Thailand Strategy #3:  Shoplifting the Pootie
Written by Mario Lanza on 10.04.02

"Summer lovin', had me a blast.
Summer lovin', happened so fast.
Met a girl, crazy for me.
Met a boy, cute as can be.
Summer days, driftin' away, but . . .
Uh, oh, those summer nights."

And thus ends the Chuay-Gahn family.

There is a key moment in each season where the game starts to turn nasty. Where all semblance of fair play and sportsmanship is thrown out the door, and the gloves come off. So far, Survivor: Thailand has been the most ethical game since the first season, as they still haven't really crossed the line into nastiness yet. Sure, the "attack zone" fights were pretty brutal, and the Ted-Ghandia situation wasn't particularly nice, but the game itself still hasn't degenerated.

In Australia, the nastiness happened in episode 2, with Kel. In Africa, it happened in episode 3, with Carl. And in the Marquesas, it happened in episode 3, with Hunter. So the Thailand season has made it past three episodes without really crossing the line, but I can't imagine that will last much longer. Ted vs. Ghandia has the potential to get REALLY nasty, and Sook Jai is just miserable. But the power cores in both tribes are clearly established by this point, so there shouldn't be too many nasty Tribal Councils. At least, until a twist happens, anyway.

Sook Jai finally revealed itself this week. I was waiting to see how the demarcations would fall, and who would team up against whom. I said last week it was probably a 5 vs. 3 situation, and it turns out I was right. The big five, as expected, are Jake, Ken, Penny, Shii Ann and Erin. And I am almost positive that Ken and Penny are the ones to watch. I think that they all respect Ken, and they follow his lead, and that Penny is his little sidekick. Watch who Ken votes for in the next few councils, I bet that is the person who ends up leaving. He is the backbone of the team. Stephanie and Robb are all but done, as there is very little chance of cracking a 5-person alliance. Some people would say that Shii Ann is in trouble too, but I don't think so at all. She is in with the good crowd. So Robb is probably next for Sook-Jai, and then Stephanie. You could reverse those two, I suppose, depending on how much Robb turns into a pain in the ass. But I called the Jed boot last week, so I think I am on to something. The Sook-Jai tribe feels they can win without Jed's strength, and we will see if it happens.

Penny is my choice as Ken's second in command. And I come to that pretty much by process of elimination. Shii Ann isn't a sidekick, she is too feisty for that. Erin, I think it's safe to say, is a little too ditzy for Ken. Jake is a potential leader. He may be partners with Ken, but he is also Ken's biggest competition, so he won't be a subordinate. So that leaves Penny. Quiet, soft-spoken Penny, the one who hasn't received much air time. I think that Ken and Penny are the two to watch, for now anyway. All she has to do is ride his coattails, and she will get very far.

In Chuay-Gahn, the Ghandia situation stirred up a lot of trouble this week. Brian, Clay and Ted may not be as safe as they previously thought. They had it made, but all of a sudden the female uprising against Ted may get them in trouble. Or maybe not. I still think Ghandia is the overwhelming choice to go next in Chuay-Gahn, despite the editing. Sure, no one knows what happened, and Ted might annoy the females to no end. But Helen STILL can't stand Ghandia, and aligning with Jan is a dead end. Helen probably won't be swayed by emotion, she herself said that she is playing the game now. So look for Ghandia to be gone anyway, despite the potential "male vs. female" breakdown that we are being fed.

As for the Ted-Ghandia situation itself, I really don't have a whole lot to say. Other columnists will be sure to dissect it far more than I will, but it's too personal for me to start bashing one person or the other for what happened.  But I will say two things. The first is that I haven't really talked to anyone yet who thinks that Ghandia ISN'T to blame. She was skating a fine line with the flirting, and the hugging, and the holding. And then she admitted that when Ted started to come onto her, it was "kind of okay in the beginning." That's where she made her mistake, she gave him the go ahead, in his mind. The second thing that bears mentioning is the fact that Ghandia made the situation infinitely worse by leaving out the detail that Ted apologized. After that, it just turned into a game of telephone, we watched the story get worse and worse as it passed from mouth to mouth. It's a real shame that this storyline will be the one that people remember from this season. Ted and Ghandia will NEVER be able to do an interview without being asked about it, it will probably come up to hurt them if either one makes the final vote, and it will taint both of them in real life for a long time. Can you imagine if Ted wins Survivor? That is all that people will say about him: "Ted Rogers, Survivor winner and lying horndog." Okay, it won't be that bad, but it will hurt either one of them if they get to the endgame. Not to mention the impact it will have or has already had on their home lives. It's just ugly all around. Hopefully it won't come up again too much during this season, but I have a feeling that no one will let them forget it.

