Apparently there’s a Sierra and a Kelly this season. WHO KNEW?
Seeing Double: I know that it’s part of the structure of a Survivor season that we usually need to have a double-episode at some point, but given that it can happen at any time in a season, the timing of it always makes me nervous. In Caramoan, for example, it was used to get the expected, predictable elimination of Reynold out of the way in the first hour so we could at least end on Andrea getting blindsided. In Cagayan, it enabled the producers to air Lindsey’s quitting and still end the episode with a vote at Tribal Council. In other words, it’s often used to hide a lemon of an episode and still make us feel that something happened that night to justify us tuning in at all. And given that last week’s episode ended with a preview of someone apparently getting cold-cocked in a challenge, I went into this episode expecting some sort of boring medevac-based elimination – so I was quite pleased that the episode actually ended up being very entertaining and giving us lots to think about.
Groin Strain: It was obvious that this wasn’t going to be a conventional episode of Survivor when we started out with a reward challenge before we’d even reached the opening credits. That’s a pretty solid indicator that a lot’s going to be happening at camp in this episode. It was the return of one of my favourite challenges, the “I hope you’ve already got kids if you want them, because your reproductive organs are about to take a battering” challenge: the one where two contestants are blindfolded and forced to wander around a maze of long poles mounted at crotch height while another team member calls out directions. After Masaya elected to sit out Tyler, and Escameca benched Mike and Rodney, the teams were divided as follows: Masaya sent Max and Shirin out searching, with Carolyn calling and Joaquin on hand to pull the rope to raise the platform and deliver whatever Max and Shirin brought back up to Carolyn’s tower; Escameca send Lindsey and Kelly out searching, with Sierra calling and Dan on the rope; and Nagarote sent Jenn and Hali out searching, with Joe calling and Will pulling. For once Nagarote got off to an early lead, which I suspect may have had something to do with having their caller be someone with far more upper body strength, who wouldn’t need the platform raised as high before he could lean over and grab the spoils. (Also it was brave of Escameca to have Sierra calling since before this episode I wasn’t actually aware she was capable of speech.) So they’re quite a way in front, with Escameca and Masaya more or less neck-and-neck behind them. Escameca have a few narrow misses with Dan’s abrupt dropping of the platform after Sierra’s picked up the delivery (including several clearly-added-in-post admonishments from Jeff Probst for him to be more careful) until eventually the bit we’ve all been bracing ourselves for happens, and he smacks Kelly in the face. What follows is eerie and unsettling: Jeff stops the challenge on safety grounds, but everyone has to remain in place and keep their blindfolds on, so we were treated to weird sights like Kelly with all this blood spurting out from behind her buff (which was gradually turning the colour of rust anyway) and Lindsey, who’s also still blindfolded and tied to her, desperately calling out for someone to enlighten her because she knows something terrible has happened to Kelly and she doesn’t know what it was. I think that, more than the actual smack-in-the-face-with-the-platform, was the part of this episode that really made my blood run cold. It turned out that the injury was essentially superficial, and just bleeding profusely because cuts on that part of the face have a tendency to do that, so the medic was happy to clear Kelly to continue if she felt well enough to do so, which she did, so Escameca returned to their places and the game began again – at which point Nagarote landed first place (three chickens, a rooster and some eggs) and Masaya took second place (10 eggs), making Kelly’s struggle all for naught anyway. Poor Kelly.
Cock-Blocked: After having nothin’ but bad news for two episodes, a resurgent Nagarote decided to celebrate their newfound buoyancy by slaughtering one of their chickens and cooking it to celebrate Will’s 42nd birthday. (Will is 42, and his job is “YouTube Sensation”. Drink that in.) (Also, weirdly, they slaughtered one of the hens, meaning they won’t have as many eggs, rather than the rooster, which was essentially window dressing. Whoops.) Jenn, who is vegetarian, had already grown rather attached to the chickens and wanted no part in this, so she wandered off to get firewood. (Would that the viewers at home had that option, because CBS decided to broadcast Joe and Hali slaughtering the chicken in unflinching detail.) Well, I say “get firewood” – it was also very much Jenn’s intention to use this alone-and-unbothered time to search for the idol, which was a very smart move on her part. Jenn finds the idol, and vows to use it for MAYHEM. Attagirl. Over on Masaya, they had an egg party, although Shirin was disappointed that they hadn’t been gifted any live animals to kill, because she’d been preparing for that – in fact she’d actually hired someone to show her how to do it before she left, and she was already up to rabbits. Joaquin took this as further detail for his “Shirin is a psychopath” portfolio, since she is now essentially on record as having killed animals just for the jollies, theorising that she probably started killing mice around the age of 11 and has gradually worked her way up to rabbits. Is it wrong that I’m really starting to like Joaquin?
