LAST EDITED ON 02-12-07 AT 10:13 AM (EST)
Okay, the last shall be first: no, she's still caffeine-free, at least through the Reunion.
Characters... yeah, this is way backstage. Let's see... and if this comes across as being convoluted, it's because I'm trying to figure out what my subconscious was up to. If it comes across as deeply boring, I wouldn't be surprised. There's going to be a lot of rambling here, and because it's stream-of-thought, I'll miss some things. (Sorry in advance?) And I'm listing pretty much everyone to give a place for more questions to spring from. Also because if I'm doing so many contestants, I might as well do a half-sensible section for all.
This first part came up in the Bar one night: that to some degree, the cast had to establish at least part of who they were immediately. This goes to the editing of the actual series and the old introductory shots. (The ones we haven't had in how many seasons now?) There had to be a five-second flashpoint that stuck in everyone's memory: this is the planner, the one who isn't quite sure what's going on, the innocent, the schemer, the expert. First impressions had to count. Layers could be revealed as we went deeper into who these people were, but the initial moments we got from them needed to provide some insight.
Given characters (and here comes the really long bit) are not based on any real people, at least not single ones. While still being recognizable individuals, they also take the parts of contestant archetypes: the casting patterns which the series keeps throwing out at us -- as well as occasionally invoking editing styles. They all teach their own lessons in relation to the game. And to a degree, some of them are also meant as partial reflections and opposition aspects of Alex: she spends the entire season in a prolonged battle with herself.
I had to play casting director for the season -- and every part had to have a purpose.
One at a time, tackling everyone to small degrees because this might be the time. (This'll probably just produce more questions, which will get answered as needed):
Michelle Kesel, 22, floral designer, Winnfield, Louisiana. (self-doubt, miscast, mental weakness, misfortune)
'For her brief moment on camera, she's got to be very shaky. She's not sure what she's doing here, and neither is anyone else.'
There's one of Michelle in pretty much every season: the contestant whose first impression is 'How did she get here and what was she thinking when she even tried?' Left to her own devices, without Elmore bouncing her out, she might have gradually evolved into a vaguely-Colleen type: just barely enough of a challenge asset to keep, the exact amount of personality she'd need to fit in, and insufficient strategies to make her own moves. Remember, this is the one Connie wanted to dominate early.
We see so little of Michelle because she's meant to be the first victim of the game: no one's sure why she's here -- and then she's gone. There may have been a subconscious echo in giving Gary's wife the same first name: one immediate victim who never got a visible chance to recover from it, and -- well, that goes back to how Gary met his Michelle.
She represents every player who never really got a chance to introduce themselves. There's been a lot of those, and they don't always go out at the first Council.
Trina Zolna: 32, fortune teller, Manhattan, New York. (magic, mystery, foreshadowing, ultimate grounding in reality)
'The supernatural grounded in solid everyday fact. There's something of the otherworldly in Trina, but even more of the real.'
Trina's pretty much present as a pure story element: to lay out the timeline. The reading was in the season from Day One, and Trina's function was to get it to the screen. But she's also part of the island's mystery, and she's meant to invoke the touch of magic that every season wants to find somewhere -- and which hasn't really come along since the first. (Assuming you believe the old line about those torches. Talk about considering the source...) But she's also a very bottom-line person in her way, dealing with the paranormal as such an everyday part of her life that it becomes almost halfway ordinary to her. Strangeness happens: doesn't it happen to everyone?
There's an element of doubt initially surrounding Trina: how much does anyone trust a fortune teller? That element ultimately extends to the island. Things happen which seem to have some kind of magic behind them, particularly in the way events focus around Alex. In the end, most of it could be coincidence and timing -- or even a momentary hallucination at the final Immunity challenge. And yet, the cards work out...
Trina might be the cumulation of the players who've tried to bring a bit of the mystical into the series. There may be bits of Linda and Peter in her, as well as a touch of Aras -- she recognizes that the supernatural is ultimately based in the real and knows enough to downplay her beliefs around those who don't share them. This also makes her a counterpoint of sorts to Connie, although Phillip and Gary share that role.
Elmore Nolan, 41, computer game designer, Seattle, Washington. (intellect without foresight, physical weakness, lack of focus, incomplete)
'A freefall from arrogant confidence to near ego destruction. Elmore has the game figured out, but not the people in it.'
Elmore's the single-element player: come out with one tactic firmly locked in place, then try to ride it all the way to the end. He's actually a fairly cocky personality, at least in the safety of his own head, mostly because he's used to working with a world which he completely controls. Elmore builds games which he knows inside and out, and he can beat anyone within the confines of that game -- because he created it. Angela calls him out with some accuracy: he builds with pixels, not with people.
He's placed as something of a target: the location in which a few jokes land -- but he's ultimately the victim of his own play. A single-element style, not strong on social skills, and unwilling to see that winning Round One was just that: winning Round One. You can't keep playing the same combo to beat this game, and Elmore wins up defeating himself.
We've seen a lot of Elmore types over the seasons: those who believe they can just outthink the game without considering any other part of it. We've even seen people close to his body type a few times (although he was pretty much the most out-of-shape contestant ever). He may be a warning about the dangers of being inflexible: you have to change your thinking if you want to survive -- or twist enough to get through a sniper crawl.
