Wednesday 9 July 2008

Saturday 28 June 2008

Fei Long Tribe


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Zhan Hu Tribe


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Monday 23 June 2008

Survivor Season 15 Premiere!

The first episode of Season 15 airs tonight at 21.05 on TG4.And here is the rest of it.

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Thursday 30 August 2007

Fiji 14.11: Little Boy Blew It

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Tuesday 28 August 2007

Episode Eleven: How To Sink A Ship

The two remaining Horsemen- Alex and Mookie- have finally realised that the soft, fluffy stuff covering their eyes is wool, and that that isn't all Dreamz has been spinning. Dreamz tried his best to salvage his tattered alliance with the boys, but his weak defenses only mired him further, by inadvertently revealing that he voted for Mookie at Tribal Council. Meanwhile, the Syndicate Six congratulated themselves on a job well done, and seem to be ignoring, for now, the fact that there's only one million-dollar train at the end of this tunnel.

* * *

The tribe was again randomly divided into two teams at the Reward Challenge, in which a pair of 'flingers' had to, well, fling balls to their mud-bound teammates, who attempted to catch, or 'basket' the balls in ball-catching baskets (say it three times, fast). A closely contested match ensued- with a brief interlude mid-game to allow Boo to relocate his knee-cap, and gross everyone out- but the Green Team, comprising Stacy, Dreamz, Earl and Alex squelched their way to victory. An overnighter at a luxury spa resort gave Alex a chance to 'wiggle his way back into this alliance', but it takes more than a hot shower and some Olay Ribbons Body Wash™ to soften Earl's resolve. (But don't take this blog's word for it: Olay Ribbons Body Wash™ is available now at your local stockist, so why not try it for yourself? Olay Ribbons Body Wash™: It's Like Eating Candyfloss With Your Entire Body. Or Something.)

With nothing left to lose besides his dignity, Mookie indulged in a spot of looting, and happened upon the Idol hidden deep in Yau Man's bag. He and Alex bounded into the woods, absorbed in discussions of optimum damage strategies and 'blowing up' Yau Man's 'spot' with this newly-acquired information. Preoccupied with tapping such raw veins of scheme, and all the while marvelling at their own brilliance, Alex and Mookie failed to notice the two remaining ladies- Stacy and Cassandra- sharing a pineapple in the nearby undergrowth, until it was too late. A hasty reformulation saw the boys galloping off to confront Yau Man immediately, while the perplexed ladies, who had been out of earshot as much as eyesight, wandered back to camp wondering what, exactly, had occured.

Yau Man's 'spot' proved far from combustible, and when his Chelonian secret was revealed to his 'voting bloc' it only engendered sympathy for him- victim of a cruel snooping- and enmity towards Alex and Mookie- perpetrators of same. At the Immunity Challenge, memory and strategy were tested in a giant game of Battleship, in which Stacy sailed to victory. Afterwards, further puns were invoked as a paranoid Boo persuaded the Syndicate to split their votes between Alex and Mookie, in case either of them had found the freshly rehidden Idol and planned on using it that night at Tribal Council. Earl reluctantly agreed to this risky measure, but he needn't have worried; a fit of insight on Alex's part saw him turn on his fellow Horseman, casting the crucial vote to knock Mookie from the saddle.

The Four Horsemen are no more, and it looks like Alex may be out of strings to pull.

* * *

A Traitor, True: His duplicitous dealings now fully exposed, Dreamz found himself in the unusual position of being both liar and lied to, and is perhaps beginning to realise that one may be informed by the other. He expressed hurt at being left out of the voting loop by The Syndicate, but Earl soon explained away any lingering feelings of doubt and discomfort. Of course, ostensibly losing their only other allies the previous night can’t have been pleasant for Alex and Mookie, either. Dreamz tried to deny that he had turned on them, but his defense only highlighted his own self-interest: “I didn’t throw Mookie’s name out randomly to turn on y’all, but I knew once they had us gone, it’s me tryin’ to go with them.” When asked by Alex if there was a way out of the situation, he responded (emphasis mine), “All y’all can do now is we can just win challenges.” In other words, you guys are on your own.

The Horsemen assumed Dreamz had voted for Edgardo, until Dreamz slipped up and revealed that he’d voted for Mookie. Obviously the Mookster would take offense at this, but it may have got Alex thinking about why, when Dreamz went to double-cross them, he didn’t strike in the same place as the others. Although, burning as he was with the indignance and self-righteousness of the betrayed, Alex’s prime concern was licking his wounds.

