ship of fools, island of clowns

Watching Survivor: Cook Islands last night gave me a sudden ken for William Golding's Lord of the Flies: there he was, a real-life incarnation of Piggy, being abused by a whole gang of Jacks. And while Jonathan didn't receive the heavy-rock-to-the-skull treatment, the ritualized social equivalent was intended as no less hurtful when he was unanimously repudiated and cast out by his 'Aitutonga' tribe.

What a spectacle it was, this tribe so glutted with vitriol and self-righteousness. And this in a game where everyone (save two of them) gets it in the end, usually by way of betrayal, usually square in the back. Yet even from this kind of Machiavellian environment there still has to be a 'villain'.

Jonathan was a villain because he was told so, over and over again, by the players he had 'betrayed' when he flipped to the better-positioned faction. While there were a couple of adult-sounding but clichéd metaphor devices in use ('cancer' and 'rat' being the front-runners), these upstaged players used just about every maneuver in the schoolyard book of antics: name-calling, mocking, snubbing, isolating. By the end he was just a leper with really blue eyes.

Certainly, Jonathan did himself no favours. After switching voting blocs he needed to be pleasant and invisible. Instead, feeling that he had nothing to be ashamed of, he stood his ground, arguing with the little minds (at one point he characterized them as 'clowns'). Even more damaging was the aspect of his persona that relished in his surroundings and embellished his circumstances (enjoying a food reward too much, for example), giving people an excuse to call him arrogant. And then he was older than the rest of them, which is always (at least on television) a mortal sin.

Lying is the unofficial currency on Survivor; still, play the game the way it's advertised and the losers will hate you. And while Jonathan was not a bad player (indeed, he was more strategically daring than most), he was simply too exposed.

Three awards go out for particularly abominable behaviour:

1) Pavarti (and by extension, Adam). How nice it is to be the vindictive birthday girl every day, deciding who gets to come to the party, and who will ride the pretty pony.

2) Jeff Probst. After one particularly brutal round of name-calling, he asked Jonathan if he was "learning anything about himself". Once again, the diminutive host could not project even the veneer of fairness, so badly did he want to be with the cool kids.

3) Yul. The popular decision to boot Jonathan will turn out to be a very poor tactical one. With Jonathan around, all Pavarti and Adam could do was think revenge. Now they have some free time on their hands, and they will use it to try to turn someone in Yul's alliance (the previews suggest Ozzy) and otherwise make life difficult.

Yul will still probably win, and while this is the least of all the bad outcomes, I'd still like to see him suffer a little for prostrating himself before the Poor Little Rich Girl.


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