This column was originally posted at The Fishbowl in December of 2005.
Guest columnist and friend of TheFishbowl, Mario Lanza, contributes his TOP 10 TROUBLING MOMENTS in the history of Reality TV. For any reality TV fan whos watched from the beginning this is a must read...
Many of you may know Mario Lanza from his time writing on Survivor-Central.com. His weekly "Survivor" Columns focused on the strategy of the game and featured a weekly rankings. Mario has also written several Survivor Fan Fiction stories which are available on his archives page.
I've read his works for many years and consider him to be one of the foremost Survivor experts in the world.
Mario Lanza's Top 10 TROUBLING MOMENTS in Reality TV History
"There are some things that you see, and you can't unsee them. Know what I mean?"
-Joaquin Phoenix, 8MM
I watched last week's finale of "The Apprentice 4" knowing full well that we were going to have two winners. After all, you would have had to be blind not to have seen it coming. Trump loved Randal, Trump loved Rebecca, and the two of them were among the most polished and gifted candidates the show had ever seen. Neither Randal nor Rebecca had any flaws, neither one made any mistakes, neither one ever cracked under pressure, and Donald Trump had been raving about his "two stars" since the absolute first episode of the season.
This season was going to have two winners. You knew it, I knew it, and Trump knew it. Hell, the whole world knew it. After all, could "the big surprise twist" in the Apprentice finale have been anything else? Of course not! Every single clue pointed to Trump hiring two people and that's what made Randal's decision at the end so unbelievably shocking. I mean, you can debate the guy's choice all you want, but the simple fact remains that Trump was caught completely off-guard by Randal's decision and so was the audience. Nobody expected Randal to say no, nobody expected Trump to fire Rebecca and, quite frankly, I think the majority of the audience was troubled by the way it all went down. I know I certainly was. In fact I was so troubled by the Apprentice finale that it inspired me to sit down and write this column.
What I wanted to write about were the reality TV moments that have bothered me the most over the years. They are the ones that have festered in the back of my brain for a long time, the ones I always wished had happened differently, or the ones I just wished I hadn't seen happen in the first place. Because in each and every case, something troubled me about the way it all went down. Either I didn't like a certain player's actions, I didn't like the way it was portrayed, I didn't like the editing choices, or I flat out just thought it was unfair.
So this is my rundown of the ten reality TV moments that have bothered me the most, starting with #10 and working all the way up to my despised #1. And please keep in mind that this is just one dude's list. It's just one person's opinion and I'm fairly certain you're not going to agree with all of them. But do feel free to write me if you have any comments (or ones you think I should add to my list).
[Pre-list disclaimer: I don't watch every reality show so obviously this list isn't going to be 100% inclusive. I've never actually seen an episode of Big Brother or the Bachelor(ette). I also didn't include Cops or The Real World or any non-competition reality show prior to 2000. Because to be quite honest, Cops is troubling enough on its own. After all, how many greasy guys in wifebeaters do you really need to see in your lifetime?]
THE TEN REALITY TV SHOW MOMENTS THAT STILL BOTHER ME
This one bothered me on many levels and still does to this day. And if you don't remember the details, here's how it went down: 23-year old Andy Litinsky was a Harvard-educated debate champion and the darling of the Apprentice 2 cast. He was the youngest player on the show, he was clearly Donald Trump's favorite candidate, and he basically took up residence in the boardroom all season long. The poor kid was taken into the boardroom every single time his team lost a task, he was called "too young" and "too inexperienced" by just about everybody alive, yet despite these obstacles he still made it all the way to the final six! Despite his youth and inexperience in the business world, despite the fact that nobody but Trump gave him the slightest bit of credit, Andy Litinsky defied all the odds and actually had a legitimate (though unlikely) shot at winning this game.
So why was Andy fired in the boardroom in episode twelve? Well it wasn't because he was just a kid. And it wasn't because he screwed up on a task. And it certainly wasn't because of his inexperience in the business world. No, Andy was fired in episode twelve because he wouldn't raise his voice in the boardroom and try to outscream Sandy or Jennifer. Andy's team lost the Pepsi bottle challenge, the three of them didn't get along, and they all got into a screaming match in the boardroom in front of Trump. Well, two of them did anyway. Andy just sat there, content to let the girls scream it out, never losing his cool. After all, the guy had been a national debate champion in high school. And Andy knew as well as anybody that you don't scream in debate. You don't lose your temper and you never lose your cool. Your purpose in an effective debate is to calmly rebut and shoot down your opponent's arguments like a sniper, which is what Andy Litinsky was trying to do.
So Andy sat there, he didn't try to outshout the girls, and then Trump fired him for it! Trump didn't like that Andy "was getting killed" in the argument. He said that for a National Debate Champion, Andy should have been defending himself better, and that was the sole reason Andy was tossed from the show. He was fired because he had too much dignity and maturity to scream at the top of his voice like the other two.
This was the Apprentice firing that has bothered me the most in four seasons of the show and none of the other ones have even come close. I never liked the way that Trump equated "screaming" with "defending yourself", and I hated the way that Andy's level-headedness and quiet nature was mistaken for weakness while Sandy was screaming in his face and trying to outshout him.
Like I said, this is the only Apprentice firing that has ever really disturbed me. And I think I'm on the right track here, because apparently Trump felt the same way. Not only did he feel bad for what happened, he actually hired Andy soon after the show ended, as a way to make up for it. For the first time ever on the show, Trump actually knew and admitted that he had made a mistake.
And Andy Litinsky became the earliest of the fired candidates (and the youngest) to ever be hired by the Trump Organization.
9. Joel is voted out because of Gervase's cow joke in Survivor: Borneo
Ugh. Out of all the disturbing moments in the first season of Survivor, this is the one that really stuck in my craw and continues to bug me to this day. The episode was completely unfair, it made no sense at the time, and it robbed the Borneo season of one of the strongest players in the cast.
