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The Five-Star Rating System Is Dogshit. Here’s How We Can Fix It

The driver rating screen in an Uber app is seen February 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. - Global ridesharing service Uber said February 12, 2016 it had raised $200 million in additional funding to help its push into emerging markets.The latest round comes from Luxembourg-based investment group LetterOne (L1), according to a joint statement. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about lemonades stands, flu-like symptoms, typos, Renaissance Faires, and more.

Your letters:


I recently stayed at an AirBnb and was told by the host to let them know if I couldn't give a five-star review. Apparently if their rating drops below 4.5 stars, they can get banned from hosting. Similarly, when I took an Uber and wanted to give the driver less than a five-star review, I was prompted to write a comment as to why, otherwise the rating could not be submitted. Giving anyone less than a five-star review is akin to ripping out their pancreas. Is this basically the endgame of participation trophies and grade inflation? Why bother with a five-star system if anything less than five is considered failing?

I’m glad you asked this question Dennis, because you’re right. The five-star rating system is worthless and has been for over a decade, if not longer. It started with eBay buyers and sellers blacklisting one another over “bad” (i.e. lower than five-star) reviews, and has infected the minds of every retailer, customer, and marketing head ever since.

I’m no different. Let’s say I’m looking for a place to go out to eat. I don’t read user reviews, because you never know what kind of lunatic, troll, or 9-year-old wrote it. I just look at the aggregate star rating instead, even though there’s ample evidence that those numbers are gamed. If the aggregate score is above 4.5 stars, I’m convinced that’s a good restaurant. If it’s between four and 4.5 stars, I’m only eating there if it’s the closest joint around. And if it’s below four stars, it’s a shithole: bad food, 58 health code violations, roaches waiting tables, etc. I am trained, like a keyboard sheep, to accept only products that reside in the five-star tier of elite-itude: food, hotels, books, refrigerators, crash-test safety ratings on cars, you name it. And I do so knowing that the star scale is horrifically imbalanced. In theory, the five stars are evenly distributed based on quality, like so:

FIVE: Outstanding
FOUR: Very good
TWO: Fair
ONE: Poor

That’s not how it works though. Here is a more accurate gauge:

FIVE: Acceptable
FOUR: There’s something wrong with it
THREE: Awful
TWO: No one gives anything two stars
ONE: Barstool dogpile attack

Hence, a consumer culture where business owners not only need five stars to remain profitable, but will game the infrastructure so that you all but have to give them those stars. This is why Uber now has passenger ratings in addition to driver ratings. Do I REALLY wanna give my driver, who was clearly stoned off his ass, a mere three-star review? What if he gives ME three stars in return, and then I can never get a fucking ride again? Fuck! I better give him five and tip 25 percent. You can’t have a review system where everyone has something tangible to lose and no one will accept honest feedback as a result of that.

Lucky for you, I have a fix. It’s highly disruptive, but you can’t be a visionary without moving fast and breaking stuff.  So here is what I propose:

A four-star rating system.

That’s right. Just four stars. If you’re my age and read too many Roger Ebert movie reviews, you know that the four-star review system is optimal. It means something to get four stars in this system. Even half-stars matter. Lemme break it down for you:

FOUR: Essential
THREE-AND-A-HALF: Really good
THREE: Solid
TWO-AND-A-HALF: Had lots of great shit in it, but not quite enough
TWO: Bad but I didn’t hate it
ONE-AND-A-HALF: It made me laugh one time
ONE: Irredeemable

Now we’re getting somewhere. Do I have any confidence that modern industry wouldn’t ruin this set-up the exact same way they did the five-star system? No. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t use it myself and keep it honest. That’s why I use it for the movie section of the Jamboroo every week. That’s how I fight the power. Don’t let BIG STAR fuck with your own standards. Go the four-star way and live a proper capitalist life.


You said recently that you were going to a lot of concerts. I'm wondering what you think are the best shoes/sneakers for standing room only shows? I'm firmly in my 40s now and going to more shows than ever, but can barely walk afterwards. I want to be able to enjoy the music fully without panicking that I'm going to have to bail early to save my feet.

This is probably an easier problem to solve for guys like me because I dress for concerts like I’m going to going out to pick up a prescription. So I just wear my usual sneakers to the show. I don’t dress up. I don’t even wear my dress boots, let alone deal with the assorted torture devices that women often feel obligated to strap onto their feet when they hit the town.

