Brain Spill: Always a Bridesmaid…

In the words of the legendary Ned Flanders: “Hiddely-ho, neighborinos!” As always, I hope all is well with you. Summer’s right around the corner, and that means only one thing: wasting the day away in front of an air conditioner, wallowing in a puddle of your own sweat.

Don’t you just love heat? On a related topic, I have immigrated to Siberia to avoid the above-90 degree weather (or above-32.2, for you Canadian fans). But oddly enough, I still get wireless broadband internet from my uncharted location, so I can continue to entertain you.

As I did last Survivor off-season, I will be continuing my line of columns designed to get your gears going. This will result in you either singing my praises, or sniping me from a distance on my way to work (although the latter is more probable). This series, called Dora’s InsidePulse Controversy about Survivor (dear god, please somebody out there offer up a new name for this), will take one topic every column. I will answer that question/statement with a whole bunch of arguments, in order to come up with one “cohesive” point of view.

The rules are simple. I’ll pose the question/statement, then explain my point of view. And you get to read and enjoy. Please keep a few things in mind when you read these. I am not a Survivor expert, merely a big fan. So my point of view is not gospel. In other words, I am allowing you to disagree with me if so inclined. As always, you are welcome to email me with your own comments. But do remember that I am providing a column-length argument, so if you wish to counter my thoughts, be prepared to submit substantial evidence, otherwise I will laugh at you (and don’t try me, because
I have replied to hatemail with a “ha ha ha” before).

At present time, I only have a few ideas in mind for topics. So if you want to suggest something, it might make an appearance on a future column. I have an opinion on everything, so all it takes is a little time to put that into article form.

So without much further ado, time for the first topic of the summer. And it’s a doozy. I guarantee AT LEAST half of you will disagree with me, so please refrain from booing and/or throwing tomatoes until the end. Please and thank you.

Who is the best player never to win Survivor?

At the end of the Survivor Amazon, Jeff Probst dubbed Rob Cesternino as “the best player never to win Survivor.” And this got me going. Surely a title such as this should not be taken lightly. Twelve people have won Survivor, and 171 have not. Who among those 171 is the best?

Of course, before we go any further, we need some clarification. First off, what is “the best?” “The best,” means having a good all-around strategy that is highly reproducible. Something that on almost any given season of Survivor, it COULD lead to victory, or at least a respectable finish. Some people get lucky and have some odd strategy magically work for their respective season. Other people could be transplanted into any season and use the exact same formula for success, and have it work. In terms of Survivor, this usually means a strong alliance, decent survival/adapting proficiency, and good social skills. Challenges can be used as bonus points, but not against someone (as far too many people have proved to be successful without being challenge powerhouses).

The second (and final) major clarification is such: “Who is eligible to win the honor of best never to win?” Obviously, this only applies to people who do “well” in the game, because your strategy could not have been too stellar if it did not work. Clearly, all silver medalists (or Deuces, as I will refer to them) in each season must be initially considered, because they got as far as they could on their own terms. But there sure have been a lot of Bronzeys (third place people) who were very good at the game, as well as fourth place-ers. For purposes of argument, I am going to leave this honor open to only Deuces and Bronzeys. Allow me to defend myself.

I’ve always considered the final three to be the end of the game. At the final three, one of three things happens: you win immunity, you get taken into the final two by the winner of that immunity, or you get voted out. Any of the aforementioned results in you as getting as far as you can, while the power is in your hands. Once the final three vote is read, that represents the last thing actually done in the game by the active players themselves. Therefore, in order to be “best never to win,” you have to make it to this particular end of the game. You can make a case for select fourth place-ers, or even before that, but how good did your strategy really work if you couldn’t even get to the final three? Not that well.

So why allow Bronzeys to be considered at all? I’ve always been a proponent that you place second because you played the second place game out there (et cetera), so how could I include Bronzeys into this mix, if they themselves lost to more than one person? Many times on Survivor, a third place person gets the final boot because he/she is such a good player, that the other person could not face him/her in the final two. Case in point: Lex van den Berghe. True, he lost to Kim Johnson, but who can deny that Lex had the better strategy of the two, and could repeat his performance again (whereas Kim could chalk a lot of it up to being fortunate)?