Muddy Waters: A gloriously messy Reward Challenge goaded Cassandra into finally doing something of interest; at one point choke-holding Earl to prevent him catching a ball, and later, tripping Alex so that he fell face-first into the mud. She may not be the most physical of players- indeed, she’s probably the least physical player of all 19 Survivors- but it was nice to see her take the initiative for once and get her hands dirty. Of course, Boo’s bizzare antics stole the show once again; on all fours in the mud, bellowing like a wounded stag, is understandable when your knee-cap’s whereabouts are indeterminate; but reinstating the thing yourself, with such a sickeningly crunchy popping sound is just, well, grisly.

Boo’s body has suffered much punishment this season (largely self-inflicted of course), and more was in store for him beneath the scorching Fijian sun on Exile Island; the only recompense for his hardship being the first clue to the re-hidden Immunity Idol. The efforts of the victorious Green Team- comprising Stacy, Earl, Alex and Dreamz- were rewarded in a much more tangible way, with hot showers, dinner, and a night’s sleep in actual beds. Whether Earl did indeed ‘get his sexy back’ is a moot point, but it’s hoped that, once the cameras stopped rolling, the feculent four were allowed to shower as Nature intended, i.e., sans togs. That mud gets everywhere, y’know…

At dinner, Alex tried to convince the others that he deserves to stay around a while longer, though thankfully Stacy’s dormant cattiness reemerged to cut short his little reflexive encomium. When petitioned later that night Earl was kinder, though still unforthcoming. Earl is very calm and considered; it’s obvious to everyone at this stage that he’s pulling the strings, but he does it in such subtle and unobtrusive ways that he has yet to pay any price for it. Alex realises he may soon find himself on the jury bench, but maintains that he won’t go down without a fight- it remains to be seen what munitions he can conjure.

You Better Not Go Alone…: What should have been the strategic equivalent of a V-2 rocket materialised for Alex and Mookie the next day, due to the latter’s ‘creative’ (read ‘questionable’) ransacking of Yau Man’s bag. The two almost immediately focussed on the damage they could cause to Yau and the Syndicate, rather than on how they might use the knowledge- or indeed the Idol itself- to bring themselves back into the game. At one point, early in the discussion, Mookie submitted that it would be ‘in Yau’s interest to allign himself with us’, but this line of thought was abandoned in favour of ‘blowing up his spot’ at Tribal Council, under the- somewhat deluded- assumption that a shocked and disillusioned Syndicate would then turn on Yau…who would still have the actual Idol at his disposal at that point, but let’s not get into that for now, as this sentence is becoming ludicrously long. The conveniently placed Cassandra and Stacy put paid to this plan anyway, and the ‘two great brains’ were forced to confront Yau Man straighaway, and deliver their ultimatum: either he had to tell everyone about the Idol, or they would do it for him. Short of breath and with eyes aglow in expectation, the Horsemen must have been disappointed with Yau Man’s rather modest reaction to the threat; he was shocked of course, but more by the crude and abrupt nature of the confrontation, or the preceding invasion of his personal belongings, than having to reveal the secret of the Idol. Alex tried in vain to elicit more of a reaction- “It’ll be interesting, won’t it?”- but Yau wasn’t playing ball: “No…I think I’m past the phase where I absolutely have to have it.”

With the Idol out in the open, Yau Man knows he’s more of a target, but the overwhelming feeling when the information was disclosed was that of outrage at what Alex and Mookie had done. As Earl said, “People were pissed that they went through Yau’s personal things, not about ‘Yau has the Idol’.” It’s ironic that Alex and Mookie were condemned for their actions, but when Yau did a similar thing to Sylvia back in Episode Two (?) we all had a good chuckle at the enterprising little scamp. Granted, Yau had the decency to do it while the bag was still actually attached to its owner, but in principle it was the same thing.

Earl hung back as all this went down, but later expressed regret that the Idol’s whereabouts were disclosed: “…it sucked to me [that] someone knew, ‘cause I like keeping everything quiet, in general…too many people knowing about things; bad things happen.” He can’t grumble too loudly though; nobody else is aware that he was equal partner in the first Great Idol Hunt. Yau Man bears the brunt of the fallout from the info leak; does Earl still expect to call on Yau for the Idol’s protection if the need arises?

Coordinated Attacks: A novel and technically impressive Immunity Challenge tested the gang’s memories and ability to strategise, but there was a modicum of luck involved too. Stacy, whether by chance or design, sacrificed one of her own three blocks at the end, but took out her two remaining opponents- Alex and Yau Man- in the process, and walked away with the Immunity Idol. She received applause and thumbs up from Cassandra on the sidelines, while Alex looked slightly nauseous.

The next day- number 30-Alex threw about some more trite threats and self-important lawyerspeak, but at this stage it doesn’t look like he’s capable of making anything pan out.

