INTO THE NEXT STAGE: Weakest ‘Survivor’ Contestant Becomes Most Powerful Player

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AOKI-GUY-color1By GUY AOKI

He looked like the original 98-pound weakling (actually, maybe 68-pound), speaking with a Vietnamese accent so strong his speech was sometimes accompanied by subtitles. A bald, gay man in his 50s, he was, for an inexplicable reason, placed in the “Beauty” tribe. He cried after participating in the killing of a chicken for food. Yet he’s now emerged as the strongest player on the current edition of CBS’s long-running reality contest “Survivor.”

Host Jeff Probst later told the press Tai Trang was placed in his tribe as a reminder that “beauty” comes from within as well. Tai impressed the women in his first tribe with his sanctity for life, his peaceful demeanor, and consideration for others (very Asian, in other words).

He found an immunity idol, meaning he could use it if he felt there were enough votes at Tribal Council to kick him out of the game. When he temporarily won an additional idol at a challenge, he could put them together to form a “Super Idol” (a new twist in the game) and use it after the votes were announced if he was voted out (he didn’t have to).

Tai won that idol after outlasting everyone by balancing on a narrow perch and holding on to a handle behind his head. When the pain became great, he told Probst it was still nothing compared to surviving war, a refugee camp, and being a boat person. At the 40-minute mark, he began chanting to Buddha (represent!), which gave him additional strength. It was amazing to see him renewed and his last remaining competitor start to weaken. So he’s a physical threat too.

Tai Trang plots strategy with Jason and Scot on “Survivor.”

Tai Trang plots strategy with Jason and Scot on “Survivor.”

After the tribes merged, Tai became friends with an unlikely contestant, former NBA player Scot Pollard, who along with fellow “Brawn” member Jason, had previously bullied a sweet, blonde girl on their tribe (I really felt sorry for her and was sad to see them inevitably vote her out). The three formed a bond, and when the women blind-sided them by voting out a member of their alliance, the men stole any tools that would help the women cook food. Shockingly, their attitude rubbed off on Tai as he even put out the fire when the women were sleeping.

At Tribal Council, before the vote was taken, the three men revealed they had two idols and were going to share them to protect each other. If the women tried to vote any of them out, one of the guys could give the other his idol, forming that “Super Idol,” and the votes against him wouldn’t count (and only those guys knew how it worked).

But the following week, there was a bigger shock. Before the vote, Jason gave his idol to Scot. Scot was voted out, so he looked to Tai to offer him his idol so he could reject those votes. Tai shook his head. “No.” So Scot went home and took Jason’s idol with him!

As of last week, Tai’s thrown in with the women’s group (he felt Scot and Jason were too close and they might vote him out at some point), leaving Jason to sulk and plot revenge. But Tai has an “advantage” where before the Top Five, he can cast an extra vote to kick someone out. Six are left.

“Survivor” airs Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. on CBS.

In the immunity challenge, Tai hanging on for dear life.

In the immunity challenge, Tai hanging on for dear life.

Nice Try Department: Last week, Robert Cargill, co-writer of Marvel’s upcoming “Dr. Strange” film, explained in a videotaped interview why the studio decided to cast a white woman — Tilda Swinton — as “The Ancient One,” who’d been an old Tibetan man in the comic book. Marvel didn’t want to risk pissing off China (and lose millions of dollars at the box office there) by creating a Tibetan hero, and even if they cast a Chinese actor in the role, it would’ve angered Tibetans (oppressor playing the underdog). They felt it was a no-win situation, so they opted to cast a white person.

Nonsense. They could’ve created a fictitious Asian country then cast any kind of Asian they wanted without any political fallout. The studio issued a statement about their “proud record of diversity.” Oh yeah? And when has it ever involved Asian Americans in a significant way? Just Hogun in “Thor” and brief scenes of a 100th/442nd soldier (batallion not named nor explained) in the first “Captain America film.” The issue is not dying and will hit a boiling point when the film is released in November.

George Takei just got a lot of press speaking out against the film as well, pointing to the historical lack of opportunities for Asian American actors to play meaty roles.

Priyanka Chopra (center) and some of the cast of “Quantico.”

Priyanka Chopra (center) and some of the cast of “Quantico.”