So that leaves us with a pool of 24 candidates: Rudy Boesch, Kelly Wiglesworth, Keith Famie, Colby Donaldson, Lex van den Berghe, Kim Johnson, Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien, Neleh Dennis, Jan Gentry, Clay Jordan, Rob Cesternino, Matt von Ertfelda, Jon “Fairplay” Dalton, Lill Morris, Jenna Lewis, Rob Mariano, Scout Cloud Lee, Twila Tanner, Ian Rosenberger, Katie Gallagher, Rafe Judkins, Stephenie LaGrossa, Terry Deitz, and Danielle DiLorenzo. Just looking at this list, you can see that several (over a dozen) can be scratched almost immediately. Rather than run down each person (I could not imagine writing a whole paragraph on Jan Gentry’s game), I’m going to give you the five runners-up, then the person most deserving of the title “Best Never”

5th runner up: Twila Tanner
4th runner up: Lex van den Berghe
3rd runner up: Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien
2nd runner up: Colby Donaldson
1st runner up: Rob Mariano

Give up on who I feel is “Best Never?” Well you’re just going to have to wait, because I’m dissecting these five players one at a time (and just so you don’t think this is another column where I kiss the ass of Terry Deitz, Mr. Cool Dad Himself, it’s not him).

Twila Tanner (Vanuatu). Vanuatu is my second favorite season ever (Marquesas being #1). And I still feel that Twila and Chris were the most deserving final two the game has ever seen, with a close second to the Outback final two. Vanuatu was such a good season for many reasons, not the least of which being this bitch named Twila who was just so good at the game. Twila was tough as nails, and that usually amounts to success for people in harsh environments. But despite the fact that she had a tude about her (and being a redneck), Twila still had good social skills. With Twila, everyone knew where they stood, and she was an asset to her team. She was part of the power at the Yasur tribe. She convinced the Lopevi guys to oust one of their own before her or Julie (which was ultimately the demise of the Lopevi tribe, save for Chris). She stuck with the girls until the very time that she needed to get out, and was the main person responsible for turning the tides with Chris, Scout, and Eliza. That whole swearing on her son thing is a load, because that did not influence anyone’s vote against her at all (Sarge was voting for Chris anyway, and Ami looked beyond the lie to vote for Twila); hell you could even argue that it helped her. That sounds to me like someone who is on top of what’s going on, and is able to take control of the game. I’d bet on Twila to do just as well again.

Lex van den Berghe (Africa). As with the remaining people on this list, I’m only looking at the better of their two appearances. In the case of Colby, he was a victim of his own previous success, and Lex and Kathy were victims of numbers – so none of them really played “bad.” With Lex’s first time, no one can say he played bad. He had a very good alliance, and stuck to it. He was in control of the whole game, even ousting his own teammate Clarence just because he was a threat. When he felt his own teammate Kelly betrayed him (oops), he invented the Lex van den Berghe Trigger Finger (TM) to get rid of her. While it was a stupid move, it was not because he made sure that naive Brandon got recruited for the effort (only to be dumped next round). Then he allied with Tom, Kim, and Ethan, and took that to the final four. He lost the final immunity challenge because of poop cramps. While he was a jerk often, he still had a huge fanbase in Africa. Had Kim taken him in lieu of Ethan, Lex still would have crushed her in the vote. In fact, Kim took Ethan specifically because she knew she was dead either way, and preferred to see Ethan win instead of Lex. And let’s not forget that he won a lot of challenges too. Lex is a good player, and deserves a lot of credit.

Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien (Marquesas). It’s always tough talking about Kathy because so many people fell in love with her (myself included) and were heartbroken when she did not win Marquesas. Even after four years, it still makes people a little choked up to talk about her game. It was after all, an excellent way to play the game, and something that you see in children’s books. Here’s the story of a fun woman, but because she talks too much, people don’t like her. She sticks it out, and due to fortunate circumstances, gets to a good point in the game, where her inevitable end is soon approaching. Being an outcast, she befriended two other outcasts, and the three hatched a plan involving two other outcasts. The plan magically worked, and the five outcasts made it to the end of the game. Two things happened with Kathy. First you have the turnaround. Kathy went from LVP to MVP during the course of her stay on Nuku Hiva, and a lot of that can be attributed to what type of person she is, and her refusal to give up. Then you also have the very first Survivor Power Shift. Kathy was the link between Sean/Vecepia and Neleh/Paschal. Take her out of the equation, and the Rotu Four become the final four, thus making the fourth season where an alliance based strictly on tribal lines wins the game. One could even take it further and guess that had those five not changed the tides of the game, Survivor would have become boring, and may have since been cancelled. From that, one can extrapolate that because of Kathy, the game of Survivor has never been the same, and because it changed at that point, we just finished our twelfth season of this miraculous show. It’s a little bit of a stretch, but there’s some truth to it. We may owe a lot to this realtor from Vermont, perhaps more than we’re aware of. Back to Kathy as 3rd runner up for “Best Never,” she was responsible for the first ever Survivor Turnaround, and the first ever Survivor Power Shift. Anyone who can pull of either of those is a good player, so obviously she deserves a lot of credit. It is a shame that the woman was too afraid to show her boobs, and it cost her a million bucks. Kathy, if you’re reading this, email me, because I love you!

Colby Donaldson (Outback). Colby was the man in the Outback. Not only was he the poster boy of the season with his chiseled abs and ice blue ices, but he had a brain on his shoulders and an athlete’s body beneath that. On the physical side, there was no way Ogakor would get rid of him, and he alone was responsible for winning many tribal challenges. Of course, you have the whole “individual immunity powerhouse that was unstoppable” thing to remember. Colby was in no danger of getting booted week after week, but even in the slim chance of it happening, he was totally safe anyway. But more than that, he had a good head on his shoulders. As far as I’m concerned, the most important move of the game was when Ogakor deadlocked between Keith and Mitchell. Colby was the swing vote here, which resulted in Mitchell leaving and Tina/Keith/Colby controlling the game from the merge on. Colby was integral in controlling the immunity so that others did not get it, in addition to voting out fellow teammates Amber and Jerri. And surprise, surprise, Colby, Keith, and Tina were the final three. If not for the invention of the Colby Donaldson Royal Survivor F-up (TM), Colby would have smoked Keith in the final two, and become one of the (if not THE) best Survivors ever.

Rob Mariano (All Stars). Rob is often referred to as the slimier version of Colby Donaldson. But I digress. While it’s true that both were physical and mental powerhouses who lost 4-3 to a girl who had them wrapped around her finger, I feel Rob is overall a better player. Rob and the person I feel is the “Best Never” were both victims of what I call “bitter juror syndrome.” And when it boils down, that is what screwed Rob over. Let’s look at Rob’s game. Rob was on Chapera, which was dubbed from the start as the underdog tribe. But instead, Rob took control of the tribe, and they rocked. In the mean time, Rob sweettalked a naive little girl named Amber into an alliance (and a high-school-esque relationship). But the highlight of Rob’s Survivor career happened after the second tribal shuffle, when said girlfriend was in danger. Rob became the only person ever to directly influence the way THE OTHER TRIBE voted. Whether it was love or strategy, he still did it, and did it well. I don’t know about you, but few people have the power to determine how their own tribe votes, let alone the opponents’ tribe, so anyone who can do that is just jaw-dropping. But Rob’s story becomes even more remarkable when you consider that he did everything a Survivor player isn’t supposed to (lie, be a jerk, etc), but was still successful. Even with his no-nos he still only lost by one vote, meaning three people appreciated the way he played the game. Instead, Negative Nancies like Lex, Tom, and Alicia decided they would rather be bitter jurors. Rob dominated the whole game, both physically and mentally. He controlled both tribes, including the tribe he wasn’t even a member of. He even played the deception game, and was very close to winning. Had the aforementioned naive little girl not totally used him for everything he was worth, he too would be in the Survivor Hall of Fame as one of the best ever. You know what though? He is one of the best ever, despite his Deuce status.

