The Writing’s On The Wall (/Parchment): Those of us who had hoped that Mike’s feint last week about playing his idol to save Shirin, which ultimately resulted in two of Rodney’s alliance cracking and voting for Dan to save their own skin, would result in serious schisms in that alliance that would provide a fresh spring of drama for the final weeks ended up disappointed because, well, it didn’t. Rodney’s alliance is somehow curiously functional in its dysfunction, in that the people within it are willing to shank each other but nobody particularly holds a grudge afterwards. You might think that Dan, of all people, could reliably provide some fireworks when he was on the chopping block and for a while it looked like that might hold out, but after Tyler apologised and pointed out that he knew he was being targeted and had to vote for someone to neutralise the votes against him, and Will added that he was trying to force a tie, Dan seemed to accept that. I mean, as apologies go it didn’t really do much to persuade anyone that Dan wasn’t on the bottom of the alliance, but it’s Dan, so “not much” is apparently all it takes to get back on his good side. Which makes it even weirder that he still feels so betrayed by Mike and won’t accept any olive branches at all on that front, but Dan’s not the fullest mailbag in the sorting office, if you know what I mean and I’m sure you do.
Present Tense: The next day was a special occasion: Rodney’s birthday! Perhaps it was a result of being stuck on a beach for 30 days without much to celebrate, but this caused everyone to lose their damn minds and start talking in high-pitched, terrifying baby voices at him (particularly Will and Carolyn, good god). Rodney, for his part, was just really determined to go on reward for his birthday – as he explained in the confessionals, he was feeling pretty good about it because everyone knew it was his birthday (oh boy did they ever) and even if he didn’t personally win reward, one of the winners was definitely going to bring him. Because his alliance is so tight! Especially Will, he and Rodney are bros for life! Will’s definitely standing down if it comes to that, so Rodney is definitely getting some food on his birthday!
The reward challenge involved the team being tied up to a maypole (<3) and having to untangle themselves and get a key, then building a ladder to retrieve a bag of balls, which they would then have to carry through a narrow net bridge and jump on a catapult to launch the balls into five targets. Or, as I call it, "Saturday night". After a schoolyard pick, Mike, Sierra and Carolyn ended up on one team, with Rodney, Tyler and Dan on the other. Will was not picked at all, and would not be going on the reward under any circumstances, which rather dealt a big blow to Rodney's birthday plans from the off. Mike's team had a logical approach from the off and took an early lead, but Dan's team caught up – at least until Rodney forgot to carry the bag of balls through the net bridge and was forced to backtrack. However, they narrowed the gap again when Dan turned out to be a beast at launching his balls (I apologise to everyone in the world for that mental image), while Mike was struggling. It was looking slightly hairy for Team Mike at one point, particularly when Sierra asked Mike to swap out so that she or Carolyn could see if they could do a better job and Mike was all "NO IT'S COOL I GOT THIS", which is generally a portent of doom on this show, but then at the crucial moment Dan missed a shot that Mike landed, so Mike, Carolyn and Sierra won reward. In case you'd forgotten, it was Rodney's birthday, and he didn't want to be an asshole about it or anything but IT WAS HIS BIRTHDAY and basically if you made him go without reward on his birthday you were pretty much worse than Hitler. Good god, Letitia Dean's 40th birthday on Strictly Come Dancing was less of a big deal than this, and they went on about that for half the damn series. Ultimately, Mike was all “sucks to be you, but I’m still going”, Carolyn was all “yeah, this is once-in-a-lifetime for all of us, dude”, and Sierra was all “hey, if we were picking people to join us you’d absolutely be my first choice, but we’re not so you’re not sry2say”.
The reward was the obligatory white-knighter of the season, where they got to deliver supplies to needy children and feel all heroic and MURICA FUCK YEAH about it, and then eat some BBQ afterwards. Naturally during the reward Mike worked on Carolyn and Sierra – possibly a little too hard, but Carolyn did at least admit in a confessional to considering whether it could be advantageous to her to ditch her current alliance and team up with Mike instead. Alarmingly, she did this while turning to the sideways and grinning like one of the twin witches from The Ocarina Of Time. Maybe this is the reason they don’t show Carolyn smiling all that much: because when she does, it’s kind of terrifying.
