Warning: This recap for Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers contains spoilers.
Remember going Easter Egg hunting as a kid and the melee that would ensue once the hunt began? A bunch of snot-nosed little brats pushing and shoving in the pursuit of brightly-colored cheap chocolate previously pawed by a sweaty parishioner in a bunny outfit. An embarrassing spectacle to witness even as a prepubescent child, never mind the sight of grown adults involving themselves in such foolishness. But I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the image that sprang to mind during the sandpit scramble for the idol on last night’s Survivor. Not since Amanda Kimmel and Danielle DiLorenzo became embroiled in a catfight during a screening of Treasure Island have we seen such humiliating scenes.
The rumble in the jungle was merely one of many moments of mayhem in this week’s edition of Survivor. An episode that felt like Willy Wonka had been given creative control in an effort to pump some vibrancy into this placid season. Extra vote advantages, idol paranoia, clues written on plates, spaghetti dilemmas, and I’m fairly sure JP fell into a chocolate river and was sucked up a pipe to the Fudge Room. A jumbled mess of an episode which was as hilarious as it was horrible. At tribal council, the game was compared to a roller coaster, and it really did feel like the season suddenly hit the G-force acceleration. Also, there were times I wanted to get off due to fear of throwing up.
A SHARP DROP
Returning to camp following last week’s tribal council, the remaining Healers find themselves outnumbered and at the bottom, after plummeting from their presumed position on top. “Now we’re playing Survivor,” Cole says, applauding the opposition’s ability to lie so expertly. Joe is also complimentary — well, to a degree. “That was magic, Ben,” he says, giving credit to the ex-Marine, the person he sees as currently in control of the game. But his congratulations come with a caveat, which is basically, “I appreciate the move as a fan, but I’m gonna let everyone know they’re now playing with the devil.” As far as post-tribal patter goes, it’s an improvement on the Ryan-Ali bickerfest back on Soko, but still unwise to throw thinly veiled insults the way of the people in the majority.
For his part, Ben is pleased with how well he and Lauren executed their plan and pulled a fast one on the Healers. It suggests that the vote wasn’t as up in the air as the show presented to us last week, especially in regards to Lauren, who appeared firmly on board with the Healers. Ben informs us the plan was just as much Lauren’s as it was his, and so the pair must have had a long conversation about moving forward with the Hero-Hustler alliance. Ben is now looking to “get to seven” with the alliance he voted with at the last tribal, but understands how easily “an individual can mess this whole thing up.”
TOUGH AS NAILS
The next morning, while doing a spot of shelter DIY, Lauren discovers an advantage clue hidden in a bundle of nails. The same clue that Cole blindly passed by last week. According to the note, Lauren can choose to forfeit her vote at the next tribal council, in exchange for an extra vote to use at a future tribal. To accept the advantage, she must slip the clue into the voting urn and retrieve the blank piece of parchment. An interesting little twist to the previously seen extra vote advantage, which up until this point in Survivor history has yet to be used effectively, and at times has spectacularly backfired.
Now, while I do like this twist in theory, I am once again worried about the frequency of advantages in modern-day Survivor. I hate to sound like a “back-in-my-day!” curmudgeon … oh, who am I kidding? Old man yells at cloud is essentially my default setting. But seriously, so far this season, we have seen three new advantages and four hidden immunity idols! This influx comes after last season’s infamous Advantegeddon, which saw so many different powers floating around that, at the Final 6, Cirie Fields was eliminated without even receiving a vote. Admittedly, they’ve tried to curb that this season by introducing advantages with a time-limit, which I do appreciate, but there are still too many. Advantages and game-twists are part of Survivor, I get that, and they are often needed to shake things up. But a new advantage popping up every other episode removes the special feeling they once held.
And the twists don’t stop there…
This week’s Reward Challenge splits the tribe into two teams and sees them firing slingshots to knock down targets. The winning team receives a dinner of spaghetti and red wine. As Joe is the odd person out, he automatically gets to attend the reward, regardless of who wins. The team of Chrissy, Cole, Devon, JP, and Ryan pull out the victory, and Joe joins them in pasta paradise. But, of course, this is no ordinary reward.
Before they leave, Jeff Probst tells them that their spaghetti will be served “family style” and that rather than individual dishes it will just be one big heap of pasta. Not only that, but each person will eat, in private, one at a time. The eating order is to be decided by odd-man-out Joe. First of all, gross, everyone is eating from the same plate. Secondly, what kind of twisted torture experiment is this? It certainly creates an interesting dilemma, for Joe especially. Does he try and earn some goodwill by placing himself last in the lineup? Or does he go first and stuff himself silly in the hopes of keeping the other tribe members in a perpetual state of starvation? Also, a savvy player should be considering the potential for a clue hidden at the reward, and so putting yourself first gives you the best opportunity to retrieve it.