So that does it for the runners up for title of Best Never. Which means we’re down to one person. I’m sure most of you expected one of the above people to win Best Never, so you’re probably scratching your heads and saying “huh?” But I’m for real. So without further ado, I’m about to present the award for Best Player Never to Win Survivor to:

(drumroll please)

(you have to scroll down)

Katie Gallagher!

Now before you boo me and X out of my screen, let me say that I’ve come up with a decent-length argument about why Katie Gallagher from Palau deserves the title of Best Never. So please just take a breath and let me explain.

People always give Katie a bad rap, especially in the e-world. My best explanation is that they don’t like her personality, and when assessing her, overlook her gameplay by going straight to her behavior. And while I can say that’s not necessarily the best thing to do, people do do it, and I am not one to judge (remember me with Aras?). However, if people don’t look beyond her clashing personality, they are overlooking one of the best players this game has ever seen.

I caught on to Katie very quick. Once I realized that Koror was going to dominate everything, I began watching them more in closely, knowing they were going to be the last ones standing. It was about halfway through the Ulong attrition that I claimed a victory for Katie (a big longshot at the time). And while she did only get second (thus my prediction was technically wrong), I’d say I did pretty good all things considered.

So why on earth would I pick Katie as “Best Never?” There are three main reasons (not in chronological order), but all of them amount to her setting up a long-term plan for success: manipulating people, making friends from the beginning, and sticking to her plan.

From the very beginning of Palau, Katie was not at any advantage, which she was well aware of. So in order for to go far into the game, she had to make sure her disadvantages would not become an issue. Palau started off with 20 people stranded, only to be split into two teams. During that time of 20-person chaos, friendships were formed, the biggest of which was the threesome of Tom, Ian, and Katie. Katie had very little to offer anyone, yet she was the very first person picked to be on a team. Clearly she played those first two days very well, which set her up to execute her plan.

The most important piece of her success is the fact that she stuck to her plan. During the final Tribal Council, Katie stated over and over that there was no way she was going to win by being a powerhouse; she had to do it some other way. In this case, she set up a long-term plan which included an alliance with Tom and Ian. She held tight to this plan at all times. While you could argue that she did do side deals with others, there are two counter-arguments: 1) were they genuine to begin with?, or 2) while she did make these deals, she never went through on them, thus they instantly became moot. You can’t punish someone for adultery if he only thought about cheating on his wife with his twentysomething Latino cleaning lady.

And the third thing is her being manipulative. She had both boys in her alliance totally wrapped around her finger. So she was in control of the whole game, but let them do the dirty work. Look at the situation with the final five. Ian had just won the car, and took Tom on the reward, leaving the girls at camp. During that time, Katie and the girls (Jenn and Caryn, in case you forgot who they were) made a deal. But when Ian returned, she had to gain his trust back. Go back and see how she did that: she turned the tables on Ian, stating that she couldn’t trust him, and HE had to gain HER trust back. Now I don’t know about you, but something is not adding up here, however the important thing is that it worked very well. Ian began crying, wondering how he got into this whole mess, and vowed to remain loyal to Katie. So to recap (it is a confusing situation after all), she was the one doing “cheating” on him, yet it’s his fault, and he takes responsibility for it. Ladies and gentlemen, this is deception at its finest!

But it goes even further than that. When Tom and Ian had their spat at the final four (Ian stupidly admitting that Tom would be gone if Tom lost immunity), Katie played both sides. She sat back and let the two men go at it, thus increasing her value at the end of the game. Ultimately, she sided with Ian instead of Jenn, which resulted in Ian winning the tiebreaker. But she remained loyal to Ian during the course of all that. And the damage had already been done. Tom and Ian now hated each other, and Katie was the preferred one of both men, securing her spot in the final two. Of course, while doing these two stunts, she made Ian look like the bad guy in front of the jury, planting the seeds of Ian hatred in their minds.

And yes folks, it gets juicier than that. Coming back from that Tribal Council, Tom once again opened his mouth, and started reprimanding Ian (“not again Dad. You already yelled at me”). Katie joined Tom by standing over Ian, yet played the role of ‘good cop.’ She made friends with Tom against Ian, yet was the nicer one in the eyes of Ian. When Ian woke up in the morning, he vowed to redeem himself.