But what sneakers DO you wear, Drew? you might be asking if you’re intensely bored right now. Well Tanya, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the world of dad shoes, because dad shoes aren’t just for dads anymore. I know this because every grownup where I live wears Hokas now. Because of serious back problems, I have become intensely discerning when it comes to footwear. When I go to DSW, I have to try on 57 different ugly sneakers before finding ones that won’t trigger my sciatica. Here now are the four sneaker brands I trust above all others:

New Balance

That’s it. Those are the only brands I can tolerate, and I still have to try on various shoes from those brands to get the right fit. Sometimes the sole is too firm. Sometimes the upper part of the shoe is too stiff. Sometimes there are laces, which can be a dealbreaker (whenever I buy shoes with laces, I tie them loosely with a secure double-knot and then use them as slip-ons after that, never unlacing them). But if I get a memory foam cushion? ECSTASY. It’s worth doing all of this legwork (no pun intended) because I know I’m gonna be wearing these shoes every day. If anything’s off with them … if they are mere three-and-a-half star shoes… I’ll notice it just like the princess noticed the pea under her mattress.

So Tanya, explore all of the boomer brands to find the exact right concert shoe. And then wear those shoes like no one’s looking at them. You’ll feel like you’re at the afterparty all night long.


Do you rank your bathrooms at home? If so, how much, if at all, does this factor into where you are going to use the toilet?

I don’t keep a working ranking of them in my head. I rank my children, of course. All great parents do. But I don’t have a bathroom hierarchy listed on a physical chart anywhere. That said, I know which bathrooms in this house are right for me and which are not. Join me for a quick tour!

  1. Our master bathroom. The toilet in the master bathroom is in its own little closet, so I have sanctuary in there even if someone else is using that same bathroom. Like Patrick Mahomes, this set-up is extremely clutch. I spend more time in this shitter closet than I do going out with friends, but that’s a separate issue.
  2. Main floor. I do a lot of my business in this bathroom, although often to my regret. I’ve noted it here before, but the second my asscheeks touch porcelain in this bathroom, the rest of the house blows up. My kids start fighting. The doorbell rings. My phone rings. The dog comes down and wants to go out for a piss. The FBI stages a raid to catch me masturbating. Horrible. But at least I don’t have to climb any stairs to use this toilet.
  3. The boys’ bathroom. Our two sons have their own bathroom, which I use on occasion because it’s a de facto upstairs men’s room. If I’d had any foresight, I would’ve installed a urinal.
  4. My daughter’s bathroom. I almost never use this bathroom because it makes me feel like I’m intruding somehow. Also there are so many beauty products on the shelves I’m terrified I’m gonna knock all of them over by accident.
  5. The basement. The toilet is too close to the wall, which means I can’t manspread enough to my liking while taking a dump. It’s one thing to have no room when you’re shitting in some lousy dive bar stall. But a shit a home should be properly luxurious.


I’ve changed a lot about myself in the last few years to accept that I am slowly becoming a Dad, if not in actuality then in spirit. I have purchased more sensible button downs and fewer hoodies and slim fit jeans. The one place I do not do this is in my concert/musical taste. I love Electronic Dance Music which is a genre for people firmly in their early to mid 20s. Every show I attend, I feel decrepitly old at. My question to you is twofold. 1. Do I change my musical tastes to David Roth Music to fit in better at shows? 2. How do I become "The Old Guy" at the concert with dignity?

1. Fuck no. That’s not a slight at Roth—although I don’t mind if he takes it as one—but you’re free to like the music you like. You HAVE to like the music you like, really. Only a Pitchfork reviewer forces themselves to like shit that they actually don’t. You are under no such obligation. If EDM is what you love, love it unreservedly. Which brings me to…

2. You become the old guy with dignity at a concert by not giving a shit. You go, you listen, you take some molly, you dance your ass off, and then you leave. No one else who goes to an EDM show will give a crap if you’re also there. They’re not gonna be like, “Well, we wanted to have fun at the Swedish House Mafia gig but there was a DAD there ewwwwww.” In fact, if you put aside your hang-ups and really get into the music, those Gen Zers might even be like, “Holy shit, that old man is cool as balls! This ecstasy is making me crazy thirsty!” Music doesn’t belong exclusively to this demo or that one, and you’re living proof of that fact. So lean into it. Grab some neon pacifiers and go nuts.