In a somewhat surprising move for Joe, he opts for the social game, deciding to go last. An unusual tactic for someone who has been so focused on hoovering up idols rather than perfecting a nuanced social strategy. Even more baffling when he later adopts an antagonistic vibe at camp, undoing any goodwill he might have earned previously. Not only that but he puts human garbage can Cole ahead of him — it’s a shock there was any food left at all before Joe arrived at the table. Fortunately for Joe, there was some pasta remaining when it got to his turn, but no plate.
Beneath the pile of pasta, there is indeed a clue, written on the plate. Birthday boy Devon is first up, but he doesn’t really get a good chance to see it as he tries his best to eat only his fair share of the portion. JP did shovel enough into his chops to uncover some of the wording, but he didn’t see it and even if he did, the jury is still out on whether JP can read. Cole is the first one to spot it, and after reading what it says, he decides to cover the plate with the apron. Now, for Cole, that amounts to a clever move, because his usual M.O. would be to run and tell everyone about the clue willingly. But it surely looked suspicious to those coming after him when they saw pasta carelessly dumped onto an apron, like remnants of an abandoned picnic.
“I thought I’d have a plate,” Chrissy says as she approaches next. Very much aware of reward-based clues, it doesn’t take long for Chrissy to uncover the plate and read the message for herself. “I don’t think Cole saw it,” she says, in a rare misread. Chrissy continues to have bad judgment by also choosing to cover the plate with the apron rather than taking a more proactive approach. Ryan seems to be the only one thinking smartly, and he scurries off to bury the plate in the woods like a serial killer disposing of a murder weapon. While waiting for Joe to finish up, Chrissy and Ryan begin whispering about what they saw, until Cole overhears their muttering, and the scene is set for the episode’s epic beach battle.
BASH AT THE BEACH
Back at camp, the reward winners fill the losers in on their spaghetti adventure as Chrissy, Ryan, and Cole eye each other suspiciously, waiting to see who will make the first move. When Cole goes to pee, Ryan takes the opportunity to dash over to the tribe flag, where the clue said an idol would be buried. Ryan furiously digs in the sand like a serial killer retrieving the aforementioned murder weapon after realizing the police are closing in. Hilariously, JP walks by just as Ryan stuffs the idol in his pants. How does JP react to this blatant display of idol discovery? He doesn’t! JP does not react to anything. His brain is simply not wired that way.
Ryan tells Chrissy he found the idol and asks her to cover up the hole where he was digging. Chrissy quickly starts doing this; I’m not entirely sure why she so willingly covered up Ryan’s mess. I understand the two of them are working together, but in this scenario, Ryan took the prize and got out of dodge while he left the getaway driver back at the scene of the crime to be caught — and that’s exactly what happens. Cole returns and sees Chrissy under the tribe flag, and he sprints over, jumping into the hole and wrestling with Chrissy. “JP help!” Chrissy yells. JP doesn’t do anything, and to be honest, I don’t blame him, seeing as the last time he was involved with an idol, Alan made him strip naked. Instead, Ben dives in, turning the tussle into a fully-fledged Wrestlemania main event, or at the very least an epic toddler sandbox fight. The tribe flag collapses as Ryan watches in awe, the idol safely tucked in his little pink pants.
It’s a bonkers turn of events which is both funny and utterly cringeworthy. Not exactly the scene you would show the uninitiated if you were trying to sell them on the greatness of Survivor, nor something CBS should put forward for Emmy consideration. Perhaps the funniest moment in all the madness, though, is that after all is said and done, Ben is adamant that Cole shoved the idol down his trousers. “I saw you tucking your shirt in,” Ben repeats. Cole isn’t quite sure how to react. Initially, he goes along with it, then denies it, and ends up somewhere in between. In confessional, Cole tells us that bluffing everyone is the only move he has left unless he can win immunity. About that…
A BAD, BAD PLACE
Cole does indeed win the immunity challenge, which involves balancing a wooden idol with a large pole (while standing on a balance beam, of course). The victory gives Cole temporary safety, but he realizes the Healers need to do something soon or they are going to be in “a bad, bad place.” The fact is, the Healers are already in a bad place (cue Ted Danson laugh) because Ben wants the Hero-Hustler alliance to split the vote between Joe and Desi. “Girls vote Joe, and guys vote Desi,” he says, preparing for another potential idol play from Joe.