Joel Klug was the obvious alpha male of the Pagong Tribe. The guy was 28 years old, he was a great athlete, he was handsome, he was intelligent, he was likable, and he was popular among his peers. He was really the first "golden boy" of Survivor and it's a shame that his legacy has been lost in Survivor history. Because not only was he the first alpha male in Survivor history, he was also one of the only Pagong members who could have won the game for his tribe. After all, Joel was the Pagong member who was most interested in "alliances." He was one of the first players in Survivor history to endorse the concept of "sticking together through voting", but his alliance idea was shot down repeatedly when the rest of Pagong thought it "wasn't right" or "wasn't fair." You don't win the game by using alliances, that's cheating! So Joel's alliance strategy was shot down right from the start. In fact Pagong never even tried forming an alliance until it was much too late.
But that really didn't matter to Joel, because he wasn't around long enough to see it.
Joel's problem was that he was an alpha male and he was somewhat condescending to the women of the tribe. And I say "somewhat" because he was nothing compared to later players like Roger Sexton, Tom Buchanan or Clay Jordan. But Joel had the reputation for being condescending, Joel rubbed a few people the wrong way because of it, and then came the infamous "cow joke" on day 17. And if you don't remember, the story went like this: Joel's best friend Gervase made a joke one day that "nothing is dumber than a woman, except maybe a cow" (which is the exact wording according to Mark Burnett's Survivor book.) Well needless to say the women of Pagong were offended, but guess who took the hit. Gervase, the charming but useless slacker who actually made the joke? No! It was Joel, his buddy, the alpha male who laughed a little too hard at the joke and ended up taking the fall for it.
Joel Klug was voted out of the Pagong Tribe on day 18 and he didn't see it coming for a second. He had no idea he was in danger and he had no idea the women had voted as a bloc against him (ironically, they used the very same "banding together" idea that he had once endorsed). Joel took the hit for Gervase's joke, he became the first alpha male in the history of Survivor to be blindsided, and you can trace the later downfall of Pagong right back to this one specific moment in the season. With Joel they might have had a chance to stick together and vote as a team after the merge. Without Joel, the Pagongs had no team strategy whatsoever, and they all fell like so much cardboard under a guy on the other tribe named Richard Hatch.
8. Boston Rob betrays Lex in Survivor: All-Stars
Oh man. I'm gonna have a hard one writing about this one, because it's such a Survivor minefield. It's by far the most controversial moment on my list, mainly because you can't discuss it without taking a side. Arguing Boston Rob versus Lex is like arguing politics, and I hate to have to write about it, especially because of the fact that I'm going to take Lex's side. I always have and always will agree with Lex, and it's definitely the minority opinion around here. It's not a very popular stance to take in the Survivor world.
I'm sure most of you know this moment like Survivor gospel, but here's the recap just in case you don't. 'Boston Rob' Mariano and Lex van den Berghe were quite close as friends outside the game of Survivor. I don't know this firsthand, I just heard them talk about it (ad nauseum) over and over after All-Stars ended. Lex was like a big brother to Rob and they were buddies, yadda yadda yadda. And when they were cast on opposite tribes in All-Stars, this became a bit of a problem.
Boston Rob was the leader of the All-Star Chapera tribe, and he did it with his new girlfriend Amber by his side. And Rob and Amber dominated this season like no other power couple had ever done before. They pretty much had a clear path to the final two, nobody was in their way... until a twist on day 22 sent them reeling. Amber was swapped over to Lex's tribe, and the power couple of Rob and Amber was suddenly torn apart.
So now poor Rob Mariano was heartbroken. And scrambling. Not only had he lost his alliance partner, not only had his lost his most trusted ally, but he also happened to have lost his girlfriend. The love of his life was now a sacrifice on the other tribe, and there was little Rob could do to save her. In one twist, the game had essentially slipped from his hands.
Rob's only strategy at this point was a desperate plea to his friend Lex. After all, Lex was the alpha male on the other tribe, and Lex was really the only one who could save Amber. So Rob caught his ear at the next challenge and whispered these fateful words to Lex, "You help her and I'll help you. If you can." And as innocent as this comment sounds, it was really the catalyst for every single event that happened during the rest of All-Stars. Everything bad that happened to Lex and Boston Rob can be traced back to this whispered comment from Rob to Lex right after the immunity challenge.
Of course you all know what happened next. Lex and Kathy changed their voting plans and decided to spare Amber at the next vote. It was partly because Lex was looking out for Rob's girlfriend, but partly for strategic reasons as well. After all, doing a favor for Rob Mariano meant that A) they were getting in good with the other tribe's alpha male, and B) they weren't incurring the wrath of a guy who likes to hold a grudge. So in Lex's eyes, sparing Amber was win-win all around. From his point of view, nothing bad could possibly happen if he kept Rob's girlfriend in the game.
Well needless to say, Amber was spared at Tribal Council. Then Rob and Lex met up after the merge, and Boston Rob led the charge to eliminate Lex at the very next vote. And oh man were there some fireworks when that happened. It essentially cost Boston Rob the game, it sent Lex into a bitter and angry tailspin, and the two of them probably still haven't spoken to this day. It's literally been the single most divisive moment in Survivor history and, like I said, there's no way you can talk about it without taking a side. I almost left it off the list for that very reason.
So why was I so bothered by this moment? Well plain and simply, it's a guy thing. I know that's a simplistic answer (and an unpopular one, too, especially in the gay and/or female-dominated world of Survivor fans), but it's the truth. Guys just don't mess around with their buddy's girlfriend. It's pretty much the number one credo among guys, it's kind of an unbreakable rule, and it's just something I don't think is flexible. Guys aren't supposed to hit on each other's girlfriends (or ex-gfs), they aren't supposed to go there, and if a guy like Lex has a chance to help a crying Rob Mariano by saving his girlfriend, it's just something you are supposed to do. It's an ingrained guy thing and I've always understood why Lex held such a grudge over this issue. Guys are supposed to be looking out for one another when it comes to things like girls. Because just like Woody Harrelson famously said in the movie Kingpin, "You don't mow another guy's lawn."