Three more things to say before this week's power rankings. Number one, the reward challenge was a lot of fun. The producers probably crossed the line by letting the players attack one another, but it sure added some well-needed emotion to this season. In fact, I think all challenges in Survivor now need an "attack zone." Imagine the fun, and the excitement, if during "Fallen Comrades," one of the players grabs another by the throat and keeps them from writing down an answer. Or, during Tribal Council voting, if you could attack another player and keep them from casting a vote. That would be so cool! Vecepia and Neleh have their hands on the idol, who will win? Wait! Here comes Kathy! Oh my God, she has a tree branch! No!!! She nails Vee, Vee goes down. But Kathy was in the Attack Zone, it all counts! It would be like pro wrestling out there. And I was sad that we didn't get to see the awesome matchup of Ted vs. Ken this week in the Attack Zone, that would have been a war. We DID get to see Ted's impression of 80's pro wrestler The Junkyard Dog however, when he shoulder blocked Robb onto his face. That was a great moment.

The second thing to say this week is about Clay. I wrote an article on how to win Survivor a couple of weeks ago, where I said the main goal in Survivor was to get the rest of the players to underestimate you. Either by adopting a "Southern" persona, or acting stupid, or just appearing weak. Now, I didn't even notice, but Clay has that strategy down PERFECTLY. He doesn't even have to fake it. He's already got the southern accent, the low key demeanor, and, this is the genius of it, he is TINY. No one considers him a threat at all. Look at how much I wrote him off just from his bio. I think he is in a GREAT position to win this game, and I'm embarrassed to say I never even saw it. He is so small that people forget about him, especially when he stacks up next to athletes Ted and Brian. Maybe Clay truly is "a diamond in the rough."

Finally, I would like to talk about the villain in this cast. Before the season, we were promised that this season would feature a villain "of Richard Hatch proportions." But as of this point, said villain has yet to show his or her face. You can make a lot of guesses as to who it will be though. Robb is a popular choice. Ted has some sudden potential. You could even make a case for Helen, Clay or Ghandia. But I think it will be one of two people. The less likely choice is Brian. I think he is a heck of a player, and as John Raymond said on the Early Show, he is "as smooth as a baby's bottom." Brian, with very little competition, seems to be the one most likely to be friends to someone's face, and then stab them in the back. He is there for one reason and one reason only: To win, and to get the money. Brian comes off as too nice to be a villain so far, but you never know. Right now he is secure, and he has no reason to be desperate. But if that changes, well you never know.

The most popular choice to be the uber-villain, in my mind, is Shii Ann. We have seen glimpses of her personality so far, and of course she still owes Robb a meeting with her horns. But her explanation of how they threw the tower challenge is what should set off alarms in your head. She knows what she is doing, she appears to be in the power core of Sook-Jai, and she probably has no qualms with cutting the knees out from her competition. If she doesn't go home really soon, I think she might be the villain we are looking for. Only time will tell...

Last thoughts on this week's bootee: Jed was just a poor player all around. He didn't do anything to fit in, he openly warred with other people, and he was just plain surly and unlikeable. But the absolute worst thing was that he never appeared to have any fun, not even for a minute. I don't think we really ever saw him smile, and he never seemed to enjoy this game at all. Why did he even apply? Did he think he could coast by on his Val Kilmer-esque good looks and his athletic ability? People gave Gabriel Cade a ton of crap last season for getting on the show and for never wanting to play the strategy part at all. But I think Jed's situation is much worse. He got on the show, he survived the interviews, he made the cut, and then he never seemed to even like to be on the island. He always came off as "Yeah, I can take this game or leave it." So you can say what you want about Gabe, but at least he was in it for the experience. He was having fun. I don't think Jed had a moment of fun in his nine days on the island. Of course, I don't know how ANYONE could have fun on Sook-Jai, but that's a whole other story.


I sense that there is a twist coming up, so looking at overall team strength isn't my goal here. I'm looking more at who will do well in the endgame, and who has the best strategy to win right now. And wow, this is a male dominated game so far. But on the plus side, we did eliminate our first Texas contestant this week. Only 11 more to go...

1. Brian Heidik
I'm still keeping Brian at #1 because there is no reason to move him down. Ted's situation could weaken him, in theory, if Ted gets voted off. But I don't think Ted is going anywhere for a while. Brian is still your best bet to walk away with this thing. He is clearly the male leader of Chuay-Gahn, notice that Helen went to him first, not Clay. And as an added bonus, if he gets far enough in the game, we may get to see his cute wife, C.C., come and visit the island. Cross your fingers.

2. Clay Jordan
Clay jumps up in the rankings for the reason I listed above, he is totally overlooked. No one will vote against the little guy, the "weak little whiny backwoods hick." Clay will stick around for some time.  In fact, I don't think even a twist will hurt his chances. He's no threat at all, until he's in the final two all of a sudden and no one noticed (think Kim Johnson). And special props to Clay for his funny quote about "whupping his 2 year old's ass," although Clay was later disqualified for being outside the attack zone when he administered the beating.

