Lovable goofball or diabolical genius? The latest 'Survivor' winner discusses
The occasional model, actor and reality contestant doesn't sound very much like Fabio either.
But for some reason, Jud became "Fabio" within the opening minutes on "Survivor: Nicaragua" and the nickname stuck. It stuck for 39 days and it stuck as Jeff Probst read Fabio's name five times on Sunday (Dec. 19), making Jud the latest "Survivor" winner, perhaps one of the game's least likely champs.
Mocked, laughed at and underestimated, Fabio never made any strong alliances, but he also never made enemies. And when the game's snake-like power players had finished picking each other off and finally turned their attentions to Fabio, it was too late. Fabio won three consecutive Immunity Challenges and conquered the jury.
Lovable clown or stealthy, calculating genius? I chatted with Fabio on Monday morning. And although I wanted to call him "Jud," I just couldn't do it.
Full interview after the break...
HitFix: Congratulations, Fabio! So how'd you celebrate last night?
Jud "Fabio" Birza: Oh man! Of course we had our red carpet, kinda crazy pictures. That was a lot of fun. And then we went over to Benry's bar, The Parlor in Hollywood, and we had our family and friends there. It was cool, man. They made me go home at like 2 o'clock, because I had to be up at 4 o'clock again today. I slept for about 25 minutes.
HitFix: If I'd asked you yesterday morning to give me your guess on how the vote would go, what would you have told me?
Fabio: I honestly, judging from my experience at the final Tribal Council, I thought I was gonna win by more than one vote. I think some of the people on the jury did, too. I think some of them were like, "Holy s***, we didn't know it was that close." Yeah.
HitFix: So what do you attribute that closeness to?
Fabio: Well, Alina told me that she wanted Chase to get a few votes, so she voted for him. Brenda did the same thing, apparently. She wasn't decided on who she was going to vote for until she got up there. They all communicate at Ponderosa and they have a game plan and it sounds like some people just deviated from that. It could have been bad. If Sash had gotten a vote? If Sash had gotten NaOnka's vote or something, I would have been dunzo.
HitFix: Were you a big "Survivor" fan before this?
Fabio: I wasn't. I'd seen a couple different seasons and I'd always enjoyed it. I'd always understood it and thought that it was a pretty cool concept and so when the casting lady hit me up, I was like, "Dang, you know what? I bet you I could do that." I was thinking about my theater training and my personality and the physicality and everything that goes with it and I was like, "Dude. I have to go do this, because I think I can win."
HitFix: So you didn't know that your particular strategy was, for the most part, not one that's been tremendously popular/successful in the past?
Fabio: Well, I know that JT won it by being everybody's friend. I don't exactly know his strategy, but everybody always wants somebody to lie and cheat and manipulate. They want conflict and all of that. I just thought it was funny that people thought that was the best way to win the game. I can say that, but there was really only one way I could have gotten into the Final Three and that was with the Immunity run. So you can have that Nice Guy strategy, but nobody's gonna let you close to it.
HitFix: How did you know the exact moment it was time to click off that "Nice Guy" switch and flick on the "High Intensity" switch?
Fabio: When I got pulled away from my mom and had to go back to camp and hadn't had a meal in 14 days. I was just thinking about all of these things. I was like, "F*** those guys. I'm not letting them win, dude." Seriously. I felt like most of the Jury wanted me to win. I knew Benry wanted me to win. I felt a responsibility. I knew I had to.
HitFix: And was flipping that switch easy?
Fabio: It wasn't easy. It was crazy. I just did it. It didn't feel like me, the way that I was just flying through those last puzzles. And I knew that the very last challenge was going to be a focus-balance-type-deal. So I really tried to get prepared for that, just really trying to keep myself calm and composed, you know, not dropping a puzzle piece and then frantically not seeing it. Yeah, I shifted gears. It was good.
