19 March 2017

My Two Days With Eliza Orlins (Part I)

…and the days that led up to meeting her were nothing short of exhilarating.

For those who don’t know, Eliza Orlins was on Survivor: Vanuatu and Survivor: Micronesia—Fans vs Favorites. Survivor is my favorite TV show of all time. And before you roll your eyes at someone whose favorite TV show is a reality-competition program, I’d like to say, “Fuck you!” I read highbrow literature, just so you know, like, um, Colson Whitehead book covers.

Let’s go back to over four months ago when, in early November, my friend Roger tweeted for Eliza to include Cebu, Philippines in her travels. And just like that, she booked a flight to Cebu.

OK, that’s not what happened.

We should go back to over a year (or two years?) ago when I met Roger. There’s a semiweekly game of trivia here called Cebu Trivia Night. I’d already been with a team for more than two or three years then when Roger’s team joined. Roger and I became friendly when we learned of each other’s Survivor fandom.  When Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance aired, we’d gotten somewhat closer in that we started planning on having a viewing party, especially for the finale. None of our plans came to fruition until, of course, Eliza’s visit, which we will get to a little later.

Survivor friendship with Roger eventually evolved to include discussing what past players thought about a current season. One past player’s social media account stood out: Eliza Orlins’s twitter.

She already stood out to us as a player in both of her seasons. As an outspoken, 21-year-old law student on Vanuatu, she didn’t hide how Chris’s betrayal hurt her. If memory serves me right, I think hers was the rawest knee-jerk reaction to a betrayal at tribal council during the early years of Survivor. Despite that, she looked at it from a gameplay perspective and voted for Chris to win (after, of course, telling him that he was a deceptive, lying bitch). She also took the time to compliment the runner-up, Twila, on her gameplay (after, of course, telling Twila that she was a deceptive, lying bitch), even if Twila was not especially nice to her. She pretty much earned her spot to go on Micronesia, the first edition of Fans vs Favorites. Here she'd stand out once again with her "It's a fucking stick" moment that's been voted for by many as one of their favorite moments in Survivor history.

On Twitter, though, she’s even more of a riot. For most of the time, she’d tweet what we were already thinking (#fyas is just one example). After an episode aired, Roger and I would go into Eliza’s account to find out what she had to say. She’s especially endearing when she goes on Rob Cesternino and Stephen Fishbach’s Live Know-It-All shows (the birthplace of #fyas). J, my friend who would later interview Eliza here for a local daily, thought at first that we were only excited because of the idea that we were meeting a Survivor alum. No, we got excited because of Eliza herself. We were fans of hers. I don’t think some other Survivor player visiting, say someone like [REDACTED], would have incited as much enthusiasm.

Over the course of our stalking Survivor players on Twitter (in Roger’s case, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook because he’s a much crazier fan than I am), we learned that the Philippines was one of Eliza’s destinations in her multinational travels. Hence Roger’s initial tweet to Eliza. We’d since repeatedly pestered Eliza into coming to Cebu. When we learned Eliza played trivia in New Zealand, we offered to form a team with her at Cebu Trivia Night. Since the premiere of Survivor: Game Changers was drawing near, we promised to organize a viewing party for her. And just like that, she booked a flight to Cebu.

OK, that is still not what happened.

T minus one week

On February 28th, I woke up to Roger’s urgent PMs on FB Messenger and a tweet from Eliza that read:

At this time, Eliza was in Boracay (voted for by Condé Nast Traveler magazine readers in 2016 as the No. 1 Best Island Destination in the World outside the U.S.). Her next leg was going to be Palawan (No. 2 Best Island Destination in the World). But on this day, February 28th, she announced that she was joining trivia in Cebu (5th on the Condé Nast list)!

Eliza, are you a Condé Nast Traveler magazine reader?

I don’t know what Roger did, or how his messages with Eliza went, but somehow Eliza knew Trivia on March 8th was at Alejandro’s. And she was going to be there. Flight had already been booked.

This meant Roger and I only had one week to round up all the other Survivor fans in Cebu. Aside from Roger, I only knew of one other true superfan who’s physically based here (Hi, Josh!). I eventually found four from Reddit and Twitter, both of whom met up with us in person in this particular week. These two, Louis and Juvy, are officially in my alliance if we were to play Survivor. Roger did his own thing, and I think he found ten more. From only 14 members in our own Survivor Superfans –Cebu group on Facebook, we got the number up to over 20. As of this writing, 41.

T minus 60 minutes

March 7th. It was the day that Eliza was to get here in Cebu.

We’d offered to pick Eliza up at the airport. I was a bit nervous about that because my car is this old, uninspired 2002 Honda Civic. Even if I had my car washed the day before, it was too late for me to realize that the seat covers hadn’t been replaced and there were soda stains in some places (only soda stains, I promise). Totally embarrassing. To make matters somewhat worse, we got pulled over on our way to the airport. I was on the wrong lane and no amount of flirting with the traffic enforcer got me out of getting a ticket.