And The Golden Globe Does Not Go To: While all of this was going on, Rodney was steaming back at camp. Will, Dan and Tyler fanned the flames of his righteous indignation by saying that they would absolutely have given up their rewards for him, and Rodney snotted that he expected this sort of behaviour from Mike and Sierra, BUT NOT FROM MAMA C. Rodney swore to get his revenge – except weirdly, his revenge ended up taking the form of “pretending to be so angry that he’d tell everyone to vote him out at the next Tribal Council because he doesn’t want to play any more, then Mike will get lulled into a false sense of security and and not play his idol and then they can blindside him”. It’s odd – Rodney obviously has serious skills to have become the linchpin of such a resilient alliance, but he’s kind of astonishingly bad at the rest of the game, because Mike would never fall for that in a million years, and also if you want to quit, just quit. Jenn’s already done the “just vote me out” thing this season and no one really listened to her either until it suited their own purposes to get rid of her. Astonishingly, a plan that hinged entirely on Rodney’s amazing acting skills ended up with the others returning, Rodney stomping around going “VOTE ME OUT, I’M OVER THIS SHIT”, Mike lolzing “nice try, but I’m not that stupid” and even the comparitively patient Sierra being all “I actually will fucking vote you out if you don’t shut up about your goddamn birthday, you little bitch.”
Speaking of people with little to no ability to read others: Tyler was feeling vulnerable and pondering whether Carolyn might play “the White Collar idol” on his behalf at Tribal. Dude, you can call it “the White Collar idol” all you want, the only person Carolyn is playing that thing for is Carolyn, and you know it.
Lean Cuts: This week’s immunity challenge saw the return of a very specific challenge that we last saw in Caramoan (I think?), where the contestants were positioned off a jetty and holding onto a rope while leaning back over the water, gradually moving the rope down notch by notch at regular intervals until they were at the most uncomfortable angle possible. This is one of those unusual physical challenges that actually seems to favour women, I guess just because of the way most women’s bodies are built compared to most men’s? I don’t know, don’t ask me, I’m not a doctor, I just see the results. Obviously Will and Dan, the two with the most body weight to support, were out first, followed by Sierra, then Rodney. Mike went out in third place, and despite Tyler’s best attempts to hold on, there was no taking down Carolyn who hardly seemed to be breaking a sweat for the most part of this challenge. Sierra cheered very loudly for Carolyn’s victory, which was an interesting turn of events.
Alliance Will Eat Itself: This time Rodney’s alliance had to discuss the reality of taking out one of their own, because Mike still had his immunity idol and – despite Rodney’s sterling acting performance – was clearly going to be playing it that night. So a lot of negotiations began: Rodney, Sierra and Carolyn planned to vote-split between Mike and Tyler (with the girls voting for Tyler and the boys for Mike), just on the off-chance that Mike decided not to play his idol. You know, in case a piece of the Tribal Council set fell down and gave him a concussion. Carolyn, suddenly playing all sides, plotted with Will and Tyler about the possibility of blindsiding Dan and taking out that hidden advantage that he hadn’t used yet. Also, Carolyn considered just cutting Tyler loose already because he knew about her idol and could easily tank her game by bringing it up if he chose to, and also he’d kind of outlived his usefulness. And in the middle of this, Dan gave a lot of confessionals which he believed would portray him as the sage narrator, and which of course did the exact opposite.
At Tribal Council, Mike made it very clear indeed that, come hell or high water, he would be playing his idol tonight. Rodney appeared to have mostly dropped the strop act, but still had an element of grumpiness about his birthday and the lack of appropriate reward that came with it. Tyler said that he would be surprised if he went home tonight (FORESHADOWING KLAXON) and Dan just talked a lot. Then they voted, Mike played his idol, so Tyler’s, Will’s, Dan’s and Rodney’s votes for Mike were all discounted, so Mike’s, Sierra’s and Carolyn’s votes for Tyler were enough to send him home. Now, which one was Tyler again?
So the interesting developments in this episode were the revelation that Carolyn and Tyler really weren’t the tight unit I’d perceived them to be for most of the series, since she shanked him the first chance she got, and the possibility that Carolyn and Sierra are closer than anyone realised. And also that Will and Rodney are super-close, which might be relevant later.
Next week: Rodney’s alliance implodes (possibly, maybe, who knows at this point) and Mike tries to bring Carolyn and Sierra into the fold.