The Healers try to come up with a counter plan. Cole tells Mike and Joe that despite Ben’s beliefs, he does not have the idol. However, he hopes that the fear of him potentially having one will cause the other alliance to split their votes, and in that case, they’ll only need to get one person to flip to give them the numbers. Interestingly, Mike DOES have an idol, but it appears he hasn’t told anyone else about it and is saving it for a rainy day when he needs it. Cole’s plan is relatively solid, and so Joe approaches Devon and Ryan in the hopes of convincing them to target Ben. Ryan agrees with Joe that Ben is a huge threat (great story, former Marine, and all-around good guy) but thinks voting him out now is too soon and would ruin his relationship with Chrissy.
Ben overhears Joe campaigning to get rid of him and confronts him on the beach. Then, for some reason, Joe blurts out a lie about Ben supposedly swearing on the Marines. That immediately gets under Ben’s skin and pisses him off. It’s clear that Joe is intentionally trying to push Ben’s buttons, he admits as much, and Ben is playing into his hands. I know that Joe likes to blow things up, but this move really confused me, especially after he took the social game route at the reward. Why ruin that effort? It only served to make Ben and others angry at him. Ashley perhaps summed Joe up best at tribal council: “It’s really hard to say if Joe is really good at playing this game or if he’s just really good at being very annoying.” Desi, meanwhile, is worried that Joe’s behavior is once again going to cause damage to her own game by association.
Before tribal council, Lauren tells Ben about her advantage, letting him know that they can’t split the votes, because she needs to forfeit her vote tonight. Ben says it screws up their whole numbers game. “I’m aligned with Ben, but I’m playing for myself and my daughter,” Lauren says, determined to get her hands on that extra vote. Ben’s worries cause him to approach Mike to ask if he will vote with them at tribal council. Mike himself is caught between going along to show allegiance or using the opportunity to make a big move.
A BUMPY RIDE AHEAD
At tribal council, Joe again goes after Ben, telling Probst and the entire tribe that Ben is the one running the show. The former Marine says that no one person is calling the shots and that the alliance makes decisions as a group. Ben does apologize to Joe for snapping earlier, but even during the apology, Joe still goads and causes more tension. “Stop talking — none of us want to listen to you anymore,” Chrissy snaps, which shows just how much Joe’s tactics have backfired. But despite this black cloud forming above Joe, he isn’t the one voted out!
The votes are cast, well all except for Lauren’s, who instead folds the blank parchment and stuffs it into her bra, placing the advantage clue into the urn in its place. When Probst reads the votes, it is a 4-4 tie between Joe and Desi, plus one for Ben and Lauren respectively. How did these 11 players react to only 10 votes being read out, you may be wondering? Well … they didn’t. And not just JP. No reaction whatsoever. Nobody appeared to question the missing vote — not even mathematical genius Chrissy! Surely someone must have said something? Perhaps they just left it out of the edited show. But why? You’d think that would be the sort of drama ripe for Survivor.
Instead, the group returned to the voting booth to break the tie between Desi and Joe, with Lauren again having to dispose of her parchment. I assumed Joe was a dead man walking at this point. He’d previously played two idols. Numerous tribe members have described him as a dangerous player. Not to mention his general attitude rubs people the wrong way. But instead, Desi is voted out and becomes the first member of the jury. Joe shakes his head in confusion, perhaps insulted he wasn’t deemed a bigger threat than Desi. Surprisingly, Mike and Cole both voted with the majority, planting their votes on Joe.
It was a weird vote to end an extra weird episode. I’m not sure how or why Desi became the target. The group did describe her as a strong physical and mental player, but she seemed less immediately threatening than Joe, plus easier to work with in the long run. Whatever the reasoning is, one thing is for sure, this season has gone from a slow uphill climb to a bumpy ride to the finish, and I expect more twists and turns before the journey is over.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Ryan: The only one smart enough to bury the plate. Plus he found the idol without anyone noticing and got to watch the chaos unfold around him. He’s also comfortably in the majority alliance.
Ben: He’s becoming too center-stage, and his target is growing, but for now Ben is in a position of control. Despite letting his anger get the better of him, he still ran tribal council the way he wanted.
Lauren: Finding the advantage clue was pure luck, but actually retrieving it took some risk, and telling Ben ahead of time was a wise decision. It still baffles me how nobody questioned the missing 11th vote, but that’s a great thing for Lauren going forward.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.
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