Because I envy you in a certain sense, Corbin. This is the year that I got into Autechre, Ancient Methods, and a few other high-end electronica acts. The idea of going to a nightclub has repelled me for decades now, but these artists have changed my attitude about that. In fact, I pitched my editor, Barry Petchesky, a story about me going to a nightclub for the first time since I was in my early 20s. He gave me the green light. Then I told my wife about the idea, because I didn’t want her thinking that I was sneaking off to nightclubs just to cheat on her. “I just wanna go to dance,” I told her. And she like, “OK, knock yourself out.” And you know what? I still haven’t done it. I’m still sitting at home every Saturday night with my dick in my hand.

But you, Corbin… you’re doing it! You’re LIVING. So don’t let your age get in the way of having a good time. Turn up the bass and shake that ass.



I saw a dude wearing a Defector shirt today. I didn’t know how to react/interact. Suggestions?

Just say hi! It’s not that different from saying hey to someone rocking your favorite team’s jersey or whatever. That’s a free bonding moment, so go for it. A lot of people spend too much of their lives avoiding shit because they fear the awkwardness. That’s OK when you’re a teenager, when awkward moments are your private hell. But when you’re a grown adult, we’re talking about 30 seconds out of your day. Either the Defector shirt dude will look at you a bit funny, or he’ll be like, “Oh shit, you love Defector too? That’s awesome! Lauren Theisen is my favorite blogger there!” And then HEY PRESTO! You two are now friends. It can happen just that easily, but only if you take a chance and say howdy.


I'm thinking about going to my first Ren Faire this fall. Do you have any tips and tricks for a Ren Faire newbie? Or should I come to my senses and bail on this idea?

I have never been to a Renaissance Faire, which is surprising given that I enjoy both medieval jousting and giant turkey legs. Alas, Ren Faires fall into the category of festivals/state fairs, which I avoid for obvious reasons: expensive, crowded, hot, horrific parking situation. I know that I just told Corbin and Luke up above to take a chance and live their best lives, but neither of their questions involved a 40-minute wait for a shuttle bus. I don’t avoid festivals because I’m scared I’ll look uncool, you know what I mean? I avoid them because I am LAZY.

But I’m also easily daunted. Maybe a Ren Faire is worth all the hassle. I suggest that you, Joey, go to one and then report back your findings to the Funbag. You are now our lab rat. May Dorloc the Sorcerer spare you from his most gruesome alchemy experiments.


Do you have a stance on reporting coworkers for poor performance or not doing work assigned to them? All my friends believe that I should narc on a teammate that doesn't do anything. She asks others to do tasks assigned to her under the guise of teaching her how to do it. I personally have a "never snitch" mentality, even though this teammate's lack of contributions puts a lot of extra work on me. Am I being dumb by not saying anything? I don't want to get anyone fired.

I’ve never ratted out a shitty co-worker. Not even Patrick Redford. So I wouldn’t report this woman to your boss, especially if that boss ALSO sucks ass.

Instead, I’d do what every other disgruntled American worker does: Talk shit about your coworker behind her back. If you think she’s doing a lousy job, your colleagues likely think the same. So start a whisper network and drag her. Back in my ads days, I worked with a SHITLOAD of incompetent boobs, and me and my work friends dumped on all of them. We had one guy at the office who would put off work by coming by everyone else’s office and making endless, painful small talk. We’re talking hourlong visits. Everyone hated his guts. We had another woman who was Italian With A Capital I, called everyone “doll” like she was their best friend, and never did fuck all. We had a middle manager who spent all day in his office and never seemed to do any actual work. We trashed all of them.

And guess what? The bosses got wind of it, and it turned out that THEY weren’t all that fired up about these bozos, either. The miracle of downsizing took the reins from there. That’s the power of gossip: it allows you to snitch without being a snitch.


"Flu-like symptoms" is just a cold, right? When an athlete plays through an illness, it's never "the flu," but always the symptoms. I guess a team can't just say, "they have a cold" because that sounds weak or something?

I think it’s the actual flu but gets reported as “flu-like symptoms” after undergoing a thorough and unnecessary, Shams-ification. This is either because of hippo, or because access merchants can’t help themselves. Either way, “flu-like symptoms” is the “racially charged” of athlete injury designations. It irritates me far more than it should. Just say that Jalen Hurts has the goddamn flu. Then Aaron Rodgers will dub him “Mr. CVS” for getting the flu shot and all of us will make a 75-minute wanking motion.


What's the wackiest, weirdest event that Michael Buffer has shown up to and done his thing? A divorce trial?

I can’t even imagine how many Bar Mitzvahs and shitty bachelor parties that man has been hired to do. I know Michael Buffer rakes it in for all of these appearances, but imagine having to show up to a windowless suite at the MGM to shout LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE before a bunch of Stoolies throw grocery-store cupcakes at a pair of strippers. It’s almost enough to make me pity the man, were he not obscenely wealthy.

