“King Arthur’s journey is officially ended.” –Coach
“The Heroes built it and the Villains burned it.” –Parvati
“This is how I hustle, this is how I make my money: I come out here and play Survivor. That’s what I’m best at.” –Sandra
“If she can win the game twice, there is a flaw in the game.” –Russell
Perhaps it was because it was clear that one of the two people I thought should win was going to win. Perhaps it was because the voting went almost exactly as I expected,* from five down to four down to three down to one. Or perhaps it was because I wrote those 2,000 fawning words about the euphoria of a Survivor season finale.
*Qualification time: I said “almost exactly.” Even though I said Parvati was the favorite, I thought we would get to a Final Three of Russell, Parvati, and Sandra, and that Sandra would win in that scenario (I thought 4-3-2 before the final tribal and 5-3-1 after it, with JT sticking with Russell. He didn’t.).
But I have to admit, there was something a little disappointing about last night’s finale. Let’s review it (you can also skip down to “The Disappointment of It All” if you think you’re above a quasi-analytical recap):
FROM FIVE TO FOUR
It started with highlights from the players’ previous Survivor experiences, and what struck me most was the difference in the reactions of Colby and Russell when they each lost. I had forgotten just how likable Colby was on Australia; I mean, he jumped up and fist-pumped the moment he lost because he was excited for Tina! What a guy! Russell, meanwhile, looked like the sorest loser in Survivor history–a designation he would add to later.
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The night the first Survivor finale aired in the summer of 2000 is oddly salient in my memory. My parents were on vacation, so my cousin was staying with us, and I remember having to go with her to drive my brother to a friend’s house quickly before the finale started–except that I was kind of ashamed of falling prey to this reality TV thing, so I never mentioned it, and we had trouble finding the house on a secluded street, and I was panicking in the back seat because I wanted Rudy to win so badly, and we ended up getting home about two minutes after the episode started. Even today, when I pass that secluded street, I think immediately of that night.
Like I said, oddly salient.
Although the Survivor finale that night didn’t give me the result I wanted, it certainly did deliver. It gave us arguably the landmark moment in reality television and a winner who, while unpopular with many, was probably the best the show could have had for its long-term health.*
*The polarity of opinions on Richard Hatch and how he played the game remains an issue 20 seasons into the game. Does controlling the game and risking the alienation of others constitute playing it the best? Or is it better to lay low, ride coattails, and hope your opponent is voted against? It’s a subjective stance, and it’s what makes the finale so interesting time after time.
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“Are you with me or are you against me?”
“I’m against you, Russell.”
“Who invited Boston Rob to the party: Are you with me or are you against me?”
For the second time in this season of Survivor, we were coming off an explosive, landscape-shaking Tribal Council. Just as Russell’s earlier victory over Boston Rob, his decision to ax Danielle last week reshaped the final days of this season. And just like earlier, the episode after the big move couldn’t possibly live up to its predecessor.
Even with reduced expectations, “Loose Lips Sink Ships” was disappointing. You can even make a case it was the worst episode of the season; it was easily the least dramatic since at least the merger. It almost felt like an early-season episode. There was a long “Previously on Survivor” (if a justifiably long one; even I had forgotten there were two Tribals last week), they showed the entire theme song (you know it’s an action-packed episode when they skip the intro song), and they spent a lot of time on mundane camp stuff like treemail (I don’t know if you realized, but it was sponsored by Sprint) and Rupert’s inconsiderate late-night wood-chopping.
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“I’m not fully in control of this game right now; me and Parvati are equally in control, and that makes me worried.” –Russell
“He’s getting outplayed by me AND DANIELLE at this point.” –Parvati on Russell
“Russell is insane.” –Danielle
Bravo, Survivor. You gave us an episode that matched this season’s earlier showdown between Boston Rob and Russell at a far more significant and usually predictable part of the season. And somehow, through two more immunity challenges that neither won, through another hunt for a hidden idol that neither found, and through two more tribals, Rupert and Colby are still standing.*
*This is especially astonishing in Colby’s case, considering he wasn’t even a member of the top alliance within the Heroes’ camp. I remember thinking how strange it was he even made it to the merge, and now he’s in the final six!
The episode started with the fallout from Candice’s betrayal of the Heroes in voting out Amanda last week. That left the Heroes down to two remaining members, Rupert and Colby, with the former describing Candice as “weak, pathetic, self-centered, and manipulative” before saying in almost Coach-speak, “Colby and I are on a stranded ship. There are no other heroes.”
Rupert then decided to go off on Russell at breakfast, calling him a “disgusting” human being who cared only for himself. Russell naturally didn’t back down, and the two digressed into a much-beeped argument that didn’t really go anywhere.*
*This episode had about as much cursing as any I can remember in the show’s history.