My stance on this issue is hardly the most popular one. And I doubt most of the people reading this are going to agree. But I'm never ever going to change my opinion on this one. It's just a guy thing. Lex felt that Rob crossed the line, I totally agreed with him, and nothing made me happier than seeing Rob get his ass handed to him at the final Tribal Council over his betrayal of his old friend Lex.
7. Christy's letter from home angers people in Survivor: The Amazon
Okay, now we're getting to the moments that just flat out pissed me off. This is one of the more forgettable (and minor) moments on my list but, good lord, don't even bring this one up to me. It took place on day 28 in the Amazon, and featured a short (but sweet) moment at the food auction where Jenna didn't get her precious letter from home, Christy got a letter from home instead, and Jenna's friends all got upset about it.
To sum up, here's what transpired: There were seven players left in the game at this point and they were pretty much broken down into two camps. There were the popular kids (Alex, Heidi, Jenna and Rob C.) and then there were the not-so popular kids, a.k.a. the red-headed stepchildren of the Jacare tribe (Butch, Matt and Christy).
Around this time in the game, the four popular kids spent a lot of sitting around all day and doing no work around camp, simply because they knew they held the majority. The three outcasts couldn't do a thing to stop them, and everybody knew it. And for the most part the "popular kids" really didn't treat the other three very well. Butch, Christy and (especially) Matt were made fun of and mocked on a regular and consistent basis, and it really wasn't very pretty to watch.
So day 28 came and now it was time for the ever-popular food auction. The seven Jacares got to bid on food as part of a reward, and it all went pretty well until the very end. You see, deaf outcast Christy Smith hadn't won a single item yet. She still had all her money left, and she had been biding her time, mainly because she was holding out for what Jeff was going to offer them at the end. So we got to the final item in the auction, and that's when Jeff pulled out the letters from home. The last item up for bid was a letter from a loved one, and Christy was overjoyed. See, the letter from home was the only item she had really wanted in this auction. She had been stuck out here in "the hearing world" for nearly a month now, she had been absolutely miserable for most of that time, and all she really wanted was to read something friendly from a friend back home. So Christy spent all her money on the coveted letter from home, she outbid Jenna and Heidi (and everybody else), and Christy was now thrilled that something good was finally going to happen to her in this game.
Of course, then Jenna started crying. You see, Jenna's mother was sick back home. She was dying of cancer, and Jenna really wanted some news from back home on how she was doing. So Jenna had really wanted that letter. Everybody knew this, everybody in the tribe knew that Jenna was homesick and missing her mom, and that meant that now everybody was pissed off that Christy had "taken" Jenna's letter. In fact Jenna was so sad and so heartbroken about Christy stealing her letter that Jeff actually put a second letter up for auction, knowing full well that Jenna was going to get it. So Jeff put the second letter up for bid, Jenna won a "surprisingly" uncontested vote, and the show now had its great and wonderful TV moment. Jenna now got her beloved letter from home.
What happened next was particularly disgusting. Because when the castaways got back to camp, the popular kids all started griping about Christy outbidding Jenna for the first letter. And it was one of the single most distasteful moments I've ever seen on Survivor. Nobody was happy for Christy, all we heard was "poor Jenna" and "I can't believe Christy did that", and it was just disgusting. In fact, my wife can barely watch the Amazon season anymore because of this particular scene. She absolutely hated it, and so did I. And, to be quite honest, I think this scene probably contributed to the lack of empathy some viewers might have felt when Jenna's mother passed away during Survivor: All-Stars. Even though Jenna ended up winning the Amazon, and even though she proved to be pretty likable outside the game, I've always felt that her popularity with the viewers never really recovered from her actions over "the Christy letter." This was the scene that really torpedoed her chances of ever being a favorite among the fans.
Like I said, this was a small little moment from Amazon, but people always seem to remember it. And it was a scene that really ticked me off to no end. Although I have to say that my personal favorite part of this episode came during the auction itself, when Jeff held up the second letter that was up for auction. I remember laughing out loud when Jenna's best friend (and smartest person in the world), Heidi, actually placed a bid. She actually outbid Jenna once, before she caught herself and remembered that the world owed Jenna a letter from home. I remember that it went a little something like this:
Jeff: Okay, Christy said it was okay. So we can now put a second letter up for bid. Anyone want to start at $80?
Jenna: I'll go $80.
Heidi: $100. I bid $100.
Heidi's inner monologue: No, you twit! Stop! CBS says Jenna has to get this one!
Jenna: I bid $120. But that's all the money I have. [she starts crying]
Jeff: Okay, Jenna wins, for $120!
I always thought that Christy should have outbid Jenna on the second letter as well, just to see the reaction. That would have been the funniest moment in Survivor history. And then Christy should have punched her in the face.
By the way, when I used to write columns for Survivor-Central, I titled for this week's column was, "Hey, the deaf girl took my letter!" That was probably my favorite column title ever.
6. Silas and Lindsey overthrow the Samburu tribe in Survivor: Africa
This was one of those epic Survivor moments that seemed so huge at the time but, sadly, is largely forgotten now. And it's a shame that people don't remember how unpopular the Samburus were in Africa. Because the Samburu tribe really was the stuff of legend back in 2001. They were easily the most unpopular Survivor tribe of all time, they were completely dysfunctional from top to bottom, and I don't think I've ever met a single person who was rooting for them at the time. Samburu was dysfunctional, Samburu was annoying, and right at the middle of this debacle was the dangerous duo of Silas Gaither and Lindsey Richter. Or, as I like to refer to them, the single most infuriating duo in Survivor history.