And he did just that the next day. In the final immunity challenge, Katie hung on for about five hours (not bad in itself, as it shows she didn’t just up and quit). But in the eleventh hour, Ian decided to redeem himself by stepping off to save Katie. This is still a hotly debated topic on Survivor, because no one knows for sue what happened. My theory is that he knew he was going to lose anyway, and the time to make a deal with Tom was over (meaning Tom takes Katie into the final two). Ian was well aware of this, and instead of just stepping off, he made himself look noble by “sacrificing” himself. People call him a putz for this move, but all he was doing was trying to save face. Had Ian fallen off, he’d be unfortunate, but by stepping off voluntarily, he makes himself look like the good guy. A bit of a side note there, but the take home message is that Katie helped in making Ian feel so bad about himself, that he could quit to redeem himself. That is what we call a good manipulation.

The next day, Tom and Katie faced what I consider to be the worst jury ever (worse than All Stars). Basically, no juror had a point to their questions; they just realized that they would be forgotten by the end of the episode, and that was their own way of going out in style. Anyway, Tom and Katie both did a great job of defending themselves against such a bitter crowd (I would say both Tom and Katie are in the top five of jury performances ever). Katie, even with her total slam on That Bitch Janu, by refusing to belittle herself and answer Janu’s question, still did a good job. In the end, I feel that there was no way Tom was going to lose that season of Palau (he was, after all, the original Terry Deitz), so even with her stellar performance, Katie was toast from the beginning.

In her jury questioning, Katie kept repeating that she knew there was no way she was going to win by “traditional” Survivor means. She had to come up with another plan. And if you look at everything, look at all the strong people/strong personalities of Survivor Palau: Tom Westman, Ian Rosenberger, Gregg Carey, Coby Archa, Angie Jakusz, Ibraheim Rahman, Bobby Jon Drinkard, and Stephenie LaGrossa. And Katie beat all but one of those people. Obviously, something about her plan worked.

So, that’s all well and good, but nothing she did was too exceptional; anyone could have done that, right? Also, Dora, remember that Katie did not receive one vote for herself, but rather one anti-Tom vote. Dora, how can you give her the title of Best Never if she wasn’t even close?

As I said earlier, being the best means have a reproducible strategy. And that is where Katie shines. Katie knew she might not have the personality or the strength to make it to the final two on her own accord, but she knew she could let others take her (by the way, my official stance on riding coattails: although not the most honorable ways to get far, it is nonetheless a very legal move, so I am absolutely not against it. However you get far into the game – as long as it works – is fine with me). Katie is by no means a behemoth, so it is very easy to underestimate her. I’m sure she knew this. From the very beginning, Katie was able to step back and ASSESS THE SITUATION (ie, politics, who she was up against), to make herself aware of the surroundings. The instant she saw who she was competing with, she thought of a plan to get herself farther into that game. And she was rock solid in that plan, never wavering. She even used manipulation to enforce the loyalty of one of her allies (who was so loyal, he spared himself for her – how chivalric). In the end, I guess people just liked the other guy more. You could argue Darwinian theory that the species most likely to adapt will survive does not hold for this philosophy, since she did not adapt. However, she did adapt, it was just at the very beginning, and it skewed the whole game such that she did not have to adapt later.

So Katie Gallagher is the person I feel is the Best Player Never to Win Survivor. She could use the exact same strategy of acknowledging her environment, come up with a plan of action, sticking to it, and remaining loyal to her allies. It takes a smart player to come up with that on their own, but it takes an even smarter player to execute that plan. Katie, you should be proud of the great way you played the game, because you kicked ass. I really hope you and Terry align on All Stars 2, and together you’ll be unstoppable.

Well folks, at eight pages, this ties the record for longest column ever. I hope you enjoyed it, because I LOVED writing it. I knew this would be a controversial topic from inception, and I figured I would only fuel the flames of opposition further.

Please feel free to email me to put up a good argument. Or if you’d like, you can bail me out by sending me fanmail. Or if nothing else, come up with another topic for discussion (or a new F-ing name for this series of columns). It’s your call.

So until next time, when we discuss the correlation between half-life and stability of radioactive elements, stay cool