My Favorite TV Shows & Films of 2016

Here are my top 10 favorite TV shows and films of 2016. Let’s get this year over with, shall we?!

TV SHOWS

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND (CW)

There is no better gift to a theatre kid like me than Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s brilliant and subversive tribute to romantic comedies and musical theatre. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is fabulously self-aware, hilariously screwball, unapologetically feminist, and chock-full of must-see musical gems like the brilliant “JAP Battle,” Fifth Harmony parody “Put Yourself First” (that sax tho!), and Singing in the Rain send-up “We Tapped That Ass.”

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend knows exactly the show it wants to be and is refreshingly honest about its characters’ flaws, in particular, Rebecca Bunch’s (Rachel Bloom) anti-heroic delusions. If that weren’t enough, the show features a Filipino-American male romantic lead. Representation matters, y’all.

Season one is streaming on Netflix. I can’t recommend this show enough.

crazy-ex-girlfriend-2016

source: talesofnorth.tumblr.com

SURVIVOR (CBS)

Even in its 32nd and 33rd seasons, Survivor still delivers surprises and shockers each episode. This fall’s season, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, delivered a deliciously entertaining combination of shocking blindsides, next-level strategy, and compelling (and most importantly, likable) characters. #wow

survivor-2016

source: mikeholloway.tumblr.com

PLEASE LIKE ME (HULU)

This Australian import is my favorite television discovery of the year. Josh Thomas’ coming-of-age comedy, centered around a young, gay twenty-something, has stolen my heart with its upbeat charm and quirky characters. I love this show to pieces.

please-like-me-2016

source: dailypleaselikeme.tumblr.com

THE AMERICANS (FX)

Each year, the best drama on television increases its heartbreaking stakes, while digging deeper into the emotional struggles of its characters. The Americans‘ unexpected dramatic instability kept viewers on edge all season long, as the stress of the Jennings’ real/fake marriage and their relationship with their teenage daughter were pushed to a near-breaking point.

the-americans-2016

source: cuando.tumblr.com

ATLANTA (FX)

Donald Glover’s brand new series swiftly and languidly navigates down the paths of the surreal and real, taking us to places TV hasn’t gone before. It’s a truly breathtaking endeavor.

atlanta-2016

source: northgang.tumblr.com

THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY (FX)

By all accounts, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the O.J. Simpson trial should have been a hot mess, but instead the limited-run series was an engrossing triumph that drew thought-provoking comparisons to today’s society, bolstered by a dynamite trio of performances from Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, and Courtney B. Vance.

the-people-v-o-j-simpson-2016

source: gifthetv.tumblr.com

BOJACK HORSEMAN (NETFLIX)

Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s profound and profane animated series mixes pathos with animal puns, and existential crises with Hollywood satire. The tremendous third season delivered one of the best episodes of TV this year: the dialogue-free, underwater-set “Fish Out of Water.”

source: jellymonstergirl.tumblr.com

source: jellymonstergirl.tumblr.com

JANE THE VIRGIN (CW)

Jane the Virgin is consistently the most intelligent, emotional, and character-rich storytelling on television. It’s a confident warm blanket of a telenovela that delights in its open-hearted interpersonal relationships.

source: b99.tumblr.com

source: b99.tumblr.com

AMERICAN CRIME (ABC)

The second season of this anthology drama, focused on an alleged rape of a male high school student by a fellow student on the school’s basketball team, features superb acting (Regina King! Felicity Huffman! Lili Taylor!) with powerful and provocative discussions about race, class, and sexuality.

source: laquing.tumblr.com

source: laquing.tumblr.com

BILLY ON THE STREET (truTV)

For a dollar, name another show on television that makes me laugh out loud more than Billy on the Street. Spoiler Alert: You’ll never get that dollar. Billy Eichner’s pop culture explosions are an incredible comedic tour de force.

One of my absolute favorite things of the year: Billy Eichner tells unsuspecting people on the street that Seth Rogen has suddenly died, while Rogen stands just feet away behind a camera.


FILMS

MOONLIGHT

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source: lgbtcinema.tumblr.com

ZOOTOPIA

zootopia-2016

source: giphy.com

THE LOBSTER

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source: alsk00.tumblr.com

SING STREET

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source: sokillintime.tumblr.com

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

source: emliyjunks.tumblr.com

source: emliy-junks.tumblr.com

DON’T THINK TWICE

source: keegansjordan.tumblr.com

source: keegansjordan.tumblr.com

OTHER PEOPLE

other-people-2016

source: gifs.com

LA LA LAND

source: chazelle.tumblr.com

source: chazelle.tumblr.com

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

source: henricavyll.tumblr.com

source: henricavyll.tumblr.com

LEMONADE

source: causeislay.tumblr.com

source: causeislay.tumblr.com

My 15 Favorite TV Shows of 2015

Welcome to #PeakTV!

SURVIVOR

FARGO

THE AMERICANS

BOJACK HORSEMAN

MAD MEN

THE FLASH

JANE THE VIRGIN

FRESH OFF THE BOAT

TRANSPARENT

BILLY ON THE STREET

Rounding out my Favorite 15:

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND
SILICON VALLEY
UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
PARKS AND RECREATION
BETTER CALL SAUL

What I’m Watching: Fall 2015

The fall 2015 television season is here, right as we enter the age of “Peak TV,” with seemingly too many television series out there to consume.

At the summer Television Critics Association press tour last month, John Landgraf, the president of FX Networks, stated that “there is simply too much television” in our current landscape. According to Vox, “In 2009, there were 211 primetime scripted series on television. That number steadily climbed until in 2014 there were 371, an increase of 160 shows. FX expects the number to top 400 in 2015.” That number doesn’t even included reality television, talk shows, game shows, etc. It’s downright impossible for a person to sample every show that’s out there and once you’ve dropped a show, it becomes even harder to pick it back up.

In the opening number of the 67th Emmy Awards, host Andy Samberg tackles the issue of “Peak TV” head-on by locking himself in a TV Viewing Bunker for a year to catch up on every show:

So where does that leave me? I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll probably never watch the most critically acclaimed new series from this past summer, UnREAL and Mr. Robot, or the 2015 Emmy winners for Outstanding Comedy, Veep, and Drama, Game of Thrones (but let’s be real, Mad Men should have taken the trophy for its final season, or better yet, the real best drama series, The Americans, should have been nominated in the first place). I’ll take solace in the fact that I’m enjoying what I choose to watch. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If a TV show gives you pleasure, more power to you!

Special shout-outs to the shows I watched in the past two months: CatastropheBoJack Horseman season two, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Transparent, and Orange is the New Black season three. I highly recommend all of these excellent shows, especially BoJack Horseman, an uproarious, yet painfully bleak and honest, examination of depression, as filtered through the lens of an animated anthropomorphic horse. Will you get to watching these shows? “They’re on my list,” I’m sure you’ll say. #PeakTV

What I’m Watching:

Scream Queens – Premieres September 22 on FOX

Welcome to Ryan Murphy’s twisted take on campus slasher films! I’m cautiously optimistic about this show, with an emphasis on the cautiously. Ryan Murphy productions start with a bang (see: the first two seasons of Glee and American Horror Story. Ok, fine, maybe just season of Glee.) and they unfortunately get caught up in their own frenetic messes, ending with a whimper (see: the other seasons of Glee and American Horror Story).

Fortunately for viewers, Scream Queens doesn’t seem to have any higher aspirations than being a gleeful, campy, bloody bubblegum confection that offs a character each week to comically gruesome effect. Plus, I can’t help but root for a cast that includes Nasim Pedrad, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ariana Grande, and Nick Jonas. I mean, come on. There’s a fine line between bitchy, catty entertainment and outright meanness. Tread carefully, Ryan Murphy. Here’s hoping it’ll be fun to watch this sorority-set series inevitably fly off the rails!

Fresh Off the Boat – Returns September 22 on ABC

As the first network TV show to feature an Asian-American family in 20 years, expectations for Fresh Off the Boat were dangerously high. To make matters worse, in the weeks leading up to the premiere, Eddie Huang, who wrote the memoir on which the show is based, trash-talked his own team members for diluting his personal experiences. Thankfully, when the first episode debuted, you could feel the collective exhale of Asian America. It was a sigh of relief that this family sitcom was extremely funny, witty, and heartwarming to boot. There were no reasons for audiences to hang their heads in shame. Fresh Off the Boat made specific cultural experiences universal and reset the television defaults of what it means to be a sitcom family.

Constance Wu, who plays the matriarch Jessica Huang, addresses the issues of representation in an insightful Buzzfeed interview:

The Asian-American experience [is something] a lot of us as Asian-Americans really haven’t explored, because they lump us all into one… It’s terrifying to say, ‘This is a thing that is complex and worthy of our time,’ but it is complex, and that’s why you’re not going to always find an easy, palatable answer. I think [the show is] trying to approach that complexity in a very traditionally simplistic form. And I think if we can do that, it’s almost its own type of activism.

I’ve jokingly shared on social media that I love that I can see myself on television, as the youngest brother, Evan Huang. The sentiment is silly, but completely true. This quirky, sweet-natured, delicate boy is definitely me and it’s a feeling that I’ve cherished. It’s progress.

Survivor – Returns September 23 on CBS

I’ve never been more excited about a season of Survivor in 31 seasons than I am about Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance. And neither have any other of Survivor’s ten million viewers. Twenty returning players were voted in by America to compete for a second chance to win the million dollars and the title of Sole Survivor. After All-Stars and Heroes vs. VillainsCambodia is only the third season to feature all veteran players. This past summer, I re-watched Heroes vs. Villains, arguably Survivor‘s best, for the third time and this new season has all the potential to match HvV’s soaring highs.