Frank Neeman, 29, pharmacist, Shamrock, Texas. (humor, risk without forethought, focused knowledge, danger)
'All air and fire: no earth. They burn quickly and brightest before burning out.'
Gardener's actually the one who gets to say it -- but then, Gardener gets to say a lot of things. Frank is every series expert who comes in prepared to use what he knows to dance circles around everyone else. He's Rob C, he's Guatemala's Brian, and he's a lot of other people who never made it to the end either. At least he got something out of his own flirting, even if it was a total fakery on one end.
Frank, through his encounter with Azure, is the first major hint to the dangers of the island (and the game as a whole). He's also a reflection for Alex, one she has to overcome: the idea that laughing leads to pain -- something she gets a very graphic demonstration of in Frank's fall. A sense of humor is a dangerous thing if you let it out in the open. Frank jokes more than anyone -- so Frank goes.
He was always meant to go out in that position: Haraiki and Turare basically trade ousters for the first six episodes, never letting anyone get more than one tribe member ahead. (Haraiki never gets to sit anyone out -- which might have been a weird kind of foreshadowing: someone was going to play all the way through.)
Denadi Raven, 58, health food store owner, Cheyenne, Wyoming. (lack of initiative, quitting, softness, cowardice)
'Denadi might be able to win Big Brother in a walk as a perpetual non-threat who could afford a slow build time: in this game, she's doomed.'
What is Denadi doing here? (I always saw her as someone who just sent in a tape one day for the absolute hell of it -- a medium-devotion viewer who decided the game couldn't be that hard.) We may arguably know the least about her of any Haraiki, given the greater amount of time she had to leave an impression. When the going gets rough, Denadi gets going -- generally in the exact opposite direction. There's a willingness to fight in her, but she has a hard time keeping that desire up for long. Her reflection is Alex's tendency to kick herself into the gutter when something goes very wrong. Alex is capable of recovering from that and looking for the next possibility: Denadi goes quietly in the end.
She arguably got some of the roughest treatment from the DAW chorus, seen and unseen: if there's anything we all hate, it's a contestant who backs out of any part of the game. Yes, you're going to lose, now get in there and lose with dignity! (Or at least with a really embarrassing failure: we could use the laugh.) Note that she has some early respect from her tribe regardless of this -- she has the flag on Day Two, and she really gets voted out as a move to strengthen the tribe for the next challenge. Denadi only offends Connie: there's no political vote here. She's just not strong enough to stay.
Denadi was a moderating voice within Haraiki -- between her and Phillip, some kind of peace could occasionally be resolved in time to get a little sleep. She doesn't enjoy conflict. There's a few of those spread along the path of the seasons: the ones who insist that there has to be a peaceful resolution at the end. This would actually make her a great jury member -- but a lousy contestant. There are times when conflict is necessary. (Just about every story ever written, for starters.)
Desmond Cooper: 55, construction foreman, Podunk, Massachusetts. (obstinate, selfish, inflexible, pattern-locked)
'Things which aren't part of his personal time start at pointless and go down from there. In his way, he's even more locked within himself than Alex, who at least knows that some kind of change has to happen eventually.'
This came out in the Bar one night: Desmond is every 'genius at sunrise, idiot by sunset' edit we've ever seen. (The player list on this one goes on for days.) He knows what he knows, he doesn't really want to know anything else, and he doesn't see what purpose learning could possibly serve. Within his element, he's very strong and focused: as the cast keeps pointing out, it's a great shelter -- and he got it running with a machete, a fire, and mostly-untrained labor. Given the supplies the Fiji cast had to work with, Desmond would have a condo up by Night Two. (It's easy to imagine him throwing his remote at the screen when that image came on.) But leave earth for water, and he drowns.
I always wanted Desmond to be the relative series virgin among a cast of fans and outright experts: having him watch only first and last episodes was one of the jokes that developed late. Hey, he's got the beginning and end covered: the middle should just about take care of itself...
In Alex's family model for the season, he's close to being the grandfather. (Denadi arguably would have taken the grandmother position.) But Frank sums him up: locked in, with no interest in changing because there's no reason for it. What he's done in his life works fine, right? It's gotten him this far along. He's reached this age, so he's doing something right... The reflection here is that unwillingness to alter something about yourself to get through. Alex has found a means of living that works very well for her, one where she never has to confront what she's lost, much less think about how to get any of it back or wonder why it was important in the first place. Desmond goes, the tie is set -- and something has to change.
In the end, I think he's really more embarrassed than angry, looking for any excuse as to why this couldn't be his fault and going as far as he can to find one. I can see him eventually coming into the fold and talking to the others again -- there's a hint of it starting at the party -- but it'll take a while. A long while.
Trooper Reagan, 35, police officer, Mosquero, New Mexico. (steadfast, reliable, insight, caution)
'If the game was really only about survival, he'd be one of the early favorites. And because it isn't, he has to be a midgame victim.'
