ones and made to watch everyone else enjoy theirs right off their beach. That cruelty is built into a season where family members are pitted against each other and it might be, sadly, the first season of 26 that I don't actually watch.
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There are certain Survivor traditions that we know are coming every year, from the obvious (the merge) to the not so obvious (the visit-from-the-loved-ones episode). This week's episode brought my least favorite of all the traditions: the Survivor auction. But you know what? I actually enjoyed this installment quite a bit.
Jeff Probst, who is an executive producer on the show, has been making subtle changes for a while now (it's probably not all Probst, but as the figurehead and public face of the show, he can stand in for "The Man" behind it). I usually don't appreciate them, but this new, intricate, almost mean Survivor auction is one of the best.
When the tradition started (was it Season 1? I can't even remember back that far), it was just a simple auction where you could bid on food, or hidden things that were often dirty water. It was pretty straightforward. Now, this thing is like a minefield. Every dish isn't just a dish, it is an invitation to disaster. Boy, do I like it. At first, Probst says that whoever offers the first $20 gets beer and nuts; Malcolm claims the prize, even though he was just talking all about how he had to buy the advantage that was sure to be offered.
After that, one dish is a Let's Make a Deal style choice. Then, Andrea is offered the Sophie's Choice of whether to eat a plate of pasta or take rice and beans for the team, opting for the latter, of course.
Malcolm bids his $480 for "information in the game." This is not the advantage in the immunity challenge (Cochran wins that later, and doesn't even have to spend all his money to get it), but he does get to read the location of a hidden immunity idol.
Zombie Brenda is fretting the whole time of the auction, not wanting to spend all of her money and wind up with something bad. Here's a strategy tip for you, Brenda. No one ever gets to buy two things. I don't know why people don't figure this out. Dawn and Sheri just say, "I'll give you $500 for a pizza/grilled chicken!" That is how you plays Survivor Auction. You might want to offer $480 now that we know you don't have to bid on a letter from home anymore and can just buy it with $20. But the point is, saving your money is foolish. Finally, Brenda bids on something and she does get the junky prize. She gets brains. Zombie Brenda is very happy that she gets, brains and eats them with relish. That's the best way to eat brains.
Eddie brings a giant vat of peanut butter. After everyone gets to share it for exactly one minute, the group is allowed to bring back to camp all the PB they are able to spread on their bodies when the minute is up. This is a great idea. Everyone is covered in peanut butter, and they scrape it off their hands and put it in a little container to eat later. Good job, Jeff Probst, on finally making the Survivor Auction something to watch.
As I predicted after last week's absolutely amazing tribal council, Malcolm's game is good in the short term but not in the long term. We see that again, when he looks for the immunity idol. He goes to look for it, and Andrea c**kblocks him and keeps him from digging for it. She and Malcolm just stand there for hours. She says she was worried that if he found it, she would go home. What Malcolm should do here is root that out of her and use that time standing next to each other to talk to her about the game. Make a final two deal with her right then and there, get your immunity idol and shift the entire dynamic of the game. He does not.
At the immunity challenge, Cochran uses the advantage he won in the auction to win the challenge. I have to say, I teared up a little when he won and explained how he came back from being derided for being a sissy, and now he's won 50 percent of the individual immunity challenges (sure there has only bee four, but). I guess now I have to root for Cochran because Malcolm, my ultimate dream boat, is gone.
Malcolm fails to win the idol. Reynold and Eddie both lost the immunity challenge, so they need more coverage. They hatch a plan to get the former Stealth R Us people to split their vote and they would peel off one or two people and add them to their alliance. Both Eric, the zombie, and Sheri, a zombie who is coming to life a bit, seem like they are willing to switch, but they do not. I think that they should have convinced them both that they would be in the majority next week. The only thing that is going to get people away from a majority alliance is thinking that they're going to be in a new majority alliance where they have a better shot. I didn't see Malcolm or Eddie or Reynold really making that case, and E & R Music Factory don't have nearly the strategic play that Malcolm does. They are merely brutes, still in this game because of their strength, not because of their cunning.
I must say that both Dawn and Andrea have been playing surprisingly strong games, but other than them and Cochran, who has been smart, but under the radar, we have ended up with a bunch of mediocre people. That's what happens when you keep voting out the strong. Now there are going to be a few boring weeks as the zombies get picked off on the way to the finale. I can't foresee a final three with Dawn, Cochran, and Andrea all making it to the end (there will be too many physical challenges between them and the victory) but right now, they seem to be the only ones deserving of having their torch snuffed last.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
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This prequel-ish remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween finds a 10-year-old Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) looking like Dennis the Menace—but still acting like the Antichrist. Who could blame the kid? His older sister (Hanna Hall) makes fun of him when not ignoring him his alcoholic stepdad (William Forsythe) hurls food and profanity at him and the school bullies harass him endlessly. Young Michael’s only allies are his mom (Sheri Moon) and baby sister. Which explains why their lives are spared when Michael goes on a Halloween night killing spree. Fifteen years pass and Michael’s hatred of speaking and love of mask-wearing have reached an all-time high. When the guards at the instititution Michael has called home for the past decade and a half make the fatal mistake of trying to transport him to a new location—on his favorite night of the year no less—Michael busts out without a hitch. With his mom having committed suicide years ago Michael has but one person to pay a visit to: his now teenage sister (Scout Taylor-Compton) who has long since been adopted and not informed of her family tree. But with Michael’s longtime psychologist Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) hot on his trail it won’t be so easy to get to his baby sis. OK so maybe it'll be somewhat easy. The only members of the cast to turn in actual performances are Moon wife/frequent collaborator of Halloween writer-director Rob Zombie and McDowell. It’s not that the others can’t act but rather that they spend the movie screaming (Taylor-Compton) or hiding dialogue-less under a mask (Tyler Mane) or some other form of non-acting—which is admittedly neither here nor there since the same could be said about most slasher movies. Moon lends a certain humanity to an otherwise emotionless affair and it makes her stand out in more than one way but sadly her performance is rather short-lived. Elsewhere young actress Taylor-Compton certainly has nothing on Jamie Lee Curtis’ original Laurie Strode except for perhaps the decibels and amount of her screams. Filling in for Donald Pleasence McDowell wasn’t a bad casting choice to deliver cryptic if dubious dialogue but his performance is rarely more than funny—which could sum up most of the acting here. Such humor culminates with Danny Trejo’s tiny performance as a janitor who cheerily calls the grown-up Myers “Mikey”—even when being savagely murdered by him. Thought shock-rocker Rob Zombie would be the right man for the job of updating John Carpenter’s Halloween? You weren’t alone but alas it is only an update by the standards of today’s “horror” directors who mistake gore for fear factor. In the prologue featuring the young Myers the laughability of the young actor’s dialogue is only exceeded by how unscary his actions are. Blame Zombie’s screenplay which is often unfunny when it’s supposed to be funny—primarily during his trademark clichéd-white-trash-family scenes—and funny when it’s not supposed to be. In the second half at least the talking turns into screams and the pace picks up but it’s all for naught because the older Michael has become a superhuman monster instead of a troubled institutionalized human. The psychological scares have been completely drained from this remake as Zombie appears more intent on stylistically depicting the murders than setting them up; any shred of subtlety as a result is gone. Although maybe the director thought he fulfilled the psychological-scare quota when the psychologist’s life is put in grave danger. As Zombie’s Halloween limps on it becomes a sad commentary on the state of the genre: Elaborate throat-slittings and blood trajectories are no longer even flinch-inducing.