That's right, they even beat Jenna and Heidi.
If you don't remember, the Samburu tribe was split right down the middle based on age. You had the youngsters of the tribe (Brandon, Silas, Lindsey, Kim P) on one side, you had the elders of the tribe (Frank, Teresa, Linda and Carl) on the other, and to this day it remains the worst tribal split the show has ever seen. There was no respect between the two sides at all. There was no friendship, there was no unity, all there was was contempt. The kids hated the grownups and the grownups hated the kids. It was so bad, in fact, that the first vote was destined to be a 4-4 tie, and there was little anybody could do about it. The entire future of the tribe was bound to come down to which side (young or old) was going to win the tiebreaker when they actually got there.
So Samburu made it all the way to day nine before they actually had to attend Tribal Council. But there was plenty of drama and antagonism along the way. And while the entire tribe got awful editing as a whole, the editors seemed to have particular hatred towards smarmy, grinning Silas Gaither, and motormouth bipolar Lindsey Richter. Man were those two hated back in the day. In fact I don't think I've ever met a fan of either one, particularly Silas. Silas may be the single most unpopular Survivor of all time, if you actually stop and tally the votes.
All throughout this timeframe, the kids of Samburu were portrayed as spoiled, cocky, and lazy, while the editors seemed to paint the elders as hardworking, loyal, and disgruntled. So in most viewers' minds, it was no question which side was going to win the showdown. When Samburu went to Tribal Council it was going to be a war, but the kids were going to get their just desserts. That was just the way the editors were leading us. The kids of Samburu would pay for their lack of effort and maturity, and Lindsey Richter was going to be voted out of the game. Because Lindsey was the one who never seemed to shut her mouth. Lindsey seemed to get under the elders' skin the most. And Lindsey was destined to be voted out whenever Samburu attended their first Tribal Council.
So we finally get to day nine, and Samburu finally goes to their first Tribal Council. And sure enough, it's a 4-4 tie vote between Lindsey and Carl the dentist (the younger Samburus had decided he was "too rich already.") So Carl and Lindsey had to participate in a tiebreaker challenge, to see which side would be winning the war. And, in a completely unexpected result that shocked nearly everybody at the time... LINDSEY ACTUALLY WON THE TIEBREAKER!
The sound you heard when that happened was like when Alderaan blew up in Star Wars. It was the sound of a million Survivor fans crying out at once and then suddenly being silenced. Because honestly, there has never been another Survivor moment remotely like it. All you heard was millions of people suddenly screaming "Nooooooooo!" at the same time, once they realized that either Silas or Lindsey was likely going to win this game. And at the same time I was just sitting there at home, saying to myself, "This wasn't supposed to happen! That's not how this episode was supposed to end! Lindsey and Silas weren't supposed to win that showdown!" It just seemed so wrong and so unholy. And this was back when Survivor was still a landmark pop culture phenomenon, so nearly everybody remembers where they were when this happened. It was literally one of the most disturbing moments in my TV-viewing career.
The rise of Lindsey and Silas in Africa was so disturbing, and so ominous, that people really weren't all that upset when Silas totally got screwed by the first Survivor twist just two episodes later. In fact, looking back, people really should have been more furious that someone got cheated out of the game via twist. And I honestly think they would have been, too, if it had been anybody else except for Silas. Because when Silas Gaither got screwed by the twist, the worldwide reaction wasn't outrage. It was more like a quick sigh of relief. And then maybe a fist pump of joy, for good measure.
By the way, I had a friend once who hadn't seen Survivor: Africa when it originally aired in 2001. She only viewed it, years later, when I let her borrow my tape. And her reaction to finally watching Silas and Lindsey in action was classic. She told me, "You know, you can read about the tribe and the season on the internet all you want. But nothing really prepares you for seeing Samburu in person. Nothing."
5. Recruit Wolf is blamed for losing the D-Ring in Boot Camp
This was from the finale of a show you probably didn't see, but it's also a moment I have never forgotten, mainly because it was the absolute definition of unfair. In fact, the way that Recruit Wolf lost Boot Camp remains the single most unfair ending I've ever seen on a reality show in my life.
Boot Camp was one of those ripoff shows that came out in early 2001 after the surprising success of Survivor. It featured players being sent to Boot Camp, teams competing in challenges, and players being voted off each week by their own team. In other words, it was the exact same plot as Survivor. It was such a blatant ripoff, in fact, that Boot Camp even used some of the original Survivor music, which resulted in CBS suing Fox for copyright infringement. Oh well. Nice try, Fox. It was fun while it lasted.
The only real difference between Survivor and Boot Camp was in the way they determined their final winner. Because while a jury determined the Survivor winner (via majority vote), in Boot Camp the formula was a little more complicated.
There were two aspects to winning Boot Camp. The first was called "The Gauntlet." This was a giant obstacle course consisting of seven stations, which were there to simulate the physical activities the players had practiced during their time in Boot Camp. So the final two contestants would square off in the Gauntlet and, for each station they won, they would get a point. If you were the first to climb over a wall, you got a point. If you were the first to infiltrate a tower, you got a point, etc. There were seven possible points to be earned during the Gauntlet, and the objective was to amass as many as you could. And then each point literally counted as a "vote" for you to win during the final episode.
The second aspect of selecting a winner was through the jury. The jury on Boot Camp was made up of six people (the six most-recently eliminated contestants), and they were supposed to vote on who they thought should win the game. The jury worked exactly like on Survivor. The only difference was that it had one less member.
So anyway the winner of Boot Camp was determined through a combination of "The Gauntlet" and "The Jury Vote." There were 7 votes possible from the Gauntlet, and 6 from the jury, so the winner of Boot Camp would be the first person to amass seven votes. 7+6=13, and all you had to do was win more than half. So seven votes wins the game. Got it? Good.