Trooper follows in the footsteps of a long line of people who were 'too good for the game', whether physically, socially, or anything else: you can trace his roots all the way back to Gretchen. He arguably understands the others in his tribe as well as anyone: his training gives him the means to figure out some of what's happening behind the scenes. He's the first to really realize what might be influencing Alex's behavior, and he's very gentle in how he deals with it: tell Gary and get his promise to keep it quiet, just so he can have someone to work it out with, making sure he's not locked into a snap judgment -- and then a careful, equally gentle approach to Alex, starting to get her trust. Not as an alliance partner, but just as two people coming to know each other. Trooper's caught in a battle between what's good for a person and what's good for the game: a reflection that goes on forever.
For the record: he's horribly conflicted about whether staying in the game is the best or worst thing for Alex's psyche: what keeps him from voting for anyone else at the sixth Council is the near-drowning incident. He's not certain Alex would use the game as an excuse to hurt herself -- but he can't be sure enough of it not happening to change his vote. (Deep down, he is aware that just asking the question aloud has warned the staff of the possibility -- but he never really confronts that on a conscious level.) Ultimately, Trooper goes with what he thinks is the majority because he believes Sequesterville is safer for Alex. He just can't complain about the ultimate results: at least this way, he can keep an eye on her. The visibility of that conflict is what leads Gardener to really suspect him as Alex's third vote.
One of the hidden (or unspoken) scenes of the season had Trooper asking Gary to keep an eye on Alex, just in case anything happened to him.
Most of this is turning to game discussion because there isn't a lot more to Trooper than what came out: he's a decent man in a hard job who's fighting off the insidious effects of that job. (As Angela says, it gets to pretty much all of them after a while.) It was a minor bit of irony to have him go out in Gretchen's exact place...
Angela Mistedge, 28, activist, Richmond, Virginia. (deviousness, arrogance, manipulation, firebrand)
'You can never destroy a system until you have something to put in its place. Angela has her systems ready to go: she just doesn't believe they need anything as formal as testing. She came up with them, didn't she?'
Angela is closer to Connie than she would ever want to believe: two people completely determined to see the world through their own view, enforce that perspective on others, and if everything worked out for her, never is heard a dissenting word. She's the ruthless kind of player: it doesn't matter who you step on or how hard as long as you get to your goal in the end. Her reflection for Alex is that they both have traumas in their past which have sent them down the paths they're on: in Angela's case, she had already set foot on hers, and the riot just ensured she'd never leave it. Unlike Alex, Angela wears her scars openly -- all of them.
She's a strange one as a villain: she wants to believe she has all the answers worked out and that whatever truth she's convinced herself of is the truth. (Again, she and Connie mirror each other here.) Angela has a scheme that can carry her to the end -- but when things don't fit her preconceived notions, it completely takes her out of herself. Connie almost instantly dismisses or uses the new element: Angela just gets to stand there throwing gears for a couple of minutes. Or for several jury sessions. (It's probably worth noting that a tribal switch would have pretty much destroyed her.) She tries so hard to plan for all the possibilities that anything coming outside her conceptions just can't exist -- which turns the end of Council #8 into one of the funniest scenes in the season. (I hope, anyway.)
Angela stands counterpoint to Mary-Jane: they're both beautiful women in their own way, both willing to use their looks to get what they want to some degree -- but M-J is partially playing that card as camouflage and has a line she won't cross. For Angela, the ends always justify the means. If she gets the respect/fear she's been looking for, everything's worth it. The fact that it came with hate arrived as something of a surprise. People didn't really hate Richard, did they? Not like that -- but then, Richard never broke anyone's heart...
Her coming out of the jury seats to blindside Connie was one of the moments when the characters basically grew into their actions: she was ready to be the villain, but she was not ready for Connie's words during the Fallen Comrades walk (which made the show -- go for the irony when it appears.) As she sees Connie, so Connie saw her -- and that was a wake-up call. In a way, that punch was her two-second redemption edit -- or at least the first step on a new journey for her. Who knows? Maybe it'll even stick. But I predict a hard trip and frequent struggles not to backslide.
She has some partial ancestors in prior players -- anyone who ever played their hand too early can probably find a little of themselves in Angela. And as far as jury questions went, she had to make the bitter speech...
Tony Tirello, athlete, 28, Challis, Idaho. (arrested development teenager, naive, competitive, dreamer)
'Might be the classic good-hearted jock. He's on the crude side at times and 'refinement' is something which happens to oil, but there's ultimately nothing really bad about Tony. He just needs a few mental birthdays to go with his physical ones.'
Poor Tony. He was designated as the least intelligent person in the cast from Day One, but that doesn't make him stupid. I see him as having an average IQ or maybe even a little above, but he's one of those people who just never paid attention in school because he was daydreaming about what would happen once he got to the game. (As one member of the Chorus echoes a certain animated series, he has a brain: he just doesn't use it much.) Tony's very much about dreams: making the majors, getting the girl... he believes in the classic storylines the way Alex doesn't: for Tony, the coach is coming to take him to the castle, and all he has to do is wait around long enough... He has a number of spiritual ancestors in prior seasons: in particular, I can see a bit of Robb in him.
