Miami has come down with an acute case of Cagayan envy.
All it took was one episode of Survivor: Cagayan for residents of the Philippines province to fulfill a long coveted, sadly elusive Miami fantasy — boot David Samson off the island.
Samson’s very short stint as a Survivor contestant was a condensed version of his way-too-long tenure as president of the Miami Marlins. Except on Survivor, fellow tribe members get to vote on whether they must abide Samson and his scheming ways.
Samson, 45, was first among 18 contestants to be jettisoned from Palaui Island as another season of the CBS reality program got underway on Wednesday evening. His quickie expulsion only reminded beleaguered folks back in Miami that we’re stuck with a harsher kind of reality. On this show, we don’t get a vote.
The Survivor contestant, describing his own fantastic attributes, had been unabashed about how he had bamboozled the folks back home. In the bio the Marlins president created for Survivor promotional material, under the heading, “personal claim to fame,” Samson bragged, “Got local government in Miami to contribute over 350 million dollars to a new baseball park during the recession.”
David was way too modest. Calculate the interest on the stadium construction bonds Miami-Dade taxpayers must pay and Samson’s “personal claim to fame” amounts to $2.4 billion.
Of course, he and his political allies would never have considered holding a referendum to allow voters to decide whether they wanted to commit billions in public dollars to build the Marlins that gleaming white baseball palace in Little Havana. If the public had gotten a say, we’d have booted David and his lousy deal right off the island.
Unlike us poor lackeys back in Miami-Dade County, Samson’s fellow tribe members, roughing it in the jungles on Palaui Island, had the blessing of democracy.
The episode began with cameras panning over 18 contestants dressed in the kind of athletic and outdoor garb one might expect for an adventure in the tropical bush. Except for David. Surely it must have been the mischief-minded producers, chuckling to themselves, who thought it would be a great joke to outfit their unlovable high-powered baseball exec in preppy boy khaki pants, button down Oxford cloth shirt, a navy blue blazer with a Survivor scarf wrapped around his neck like an ascot. Samson didn’t do much to repair his bumptious image when he corrected a companion, “Just for the record, the jacket doesn’t match the pants, so it’s not a suit.”
Suit or not, the outfit was apparently enough to hoist him into a leadership role. Host Jeff Probst told him, “David, because of your jacket, evidently, you were selected as the leader of this group.”
Thus our David was deemed head man of his six-person team, which was dubbed “Brains,” for reasons that were never quite apparent. Marlins fans immediately recognized the team president’s patented leadership style. Within moments, deciding which team members should be a likely candidate for elimination, Samson picked the tallest, brawniest guy of the bunch, the one contestant most physically able to help his companions in team competitions. David ordered him into temporary exile.
Under tribe leader David, his team entered the first competition with the rival teams, Beauty and Brawn. Brains offered up a performance best described as Marlinesque. “It is unbelievable how far behind they are,” Probst said of Samson’s squad, giving play-by-play commentary as Brains faltered on the obstacle course. “An absolute falling apart of a tribe three days into Survivor. Whatever brains they had clearly evaporated 72 hours into this game.”
Probst pronounced the showing by Samson’s team as “one of the worst performances out of the gate ever.”
In Miami, it was just so much déjà vu. Here was the same old team leader who had promised the public that with new taxpayer-financed digs, the baseball team would fill its roster with top talent. But in 2012, after just one season in the new stadium, he traded away the best, priciest players and returned to the Marlins to the team’s familiar status of fielding one of baseball’s more meager payrolls. He explained “that we found a way to possibly, in one fell swoop, get a whole lot better.”
The following season, Samson’s notion of “a whole lot better” translated into the loss of 100 games.
Not that anyone in South Florida was much surprised by Samson’s mendacious ways. This was the organization that had cried to county politicians that the team was losing so much money, playing in a football stadium in Miami Gardens, that they could not possibly contribute more than $155 million to the $634 million (before interest) cost for a new stadium. Except that Deadspin.com later published secret, internal Major League Baseball records showing the Marlins had actually netted $48 million, thanks to the leagues profit-sharing policies, over the two years before Samson came begging for public dollars. (Samson, caught lying to the public, called this a “crime,” referring to the Deadspin revelations, not his deceptions.)
Nor can Miamians forget that oh-so-telling moment when Samson revealed his contempt for the chumps he had hoodwinked into paying for his new arena. “I don't have to hold back now that the stadium is built,” he confided to the Beacon Council in 2012. “We're not the smartest people in Miami. If you're in this room, you're instantly in the top one percent.” Those of us relegated to the lower 99 percent, the people he regards as stupid, might relish a few moments on a desolate island with David Samson.
Samson entered into the tribal council in Cagayan sure that a majority would follow his leadership in the elimination vote and oust fellow tribe member J’Tia, a nuclear engineer. He whispered to the camera, a message for J’Tia, “In the real world I may hire you. But in this world, not tonight.”
Former Marlins managers Joe Girardi and Fredi González, both fired under David’s regime (and now managing, respectively, the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves) could tell J’Tia that getting dissed by Samson amounts to a damn fine compliment.
Despite his plot to undermine his rivals, it was Samson, not J’Tia tossed off the island. After all, she was only bossy and unlikeable. Samson was seen by his island companions as downright untrustworthy. Family connections that keep him employed in Miami did him no good in the Philippines.
Miami could only watch his banishment from Cagayan with wistful longing. If only we had a vote.