HitFix: One of the things you said on Sunday that I thought was fascinating was that you're very conscious of the vibes that you put out there and the way people perceive them. I'd love to hear some more about that and how it played into your strategy right from the beginning...
Fabio: Yeah. Well, if you're in a conversation and you're listening to how somebody's talking to you and you can get a feel for their point-of-view, whether they know they're expressing it or not, you know? If you're looking for certain things. Yeah, so say I'm giving off a super-goofy vibe and I'm having fun with somebody and I have them in that mode, to where they're not even thinking about game strategy, they're not even doing that, and then they let something slip or whatever and I'm still looking for it, even if it seems like we're just goofing around, just making a mental mark of behaviors over the 39 days.
HitFix: How did the acting training work its way into that strategy?
Fabio: I know myself very well. I know all of the different sides and when to use them. Also, the way that you communicate with people, the tone of voice that you use for certain people... My mom always says, "Jud, you've gotta talk to people in a tone of voice that'll get them to do what you want or to help you out." It's not as in a manipulative way, but just being aware. So many people just don't understand how they're rubbing somebody the wrong way. You know? I'm sorry... I'm almost fried!
HitFix: I totally understand, man. I was just talking Sash and Chase and they agreed that if your Tribe had lost the game's very first Immunity challenge, you'd have been voted out first. Did you realize that you were in that kind of trouble?
Fabio: Yeah, I thought so. I knew I was a little crazy and a little intense, or whatever. There were a couple different interviews where I was like, "If I can get past the first three or four days, I think I'm gonna be good." I call it the Jimmy T Effect, man. He was like, "I just didn't get a chance to really... whatever." He's like, "My humor wasn't received well." He's still a positive dude, but I almost got that effect. And Shannon even said it. I don't know if they showed it, but he was like, "Man, Fabio. You went from going home first to going home last." So yeah, I was away of that. And Alina at some point, I was climbing a tree and after I almost fell, she was like, "Oh my God. You sold me now." I was gonna go home until I started making them laugh, I guess.
HitFix: Can you isolate things you were doing wrong in those first few days? Or did they just start to get you?
Fabio: I don't want to say I was intimidating them, because I wasn't intimidating in a game way, but I was just being a strong character, dude. Yeah, but I knew that making people laugh and just having fun was going to be a big part of just keeping me around.
HitFix: Then at the final Tribal, both Sash and Chase made a big deal about the various votes where they said you were out of the loop, or you cam back confused. What's your interpretation of those circumstances?
Fabio: Dude. Alright. When I knew I was gonna be on the wrong side of a vote, I would listen to the game plans and sign up for it and I would still calculate all of the outcomes and where I would be sitting with the leftover people and I just always imagined the circumstances where I would still have friends on the other side. Like when Marty went home, they thought that I was left in the dark on that one, but I knew that if we didn't blindside Brenda, that it was gonna be Marty. It wasn't a secret. And the other ones where it was gonna be either Brenda or Benry and I was the swing vote, they tried to act like I was in the dark, because Benry pulled a quick one... Man, this is getting too wordy. F***, man. No, I always knew that I was safe. My name didn't come up once until Benry threw it up there to save his own ass. So I really didn't have anybody gunning for me.
HitFix: But did it feel constantly dangerous not having a core alliance of any sort that you were in? Or were you comfortable with floating on the outside?
Fabio: Yeah, I was comfortable with that. They ask you your strategy going into the game and I knew that a lot of it was going to be improv according to who you're dropped off with and all the variables that whatnot. I knew I was going to be good at adapting. I never got nervous. I would go through a whole little prayer-type-deal in my head just to keep myself relaxed and making rational decisions, not being like Chase asking everybody, "Did you throw my name out there?" In conversations, Chase would just walk up and say, "What are you guys talking about?" If I saw somebody talking and I'd be far away and I'd wave and I'd say, "Can I come over?" I'd give them a chance to stop talking or whatever. I think that that type of etiquette is smart.