He's the butt of a lot of jokes, some of which were never meant to go quite as far as they did: the left/right routine took on a life of its own and went for the full-scale leap to running gag. But his reflection role is as another victim of false love: Tony ultimately winds up as one of the abused. This is a test Alex arguably fails: not making one all-out attempt to let him know what's going on -- but she sees illusion as having its own comforts. She can't believe in those dreams: she doesn't want to take that away from someone else. And if his heart was going to be broken anyway, maybe it would be better if it was later. That's how she thinks. Whether it was the right thing to do -- major debate.
Tony's the kid of the cast, and he's not a bad person. He just has a lot of growing up to do. Having him be from the smaller parts of Idaho and an athlete was a double means of isolating him: he doesn't have a lot of experience with the world at large, starting in a small town and moving into a culture that pretty much exists only as part of itself. You have to get away from where you started if you're ever going to go anywhere: maybe that's part of Tony's lesson. You just can't leave the important parts of yourself behind. He'll always stay something of a dreamer -- he's just more careful now.
I never designated his parent team because I wanted people to have a little flexibility there, seeing him as the struggling player in the minors for their own club. Oddly, to me, he's a Cub.
Phillip Geegaw, 34, farmer, Clay Center, Nebraska. (faith, wisdom, gentle, compassionate,)
'The threat for an America's Tribal Council vote. By the end of the season, could be run as a third party for a local election and win without making a speech -- and that means he can't make Final Two.'
The initial alliance pairing between Phillip and Connie becomes all the weirder when I look at what they really are: Christianity as it arguably should be and Christianity as the fringe elements keep driving it along. Phillip is the kind of man I'd want a religion to produce. He's bright enough to take what makes sense about the philosophy and adapt it into a moral code that works for himself and the world without ever hurting anyone else. Phillip is devoted, a born peacemaker, a strong man who won't use it the wrong way -- one of the thousands of near-saints who go about quiet lives, unnoticed until the entire county spontaneously shows up when he winds up needing help. Phillip's specific sect is never identified just because he should be a paragon for any religion that claims to love peace. He's one of the least complex characters, and it's on purpose. Phillip found his truth long ago: all he wants now are experiences and to make people a little happier along the way. (The thought of him actually getting angry is almost anathema: he could arguably turn most of the cast into a thin red paste with one punch.) He had to be a farmer in the heartland: he's the embodiment of what 'salt of the earth' means. You can see the casting people throwing a party right after his tape finished playing.
Phillip's a stable moral center not just for the tribe, but for the game. And we all know what happens to stable moral centers, don't we? Right. Jury. Phillip and Gary partially overlap a role here: every nice guy who was good enough to make the game and too good to get within a sniff of winning the thing. He's someone you always want in your corner if you're in a tight spot -- note that he's the first person Alex really looks to when she gets the Race invitation, figuring that he balances everything she could bring to a team -- but in game terms, he's dangerous to keep around. He even knows it. Even if his actions don't make sense in a game-context -- Episode #10, anyone? -- he's content with them because it all works out by his own code. He wasn't going to win: seventh is a good place to go out in.
His reflection is for Alex's shattered faith: with all that's happened in her life, she can't see the universe as having a purpose where things can eventually work out for the best. Alex doesn't believe because Alex has sent up a lot of silent pleas over the years, all of which went unanswered: waiting for miracles that never came. He's also one of the father figures in the season, and you could do a lot worse. (Another area where he and Gary parallel somewhat: rearrange the tribes, and you can see Phillip approaching Alex for an alliance -- just with the intent of protecting her.)
A genuinely decent man. Those are getting rarer by the day...
(In the 'I don't know what my subconscious was thinking' department, I picked 'Geegaw' as his last name because it just sounded like the sort of slightly odd, down-home sound that might emerge from the heartland. It also turned out to be an alternate spelling for 'gewgaw', meaning inexpensive jewelry -- and look who wound up making the necklace...)
Mary-Jane Learner, 21, model, Los Angeles, California. (innocence, secrecy, sexuality, emotion)
'The viewers should think they know everything about Mary-Jane inside of five minutes: beautiful, intelligent, some ability to scheme, utterly carefree physically. The viewers should be wrong.'
M-J's worldwise in a lot of ways: you grow up fast in the modeling industry or you don't get the chance to. But she's also something of an innocent: she really hasn't gotten many chances for real relationships. Most of what she knows about are things she can't apply to her own life. She represses a great deal of who she is every day just to get through: one of her reflection aspects for Alex, as well as representing so many of the emotions Alex can't express. She's also casual sexuality, which scares Alex more than the directed kind: that at least has a purpose. Mary-Jane is fully comfortable with her body: she's just a little afraid of revealing the person inside it.
She enters the season fully in the open physically and in hiding mentally, staying with both for a while: flirting with Frank isn't just a strategy move, it's concealment. Mary-Jane came to play, but she also came with her own boundaries, and she never gets close to really crossing them. As AyaK noted, men vs. women was an easy theme for her to fall into, and Angela's offer ultimately felt like a dream. She's no man-hater: she's just more comfortable with women overall. And any chance to bring Alex along a little further...