Narrator Who Keeps Crying Wolf Department: Since mentioning the fact that Priyanka Chopra stars in ABC’s spy thriller “Quantico” (in May when it was announced as a series and in the fall when it debuted), I haven’t said anything about it. That’s because there’s not much to report. Besides the fact that Alex Parrish (Chopra) is half white/half Indian and once spent some time in Dubai, nothing else about her character has anything to do with her ethnicity (the producers probably imagined the role for a white person and continue to write it that way).

And I’ve lost count of the number of twists and turns that’ve led her fellow FBI agents to be out to get her or become allies again and/or back to being enemies. It’s tiresome. The message is clear: The producers of the show are just trying to mess with us.

So much so that I really don’t want to bother explaining any of the plot (I’d resent it because I’d feel manipulated into doing so!) except to say Alex is still trying to figure out which of her fellow agents is behind the two (fictitious, of course) terrorist attacks that rocked New York this past year.

The narrator’s tease for the then-upcoming May 1 episode illustrates how annoying this series can be: “…has kept you guessing who the traitor is all season long. With only three episodes left, the answer you’ve been craving… are all… about… [yeah, yeah, you’re about to finally tell us who it is?!] to explode.”

Huh?! OK, you rat, that’s so vague, it means absolutely nothing. It certainly doesn’t guarantee we’re going to find out Sure enough, because at the end of this Sunday’s episode, that bullsh*tt*r was teasing next week’s episode and saying NOW we’re finally going to learn the identity of “the traitor.” But does that even mean the mastermind behind the whole thing or just another agent blackmailed into doing its bidding?

When it premiered, the producers told The Hollywood Reporter there was no guarantee they were going to reveal the culprit by the end of the season. So be forewarned.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an entertaining show. I got sick of the soap opera/“Grey’s Anatomy”-like formula (heck, two of the show’s producers once worked on that series, so old habits/instincts for what they think might entice viewers die hard). But thankfully, ABC said they were gonna tone it down. Good. I kept fearing Alex was going to sleep with every man (always white) who talks to her for any extended period of time.

“Quantico” airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m.

At the East West Players dinner, Guy Aoki with Rachel Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez III, stars of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

At the East West Players dinner, Guy Aoki with Rachel Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez III, stars of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

Celebrate Good Times Come On! Department: It was a pleasure finally getting to meet the stars of my favorite television show, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” at the annual East West Players awards dinner. Before the main program began, I went to the CW table and thanked Rachel Bloom for casting an Asian man as her love interest (Vincent Rodriguez III, who was sitting right next to her) and praised how wildly unpredictable the sitcom/musical was, noting that no matter where they took the viewers, it was always funny and smart.

I also mentioned the Twitter contest I’d been running for MANAA giving away T-shirts, caps, and bags with the show’s logo, and how one of the winners came from Spain. “So they’re talking about you in Spain!” She seemed excited by that notion.

Upon receiving their award, Aline Brosh McKenna revealed that after reading the pilot for the show, she asked co-creator Bloom, “How about an Asian guy?” To which Bloom responded, “Yeah!” And that’s how that decision was made. Bloom said they didn’t intend to go for diversity. They just wanted to reflect the reality of West Covina, which naturally has a lot of Asian and Latinos. They went for the specificity of the characters, given that Rodriguez III was Filipino, and Filipino American writer Rene Gube could write to that.

The intention didn’t have to be there. The result is all that matters, as they did what I’ve asked the networks to do for years: Reflect reality. Not only did Gube write two episodes, Steven Tsuchida directed two as well. “Dr. Ken” never used an Asian American director and “Fresh Off the Boat” finally got around to using one (Jude Weng) just this Tuesday night.

As dinner chair Daniel Mayeda told me after the program ended, Bloom was the first on scene at the VIP pre-dinner reception, and she was still there about an hour after the program ended, graciously posing for pictures for an endless line of fans and not looking like she was in any rush to leave. “Look at her, Guy!” he told me, shocked. “She’s still here!” It felt great. And Bloom deserves all the attention she can get.

Looking at the silent auction items just as the deadline was called, I saw Jeff and Hudson Yang — co-star of “Fresh Off the Boat” — walking behind me. Hudson was giggling for some reason, and I just had an involuntary smile. We now have many pre-teen, recognizable Asian American stars thanks to that show and “Dr. Ken,” and the future of our community looks bright.

’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.

Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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