3. Jake Billingsley
Jake is my #3 guy right now because he is in a similar situation to Clay. He is the least threatening member of a strong power group. Ken will probably turn out to be a better overall player, but Ken could be in big trouble with a twist. Jake will probably persevere for a while, since there's no reason to get rid of him, unless he gets sick or something. Or if his nasty blisters turn into gangrene.

4. Penny Ramsey
Penny is nicely hidden under Ken's shadow, and she should be safe in a twist situation.  And I think that she has got some fire in her, despite the fact that she is smiling in EVERY SINGLE SHOT this season. Also, special kudos to Penny for one of the funnier moments in this week's episode, where she tried to attack Clay from behind in the attack zone, and she almost gave him a wedgie.

5. Ken Stafford
The way things are going now, you can pencil Ken in for a strong finish. But I suspect that a twist will rear its head soon. And if Ken isn't in a majority group after that twist, he will be in deep trouble. He is just too big and strong and likeable right now. So Ken has a strong ranking, for now, but we are getting to the point in the game that is most dangerous for a player like him.  Beware.

6. Helen Glover
Helen could end up being the villain of this season, for all we know. She is tough, determined, and she finally woke up and started playing the game this week. Watch out. I was happy for her when the Red Berets showed up, because she finally had someone around whom she respected. She clearly doesn't think much of her Chuay-Gahn teammates.

7. Ted Rogers, Jr.
Ah, Ted. I still don't think Ted did much wrong, considering the circumstances, but his short term stock won't be affected at all. He will still be in the Chuay-Gahn power trio, and he should make the jury no problem. The reason he dropped in the rankings this week is because the Ghandia situation will lord over his head for the rest of the game. You can be damn sure it will come up if he gets to the final vote, and you know there will be a lot of females in the jury to seethe over it. Ted will stick around for a while longer, but his chances to walk away with a jury victory probably took a huge hit this week. We will see what the fallout looks like next week.

8. Shii Ann Huang
It was a great move letting Jed take over the challenge and look like a fool. Shii Ann is THIS CLOSE to becoming a strong player, we will see what happens in the next few episodes. Barring a twist, she is in good shape for a while. She is clearly one of the smarter players in the game, and she also possesses one of the shortest tempers in the game. We'll see if she can lay low and watch her tongue for a couple of episodes.

9. Jan Gentry
There is a big gap between #8 and #9 right now, and I don't think Jan has it in her to be a great player. But she defies the odds week after week, and we are very nearly past the point where she will ever be in any danger. Ghandia's situation gives her a nice stay of execution for a while.

10. Erin Collins
Erin doesn't have a whole lot of pros or cons in regards to her chances. She is probably overlooked and ignored for the most part, and she comes off as a bit of an airhead sometimes. But she is in with the strong players, so she does have a shot. She also has these cool Elfin features in her face, I always like that look.

11. The Red Beret Guys
Hey, they have more of a shot to win than the bottom three! Despite being the same size as Clay, they kicked butt! If Jake falls down and breaks his collarbone or something, maybe one of the Red Beret guys will take his place.

12. Stephanie Dill
She signed her death warrant this week by aligning with Jed and Robb. She can't lay low any more, she has been exposed. Her illness seems to have gone away, but she can't hide anymore. Stephanie is enough of an athlete to be a threat and, barring a twist, she and Robb are the next two off Sook-Jai.

13. Robb Zbacnik
Robb is, in his own words, "bouncing off the walls with energy." He is now in the minority on Sook-Jai, he has made enemies with the She Devil, among others, and he still has a date with her horns at some point in the future. He is also the only surfer in the U.S. who is NOT from California. Robb is great TV, but he talks too much and he ruffles too many feathers to stick around much longer. And the worst thing is that a twist will likely put him in just as bad a position. I'm guessing Robb doesn't do real well with first impressions. Especially if he winds up on the same tribe as Clay.

14. Ghandia Johnson
"The cancer of any team," in Ted's words. She is just way too emotional for this type of game, she is like a loose cannon at all times. I don't think she has the listening skills, or the patience, or the ability to stay low under the radar, to get very far in the endgame. I still predict she is the next one gone. And if she isn't, she will go soon. To drive the nail further home, I don't think she will do well in a jury vote even if she gets there, she is too emotional to get people to vote for her.

Mario Lanza lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two small children. He was one of the writers of All-Star Survivor: Hawaii this offseason, as well as a writer for the website Saturday Night You and for the sketch comedy show Human Relations 101.

Email Mario at  Especially if you know where this week's column title came from.