I'm a huge Survivor fan (and I'm aware that the phrase jumping the shark has itself jumped the shark), but it looks like Survivor jumped the shark tonight. This is not to say I won't continue to watch, but this looks ominously like the beginning of the end of good Survivor seasons. The next series is supposed to feature an All-Star cast, and I imagine that will be decent, but it's going to be hard to trust the producers again after this episode. There aren't many rules to Survivor, but this episode totally broke the rules, and in a gimmicky way, not a clever way.
If you didn't see the show, the producers came up with a complicated, unnecessary, and completely cheesy way of getting some of the voted-off members back into the game. Needless to say, this has never happened before. Once you're out, you're out. The six voted-off members formed a third tribe, the so-called "Outcasts", who defeated both Drake and Morgan in a three-way (obligatory Beavis and Butt-head joke deleted) immunity challenge. Since they defeated both Drake and Morgan, they both had to vote someone off. Apparently, next week will start with a reverse Tribal Council where the Outcasts get to vote in two members to replace the two departed members. There were 10 members left before tonight, and there will be 10 members left at the start of next week's episode, so I'm not too sure what's going on here. Will they add another episode, or start booting multiple people per episode? Presumably they will vote Burton and Lillian in, but that remains to be seen. I expect the other tribe members to try to vote them out ASAP, but the game may be further rigged to make this difficult (above the already-mentioned caveat that they have immunity for the next episode).
In another unusual event, one of the tribe members actually quit. Osten asked to be voted out, which had never happened before. They skipped the voting process for the first time ever. Jeff the host was obviously pretty irritated, and skipped the traditional "The tribe has spoken; it's time for you to go" line, to abruptly tell Osten to "Go home". The the cameras showed Jeff laying Osten's extinguished torch on the ground, in apparent reference to Osten "laying down" and quitting. What is this, Symbolism for Dummies? Anyway, it's hard to know what you personally would do in that situation, but he obviously did what he had to do. It's not like he didn't have enough time to think about it. Still, I can't help but think that he'll regret quitting in a few years' time
I re-watched Traffic last night, one of my currently nineteen "10"s on IMDB. I originally saw it in the theatre when it came out, and would have voted for it over Gladiator for the Best Picture award (although I still really enjoyed Gladiator, as well as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which was also nominated that year).
Last week I watched Traffik, the 1989 mini-series upon which Traffic was based. In both the movie and the mini-series I loved the interweaving of the three stories that have so much to do with each other, yet barely touch. The three stories are more or less: a government minister fights the "War on Drugs" while having to deal with a daughter who is an addict; a woman takes over her arrested husband's drug business; and a look at the supply side of the drug business. The movie expands upon the supply side part of the plot by following a cop who is basically good, but finds himself working for a drug lord. Between the movie and the mini-series, the equivalences for locations are basically London for Washington, Hamburg for Los Angeles, and Pakistan for Mexico.
There's an incredible wordless scene in the movie where Catherine Zeta-Jones' character, Helen Ayala, the drug dealer's wife looking to get in touch with a Mexican supplier, simply passes Benicio Del Toro's character, the cop, in the streets. They don't suspect each other for a second, but they would have so much to say if they did. In another scene, Michael Douglas' character, the U.S. drug czar, just misses finding his daughter on a downtown street. So near, and yet so far.
I was extremely impressed with Traffik, the mini-series as well. I watched one 50-minute episode a day for six days, which was presumably how it was meant to be watched. The mini-series was notably slower, but this is not to be construed as a bad thing. They had a lot more time to flesh out the story, and to take a look at the production of drugs in Pakistan. There is a lot more time to develop the characters. In the movie, Helen Ayala makes a seemingly too-rapid transformation from naive housewife to cocaine trafficker, whereas in the mini-series, we see Helen Rosshalde, the equivalent character, slowly tormented by the prospect of poverty and life without her husband. She deviously plots her entry into the world of drug smuggling and will stop at nothing.
Traffic's cinematography really stands out. Steven Soderbergh, the director, actually shot most of the movie, which isn't usual for Hollywood productions. He used different types of film to give the three stories a distinct feel.
Finally, I enjoyed both the movie and the mini-series because they didn't wrap up with the usual "Drugs are bad, mmmkay?" Simply seeing what addicts go through is enough of a warning, one would think.
I just finished watching the season finale of Survivor 6: The Amazon, which ended one of the better Survivor seasons. This season featured a lot of memorable contestants, and a great male/female dynamic brought about by the initial separation of the sexes. The sole survivor turned out to be Jenna, who defeated Matt 6-1 in the most lopsided final vote ever. I'm not sure either of the two deserved the victory as much as the ever-quotable and endlessly scheming Rob, the third place finisher. He became the third third-place finisher to really have deserved the victory in my book, after Lex of season 3 and Kathy of season 4. There is a minor problem with the structure of the game, in that the most-deserving person tends to get voted out in the final boot, since they are seen as too much of a threat. However, that feature of the game is not exactly a secret and this needs to be planned for.