Some of these players, like Borneo’s OG Kelly Wigglesworth and Australian Outback’s Jeff Varner and Kimmi Kappenberg, have waited over a decade for the opportunity to play again. Every single one of these contestants is here to WIN, ready to overcome their earlier flaws, course-correct for past mistakes, over-compensate for character flaws, underestimate and overpower the competition, and outwit, outplay, and outlast to the Final Tribal Council. The hunger is real.

Each contestant has a strong storyline going into the competition: Can Stephen Fishbach shed his overwhelmingly large target of being a Survivor Know-It-All podcast host? Will Ciera Eastin be able to convince her tribemates she’s a trustworthy player after she voted out her own mother in her previous season? Will Abi-Maria Gomes be able to cool her hot temper and play nice with others? Will Spencer “Charlie Brown” Bledsoe finally be able to kick that football set up by Chaos Kass? The list goes on… What makes this season so exciting is that each person comes in with so much baggage and so much to prove. You can read some of my thoughts on the cast here.

Peih-Gee Law

Peih-Gee Law (source: EW.com)

Who am I rooting for? In addition to the aforementioned Jeff Varner (love his cheeky energy) and Stephen Fishbach (love his quick wit), I’m pulling for for my friend, Survivor China’s Peih-Gee Law, who famously was good at Sudoku and claiming victory of the last of her tribe, ultimately achieving 5th place. Will she be able to keep her emotions in check and not make waves in the early goings of the game? If so, Peih-Gee will at least make it to the merge. In pre-game interviews, Peih-Gee talked about a smart strategy she picked up from fellow China player, Amanda Kimmel:

You have to find someone really strong […] like a Woo…who will be able to win challenges, but he’ll be kind of a target after the merge, which is fine because then I won’t be a target. Then you want somebody weaker, like maybe like Kass. They’re good to have by your side because if they want to get rid of someone who’s not good at challenges, then you’re protected. And then, these people, the weaker ones and the stronger ones, they’re the targets.

Who am I picking to win? Looking at the winners of the two previous all-star seasons, Amber Brkich and Sandra Diaz-Twine, both women entered the game as unassuming characters. They laid low and watched as the bigger targets take each other out each week. I see the same characteristics in San Juan Del Sur’s Kelley Wentworth. Although we never fully saw her game in her first season (which means neither did her competitors), she seemed smart and level-headed enough to be a savvy player. Kelley enters Cambodia without a huge target on her back, but possesses great potential. If she aligns with the right players, she could fly under the radar, make smart moves to get her to the end, and emerge victorious.

How to Get Away With Murder – Returns September 24 on ABC

To be honest, I was a bit on the fence about returning to this Shondaland series. Only Viola Davis’ magnetic and emotionally fraught tornado and Jack Falahee’s voracious sexual appetite and surprising vulnerability proved to be compelling characters. The rest of How to Get Away With Murder’s ensemble was merely beautiful set dressing. I also couldn’t stand Wes and Rebecca at all, separate or together.

Ultimately, Viola Davis is worth the price of re-admission. Her extraordinary history-making Emmy acceptance speech brought me to tears. As the first African-American woman to ever win Lead Actress in a Drama Series, her words were a powerful and inspiring indictment of the decision makers of Hollywood, highlighting how few opportunities women of color have had the chance to even compete for the title.

‘In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’

That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.

I will keep watching to support your trailblazing work, Viola Davis. Here’s to you!

The Flash – Returns October 6 on The CW

Simply put, The Flash is fun, fun, fun. The mere thought of more adventures in Central City fills me with joy. The Flash is a winning combination of celebrating the heroics of superheroes and meaningful, emotional character relationships. Of all the shows I watched last year, I’m certain I cried the most and hardest at The Flash season one finale. Damn you, Grant Gustin, and your beautifully emotive, tear-streaked face! This upcoming year spirals further down the comic book spiral, introducing a parallel universe and the original The Flash, Jay Garrick. I’m not a superhero superfan by any means, but I’m in for whatever thrilling twists are coming our way.

American Horror Story: Hotel – Returns October 7 on FX

Oh boy, American Horror Story, where to begin? Season three (Coven) was a supreme mess with inflated dramatic stakes (If characters could be resurrected willy-nilly, what did it matter that characters died?), while season four (Freak Show) was a frightful bore that suffered from warmed-over and languid pacing.

Season five, Hotel, brings AHS into the dark hallways of the Hotel Cortez. The one shining beacon of this season is that the incredible Jessica Lange is sitting this out of this chapter. Lange has portrayed massive powerhouses, stealing every scene and chewing each piece of scenery, but over time, these power-hungry matriarchs drew from the same well one too many times. It will be interesting to watch a more ensemble-driven AHS, as anchored by Lady Gaga.

Billy on the Street – Returns October 8 on TruTV

Pop culture and yelling. #selfexplanitory
I wrote about Billy on the Street’s first season here.

Jane the Virgin – Returns October 12 on The CW

The first season of Jane the Virgin skillfully balanced the hilarious with the heartfelt, and the playfully surreal with the emotionally real. Even when the telenovela-inspired narrative engine seemed to barrel through storyline after plot twist after jaw dropping moment, Jane the Virgin never lost its way, thanks to its charming and radiant lead, Gina Rodriguez.

The world was also introduced to new comic icons in Jaime Camil’s self-absorbed Rogelio De La Vega and Anthony Mendez’ cheeky narrator. Season two promises to double down on the over-the-top telenovela world, announcing guest appearances by not only pop icon Britney Spears, but my beloved darling, Kesha (#FreedomForKesha). The Flash and Jane the Virgin both had stellar first seasons (which I wrote about) and I expect no less this year.

Plus, Jane the Virgin also featured my two favorite Emmy “For Your Consideration” campaigns for Gina Rodriguez and Jaime Camil. Jane the Virgin, you are both inspiring and freaking hilarious.

Fargo – Returns October 12 on FX

My favorite scripted series from 2014 returns. Fargo’s first season was a tightly plotted morality tale, bursting at the seams with memorably quirky characters and black-hearted humor. Fargo follows in the footsteps of its fellow FX series, American Horror Story, and resets its second season in 1979, with a new murderers row of actors taking on the series’ unique voice: Patrick Wilson. Kirsten Dunst. Jessie Plemons. Ted Danson. Jean Smart. Cristin Milioti. Nick Offerman. Kirsten Dunst’s awesomely feathered coif. Just watch the trailer below and tell me you are giddy either.

The 20 People I’m Voting In For Survivor: Second Chance

There’s no better time to be a Survivor fan! For the show’s upcoming 31st season, it’s up to America to vote for 20 returning players to return for their second shot at the game. The voting pool of is made up of 32 one-time players who have never won the game.

What’s most exciting is that each and every Survivor fan has different criteria for voting, and, as a result, a different list of people they want back on the show. Yes, there’s a gigantic recency bias (15 out of the 32 contestants are from the past 4 seasons), but I’m hoping that a nostalgia factor will give some of the old school players a boost.

Which voting bloc will win out: the millions of casual fans who’ll only vote once, or the thousands(?) of hardcore fans who will vote daily? Aside from a handful of shoo-ins (I’m looking at you, Joe Anglim), it’s honestly quite difficult to tell which combination of 20 will make the final cut.

Before I reveal my list, these are the 12 people who didn’t make my Survivor: Second Chance cut: Monica Padilla, Natalie Tenerelli, Mikayla Wingle, Troyzan Robertson, Sabrina Thompson, Brad Culpepper, Woo Hwang, Keith Nale, Joe Anglim, Mike Holloway, and Carolyn Rivera.

I initially had Worlds Apart‘s Mike Holloway in Andrew Savage’s place, as Mike has proven to be an explosive player firing on every cylinder imaginable, but I figure Mike will have more than a second chance to return to the game. Savage, not so much. Same goes for Mama C, as I put T-Bird in her place. Plus, it’s obvious either Mike or Mama C will win Worlds Apart, right?

The voting takes place daily at cbs.com/survivorsecondchance until Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 9 pm EST.

WOMEN (in order of appearance)

Survivor_female_castaways

Kelly_WiglesworthKELLY WIGLESWORTH
Borneo, Season 1
Runner-Up

Look up “Second Chance” in the Survivor dictionary and there you’ll find Kelly’s headshot. This season’s theme was made for her. Kelly famously lost to Richard Hatch in front of over 50 million viewers by one vote. ONE VOTE. 30 seasons later, does she have what it takes to make it to the end again?

Kimmi_KappenbergKIMMI KAPPENBERG
The Australian Outback, Season 2
12th Place

I only caught a couple of episodes of the first season as it aired live on television, but I was completely hooked thanks to The Australian Outback. From triumphing in a gross food eating challenge (“I can eat a worm! I can eat a worm!”) to getting into an argument with a fellow hot head (Alicia Calaway: “I will always wave my finger in your face!”), Kimmi was a source of the second season’s memorable moments.

Teresa_CooperTERESA “T-BIRD” COOPER
Africa, Season 3
5th Place

I can’t say that I remember much of T-Bird’s game, or much of Africa (other than the drinking cow’s blood challenge and Silas “Colby 2.0” Gaither), so this is purely a vote for the nostalgia of old school players.

Peih-Gee_LawPEIH-GEE LAW
China, Season 15
5th Place

Peih-Gee was a fighter, pure and simple. As the last of her Zhan Hu tribe, she fought a scrappy uphill battle against a powerful, and ultimately, winning, alliance. Armed with a fierce personality, Peih-Gee wasn’t afraid to mix things up (see: throwing an immunity challenge to knock out a strong competitor) and confront others on their BS. Out of all the women on the list, she’s the one I’d like to see return the most. Peih-Gee will certainly make for entertaining TV.