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Wednesday 22 August 2007

Fiji 14.10: Chez Stacy

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Wednesday 15 August 2007

Episode Ten: Game Theory

Fiji, shit. I'm still only in Fiji. Every time I think I'm going to wake up back on Exile. When I was back at camp after my first trip, it was worse. I'd wake up and there'd be nothing...I hardly said a word to my tribe, until I said yes to a merge. When I was here I wanted to be there. When I was there, all I could think of was getting my hands on the Idol. I've been here a week now. Waiting for Tribal Council, getting softer. Every minute I stay on the Jury I get weaker. And every minute Jeff squats in the bush he gets stronger. Each time I look around, the alliances squeeze in a little tighter.

Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted an Immunity Challenge, and for my sins they gave me one. Brought it up to me like margaritas on a 70-foot yacht.*

* * *

In the immediate aftermath of last week's confused Tribal Council, several members of Bula Bula had explaining to do. Mookie somehow managed to convince Alex that his aberrant vote for Stacy was a consequence of 'miscommunication', while Dreamz had a slightly harder time justifying his last minute change of mind. The following day, Earl warily accepted Boo's entreaty to become the fifth member of his alliance, but confessed that he is trusting no one in it completely, bar Yau Man and Cassandra.

Cassandra dominated at the Reward Challenge, displaying an intuitive understanding of how her tribemates think by guessing the majority answers in a series of revealing questions. She earned Mookie's potential enmity when she sent him packing to Exile Island, and may have stepped on more toes back at Bula Bula, when she had to pick only three other people to share in her reward; an overnight cruise, booze 'n' snooze aboard a luxury yacht. Cassandra and Yau Man may lack the charm and tactfulness of their leader Earl, but they did what they could to ensure the future allegiance of Boo- whose dedication to the 'Syndicate' now seems as staunch as that of a puppy to its master- and Dreamz, who is still rather reluctant, at this crucial point, to pick a side.

Earl wasn't slow to pick up on this back at camp, especially when he stumbled upon Dreamz and Alex deep in vote-related conversation at the water hole. In the ensuing confrontation, mediated by Cassandra, Dreamz threw a curveball by revealing that Mookie has the (other) hidden Immunity Idol, and that both Alex and Edgardo know about it. A visibly flustered Earl- who, incidentally, won't be winning an Academy Award any time soon- had to let Dreamz off the hook for sharing this juicy morsel, though the revelation seemed more an act of desperation on Dreamz's part than anything else. As Yau put it, this new information means they really have to "rethink how this will play out."

As predicted, Yau Man triumphed in the endurance-based Immunity Challenge, though a surprisingly nimble Boo put up a good fight. The scheming came thick and fast following the Challenge: Earl was initially targeted by the Four Horsemen, while a noncommittal Stacy forced them to bring their Idol into play ahead of time; Dreamz, having convinced his fellow chevaliers that Alex's head was on the chopping block, went behind their backs and told Earl & Co. that Alex now planned on using the Idol to save himself at Tribal. The vote changed to Mookie for a while, but when Stacy brought up the possibility of a double-bluff by Dreamz, she and the other four decided to vote for Edgardo, without informing Dreamz.

A last minute change of mind by the Four Horsemen did nothing to alter the outcome of the vote at Tribal Council; Alex unnecessarily played the hidden idol, and watched in horror as The Syndicate's vote swung to the unsuspecting Edgardo. Dreamz's sole vote for Mookie will not go unnoticed by the rapidly dwindling Horsemen either. Will this mean their end is rather nigh?

* * *

Idol Hands: Alex may have been a bit too ready to make excuses for Mookie, possibly so he wouldn't have to aknowledge the frangible (it's a word) nature of their alliance, but at least he had the foresight to break Mookie's grip on the recently discovered Ravu Idol. It really was time that Mookie was called out on this point; Alex basically delivered an ultimatum: you can have the Idol, or this alliance, but not both. Not that Mookie could've walked away with the little turtle that easily, but at least the terms of the arrangement were out in the open. Alex suggested they rotate possession of the Idol daily between the four Horsemen, to prove they trust one another- to "seal the final four in blood", as he rather dramatically put it. This would be a cumbersome idea in practise, especially considering the conspicuous nature of the Idol handover witnessed later in the episode; it was more a test of Mookie's loyalty, seeing what he was prepared to give up for the greater good of the alliance.

Mookie had to bear the brunt of all this on account of Dreamz's last minute decision to vote for Michelle instead of Stacy, and he was rightfully pissed off about that. Dreamz's reason for voting for Michelle seemed rather weak: she had said at Tribal that she didn't really know him and didn't know if she could trust him, which had made him realise the same things about her. That's all well and good, but it's not as if he knew Stacy any better, except that she had been a bit of a bee with an itch in the past, and her presence in Alex's alliance threatened his own future in the game. Such capricious behaviour should be a red flag for Mookie: Dreamz can't be trusted.