I figured I'd rank my favorite Survivor seasons:
1. Season 1 will probably remain my favorite season. From the "philosophy" of Rudy to the masterful scheming of Richard to the alphabet-voting strategy of Sean and to the melting-down of Susan at the final vote, it will be hard to top the original. Also, CBS got into the misinformation business with the famous "Gervase X" rumor involving image files on their web server.
2. Season 6, this last season, kept us guessing from beginning to end. There were almost too many alliances to keep track of. Jeff Probst, the host, also has really come into his own, and adds a lot to the game. I felt he was boring and stiff in season 1, but he has grown into his role and is a definite plus now.
3. Season 2 had its share of intrigue, with the alleged beef jerky incident, Michael's elimination when he burnt his hand, and the Jerri / Colby seduction. Colby dominated the challenges near the end, but had a poor showing at the jury voting and ended up losing.
4. Season 4 was solid, with good challenges, and one tribe, Rotu, which actually worked together well. Between Boston Rob and Sean there were enough one-liners to keep people talking about the shows. The producers seemed to take it a bit easier on the contestants, giving them more food than in the previous season.
5. Season 3 in Africa had its moments, but the contestants were sick a lot of the time and their water source looked downright disgusting. The winner, Ethan, was almost universally acclaimed as being a good guy, and not a manipulator.
6. Season 5 was just kind of forgettable. The lowlight was the uncomfortable Ted / Ghandia "grinding" situation. I don't think anybody on the jury much wanted to vote for either of the two finalists, which isn't a good sign.
I've been watching the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm (IMDB Listing). regularly Thursday nights at 10:00 and 10:40 on Showcase. The show stars Larry David, the writer and producer of many of the Seinfeld episodes, as a somewhat bumbling character whose speciality seems to be turning little situations into major problems. There are occasionally cameos from Seinfeld stars such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander.
For some reason, people seem to have difficulty remembering the title, "Curb Your Enthusiasm". Perhaps it's because it's not a usual language phrase for a title, being an imperative sentence. It seems to refer to Larry David, who seems to get into more trouble the more enthusiastic he becomes. Amusingly, tonight's second episode, featuring a cameo from Shaquille O'Neal, ended with a number of bad things happening to Larry, however this made him happy because all was back to normal in his world. Apparently the George Costanza character is based on Larry David himself.
The mechanics of a typical "Curb" show are similar to Seinfeld, in that coincidences and connections cause unforeseen events, but focussing on Larry's adventures alone. Typically Larry will accidentally offend someone at the start of an episode, who will end up being linked to someone that Larry needs a favor from later on in the episode. One of the major differences is that "Curb" is unscripted. David writes an outline, and then the actors take the situation and run with it. There are really only three major characters, Larry, Cheryl (his wife) and Jeff (his manager), and all three play their roles very convincingly.
This show is highly recommended, if you like Seinfeld. There is some profanity, which can be good for an extra laugh if not overused. There's definitely some adult humor, which is presumably why they show it later at night. Seinfeld is a hard act to follow, but this is a pretty impressive followup.
The new season of Survivor started tonight with a 1.5 hour special, which was probably equivalent to a regular 1-hour show, plus a few extra servings of ads. Fortunately, the Ottawa Senators were busy defeating the Edmonton Oilers, so there was a suitable flip channel. The twist this time is that one tribe, "Jaburu", is all women, and the other tribe, "Tambaqui", is all men. This promises to create some interesting dynamics.
In the first episode, the men proved to be much more organized, building a pretty decent shelter and getting a fire going in what seemed to be a minute or so, whereas the women slept on the ground and took apparently four or five hours to get their fire.
One of the women, Christy, is deaf. I'm thinking that is a hard enough handicap to live with in regular life, but it would be ten times harder in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Since she depends on reading lips, communication with her after dark looks to be extremely hard. The other tribe members seemed to have difficulty bonding with her. I doubt she'll make it past more than one or two tribal councils for Jaburu. Deena seemed to emerge as the leader of Jaburu.
As for the men, Roger took charge more often than not. This seemed to irritate some of the younger guys on the tribe, who were busy asking Rob's magic 8-ball whether or not they had a chance with Heidi or Shawna of Jaburu. I'm thinking: "Outlook not so good", but we'll have to wait for the reunion show for that one.