The final two contestants on Boot Camp ended up being a 23-year old man named Ryan Wolf ("Recruit Wolf") and a 26-year old woman named Jen Whitlow ("Recruit Whitlow"). And really, Recruit Wolf should have blown the hell out of Whitlow in the Boot Camp finale. Wolf was far and away the best soldier of the bunch, he was an excellent athlete, and he absolutely steamrolled Whitlow throughout their showdown in the Gauntlet. Wolf was so much better athletically than his female opponent that, despite the fact that the Gauntlet stations were balanced to eliminate gender differences, Wolf still ended up winning six out of the seven Gauntlet events. Wolf not only stomped Whitlow during the Gauntlet, he won most of the events so decisively that they weren't even close.
The worst of the Gauntlet events (as in "most painful to watch") was the final one, in which Wolf and Whitlow had to climb over a stationary wall. Wolf traversed this obstacle with ease, but for Whitlow it proved to be a bit of a problem. Because not only did she fail to get over it her first time, she also failed to get over the wall on her second. And her third. And her fourth. And her fifth. It took nearly half the damn episode for Whitlow to climb over a wall, and in the end it ended up taking her FORTY-SEVEN tries. Wolf had done it on his first. And that's why Recruit Jen Whitlow had no business winning a show like Boot Camp. She and Wolf were nowhere even in the same league.
So by now, it looked like an easy win for Recruit Wolf. He was up 6-1 after the Gauntlet, he needed just seven votes to win, and that meant he needed just one vote from the jury to cinch a well-deserved victory. One vote out of six. That's all he needed. Just one frigging measly vote, and victory was going to be his.
Well as you can guess, Wolf received zero votes from the jury. Whitlow received all six. And with them, Recruit Jen "I can't climb over a wall" Whitlow swept her way to a totally unexpected and shocking victory over a guy who had dominated the entire season. And I was floored. But what floored me even more was when I heard the reasoning as to why the jury had decided to unanimously stick it to Recruit Wolf.
Earlier in the game there had a been a challenge where the players had lost an important piece of military equipment, a "D-Ring." I'm not sure what a D-Ring is, but it's some sort of a valve and, apparently, it's somewhat important. The drill instructors were pissed that the players had lost the D-Ring, and since nobody was exactly sure who had been the one to lose it, the drill instructors just punished everybody just to make a point. Everybody had to do extra excercise, everybody had to do extra chores, and the players really weren't all that happy about it..
No one was sure who had lost the D-Ring at the time. No one ever fessed up, and no one really knew what had happened. All the players did know was that Recruit Wolf had touched the D-Ring at some point during the night. And that meant that everybody automatically assumed he was the one who had lost it. Wolf pleaded innocence as best as he could, but the rest of the players were mad they'd all gotten in trouble, and they didn't want to listen. And they were so furious that Wold never "admitted" he had lost the D-Ring, that they held this grudge against him for the entire rest of the game. And that's all they brought up when they grilled this poor kid during the final Boot Camp "Tribal Council."
"You lost the D-Ring!"
"You would never admit it!"
"Why wouldn't you just fess up?"
"I would have respected you more if you had owned up to it."
"I won't vote for you tonight because you never stepped up about the D-Ring."
So Wolf sat there, stunned, as every single juror voted for Whitlow because of the stupid D-Ring that he hadn't even lost in the first place. Wolf ended up losing the vote, and the game, because of a stupid little piece of equipment that he had nothing to do with. And Recruit Jen "47 tries to climb a wall!" Whitlow won Boot Camp by the final tally of 7-6.
Needless to say, I was terribly bothered by the ending to this show. I just didn't think it was fair. And that's even before I found out there was footage of another player actually losing the D-Ring, only the jurors never got a chance to see it before the vote. Wolf had nothing to do with it, he'd never had anything to do with it, and that stupid ring was the sole reason he lost the show in the first place.
Ugh. Just a depressing ending to an otherwise fun show. Fricking D-Ring.
4. Gabriel Cade is voted out of Rotu in Survivor: Marquesas
This was one of the most significant and unnecessary evictions in Survivor history, and it's a shame that its significance has largely been forgotten over time. Gabriel Cade's last day on Survivor is a moment that stabs me deep in the heart, even to this day. It was just so wrong, and it never was supposed to happen. In fact, I don't even like to write about it. Gabriel's eviction from Rotu remains my single least favorite thing to ever happen on Survivor.
In summary: The Rotu tribe in Marquesas is my choice for the single most successful tribe in Survivor history. They were a group of people who really had it all. They had brawn, they had brains, they were likable, and they really were the first "Love Tribe" in Survivor history. This was a group of people that fully respected one another, they had no enemies, they absolutely decimated Maraamu in every single challenge, and it was a hundred percent guarantee that a member of Rotu wasn't going to win the game. That's how dominant they were, and that's how obvious the storyline was for this season. Rotu was an example of all that was right in the world of Survivor.
The heart of Rotu was an extraordinary 23-year old kid named Gabriel Cade. Gabe was the type of player that the show had never seen before (and indeed has never seen since.) In fact I would probably call him the most unique person ever to be cast on Survivor. He was so unique, in fact, that Mark Burnett had refused to cast him in seasons 1, 2, or 3, specifically because "no one would ever be able to relate to him." See, Gabe had made it to final casting before, but was always a last minute cut. Mainly because he just wasn't your average American.
And why was he so unique? Well for beginners Gabriel had been raised on a commune in rural North Carolina. He was raised in an "alternative community" where neighbors strived to live for the common good, so he essentially grew up in this utopian paradise of selflessness. He probably didn't have a competitive bone in his body. He seemed to be entirely selfless and full of love. In fact, the guy had spent so much of his life traveling the world and volunteering for charities that Mark Burnett thought he was lying when he first saw Gabriel's application. Burnett was so skeptical that he essentially made Gabe prove every single thing that he had written in his bio, because no way was a 23-year old supposed to have these kind of life experiences. But Gabe brought in the proof, and SEG finally relented. And that's how Gabriel was cast in the fourth season of Survivor.