Abi-Maria_GomesABI-MARIA GOMES
Philippines, Season 25
5th Place

Oh, Abi-Maria, you were blissfully unaware of own obnoxiousness and the viewers were all the more better for it. Has Abi-Maria learned from her previous game? Does it matter? Abi-Maria was as an entertaining a villainess as they come. Unlike past disasters like Hurricane NaOnka, who just brought a deluge of frustration onto viewers, Abi-Maria at least has spirit.

Ciera_EastinCIERA EASTIN
Blood vs. Water, Season 27
5th Place

Sure, Ciera didn’t come alive until the last third of the game, but when she did, she lit up the screen like no other. She voted her own mother out of the game, y’all. No one else in two seasons of Blood vs. Water can claim that. She forced a tie and drew rocks, and was only the second group in 30 seasons to do so. Just imagine what her gameplay could be like with her mom. It could be epic.

Tasha_FoxTASHA FOX
Cagayan, Season 28
6th Place

Tasha was a challenge beast and really came through when it mattered most, winning three individual immunities in a row. She’s a strong competitor, which is exactly what an All-Star season needs. Let’s hope she plays an even better social game and doesn’t get #StoodUp again.

Kass_McQuillenKASS McQUILLEN
Cagayan, Season 28
3rd Place

Kass is an intelligent player with a snarky sense of humor. She not only gave herself a nickname (#ChaosKass for life), but she lived up to her moniker. While Chaos Kass’ strategic moves may or may not have best the soundest, they sure were interesting and unpredictable moves and gave Survivor fans a lot to discuss and debated.

Kelley_WentworthKELLEY WENTWORTH
San Juan del Sur, Season 29
14th Place

I’m thrilled, and frankly really surprised, to see Kelley on this list. Thanks to the Blood vs. Water twist, her game was mostly straddled to cleaning up the messes made by her father, Dale. Add to that lameness, Resident (Basically a) Badass Drew got Kelley out of the game because she had seen every episode of Survivor, unlike most of the dolts her season. Let’s give her a chance to show off her skills in a better arena.

Shirin_OskooiSHIRIN OSKOOI
Worlds Apart, Season 30
8th Place

Shirin just needed to get her Survivor superfandom jitters out during her first season. With that over-the-top enthusiasm out of the way, she can work on her social game. During Worlds Apart, she was never in the driver’s seat of an alliance, so it’ll be fun to watch if she can pull off strategic maneuvers of her own.

MEN (in order of appearance)

Survivor_male_castaways

Jeff_VarnerJEFF VARNER
The Australian Outback, Season 2
10th Place

Jeff Varner was my favorite player on The Australian Outback. In the midst of all the surviving, it appeared that he was the only one out there playing the strategic game. And he was there to PLAY. Undid by a defunct rule and Kimmi’s big mouth (she told Tina that Jeff had votes cast for him previously), he was taken from us way too soon. Of all the old school players, Jeff seems to be the best equipped to navigate the extremely fast-paced game of today.

Andrew_SavageANDREW SAVAGE
Pearl Islands, Season 7
10th Place

Andrew Savage is another player who deserves a second chance, in the purest sense of the word. He was screwed out of the game by the infamous Outcasts twist, when Lil flipped upon returning to the game. Savage fit the mold of Jeff Probst’s dream alpha male, receiving the last name only treatment. I’m not certain if the nostalgia factor is as strong with him, but it’s surprising it’s taken so long to get him back.

Shane_PowersSHANE POWERS
Panama, Season 12
5th Place

Shane Powers is a larger-than-life character who needs to return. He was recklessly erratic, shockingly unpredictable, and wildly entertaining. I mean, he quit smoking cold turkey when he went on the show! He talked on a piece of wood that he called his BlackBerry (remember those?)! He asked Cirie nursing advice and showed her his junk! He fell apart at the sight of his son during the loved ones visit! We need more Shane on our televisions.

Terry_DeitzTERRY DIETZ
Panama, Season 12
3rd Place

Terry was an unstoppable Panamanian force, winning five consecutive immunity challenges. Terry will need to improve his social game the second time around, as he came off as smug father-type, and I’m willing to give him the opportunity to do so.

Stephen_FishbachSTEPHEN FISHBACH
Tocantins, Season 18
Runner-Up

I’m most excited to watch Stephen play again. He’s made a name for himself in the years following his stint on the show as a Survivor pundit, writing a blog for People.com since 2009 and as a Survivor Know-It-All, co-hosting a weekly podcast with former player Rob Cesternino for the past six seasons. As a Know-It-All, he’s claimed to be one of “the guys who know everything about Survivor except how to win the game.” I’ve also purchased and listened to Stephen and Rob’s 9+ hour audiobook, The 49 Laws of Survivor. I’m ready to see Stephen put his money where his mouth is. #BringFishBack

Jim_RiceJIM RICE
South Pacific, Season 23
12th Place

Jim Rice is a player. He’s outspoken, quick on his feet, and smart as a whip. And he was royally screwed when Cochran flinched on drawing rocks and bailed on his alliance. Jim can bring some grade-A strategy to Survivor once more.

Vytas_BaskauskasVYTAS BASKAUSKAS
Blood vs. Water, Season 27
10th Place

Blood vs. Water introduced us to the brother of Aras Baskauskas, winner of Panama. Vytas was the self-proclaimed “reformed bad boy” of Survivor and managed to charm his way out of being voted out when he was outnumbered by women after the tribe swap. Vytas has so much strategic and social potential going into the game and I look forward to him possibly playing outside of his younger brother’s golden boy shadow.

Spencer_BledsoeSPENCER BLEDSOE
Cagayan, Season 28
4th Place

Spencer, Spencer, Spencer. There is no way that this charming Charlie Brown underdog who won the hearts of millions during Brawn vs. Brains vs. Beauty won’t return for his second chance. Having always played with his back against the wall, it will be exciting to watch him play again, with the possibility of reversed fortunes and an upper hand.

Jeremy_CollinsJEREMY COLLINS
San Juan del Sur, Season 29
10th Place

One of the few bright spots in his season, known for his “surround and drown” strategy. Many Survivor fans, including myself, were envisioning an epic Josh vs. Jeremy showdown, and were floored when the two were cut down in 11th and 12th place, respectively. What will Jeremy’s game look like without his wife, Val, and with players with an actual keen sense of the game?

Max_DawsonMAX DAWSON
Worlds Apart, Season 30
14th Place

The Survivor professor needs redemption! After a fairly dismal social game cost him the game pre-jury, I’m willing to give him a second shot. I’m sure he’ll know exactly how to adjust his social strategy after having seen himself flame out on television.

The Naughty and Nice of 2014 TV

Welcome to my fourth annual Naughty and Nice of TV list!

This year, I wanted to focus on the TV characters themselves. To borrow from Into the Woods, characters on the Nice List aren’t necessarily “good.” Likewise, characters on the Naughty list aren’t “evil.” Who are the characters that grabbed my attention and made me what to root for them? As I’ve often said on my love of television: characters are key. Make me care for the people I’m spending time with, and you’ve got me hooked.

And just for the hell of it, here are my favorite episodes of 2014 television: “Beach House” (Girls), “So Did the Fat Lady” (Louie), “Cooperative Polygraphy” (Community), “Looking for the Future” (Looking), and “The Strategy” (Mad Men). My previous Naughty and Nice Lists can be found here: 2013, 2012, 2011

Here are the TV Characters on the Nice and Naughty Lists, presented in their show’s respective alphabetical order:

— — —

TV Characters on my Nice List

Big Brother – Zach Rance

The 16th season of Big Brother was an underwhelming strategic bust, thanks to Derrick Levasseur dominating the game with his Bomb Squad and Detonators alliances. Thankfully, we had the bright ball of charisma that was Zach Rance to keep us entertained. The self-proclaimed “Zach Attack” was new type of reality TV character: the lovable bro. He was by no means the sharpest player, but his heart-on-his-sleeve attitude won over the hearts of millions. Zach Attack was a never-ending fount of emotion, ranging from bitter outbursts to tender cuddling. His bro/showmance with Frankie Grande (dubbed “Zankie”) was the fodder of YouTubeTumblr, and Twitter users everywhere. Big Brother took a commendable progressive step by showing such a strong bond between a straight guy and a gay guy, while not playing into any homophobia.

Zach_Attack

Source: bigbrotherz.tumblr.com

BoJack Horseman – BoJack Horseman

Little did we know that when we first entered the surreal animated world of BoJack Horseman, on the surface a pointed satire of Hollywood celebrity, that we would come out the other end of its first season having saw a sobering examination of anxiety depression. Voiced by Will Arnett, BoJack was a washed-up 90s sitcom star and a tortured soul who diagnosed his childhood hangups in an endless sea of booze and partying. We all want to be loved and accepted, man. Buried underneath the animal puns and the celebrity cameos lies a surprisingly deep and twisted heart submerged in a profound well of pathos. And the reveal that Andrew Garfield loves lasagna and hates Mondays.