Before the immunity challenge, both sexes proved equally adept at lying about catching lots and lots of fish, in a presumed attempt to psych out the other tribe. The trash-talking men ended up getting humbled at the immunity challenge, when Dan and Ryan couldn't master the balance beam and then Dave the 24-year-old rocket scientist (really!) and Rob the "computer projects coordinator", whatever that is, couldn't figure out a tiled puzzle. Ryan ended up getting voted off, only to disappoint us all with a surprisingly non-bitter, enlightened parting speech at the end, which was reminiscent of Robb's "I've learned so much about myself / I'm a different person now" confessional in the previous Survivor.
I think the men will come back strong in the next couple of episodes. From what we've seen, they've built a better infrastructure and look like they'll be cleaner and better rested for future challenges. I suspect this initial loss will end up working to the advantage of the men. They know they can lose now, so they won't be over-confident. The women won the challenge fair and square, but their lack of shelter and poor prioritization will catch up with them soon, if they don't solve those problems. No real evidence on which side is doing better in terms of food yet.
In any case, my picks for the final four are Alex, Jeanne, Rob (he of the non-stop sexist remarks) and Roger. I'm usually wrong about these sorts of things, so if you're making a wager, you might want to pick some other contestants.
I tuned in for tonight's episode of the new "reality" (as if 20 girls vying to date an apparent multi-millionaire bears any resemblance to reality) show, Joe Millionaire. As most people out there in TV-land know by now, the show is a dating show similar to "The Bachelor", only this time there's a twist: the guy is really a construction worker earning $19,000 a year (not the recipient of a $50,000,000 inheritance as the girls are told). As usual, I was entertained for some unknown reason. What is it that draws us in to Survivor, Big Brother, Amazing Race, Beg Borrow or Deal, Fear Factor and all the rest? Some say it is a fad but I'll wager that reality shows will not be going away any time soon. Survivor 6 is starting up in a few weeks and every couple of months some new reality show or other starts up. In essence, they're just live action game shows. The game show genre has been around for a long time so I see no reason for reality TV to suddenly go the way of the Passenger Pigeon.
Back to the show: with five girls remaining, "Joe" (real name Evan Marriott, although for some reason they're calling him Evan Wallace) was able to take each of the out on a one-on-one date, for the first time. They went to various places in Paris including the Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge and for a boat ride on the Seine River and he made his usual empty comments. Frankly, this guy doesn't seem all that bright. The conversations usually alternate between the banal and awkward silences and there is frighteningly little introspection. Joe also slipped up, referring to "driving a bulldozer three weeks ago", but he covered that up by quickly saying it was 2 years ago. I don't think Zora really suspected anything at the time though. Anyway, the four remaining contestants are Zora (who I thought he would boot, given her general disinterest in him, but I think he thinks they have something in common -- maybe their lack of wealth?), Sarah (who I think he lusts for the most), Melissa M (who I think he thinks he has the most chemistry with) and Melissa Jo, a.k.a. "Mojo" (who I think he thinks is gold-digging, as if they all aren't).
As they do with anyone in the public eye, The Smoking Gun has turned their watchful gaze to Joe Millionaire, dredging up some of his modelling pictures as well as an unpaid traffic violation. Last but not least, there's a lengthy Usenet post alleging Joe is a gay escort, which pays substantially more than $19,000 a year. Who knows what the truth is... and for viewers I'm sure that's part of the appeal.
Update (2003/03/28): This blog entry appears to have gotten a number of extra hits due to my original misspelling in the title, "Joe Millionare" instead of the correct, and now changed, "Joe Millionaire". Anyway, as you probably know by know, Zora and "Joe" (i.e. Evan) are not an item, and by the sounds of it, never were.
I admit it, I watched last night's "The Bachelor" finale, along with a whole lot of other people by the sound of things. I hadn't seen any of the other episodes, in either this series or the first one.
Straight away, Helene struck me as being insincere. From the gift of a money clip (of all things) to her continual agreement with every last thing Aaron said she just came off as being phony. Beautiful on the outside, no doubt, but I didn't get the impression there was much going on in her head.
Brooke seemed much more sincere to me, and she just came off as a more intelligent person, someone who was much more self-aware. She had that southern grace that kind of reminded me of my favorite actress, Reese Witherspoon. Brooke had a pretty good crying session in the limo ride of shame at the end but I don't think she's going to be upset in a couple of weeks.
I think Aaron probably made the right choice for himself (at least between the two -- I didn't see any of the other shows), but my crystal ball doesn't see their relationship lasting that long. If they do get married I'd predict a breakup within a couple of years. What I don't get about Aaron was the way he was always asking his parents their opinion on the two girls. And on top of that, the way his entire family refused to offer any feedback whatsoever. Now of course, we only see an edited version of things but pretty much the only negativity was over Brooke's dolphin tattoo. Could it get any more controversial? Snore.
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