Thursday, April 06, 2006

When Captain America failed... again

(In this entry, "Survivor" and "The O.C.")

Terry, Terry, Terry. I want to like you, I want to root for you, I want to do a Photoshop collage of you and Tom Westman, but you're making it awfully hard. First there was your stubborn insistence on hanging onto the pole last week. (He really needed Chris Rock standing on the beach yelling, "Get off the pole! Get! Off! The! Pole!") There was never going to be a better time to use the Immunity Idol, and you wasted it.

And then, last night, so, so, so many mistakes. First, he made virtually the same dumbass sales pitch to Danielle and Bruce that he made to Shane and Cirie the week before, offering Bruce the lovely gift of finishing in fifth place instead of sixth, and offering Danielle the Idol plus... I dunno. The thing he doesn't get is that Casaya, despite its challenge success and its unified voting these last two episodes, is an incredibly fractured powerhouse, and someone like Danielle is probably better off getting rid of Terry and his tight-knit pals, then carving off a sub-group (say, her, Cirie, Courtney and Bruce) to get rid of Aras and Shane. Unless Terry offered one of those two final two, or offered both of them final three, he wasn't offering them squat.

Even worse, having revealed his posession of the Idol to Danielle, Terry damn sure should've been prepared to use it that night as a back-up plan. It was pretty obvious Austin was the next-biggest target, so he should've handed him the Idol before Tribal Council, with the understanding that if their plan worked, Austin would have to give it up to Danielle. That way, Aras would've gone home no matter what, and it would be easier to break Bruce or somebody else away.

So now not only does Terry only have one ally left, but now the bad guys all know he has the Idol, which will make him a target at every single Immunity Challenge. Sooner or later, we're going to get the trusty ol' plate-breaking contest, and everyone is going to smash Terry's plate first, just to force him to give up the Idol. And at that point, he will have zero margin of error. And if he loses the next IC, he's essentially screwed, because all Casaya has to do then is split their vote between Terry and Sally, and no matter who those two vote for, Sally goes home and Terry loses the Idol (unless he's willing to sell out Sally in the process, which he might be).

I don't think Tom was a mental giant, either, but the difference is that he had Ian to do the thinking for both of them. (Ian was the one who explained how imperative it was to get rid of Greg, immediately, and had to fight to convince Tom to go along.) Terry could've had his own brainy sidekick, but he got rid of Dan Fuego weeks ago in favor of keeping strong but stupid Austin and Nick. Yeesh.

All that said, I was really enjoying the episode up until Austin got the boot. This is the most pre-vote scrambling I think we've ever seen, and while it was a dumb plan, it seemed like Bruce and Danielle were both seriously considering it. Couple that with Austin and Terry's knowing smiles to each other at TC, and I thought for sure they had pulled it off -- or, at least, that they were smart enough to have Austin holding the Idol. Beyond that, I liked Terry's reveal of the Idol to Sally, because you could tell he had been dying to brag about it to someone ever since he found the damn thing. ("I found it in, like, 20 minutes! Now kneel before my mighty awesomeness!") I liked seeing Aras "rewarded" with breakfast in the wettest bed of all time, and I liked both challenges.

At this point, I'm pulling for a Cirie/Sally final two. Odds?

Meanwhile, after last week's semi-promising episode, "The O.C." went back to the dumb-ass plotting that it's been foisting on us for the last two seasons. Seth lying to Summer about a Brown-related matter was annoying enough the first time, but to trot out that stunt again? Marissa -- who has an alcohol overdose and a questionable shooting on her permanent record, and who hasn't been trying at school, or even going that often, for her junior and senior years -- gets into Berkeley? Sandy is such a manipulative dickhead that he actually tries to use his money to talk Ryan out of taking Sadie to Berkeley? Sandy is such a manipulative dickhead that he actually chooses the bribe over taking down the bad guy?

I don't really know what to say beyond that, except to wonder how they're going to contrive things so that all the kids wind up at UCSD next year (maybe they can go with Veronica and Wallace to Hearst College), or else how they're going to contrive that Seth and Summer wind up at Berkeley and how many episodes it'll take before Josh and company realize it's time to send Sandy, Kirsten, Julie and Dr. Roberts to the Far East to hang with Jim and Cindy Walsh. Then again, considering the ratings and the obvious creative meltdown, I'm not so sure "The O.C.: The College Years" is going to be anyone's problem.