HitFix: At the final Tribal, we saw you get very emotional talking about your mother and presumably that wasn't calculated, but did you see the way that you were impacting the jury members at that moment?
Fabio: Yeah, I knew it. There were a couple interviews before we go out there and I talk about what it means to manipulate somebody emotionally. People do it all the time, whether they're conscious of it or not. Yeah, playing on their heartstrings probably did help. I knew that NaOnka's mom was very important to her. She talked about it and her question was all about my mom. Yeah, I definitely... yeah.
HitFix: In that case, how calculated was it, letting yourself go in that moment?
Fabio: It was pretty good, you know. When you're in that state, it's easy anyway. It's like exhaustion/emotion and I just let it fly, dude.
HitFix: As a last question: The way you played this game was very particular, but if hypothetically you were going to come back for an All-Star season, would you be able to play the game a different way, since you wouldn't be able to sneak up on everyone?
Fabio: Yeah, I would almost have to. I think my game would naturally evolve. It would be my second time playing and other people would know who I was. Yeah, I think I would have to bust out another character.
HitFix: You've got other characters you can bust out?
Fabio: Oh yeah, yeah. Because a character, all it is is a filter. It's your point of view. Characters are all built around points of view, so I'd just have to go in with a different mentality and that would naturally change all the decisions I make and who I decide to play with. I played with some of the more aggressive people this time and I knew that Dan and Marty and Benry were going to be doing my Jury work for me and I didn't have to be like Sash, patting people on the back and being so obvious about it. I think that's a turn-off.
The season's third and second place finishers aren't happy with the Jury
It's hard to make it through 39 days of "Survivor" without making enemies and it's even harder to make it through 39 days of "Survivor" and lose without feeling at least some bitterness.
Case-in-point? Two consecutive seasons of Ranting Russell lamenting the flaws in the "Survivor" system that left him winless despite two seasons that he dominated on one restrictive level.
On a similar level, Chase Rice and Sash Lenahan probably dominated "Survivor: Nicaragua." They betrayed friends, manipulated alliances and when they came before the jury, they faced a lot of angry bootees, who preferred Fabio's social game and his late-stage physical dominance.
And, as you might guess, Sash and Chase are both convinced they should have won this "Survivor" season.
Our full morning-after conversation after the break...
The season's fourth and fifth place finishers discuss their 'Survivor' runs
It was the season's second episode and Holly was beginning to feel restless at the Ancients' camp. Unhappy and discombobulated and contemplating quitting the game, Holly stole Dan's $1600 shoes, filled them with sand and dropped them in the water. If not for the much-vaunted wisdom of Jimmy Johnson -- and her tribe's win in the next Immunity challenge -- Holly would have headed home.
Instead, Holly kept going. The Comeback Kid only got stronger, orchestrating several big power moves, positioning herself in a strong alliance and finding herself an unlikely member of the Top 5, next to the equally unlikely Dan, whose balky knees caused him to alternate between sitting out challenges and stumbling through other tasks. But despite a physical profile that would have gotten him voted out early in most seasons, Dan also made it all the way to the finale.
The last remnants of the original Espada tribe -- the "Old" in the season's "Old vs. Young" theme -- Dan and then Holly were both voted out in the first half of Sunday (Dec. 19) night's finale and, as luck would have it, the Shoe-Thief and The Man Who Brought $1600 Shoes on "Survivor" were paired in conversations with reporters the next day.
Click through for my full conversation with Dan and Holly...
HitFix: Let's start off with each of you explaining your final vote...
Holly Hoffman: Actually, walking into Tribal Council, my decision, I was actually going to vote for Sash. I thought that, strategically, Sash played a great game. He was always talking to everybody. He was making alliances with everybody. I thought he was definitely there to play the game. I really did. But after listening to what Chase said about how if he wins the million dollars, he's gonna give $100,000 to the charity for his dad, that just kinda hit me. I thought, "I've played most of the game with Chase and he was always there for me." I know sometimes he had a hard time, well, most of the time he had a hard time making up his mind, but I felt like I kinda owed it to him to vote for him and that's why I voted for Chase.
