That’s what I said in my wrap up of the fall 2011 season of Survivor: South Pacific. I also said the following:
“A lot’s been said about John Cochran over the course of this season and a lot of it’s been pretty unfair. There are those who were disappointed that he wasn’t a mastermind, considering he’s a Harvard student who’s studied the game like it’s his law textbooks (probably more intently, actually), but those people forget that even Boston Rob wasn’t Boston Rob his first time round. Survivor‘s intimidating, especially for a super fan, and it takes time to figure out how to play it like the pros we’ve come to measure everyone against (there’s a reason returning players have been doing so well against newcomers). The kid got tongue-tied and scared and star-struck, that doesn’t make him a bad player and it certainly doesn’t make him a bad guy. On his second go-round, when he’s not quite as desperate for each and every day he can get on the island, Cochran’s game WILL step up, he just needs to get his head screwed on right.”
And then I nominated him for a 2011 My TV Award for Best Male Reality Star (which he understandably lost to Boston Rob).
My point here is that Cochran returned (as was inevitable from his very first tribal) and did exactly what I said he’d do. He did it so well, in fact, that he slaughtered the back half of the season and won a rare unanimous jury vote to take home the million and, far more importantly, the title of Sole Survivor.
I was bored out of my mind watching the early parts of this season and rooting for Cochran was one of the only things that kept me tuned in (I told Jeff Probst when I interviewed him earlier this year that I’d be pulling for Cochran, so pull for him I faithfully did). But while he did what he could to keep things entertaining with amusing confessionals and some impressive challenge showings, a major part of Cochran’s early strategy was to lay low and stay with the majority as long as possible. That’s a smart move that’s boring to watch, so us poor folks at home had to sit and wait, trusting that he’d bring his A game when he needed to. In the meantime, there was Brandon’s disturbing meltdown and what ended up being two medical evacuations (I was glad to see Shamar go but, damn, Erik, what a tough late-game exit). There was the obliteration of the cool kids alliance (sparing Eddie, the most unintentionally funny player in years- dogbar!) and the slow redemption of its strongest player into someone I was surprised to find myself really liking (yes, I’m hoping Reynold comes back for another season; don’t tell Kelly from 2 months ago that I said that). Potentially awesome players like Matt and Michael left without ever really getting a shot, and Brenda stepped up as the most improved human after her infuriating turn in Nicaragua. She still isn’t a stellar strategist, but at least she was likable this time around. That polarizing move with the teeth is getting some serious internet hate for its bitter mean-spiritedness but I actually didn’t mind it. She’s right to call Dawn out on threatening to quit and the only way to prove that she actually values the game enough to play without her teeth is to make her remove them. I’m all for forcing people to walk the walk.
Luckily for the audience, two big returning personalities were ready to make big, TV-ready moves (three if you count Andrea, who was greatly improved from her last season but still not someone I wanted to root for). The incredibly entertaining Corinne and last season’s standout player Malcolm joined forces to make the most charismatic alliance of all time. They had solid, workable plans to flip the island. Unfortunately, their timing was off and they talked to the wrong people (more on that in a moment) causing their inevitable failure, no matter how well-laid their plans were or how many great moments they generated. Malcolm pulled would-be legendary tribal moves two weeks in a row by first convincing Reynold to give him his idol then by playing two of his own the next week to unexpectedly oust Philip. If Andrea hadn’t gotten paranoid that first week, Malcolm could have flipped the game right there. Alas, timing just wasn’t on his side.
Cochran played one of the all-time great games this season with clutch competition wins, smart timing, and impeccable insight into oncoming moves. His greatest asset was coming into the game with an alliance partner who it couldn’t have been easy to convince to come along for the ride (after his betrayal caused her early exit in their previous season together). Throughout the game, Dawn served as an information courier. She could have turned at any moment and joined up with one of the rebel alliances (because every single player told her every move they were about to make- idiots), but instead she squirrelled all information right back to Cochran, who then decided what to do with it. Dawn’s unwavering loyalty to him and literally just him made Cochran’s game a ton easier but her constant emotional outbursts gave him an extra layer of hazards to manage. Ultimately, a masterful turn in Survivor usually results in an inevitable conclusion. I may have predicted his potential years ago and hoped for the best as this season kicked off but as Cochran quietly solidified the ousting of Malcolm (with Philip’s blood on his hands), then orchestrated Andrea’s demise (bearing most of the Three Amigos’ blood herself), followed by the Brenda backstabbing (with blame somehow landing solely on Dawn), there was no other way for this season to end. And so it did.
Then we were treated to a truly terrible reunion where everyone who wasn’t Cochran, Dawn, Brenda, Philip or Malcolm got ignored, the non-jurors weren’t even allowed onstage, and everyone talked about Cochran as a triumphant everyman, somehow forgetting that everymen don’t generally get in to Harvard. But, either way, it was one of the best wins in years and belonged to exactly the man I wanted it to.