None of those mattered, though. When we got to the airport, Eliza’s plane had already landed. She was at baggage claim, waiting for the carousel to bring her her luggage. Roger and I were nervous, chomping at the bit. All worldly concerns disappeared. We talked about the months that led up to this, cackling, heavy with anticipation, and then...

T minus 0

There she was, beaming, waving at Roger. She’d only known of Roger’s existence at this point. She didn’t realize I was that @ryeisdead Twitter user who’d also pestered her online. We stepped out of the car, exchanged hugs, and then helped her with her luggage. It was surreal. A Survivor player of whom we were fans was getting into my car. How often does that happen?

She didn’t seem to mind what my car was or what condition it was in. I would think that compared to her experiences on Survivor, my car would be the frickin’ Waldorf Astoria. As soon as she got settled in the backseat, I asked for a selfie with her, which was the one thing I wanted immediately. Sweetheart that she is, she obliged.

(L-R) Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy. OK, no. That’s Roger, Eliza, and yours truly.
Off with the preambles, how her flight was, how excited we were, unable to contain our fanboying. She got a bit concerned while messaging with Roger earlier because none of us had heard of her airline. AirSwift? WTH is that? It wasn’t popular among the locals so she got worried. I shared that we got pulled over on our way to the airport. She asked if I was speeding. And, if I remember correctly, as soon as she asked that, I was on the wrong lane again, counterflowing, unsure of where to exit. That pretty much answered her question. I wasn’t speeding. I was just a bad, confused driver.

We then learned why Eliza decided to come to Cebu. While our tweets did help her make a final decision, the main reason was that she was meeting up with her dad. Her dad was in Hong Kong.  Their plan was to meet up in the Philippines before heading together to Beijing. One of the few places that has a direct flight from Hong Kong to the Philippines is Cebu. And so she chose Cebu.

On our way to Eliza’s hotel, we got to talk more about what comprised her fans here—all LGBT (we didn’t realize yet at this time that we were wrong about that, haha). We already knew that Eliza was an LGBT ally, but it was only then that we learned why. She wasn’t raised to think LGBT was any different. She has a gay uncle, who has a partner, both of whom she adores. It was only when Eliza started school, got exposed to other people’s worldview, that she understood it wasn’t that way for others.

I thought it was a beautiful moment, in my car with her and Roger, when she talked about how the LGBT community meant to her, with my musicals playlist playing in the background. She stopped to ask if I was playing Miss Saigon. I turned the volume up and she realized it was Les Misérables. She would then sing along to Rent, and then Hamilton. I would get totally blown away later to learn she’s seen Hamilton twice, first for only $10 for winning the lottery and next for a little less than $200 when she watched it with her family. These days, you’d have to buy a ticket for probably $8bn to get to watch the show 20 years from now. An interesting tidbit when she won the Hamilton lottery: the first name drawn was Alexander, the next was hers, Eliza. Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler!

This first meeting with Eliza in person didn’t seem like the first time at all. She seemed exactly like how she was on Survivor and on social media. She’s expressive and authentic and easy to get along with. On my drive back home after dropping Eliza off at her hotel and parting ways with Roger, I felt that it was just the beginning of more wonderful things to come.

Pre-Dinner Rant

I was mistaken. It wasn’t all wonderful. I only had a few hours before I had to pick Eliza up at her hotel for dinner. On my way out, my parents were watching the news. It was the third reading of the Death Penalty Bill. Apparently it was the final reading and the House of Representatives just approved it.


When I picked Eliza up, I couldn’t help but rant. Since she’s a public defender, I assumed she was against capital punishment as well. Thank goodness, I was right. Earlier, she’d asked me and Roger how our country was doing. We advised her it was not something we talked about in a social setting, just because we didn’t know what anyone’s stance could be, and some could get really passionate about it, just as I will be in a few. I don’t even know what Roger’s stance is, and I’d always thought it best to keep our discussions sans politics.

So when I got Eliza alone in my car, I had to let it out. It didn’t quite get to a “Call the Whambulance” extent, I don’t think. Although, deep inside, I just wanted to go 25th Hour apeshit. I don't really have to go through all the reasons why the death penalty is wrong; those reasons have been stressed again and again by those who are against it but they only fall on deaf ears. It just enrages me that in a predominantly Christian country, murder is being used as a solution to everything. I’m an atheist (so is Eliza, as I would learn the next day) and I don’t need the ten commandments to tell me that murder is wrong. Seriously, if you’re a devout Christian—complete with Facebook posts like “Received some good news today! God is good!” because apparently you’re so special that God had to take some time out of Her busy schedule to hashtag-fucking-bless you—but you’re clamoring for the murder of your fellow human beings, all I can see when I look into your eyes is the soul you believe you have burning in the hell you believe exists.  What makes this whole thing an even bigger, more painful joke is that plunder, treason, rape, and murder were taken out of the bill as crimes punishable by death. I could be mistaken, though, so someone has to correct me. I’m not really that attuned to everything politics; I’m not a boxer-turned-senator-turned-prophet.

