In which the producers desperately try to turn Spencer into Malcolm.
One of the highest compliments that I can give this season of Survivor (so far, at least) is that it has rarely been boring. I am, admittedly, still fairly green in my Survivor fandom (at this point, I have only watched Pearl Islands, Vanuatu, Panama, Philippines, Caramoan, Blood vs Water, this one, and I’m halfway through Amazon) but one flaw that I’ve spotted in an otherwise solid format is that the post-merge episodes can often be a little bit dull. There’s that initial excitement as a couple of alliances duke it out at first to claim an overall majority, but more often than not, once an overall majority has been achieved, we end up with a dry spell while the minority alliance gets Pagonged by the victors and things don’t really liven up again until the minority alliance is almost or entirely gone, and the dominant alliance has to start cannibalising itself. However, one of the joys of the Cagayan cast – and something that the producers probably couldn’t have seen when they were actually casting them, but must have led to them rubbing their hands together gleefully when they watched it play out – is that the allegiances are shaky, everyone’s motivations are murky, and pretty much everyone is playing a brutally self-centred game (and then there’s Jefra, who just seems to be existing). I can’t imagine it’s a particularly fun environment to live in, but it’s been tremendous to watch.
All of these split loyalties are the focus of this episode as the merged Solarrion (terrible name, by the way) tribe deals with the fallout of Kass flipping at the last vote and siding with the former Solana tribe to get rid of Sarah, because Kass wanted to prove…something. I’m still a little foggy on that one, but hopefully it was more than just “she really doesn’t like Sarah”. Obviously, Kass’s former Aparri tribemates take her betrayal particularly poorly, but none more so than Spencer, who throws yet another hissy fit in addition to the one he already threw actually at Tribal Council, and all the other ones he’s thrown since the season started. (Given that Spencer’s role in this season appears to be as audience stand-in, his temperament makes me think this show doesn’t think much of its viewers. I liked it better when the ascended fans were more like Malcolm), spitting biliously that Kass is “voting with her oestrogen”, which is super-classy of him, not least because he appears to be far more of a martyr to his hormones than Kass is, judging by his utter inability to calm the fuck down and not give away what an utter mess she’s just left his game in.
An early suggestion that we’re in for another breathlessly-paced episode comes from the Reward Challenge arriving so quickly into the episode – clearly, the producers just want the formalities out of the way so they can get to the good stuff. The contestants are divided into two teams of five – Spencer, Jefra, Jeremiah, Morgan and LJ on one side, and Trish, Kass, Tony, Woo and Tasha on the other. The task involved a balance beam element in the water, followed by dragging a treasure chest onto land and up a ladder, after which a couple of team members had to solve a puzzle. Woo’s team falls behind at the beginning when he’s the only one to slip off the balance beam (meaning he has to go back to the start of that section and start again), but they regain their ground at the ladder because they’re much more agile (/lighter?) than Team Spencer. While the teams are more or less neck and neck starting on the puzzle, however, Spencer and LJ are much better at actually putting it together, so they win reward – a trip to the Outback Steakhouse, which I’m gathering from Chris’s current watching of Heroes vs Villians is actually a bit of a Survivor staple.
So Spencer, Jefra, LJ, Morgan and Jeremiah head off for a dinner of steak, loaded potatoes, and in Spencer’s case, a big plateful of Producer Interference. I can only assume, given how much airtime Spencer’s confessionals get (which is vastly out of proportion to how entertaining or informative they actually end up being), the editors want to make him the hero – or at least a featured player – of the season, so it’s no great surprise that Spencer also ends up with the place setting that comes with a whopping great immunity idol clue. Fortunately for him, Morgan (who’s sat next to Spencer) is too busy stuffing her face and getting drunk to notice any of this, so Spencer manages to slip the clue away from the reward area without anyone noticing.