Didn't watch or record "Earl." When "The Office" isn't on, I often don't bother. The rare instance of a lead-out driving a viewer to the show that airs before it.

What did everybody else think?

Oh, and in linkage, today's All TV column has me reviewing this Sunday's "West Wing" episode. The short version: though there's a little emotional reaction to Leo's death, it's mainly turned into a Santos/Vinick plot device. Blech.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of the West Wing, what do you think of the way they're protraying the two candidates? To me it seems like they're totally building up Santos - even though he has less experience in general and is less "electable". I know the show has a liberal bend to it, but I would have liked to see them move towards electing a Republican - especially since the show is ending and now they don't need to worry about how all the existing characters would fit in to the new administration. I think it would have made the show more interesting, that they can show both sides for better or for worse. What do you think?

Adam said...

Blatant self-promotion: I've got an essay up on my blog today on whether the combined suckiness of Survivor, TAR and Idol this season represents a new low for reality tv.

Just one thing I'm trying to remember, Alan: isn't "break the plates" always a reward challenge?

Anonymous said...

I don't know who you were watching the OC with last night, but I saw it with a group of 20-something women who bawled through most of the episode. They felt Seth's selfless act of sacrifice -- not telling Summer he didn't get in so she would still go to Brown -- was actually sweet, if misguided. Must've reminded them of a lot of guys they knew. And I think everyone getting into college is just really a big fake-out anyway. I also think creative meltdown is harsh - given the promising nature of the last handful of episodes. Maybe you (like Ben Mckenzie) have outgrown the show... You also glossed over several really funny jokes ("You remember that movie about the gay guys on the mountain?" Marissa "Lord of the Rings?"). Not as good as last week, but still pretty sweet and emotional. But based on how you interpreted the Sandy/Ryan scene it's clear you've been burned on this show too much to watch it with anything but the most critical eye.

Alan Sepinwall said...

anonymous, I forgot about the Lord of the Rings joke, which did make me laugh very loudly at the time. Taylor's also really funny anytime she's on screen.

So how would you interpret the Sandy/Ryan scene? The underlying message was "I'm more than happy to pay for your room and board at school, but I'm not paying the freight if you're with Sadie."

Alan Sepinwall said...

julia, I'm afraid to comment too much on the Santos vs. Vinick thing, since I know who wins. But I've been saying since Leo was named Santos' VP candidate that there was no way the producers would let Vinick win. Even before we knew for certain this was the last year, it'd be one thing for Josh (and maybe Donna) to suffer such a crushing defeat, but for Josh and Donna and Leo, the show's most beloved character? Nuh-uh. Even John Wells wasn't tone-deaf enough to do that.

You could see in the early episodes this season that Wells realized Vinick looked too good and invincible in his spotlight episode the year before, so suddenly Arnie was a cranky old man who wasn't as progressive as we'd been led to believe. They toned that down sometime after the debate, but there was a definite course correction going on. My theory at the time was that Wells was afraid people were starting to prefer Vinick to the candidate Wells intended to win, but he told me a few months back that it was just to make it plausible that either guy could win.

Alan Sepinwall said...

more for anonymous: I did appreciate the poignancy of Seth's sacrifice, but at the same time, I wish they could have found a way for him to do it without repeating elements from the awful pot-smoking story arc. Too many bad memories.

And, after discussing the Sandy/Ryan scene with my friend Dan (who has a much cheerier take on the episode here), I'm starting to come around to the idea that Sandy wasn't trying to muscle Ryan with his wallet. Him seemingly going over to the darkside in that endless real estate subplot has me questioning everything the guy says and does.

Louis said...

Yeah, I didn't quite get all of Terry's attempted maneuverings, but it made me realize what a wash-out I'd be on Survivor. I think the strategizing is really the most difficult part of sticking around.

I'm still rooting for Terry, although his arrogance is starting to show. I could also go for Sally and her knee socks.

I get the feeling, though, that Aras is going to come out on top. He got by a very close call last night, and he's athletic and (comparatively) bright; momentum is with him.

Alan Sepinwall said...

