Thailand Strategy #8:  Drama in the Piss Cave
Written by Mario Lanza on 11.08.02

"I used to compare this to Monopoly. This is NOTHING like Monopoly."
-Ken Stafford

I have a lengthy column planned for this week. Of course, you guys deserve it after last week's little pseudo-column. I wrote that literally in about 20 minutes, as I was heading out the door on vacation. So I am back this week, and we have a lot of stuff to cover. We will laugh a little, we will cry a little, maybe we will even bury a chicken's head.  It will be a lot of fun. And I have a special treat for all Lex fans at the very bottom of this column. If you like Lex, you will get a kick out of it.

To begin with, I have a clarifications about last week's column. Several people wrote in to tell me that the "ASSUME" quote did not come from The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training. It supposedly came from the play "The Odd Couple", about ten years prior. Now I know it didn't come from the Bad News Bears movie, that was just kind of a running joke between my brother and me. We like to refer to the Bad News Bears in Breaking Training as often as we possibly can, because we probably watched that movie 100+ times when we were kids. So any chance I get, I will mention the film. And technically, I bet the quote was around before the Odd Couple anyway, although that was surely where it became famous.

Okay, on to this week. This week brought the game some much needed emotion and some much needed drama, and it was one of my favorite episodes of this season. Heck, it was one of my favorites of any season. Every season needs a few important elements to make it good: Strategy, cunning, humor, backstabbing, likeable players, and, of course, emotion. Survivor: Thailand had most of these elements so far, but up to this week it had been sorely lacking in likeability and emotion. We basically knew NOTHING about Sook-Jai up until this week. I mean, sure, we knew they were schemers and that they liked to fight a lot, but you CAN'T have a group of eight people live together for 24 days and NOT form some bonds.  I don't care how heartless and scheming and emotionless you are, over 24 days inevitably you are going to form some sort of a bond with people.

Well, we really hadn't seen any of those bonds in Sook Jai up until this week.  And it was painful to watch four close allies finally have to split apart. I mean, you have to be pretty cold-hearted if you didn't feel a little empathy for Jake, crying his eyes out at the thought of breaking up his team. That was tough to watch. After all, he is pretty clearly the heart and soul of the game right now, and the inevitable day where he is voted out is of course going to be a tearjerker.

Yes, this week's episode was lacking in strategy and in backstabbing. But I think it more than made up for that with its emotional treatment of the Sook Jai dilemma. Of course it could have been an even BETTER episode if Sook Jai had been edited into a likeable team prior to this episode. Imagine if the Sook Jais had gotten the Kucha (Australia) treatment all along, where they were obviously being shown as the "good guys." So that's my only complaint with this week.  I thought it was a great episode, personally, but I wished that the Sook Jai crying fest hadn't just shown up without any backstory. But it was still very a welcome storyline, particularly in this season. Every episode can't be cutthroat.  Sometimes you just have to snap the chicken's neck and suck it up and give the viewers an emotional one.

The two tribes living together on one beach now presents a unique brand of strategy to this game. Will they have reward challenges at all? And if they do, will the two teams have to share reward? What if Chuay Gahn wins a picnic and brings it back to camp? Will the Sook Jais have to watch them eat? Will it be harder for one tribe to Pagong the other one now? You can be sure that the producers are always looking for some way to prevent a predictable ending, so will living together force the two sides to grow closer? It is tough to say at this point, but I look forward to seeing how it is going to play out. A merge will come eventually, of course, the law of mathematics says that it has to. You can't have Sook Jai go to Tribal Council if they only have two members, it just won't work. So eventually the two tribes will merge, but they will do so at a point when they are a little closer than in most seasons. It is going to be interesting.

The other big strategy change this week came with the early immunity challenge. It made the Tribal Council vote that much more dramatic, because the Sook Jais had to think about it and talk about it for a long time. But there was another minor twist this week in the way the Chuay Gahns had to suck up to their future jury members. Chuay Gahn won the challenge, but unlike most challenges in Survivor, afterwards they couldn't celebrate. In fact, they had to be extra nice to people like Penny, and Ken, and Erin, back at camp because you know that one of them is going to wind on the jury, and you want them to like you.  This was another way that the "two tribes living together" experiment adds an interesting new element to the game, because now you can woo future jury members a day or so before they are voted out.  In other words, you can be damn sure that Brian was extra super sweet to the Sook Jais that last day, after the challenge ended and they got back to camp.  Because Brian is thinking ahead. Brian is always thinking ahead.