Mother Superior: Oy. So over on Escameca, Rodney is busy being The Worst, telling Lindsey and Sierra that it’s important for women to hold themselves to higher standards than men, because reasons. Essentially, Rodney wants to mess around as much as he wants as a bachelor, but when he settles down, he wants a woman who’s unspoiled. Lindsey and Sierra called this out for the horseshit that it clearly is, but Lindsey’s was sufficiently riled to make the same mistake that Dan did last week and bring Rodney’s mother into the equation, suggesting that she’d done a pisspoor job of bringing him up if that’s how he really views women. (Rodney’s Mom might have had more airtime this season than Kelly and Sierra combined, at least before tonight’s episode.) Lindsey’s absolutely right to smack him down for this, but it’s not great Survivor gameplay because it marks her out as an instigator – and since she’s on an apparently unenlightened tribe where women are expected to be seen and not heard, it’s going to hurt her in the long run. That’s by far the worst bit of this whole scene: the correct move gameplay-wise is not to rise to it, but people not rising to his bullshit is exactly how Rodney got to be like this in the first place. Lindsey was in a no-win situation. Meanwhile, Kelly gets some stitches for her giant headwound, and Mike demonstrates possibly the only instance of a man on Escameca showing respect for a woman by saying how impressed he was by her strength and resilience.
BRING ON THE WALL: The immunity challenge saw the survivors tethered together at the top of a slope, and have to make their way through a series of obstacles one by one. After that, they have to stand on a balance beam while using pull-ropes to draw a ball up a wall and rest into one of the bays at the top, without it falling through one of the many, many holes along the way. It was all a bit Crystal Maze, basically. Escameca fell behind early because Rodney could neither figure his way along the rope not correctly interpret the idiot’s guide that his teammates were giving him, while Nagarote took another early lead and secured themselves immunity. So it fell to Masaya and Escameca, and to Escameca’s credit, they managed to catch up enough that it looked close towards the end, but after a couple of near-misses for each side, Masaya clinched immunity and Escameca were destined for Tribal Council – making this the first three-tribe season where every tribe lost an immunity challenge before any kind of swap happened. Groundbreaking!
Blue, Da Ba Dee Da Ba Da: The good part of this was that we got to see exactly how the alliances lay on Escameca. It became apparent early on that Lindsey and Sierra were tight with each other and wanted to vote out Rodney for being a total dick, so they tried to bring Dan over to their side to vote with them and, presumably, Kelly. Dan gave a confessional about how there’s a difference between listening “like a man” (wherein you attempt to solve the problem) and listening “like a woman” (wherein you “empathise”, which Dan just seems to think involves nodding a lot and making generically supportive noises – I think he’s been watching 30 Rock), so he nods a lot at Lindsey and then scuttles right back to the other three, who all seem to be set to vote for Lindsey. (Rodney comments that she needs to be spanked “like a bad baby”, just in case you’d bet actual money on him not being able to get grosser than he already was). Mike and Kelly turned out to be the swing votes, since neither one of them seemed super-thrilled about throwing their lot in with Rodney, on the grounds of him being disgusting and also clearly untrustworthy. And despite Tribal Council involving a) Rodney being entirely unrepentant when his comments about women were brought up again, even to the point where Jeff Probst was telling him he was sexist, and b) Lindsey giving a stirring speech about how much she loves and respects everyone on the tribe and how the winner will definitely be a Blue Collar, the vote turned out to be a three-way split between Lindsey, Rodney and Sierra – because the dominant alliance were worried Lindsey might have an idol – and Lindsey got booted unanimously on the revote. To say that this was not exactly a banner moment for feminism is to put it mildly.
How To Lose Friends And Alienate People: Having back-to-back episodes gave us an interesting look at how different contestants handled the post-tribal discussion. Nagarote did their best to assure Will that the votes against him weren’t personal, that his contribution to the tribe is recognised and appreciated, and that they like having him around. I mean, sure it’s disingenuous as hell, but at least the effort was made. Compare and contrast with Escameca, where Sierra was extremely shaken up that her name had come up at all, and Mike’s response was that they were just protecting “this four” against the possibility that Lindsey had an idol. Understandably, Sierra was not hugely encouraged by this, at which point the boys started calling her a whiny crybaby and Dan started lecturing her about being useless around camp and – get this – POSING A DANGER TO OTHERS DURING IMMUNITY CHALLENGES. You’d think he’d wait a few days after narrowly avoiding blinding Kelly before making accusations like that.