BoJack_Horseman

Source: dewogong.tumblr.com

Enlisted – The Hill Brothers

Oh, my dear, sweet Enlisted. You were taken from us way too soon. This little comedic gem followed Sgt. Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) who was reassigned to a rear detachment unit that was home to his younger brothers Randy Hill (the ever-hilarious Parker Young) and Derrick Hill (Chris Lowell at his snarkiest). Enlisted hit the perfect sweet spot of hilarity and heartwarming, from the silliness of Randy sobbing while describing the plot of Toy Story 3, to the poignancy of Pete stepping into a solider support group for the first time to seek help for his post-traumatic stress. The pilot episode introduces “hands on heads” as how the Hill brothers say “I love you.” This simple, loving gesture perfectly encapsulates the empathetic nature of Enlisted. No one is alone.
Source: nalle.tumblr.com

Source: nalle.tumblr.com

Fargo – Molly Solverson

Fargo is my favorite series of 2014. Watching such intriguingly off-kilter characters amidst a fantastically rich landscape filled me with glee. Fargo was blessed with brilliant performances from its all-star ensemble of Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Key and Peele, Kate Walsh, and more, but one performance stood head and shoulders above the rest. Allison Tolman made the most out of the very definition of a breakout role, as her complex performance of Molly Solverson became the shining beacon of hope in an otherwise frigid world. Molly’s quiet confidence and doggedness proved to be perfect antidote to the well-worn hyper-masculinity of anti-hero dramas. Witty, smart, charming, and vulnerable, Molly took the reigns of Fargo and made the show hers, one decent action at a time.
Molly_Solverson

Source: fxfargo.tumblr.com

The Flash – Barry Allen

The Flash revels in the optimism of superherodom, anchored by Barry Allen’s determination for doing the right thing and actor Grant Gustin’s charisma. From my earlier article, The Best New Shows on TV: Jane the VirginThe Flash, I wrote about what makes Gustin’s performance so refreshing: “Grant Gustin as Barry Allen is as charming as all get out. His fresh-faced earnestness makes lines like, ‘Lightning gave me abs?!’ and ‘My chest feels like that one time I had a cigarette. Yeah, teen me lived for danger’ absolutely work in his favor. Gustin nails not only Barry’s easy-going nerd charisma, but he also brings a necessary depth to the role. Barry’s capacity for empathy is deep and you can see the passion and heartbreak in Gustin’s eyes.”
Source: felicitytech.tumblr.com

Source: felicitytech.tumblr.com

Jane the Virgin – Jane Villaneuva

Gina Rodriguez and Jane the Virgin became the first-ever Golden Globe nominees for The CW Network and deservedly so. This wonderfully warm telenovela-inspired concoction was the biggest surprise of the fall season. In my article about Jane the Virgin, I wrote: “The throughly charming Gina Rodriguez leads the cast as Jane Villanueva. Reveling in a star-making turn, Rodriguez provides the nuanced emotional center of honesty and warmth. We feel for her. We laugh with her. We cheer for her. Her earnestness is instantly endearing. Yet at the same time, the Latin Lover Narrator notes, ‘Jane was a virgin, but not a saint.’ She’s flawed. She’s judgmental. She’s judgmental of her flaws.” Jane Villaneuva welcomes us into her world with open arms.
Source: linhcinderella.tumblr.com

Source: linhcinderella.tumblr.com

The Legend of Korra – Korrasami

It is a damn shame that Nickelodeon pulled The Legend of Korra off the airwaves halfway through season three this past summer, airing the final season and a half exclusively online, as the last two seasons were quietly groundbreaking. Korra was an exemplary display of feminism, highlighting both the badass strength of its female ensemble, as well as their flaws and vulnerabilities.

The show gave these characters the freedom to explore their wants and needs through nuanced character development. Women rose to power, women wielded power, and women abused power. The striking journey of Avatar Korra demonstrated the difficult, necessary, and lonely road to recovery. However, she ultimately wasn’t alone. Korra ends the series with her close friend, Asami, by her side. Once rivals fighting over the same boy, Korra and Asami developed a deep friendship over the years, using each other as supportive confidants.

Now we’ll get into spoilers… By the third episode of season three, I had picked up on Korra and Asami’s friendship, and tweeted: “I’m especially enjoying the deepening relationship between Korra and Asami. Not everything’s about boys.” and I was aware of the fervent Korra online fanbase shipping Korra and Asami (“Korrasami”), having followed a couple Korra tumblrs myself. I was not ready for the last minutes of The Legend of Korra series finale, however, when the two women travelled to the Spirit World together, eyes and hands locked. I gasped as I watched those closing moments, with my hands over my face. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Were Korra and Asami ending up together?

Indeed, it was real. Korra co-creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino revealed post-finale, that indeed the two women ended up together. I’ll let Konietzko explain why this relationship carries so much power and importance (excerpted from his Tumblr post “Korassami is canon“):

“Just because two characters of the same sex appear in the same story, it should not preclude the possibility of a romance between them. No, not everyone is queer, but the other side of that coin is that not everyone is straight. The more Korra and Asami’s relationship progressed, the more the idea of a romance between them organically blossomed for us… But as we got close to finishing the finale, the thought struck me: How do I know we can’t openly depict that? No one ever explicitly said so. It was just another assumption based on a paradigm that marginalizes non-heterosexual people. If we want to see that paradigm evolve, we need to take a stand against it.”

This is progress.

Source: magnificent-vennificus.tumblr.com

Source: magnificent-vennificus.tumblr.com

Orange is the New Black – Rosa Cisneros

In its second season, Orange is the New Black broadened its canvas, expanded its world, and showed a deft confidence in both the cast and writers. By shifting the central narrative away from Piper Chapman, the show’s lesser characters like Black Cindy and Gloria were given time to shine. Through this season’s flashbacks, we learned that not all the women in Litchfield simply made bad decisions, but that some were actually criminals. This was the case with Rosa Cisneros, played beautifully by Barbara Rosenblat. In OITNB‘s first season, Rosa barely made an impression, but her season two quest to find any remaining vestiges of life’s thrilling joy made a profound and powerful impact. The fact that Orange is the New Black showcased such a moving story for a seemingly minor character displays the show’s limitless respect for telling the stories that aren’t always told.

Source: ayeshunx.tumblr.com

Source: ayeshunx.tumblr.com

Silicon Valley – Peter Gregory

The late and very great Christopher Evan Welch gave us a gift with his peculiar and precise portrayal as the eccentric and enigmatic billionaire, Peter Gregory. The scenes in “Articles of Incorporation” in which Welch delivers a speech on the business machinations of Burger King are nothing short of remarkable.
Source: adultum.tumblr.com

Source: adultum.tumblr.com

Survivor – Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson, winner of Survivor: San Juan del Sur, was, in the words of a fellow contestant, “basically a badass.” She was socially savvy, physically strong, and brutally honest. As two-time veterans of The Amazing Race, Natalie and her twin sister Nadiya, entered the season with huge targets on their backs. Nadiya was the first elimination of the game, which stoked Natalie with a passionate fire for vengeance which she fueled brilliantly into her social game. It bears repeating that in a season of Survivor that featured pairs of loved ones (husband and wife, mother and daughter, boyfriends, etc.), a pair of identical siblings bookmarked the game. One Twinnie was voted out first, while the other Twinnie won the whole freakin’ game. This feat shows that Survivor is not only a game of strategy, but also a game of luck and circumstance.

Source: herasyed.tumblr.com

Source: herasyed.tumblr.com

TV Characters on my Naughty List

American Horror Story: Freak Show – Elsa Mars
Yet another power-hungry Jessica Lange matriarch desperately striving to assert her authority in a world where youth and beauty threaten to destroy everything dear to her? Yawn.
 
Downton Abbey – Lady Mary’s male suitors
I honestly could not tell these men apart from each other, nor did the show make me care to distinguish them. I commend Downton Abbey for handling Lady Mary’s grieving process with care, but saddling her with tired flirtations was a bore to watch. Downton Abbey is just more of the same every year.

How to Get Away with Murder – Everyone who isn’t Viola Davis or Jack Falahee
Yes, HTGAWM is progressive in its portrayal of a strong, black female who is given powerful moments of vulnerability and its portrayal of a gay character who is allowed to be as sexual, if not more so, than his straight co-stars. Unfortunately, every other character in this show is a lame, underwritten snooze.

Orange is the New Black – Larry Bloom
For a show bursting to the brim with many vibrant characters, why does Orange is the New Black feel the need to keep coming back to the trials and tribulations of Larry (Jason Biggs)? Yes, he started the series as Piper’s fiancé, but we have traveled down so many more interesting paths since then. Time spent with Larry is time taken away from the richness that is Litchfield.

— — —

But let’s not end on such a downer note, shall we? Let’s end with this Nice unaired Saturday Night Live short, which perfectly skewered 90s family sitcoms, through the “very special episode” trope, chicken wings, and Andrew Garfield’s midriff.

Saturday Night Live – Wing

What I’m Watching/Ditching in the Fall 2014 TV Season

Ah, fall. As with pumpkin spiced everything, this glorious season ushers in a whole new crop of television shows. Here are the television shows I will be tuning into in the coming months and the ones I’ll be tossing out the window. Click to see my previous lists of fall 2012, 2007, and 2006. #consistency.

What I’m Watching:

Play It Again, Dick – New series debuted 9/16 on CW Seed

The first of the series I’ll be watching this fall won’t even air on television. Play It Again, Dick, the latest chapter in the Veronica Mars saga, debuted on CW Seed, The CW’s home of original digital series. The webseries is a meta-explosion, starring Ryan Hansen playing a heightened version of himself, attempting to make a Veronica Mars spinoff based on his character, the lovable douche Dick Casablanca. Ryan Hansen as Ryan Hansen attempts to wrangle in the ‘ol gang of Veronica Mars actors that will be playing themselves and/or their characters. Or both. Even though the movie was ultimately disappointing in its extreme fan service, the tone of this meta-romp is perfectly pleasurable.