Mary-Jane feels: it's very much the core of who she is. She is raw emotion at times, whether for herself or for others, and she really does hurt for others: it's why the final Council hits her so hard. (Like Alex, she compartmentalizes somewhat: the closer the Reunion comes, the worse it gets for her.) Ultimately, coming out may be the best thing for her mentally, letting her integrate into a more complete person. She really doesn't have much in the way of spiritual ancestors in previous seasons in that sense: anyone who's ever had to let their essence out in public, perhaps, or all the players who were ultimately terrified of their own potential edit and what might result from it. This was a wrenching journey for her.
She's a platinum blonde in part because the extra hint of white amplifies the unsullied aspect of her character. While she has moments where she can be harsh -- see the initial beach landing for I-don't-put-up-with-this M-J -- she still has something of a child's wonder about things: Phillip giving her the piggyback ride is my classic image for her. In that sense and their mutual pain from failed hopes for romance, she and Tony mirror each other.
Robin Breslin, 27, dancer, Bronx, New York. (directness, desire, ego, determination)
'If you want to know it, she'll tell you. If you don't want to hear it, she's going to tell you anyway. Robin may be the most aware of the camera, but she's also the most aware of the editing: she can never try to be anything other than who she is.'
Robin may have the simplest description in the cast: she's a New Yorker. Everything good about the city and just a few hints of what's bad. She wants what she wants when she wants it, and she'll fight to get it. She's direct, more than a little abrasive, somewhat loud, and you don't ever want to be on her bad side -- but at the same time, she's just a little more gentle than you might suspect, with surprising insights and a lot more compassion that anyone thinks. Even if it comes out in loud ways. I can see her walking up to Audrey during the family Reward tangle after Alex left: "Hi: I'm what your husband's been rejecting lately. If he's turning me down, he's got to still be in love with you." That probably would have gotten the point across...
As the one who would always do and say exactly what she wanted to, Robin has a lot of previous contestants to look back on -- although she got further in the game than most of them. Giving her nothing she wanted throughout and keeping her almost perpetually frustrated was as much a comedy move as anything else: Robin's funniest when she isn't getting her own way or telling someone off about it. She established herself in just about one sentence: there's plenty of good stuff to come and I'm going to enjoy most of it -- then wound up with one bathroom that she eventually had to share, lots of missed opportunities, and fifth place. Although she got away with a lot along the way: she's the only person who has Jeff not go harsh on her for quitting, because she's the one who has an actual reason that goes beyond the game -- and she's also a little hard to argue with when she's right. Or wrong. Plus, it was a lousy challenge design and Jeff knows it.
Her reflective/opposition aspect is as direct as she is: Robin will express whatever anyone else would repress. If she's feeling it, someone's going to know about it eventually. She can't stay quiet forever: five minutes is about the limit. Robin wants people to know it's okay to say things, do things, and want things -- at least, it's certainly okay for her. Anyone want to argue?
She's arguably the one classic DAW in the cast: on the show to see how much fame she can get out of it -- but at the same time, she's very much there to win. As the one with the most recognizable motivations, she was one of the easiest characters to write. But it also means she has to figure out that the world doesn't revolve around her -- and that takes a while. Even so, she'll still claim at least minor satellite status, and she'll work on getting more...
Gary Watson: 49, IRS agent, Washington D.C. (reassurance, steadiness, presence, father figure)
'He's here to help, but he has a tendency to reopen the wound so he can get some proper stitches in. When you're the father, everyone else becomes the child. Gary doesn't look directly across so much as slightly down, and it's going to be a problem.'
The Chorus pins it down before Alex ever says it: Gary is the dad. In this, he has a lot of people to look back on, from Rodger on up. As Phillip is Haraiki's moral center, Gary stands as Turare's (and they mirror each other in their religious views). Even Gardener, who sees him as a total jury threat that he has to get rid of eventually, is willing to confide in him to some degree. Just about everyone confides in Gary: that's what he's there for. This actually gives him a huge edge in the game, as he has a very good picture of what's going on at any given time -- unless someone's deliberately going for an end run around him, as Gardener manages with Mary-Jane's blindside.
He stands more in opposition than reflection: some of the family aspects Alex was denied. Gary does want to be something of a father figure to Alex, starting with the alliance -- but that evolves into wanting to give her someone she can trust. He actually recognizes her not telling him about the idol as a test and stays with her anyway instead of pulling the typical show move of storming out in anger: now that's steadfast. Hopefully it made the moment when he pulled out his jury question and pushed all the more surprising. There was at least one second where it felt like I was on the edge of a reader revolt...
Gary's another one of those people you can't let anywhere near the endgame: if there's someone who's really offended the jury next to him, then he could be far too easy a vote. Even so, there's a bit of an edge to him that doesn't come out too often. Like Trooper, he's in a struggle to deal with a job that can wreck you emotionally the moment you let your guard down. (I think this is part of what draws Connie to him: Gary doesn't have that core darkness inside, but he's been close enough to it that he's picked up a little of the aura.) He genuinely cares about people as people, but he has an authority problem. Namely, as a father and an IRS agent, he is one -- and he can get trapped into thinking his way is the one that needs doing.