Speaking of Brian, he is going to get his own paragraph this week. I thought that, going into the season, Jed was going to be the Golden Boy. He was going to be the cute one, the likeable one, the good athlete, the superstar. Jed was going to be the Colby.  But it turns out it is going to be Brian instead.  Brian Heidik is clearly, clearly, the favorite to win this game right now. The editors love him (well, maybe except for the "Stir Cavey" comment), the camera loves him, the tribes love him.  Everyone loves Brian.  He kicks ass in the challenges, he is on top of everything that happens around camp, and he clearly doesn't have any enemies in the game whatsoever. In fact this was the first week all season that anyone (Ken) even mentioned the fact that Brian is actually a used car salesman in real life.  I mean, if you were on an island with a guy who was a used car salesman, you would be damn sure to keep that in mind each and every time he started promising you things. But no one seems to remember this about him.  No one even seems to care!  Brian is playing this game extremely well right now, and he has been #1 in my power rankings all the way back to my pre-season rankings.  In fact, Brian is playing so well, and is such an obvious favorite to win right now, that it is bothering me. I am having a hard time keeping him at #1 in the rankings.  Because it can't be this easy.  He can't just cakewalk to the final two. Can he?

Going back to the immunity challenge, the producers were back to their old Survivor form this week. As I have been saying all season, this season's challenges really haven't stood out.  But I thought they did this week, and that was because the producers finally brought back one key element. They brought back the music. There is a certain piece of music that has been featured in all four seasons of Survivor, and it is usually featured during the challenges. I call it the "Lex falls" music, because it was used best during the Africa finale, when Lex fell off his perch in the final immunity challenge. Well they brought back that piece of music this week, when Brian outlasted Jake in the immunity challenge.  I don't remember the name of this particular song, but it is a great little piece of music beause it sounds both heroic to the winner and sad for the loser. In fact I have always believed they should use it in all Survivor challenges. And why the heck did Helen sit out of the challenge? She is clearly the only swimming and underwater expert on Chuay Gahn.  And it was clearly a unanimous choice, too, it wasn't like she was fighting having to sit out, so what gives?  Maybe Helen is sick? I am sure there are lots of little character details like that that we just never see when it comes to the TV episodes.

Okay, five little quick comments this week before I finish:

* When the chicken had its death ceremony, Ted was off on the beach talking about how he didn't want to see the process, he just wanted to food to appear. It was almost word for word the exact same statement that Kimmi made back in Australia. And Kimmi took endless crap on the message boards about that comment, yet Ted got away with it.  It just goes back to my old theory that people hate Kimmi.

* Ken made a food joke about the chickens being gone. People were shocked that he would joke about something like that, and then Ken said no don't worry, I was just kidding. This whole scene was awfully reminiscent of the first episode, when John made a similar joke about the water hole, and then was voted out.   See, but here is the difference.  Ken can get away with a joke like that because people respect him. No one respected John as a leader, so he couldn't. Although, come to think of it, no one applauded when Ken made his joke, so he may be on thin ice.

* I wouldn't be surprised if Magilla the Monkey is the next animal to be buried in Jan's pet cemetery. Watch Jake twist that little bastard's head off, see if anyone would protest.  In fact, I bet Helen would probably help. Although here is a fun idea, maybe it would be best to bring Mike Skupin back into the game.  Let Mike have 24 hours trying to track down and butcher the monkey. That would be a fun episode. It would be like "The Running Man."  Let's see how long Magilla can survive the Skupin experience.

* There is an episode of the old Chris Elliott TV show "Get a Life," that I always liked.  In the episode, Chris makes friends with an alien named Spewey, and then later in the episode he kills the alien and he eats it. And then there is a great quote where he says "Wow, I can't believe the creature that once melted my heart now melts in my mouth." I cracked up when I saw the Survivors eating Lucky the chicken this week, because Ted paraphrased my favorite Get a Life quote almost perfectly.  He said he couldn't believe the pet they loved was so delicious. Okay, maybe I was the only one who thought that was funny. In related news, I'm a dork.