Survivor: San Juan del SurBlood vs. Water – Returning 9/24 on CBS

Survivor brings back the successful Blood vs. Water twist in its 29th installment. Expectations were low when the twistreturning players competing with their loved oneswas introduced last fall, but the season surpassed fan concern when it delivered new dynamic layers of gameplay infused with powerful raw emotion. But can lightning strike twice with a cast of all-new players? By all accounts, Survivor is an individual game, so the casting of brand new pairs will be crucial for the season’s success. Unfortunately, we’ll have to deal with the disgusting and despicable John Rocker, the racist and homophobic former MLB player. There are a few bright spots in this cast, however, and I’m rooting for the married couple of Val and Jeremy, the police officer and firefighter.

How to Get Away with Murder – New series debuting 9/25 on ABC

I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t watch the white-hot Scandal. I know. I KNOW. I aim to rectify this lack of Shondaland in my life by tuning in to How to Get Away with Murder, executive-produced by Shonda Rhimes and helmed by Viola Davis as a merciless criminal-law professor. The show promises to be sexy, suspenseful, and full of vengeful and attractive young co-eds. Sign me up for this crash-course in pulpy primetime soapiness!

The Legend of Korra – Returning 10/4 on Nick.com

Poor, poor Korra. The titular character of The Legend of Korra spent this past summer watching her third season be wildly mistreated by Nickelodeon. Book Three: Change was originally planned to air this fall, but for whatever reason, the channel hastily released it during the summer instead. Nickelodeon began promotion only one week prior to the season premiere and subsequently burned off two episodes every Friday night. Ratings were understandably weak, and Nickelodeon pulled the final five episodes from the airwaves and released them exclusively online.

What a damn shame. Change was nothing short of REMARKABLE: a near-perfect blend of breathtaking action, intelligent social consciousness, and nuanced character development. (You can stream Book Three online here.) Among the many praiseworthy aspects of the season include the deepening friendship between Asami and Korra outside of their relationships to their former boyfriend, Mako (Alison Bechdel would be beaming), the masterful character work and backstory of Lin Beifong and her sister Suyin, and a quartet of baddies who were all at once terrifying and awe-inspiring.

Thankfully, we don’t need to wait very long for Book Four: Balance, the series’ final season, to witness how Korra’s world will achieve a rightful balance in the aftermath of Zaheer’s destruction.

The Flash – New series debuting 10/7 on The CW

In a television season stuffed with comic book shows (the returning Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the new Gotham and Constantine), what makes The Flash stand out? This superhero series knows it’s here to have fun. I couldn’t help being won over by the exceedingly charming Grant Gustin as Barry Allen. With a strong identity claimed in its appealing earnestness and sincerity, I’m willing to give The Flash a shot.

American Horror Story: Freak Show – Debuting 10/8 on FX

How can you watch this trailer and NOT be overwhelmingly giddy with excitement and anticipation? Kathy Bates as a bearded lady. Angela Bassett as a three-breasted woman. Sarah Paulson as conjoined twins. Patti LaBelle as who cares, she’s Patti LaBelle. All this, PLUS a killer clown?! I mean, come on.

Creator Ryan Murphy has stated that the tone of American Horror Story: Freak Show, set in Jupiter, Florida in 1952, will be closer to that of the troubling darkness of Asylum, rather than the campy gloss of Coven. This direction is particularly promising, as Coven was a hot mess (not in the fun way). And we mustn’t forget that Freak Show will be Jessica Lange’s swan song with American Horror Story. As with every clusterf*ck season of this anthology series, I can’t wait to have my every expectation turned on its twisty head.

The Affair – New series debuting 10/12 on Showtime

The story of an illicit love affair told from the dueling perspectives of the man (Dominic West) and woman (Ruth Wilson). This intriguing examination also explores their respective arduous marriages to Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson. This Rashomon-esque storytelling structure is especially intriguing. Layers upon layers upon rich character drama. Life, and narrative, is all about perspective.

What I’m Ditching:

Utopia – New series debuted 9/7 on FOX

Utopia has lost more than half of its viewers since its first airing. And I am one of those viewers. While the concept of this reality series is fascinating (What happens when 15 people attempt to create a functioning society in isolation?), Utopia‘s execution has been simply atrocious, thanks to some poor casting decisions.

With no competitions to offer inherent drama, it seems the producers cast extremely volatile personalities to more than make up for conflict. Each and every conflict blew up into uncomfortable shouting matches. In just the first three days, we were privy to medical evacuations due to alcohol poisoning, threats of physical violence, and several instances of misogyny (offhanded sexist remarks, unwanted passes, a man yelling at a woman to “shut the f*ck up”). While the final moments of the premiere episode offered up a glimmer of hope, I vowed never to returned to the unpleasant and unwatchable Utopia.

How Survivor is Outwitting, Outplaying, and Outlasting American Idol

“Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.”

Survivor’s motto has been part of our pop culture lexicon for nearly 14 years. The long-running reality competition is now in its 28th iteration, with at least two more on the way. Survivor airs head-to-head on Wednesdays at 8pm with another reality TV titan, American Idol, now in its 13th year.

In this battle of the time slot, the two shows occupy opposite sides of the entertainment spectrum. Survivor is firing on all cylinders, delivering what could be its best season with Survivor: Cagayan, while American Idol is a train-wreck and a snooze-fest all at once.

How has Survivor managed to outwit, outplay, and outlast American Idol? Let’s break it down.

OUTWIT:
Survivor has dynamic characters…

This season, the Survivor producers divided its 18 castaways into three tribes, each tribe embodying an aspect of the game used to win: Brains, Brawn, and Beauty. But it doesn’t matter how many twists producers can throw out there, if there isn’t an engaging cast of characters maneuvering those obstacles, the show suffers (I’m looking at you, One World cast!).

Survivor_Tony_Vlachos

Tony Vlachos

Luckily, the Survivor gods have bestowed upon us a casting bounty with Cagayan. We have everything from larger-than-life personalities, to sympathetic underdogs to root for, to hotheads, to boneheaded decision-makers.

Cagayan‘s standout character is Tony Vlachos. Tony. Tony. Tony. He is a mad scientist, constantly scheming new ways to best his opponents, and even his allies. He is a shark. He needs to keep making big moves or else he’ll die. “I like big moves, bro,” he admits. Tony’s gameplay compares to the infamous Russell Hantz, but unlike that Survivor troll, Tony’s gameplay never devolves into spiteful personal attacks. Tony is a master of deception and his childish glee exudes from every pore. While he’s far from the perfect player (see: the “Top five, baby!” slip that came back to haunt him), Tony is above all, damn entertaining to watch.

It wouldn’t be Survivor without underdogs, and Cagayan has them in spades with Spencer Bledsoe and Tasha Fox. These two survived a near-decimation of the Brains tribe and survived their former Brains ally, the emotionally charged Kass #ChaosKass McQuillen, flipping on them and their majority alliance.

Spencer is making the right measured moves at the right measured times. He maximizes his opportunities and shows a great deal of patience in his execution. Who didn’t cheer when he found the hidden immunity idol during the #MadTreasureHunt? Tasha’s social connections and physical prowess makes her a threat to win, even if she does get #StoodUp by the charming and rugged LJ McKanas. Their strategic wheels are always turning and make it easy to root for them.

Are you ready for an #UnpopularOpinion? My favorite castaway this season is Trish Hegarty. Let’s be real. Trish is playing a cunning game. She finds her targets and she executes accordingly. She engineered Cliff Robinson’s ouster behind her fellow Brawns’ backs and she slyly convinced #ChaosKass to flip, even after Tony patronized her and told her not to. You could even argue that she pushed Lindsey Ogle out of the game. As an astute social observer, Trish is silent (endearing laugh aside), and deadly. The best part, she’s not making any real enemies. However, she’ll need to pull out an amazingly articulate jury speech to convince her peers of her strategic acumen. It’ll be an uphill battle for her, but I trust Trish is up for the challenge.

These are all memorable Survivor characters, and I haven’t even mentioned the #NinjaStealthMode master Yung “Woo” Hwang, the fierce police officer Sarah Lacina, and Boobs McGee herself, Morgan McLeod.

American Idol doesn’t.

Perhaps I’m just a crotchety old man now (at the ripe ‘ol age of 26), but boy are this year’s American Idol contestants young. The oldest singers, CJ Harris and Jessica Meuse are 23 years old. When you have a theme of 80’s music and not a single singer was born during that decade, that’s saying something.

Idol_Alex_Preston_Sam_Woolf

Alex Preston & Sam Woolf

Quite honestly, all this youth and inexperience shows. Aside from the piano pop-rocker Jena Irene (see: “Decode”) and the retro-rocker Caleb Johnson (see: “Dazed and Confused”), none of this year’s finalists have been ready for the big stage. Yes, they’re talented. Yes, they can sing. But their passion doesn’t fill the television screen, let alone reach through and grab us the throats. It’s as if they don’t understand or even care that this is a competition. Listen up, kids, you need to IMPRESS us! You need to fight for our votes.

Flanked by Harry Connick, Jr. and Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez has become an astute judge this year. Last week, after one of the many country performers Dexter Roberts phoned in one of the many country performances, Lopez warned him, “These performances need to be spectacular… The room’s got to RATTLE. It’s got to SHAKE… You need to PUSH yourselves.” Really, this critique was an impassioned plea for all the contestants. And just like that, America eliminated Dexter the next night. Nothing distinguished him from any other country dude performing in bars across the country. He failed to stand out and make us remember him.

That’s the story with nearly all the singers this year: adequate, but not remarkable in the slightest.

OUTPLAY:
Survivor has unpredictability…

Survivor_Cagayan_Tribal_CouncilNever has there been a more unpredictable season of Surivor than this one. Just look at the picture above. Look at those seven players with seven different facial expressions.