My mental image of Gary doesn't quite go along with Morgan Freeman -- he's a little fuller in body and face, for starters -- but I can see Morgan doing some of the voice work for an animated version.
Thomas Gardner: 38, personal trainer, Ann Arbor, Michigan. (strong-willed, internalizes, antagonist, rationality vs. emotion)
'Is one of those people who lives by the idea that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem -- and is very willing to let you know that he's just identified you as being in the second half of the equation.'
Y'know, the more I think about it, Phillip was the only one who could get away with calling him 'Tom'...
Gardener gives Alex an enemy within her own tribe, one she ultimately has to work with. He and Gary are the ones who catch on to Alex's game potential, with completely different reactions to it: Gary decides to go along for the ride and Gardener realizes that for the sake of his own game, he needs this one out of his tribe soon. Or, for preference, 'now', but no one else will break that promise because what's the harm in letting her ride through one vote? Trina's been weaker in the challenges anyway...
He reflects Alex more closely than either one is willing to admit: two strong-minded, intelligent, stubborn people who have their own ways of testing those around them. (He's also more than a little emotionally damaged himself after the separation: there's a lot of self-blame in him.) Gardener pushes: it's what he does for a living. He wants to find out where you break and then he wants you to lift another ten pounds on top of it. You don't freely get respect from him: you earn it and you'd better be willing to earn it every day, because it can be a short-term commodity.
In his way, he's a tremendous player. He has to overcome people being nervous about his own physical potential (focused, but powerful in select areas -- Trooper and Tony are actually the greater challenge threats) while using the abrasiveness of his personality to make himself not be a jury threat -- and hope the muscle man stereotype leads people to downplay his brains, the same way they dismiss Alex based on her build. He puts all his skills together to play one incredible game -- but misjudges Alex in the end, believing she has to hate Connie so much that the Keith rule is guaranteed to be in effect.
Gardener doesn't really have contestants to draw his full archetype from: while others have had aspects of his abilities and personality, the totality is slightly unique. He's the sarcastic, slightly overbearing grumpy leader who can make all of those qualities play into his leadership. If things are going right, then you're never entirely sure where he stands. (There's a little bit of foreshadowing in his saying that no one on Turare would break tribal faith and then being the one who makes it work.) And ultimately, outside the game, he would be right behind you -- but this is the game...
Connie Lastings-Adams, 42, housewife, Westhampton, New York. (formal, superiority complex, mother figure, conniving)
'Her most absolute need is to elevate herself. Connie has to look down on people, must be more special than them in some way. If she's not better than most of those around her, then she loses everything about herself. She has no problem with equals -- but she can't exist without inferiors.'
Connie actually draws a small part of her inspiration from a troll the board once had -- one who didn't like the DAW titles, got highly offended, and invoked her presidential ancestors to scare everyone into capitulating with her desires. Add a strong (and distorted) religious background, and Connie starts to materialize. As implied in #9, Joanna also contributes to her origin: what if you had someone just as fanatical, but willing to take the small things in order to reach the large one?
She and Alex are closer to being mirrors of each other than either one would ever want to think about: they share an anger at the core, dismiss things they don't like by seeing them as stupid, and there's a chance that they both may need someone to hate. (They're also both aware of the power of words and images when used as weapons.) Alex throwing the burning plastic line back at Connie felt like a disturbing moment to me when I wrote it: there are ways in which they're very much alike. But -- Connie believes, Alex thinks. It's actually in their speech patterns now and again. And the instant you move outside Connie's beliefs, you might as well stop existing -- ask Phillip about that one.
Connie is about the power of belief -- not just what you choose to see in others, but what you decide about yourself. Connie believes she's the hero -- ultimately the tragic one, with the hordes of outsiders trying to shatter her life -- and keeps thinking that right up until she starts seeing the reactions to her actions and edit. And even then, it can't possibly be her fault. One would get rid of the other in the end -- and one would break down.
Her role as villain is a strange one. In her own way, she's a victim: Edward found someone who was fairly vulnerable and with the right potential tendencies, then did most of the work. She's also not a total bigot as most people define them: Connie doesn't care about the color of your skin, she wants to know what's in your heart. (As arose in the Bar one night, Connie as an Islamic would be just as radical -- but she'd also be defending any non-natives on the road to Mecca, insisting that background didn't prevent people from finding the Quran's truth.) But she knows what she believes -- knows it beyond any possibility for doubt. Such people are dangerous...
Okay -- before we get to the major one, the rest of the island's cast...
Jeff Probst, 44, reality show host, (originally) Wichita, Kansas. (control, struggle, neutrality, silent empathy)
'Either he's himself or this falls apart. And since it's so hard to know who Jeff really is...'
Jeff was a nightmare.
As the only person anyone knew in the cast, Jeff had to be one very crucial thing: recognizable as Jeff. I already had a Jeff-voice I pull out when using him in episode summaries: tired, sarcastic, seen it all and sick of most of it, demotivated to the point where a contestant's on-screen death might at least get his attention for five minutes. It was obviously not going to work here. There were things Jeff could do when he was off-camera for a few seconds, and bits he might say which we've never heard from him before. I could even have him not say some things: 'the decision is final' is missing from the season with the idol in near-constant play, and he makes fun of his own vote recapping early on. But he still had to be Jeff all the way through.
