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S35 E5
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TV Show
S35 E5
October 25, 2017 at 09:00 PM EDT

Bigger Than the Game
Powerful. That’s the only word I can use to describe what happened with Ben here in the cold open. Of course, brevity has never been my strong suit so now I will proceed to use many more words to say, essentially, the exact same thing.

Look, I don’t think anyone is going to mistake me for having served a day in my life in the armed forces. I think about what those brave men and women have gone through and experienced, and I realize that I can’t even begin to comprehend it. I have no reference point whatsoever. That’s because I’m way too much of a coward and a chickens—. I’m not trying to be funny here. I’m being honest. I am. I’m a total wuss. Which is why I have the utmost respect for all those non-chickens—s who do risk life and limb to serve and protect our country. Their bravery astounds me.

And what so many of them have to deal with when they return is heartbreaking. Hearing Ben talk so openly and honestly about his experiences returning from combat was super impactful. “There’s things upstairs that are there forever,” he said after struggling upon hearing some burning bamboo popping noises that apparently reminded him of gunfire. “Coming back with that stuff — it’s hard, it’s lonely, and you feel like no one understands. Civilians have no idea what it’s like to be shot at and have people try to kill you. You can’t comprehend it without going through it.”

Now, you all know it takes a lot to get me choked up. I am an emotionless cyborg Vulcan of a gamebot who cares not for human feelings that merely get in the way of strategic reason, order, and logic. But damn if my eyes did not well up during this scene. I’m not saying I cried! Just welled up. But that is huge for me. Because Ben is absolutely right. I don’t understand. And this dude — and so many other dudes and dudettes (Jesus, I sound like Devon) — have to live with this every freakin’ day of their lives.

“My wife and kids have definitely saved me from my demons, my nightmares, and the past,” Ben went on. “I used to live in the past.” Wow. And to think that my wife and kids have to listen to me bitch and moan about stupid stuff like a Sunday football overrun throwing off my DVR’d season pass schedule. That’s, like, a major area of concern for me. And here’s Ben dealing with some actual real issues because he went over there and put his ass on the line for what he believed in. (For the record, I believe that cable providers should have the technology to automatically adjust DVR schedules on the fly due to live event overruns, but let’s try to stay somewhat on point, shall we?)

When Ben talked about the bigger picture of being able to serve as an example and show other veterans who have gone through war and depression and PTSD “that there’s a way to life outside of all that hell,” in all honesty — and I’m warning you that this is going to sound cheesy as all get-out — that made him already the winner of this season in my book. WHAT?!? I warned you it would be cheesy! I know! There’s probably a pool of congealed Velveeta developing on the corner of your screen right now, that’s how cheesy it was. But the sentiment remains. That was one of the most awesome and powerful moments I have seen on the show in a long time. Now let’s move on to discuss people wiggling around half-naked in the sand while pushing a ball with their heads like a group of poorly trained seals.

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Not All Rewards Are Created Equal
This reward challenge not only was insanely difficult, but it forced the contestants to look absolutely ridiculous. Which is to say, I loved it. You may remember this doozy from Millennials vs. Gen X as players were forced to slither in the sand with their feet tied together and arms bound at the side. This time they had to push a ball with their head though, and then finally at the end one person would have to shoot five balls in the basket. But who cares about the basket part — that’s boring. It’s all about those poor souls horizontal on the ground getting sand in places where they do not want it. And really, if we’re going to be honest, it’s all about Ryan. While attempting to push the ball with his noggin over a hill, the ball rolled back down and he had to start over. Then it happened again. And then it happened again. Terrible for him; fantastic for us.

But was it that terrible for him? His tribe — Soho or Solo or whatever they’re called — got last place, which means that they missed out on…coffee? Okay, first place was iced coffee and pastries plus coffee and teas, while second place was iced coffee. Look, I don’t drink coffee so I could not have cared less about this reward. But as I wrote last season, I’m not sure even if you do drink coffee that this is a reward you really want. You’ve already weaned yourself off the stuff, so why start back up? Plus, I choose to stubbornly ignore clinical research and cling to the unfounded belief that caffeine dehydrates you. Ryan even noted, “It’s gonna run right through us,” and I guarantee that will dehydrate you.

So, yeah, I’m going to downgrade coffee as an actual reward. Why dehydrate yourself in a grueling physical challenge just to dehydrate yourself even more by drinking the reward and then having to deal with the inevitable stomach acheand sugar crash after eating the pastries? (Spoken with true confidence from the guy writing from the comfort of his air-conditioned living room.)

My point is, you all know my feeling about throwing challenges. (I’m against it.) But like that time in Kaoh Rong when three people almost died playing for some freakin spices, sometimes it is worth calculating the risk vs. the reward. If the reward is coffee, is that really worth completely depleting your reserves of energy and stamina? It’s a question I would have asked myself had I been competing. I probably would have volunteered to either shoot baskets or sit this one out

That’s not being a quitter, but rather playing the long game. (Recap continues on next page)

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