In the first post-merge Tribal Council, Tony surprises the tribe by giving LJ a hidden immunity idol before the votes were cast, causing the other alliance to scramble. LJ dropped another bombshell when he whipped his out immunity idol and gave it to Tony. Let’s look at the picture again. Observing left to right, we see Jefra’s joyous relief, LJ’s smooth confidence, Sarah’s stony bitterness, Tony’s beaming pride, #ChaosKass’ smug glee, Spencer’s sheer disbelief, and Tasha’s simple appreciation for the daring move.

But that’s not all the crazy! After all the idol dust settles, #ChaosKass blindsided her alliance and flips to the other side. Sarah goes home in a shocking elimination. #ChaosKass’ controversial move of flipping from presumably the top of a majority alliance to the bottom of a minority alliance sparked much debating among fans: Did #ChaosKass make the right move?

Now, two weeks later, we’re discussing a new power move: Did Tony make the right move? Was turning on his loyal alliance partner, LJ, brilliant gameplay or deranged? Both? Did Tony get one step closer to becoming a millionaire or did he fall prey to unnecessary paranoia? By blowing up his own alliance, he creates many possibilities for everyone to make it to the end, including himself. He’s down (under Spencer and Tasha, if the two of them get to the finals) but he’s not out (mend that relationship with Trish, stat!).

Speaking of unpredictability, who could have foreseen these once odds-on favorites to win the game fall from grace? Sarah’s tantrum-throwing and abuse of her swing vote power took her down. LJ’s false sense of security and slow-moving strategy allowed his fellow players to get the best of him.

Survivor players have evolved into savvy gamers who make their bold and brassy moves at Tribal Council, keeping viewers on their toes for the entire hour. Typical protocol once saw players enter into Tribal Council with their minds already made up, but now we watch big power plays unfold at Tribal Council. Following a one-two-three-four punch of PhilippinesCaramoan, Blood vs. Water, and now Cagayan, we are living in a time where risky moves and blindsides are the spectacular norm. What an embarrassment of riches.

American Idol doesn’t.

This year’s American Idol contestants are sorely lacking a drive to push the creative envelope. For the most part, the contestants are content with songs from their coffeehouse and bar show set-lists. Sure, it’s simpler to do songs already in your repertoire, but that doesn’t make them entertaining to watch. No matter how much constructive criticism the judges give, there’s still not much charisma onstage. All this indifference is wearing thin. (Could you look anymore dead behind the eyes, Jessica Meuse?! Do you even want to be here?)

I favorably reviewed the contestants after their Rush Week performances. Where did all that promise go? Where are the #moments?

Idol_CJ_Harris

CJ Harris

Contestants were first allowed to play musical instruments back in 2008 during the show’s seventh season. The first couple seasons following that introduction heralded a musical reinvention renaissance. The guitar was a sign of fresh-sounding departures. Think Kris Allen’s “Heartless” or Phillip Phillips’ “Volcano.” This year, however, the guitar is a crutch. Six out of the top ten have played a guitar at some point this season. The bland guitaryness of each contestant’s songs blend together, a little acoustic jam there, a little country twang there.

I’ll go ahead and say it: guitars are ruining Idol. Not only have the guitars stifled the musicality, it’s also kept the performances physically stationary and stagnant. No amount of lightbulbs, floor lamps, or living room couches can inject excitement into a Sam Woolf performance.

So props to the aforementioned guitar-less Jena and Caleb who bring a breath of fresh air when they work the stage. Their performance of “Gimme Shelter” was KILLER, with nary a guitar in sight. It was one of the scarce highlights this season.

That vital surprise factor is gone. No one is taking risks and turning songs on their head, à la David Cook’s “Billie Jean.” We are no longer shocked or awed by a Jason Mraz-lite performance by Alex Preston. We can predict CJ Harris’ Ray Lamontagne-lite sound. So what’s the point of tuning in anymore, especially if those performances are simply okay? When 80’s week revealed, I jokingly predicted we’d see an “Islands in the Stream” duet between Jessica and Dexter. And guess what? They did! YAWN.

Challenge our expectations. Do something different. We need to be SURPRISED. I’m beginning to sound a lot like J.Lo (sans auto-tune, naturally).

What’s worse is that I honestly can’t recall any of the country songs CJ or Dexter have sung, save one or two. They’re obscure (“Keep Your Hands To Yourself”) and forgettable (“Boondocks”). And in CJ’s case they’re obscure (“Radio”and forgettable (“If It Hadn’t Been For Love”and off-key (“Invisible”). This is a huge problem. Look, if you pick a song the audience isn’t familiar with, make it count. Rattle that room. Shake that room. Make us remember you. Paging Candice Glover’s “Lovesong”!

The broad themes aren’t helping. It’s been a long-standing complaint that we’ve been force-fed the same tired themes year after year (disco, big band, etc.), so this year, the producers dismissed specific themes and aimed more broadly with ones like “Home,” “This Is Me,” and “I’m With the Band.” But these themes have failed as well, by allowing the contestants to stay squarely in their wheelhouse. Specific themes challenged contestants to think outside-the-box, rearrange songs to their own musical styles, and most importantly, to develop their sense of personal artistry. All the producers have done is breed complacency.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the generic themes aren’t stopping any time soon. The next one is “A Little Bit Country, And A Little Bit Rock ‘n Roll.” What a cop-out, Idol producers. Let’s give country and rock genres to the mostly country and rock performers. That’ll shakes things up dramatically…

OUTLAST:
Survivor has steady viewership…

Let this tweet from Vulture’s West Coast editor Joe Adalian sink in for a second. The once-mighty ratings juggernaut came in second place to Survivor. And this wasn’t the first time either; Survivor has bested Idol every week for the past four weeks.

These ratings are just more bragging rights for the four-time Outstanding Host for a Reality Program Emmy Award-winner Jeff Probst. Ryan Seacrest, however: six nominations, zero wins. Still, Survivor: Cagayan is hitting all-time series lows. Unsurprisingly, ratings have declined across the board for nearly every broadcast show.

American Idol doesn’t.

Idol_Ratings_ChartThis sobering graphic courtesy of The Wrap shows that downhill slide that is American Idol‘s ratings. The simple fact of the matter is that the tired and overstuffed reality singing competition genre is past its prime, and this particular brand has been around for 13 years. Idol‘s main rival, The Voice, most recently averaged a 2.7 A 18-49 (2.7% of all homes with viewers ages 18 to 49 tuned in).

Idol‘s highest ratings for viewers ages 18 to 49 was in the show’s fifth season in 2005, with an average rating of 12.6. Now here we are, eight years later, and Idol scored a 2.2 the week of April 16th. YIKES. The Death Star is dead, but its admirable reign was long and mighty.

As long as Survivor keeps introducing vibrant new characters ready to make huge moves, it will continue to keep its fans happy and its head above water. Are you taking notes, American Idol? A blindside this late in the game would be a shame.

Is there anything that would draw viewers back to Idol? My two cents: a farewell season with the triumphant return of Simon Cowell. Those were the good ‘ol days.

The Naughty and Nice of 2013 TV

Welcome to my third-annual Naughty and Nice of TV list! Yes, I realize that Christmas is long over, but Starbucks still has their holidays drink menus. Your argument is invalid.

You can take a look at my 2012 Naughty and Nice list here and my list from 2011 here.

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TV on my Nice List:

Breaking Bad’s “Ozymandias”

Without question, Breaking Bad sits atop the pantheon of the best television series and “Ozymandias” was the show’s finest hour. The soul-crushing and emotionally dark climax to the series left its audience reeling from devastating moment after devastating moment. Moments that built upon a rich, detailed history of the past fifty-nine hours. Moments like Hank’s final stand. Moments like Walter White kicking Jesse while he was down with the ultimate truthbomb. Moments like the knife fight between Walter and Skyler White. The episode pushed the notion of “family” to the breaking point and left me sick to my stomach and not to mention, wanting more. What an emotionally gripping hour of television.

Breaking_Bad_OzySkyler

Survivor: Blood vs. Water

On paper, the 27th of Survivor should have been a train wreck. Devoted fans such as myself were wary of the seemingly endless parade of twists: A tribe of returning players versus their loved ones; An immediate vote-off before the game even began; The return of the controversial “Redemption Island”; Loved ones getting the decision to take the place of their partners who have been voted out. RUPERT. COLTON. But guess what? It totally worked.

What kept the twists humming were the layers upon strategic layers that no one saw coming: voting someone out as a punishment to their loved ones on the opposite tribe; voting someone out in hopes their loved ones would switch out; voting someone out to knock out players on Redemption Island. Emotions were also at an all-time high, building up to Ciera Eastin voting to eliminate her own mother, Laura Morett.

In Ciera and Big Brother champ Hayden Moss, we got two underdogs who just would not give up the fight (I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw either of them again because of their fire). With his back against the wall, Hayden proved his strategic worth and fought tooth and nail to convince Ciera to force a voting tie, something that has only been seen once before in Survivor‘s 13-year history. It was an epic and historic Tribal Council that epitomized one of the best seasons since Heroes vs. Villains.

Mad Men’s Bob Benson

In an ultimately disappointing sixth season, Mad Men set the internet ablaze with the question: Who is Bob Benson?

This charming and handsome SCDP employee played by the charmingly handsome James Wolk raised more than a few eyebrows as to what his motives were. How many secrets did this genial man hold? Why was he around every corner in the office? What was the nature of his friendship with Joan? What was with his infatuation with Pete? Was he a government informant? An undercover reporter? Pete and Peggy’s time-traveling love child?