With Caissa: Speaking of red flags, or at least red hats, Boo has found a cosy little spot for himself in Earl's 'Syndicate', now that Michelle is gone and Earl needs to bulk up his numbers. With both 'wild card' Dreamz and 'manipulative' Mookie still not being trusted, Boo seems to have slipped comfortably into third place in Earl's little chess game, behind Yau Man and Cassandra, a position that last week would have been unimaginable.

Even more surprising was Stacy's nonchalant shift into the Syndicate late in the episode; she shrugged off her incipient alliance with Alex with barely a word, and insinuated herself into proceedings at the opposing faction with admirable assertiveness. The switch was prompted by Yau Man, but Stacy could obviously see the writing was on the wall for the Horsemen, and that it would be in her best interests to jump stable. With his lieutenant freely recruiting, Earl has his work cut out to keep all his pieces in check. But as he said, poised theatrically on a craggy hilltop as the camera wheeled overhead, "I like playing this game. And I am still here."

It's A Very Ancient Saying: The 'Getting To Know You' challenge returned this season, bringing with it little ego boosts for some (Yau, Earl) and kicks in the teeth, or sand in the eye, for others (Stacy, Boo, Stacy). It's always interesting to watch what names recur in this kind of game, and try to figure out if people are simply choosing the answer they themselves gave, or if they're genuinely trying to guess what the majority of the tribe wrote down. And of course the order and force with which players are dispatched can reveal vital nuggets of information to the attentive viewer. Let's take a look at some of the questions, and the feather-ruffling responses.

QUESTION 1: Who would you trust with your life?

No surprise here that Earl was the most popular answer, or that Yau Man, Cassandra and Boo guessed it correctly. Earl probably voted for himself too, but couldn't really get away with revealing that in front of everyone. Mookie said Alex, and Alex, completely out of touch it seems, said Dreamz! A bad start for Stacy anyway, who took three consecutive hits, and became the first to leave the challenge. Ouch!

QUESTION 2: Who are you least likely to invite to a family dinner?

Correct answers from Cassandra, Mookie, Dreamz and Alex, and a double blow for poor Boo, who not only got snubbed at the dinner party, but also took three hits and joined Stacy on the loser's bench.

QUESTION 3: Who most has a sense of entitlement?

Only Cassandra and Mookie guessed correctly on this one, Mookie at least recognising that Alex may come across a tad cocky, if not actually thinking it himself. Similarly, Alex assumed the same of Mookie. Oddly, it wasn't possible to see whose name Earl chose.

QUESTION 4: Who would you most like to be stranded on an island with?

Yau Boi finally got the recognition he deserves, and everybody except Alex guessed correctly on this one, resulting in a lot of damage in the subsequent tower-smashing spree. Earl and Mookie exchanged blows, and Edgardo's follow-up took Earl out of the game. Seemingly in retribution, Yau Man (who shared none of Earl's reticence in volunteering his own name) took Edgardo down a peg; and rather tellingly, Dreamz delivered the final blow to Alex, taking him out of the game.

QUESTION 5: Who do you not want to see again, after the game?

Everybody left in the game got this one right; unfortunately we never got to see whose name Stacy would have guessed. Would she have had the insight- or temerity- to suggest herself? Lots more damage done this round, anyway: Yau and Cassandra exchanging blows with Dreamz and Mookie, respectively, resulting in the latter's expulsion from the game.

QUESTION 6: Who smells the worst?

Surprisingly, Cassandra took this opportunity to wipe Yau Man out of the game, rather than attacking Edgardo. That must've...ahem...put his nose out of joint.

QUESTION 7: Who mistakenly believes they are in control of this game?

It was interesting that the two incorrect answers were Boo and Stacy, ostensibly the two players with the least control in the game at this point. We know that Boo has convinced himself that he is merely biding his time until he can reclaim leadership, but surely it's obvious that Stacy knows she's bottom of the totem pole right now? Cassandra dispenses with Edgardo; she and Dreamz each have two towers remaining at this point.

QUESTION 8: Who has wasted this great opportunity?

A slightly ambiguous question- how does one qualify 'waste', and precisely what 'opportunity' is being referred to?- but when in doubt, vote Stacy! Cassandra demolishes Dreamz's penultimate tower, and is poised to win the Challenge in the next round.

QUESTION 9: Athletically, who has surprised you the most?

Again, no surprise that the majority vote on this one went to 'Demolition' Man, Immunity Challenge champion of the past several episodes. Dreamz somewhat sycophantically nominated Cassandra for the honour, though his flattery can't have hurt later on, when Cassandra had to choose her three yacht buddies. She thankfully didn't take Edgardo up on his offer/threat: the only thing licking Cassandra's feet was the tide as she waded out to the boat.