Multicoloured Swap Shop: And with many of the survivors chomping through the restraints at this point in a desperate bid to get away from some of their tribemates, the time is absolutely right for a swap. Masaya is no more, and everyone draws buffs to see if they’re going to be on Escameca or Nagarote from now on. The random draw creates the following tribes:
ESCAMECA: Dan, Joaquin, Joe, Mike, Rodney, Sierra, Tyler
NAGAROTE: Carolyn, Hali, Jenn, Kelly, Max, Shirin, Will
So to summarise: Escameca is almost exactly the same as before, apart from losing Kelly and gaining Joe, Joaquin and Tyler, while Hali, Jenn and Will stay put on Nagarote and are joined by Kelly, Max, Shirin and Carolyn. Both Carolyn and Sierra are furious at having the opportunity to escape their asshole tribemates dangled in front of them and then immediately whipped away. Also, it escapes precisely nobody’s notice that pretty much all of the athletic men are now on one tribe, so any physical challenges from now until the merge are pretty much guaranteed to be a blowout.
And to demonstrate that, we start with a physical challenge! It’s essentially lacrosse with a twist, as a couple of tribe members take on the responsibility of firing balls in the air (tee hee hee), while everyone else runs around with nets, and the first tribe to catch five balls wins some kitchen fixin’s, along with any rewards Masaya had accrued up to this point (which amounts to a large fishing kit and a tarp, if memory serves). Nagarote put up a good fight and score a couple of points, but Escameca dominate and take the big prizes back to their new/old camp.
New Faces: It ought to be pretty easy to guess how the alliances would pan out given the comparative lack of movement during the swap, but there were a few surprising and fun twists that meant the post-swap pre-merge game got off to a good start entertainment-wise. Nagarote returned to camp, and with a 3:3:1 split between the former tribes, Kelly was the obvious swing vote and was courted as such. Shirin went in hard and fast, and since Kelly didn’t seem to have any particular loyalty to either side, she initially seemed fairly happy to vote with Shirin, Max and Carolyn – because Shirin assumed Carolyn was a loyal third in their alliance. Yeah. About that. It was pretty clear on the original Masaya tribe that Shirin and Max weren’t necessarily that close with the others – Carolyn and Joaquin made no secret of their dislike for the pair of them (in confessionals, at least), and while Tyler was a little harder to read, he looked as though he’d probably side with Carolyn and Joaquin if pushed. Technically a new tribe should be a new start, and there were an additional four potential allies up for grabs if Max or Shirin had the awareness to realise what shaky ground they were on. The trouble is, neither of them could read a room (well, a beach) and didn’t seem to have any idea how annoying they were being. Some examples:
– Shirin talked A LOT about how much she loves Survivor
– Shirin sang the national anthem
– Max monologued at Jenn about the starsigns of all the winners of this show until Jenn was like “wow ok bye”
– Max got stung by a stingray and stuck his injured feet in the drinking water
Okay, in Max’s defence, he did that last one at Jenn’s suggestion, since she has lifeguard training and presumably therefore at least a basic knowledge of first-aid, but I think the problem was mostly that he left his feet in there for an hour, and that Hali happened to see a contagious wart on his foot that potentially contaminated the actual pot. In other words, Max and Shirin made it very, very easy for others to find them expendable.
Undisputed Star Of The Episode: The nose-picking monkey.
Give him the $1m now.
A Sorry State Of Affairs: So while Max and Shirin wobbled precariously over on Nagarote, the former Blue Collars felt reasonably secure with their clear numbers advantage over on Escameca – until Mike raised the valid point that, since they’d sidelined and belittled Sierra very recently, it was entirely possible that her loyalties might well be up for grabs to the newcomers, if they were willing to do anything as outrageous as actually be nice to her. So Mike and Dan resolved to get Sierra back on side by apologising for what Dan said at the fireside, and Mike was all “you are actually going to apologise, right?” and Dan was all “SHUT UP DUDE, I’VE SPOKEN TO SO MANY GIRLS YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW, I AM COMPLETELY IN CONTROL OF THIS”. Meanwhile, while Dan and Mike were off having this discussion, and Rodney was…somewhere building a shrine to his mother, I guess (or putting on a dress and a wig and a falsetto voice and playing the role of Mrs Lavoie somewhere behind a curtain), Sierra was busy informing Joe, Tyler and Joaquin that those three guys are total shits and she has no loyalty to them whatsoever. Then Dan took Sierra off for a walk to clear the air, and…hoo, boy. Somehow, the “I’m sorry for what I said” came out as “you were rude to me as well, if anything you owe me an apology”. SHOCKINGLY ENOUGH, Sierra didn’t feel particularly valued as a result of this conversation, and basically told Dan to go fuck himself. So that went well.