To this day, I'm not sure why the producers wanted Gabe on a show like this in the first place. I'm guessing they were probably just curious to see what a Buddhist kid with atypical values would do on a show where you're required to backstab all your friends. I'm guessing they were curious if he would ever be able to adapt. I bet they thought his head was literally going to explode.
Well needless to say, Gabe flourished. He was the absolute heart of the Rotu love tribe, and it really all started and ended with him. But Gabe knew that he would never be able to vote anybody out. That aspect of the game went against everything he believed in as a person. So that's why he tried so hard to keep his tribe away from that dreaded first Tribal Council. So Gabe gave 100% of his effort in an attempt to make sure Rotu won all the challenges and, sure enough, that's exactly what happened. Rotu never lost. In the pre-twist episodes of Marquesas, Gabe's tribe never attended a single Tribal Council. And Gabriel Cade was without question the single most popular member of the dominant tribe.
But the hammer dropped on Gabe on the morning of day ten. That was the morning that the two tribes were faced with a twist, and suddenly the unstoppable Rotu tribe was broken up and re-distributed. The Love Tribe of Rotu received some new members, "the game" of Survivor came marching in along with them, and Gabe really never stood much of a chance. He had no interest in voting people off. He never had. And he flat out told his Rotu tribesmates that he wasn't going to vote people off just because they hadn't started on the same tribe.
Well of course this comment made the other members of Rotu extremely nervous. New Rotu leader John Carroll didn't like Gabe's attitude towards the game one bit. John was an extremely paranoid player. And now all of a sudden he was extremely nervous about Gabe's "loyalty." John had no way to relate to Gabe's viewpoint of the world, he had no idea what Gabe was talking about, and now he started thinking Gabe was playing both sides of the fence. And, in essence, Gabriel's time in the game was now just about up. The minute Gabel was suspected of having an ulterior motive, that was the minute that John was determined to make sure he paid the price for it.
So what did Gabriel do when he found out his own allies about going to turn on him? Nothing. Gabe spent his last day on Survivor like a doomed puppy, sitting there in the middle of the railroad tracks. He knew the train was coming, and he simply wasn't going to move out of the way. He knew it was just his time to go. And when the Rotus teamed up to unanimously vote him out of the game, it was one of the single most heartbreaking moments I've seen on Survivor. The look on Gabriel's face was enough to make you start crying.
This moment was bad enough in itself, but the fallout afterwords was even worse. Because not only had Rotu just lost the heart of their tribe, they also completely fell apart once they had turned on one of their own. Rotu crumbled without Gabe at the center. They all fell victims to "the game" and a bunch of in-fighting. And, in a staggering conclusion to the Marquesas season, the winner didn't even come from the Rotu tribe in the end! It was a complete shocker, and there's no way anybody could have ever seen it coming. A Rotu member didn't even win the season?! It was like watching a Greek tragedy. And it can all be traced back to the completely unnecessary vote against Gabriel at the end of episode four. That was the moment that killed the heart and soul of the once-dominant Rotus.
When this episode aired on CBS, it was entitled "The End of Innocence." And it was the most fitting episode title I've ever seen the producers come up with. To this day, this is the one epsidoe of Survivor I really don't like to watch.
(Sidenote: I've heard from a few inside sources that the staff and crew of Marquesas were heartbroken when Gabriel was voted out. It was apparently the saddest day in the production camp since Gretchen had been voted out in Borneo, and some of the production crew were literally crying when they finally got a chance to meet him. I've heard that story from more than one source.)
3. Jenna wins Survivor: Amazon over Matthew
This was a Survivor moment that has always stood out like a sore thumb to me. Mainly because it's the only time I've ever felt we were screwed over by the Survivor editors. It's the only time that I totally disagreed with the winner of a season, and it's the only time I've felt like an entire season was a fraud and a waste. And it's mainly because I felt the editors had flat out lied to us.
There was no way this vote should have been 6-1. Jenna should not have won a nearly unanimous vote against Matt, at least not if the players saw the same season that we did at home. Please keep in mind that I'm not trying to take anything away from Jenna. By all accounts she was probably a very deserving winner, and she was probably very well-liked. Heck, she may have even been the single best winner in the show's history. But the problem is that we didn't see it! We never saw any of it at home! All we saw in Amazon (according to the editors) was this:
1. Jenna was a spoiled sorority girl who complained a lot
2. The world owes Jenna a letter from home, each and every time she asks for it
3. Jenna gave up and wanted to go home, at least twice during the final two episodes
4. Matthew learned a lot about the game of Survivor along the way, and eventually became a player that Rob C. feared going against in the final two
5. Matthew was one of the best comeback stories of all time
6. And Heidi is exceptionally smart. Just ask her.
So we learned all that, and then Jenna ended up beating Matt 6-1 in the final vote. What the hell? What season were we watching? Even to this day the final vote tally from Amazon baffles me, because it remains the only time I wasn't able to correctly predict the final winner. In every other season I have seen the final two and been able to make a reasonably accurate prediction of what was going to happen. I would usually say to myself, "Amber wins, but it's close." Or "Ethan wins in a landslide." Or "Chris beats Twila, because they all hate her." My final vote predictions may not always be 100% accurate, but the storyline is almost always obvious by the time we get to the final vote. And that's why my predictions are usually pretty darn close to the actual thing.
So what was my prediction going into the final vote in the Amazon? I said, "Matt wins, 5-2." I was positive he was going to win. So you can imagine how shocked I was when, not only did I completely miss on who was going to win, but I was actually incorrect on FOUR DIFFERENT VOTES! I've never missed on four votes before! And right away it troubled me that maybe I was watching the wrong season. So I went back and watched Amazon again. And, sure enough, once again I thought Matt should have won. So why on earth was I so far off? What on God's green earth were the players watching that we didn't see at home?