The slow-burn of a mystery unfolded itself in his Don Draper duality and opposition to Mad Men‘s previous gay employee, Sal Romano. While Bob Benson’s homosexuality reveal may not have been as out-there a theory for some, for me, it was a perfect stroke of subtle storytelling. And of course, who could forget those shorts?!

Ok, so in all honesty, I may or may not have put Bob Benson on my list solely because I love me some James Wolk. I debated between placing Bob Benson on the Nice list or the sweet relationship between Peggy Olson and Stan Rizzo. Ultimately, thanks to Tom & Lorenzo’s mightily impressive analysis of Bob Benson and gay culture in the 1960s, I went for the short shorts.

Mad_Men_Bob_Benson

David Brown on Jeopardy!

My friend David Brown (@iamdavidbrown) made a killing on Jeopardy! on an entertaining three-episode run this past summer. It’s an intelligent and fabulous performance that has to been seen to be believed. Way to go, David! #FatDwarfNumberThreeFTW

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TV on my Naughty List:

Breaking Bad’s “Felina”

These are but minor quibbles on the legacy of Breaking Bad, but count me in as one of the people who felt that its finale had too neat of an ending. Granted, this is the only way the show could have ended; Breaking Bad wouldn’t have left any loose threads hanging (Huell’s Rules not withstanding). The show took a Lostian approach in its twisted nostalgia trip to find its closure, and like Lost, expectations for this finale reached perhaps unattainable levels.

Breaking Bad‘s ending was earned and effective, but it eschewed surprise and transcendence for efficiency. Of course, it could only be Walter White who could orchestrate such a risky and mechanical plan with nary a hitch, with the entirety of the series leading to the deployment of ricin and a machine gun. As Jesse Pinkman once said, Mr. White is smarter and luckier than anyone. However, I felt as though Walter White received a redemptive and almost triumphant sendoff that went against the moralist nature of the show.

And speaking of Jesse, the show could have done better by him in the final eight episodes. As the world narrowed in on Walter White, Jesse faded into the background and presence in the finale was sorely missed.

Breaking_Bad_Felina

American Horror Story’s race problems

I absolutely LOVED American Horror Story: Asylum. It was a disturbing roller-coaster of madness that surprisingly surrounded a bloody, beating heart. Coven keeps the crazy flowing, but falls short of making you actually care about its characters. In Asylum, we rooted for Lana and Kit to escape the terrifying clutches of Briarcliff. In Coven… everyone dies and is resurrected. Yay?

Coven has been able to take horrifically vile characters, like Kathy Bates’ Madame LaLaurie, and transform them into more sympathetic creatures. However, these transformations seem only applicable to its white characters. Not much screen time has been devoted to fleshing out its black characters. Angela Bassett’s Marie Laveau is a force to be reckoned with and is hands-down the best part of Coven, but she is nothing more than a force of vengeance and anger. The same goes for Gabourey Sidibe’s Queenie who has seemingly sacrificed herself in the wake of a white male terrorist in the mid-season finale.

For a show that has woven itself in the tapestries of historical racial divides of Salem witches versus voodoo witches, it’s unclear what Coven is saying about race relations in America, or even wants to say. There are only four episodes left in this scatter-shot season, building up into the two witch lineages teaming up to defend against the patriarchal Corporation. Here’s hoping the streamlined plot narrows the home stretch, while revealing the larger picture.

AHS_Coven_Angela_Bassett

Saturday Night Live’s race problems

SNL made headlines this fall, not for insightful and pointed political skewering or for gut-busting humor, but for its lack of diversity in its casting. Lorne Michaels hired six new featured players this season, five men and one woman. What should have been celebratory for these six turned controversial, as the hiring of six white cast members did nothing but highlight the cast’s lack of diversity.

This past fall, important questions entered the cultural conversation: Where are SNL‘s black women?! Why hasn’t there been a black woman in the cast since Maya Rudolph? How can a cultural institution such as SNL not have someone portray icons such as Oprah and Beyoncé? Unfortunately, the hosting job by the talented Kerry Washington merely winked at the problem, without making any solutions or statements at all. Comments from cast memebers Jay Pharaoh and Kenan Thompson certainly didn’t help either.

And now here we are, with an impending announcement of a single black comedienne joining the cast. Did you catch that Lorne Michaels “did not want to add too many women at this time because the cast already includes five”? Hah. But man, this actress will be under so much scrutiny while fighting an uphill battle to prove her comedic worth. Godspeed, single black comedienne! Good luck carrying the weight of every single expectation ever.

SNL_Kerry_Washington

Big Brother’s race (and homophobia and misogyny) problems

Big Brother also made headlines this year, not for its riveting gameplay, but for the bigoted and racist comments from its houseguests. Following a heated exchange when former model Aaryn Gries flipped the bed of African-American houseguest Candice Stewart, CBS began prefacing each episode with a disclaimer. And while CBS did acknowledge some of the controversy, focusing on throwing Aaryn under the bus and aired an assortment of her bigoted outbursts, other houseguests made racist, homophobic, and misogynist comments that never made the CBS telecast.

The fact that none of these comments were brought up during the live finale, especially when member of the final three made these statements, places more shame on CBS. In the end, in the midst of rampant bigotry, Big Brother crowned its first gay winner this year. Congrats, Andy Herren! I admired your gameplay and your fashion sense.

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The cancellation of Happy Endings

Simply put, I will miss my punny, fast-talking friends from Chicago. Not cool, ABC. Not cool.

Why I Freaking Love Survivor: Backstabbing, Blindsides & Brenda

“Whatever happens tonight, this is why I freaking love Survivor and have for thirteen years.”

The Tribal Council where Phillip “The Specialist” Sheppard was voted out of Survivor: Caramoan – Fans v. Favorites, was a welcomed strategic doozy and a half, prompting Cochran’s words of incredulity as he cast his vote which echoed the hearts of millions of us fans. Survivor fans live for the strategy talk. The alliances. The social maneuverings. The blindsides. This Survivor fandom is centered around the watercooler, be it physical or virtual.

Coming off the strategic finesse and dynamic casting of Survivor: Philippines, the first half of Caramoan was a downright slog to get through. We suffered through episodes that were light on gameplay and heavy on character drama nonsense: Phillip’s Stealth-R-Us antics, Shamar Thomas’ laziness and tirades, and Brandon Hantz’s instability, whose meltdown was intensely uncomfortable and sad to watch, for both his tribemates and for us as an audience.

This isn’t why we watch Survivor. All this character buffoonery is not watercooler talk. There’s only so much about Shamar’s unpleasantness that people can talk about before throwing up their hands in frustration. Thank goodness then, for Golden Boy Malcolm Freberg, who spearheaded the Tribal Council charge of The Three Amigos and effectively blindsided a majority alliance. His bold move is indeed worthy of the watercooler.

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Not why I freaking love SURVIVOR.

The Survivor gods rewarded for our patience with three excellent strategic episodes of gameplay in a row: the blindside of Corinne, Malcolm commanding Reynold’s idol (the ballsiest power move since South Pacific’s Sophie Clarke commanded Albert Destrade to “drop his stack”), and now, the brolliances’ idol power play. Thanks to Malcolm’s most recent move in keeping himself, Reynold Toepfer, and Eddie Fox immune, there have been vibrant and heated discussions in the Survivor community.

Was this really a great move by The Three Amigos or did it just buy them one week? Should Malcolm have announced that they were voting for Phillip? Could Phillip have saved his hide by targeting Sherri instead of staying the course? Should Malcolm just have kept his immunity idol for himself? Will Stealth-R-Us fall apart without Phillip or grow even stronger? These strategic questions and more fuel the fanbase fire.

I personally think Malcolm’s shouldn’t have announced they were voting for Phillip and instead, just sit back and watch as Stealth-R-Us self-destructed in a blaze of paranoia. Malcolm’s purely bravado move works only for the short-term. But regardless of how smart his move actually was, there is no doubt that Malcolm, a devout student of the game, is a great showman. He knows how to make great television and get über-fans like us, and Cochran, riled up. His performances at the past few Tribal Councils, however cocky and self-centered they may be, have kept me off my couch and on my feet, stress-pacing my living room floor and cheering like a madman. There’s simply no other show that elicits more visceral reactions out of me than Survivor.

Survivor_Three_Amigos

Why I freaking love SURVIVOR.

I’m currently in the middle of a re-watch of Survivor: Borneo, the inaugural season, and it’s utterly fascinating to watch the show in its infancy, still finding its sea legs. Can you even imagine a world where Richard Hatch didn’t introduce the word “alliance” into reality television vernacular? The Tagi alliance of Richard, Sue Hawk, Rudy Boesch, and Kelly Wigglesworth slowly but surely taking down the naive Pagong tribe one by one, all but cemented the strategic cornerstone that keeps the Survivor house intact.

The finale of Borneo was seen by 51.69 million viewers and the season overall averaged 28.30 million viewers. Survivor: The Australian Outback was the number one television show of the 2000-2001 season, seen by an average of 29.80 million viewers. During this time, Survivor dominated pop culture talk around the watercooler. I still have that Entertainment Weekly magazine from 2001 with the cover story that gave the odds of winning for The Australian Outback‘s final seven (Colby Donaldson: 3-2; Tina Wesson: 3-1).

Cut to 2013, and Survivor‘s cultural capital has certainly diminished in scope, but the passion of its core fans is no less vibrant, nor the viewing experience any less exciting. One of my co-workers just binged-watched Survivor: Philippines over the course of a week. Every morning, I would head over to her cubicle and she would sort out her feelings with me on Mike Skupin and Lisa Welchel’s alliance, discuss why it would be smart to bring Abi-Maria Gomez to the end, and how she feared for Malcolm’s standing as a physical and strategic threat. Even as Survivor‘s viewership dwindles (the April 10th episode of Caramoan was seen by only 9.4 million viewers), the core fan community has continued to thrive online and around office watercoolers, thanks to continued strategic gameplay.