Dan Lembo: I voted for Fabio... I mean, the kid won three challenges at the end. You've gotta give him credit. There was that one challenge where we had to feel out the shield and I couldn't even remember one piece on that shield. How he did it, how he felt each piece and got them in the right place was just beyond me. He won the three challenges and I just think he deserved it.
HitFix: What do you say to that, Holly? Did Fabio deserve it?
HH: You know, he did. He did deserve it. I always say it's not how you walk onto the playing field, it's how you walk off. Look at how he finished. He's very deserving of this win. But at the same time, I also wonder, Did he start a little too late in the game? Was it luck? But it worked for him. He won a million dollars.
HitFix: Going the other way, Dan, you seemed rather angry at the final Tribal Council. Would you have been unhappy if one of the other two won?
DL: Absolutely. Yeah. I didn't like either one of them. Chase and I started off being really friendly and this and that. We spoke about cars, because I'm a NASCAR fan and he was a jackman with NASCAR. I'm also, which is a little wacky being born and raised in New York, I happen to big country music fan. I go to the Country Music Awards each year. So he and I, we spoke a lot, but I dunno... I just think Fabio deserved and he won it. Obviously we had enough votes to get him in.
HitFix: What did it mean for each of you guys being the last two surviving members of the Older Tribe?
HH: You know what? For me, it was a huge accomplishment. I felt like I had a great comeback. I had a really, really rocky start. I got out there and I double-guessed myself why I did this. I missed my family horribly. I had the meltdown...
DL: At my expense.
HH: Yeah... And I came back. So for me, it meant a lot to be the last woman standing and the last Espada member. Being in the Final Three would have been fantastic, but just being the last woman and the last Espada member was a great accomplishment for me.
DL: Listen, the fact that I got there? Everybody was, if you really look at it, there were people there 40 years younger than me. Fabio's 21 and I don't want to tell you how old I am. It was crazy. I was out there and I lasted so far and so deep with two bad knees and never ever sleeping outside. And I hated sand, as Holly said. It was tough. I've gotta tell you, it was really tough. But I just had to stay in there. I happen to be a people person and I think that's what kept me there.
HitFix: The game started out as being all about the Old vs. Young, but once the tribes merged, was that dynamic still a part of the game that you felt or was did it check out after the Merge?
HH: I feel like it checked out for me when I picked the blue rock and the tribes switched, because I made a better connection with the younger kids. I always felt from the beginning that I didn't really fit in with the Espada tribe. For some reason, there just wasn't a connection there for me. So I felt like my game switched when the tribes switched and I got the blue rock.
DL: Same with me, because I got really, really close with Benry and I also got pretty close with Chase. We'd talk about music and NASCAR. That was a gamer-changer. You go through this game and things happen and they just happen. Sometimes it's just the luck of the draw.
HitFix: Since you both brought it up, it's fitting that you guys are sharing time on this call. We're a long way past it, but how do each of you guys look back on The Shoe Incident now?
DL: It doesn't even bother me. I don't care. Holly's a good lady and she has a great family just like I do and s*** happens, you know? Listen, it's a tough game. I'd like to take you and put you out there and I'd like to see what you would do. Everybody thinks that a lot of the show is contrived, but it's not. You go out there and you don't know where your next meal is coming from. You don't know if you're gonna get that next rain. You're laying in the rain. Don't forget that Holly and I were in the rain for 20 days.
HH: Yup. Dan and I went the longest without a tarp.
DL: Yeah, 20 days without a tarp, because Marty, who proclaims to be a genius, the first day when we won that first challenge, instead of taking the tarp, he took a fishing pole. You know what he should have done with that fishing pole, right?