The other reality show I obsessed over this spring was the first-ever season of Big Brother Canada. I was thrilled to see that it was essentially a carbon copy of the American version I love so well and the casting was intriguing and entertaining with just enough potential strategists to set the season up for great success…
… then it all went to hell.
The trouble started when the producers decided to throw in a completely unnecessary twist. I love some good twists (the introduction of the veto, the occasional double eviction, I even have some residual fondness for ridiculous things like when “Project DNA” united a brother and sister who had never met) and even some of the stupider “twists” can be amusing to watch, so long as they don’t affect anything game-wise (Andrew’s brother showing up during that “freeze” task was kind of great). But I cannot stand when twists are designed to entirely screw over a particular player. This was the case when Big Brother decided to broadcast Topaz’s nomination deliberations to the entire house. She alienated half the players and her showmance Alec had to scramble to make up the lost good will, ultimately voting against her wishes and keeping Andrew in the house over AJ. Alec was by far my favourite player in the house and I really do believe he’s a better strategist than he proved in that moment but the move screwed him and his alliance from there on out. Topaz tried to make a big move but did it too early and too publicly, thus losing Alec’s support and the man she tried to get rid of quickly won HOH, nominated her, and evicted her best friend Gary.
The close call during Topaz’s Head of Household and the loss of his close ally AJ lit a fire in the player I called a “sleeper cell” and he finally showed up to play. Unfortunately, much as I actually did like Andrew, he played against my boys Alec and Peter (aka “The Shield”), forming the East Coast Alliance with Emmett and Jillian that would ride Jillian’s intense competitions skills right to the final 4 (or at least what was the final 4 for about 3 minutes before the next unfair twist). At this point I pretty much tuned out of this whole season. I still watched it, just in case Andrew miraculously didn’t get betrayed in the end as everyone knew he would be, but I knew I wouldn’t like how it ended so I pulled back on the investment. I needed Alec to win this season. He was a great player. Or at least he could have been had he been able to keep his principal alliance on the DL. The impenetrable bond between Alec and Peter (a player I was determined to like but who turned out to be far too immature to give the intellectual credit he thinks he so deserves) put an easy target on their backs and the pair somehow thought that in keeping their official alliance name a secret they were also keeping their alliance a secret. This is obviously not true. The other players knew they were together and therefore saw that they needed to be torn apart. So they were torn apart. Alec was still around to be the lone voice of actual reason on the jury but, Andrew aside, his departure meant that the final weeks of the season would be carried by a pack of morons who think they’re smart because they can guess inane trivia answers and balance eggs on spoons.
This actually drove me crazy. Jillian’s utter insistence that competition wins are the same thing as good game play was infuriating. Anyone who’s ever seen a single episode of Big Brother knows that’s not true. Every time that girl opened her mouth I wanted to scream. Her only redeeming quality was her showmance Emmett, someone who I also didn’t really like but who did an admittedly good job of currying favour in those final weeks and setting himself up for victory with some semblance of a sense of strategy.
However, Big Brother Canada was ready with another game-changing, completely unfair twist. Canada voted a player back in the house. To my chagrin, Canada apparently didn’t like Alec as much as I did because they voted for Gary. I like what that says about our country, considering there’s no way in a million years that American viewers would have voted for a giant gay black man with multiple female alter egos, but it wasn’t a fair twist and will never be a fair twist. But at least I liked Gary and once Andrew was gone at least there was someone back in the house who I enjoyed watching. Gary set himself up well in his second chance by joining forces with Emmett and pulling out a crucial veto win to save himself from being voted right back out. When he won the final HOH, he made the gutsy and smart move to vote out Emmett. It was a shocker that earned Gary enough respect that even though he was a returning evictee, I came to terms with him winning.
BUT (and here’s where it gets Bonkers)
He didn’t win. In one of the craziest, weirdest, awkwardest, most melancholy turn of events I’ve ever see on a reality show, Gary’s best friend in the house (Topaz) got so caught up in her jury speech that she put the wrong key in the voting box, handing the $100,000 win to the most annoying woman in the world- Jillian instead of Gary. Topaz threw a fit and Arisa had to throw to commercial and it was all a fascinating hullaballoo. Most interestingly, I thought, was Jillian’s reaction. I was sure she’d give it up, say that Gary was clearly the intended winner and take the $80,000 cut down to second place. She didn’t win fairly, so she shouldn’t claim the win. But she claimed it anyway. Apparently one can be dumb, annoying and ungracious all at the same time. It’s such a shame. Ultimately, I think Gary is better off as the bittersweet non-winner because he will be remembered for being robbed of what was rightfully his instead of blending in with all the other reality show winners. Gary’s reward was the impact he made, the way he made people love him, that beautiful speech that Alec graciously opened the door for him to give during the jury questioning. This ending- idiotic as it may have been- was actually just dramatic and injustice-filled enough to do justice to Gary and his crusade to be memorable.
Tune in this summer for all our thoughts on the real Big Brother and next fall for this weird “blood vs. water” twist that might be awesome but will likely be crazy on Survivor. (My prediction: family members on opposing tribes)