The season finale of “Survivor: Kaoh Rong” aired on May 18 with the usual two-hour episode followed by an hour reunion of the cast where host Jeff Probst announced the winner. I was shocked at — no, outraged by — the outcome.
After three months of following the various twists and turns of the game, it was clear to me that if 51-year-old Tai Trang could make it to the final three, he would win the $1 million prize. The gay Vietnamese immigrant and former “boat person” had proven himself adept at both mental and physical challenges, even though the skinny guy looked like he weighed 69 pounds.
He had a guaranteed winning alliance with Scott and Jason: Because Tai and Jason had immunity idols, they could put the two together to form the show’s first “Super Idol” and save any of them from eviction after the votes were read. The women lived in fear because the trio was picking them off one by one while their votes on any of the three would be wasted (unless they wanted to “flush the idol out in the open” so it couldn’t be used again).
But Tai changed the direction of the game when he shockingly betrayed his alliance: When the arrogant Scot was voted out of the game, the former NBA player looked to Tai to give him his immunity idol (Jason had already given Scot his). Tai said “No.”
Tai then joined the women’s alliance with Joe, and Jason was suddenly a target (and soon voted out).
Tai wasn’t always easy to understand (he spoke with a thick accent that was often accompanied by subtitles). But he endeared himself to many of his cast members by demonstrating a respect for all life (he cried after participating in killing a chicken for food and persuaded the others to not kill “Mark the Chicken” for the rest of the game by finding them enough clams to eat instead). When one of the men fell victim to heat exhaustion and had to be medically evacuated back to civilization, Tai cried. Even after outlasting the athletic Sydney in an endurance challenge, he kissed her.
When it came down to four remaining players, they discussed who would be dangerous to take to the Final Three, upon which the jury would determine who deserved the prize. Michele told Sydney she wasn’t worried about the sole Asian American player of the season because “Tai can’t talk!” Aubrey, on the other hand, could argue a good game and had gotten along with everyone. Tai had previously tried his damndest to evict Michele,fearing she played a good social game and would do well with the jury. But she won the final immunity idol, and Sydney went home.
At the final Tribal Council where the jury got to ask questions of the Final Three before making their decision, Scot showed he was still upset at being betrayed, saying even though Tai had found an immunity idol, he never even used it, and although he also got the game’s first “advantage” where he could cast two votes to oust someone, he wasted them on Michele, who survived anyway (So what? Holding on to that immunity idol prevented him from being voted out until they got to the Top 5).
Another player asserted that Tai’s game had peaked in the first half of their 37 days there, but he hadn’t impressed as much since. Michele, on the other hand, finished strong, winning reward challenges and two immunity idols. In response, Tai delivered some Buddhist-sounding (hey, I’m a Buddhist and even I couldn’t make any sense of it!) flowery speech about waves or something that didn’t seem to connect with anyone.
This is what he should’ve said: I played a game respectful of all players (well, except in the middle of the night when I put out the fire in the women’s camp when my trio alliance was being arrogant). I was good at both mental challenges and physical ones even though I weigh 69 pounds. I found an immunity idol and won another (Aubrey’s never had one), and either as part of a tribe or on my own I won eight consecutive Reward Challenges, tied with Julia for the most consecutive of all time. I made a big move in the game where I betrayed Scot and broke up the alliance that was trying to vote out all the women. If it hadn’t been for me, neither Aubrey nor Michele would be sitting next to me in the Top Three! Drop mic.
Aubrey argued her case. Michele talked about making it this far even though she’d been at the bottom of the totem pole always in danger of being voted out. When she cried through her speech, it felt as if she knew her reasoning wasn’t going to hold any water with her peers and she was basically feeling sorry for herself.
The seven members of the jury voted, and we only saw two votes, one for Michele and one for Aubrey. “Ah, those tricky producers,” I thought, “they’re trying to throw us off by making us think it’s a contest solely between the two of them and that nobody supported Tai! But we all know Tai’s gonna win this thing!”
Flash forward to the live show where the cast of 18 was reunited on a soundstage at CBS headquarters in Studio City. Jeff read the votes one by one. He revealed two votes apiece for Michele and Aubrey. OK, this is where he starts running up Tai’s “come from behind” tally to win with three votes, right?! Probst continued reading more votes for Michele and when she got up to four votes vs. two, declared her the winner.
What the–?! That means she got five votes and nobody voted for Tai?! He was robbed! If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this game and “Big Brother” (another long-running CBS reality show), players usually put aside their grudges and recognize someone for playing a good game even if it meant blindsiding and betraying them. Not so with this bunch.
And nobody, least of all the host, seemed to be surprised by Tai being left high and dry. I was fuming. Was there a “Vote for your favorite player” contest so a runner up could win a $25,000 prize I hadn’t heard about? As if right on cue, Sia — the singer/songwriter who likes to hide her face while performing — jumped out of the studio audience and said she was so taken with Tai’s respect for animals that she was giving him $50,000. On top of that, she was donating another $50,000 to an animal charity of his choice.
Well, OK, at least that gave him some positive attention and some money for all that he endured. But other than that, what a disappointing finale. Most critics agreed, saying that Michele didn’t deserve it, Aubrey did. Message to Tai: It’s OK to be Zen throughout the game, but when it comes time to claiming your prize, act like a general!
Superhero Dooms Another Show Department: Although the networks announced their 2016-2017 line-ups two weeks ago, there’s been a lot of fallout. For one, because CBS cancelled “Supergirl” and the lower-rated sister network the CW picked it up at the last minute, something had to give. The CW decided to keep the series in its Monday night 8 p.m. timeslot, the home of the previously renewed “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” That was moved to Friday at 9 p.m.!
Friday night, next to Saturday (where the networks long gave up putting anything worthwhile on the schedule) the lowest-rated night of the week. Where shows get moved to when their ratings fall and the networks don’t have much more hope for them.
1. Crazy X-GF” was lucky to be renewed as it has the lowest number of viewers of anything on the five networks (under a million people).
2. It was renewed in part because critics love it (hey, it’s my favorite program on the air) and star/co-creator Rachel Bloom won a Golden Globe for “Best Actress in a Comedy Series.”
3. Moving it to Friday will guarantee even fewer viewers.
4. Because the CW only canceled one show and bought four new series for the next season, they’ll have to push aside under-performing shows by either cutting their order (maybe 13 episodes vs. 18 or 19) or taking them off the air.
5. It’s horrible news for a comedy/musical I felt privileged to watch every week for its intelligence, heart, humor and propagation of an Asian American man as the love interest of a hot white woman.
Damn you, Supergirl! I’ve been a weekly comic book collector since July 18, 1972 (the fact that I know that date shows you how much comics have meant in my life) but I was so annoyed by its pilot that I never came back for a second episode.
Pilots are known for being expensive because producers try to impress network executives about the potential of their proposed series. And they spend more money on them than any of the episodes that follow. Yet in that pilot, I caught the producers using the same scene of Supergirl flying when she was soaring above the city as when she was flying to fight a villain! Can you say “cheap,” boys and girls? And the shots of our heroine fighting were awkward, to say the least.
I wish the CW had passed on it a second time (they turned it down first before it was taken to CBS).
’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.