Survivor

My wife loves Survivor. She loves it so much she tells people we love Survivor. This particular usage must be the Royal We, because I do not love Survivor. I will watch it with her, but I actually prefer the Amazing Race, where contestants have some control over their own destiny. Survivor actually distresses me, although I couldn’t really articulate why.

Last night was the conclusion of another riveting season. Actually, all the players were returning contestants, so it was better than most seasons. Some guy who had been in the back most of the time managed to build a large enough alliance to get into the final three, pleaded that he was there to win for his family, and won a million dollars. He won one challenge.

I was incensed that he won, as he had minimal accomplishments. I thought the whole “for my family” speech was pandering to the jury. My wife was very pleased he won, since she liked him.

It’s today’s Corporate America in a nutshell, and that’s my problem with Survivor – it’s just too close to my work life to be enjoyable.

I’m hoping the producers originally envisioned a true contest of strength and endurance, where the cream would rise to the top, and the most powerful would be rewarded with riches. Assuming that a TV producer had ever read Darwin (a leap of faith on my part), the strong would survive, by natural selection. This is a good theory.

Here’s what actually happens each season on Survivor:

A bunch of random people are placed in a relatively high-stress situation somewhere in a remote location. They are not truly random, since the producers choose them ahead of time, and there always seem to be patterns. It’s almost like there were quotas to fill. There will be a big tough guy, an pretty boy,  a nerd, a slightly crazy woman, a proud ethnic woman, an overly-sensitive guy, an old guy, a Mother Earth woman, someone with a secret, and a few others. The “random” people are placed on teams.

After a couple of days of assessing each other, some of the rather weak performers start to band together and methodically wipe out the stronger performers, simply because that’s the only way they will remain in the game. They swear loyalty to each other, but will switch allegiances whenever necessary, just to stay alive. If their friends are sacrificed, so be it. There are always one or two incompetents who manage to stick around week after week, just because they are no threat to anyone, even if they are an incredible annoyance to the people who actually know what is going on. Someone thinks he is in charge, but everyone is actually working behind his back to destroy him.

The truly weak are kept around because at the end, in theory, the best player of the few left will be crowned the winner. So, rather than surrounding yourself with strong players, you select weak players, since that makes you look stronger.

Each week, all of the contestants are required to complete a task which has no apparent actual value other than it was the task assigned. One of the teams will get rewarded based on how quickly they can do the task. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t master the task (except for losing the reward), since you will never have to do the task again. If you win, you get a reward and the other team gets told “I got nothin’ for you.”

After that, there is another random task, but this time, if your team loses, your team has to send someone home. There are hidden trinkets that you can find that can prevent you from going home, but only if you display the trinket at the proper time. In the end, some of the last ones who were vanquished are allowed to pick the winner out of the losers that are left.

It’s natural selection on acid.

It is also, my friends, the past thirty or so years of my life, except that on Survivor, nobody has to do annual performance reviews, mainly because they’re not out there that long. I’m constantly amazed I’m still here. I guess I’m just not a threat to anyone.

Holidazed

This is specifically written to make me feel better, because I’m about to have my annual panic attack. Read this, and you will probably understand why. This is all just self-reflection, and not designed to insult or offend anyone who may be mentioned or thinks they may be mentioned. So, apologies in advance, just in case.

I hate the holidays. I will admit that. I used to deny it, but even I realize I really dislike this time of year. This has been true for so long that my first wife warned my second wife about it while we were still dating, and I’ve been married to my second wife for fifteen years. I was never sure why, but I’m pretty sure I know now. I’m beginning to recognize some of the annual patterns, and they may have something to do with how I feel.

First of all, for anyone that is even tangentially connected to a sales organization, Christmas is really the end of  fourth quarter and the end of the year – when the sales guys are either going to make their quotas or not. Not making end of the year quota is bad, since reviews are coming up, and you’re about to get a number between 1 and 4 attached to you that is not a ranking (Really. No, it’s really not. It’s just everyone with low numbers is better than people with high numbers. But it’s not a ranking.) So, if you’re a technical resource like me in a sales organization, you can get called into anything that resembles a sales opportunity no matter how hopeless – and the hopelessness will be matched by the desperation of the salesperson. Unfortunately, their bonuses are riding on my performance, so they will expect me to work 80-hour weeks. I don’t get a sales bonus, and I know desperation when I smell it. Usually, once it is apparent that the sale is completely lost, someone will start suggesting that a visit on-site would save the day. The site will be in a remote area, prone to being snowed in, with crappy air service. The only customers available will have no purchasing authority.

I will begin crying at stupid things, especially commercials, starting at Thanksgiving. It may be that I’m really sentimental, it may be the crushing disappointment of never getting a pony for Christmas, it may be the realization that my extended family will probably never get together for an event again – no matter how much we talk about it, or it may just be I gave up drinking too soon in life. So, please just ignore me if I’m crying. It’s probably not you, and it will be over soon.