Bad Dreamz: Cass chose Dreamz straight off the bat, then Boo, and finally Yau Man, becasue he "works so hard and [...] needed a break." Dreamz and Boo were chosen because Cassandra still wasn't sure where she stood with them, and wanted an opportunity to work them over and make sure that they were on her side; to 'brainwash' them, as Yau Man put it. Earl looked disappointed when he wasn't chosen, although having to leave the gentle art of persuasion to his deputies was probably a major part of that. In any case, Dreamz seemed to respond more to the companionship and fun he found on board than to any talk of being 'part of the Syndicate'. He made no effort to hide the fact that he's still in two minds over which faction he should allign himself with, and Cassandra wasn't slow in noticing it: "I think Dreamz is playing both sides right now, because I can't sense in his eyes one hundred percent commitment to our alliance."

This doesn't seem like a conscious decision on Dreamz's part- a clever ploy to play both sides against each other- but rather the result of the emotional connections he has to members of both parties. He said, "My heart's tellin' me go with's like I'm being tugged in every direction- except my own." It's as if he wants to be friends with everyone- to be liked by everyone- but that's not possible in a game like Survivor. There comes a point where you have to decide what's more important to you, your relationships with your tribemates, or progressing in the game. If Dreamz takes too long making that decision, he'll end up on the jury bench sooner than he'd like.

What's So Great About The Waterhole?: It's unclear how much Earl heard of the lengthy conversation between Dreamz and Alex the next day. He probably missed the comparison of Mookie and the Idol to Gollum and The One Ring, but the gist of the conversation, and its significance, was obvious even without hearing Dreamz warn Alex that his name was going to come up at Tribal. This may have all been part of Dreamz's plan to flush out the Horsemen's idol, but without telling anyone about it, it's no wonder Earl was doubtful of his motivations. The subsequent revelation to Earl, Cassandra and Yau, that Mookie has the no-longer-hidden Ravu idol, was another strange and upsetting bombshell for Earl, coming out of the blue as it did. Granted it proved to be vital and beneficial intelligence for the Syndicate in the end, but it raises serious questions about the reliability of Dreamz as a carrier of information.

Earl summed it up perfectly: "Dreamz [...] is tryin' to do a lot of strategy on his own, and yes, it could be effective, but if you don't tell people what you're doing, [they're] not gonna trust [you]. Especially someone that has all these little antics and little things about them that I still question anyway."

And we got to witness Earl's admirable acting skills as he pretended to have never seen one of the hidden Idols before. "What's it look like?...It's a turtle?...Note my wide eyes and high-pitched, incredulous voice. Note them."

No Hips, No Back, No Butt: The Immunity Challenge itself wasn't particularly memorable, but the behaviour of some of the participants was noteworthy for its eccentricity. At the twenty-two minute mark, Edgardo began tapping a little tune on the wood of his enclosure. Mookie, who up until that point had looked 'like a fixed piece of art', shot him a glance as if trying to unscramble some obscure code in the tattoo. Boo then joined the ensemble, shouting "MEKE!" and "YOO-DOO!", and peering out from under his hat like a budgie. Soon after, Edgardo fell from his perch, the first casualty of a challenge that didn't reward his peculiar toe-tapping technique.

Incidentally, if anyone knows why Boo is promoting the fluid ounce unit of volume on his hat, do share.

Smokin' Aces & Falling Faces: Seemingly Mookie did a lot of soul-searching during his time on Exile Island. Not only did he come back with a scheme to demolish Cassandra by systematically wiping out her allies, and deduce that Earl probably has the other hidden Idol, but he also finally committed himself to furthering the Four Horsemen's cause above his own: "I will not be faltered [sic], I will not be railroaded...this is the order we vote: Earl, Yau Man, Boo. It's done."

Stacy shared none of his forthrightness: rather than lying to Alex, or indeed telling him the truth, she chose to remain silent about her change of heart (and allegiance), even under direct questioning. Apparently she thought Alex would, y'know, get the message, if she just stared at him for long enough. Alex is quite bad at reading people, especially for a lawyer, or maybe he's just too trusting of them, and he had to be convinced by Edgardo that Stacy was 'not in, dude.' It was also Edgardo that finally persuaded Mookie to hand over the Idol, something he may have regretted, since the vote probably would've stayed centred on Alex had the rather blatant exchange never occured.

Alex and Edgardo displayed such confidence in their plan, and such glee at it's imminent execution: "This is an all or nothing move, but if it works out it'll probably be one of the best moves ever!" "This is brilliant!" Unfortunately for them, Stacy was thinking two or three steps beyond that, and Earl had the resources to effect some strong countermeasures, even taking the precaution of keeping Dreamz ignorant of the final decision. The plan played out flawlessly at Tribal Council, in all its horrifying, cringe-inducing glory. Rocky, on the jury, appreciated it at least, once he had figured out what was going on.