If Aras wins, he'd be the most hateable winner since Jenna Morasca, if not Porno Brian. But I wouldn't begrudge him the money. If he can hold this fractured gang of six together and then pull away despite the obvious target on his back, he deserves the cash, even if he suffers from a much bigger superiority complex than Terry could ever hope to have.

Anonymous said...

Hey allan, regarding the two candidates. I guess my main complaint is - isn't it so obvious that in the "West Wing" world of course Santos would win? That's why I was disappointed to see them taking the easy way out. Is Wells such a die-hard liberal he can't bear to see a Republican win, even one as likable and reasonable as Vinick, and even in a pretend world? It's a cop out by the writers to go with such the predictable. I would love to ask Wells why he prefered Santos to win in the first place, you know? Especially since he had the opportunity to craft each character however he wanted.

Anonymous said...

Glad you haven't turned on Sandy Cohen altogether. I still believe he'll do the right thing (end the hospital story!) I think he was trying to pragmatically point out that Ryan hadn't thought out the realities of his decision - it was hasty and he needed a reality check. And maybe the Seth pot/application lies are connected -- part of Seth's larger web of lies. He did write down all his lies on a cocktail napkin to give Summer a few episodes back - and if he should ever lie again she should give the napkin to the Cohen parents. So maybe it's connected? Maybe I'm giving the show too much credit... Yeah, probably.

But I'll take these much better episodes while I can. If FOX doesn't get smart and move this show out of the buzzsaw of 9'oclock Thursday it doesn't matter if this show returns to its former glory. There is no room for a show like this in that timeslot. What was wrong with 8? To make room for the Loop and the sort-of 70s show? It's like putting Veronica Mars up against LOST. Or SCRUBS against American Idol. Certain shows aren't mass appeal and need to be a little more protected.

Anonymous said...

I wish there would be more of a Leo reaction on Sunday, but I believe they are saving it for the funeral. I have faith in the show that it will pull it out.

Louis said...

If Aras wins, he'd be the most hateable winner since Jenna Morasca, if not Porno Brian.

I'm not familiar with those two, since Palau was my first Survivor season. I agree, though -- Aras is pretty loathsome. Shane, too.

Johanna said...

One thing I will never understand about SURVIVOR is this -- the players spend so much time trying to eliminate the "obvious threats," in other words, the alpha males like Aras, Terry, Austin, etc. But the majority of SURVIVOR winners have been women, women like Vecepia, Jenna, Tina, and Sandra who sneak by under the radar. The strong, dominant male players rarely ever win. Yet, people see them as a threat and begin scheming to take them out right away.

In my opinion, girls like Danielle and Sally are much bigger threats than Aras, Nick, Austin and Terry ever were. The smartest move this season was when the men took out Misty.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Well, I would say that the winner is usually be default. You can count on one hand the number of winners who were the best player of their season: Hatch, Brian, Tom Westman, etc. Usually, the masterminds get eliminated before final two because they'd likely win. Colby and Boston Rob are the only finalists who deserved to win but didn't, the former because the jury was dumb, the latter because the jury was bitter.

Obviously, "deserve" is a relative term. With the exception of Vecepia, every player who won the million bucks did something important to get there, whether it was making the right friends (Tina, Ethan), winning challenges at the exact right time (Jenna) or making yourself into a useful extra vote instead of a target (Sandra).

The thing is, the viewer at home can see that someone like Cirie is a much bigger "threat" to win the million bucks than someone like Austin, but try telling that to the people on the island, getting by on little food and even less sleep, who just see her as that smiling middle-aged lady who's usually a challenge non-factor, and who hasn't stirred up any voting trouble since her first episode (and all the people who witnessed that went home a long time ago).

Alan Sepinwall said...

In brute force challenges, she's the best of the women (remember her sitting on people during The Greatest Immunity Challenge of All Time?), but between her girth and lack of endurance, she's pretty useless at any other kind of physical contest. But then, Sandra was a challenge non-entity, but like Cirie, she understood people.

Oh, and going way back up to the second comment in this thread, Adam asked, "isn't "break the plates" always a reward challenge?"

Not always. Rupert went home on a dart-blowing challenge along the same lines. (In fact, I believe Sandra accidentally shot the dart that cost him the challenge.)

Adam said...

Sandra had a simple motto for the game: "If you need my vote, it's yours. I'll vote out anyone as long as it's not me."