In time I finally figured it out. And the answer was relatively simple if you just paid attention. The reason Jenna won 6-1 was because she was popular and everybody thought Matt was just a crazy freak. The other players had hinted at this rationale during the season (Matt is nuts, no one wants him to win), and I have to suspect there was also probably an undercurrent of "Matt already has enough money, Jenna's family needs this more" going on behind the scenes. Both of those criteria are very valid reasons why Jenna should have won. In fact, I fully would have accepted either one. So in time I finally figured out that my problem with the Amazon season wasn't with the jury. My problem with the Amazon season was actually with the editors. Because, honestly, if the editors knew that Matt was going to lose in a landslide, and that he never could have won a vote in a million years, then why did they make him so heroic and so likable the last few episodes? Why did they try so hard just to mess with us?
Go back and watch the last few episodes of the Amazon. There are confessionals from people time and time again that Matt has learned how to play this game. They show us that Matt has become the Cesternino apprentice. And they show us how, by giving away rewards and being so generous, Matt is becoming way too likable to ever take to the final two. Watch how the editors build him up into this huge jury threat. They try to portray him as the most well-rounded player in the cast, as well as being this huge challenge threat who nobody can stop if they tried. And then, they start portraying Matt as the greatest comeback story in the history of the show!
Does that sound like Matthew von Ertfelda to you? Of course it doesn't. After all, here is a guy who didn't know what Survivor was for most of the game. He had no concept of strategy, he started as slowly as any player ever possibly could, and the other players in the game made fun of him, as openly and as often as possible. And this guy was supposed to actually win a Survivor jury vote? This was "The Sith Lord" who overthrew his "Jedi Master" in the end? Ha! This guy didn't even know what an alliance was. But that's not what the editors were trying to make us believe!
Like I said, this is the only season where, not only didn't I agree with the winner, I also felt like the editors had flat out lied to us. It's by far the most troubling ending to a Survivor season for me, and I've always been resentful of the fact that the editors turned Matt into a contender when they damn well knew he would never ever, EVER, win a vote against anybody.
But do you know what's even worse? By turning Matt into this Golden Boy Contender, what the editors actually did was throw their real winner (Jenna) into the editing garbage can. They sold Matt so well that basically all they did was ensure that the audience would hate Jenna when she actually won. And do you know what? That's exactly what happened! The editors completely threw Jenna under the bus. They completely left her for dead. They didn't care about that girl for a second, and it showed. And that's why the ending of this season has always felt so incredibly dirty.
Bah. I spit on the ending to Amazon. Ptoo. And if you're reading this, Jenna, it has nothing to do with you.
2. Randal snubs Rebecca at the finale of Apprentice 4
Horrible. This was just awful. It was one of the lowest moments I've ever seen on a reality show, and that's saying a lot if you stop and think about it. I honestly couldn't believe Randal would backstab Rebecca so harshly right at the climax of the season.
You know, my problem with this moment isn't so much that Randal told Trump not to hire Rebecca. That part really has nothing to do with it. After all, you could make a very valid justification for his choice if you really wanted to. I personally thought he was unnecessarily selfish, but if you wanted to argue that Randal had the right to do so, I wouldn't disagree. Randal won the game, and to the victor go the spoils. And Randal was easily the best player in the Apprentice 4. He was head and shoulders above everybody else, and to be quite honest, it was never really even all that close. So never for a second would I say that Trump picked the wrong person when he hired him.
No, my real problem with the Apprentice finale was the fact that it was a total set-up against Rebecca. Because if you watch the tape closely, you'll notice that nearly every single player in the cast knew that Trump was going to hire two people. It ended up being the worst-kept secret in reality TV, because it's obvious that the rest the cast knew it was going to happen.
If you ever get the chance, go back and watch the Apprentice finale again and pay attention to the rest of the players' body language. Because there are people like Clay and Alla and Felisha and Markus who know damn well that Trump is going to hire both people, and they are dead set against it. Watch them shake their head angrily every time Rebecca speaks during the final boardroom. Watch Clay's ultra-sarcastic fake clapping every time she does something. And then listen to Alla's comment that "I saw literally nothing out of Rebecca," which was clearly designed to influence Trump's decision. Heck, the entire cast was even chanting "Randal! Randal!" as he entered the set! In fact the anti-Rebecca propaganda was so overdone, and so blatantly obvious, that it smelled fishy to me right from the very start. The rest of the Apprentice cast knew that Trump was going to hire Rebecca as well as Randal. And its fairly safe to say they weren't going to let him.
So what do I think happened? Well I suspect that someone had leaked the news to the rest of the cast ahead of time, and that a few anti-Rebecca zealots had gone to Randal to gripe to him about it. I bet they turned it into a racial thing, I bet they turned it into a case of "this is a slap in your face, Randal," and I suspect that over time Randal started to get pissed off about it. Because you could tell. During the live finale, Randal was genuinely angry. You could especially hear it in his voice during his final arguments. This was not the cool, calm, collected Randal we'd come to know and love over the first 13 weeks of the show. No, this was a different person altogether in that final boardroom. During the final episode Randal talked way too fast from what we were used to. He was much more agitated than we had ever seen him before. And he was visibly angry because he knew what Trump was about to do, and he wanted to stop it. Randal wasn't about to let Trump hire Rebecca as a second Apprentice. And it was most evident in this line, which Randal threw in towards the end of the final boardroom, when he turned around to face the rest of the cast:
"If you think I should be the sole and single Apprentice tonight, please stand."