As I see his progression throughout the series, Jeff starts out as just a little bit bored. It's a different island, it's a new cast, but it's the same old game and he's pretty much convinced of how things are going to play out. Bring them in and let's get it over with. The slowly-increasing strangeness starts to get his attention, as does the growing realization that he's never dealt with a group quite like this before, and it all brings him back to his game -- but at the same time, he has to fight to keep control in a way he hasn't had to since Borneo. He's enthralled by the possibilities of the season, and sees the ratings coming back before anyone else. But it's a hard fight for him to keep things from self-destructing, and there's a couple of times when he's openly struggling to hold everything together.
I tried to give Jeff a partial reversion at the Councils: he listens, he asks leading questions, but he's not exactly pointing at anyone while coming very close to yelling 'Vote that one out, damn it!' He's the host, he's neutral, and he's the ringmaster -- but his role as Player #17 isn't one that lets him get a vote any more. I wish I'd been able to do more with his sense of humor: if you've seen him off the show (as with Celebrity Blackjack), you know he can be very funny when he's away from the beach -- but he was on it this time.
Where Jeff was concerned, #11 was the hardest episode to write. His questioning of Alex after the attack in #8 was a natural extension of his duties. Getting angry at the river, starting to lose a little bit of his own control -- that was the big push. (The rivalry scene with Phil was just going for comedy: after all, we don't know how they feel about each other. It would be kind of interesting if I'd accidentally gotten it right... ) Catching him laughing in #4 was fine: eventually, he was going to get hit by a joke he couldn't resist. But Jeff arguing and starting to realize things were out of his hands... separate issue. It felt like it worked out, but it took a while before I was willing to bring him that far.
Jeff ends the season revitalized and ready to tackle the next few islands -- but I think he knows he may have just seen the peak. Since the second season, it's always about trying to recapture what came before -- and now they have to start again...
(He was always designated as Alex's mystery correspondent. Having him also be the Sucks Riddlemaster was a last-minute addition. It had to be someone on the crew, and the thought of Jeff engaging in a little semi-sadistic amusement with the Internet fans was just too good to resist.)
Azure, age unknown, professional tracker and companion, Yanini, Society Islands (loyalty, mystery, friendship, dependence)
There's a reason pet therapy is out there.
Azure is a partial solution to mysteries that just makes the whole of the puzzle worse. The eyewitness who may know everything crucial to the story and can't tell anyone any of it: her own reflection on Alex. She is the one person Alex can count on throughout the game: someone she can turn to when everyone else leaves her. Her job, besides providing bits of comedy and emotional relief (plus the occasional threat -- look out: she's got a loaded parrot!), is to be there. No matter what happens, Azure will not desert Alex. She also flips one of the subthemes in a minor way: Azure is Alex's first chance at being a parent.
She's not that incredibly talkative for a parrot. Part of that is her strong training: she generally speaks on cue and only rarely because she happens to feel like it. A great deal of her general silence is to give the moments when she does speak greater impact. If Azure is talking, there's generally a reason for it -- even if that reason is just to break Jeff's composure for a few seconds...
Julia: The idea of keeping confessional assignments fairly constant came early and worked with the Survivor Gold concept: let's see what they're really thinking! (Connie got at least one disgust-based switchoff.) The selected unedited confessionals gave the premium subscribers a major window into the game -- depending on which confessionals were selected. Given that Alex tended to keep things quiet and she was going to be a major player in the season, a number of hers made the program. Julia gave her someone to talk to: a constant voice that could get a little more out of Alex than what was seen in central footage. Alex does loosen up a little in confessional. Slightly. Very, very slightly.
Giving her ties to the Race was another early idea. (Yes, it's her braid.) Because she essentially serves as Alex's self-questioning voice, she can ask things that Alex would never be able to ask herself. Most of that leads to evasion and denial, but it shows someone's asking. And from #11 on, she's very much on-camera as much as she is behind it. The conflict with the crew didn't end with Jake: it just changed focus a little. (And it's always present in some small form with Jeff.)
Cameron: Not much to tell here. Someone had to hit Jake. I can kind of imagine him dating Michelle...
Jake: A bomb planted early with hopes it would go off at the right time. Pay no attention to that remark Jeff makes in #8. I said, pay no attention...
Jake is a classic sociopath: it doesn't matter what I do (or don't do) to anyone else, because they're not real in any way... Naturally, nothing is his fault. Other people just get it wrong. All the time. He loves being on the show because it's just so much fun to see how the editing on his camera work can help destroy people. (He'd make a great paparazzi.) Jake had to be handled carefully: he's a threat, but he's not the most competent one on the planet. He may dream big, but the executions are a little on the small side.
Dietrich: I could not remember the name of the Australian-accented doctor.
Okay... time for the long one...
Alex Cole: 23, cartoonist, Haledon, New Jersey. (intelligent, repressed, damaged, bleeding)
'Look for the girl with the broken smile...'
Part of me so long-forgotten
and this feels like home...
Alex has her roots in anime.