HH: And you know what? I had absolutely no reason to do that to Dan's shoes. Right at the beginning of the game, he really got under my skin. He was constantly bragging about how he has a Ferrari and he has a Hummer and these $1600 shoes and an $800 sweat and I was like, "What?!?" And he was constantly complaining about having sand on his feet and saying "This is not for me?" and he just got under my skin. Once you get to know Dan? He's a great person. But that's just the way he is. So strategically, I had no reason to do that to his shoes. I took his personal property and I needed to return it and that's why I gave him a pair of full quill ostrich boots and game them to him at the finale.
HitFix: You gonna wear the boots, Dan?
DL: Absolutely. Now I can stick my head in the ground like ostriches do.
HH: And the reason I decided on the ostriches is that Dan told me, when I apologized to him, he said, "It's really OK. I've got 20 more pair at home." So I thought that I'd better throw a pair of cowboy boots, ostrich, in there because he has to have a little bit of variety in his wardrobe.
HitFix: It's time to play with some hypotheticals. Holly, you first. Fabio doesn't win those Immunities. You make the Final 3. How do you beat Chase and Sash?
HH: Well, of course, Sash definitely made too many enemies, so I didn't think that he would get a lot of jury votes. Chase, I would have tried to convince them that look at how many people he turned on, like Brenda and Jane. But I think I could have convinced them, in a way, that I had a huge comeback. I was the person that had the meltdown on Day 5 and look where I went from there. That's how I would have tried to convince them. Also, I tried to convince two people to stay in the game. Who at that point in the game, when you have 11 days left, would try to convince people to stay in? Someone asked me, "Why did you do that?" and I said, "Why did Jimmy Johnson do it for me?" I wanted to give back what someone gave to me. That's why I was trying to convince them and say, like, "Hey Kelly Purple, this is gonna look a lot better if you get voted off instead of quitting the game." So that's probably how I would have pleaded my case to the jury about. And also, I really think giving up going to a Reward to get food and a tarp for the whole camp was a good gesture.
DL: It was a good gesture, but I think it worked against her. It was such a good gesture that you knew that people were really appreciative of what Holly had done. Sometimes in this game, when you do nice things and then everybody looks at it the other way and says, "Wow. Everybody's gonna vote for her when she gets to the Finals." When you're out there starving and all of a sudden somebody gives up their food for you, it goes a long way in people's memories.
HitFix: Dan, for your hypothetical... You made a big deal about how the best reason to keep you around was that nobody would have given somebody with all of your money the million dollar prize. But I assume that if you'd made it to the Top 3, you weren't just gonna get up there and go "Meh, I don't need the money." So what would you have said?
DL: Ha. What would I have said? I would have played on my knees. I would have played on what a nice guy I am. I would have played on never really voting anybody off, how I kinda went with it. I don't know. You know, when people talk at the jury at that time, they talk and they make their plea, I don't know how much of it is really scripted and how much it just comes out and you say whatever you're feeling in the moment. That's what happened when I told those three guys how I felt about them. I don't know. I couldn't tell you what I would have said.
HitFix: Dan, do you regret not at least trying to make some sort of counter alliance when it was you and Fabio and Jane against the Chase/Holly/Sash alliance? Why didn't you try to shift the power?
DL: You're right. You're 100 percent right. All of my friends who are avid watchers of the show, texted me immediately, "What are you, nuts? Why didn't you vote with Jane?" Listen: If you go out there for 37 days and you don't eat and you don't sleep, you think you're always thinking so clearly? No. You're not.
HH: What I didn't understand is that Jane said at Tribal Council, "Let's vote Holly off" and then she went and voted for Sash. So the whole thing just didn't make sense. I didn't understand it. I thought I was going home at that point. I was shocked, especially that Jane knew she was going to be voted to be voted out and... I take that back. She did say she went and tried to talk to them, but there was no way they would change their minds, but that was a total shock for me that they didn't vote me out.
HitFix: Leaving aside the million dollars, did you get the other things you wanted hoped to get from the "Survivor" experience?