OK, sorry about that. I just got extremely riled up there. I practically just rustled my own feathers. If you’re a proud Christian who is for capital punishment, sorry if I just made your face turn sour. But in my defense, that is probably already your sex face anyway.

As we drove closer to the restaurant where we were to have dinner, “Wait for It” from Hamilton played. Eliza turned the volume up and we both sang along. And just like that, I was calm, and the wonderful things could continue.

Dinner at Circa 1900

Drei, Roger’s friend, offered to host dinner for us in the restaurant that he manages, Circa 1900. This happens to be one of my favorite restaurants. Circa 1900 comprises two ancestral homes that date back to, well, circa 1900. These homes have been converted into culinary joints that offer, in my opinion, complex Asian-fusion dishes. Think Fermat's theorems dipped in soy sauce.

Looking at the menu, Eliza said everything seemed so good. Roger and I didn’t know what to order as well so we let Drei decide for us.

Crunchy whitebait with Asian aioli and coconut vinegar. An elevated take on bolinao, a local delicacy.

I don’t remember what this is. I’m guessing some trail mix of sorts that we need to keep away from Julie McGee.

Kind of like an Asianized clam chowder that didn’t have a chance with me. I inhaled it like the sticks of cigarette Shane Powers missed for so long while on Survivor: Panama.
Aside from the appetizers posted above, we also had crunchy ravioli and a salad. All Eliza had been eating since she got to the Philippines were mostly meat and she’d missed having vegetables.

We talked about how excited we were about the upcoming premiere of Game Changers, some spoilers I found online whose truthiness or falsehood I didn’t want confirmed, and Eliza’s relationship with other Survivor players she was still in touch or close with.

I believe this is Chicken Bringhe, Turmeric, & Vegetable Paella Cake with coconut and raisins, topped with saute chicken and sprouts. But I could be wrong.

Crunchy slow-roast pork belly with apple and fennel compote and a side of mashed potatoes. For me, an elevated version of lechon kawali and I could eat this every day if I had the money.

Hands down my favorite dish of the night. Squid and Prawn Risotto. It’s so tasty. Imagine tasting something so good that you feel empowered, challenging everyone to just draw rocks, “let’s draw rocks, unless everyone’s voting my way, I’m drawing rocks.”
Eliza shared that during the AOL days, her profile read “Future Survivor 9 contestant.” She’d calculated which season she could go on when she turned 21. And betchabygollywow it came true.

She also shared something related to a past relationship and another Survivor player that came before her and it was hilarious.

There was also this thing about one of her seasons, but aw, you had to be there. (Sorry, at this point, I’m just rubbing it to the faces of everyone who’s never had dinner with Eliza.)

We also had ostrich meat, which was Eliza’s first time tasting. I fully regret at this point that I’m just not someone who takes photos. Earlier, when we dropped Eliza off at her hotel, Roger took the time to have a selfie of just the two of them. I didn’t care then that I didn’t have a photo of just me and Eliza. Fast forward to this night, and I continued to miss taking photos of things I should have, like that single ostrich dish. Because that was a whole ostrich!

I’m just kidding. Just a fillet. But now you’ll never know for sure because I do not have proof.

White chocolate crème brûlée bread pudding. Tasting this is what it must feel like when someone you know you could beat takes you to the finals over someone they could beat. Yes, this tastes like a winner.

Maja Blanca and rosquillos cheesecake. So rich and creamy, reminiscent of Joe Anglim’s abs.
We prepped Eliza on what to expect at Cebu Trivia Night. We described how the game would go, which was hell different from the trivia games she’d joined before.

It was already past ten in the evening. We started dinner a little past seven. This meant we had Eliza all to ourselves for three wonderful hours. Drei gave us a quick tour of the two casas that made up Circa 1900.

Grabbed from Drei’s phone, outside Casa Uno of Circa 1900.
It was one of the best dinners I’ve had in recent years. It wasn’t just that it was with Eliza, but because the food was so good I could have gone on for 38 more days without having another meal. (Thank you so much, Drei, for that dinner, for everything that you ordered for us. None was a miss. As Eliza would post later on her Instagram, “everything was perfection.”)

As we drove out of the Circa 1900 lot, we tried to continue singing along to "Wait for It." But all we could hear was the music without the vocals. "This is weird," Eliza said. The problem was with the aux cable that I bought for Ph40 (less than $1). You had to adjust it a certain way so all the audio comes out. Eliza fixed it for me but by the time it was working, another song was already playing. I think it was a song from the TV show Smash, which Eliza also loved. She is officially the fourth person I know that watched Smash. Then she told me about this heartbreaking musical she saw called Falsettos. Andrew Rannells and Christian Borle were in it. I made the mental note to go to New York when I win the lottery. The real lottery, from PCSO.

As we made the last turn back to her hotel, Eliza and I rapped to “Satisfied." I thought it was an apt ending to a satisfying night.


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