There is a shot in one series I watched some time before beginning the season. It shows a young woman going into battle. She's about to risk her life. There's a good chance she's not coming back. And she might as well not even be there. The hands move, operate the controls. The voice gives the quiet commands necessary to coordinate efforts. The eyes -- watch. And that's all they do. There is no way to tell what she's thinking, if that's even anything at all...
Damaged. Badly. So much so that a fight for her life is just one more thing to do which gets her through the day. It's better than looking back at what brought her to this point.
Not a type we've really seen on a reality show before this.
Alex is ultimately a puzzle box, one that might want to be solved on some deep level, anything to let it all out -- but terrified of having anyone get that close. She has been systemically betrayed by just about everyone who could be a power in her life, far past the point where she's always waiting for something to go wrong. Give no one your full trust, always look for the ulterior motive because it's got to be a setup, try to figure out what others are doing before they do it to you, and whatever happens, don't start feeling. It's not personal, after all. You were just there to be attacked. Happens all the time.
The perfect contestant.
How does this come across on the test results, with Alex able to avoid some of the landmines? Intelligent enough to try and work through the game, there's something of a mystery element about her and that might lure in viewers, she might be able to kick rear in the more intellectual challenges, but there's absolutely no way to tell how she'd react emotionally because she doesn't seem to do much of that. Maybe she'd be an early boot and maybe she'd get through a few episodes -- but if nothing else, you could always try to get some of those all-important swimsuit shots. And the camera really seems to like her...
It's not as if they haven't brought in people who were a little off-center before. That's part of the appeal. There's one in every season. Sometimes there's several. (Shane, Judd, Joanna, Matthew... the names go on for a while.) For the tests the show can give, Alex can give the right answers -- and it's all they need.
The advantage in doing a season from first-person is that it gives the reader a real view inside the game, along with someone to root for (or at least follow -- as was noted several times during the season, Alex isn't always the easiest person to connect with). It's the story of a human being, not a DAW. We know what she knows, which leaves a lot of things in the dark. The Chorus can fill in some things -- but not all of it, and she's going to be lost in the fog of war on issues that are perfectly clear to the viewers. If it worked, it wouldn't be 'This is what it's like to watch.' It would turn into 'This is what it's like to be there.'
The downside: unless people were going to stay tuned for the extended view from the jury and any antics that might take place in this version of Loser Lodge, any main character was guaranteed to make Final Four. Third-person has the advantage there: anyone can go at any time. With first-person, the view has to stay centered within the game. In fact, for the real view, the main character would have to reach the Final Two. They could win or lose -- but they'd have to be in it all the way.
So this wasn't about the game destination, it was about the personal journey. Going from a place where nearly everything that should exist about you is gone or damaged (and not even missed any more) to one where you start coming back to yourself. Not healed, but healing. The game changes people: that's what Jeff keeps insisting on. Maybe it was time to have someone who really needed changing, for whom the game was the best and worst thing that could ever happen to her, frequently at the same time.
There are a lot of ways in which Alex is a very dark character. There are elements of human interaction that she has trouble understanding, things she doesn't want to understand. She has a remarkable capacity for convincing herself that something makes sense when it's actually tilted away from whatever's going on: the intelligent can talk themselves into a lot. There is a lot of psychological damage present in her psyche and it generally gets the controlling vote. For someone to get close enough to know and approve of her is her strongest dream: having someone close enough to hurt her is the biggest nightmare. Desire and fear are at constant war within her, and fear has an almost unblemished record. And at her deepest core, she wants a family -- but one where it's a free choice on both sides for taking her in and accepting the offer. Something she can't even admit to herself until the very end.
Cameras are drawn to darkness. Alex's eyes are just a little bit deeper-set than usual because she looks at the world from personal shadows. Maybe they're grey because of the storms inside: one of those things where I have to figure out what my subconscious was up to again. But she always watches, and the camera always watches her. Neither one may ultimately understand everything they're seeing.
Because Alex can see the game for what it is, she's a deadly player -- in limited ways. She can't make the emotional connections necessary for most alliances: either someone approaches her or she works with another out of practicality. Gardener is arguably better at the complete game, but Alex trumps him in focused areas. (As he said, no one else would have made the logical leap of switching off the idol and forced themselves to do it afterwards. As of this writing, no one in the actual game has figured it out.) She gets through the early game on a kept promise, a bit of weirdness (that would have let her stay anyway -- it was the same idol clue for a second tribal loss, no matter when it came), and some quiet deception that works her way in the end. Nearly doomed after the merge, swings things back to the tie, and then gets to sit back and worry, knowing her best hope is to be carried for a while -- but also knowing what that ride is doing to her and around her. Pick strategic points to strike, don't display power unless there's no other choice, never be arrogant, glide for short periods if it's at all possible, and always watch your back: Alex's path through the game, right there. She's not the strongest player the game has ever seen, but that's due to her game's missing aspects. In some ways, her internal havoc helps her: in others, it holds her back. For this version of the game, she was the right person at the right time, and you can only play the one that's in front of you.
Alex isn't always an easy person to root for or like. But if you're curious enough to see where she's going, then the first-person style works -- and maybe the season was a success after all.
Ye gawds, that rambled. Stoopid subconscious...