Still, she was lucky more than smart -- Jon/Burton foolishly left the three women together when Burton won the car challenge, and then Lill's miraculous win over Fairplay on the final three raft-balance challenge, one of my favorite Survivor challenges ever.

Adam said...

Also, Alan, your memory is correct. God bless TWoP.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Sandra was definitely lucky, but again, most of the winners are. If you go season by season, the dominant players were:

Pulau Tiga: Rich (he won)

Australia: Colby (Tina won because the jury was dumb)

Africa: Lex (Ethan won because Kim won the last challenge and liked Ethan better)

Marquesas: Kathy (Vecepia won because Kathy's boobs were too big)

Thailand: Brian (he won)

Amazon: Rob C. (Jenna won because her balance was better than Rob's)

Pearl Islands: Burton and/or Fairplay (Sandra won because they got cocky, and because Lill did squats)

All-Stars: Boston Rob (Amber won because the jury was bitter)

Vanuatu: Ami (Chris won because Amy went mad with power; an argument could be made that he was the best)

Palau: Tom (he won)

Guatemala: Stephenie (Danni won because she won the last challenge, and because the jury was bitter)

The dominant players here seem to be Terry, Shane and Aras, and I bet none of them wins.

Adam said...

Alan, let me take it one step further: Colby doesn't make it past the first post-merge tribal council unless Michael Skupin falls in the fire. That's luck.

And I'd argue that Danni wasn't lucky; she was smart. Even though she was in the weaker tribe, she won the key immunity (by buying the clue at auction) and didn't stop there, seizing the opportunity to split Steph from Judd in an episode where she wasn't at risk. (And by getting Steph to off Judd, Danni demonstrated that no one else could trust Steph either. As Rob C pointed out, leaders can't get away with blindsiding alliance members.)

I wrote at the time that "Each season of Survivor creates its own moral universe. Some seasons, being "deserving" or "a good person" grants you more breaks than others in being carried forward. In others, people are more conscious about *wanting* to bring along people who have made themselves loathsome for possible Final Council wins. This season saw a final two that was thankfully unafraid to generally say, 'It was a game. Someone had to be voted off' rather than crying about having to do so (see: Lill)."

Alan Sepinwall said...

I have a friend who to this day fumes over what happened after Skupin fell in the fire, specifically the last pre-merge immunity challenge. It was a race through a giant maze, and despite the good guys having a 6-5 numbers edge, Jeff had all six players run through the maze together, claiming that there was no advantage to doing it -- not mentioning that this was a disadvantage, because the extra person slowed them down. My friend is convinced Burnett wanted an even-strength merge and contrived to make that happen. So, in his worldview, Skupin's accident still shouldn't have been the end of that team.

I was over-generalizing when I referred to Danielle, and to most of the winners who weren't the most "deserving" of their season. Other than Vecepia, every winner did at least a few things to deserve the cash.

Adam said...

Okay, I checked because I'm a nerd for this stuff and didn't remember the details: the maze was the episode before Skupin fell in, when his tribe was up 7-5 (and all had to run together).

It wasn't until the "chop each other's coconuts/break the plates" challenge was invented that Burnett had a good way to prevent an easy post-merge Pagong by the dominant tribe. Bless the producer who came up with it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ah, yes, it was 7-5, which was an even worse disadvantage. So if the producers hadn't "rigged" that challenge, Kucha might still have been up 6-4 at the merge after Mike fell in the fire.

I was more disappointed that Skupin wasn't cast in All-Stars than any other snub -- not just because he deserved a second chance, but because dude was crazy. He killed a pig!

Adam said...

I would love to have an all-star season with just alpha males and great schemers (who weren't in the first all stars). Get me Savage and Skupin and Sarge, Ami and Twila, and Caryn, the lawyer who lied about being a lawyer. I want Deaf Christy to get another shot, and, hell, Stacey Stillman too. And Fairplay. Hell, I'd violate my "no one who's done it before" rule to get Fairplay, Boston Rahb and Rob C. in the same game.

Anonymous said...

Interesting points, but going by what you said the masterminds have only won 3 out of 5 times that they've made it to the final two. That's only 60 percent of the time. Historically, 40% of the time they've made it to the final two and lost. It seems like the threats aren't so threatening since they never make the final two, and aren't even guaranteed victors when they get there.