I will have my annual theological issues with the commercialization of Christmas. These feelings start at the Fourth of July when the first decorations go up. This then leads me to the realization that I’m quite possibly a really, really bad Catholic. However, I’m not especially welcome in the Church since I’m divorced and remarried. Or maybe I am welcome. It depends on whom you ask, and what you mean by “welcome”. Also, I have a fundamental issue with the Church hierarchy who lately seem much more interested in being popular with people and fixing global warming than actually saving souls, which I thought was their job. I understand politicians pandering to the masses, but the Church should be keeping people on the straight and narrow. So, trying to be religious this time of year is very difficult for me. The Catholic Church is a lot like most big corporations – there’s somebody in charge somewhere that has a vision of what should happen, but they keep hiring incompetents to implement the vision.

The Spousal Unit does not want to be home on Christmas. This has been true since her Mom passed away seven years ago. That’s fine, I can live with that. So, logically, we have to go somewhere. In 2009, for lack of better ideas, we went on a cruise, and survived – actually, it was fun. So, now, we take a cruise over Christmas. Interesting point – Christmas Week is the second most expensive week to cruise in the entire year (only New Year’s is worse, and one year, we had both holidays in one cruise.) So, as with anything you have been paying for since at least February, the expectations are high. Anything with high expectations is pretty much doomed, at least on some level, because the expectations amplify minimal imperfections – for some hilarious examples, just read the CruiseCritic website. Also, since the cruise and accouterments (airfare, hotels, excursions, drinks, souvenirs, pet sitters, new clothes, camera gear, insurance)  cost quite a bit of money, anything that can threaten it (work, injuries, pet issues, family issues, travel issues, possible divorce) is made that much worse.

Since we’re gone for Christmas, my family will want to have a Christmas gathering (much like the one the Spousal Unit is avoiding) some time before we leave, since nobody in my family wants to go on the cruise with us – the Parental Unit wants to stay home just as much as the Spousal Unit wants to leave. So, Christmas will be between the 12th and the 23rd and then again on the 25th. If the Spousal Unit’s family ever figures this out, I could end up with three Christmases a year, which is more than my son had as a child of divorce.

Now, ket’s look at what always seems to occur within a few days of Christmas, usually a week or so before – i. e. when I’m trying to close out work projects and get out of town for vacation. When most of this happened this week, I realized it was time to document it.

Some time during the week before we leave:

  • One of our dogs will have a minor to major medical issue. (This actually happens before most vacations in addition to Christmas.) This week, Ripley spent an $845 day at the veterinarian’s. So much for my bar tab on the ship. (On this day in 2011, Bubba crossed the bridge, so I am very glad Ripley is home in one piece, but I wish we didn’t have to spend almost a grand to find out he’s old and temperamental.)
  • The Spousal Unit or I (maybe both) will have a very painful, short-term medical issue that has the potential to derail the entire vacation. Last year, the Spousal Unit had stress-induced vertigo the night before we left that was so bad, I moved our flight eight hours later to give her time to recover (and pack). This year, I managed to slip on a pee puddle in a dark hallway and sprain my ankle. (Yes, pee puddle. The dogs don’t always wait until they’re outside.) I’ve almost finished limping.
  • Someone in the family will start a very distracting project that will then keep the Spousal Unit very distracted until the absolute last minute – to the point where I assume I will be sailing naked, and even though nobody said the project was actually her problem or that it had to be done before Christmas. My Parental Unit will have house repairs or insurance paperwork. Someone somewhere will be ill. Someone needs desperate pet advice, whether they know it or not. My sister-in-law will have some of the carpet in her house replaced. One of the dogs will have a new medication, which requires a sixteen-hour rewrite of the ten-page pet manual for the pet sitter. Something. (One year, it was an actual death, so carpets aren’t so bad.)
  • There will be a major crisis at work. I will be one of three candidates in the Universe that can solve this issue, even if it is not in my job description, my department or even my field of expertise. I will be the only one of the three available. It will blow over eventually, but it may be January before it’s fully resolved. Usually, because of the way annual budgets and finances are designed at work (“Fall Plan” starts in May and ends in February, if you’re lucky), there will be a wee question of whether I will have a job when I return. One year, I had a paper for a conference rejected and found out about it on the ship. So it goes. Then, they said, “No. You have to rewrite it. By Monday.” I redid the paper from my Spousal Unit’s aunt’s house via a T-Mobile hotspot we bought at Home Depot. (She didn’t have Internet access, but she did have a fax machine.)
  • The pet injury and family projects will be the number one, single most critical issues for the Spousal Unit, which make my work problems seem trivial in comparison to her, even if my work crisis is helping management figure out how best to phase out my own job. Having to hear about a Chihuahua’s possible ingrown toenail or how difficult it can be to choose tile while I’m trying to find an extra half million dollars somewhere or I’m patiently explaining for the third time why if a job is necessary in December, it’s probably still necessary in January tends to be slightly annoying. Possibly stressful. Just saying. Maybe it’s just me.
  • I will be told by at least one manager to “forget about work and enjoy your vacation.” I know this is a trap, because I just spent a week trying to figure out where to cut the budget. So, $250 for Internet access on the ship, and I need to watch my email.

On Christmas Day itself, I will not realize it’s Christmas, because we’ve already had the celebrations, I’m still stressed from work, and I will probably be snorkeling. On the bright side, there will probably be rum.

Some years, the calendar is particularly cruel, and I will have work days between the end of the cruise and the end of the year. That’s the case this year.

I don’t really know why I hate the holidays.