When comparing Borneo to present-day Caramoan, I’ve noticed that we are spoon-fed our narratives more today. In the early seasons, when the survival aspect was of greater intrigue, we spent the time to get to know every survivor and their motivations. Thirteen years later, the narratives have become more tightly focused, existing within codes and shorthands (When a survivor says something won’t happen, you know it’ll happen! How’s that rock taste, Francesca?!). We no longer have the time to focus on sixteen different stories. Survivors who are not important to the narrative are silenced and excised. Yes, I’m looking at you, Brett Clouser, Rick Nelson, and Purple Kelly!

Also why I love SURVIVOR.

Also why I freaking love SURVIVOR.

This season, we’ve heard nary a peep from the alternately adorable and drop-dead gorgeous Brenda Lowe. The former Nicaragua black widow became Stealth-R-Us’ Serenity, with the editors reducing her persona to only the cutest of reaction shots. In a secret scene only available online, Brenda revealed that her strategy is to be on no one’s side but her own: “Keeping to myself, being available when I can be available, and strengthening relationships when I can.”

Now, Survivor editors, would it hurt to make room for one minute of Brenda’s strategic gameplay of keeping the target off her back, and leave yet another mention of Stealth-R-Us on the cutting room floor instead? Why leave us viewers in the dark for weeks on end? And why not illuminate us on her visibly apparent knee injury?

We were finally thrown a bone this week when Brenda triumphantly rescued Dawn’s retainer from the bottom of the lagoon, endearing her forever to Dawn. Let’s not forget that Brenda is most at ease in the water, seen in an online-only confessional after her submerged individual immunity win. Sigh. Regardless of her minimal screen time, I love me some Brenda.

So who will win Survivor: Caramoan? In my pre-season analysis, I pegged my top three picks to win as Brenda, Andrea Boelhke, and Erik Reichenbach, with Andrea as the winner. All three of these survivors have made it at least to the jury. If only Andrea weren’t so paranoid every time her name came up, her chances would be better. With each passing Tribal Council, things are looking better and better for our nerdy fan surrogate, Cochran.

And who better than Cochran to represent the Survivor fans as the king of Fans vs. Favorites? Us fans are a small, but fiercely devoted bunch. Seriously though, what other fanbase would awesomely recreate and musicalize a moment OUT OF LEGOS?!

My Pick to Win Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites

Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites premieres tonight and I honestly cannot contain my excitement! Survivor: Micronesia – Fans vs. Favorites from 2008 is in my top five Survivor seasons, pitting all-star returning castaways against hardcore fans, and served up episode after episode of delicious drama. For this season, however, the returning Favorites seemed to be picked more for their big personalities than their strategic gameplay (and for some of these castaways, their strategy was next to none), which could lead to some explosive television.

New players tend to look to the returning players for guidance, but it appears we’ll have a much more even-playing field: the “Favorites” are just a bunch of misfits, but the Fans don’t appear to be much to write home about (I doubt some of the “Fans” have even watched the show at all, outside of the screeners they’re given by CBS). Heck, you see bigger fans in Cochran, Dawn, and Malcolm than anyone on the actual Fan tribe. Oh well. Regardless, Jeff Probst promises a wild season. Let’s break down the Survivor: Caramoan Favorites in no particular order, shall we?

Survivor_BrandonBrandon Hantz – We really, really did not need to see Brandon again. Oh boy. What a wildcard. No one will want to form an alliance with Brandon. Not after the stunts he pulled on Survivor: South Pacific – his creepy obsession with Mikayla, giving away his Immunity necklace at Tribal Council, his emotional implosions and tattletales. Brandon just doesn’t have it all up there. In order to make it far, you want people to see you as a stable asset, not an unpredictable ticking time bomb. He has no chance of winning this game.

Survivor_PhillipPhillip Sheppard – Here is yet another wildcard. The thing is, though, unlike the crazy and unstable Brandon, Phillip appears to be an intelligent man, with just a larger-than-life calculated personality. This Special Agent (?) made it all 39 days on Survivor: Redemption Island under Rob Mariano’s wing. Boston Rob took one look at this kooky character and took him right to the final Tribal Council, knowing that no one in their right mind would ever vote for the annoying Phillip. Sure, Phillip will make for entertaining television (see: mispronouncing Francesca Hogi’s name at Tribal Council), but he’ll never win Survivor. He simply rubs his tribemates the wrong way. Yes, he could make it past the merge, and maybe even to the Finals, but with his lack of strategic gameplay, he’ll never win.

Survivor_CochranJohn Cochran – Now here’s a true fan: Good ‘ol self-deprecating Cochran. Here’s hoping that out of the shadow of players like Ozzy Lusth, Cochran will be able to take care of his unfinished business. Cochran is the biggest Survivor geek out here, and fierce student of the game. On Survivor: South Pacific, it was his own rationality and intellect, coupled with fear, that slowly did him in. For his second outing, we’ll see if Cochran has learned to loosen up and not get stuck inside his own head.

Survivor_ErikErik Reichenbach – History has bestowed Erik with the distinction of making one of the dumbest moves on Survivor, thanks to giving away his Immunity necklace on the original Survivor: Fans vs. Favorites only to be vote out in that same Tribal Council. But Immunity blunder aside, Erik had a very likable personality and was a physically strong player, having won three Individual Immunities. He has a lot to prove in with his return, and I think Erik’s chances of survival redemption in this Fans vs. Favorites are very good.

Survivor_MalcolmMalcolm FrebergSurvivor’s golden boy returns merely two weeks after his stint on Survivor: Philippines. In playing back-to-back seasons, the tribemates on his second go-round know absolutely nothing about him. It’s the classic “Devil you know versus the devil you don’t” situation. Unfortunately for Malcolm, he’s the devil they don’t know and thanks to his back-to-back predecessor, Russell Hantz, he will have to work overtime to get his tribemates to trust him. Malcolm’s the most well-rounded member of this tribe, so perhaps his strength, ability to adapt, and his extremely winning personality will help him overcome any unknown factors his tribemates may see in him. Could Malcolm wrangle in Dawn Meehan as his Denise Stapley 2.0? Will he succumb to Andrea Boehlke’s charms and fall for another showmance? There’s just so much in doubt here…

Survivor_CorinneCorinne Kaplan – On Survivor: Gabon, Corinne was a bitch in her confessionals, but loyal to her alliance. And having her on this tribe, with this many personalities? There are bound to be some fireworks. However, her aggressively honest attitude may serve her well in the eyes of the right alliance. On the downside, Gabon was Survivor‘s seventeenth season (Caramoan will be the twenty-sixth). In Survivor years, that season is downright prehistoric when compared to her fellow tribemates’ seasons. Will Corinne be able to find a place in her new tribe?

Survivor_DawnDawn Meehan – Mark my words: If Dawn makes it to the final Tribal Council, she WILL win. She’s just that likable. If you remember, during the reunion of Survivor: South Pacific, winner Sophie Clarke stated that she wants to grow up to be Dawn! Not only is she just so gosh darn likable, but she is a physical beast. This powerful combination will attract many alliance options and there’s just no way she doesn’t make it to the merge. Dawn has grown so much since she experienced an emotional breakdown during her first days on South Pacific, and she will only come back stronger.

Survivor_AndreaAndrea Boehlke – I’m hoping Andrea will prove to be more than just the casting department looking for another blonde in a bikini. Honestly, I don’t remember much of her from Survivor: Redemption Island. She was pleasant enough, strong enough, and capable enough socially. But while she didn’t make a great first impression, she may make it far by gliding under the radar (think winners Natalie White or Amber Brkich). Andrea is likable and inoffensive, which is worth a lot in Survivor currency and without the overshadowing Boston Rob around, she could get her very far in the game. I’m not underestimating Andrea.

Survivor_FrancescaFrancesca Hogi – Even though Francesqua was the first person voted out of Survivor: Redemption Island, she made a lasting impression. She was one of the few bright spots for me (see: her Tribal Council with Phillip) from her rather lackluster season. Francesqua made the unfortunate move of calling out Boston Rob at the outset of Redemption Island and her big mouth got her in trouble. Will she be the anti-Sandra Diaz-Twine and be the first person voted out first twice? I don’t think so. We don’t really know how Francesqua would have fared in the game had she lasted longer, but we do know that she is seeking redemption and she is here to play.

Survivor_BrendaBrenda Lowe – I’ve always wanted Brenda to return to Survivor. She’s smart, athletic, and strategic. In short, she is a PLAYER. Brenda was the only player on Survivor: Nicaragua in a season full of non-players. Oh, and she’s gorgeous. Her downfall? A too-confident attitude which kept her from scrambling once her top-dog position was in turmoil. Here is her chance to learn from her (easily correctable) past mistakes. Brenda’s dynamic charisma and hard-hitting strategic mind may prove to be a detriment this time around, as other players may put a target on her back early on, but I have faith that Brenda will be able to navigate these testy waters.

I’ve never been able to pick a Survivor winner pre-debut, although after the first Survivor: Philippines episode, I dubbed Malcolm and Denise my Survivor heroes. For Survivor: Caramoan, I think it’s fairly certain that a Favorite will win the game, besting the Fans at every aspect of the game. My top three picks to win are Brenda, Andrea, and Erik.

But who will take it all? My virtual money is on the unassuming Andrea “I’m No Longer A Follower” Boelhke.