Dreamz's prophetic observation at Tribal is an appropriate way to wrap up coverage of what some have rather hyperbolically called the "best Survivor episode EVER in the history of Survivor!", to wit "This vote is going to determine everything in the game; it's going to seperate the snakes from the rats, right here."

Which category he himself falls into remains to be seen.

* * *

Quote of the Week: Not a particularly remarkable quote from Jeff, but striking for the response it elicited from Alex. Jeff opined, "Alex played the hidden Immunity Idol tonight; turns out you didn't need it," and Alex glowered back as if to say, "Gee, thanks, Jeff, I hadn't noticed that."

Also, Mookie deserves a mention for his misplaced faith in the power of his allies. "Call it revenge, but I'm gunning for her (Cassandra). I just have to get in touch with the Four Horsemen, and it's done."

He does realise he's one of them, doesn't he?

Predictions for Next Week: The recently played Idol is actually re-hidden inside Yau Man's bag; events conspire to knock Dreamz from his fence; and Alex comes up with a 'foolproof' plan to win the game and solve that pesky global warming problem.

* Introduction by John Milius and Francis Coppola. Kinda.

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Saturday 11 August 2007

Fiji 14.9: The Purple Colour

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Thursday 2 August 2007

Episode Nine: Emergent Behaviour

Four ghastly spectres appear at the crest of the hill, their hideous bulks supported by nightmare charges who impatiently paw the stony soil. Silhouetted as they are against the pallid, bloated moon, you find it hard to make out their features; something, a feeling deep in the gut, assures you that to look any closer would be foolish- perhaps terminally so. But now you have no choice; the figures have begun to descend, knocking aside bushes and dislodging rocks as you stand below them, rooted to the earth. It's a dry night- it hasn't rained in days- but you feel something wet snake beneath your collar and down your back.

The foremost wraith approaches, its cthonic form shrouded in a cloak the colour of despair. As it dismounts, a loud hacking cough erupts from behind; one of the other riders is doubled over across its mount's back, its ribcage exposed and heaving, struggling to expel the foul contents of its rotting lungs. To one side, it's emaciated companion watches through sunken, catarrhal eyes; a look of grim expectation as it works its glistening maw. The third rider, armour sleek as oil in the moonlight, stands poised in the stirrups as its mount writhes beneath it. There is excitement written on its flushed visage; fire and pain flicker in its dark eyes.

The fourth apparition is upon you now; obsidian rifts in place of eyes, and a snarling rictus that seems to hint at a joke you will never comprehend. It leans across to whisper in your ear, and when it speaks your skin puckers beneath the rimy draught. The words fall like anvils on a neutron star. The phantom intones:

A'right mate! You didn't happen to catch this week's Survivor by any chance? Only I forgot to set the bleedin' tape. Typical, eh?"

You slowly raise your arm, and stretch out a trembling finger. In that direction lies your salvation; in that direction lies the Survivor: Emerald Isle blog, and the rest of this post. The figure stalks away, disappearing into the greedy night. Its final words drift back on the wind...

Ooh, a merge! I thought as much...

* * *

The episode began with what we would soon learn to be our last visit to camp Ravu. With the Immunity Idol now quite literally tucked away in their pocket, Ravu's 'Four Horsemen' were counting on a relatively straightforward gallop into the Final Four, though Mookie's 'selfish' streak and Dreamz being kept out of the loop would later come back to bite them on the rump. Tree-mail came early to both tribes, and brought with it ominous portents and wild speculations. The tribes were instructed to leave all their stuff at camp, and paddle directly to Exile Island, bringing only their personal items and their canteens.

Plans to infiltrate and sabotage Moto should a merge arise were devised at Ravu, and soon the tribes found themselves reunited on the shores of Exile Island. Instructions and new buffs were uncovered- eventually- and tribes Moto and Ravu were officially retired atop Exile's austere tower. A 'relieved' and 'elated' tribe of 10 returned to camp Moto, to discover that somebody had snuck in through the bathroom window and stolen the TV, so to speak; luxurious Moto was no more, and the gang were back to square one. Some members of the newly-christened Bula Bula took it harder than others, and some were secretly pleased at the implications. With head honchos Earl and Alex both stepping up their respective games in the aftermath, the scheming, lies and false-plays resumed in earnest.

Bula Bula were in for a bewildering surprise when they were randomly redivided at the Immunity Challenge, and with the losing team going immediately to Tribal Council- and, crucially, not containing loose cannon Boo, whom both factions had agreed should be the first to go- jolly goat Michelle was sacrificed in a confused, but revelatory, voting session. It could be a hard blow for Earl, but with Dreamz seemingly adrift and miffed with the other Horsemen, both Immunity Idols now in play, and (presumably) the first Individual Immunity Challenge next week, the beginning of the endgame is finally here.