* In the closing moments of this week's episode, Sook Jai was talking about their voting dilemna.  Then it started raining, and Ken said "The Lord is crying with us."  Well, in an eerie real life coincidence, our newborn son starting crying in his crib at that exact same moment, and the sounds of his cries echoed out of the baby monitor from upstairs. So Ken talks about how the Lord is crying, and suddenly these ghostly cries start appearing from somewhere above us. It was eerie. But, come to think of it, newborns are sort of like little deities anyway. Any parent can tell you that a 3-month old crying in the middle of the night is as close to being summoned by God as you can possibly get.  So maybe Ken was right.


Okay, I have to go on a bit of a rant here. I try not to do that very much, since I try to keep this a lighthearted column and all, but there are certain times when it sort of becomes neccessary. There are times when I am embarrassed to be a part of the online community.

For the most part, I have always found the Survivor fan community to be mean spirited and cruel.  In fact some would just call the online community flat out assholes.  And in fact, that is exactly why I started writing this column.  Because I wanted to make a difference.  I wanted to make the online community more positive. I wanted to give us all a better reputation.  And this is why I try to only write positive and/or funny things.  I try very hard not to criticize anyone unless they deserve it.  And I try very hard to NEVER make any personal attacks. Because I like to remind viewers from time to time that these are REAL people on the show, and that they have REAL lives.

But the fan treatment of Erin has to be brought up because it has gotten out of hand.

There is a rumor going around the message boards right now that Erin was born a male. It was kind of funny at first, but over the past few weeks it has really gone beyond the limits of good taste and has gotten out of hand.  People are now treating this rumor as fact and you will find it referred to all over the place on the message boards.  It was bad enough that people started referring to her as "a low class version of Sarah," but now people are calling her "Aaron" and it has just completely gotten out of hand.

I would like to remind fans from time to time that these are real people who go on the show, and that most of them read these websites. They see the stuff that is written about them, and their families and friends see it too.  And I'm sure that it can't feel good most of the time. Erin seems like a very nice person in real life.  She certainly never did anything to warrant the kinds of attacks and namecalling that she is getting.  I mean, her pep talk to cheer Jake up last night was one of the sweetest moments I have ever seen on the show. She was voted out of the game because she was the weakest, and she didn't see it coming at all, and I hope that people will leave her alone now.  That whole "she was born a male" is the same kind of crap that has dogged Jamie Lee Curtis for years, and with her it is so bad that it is often even taught as "fact" by high school teachers and college professors.  This is the kind of shit that once it starts up, people can never really live it down. Because there is just no way to disprove it.  So I would like to ask people that if they are going to start making up rumors about people, to at least think of the consequences and the fallout. Erin signed up to be a contestant on a game show. She didn't sign up to have her life ruined.


It is getting awfully difficult to see anyone from Sook Jai winning. Jake is the only one who has any chance whatsoever, and that's all dependent on how good he can get in with Brian. Will Brian allow that to happen? Doubtful. Brian is too smart to want to face Jake in a final two. But as I said before, it's TOO easy right now to pick Brian to win this game. It CAN'T be this easy.  I have no reason to rank anyone else at #1 yet, but I promise it will happen soon. The minute Brian so much as sneezes in the wrong direction, I will move him down to #2 or #3.  But he has played a flawless game up to this point, so I can't help but leave him at the top.

1. Brian Heidik
The former All-State quarterback is still running the show. We learned three things this week about Brian. We learned that he can hold his breath very well, we learned that he doesn't panic under pressure, and we learned that he can't pronounce Asian names to save his life. Soo Yi?  Sin Jo?  And that wouldn't be so noteworthy on its own, except for the fact that he has an Asian wife! By the way, speaking of said wife, we may see the long awaited appearance of his actress wife, C.C. Costigan, next week. Male viewers, you will enjoy it.

2. Ted Rogers, Jr.
Ted is entrenched firmly in Brian's "boy's club" on Chuay Gahn. He is Brian's trusty second in command, and aside from that, everyone seems to like the guy. And he's really not as big a physical threat as you would think, because he is older and also much heavier than most. I think Ted will be around until the final four without much difficulty.

3. Helen Glover
Helen drops from #2 to #3 only because Chuay Gahn seems so overtly sexist. Because she is a woman, she really has no place in the Clay-Brian-Ted clubhouse. She will do her best to get to the end, though, and she has a decent chance to win if things start to fall apart. Or if, as many people have surmised, she is secretly aligned with Brian. If given the chance, Helen will surely stir something up. And if she doesn't, I'm sure she has a recipe where you can do it yourself.