HH: Absolutely, for me I did. When I applied to be on this show, I'd volunteered 16 years of my life coaching a swim team, running campaigns for my husband, I wanted to do something for myself. I wanted to do something challenging and I wanted to do something adventurous, so for me? I got the total experience.
DL: And I had no right being there, to be honest with you. They found me in a bar, which Holly didn't like, because she had to apply and I didn't have to do. I was in a bar having a martini and the next thing you knew, I did a video and I sent it in and I was on the show. I had no right being there, between my knees and my age. It was offered to me and I was not going to turn it down.
HitFix: You came in with plenty of aches and pains, but did "Survivor" make anything worse for you, Dan?
DL: Not at all. It probably improved my liver. It gave it 40 days to come back, without having a drink. I'm not kidding. When I came back, I went to the doctor. Besides looking emaciated -- I had lost all of my muscle tone and it was just crazy -- I went to the doctor and he said to me, "Dan, it's like you picked up 30 years." He said, "This is perfect and your triglycerides are perfect, this is perfect, your blood pressure is perfect." Well sure, I was 30 pounds lighter, 37 pounds, and I hadn't had a drink in 40 days.
HH: So physically this was good for you, Dan?
DL: It was fine. Well, I don't know. At the time it didn't seem so good to me, but when I went to the doctor... I guess there's a lot to be said bout not drinking, but who the hell wants to go through life without drinking?
HitFix: I love that as a place to close the interview!
From 'Outsourced' to 'Gravity' to 'My Generation,' Alan and Dan celebrate the year's worst
Happy Monday, Boys and Girls. Time for more year-end revelry on the Firewall & Iceberg podcast.
Last week, we listed some of our favorite TV episodes of 2010. This week? We went the other way and listed a ton of our least favorite shows of the year, a list heavily populated by shows that have blissfully been cancelled.
In addition, we gave a quick review/preview to "Perfect Couples," which is getting a special sneak preview on NBC on Monday (Dec. 20) night.
That makes the breakdown pretty simple:
"Perfect Couples" -- 00:01:00 - 00:10:30
TV's Worst of 2010 -- 00:10:30 - 01:01:10
And here's the podcast...
Latest 'Survivor' bootee discusses Chase and Jeff Probst's voting advice
Whether or not you've embraced her home-spun North Carolina wisdom, you can't deny that Jane Bright has been one of the most memorable characters in the slightly character-deficient "Survivor: Nicaragua" season.
Whether she was starting fire without flint, flipping on her fellow "old" contestants to help crush the cocky Marty/Jill alliance or sneaking off into the woods to devour a fish she caught, Jane found a way to become one of the season's most featured contestants.
And when she was voted out of the game -- betrayed by cautious Sash and Holly and spineless Chase -- she left with ample spirit, repeatedly dousing the campfire, warning Chase he was no longer welcome in North Carolina and ranting up a storm at Tribal Council.
I chatted with Jane yesterday and got her feelings about Chase, secretive fish-eating and whether she was, as many contended, unbeatable in a Jury situation.
Even 'Hot in Cleveland' fans may be slightly confused
Is Betty White the new Piper Perabo?
After the inevitable silliness of Tuesday's Golden Globe TV nominations -- Piper Perabo! Scott Caan! Jennifer Love Hewitt -- I settled into Thursday morning's Screen Actors Guild Award nominations expecting to see a little sanity restored. Instead, the SAG voters managed to do what I never would have thought possible: On several levels, they out-crazied the Golden Globes.
Congratulations, I guess?
There are a couple different levels of crazy at work if you look over the SAG Award nominations. Those thoughts are after the break...
Cruelty, backstabbing and strategic laziness, all brought to you by Sprint
There are only two remaining episodes of "Survivor: Nicaragua" and it feels as if we still have a lot of contestants remaining. Or maybe it's just my feeling that if Dan is still in the game, it ought to be very, very, very early in the season.
Click through for the full recap of Wednesday's (Dec. 15) "Survivor"...