* * *

Of The Apocalypse: Everything seemed rosy for Alex and co. for a while, but the seeds of destruction were already in the ground, and now the shoots are beginning to show. Mookie has pocketed the Idol, and is intent on using it for his own good, when the time comes. Despite Edgardo's threat that he will 'bleep him over, man' if he does so, it's obvious that Mookie has no qualms about using the Idol against his 'allies'. Dreamz was kept in the dark about the idol because 'he's a liability' and 'not good about keeping information to himself', and the fear was that he'd tell Cassandra once the tribes merged. Now that Dreamz has finally been told about the Idol- a seemingly dumb move on Mookie's part- it has only made him distrustful of the other guys, and more likely to betray them. Ironically, if they had brought Dreamz into their confidence immeditaely, he would probably remain loyal to them.

Mookie ran the risk of getting Alex and Edgardo pissed off with him when he told Dreamz, and as expected he received a bit of a tongue-lashing. But he was perceptive enough to realise that things weren't quite as balanced as they should be, especially with the possibility that Alex would bring Stacy (an old Moto) into the mix. By reaching out to Dreamz, Mookie has strengthened their alliance, and hopes to reap the benefits later in the game. Had he gone behind Alex's and Edgardo's backs to do so, Mookie would've been taking a big risk; doing it as he did, in a 'by the way' aside in front of Alex, was the smartest and least damaging way of going about it.

All of this activity is bubbling away as the Four Horsemen put their plan to dissect Moto into action. Dreamz was charged with getting Cassandra on their side; Mookie would attempt to get Michelle, and/or Yau Man; and Alex would try to 'pull' Stacy. Alex had a fairly straightforward job with old tribemate Stacy, and Mookie didn't have much trouble reconnecting with his old Ravu buddies either. Dreamz and Cassandra were happy to be back in each other's company again, and both seem to assume they have the other on their side right now. Although which side, if any, Dreamz is currently on remains to be seen.

Early Days: Earl is calling the shots in the other main faction of the new Bula Bula; the 'tribe within a tribe' which also contains Yau Man, Michelle and Cassandra. From the way Earl and Cassandra were talking on the beach, they are assuming that they 'definitely' have Dreamz too, though it's not clear when the deal was brokered; it seems to be an assumption that because he and Cassandra are tight, Dreamz is now part of Earl's clique. The clip from next week, in which Dreamz tells them about the Idol, would seem to confirm this. Mookie, as an ex-Ravu member, had better legs to stand on when it came to ingratiating himself with his old tribe, but Yau Man was astute enough to 'trust nobody here', and Earl professed the same in direct reference to Mookie, so it remains to be seen whether he's fooling anybody.

Earl's plan is fairly similar to Alex's: to infiltrate the opposition and take them down one by one. The executions of said plans are disparate though, reflecting Earl's laid-back, smooth-talking nature. "Keep them thinking that they have you," he told Cassandra, "keep them thinking that I'm not thinking, and we just sail on." Cool as the breeze.

It's interesting to note how fast and total was Cassandra's conversion to Earl and the other Ravuites, though it's not particularly surprising, given the weak ties she had with her old Moto tribe. What is surprising is that she and Earl think nobody has or will notice it. Between the hand-delivered coffee and the twilit rendezvous on the beach, it should be clear where Cassandra's loyalty

Naturally, the faction with the majority vote will have the advantage. Assuming Dreamz has flipped (and with Michelle out of the picture) we are left with two groups of four, and Boo, who may become a very popular boy in the forthcoming days.

Boy In Da Corner: The pratfalls and tomfoolery aside, Boo has maintained a low profile in the game thus far. He has performed well at challenges, and doesn't cause friction at camp, but the only strategising on his part seems to have taken place exclusively in his head. It's true that he had his niche in the first and second Moto tribes- not difficult in a tribe defined by non-contention- but his assertion that 'when it's time' he would 'assume the leadership role again' was faintly delusional, given that he'd never had such a role in the first place. At any rate, a clearly anxious Boo realised that his head was on the chopping block this week; having 'dodged a bullet', he may now feel more inclined to make a foray into the Machiavellian machinations of the game proper. As already discussed, now is the perfect time for him to make a move; let's just hope he doesn't encounter any rakes- or snakes- in the grass as he proceeds.

Two Become 2: Apparently intent on keeping the 'two tribes' dynamic going for as long as possible, the show's creators subjected us to an unorthodox post-Merge Immunity Challenge, in which the nascent Bula Bula tribe was redivided into two teams and sent to battle as before. It's difficult to think of a valid argument for this retrograde behaviour, though theories abound; Edgardo's bemused, or resigned response summed up this apparent twist-for-twist's-sake: "I don't know what to expect anymore."