Potted History: Immunity was another physical challenge, as the teams had to split up into pairs and drag pots on a sled through a muddy assault course, before placing the pots on to of poles at the end, and once all the pots were in place, one team member had to smash them all with a wrecking ball. Escameca’s dominance of this challenge was never even in question, and Dan had smashed all of their pots before Nagarote had even started swinging. And let’s just say that unless we get some heavily puzzle-based challenges in the next few episodes, all this stuff about the fight for Sierra’s vote on Escameca might turn out to be entirely academic because it looks like they’re not going to have to go to Tribal Council for a while.
The Shit Hits The Superfans: Upon returning to camp, Shirin immediately went in for the kill to lock in Kelly’s vote, and informed her that the ex-Masayas were planning to take out Will, since they need Jenn and Hali’s athleticism for challenges. (Max actually announced that the intention was to “blindside” Will, so for a superfan he has a pretty poor understanding of basic gameplay terms if he thinks Will would be remotely surprised to be voted out at this point.) Meanwhile, Jenn and Hali were planning to take out Shirin because they find her deeply, deeply annoying, and felt that Will would be happy to vote with them, so they just needed to secure Kelly as their fourth and that would be the job done. At this point, Carolyn decided to make her intentions known and sidled up to Jenn to inform her that she felt no loyalty to Max and Shirin whatsoever, and would be very interested in voting one of them out. This got Jenn’s juices flowing, so she grabbed Will and Hali and the four of them went to fill Kelly in on their plan. Realising that there’s nothing to be gained from tying herself to a minority alliance, Kelly immediately jumped ship and agreed to vote with them. This led to some delicious footage where Max and Shirin stood alone together, talking about how excited that they were to finally be playing some Survivor, while the other five could clearly be seen in the back of the shot debating which of these two would be going home that night. Kudos to the camera operator who framed that. Whether it would be Max or Shirin going was still very much up for debate – as Jenn described in one of the episode’s most memorable confessionals, it was like a photo finish as the two of them competed to see who could be the most irritating.
Maxed Out: At Tribal Council, Shirin barely gets a sentence out before accusing Probst of looking at her funny. No, seriously. I can appreciate that Shirin has a deep-seated love of this show, but if she suspects even Probst is somehow out to get her, there’s no way that she has the confidence of purpose to be a real player in this game. The tribe discuss how they clearly got stiffed in the swap, and Max cites an equivalent situation in One World where the swap put all the studs on one tribe and all the misfits on another. What I found interesting here was the fact that, despite this being the sort of comment that could easily have caused offence, most of them seemed to just laugh it off, which suggests to me that on some level, Max probably has a degree of charisma. If he’d managed to keep the fanboy stuff to a minimum and spent less time naked and alone or cackling with Shirin, there’s a chance he could’ve actually used that as the basis for a decent alliance somewhere along the line. (He might have still been screwed by the merge, but imagine if Carolyn had found him charming rather than annoying, he wouldn’t be in this mess.) Jenn laughs so much that Probst asks her what gives, and she says that she considered herself a fan, but Max’s fandom positively dwarfs hers. Max and Shirin admit to being people who live, eat and breathe Survivor, and hoping that it’ll turn out to be a strength rather than a weakness. Max went on to give some unnecessary oration about how this is the kind of type-A personality behaviour that leads to people having coronaries in their early 40s (…from liking Survivor too much?) but he doesn’t care because he is THAT MUCH of a fan. Jeff asks if there’ll be a blindside tonight, and Shirin says that it’s possible, and it might even be her. Right, so we’re two for two in the superfans not knowing what a blindside is. And we thought the players on San Juan Del Sur were noobs.
They vote, and Jeff gives his usual patter ready for anyone who wants to play a hidden immunity idol to do so. Max does some very obvious Tony-style futzing with his bag, and then says “hold up, bro”. There’s a long pause, and then Max says that he’d “just always wanted to do that”. And that, right there, was Max’s biggest problem on this show. He was such a fan that he spent so much time homaging other players, and never actually did anything memorable on his own terms. He was so preoccupied looking for the next moment where he could drop a reference to a previous season that he took his eye off what was going on in the current one. (Also, Max? One World and Caramoan? You couldn’t reference some decent seasons?) (Also again, Max? You didn’t even deploy “hold up, bro” properly, because Malcolm said that to Reynold, not to Probst. Come on, dude!) Jeff reads the votes, and there are two votes for Will (no prizes for guessing whose those are) and five votes for Max. #BLINDSIDE, indeed. I wonder how many of the students who sat through Max’s college-level Survivor class considered petitioning for a refund after this episode aired.
Next week: there is unrest at Escameca, but not from where you might expect – Mike and Dan start to panic when they realise that Rodney is totally gay for Joaquin and they’re in danger of becoming this season’s Jonclyn or something. Roaquin? Jodney? We’ve got a few days to work out the portmanteau, I guess.