Anyway my answer is a Michael Rubin white party.


Often, a friend or loved one of mine will send a text with a typo. Should this matter? Should people just let grammatical and keystroke errors lie if the message is clear?

If that friend is Defector alum and notorious typo addict Kalyn Kahler, the answer is yes. Otherwise, there are limits. We’ve all been there when we have to send a text quickly and don’t have time to sweat typos, or to fix something that autocorrect needlessly fucked up. That’s fine.

But if you have a friend that routinely sends texts and emails that are loaded with errors, when they’re not in a hurry, then that matters. I had one guy that sent emails so shabbily written that I couldn’t even tell if I was reading English. He was a perfectly nice guy, and he didn’t fuck up his spelling because he was ill, or because he was addicted to krokodil. He just straight up did not know how to write a fucking email. That’s all I remember about him now. I’m like, “Oh yeah Bob, that’s the insane email guy.” You don’t wanna be the insane email guy.

As you might have guessed, my chosen vocation has made me more fastidious about my texts and emails than most people. I never use text shorthand. I spell out “you” instead of saying “u.” I go back and fix typos. If I do send a typo, I either edit the text (if my phone lets me; you can’t edit texts sent to an Android phone) or I immediately send an asterisk text to correct the first. I take pride—likely an inordinate amount—in how I communicate with other people, so I don’t let mistakes slide. But I understand when other people do. It only becomes a problem when you’re like Bob and every email you send reads like it was sent by a fingerless serial killer. Then I’m gonna judge you.


After years of active disinterest, my wife has finally come around to the Atlanta Braves. She's totally invested in this year's team, and her favorite player is none other than Marcel Ozuna. Every time he comes to the plate, she gets a little more amped, and holy shit does she go nuts when he knocks one out of the park. Thanks to her previous disinterest in the team, she has no idea about the ugly events of his recent past. Should I tell her about last year's domestic violence arrest and suspension?

Yes. You don’t have to make a show of it. You don’t have to be like HEY GUESS WHO LOVES CHOKING HIS WIFE! But if your wife is ever like, “Wade, why aren’t you doing the Chop for my boy Marcel?” you can explain your reasons in a straightforward manner. Then you can rip open your shirt to reveal a Phillies jersey and then huck a battery at your TV the next time Ozuna’s face appears on it. That’s just healthy communication between married people.


How should I, a full grown adult, feel about stopping for lemonade type stands run by kids? Driving by them always brings a smile to my face, remembering the days when I would host lemonade stands with my cousins on a remote camp road in the middle of Maine. Should I pull a U-turn, stop, and hand over some cash for what has to be mediocre lemonade, or should I keep driving?

I’ve never stopped my car for a lemonade stand. If I’m walking past one, that’s a different (easier) story. But stop my car? Nah, fuck that. I have to get to H Mart right now or else they might run out of Shin Ramen. I don’t have time for some snotty brat hawking overpriced Country Time out on the street. Also, every lemonade stand I’ve visited has been cash-only, and none of these kids ever has change for a 20. You see the problem here. I don’t wanna ask some five-year-old, “Ooh do you take Venmo?” I’d feel like a jackass. I’d BE a jackass.

Also my own kids are all over 11 so I don’t have to keep pretending that little kids are cute anymore. GET A REAL JOB, DANNY.


How often do you say “I love you” to your loved ones?

Ben, I tell my wife and kids I love them so often that the phrase barely has any meaning anymore. But I do love them to death and don’t mind telling them so, even if I’m stepping out for five minutes to go fish a box out of the recycling bin. I also hug them and kiss them every morning, even when they squirm away and go DADDDDDDDD in embarrassment. Doesn’t matter to me. I’d rather over-love my family than do the opposite.

Email of the week!


What's the appropriate amount of time to wait before you eat your kid's leftvoers after a meal? I have a four-year-old and we buy them the GOOD chicken strips. Because they're four and their opinion changes by the minute about whether or not they will eat a food item, they will often leave at least one if not 1.5 chicken strips out of three on their plate. I typically wait about 10-15 minutes before I take them down. My spouse thinks I should wait a lot longer, and potentially even ask the kid if they want them beforehand, even though I know that once they walk away from their food, they're not coming back for it.

I eat those leftovers AT the dinner table. Once they get up to clear their plate, I frisk that plate like I’m with the TSA. You had your chance at that rice pilaf kid, and you blew it. I love you. Now hand it over.

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