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Wednesday, October 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 69.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Tricks and treats
Yau-Man ensures a sneaky Survivor finale
Borderline evil?
Borderline evil?

In the early going, Survivor's current season left me cold, with unpleasant contestants in unpleasant situations. Then I became fascinated by Yau-Man's shameless tactics.

Brazen? He peeked into a tribe member's bag for the immunity idol - while she was still wearing it on her shoulder!

Sneaky? He created a fake immunity idol out of a coconut shell to use as a decoy.

Borderline evil? He admitted to using brainwashing techniques to bring Dreamz into his alliance.

It probably doesn't matter who technically wins Survivor in this week's finale (Sunday, 7 p.m., CBS). Yau-Man is likely to end up with the $1 million, even if he has to devise a booby trap at the final tribal council.

Ghost Whisperer
Friday, 7 pm (CBS)

Melinda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is confronted by a prophet ghost who conveys cryptic clues about an impending disaster.

Cancellation, perchance?

The Last Sentinel Saturday, 8 pm (Sci Fi)

A lone soldier walks through an apocalyptic landscape. People have lost a battle with drone warriors, and our hero is among the last human survivors.

Truth to tell, you wouldn't know he was human unless the dialogue spelled it out. The soldier is a complete blank, talking in a stone-faced monotone to a computer implanted in his rifle. Like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the computer talks back, offering reasonable advice based on the available data.

It should have advised Sci Fi not to air The Last Sentinel.

American Experience
Monday, 8 pm (WHA)

Alexander Hamilton is perhaps the hardest Founding Father to love. True, he fought bravely in the Revolutionary War, unconcerned for his personal safety. He was a genius who shaped our financial system, laying the groundwork for U.S. prosperity. And he shares credit for creating the Constitution and selling it to a skeptical nation.

But he was also - how to put this delicately? - an asshole. He believed he was smarter than everyone else and frequently told them so. He was vain and rash, with a huge chip on his shoulder dating back to his illegitimate birth in the West Indies. He made many enemies, one of whom finally killed him in a duel.

"His ambition, his restlessness and all his grandiose schemes come, I'm convinced, from a superabundance of secretions, which he couldn't find enough whores to absorb," wrote a contemporary.

Who knew that the United States was founded on secretions?

What If God Were the Sun?
Monday, 8 pm (Lifetime)

John Edward is the cable-TV psychic who touches bereaved people by telling them he can communicate with their loved ones in the afterlife. He tries to touch the rest of us in What If God Were the Sun?, but we're not as gullible as the marks on his show.

This TV movie, based on Edward's novel, exploits the fantasy upon which the psychic has based his empire: that the dead can reach out to the living. Jamie (Lacey Chabert) is a nurse who falls apart when her father dies. She meets Mrs. Eisenbloom (Gena Rowlands), a terminally ill Jewish woman who helps her come to terms with her grief. "You're one of a kind, aren't you?" Jamie asks Mrs. Eisenbloom.

Well, no. She's a standard plot contrivance: a crusty old free spirit who spoons out the script's words of wisdom. In this case, those words come straight from Edward's psychic shtick: "The body might get cold, but what's in us is what makes the warmth. And that goes on." Edward emphasizes the point by having deceased family members work miracles on behalf of the living.

If the dead really do keep tabs on our world, I'm sure even they're snickering over What If God Were the Sun?

Bob Barker Farewell
Wednesday & Thursday, 7 pm (CBS)

For 35 years Bob Barker has hosted The Price Is Right, in which contestants estimate the price of various products. This week, CBS marks Barker's retirement with Wednesday's Million Dollar Spectacular, a supersized edition of the show; and Thursday's Bob Barker: A Celebration of 50 Years on Television, which features Barker's reminiscences.

In the final moments, Barker is shocked to learn that his lifetime contribution to society was worth only $3.98.

Secret Files of the Inquisition
Wednesday, 8 pm (WHA)

Last week's episode was so horrifying that I vowed not to watch the second installment. But it's like a car wreck - I couldn't look away.

Secret Files of the Inquisition uses the Vatican's newly released documents to explore the Catholic Church's 600-year reign of terror. This week, we're in 16th-century Venice, where humanity has made significant progress. The city is tolerant of new ideas. The printing press is spreading knowledge in the form of books, and science is probing nature's secrets. And in Rome, the pope is seething with rage.

The church sees its control of the populace slipping away and responds, shall we say, sternly. "Even if my own father were a heretic, I would gather the wood to burn him," says Pope Paul IV. The pope sends his goons to Venice to "gather evidence and conduct trials." Or, as we'd say in modern parlance, to "torture and murder innocent people."

A contemporary Vatican official, interviewed for the series, puts a positive spin on the trials that sent victims to burn at the stake. "In a certain sense, you could say that the Inquisition provided a model for proper legal procedures," he says.

True. But in another sense, you could say that he's out of his freakin' gourd.

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