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Randal and the cast knew what was going to happen, and they were all working together to be damn sure that Rebecca was not hired for that job. It was a setup from minute one, and Rebecca had absolutely no chance to be hired once the entire rest of the cast was united against her. The fired candidates were doing their best to influence Trump's final decision, they were working as a team, and do you know what really irked me the most, out of everything? It wasn't the fact that people in the cast were trying to help Randal. That much I actually could have understood. No, what really ticked me off was that people were actually trying to sabotage Rebecca. They didn't just want Randal to win, they were actively trying to make sure Rebecca lost. And to me, that's a big difference. It's one thing to root for a certain player. It's a whole other thing to make somebody lose. And to me that's exactly what happened. I really just wanted to smack most of them.
Ugh. I can't stand most of this cast anymore. And I once thought this was my favorite Apprentice season of all time. Never again will I watch a single minute of Apprentice 4.
I was troubled by just about every aspect of this final boardroom. From start to finish, it was just brutal and wrong. But the icing on the cake came at the end, when Randal didn't even shake Rebecca's hand during the credits. There was no handshake, there was no hug, in fact the two of them didn't even speak. Randal just ran over to celebrate with the cast ("We did it! I'm the only winner!") and the classy, but crushed, Rebecca was left all alone. The only thing she could do was shrug it off, shake Trump's hand, and say "Well that was unfortunate."
The Apprentice 4 finale was a total fiasco. And it showed a complete lack of class all around. In particular, Randal easily could have handled the situation a whole lot better. He didn't have to hire Rebecca. Nobody's ever said that he was required to do so. But he could have easily let her down in a way so she wouldn't be humiliated on national TV. And he should have told his attack dogs in the cast to just sit down and shut up. Feh. I was just terribly disappointed in everybody involved. And it was an incredible downer to an otherwise flawless and entertaining season. Up to this point, I honestly thought that Apprentice 4 was one of my favorites.
Shut the fuck up, Alla.
1. Flo and Zach win the Amazing Race 3
There's really no way to describe this moment unless you've seen it. Because, to be honest, this is the only reality moment I can remember where I literally asked myself afterwards, "Why do I even bother watching these shows?"
I suppose the best quote I can use about Flo and Zach is one I shamelessly stole from the summary at the website Reality Blurred. Their take on the Amazing Race 3 finale was this:
"After threatening to quit the race repeatedly and shrieking more than a banshee with its leg stuck in a trap, Flo Pesenti crossed the finish line with her partner Zach Behr first, where Phil told them they won The Amazing Race 3."
And really, that's about as accurate as you're going to get. I've never seen a contestant complain as much as Flo did on the Amazing Race. I've never seen a contestant threaten to quit as often as Flo did on the Amazing Race. I've never seen someone who handles stress and adversity as poorly as Flo did on the Amazing Race. And really, I could very happily spend the rest of my life without ever again hearing this phrase:
"But Za-aaaaaaaach, I don't want to dooooooooo that! Zaaa-aaaaaaaaachhhhhh!"
I'm sure Flo is an amazing person in real life, and I'm sure that what we saw on TV were just small snippets of poor behavior in a highly stressful environment. But sweet Jesus she was an enormous pain in the ass on TV. Do you realize that Flo threatened to quit the race three times during the finale alone? THREE TIMES DURING THE FINALE! Zach literally had to hire someone to ferry her across the river in a basket because she was done. And did the editors even try to make Flo likable down the stretch? Did they even think they had a chance to sell her as a likable winner? Of course not! The editors knew they were screwed the minute they saw that "Menstrual" Flo was going to be the big winner at the end. So I imagine the editors just threw up their hands and said to hell with it. They didn't even try to make us like Flo during the last few episodes. They knew that marketing Flo was a hopeless cause.
Why couldn't Ken and Gerard have found a cab at the Seattle Center at the end?? Where was that cab driver when we needed him? And why couldn't Ken and Gerard have won?? It really would have made things so much better if that had actually happened. Bleh. I even would have been happy with a victorious Ian.
I really wish I could take back the two hours I spent watching the Amazing Race 3 finale. In fact the only positive thing I can remember about that night is when I logged onto the Amazing Race message boards immediately afterwards. And I remember how funny it was when I saw all the posts that looked like this:
"Well, I'm happy for Zach. Does that count?"
(Flo Sidenote #1: This story is great. I got to meet Lindsey Richter (from Survivor: Africa) at a brunch fundraiser once, and it happened to be the morning after the Amazing Race 3 finale had just aired. Well you'll remember that Lindsey had had her own problems with being annoying on reality TV. People actively hated her during Survivor: Africa. But the minute I mentioned Flo and the Amazing Race finale, Lindsey's eyes got wide. And then she started ranting and complaining about Flo. Lindsey said something like, "Did you see that chick on the Amazing Race last night? Oh my God, she never shut up! And people thought I was bad! But Flo just went on and on and on! Well I was never THAT bad on TV! NO WAY!")
(Flo Sidenote #2: Here's another great insider story, although this one will have to be anonymous. One of the cast members from Amazing Race #4 (the one after Flo) once told me that we actually saw a watered down version of Flo on TV. She was actually much worse in real life, and they actually did soften her for purposes of the show. My source told me that the AR camera crew all hated Flo with a passion, and none of them were willing to be stuck in a car with her all day because all she did was complain. So what they'd do is always assign the "rookie crew" to Flo's car, just because none of the veterans were willing to deal with her. So there you go.)
Honorable mention Troubling Moments that didn't make the Top 10: Kel and the beef jerky. Adam won't
eat pepperoni pizza during the finale of the Amazing Race 6 ("I only eat cheese pizza, Rebecca!"). Angel
wins Murder in Small Town X by accident (because nobody on earth could have ever solved that mystery).
Mario Lanza is a programmer and writer who lives in Los Angeles, and he would like to offer Rebecca Jarvis a job as his apprentice. You can reach him at MLanza1974@aol.com.
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