4. Clay Jordan
Clay should really be in the top three, but he is the most insignificant member of the boy's club.  Ted and Brian call the shots. And as comedian Norm MacDonald once said in his stand up act: "If there are three people in a car, and one of them is in the backseat, odds are that that person isn't the most popular member of the group." Clay may or may not be aligned with Jan, but I'm not entirely sure what his place is in the game right now. So keep an eye on him. And I still think he is the funniest Survivor contestant since Boston Rob. "I'm 46 years old. Penny won't get shit from me." Ha ha. The quotes never end. "I aint never seen such ceremony over a damn chicken." Bonus points to Clay for getting a nice eyeful of Erin's ass right before she was voted out.

5. Jake Billingsley
Jake is the only player with a chance to win from Sook Jai. He is respected by everyone, even the other tribe seems to like him. He has a chance to get in with Brian, and he still has an existing kinship with Jan from earlier in the game. He would be tough to beat in a final vote, assuming he could actually get that far (who would let him??)  Like I said before, the episode where Jake goes home is going to be a very emotional one.

6. Jan Gentry
Jan is on the right tribe to do well.  If the game were to remain individual, I can almost guarantee she would gone next. But she's sticking around despite all odds of probability, and damnit if she actually isn't starting to grow on me. I couldn't believe she would be a part of the chicken execution, but there she was. She's doing well in this game, although her legs are frighteningly skinny by this point.  She is starting to look like a stick, but despite all that she is holding up pretty well under difficult conditions.  If nothing else you have to give her credit for that.

7. Penny Ramsey
Penny is a scrappy little fighter. She's got a dark side, and she will kiss ass if needed, and she has far more leadership potential than I originally thought at the beginning. Watch how she reigned in Sook Jai to stay together after they all arrived at Chuay Gahn.  She was the glue there.  It's tough to tell where Penny will end up in the game, but she's got the numbers working against her, and I don't think that anyone from Chuay-Gahn will ever take her in. She is a heck of a player, but even the best players lose if they don't have the numbers behind them.  

8. Ken Stafford
Alas, poor Ken. The hearts of many female fans will be broken if he goes home next week. But the numbers game will claim him soon, no doubt about it.  He is in no position right now to call shots, make new friends, or suck up to Chuay Gahn. In fact, he won't even try to suck up to anyone, that much we know about him. I mentioned this fact to my wife, that he didn't have the people skills to adapt, and she said, "Of course he doesn't, he's from New York." Ha ha.  Ken is wise, he is strong, he is respected, and he seems very honorable. That means it is time to go.


As I have mentioned many times before, Lex van den Berghe (Africa) and I went to the same college. We both attended Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, CA, and we were both English majors. In fact, I still get email about this all the time. "Hey Mario, what was Lex like?" Have you ever met him?" Well the answer to that is no, and the obvious reason why is because we were ten years apart. He graduated in 1985 and I graduated in 1996. I have written to Lex through email, but I have never met him in person, although his father was my French professor for two years in college. But I was curious, since people ask me so often, what Lex actually WAS like when he was a teenager.

Well luckily for me (and unluckily for Lex), I have access to a lot of old Santa Clara archives.  And I was able to track down the yearbooks from 1982-85, which were the four years he was there. I scanned his old yearbook photos, and I also scanned an article he wrote about what it was like to be a rebel at such a conservative school.  It is pretty funny.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote to Lex, and I asked for his permission to post his old yearbook stuff.  I let him know that he is still one of the most popular Survivors ever, and that he still has a lot of fans out there (especially female fans.) He wrote back and said that he isn't thrilled about the old pics, but then again, who really likes their yearbook photos?  He just wanted me to point out that, after all, it WAS the 80's. And he also sends his best to all the female fans. So anyway, here you, go, posted with Lex's blessing.  His old photos and an article he wrote for the yearbook in college. In related news, Lex is a great guy. Be nice to him.

Lex's Old College Pictures

Mario Lanza was one of the writers of All-Star Survivor: Hawaii this offseason, and is a sketch comedy writer for Saturday Night You. He also defeated Mothra and Megalon to gain control of Tokyo in the late 60's.