A fairly straightforward challenge ensued, and unsurprisingly Yau Man brought his team another victory. Alex fought hard for his team, doing two jobs at once, but the Ravu curse seemed to persist: he, Dreamz, Mookie, Stacy and Michelle were sent to Tribal Council immediately, giving them little time for plans or strategy. Like the challenge itself, it seems that this 'instant Tribal' was employed to elicit a wholly unpredictable, and presumably damaging, vote; one that would keep the boat rocking under Bula Bula's feet. It was a little unfair to deny half the tribe the traditional Merge Feast, even if it was appropriate to this season's rich/poor theme.

Assuming Exile Island comes back into play once the individual challenges begin- and there's no reason to believe it won't- we can hopefully look forward to some deliciously vengeful banishments, and somebody discovering (and using!) Moto's peculiar 'third' idol...

It's Not The End Of The World: Before the Challenge, Mookie and Dreamz had a few moments alone in which to discuss the Stacy Problem, i.e., if Alex brings her into their alliance, it can only benefit him and Edgardo, and prove dangerous for Mookie and Dreamz. They both agreed not to 'play into Alex's hands' in such a way, Dreamz being particularly vehement, perhaps for reasons personal aswell as strategical. His comment that he was, "...looking forward to voting out Stacy, 'cause she treated me so bad when I was with the old Moto...and all of a sudden she's happy and nice and glad to see me [...] 'cause I got friends, and she ain't got the power no more," was quite poignant, in an Enid Blyton, school-bully-gets-their-comeuppance kind of way.

Anyway, all this made what happened at Tribal Council all the more interesting, especially since Jeff's question session was (apparently) the only chance the Survivors had to (cryptically) discuss voting strategies with each other. After a couple of throwaway questions, Jeff began asking each of them for a reason to vote off any of the others. Alex made his intention to vote for Michelle fairly explicit, and said that he didn't have a reason to get rid of anyone else. Jeff asked Dreamz if he thought people were using this Q&A session to communicate their intentions, and of course that was the whole point of it in the first place. Dreamz aknowledged this, but then went on to say of Alex, "He don't have to talk to me; he's one of the people I do trust in the game."

This must have worried Mookie slightly, and when asked how he thought tonight's vote would change the game he responded, "'s going to reveal some things to the other guys (back at camp), and they're going to see who's been telling the truth and who's been lying." Through the magic of the Tribal Translator Tool, we can determine that this was as much to say to Dreamz, "Dude, we're supposed to be tight with the Ravu gang. If we vote for Michelle now, it'll give everything away. Plus, we can vote for Stacy, like we agreed, and use the excuse that we didn't want to blow our cover to justify it to Alex and Edgardo. This is a good thing."

Now, it'd be easy to assume that Dreamz simply didn't pick up on this, and went along with Alex's broad hint to vote for Michelle. But what if Dreamz actually realised that he could hang Mookie out to dry? Mookie's vote for Stacy was akin to a neon sign pointing out to the other Horsemen that he is no longer (or never was) part of their alliance. What would Dreamz hope to gain from this though? How about the complete trust of Alex and co., and one less person to share their Immunity Idol? And how will he atone for his vote to Cassandra, Earl et al? Well, divulging the presence of said Idol might go some way to deflecting the fallout from his actions. It'd be surprising if Dreamz was operating at such high levels of guile and chicanery, but stranger things have happened.

Moto Way Ends: Stacy's earlier remarks to Michelle- that the two of them would be safe now because they were 'non-threats', and the 'super-competitive' boys would vote each other off first- proved almost laughably misguided, given the final outcome of the voting. They made a pretty flag though.

Earl has lost 'a key component' in his strategy, as he put it, and it'll be interesting to see how he deals with the ramifications. He also said that 'a lot of truth' would be revealed by the vote- very perceptive, that Earl. Will he take the possibly ostracised Mookie under his wing? And if so, could we see an alliance with two Immunity Idols at its disposal, assuming Mookie is able to 'steal' it from under Edgardo's bleepin' nose? Whatever happens, Earl is going to have to work fast with tribemates old and new to get his cabal- The Coleition, if you will- back on even keel.

Words Of War: Alex: "The moment has finally arrived...these first couple of hours are really crucial: they're gonna determine who [makes it to] the Final Five." "I'm ready to fight!"

Earl: "I'm happy about the the game is really on; it's time to take it to the advanced level." "This is real Survivor"

Edgardo: "Right now we have to get nasty."


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Quote of the Week: Alex, at the prospect of having to live on the barren Exile Island: "Is this the cannibalism part?"

Hmm, that probably won't be for another few weeks yet, methinks.

Predictions for Next Week: Yau Man endures at one of the infamous 'endurance' challenges, easily winning Immunity, but refuses to come down from the pole, claiming to have discovered some of Lisi's 'spiritual enlightenment bullshit' atop it's mossy summit. Also, is it about time for the loved ones to appear? Roll on the tears!

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