It’s not quite so straightforward when they return to camp, however, as Woo has suddenly remembered that reward challenges often contain immunity clues (I’d almost suspect a little bit of external guidance at work here, since Woo doesn’t seem the most switched-on of contestants the rest of the time), so when Spencer attempts to slip away quietly, Woo is officially ON THAT and tails him – surprisingly effectively, to the point where the cameras zoomed in on him skulking in the bushes and I still couldn’t see where he actually was. Spencer, for reasons best known to himself, decided to take the clue with him on the search (good idea), only to leave it hidden in his folded up pants while he looks (BAD IDEA BAD IDEA BAD IDEA). Of course, Woo sees this, intercepts the clue, and runs back off to camp to tell everybody that Spencer has an idol clue and is looking for the idol right now. This triggers a season-best sequence as everyone, regardless of their alliance, runs to where Spencer is and starts looking for the idol. It’s a comic masterpiece as people trip over each other, cross paths, try to knock each other out of the way and so on – and the camera operators don’t miss a beat. Sadly the same can’t be said for Kass, who is asked by Woo to keep an eye on Spencer while he takes care of some urgent business elsewhere, and then turns her back on him long enough for Spencer to find and conceal the idol. Interestingly, for all of the hype surrounding the SUPER-MEGA-IMMUNOMAX IDOL that would appear post-merge, the note that comes with Spencer’s idol states clearly that this is just your standard immunity idol – it must be played before the votes are read. While it’s good that Spencer didn’t just have a super-powerful idol dropped right into his lap, it’s also bad because this probably means Tony’s going to find it instead, and might just Terry Deitz his way into the top four, or whenever it stops working.
With the idol quietly boosting Spencer’s confidence (because what Spencer needs right now is fuel for his ego, obviously), the castaways head off to the Immunity Challenge, which is one of those straightforward-but-painful ones: standing in a wooden frame and balancing a block on your head. If the block drops, you’re out. A long, drawn-out and undoubtedly painful challenge ultimately comes down to Spencer vs Tasha, and as the cameras spend an age focusing on Spencer doing sneeze-face and wobbling uncontrollably while occasionally giving us a brief glimpse of Tasha looking solid as a rock, it’s no surprise whatsoever when Tasha suddenly wobbles and her block falls, and Spencer wins immunity.
In a genuine position of power for the first time, the ex-Solana alliance has to decide who they want to get rid of. Trish has her eye on Tasha because she’s a big social threat (albeit not enough of a social threat that she could keep Kass under control, but nobody points this out). Tony thinks this is unwise because they’ll see that coming, and suggests instead that they take out Morgan, because a) she’s lazy and mean and nobody really likes her and b) she’s not the sort of player they’ll waste an idol on. Tony practically orgasms at his own genius for the latter strategy, chortling that the other side will never think of that, apparently forgetting that not only did they think of it, they used it last week when they attempted to take out Jefra and almost succeeded. Over on the other side, Spencer tries to get the numbers back in his favour by trying to win Kass back over, using the argument that Tony is a real threat at Final Tribal Council where Morgan obviously would not be. Kass, who makes it very clear that she sees herself as a free agent rather than a defector (which is intensely silly of her, because it just makes her even more disposable when her alliance no longer needs her for the numbers), sees the appeal of this theory – she doesn’t like Morgan because Morgan expects to be waited on hand, foot and boobs, but reasons that she could potentially put up with her for another week or so.
However, any cooling in Kass’s animosity towards Morgan is undoubtedly reversed at Tribal Council when Morgan tells Jeff that she’s used to getting what she wants in life because she’s attractive, and that everyone would choose to be “cute” rather than ugly if they had any say in the matter. The ex-Aparris do their best to destabilise the majority alliance by getting everyone wondering who’s on the bottom of it: their party line, as revealed by Jefra, is that nobody is on the bottom and they’re all equal. It’s crap, obviously, because Tony is clearly leading things, with Trish and Woo in positions of high influence, and Jefra, Kass and LJ have all got imminent use-by dates stamped on their foreheads, but I don’t really think Jefra realises this. Anyway, the efforts of Spencer and co aren’t enough, because Morgan is voted out 6-4, and takes this to mean that everyone is a jealous bitch who only hates her because she’s so popular and so fetch.
NEXT WEEK: IdolMania, part 2!