Dan and Alan talk Golden Globes, 2010's best TV episodes and 'Dexter'
Happy Tuesday, Boys & Girls. It's time for another installment of the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast.
Some of us have been up since 5 a.m. covering the Golden Globe nominations. But I'm well aware that some of you have been up since 5 a.m. because that's what your actual jobs require on a daily basis. OK. No more complaining.
This week's podcast is divided into three segments. In the first part, Sepinwall and I discuss the highs and lows of the Golden Globe nominations. In the second part, we pay tribute to some of the year's best TV episodes. Then we talked a bit about Sunday's finale of "Dexter," which Sepinwall thought was brilliant.
Anyway, the breakdown:
Golden Globe nomination blowback -- 01:35 - 21:40
2010's Best Episodes -- 22:00 - 56:00
The "Dexter" finale -- 57:30 - 01:06:10
And here's the podcast...
What happened with Jordan and Lumen and Quinn and Deb?
Sepinwall will probably do his reaction to Sunday's (Dec. 12) "Dexter" finale on Monday morning, so I view this post as nothing more than a placeholder til he gets his analytic groove on tomorrow.
If you've been reading Alan, you'll know his increased annoyance with the direction "Dexter" has headed this season and how closely it mirrors the direction that "Dexter" manages to head each and every season. I highly doubt that this finale will have changed his mind. You either love "Dexter" and its very familiar rhythms or you figure the show should have ended after Season 2. Or I guess a third category of viewership would be one where you marvel at how the show manages to lather-rinse-repeat-and-repeat-and-repeat in what wouldn't seem to be a narrative that would sustain such a high-wire act each and every year.
I'll confess that, more often than not, I fall into the latter category. Every season pushes Dexter Morgan to the brink of capture and then every season allows Dexter to squirm out, while nearly every season has ended with Dexter learning a Great Big Lesson About Himself, usually one that gets explained in conversation by the season's Big Bad and in interior monologue by Dexter. "Dexter" is a show that likes to leave you guessing on its seasonal thematics for weeks at a time, but darned if it doesn't like to spell everything out in its finales.
I don't think I'm gonna do a full-on recap... Perhaps a little discussion, a personal query and then some random thoughts on the season... That'll be after the break, where I can spoil things...
ESPN's doc franchise wraps up on Saturday with a tale of the SMU scandal
It seems hard to believe, but by my count, Thaddeus D. Matula's "Pony Express" will be the 30th and final film in ESPN's ambitious "30 for 30" documentary franchise when it airs on Saturday (Dec. 11) night.
Bill Simmons has already announced -- via ESPN Chat, naturally -- that "30 for 30" will continue in some form, not as a regular series, but as a brand attached to certain documentaries that match the franchise spirit. [Perhaps that will include Alex Gibney's film about Steve Bartman and scapegoats in sports, which was delayed and ultimately bumped out of the "30 for 30" rotation.]
Maybe "30 for 30" hasn't *quite* lived up to what I hoped its potential might be when I got the first four screeners in the mail last year. But maybe my expectations were raised too high? A slew of corporately produced, anonymously directed installments near the homestretch seemed foreign to the objectives of a series that also employed names like Barry Levinson, Ron Shelton, Steve James, Albert Maysles and Barbara Kopple. And then one of the series' biggest names -- Oscar nominee John Singleton -- deposited the series' one *true* stinker, a love letter to Marion Jones that canonized a marginally repentant cheater.
In the balance, though, this was a pretty great thing ESPN did, yielding a high volume of well-made, discussion-worthy sports documentaries into a marketplace that definitely had an appetite for such things.
Part of me wishes that "30 for 30" could have wrapped up with "The Greatest That Never Was," closing on a peak. "Pony Excess" is middle-of-the-road stuff. But as with the rest of the the middle-of-the-road "30 for 30" films, it's still worth watching.
Click through for a brief review of "Pony Excess" and then my rankings for the "30 for 30" documentaries...