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“This is ridiculous! Colby!” –Danielle
“I didn’t even see what happened. I was watching Treasure Island.” –Colby
“Jumping Ship” established its premise early: Led by Rupert, the Heroes would try to sway Sandra to their side; Russell would counter by trying to get Candice to come over to the dark side. The vote would almost solely be determined by their respective yet intertwined decisions. Both seemed receptive to the offers of the one-time opposition. Sandra still wanted Russell gone while Candice appeared persuaded by Russell’s not-quite promise to take her to the top three.
Things got more interesting after the Reward Challenge, which split the nine into three teams of three to play “Survivor Shuffle,” a form of shuffleboard. In relatively unsuspenseful fashion, Colby snuck within Russell’s puck on the game’s final turn to win it for the Blue team, which also included Danielle and Amanda. The prize had to be one of the most incongruous Survivor awards ever: a trip to author Robert Louis Stevenson’s house (now a museum) that would include a tour, a viewing of the theatrical version of Treasure Island, and a night in a bed. Danielle and Amanda instantly began thinking about the possibility of a hidden immunity idol, completely ignoring ALL the fascinating aspects of the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, which housed original copies of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped, AND Treasure Island! As someone who has marveled at the L. Ron Hubbard House in DC, I was really put off by their lack of interest.
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“He just handed me $1 million. I guess he can afford it.” – Russell
“I cannot believe that kid won.” – Parvati
Don’t do it, JT. Don’t do it!
JT did it.
Continuing to act under the assumption that a strong all-female alliance is running the Villains, JT made his boldest—and dumbest—move yet: He gave away his own hidden immunity idol to Russell, thinking the architect behind the Villains’ actual alliance was on the chopping block. The move could have far-reaching ramifications as the two tribes prepare to merge with five members on each side.
“Survivor History” started with some especially blatant product placement from Outback Steakhouse. The winners of the Reward Challenge—which involved balancing between two walls on increasingly small pegs—would get a feast from Outback. Now, it isn’t new for Survivor to pimp products; I’m just not used to hearing contestants say things like “We just love Outback; we always go to Outback” (Sandra) and “Anything you want it—the Outback way” (Russell). The challenge had a nice strategic twist to it where each tribe had to rank its members from strongest to weakest to determine the matchups, but the Villains won so easily that it didn’t really come into play (Jerri outlasted Colby, Sandra beat Rupert, and Courtney took care of Amanda).*
*Sandra AND Courtney contributing to a challenge victory? Outrageous!
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Coach: “I just want once to hear Courtney say, ‘I want to play. I can beat this guy.’”
Courtney: “Thanks, Dad!”
Danielle: “Well he is a coach.”
One week after Russell ousted Boston Rob in one of the most memorable episodes of Survivor in years, the show couldn’t help but take a step back last night. The rising conflict between Rob and Russell had driven the previous two episodes, so now it was back to expositing the next crises in each camp and creating new drama.
It didn’t take long for Jeff Probst and the producers to tip their hand, as the episode began with what could only be described as a kind of tribute to Boston Rob that was surprisingly editorial in showing the instant remorse exhibited by Jerri and Coach in siding with Russell. The new conflict was set: Russell’s axing of Rob splintered the Villains tribe, which was now far more dysfunctional than the Heroes. In fact, the Heroes gained another feather in their cap when JT found the hidden immunity idol they received a clue for last week. Now, JT had said they should all look for it as a tribe and he did find it on his own, but for the second time this season, Amanda happened to spot someone find the hidden idol, and JT was forced to come clean and pretend like he was getting it for the tribe all along.
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“He wants to be the good guy to everyone. And he can’t. He can’t be the good guy and win this game.”
–Jerri on Coach
“You’re a little man.”
–Boston Rob to Coach
The two main storylines of last night’s episode of Survivor were evident from the moment Jeff Probst said, “Previously on Survivor…”. That opening summary clearly established a Colby Redemption Episode after he was saved by James’s injury last week* and that this would be the week the struggle in the Villains’ camp between Boston Rob and Russell would finally come to a head. Colby’s redemption occurred quickly and unimpressively, as he helped lead the Heroes past the Villains in a Reward Challenge hybrid of basketball and water polo. He was also tangentially a part of their victory over the Villains in the Immunity Challenge—a relay race to collect puzzle pieces before solving the puzzle. Courtney wasted an early Villains’ lead, and this time the Heroes didn’t cede the advantage during the puzzle portion of the challenge. Seeing Boston Rob not come through on the puzzle was like watching Mariano Rivera blow a save; it was weird.
*Seriously, the tone of the “Previously on” was basically, “Colby has sucked so far. Like, really, REALLY sucked. But he’s still here!” Continue reading »
“Better to play with me than against me.”
“I believe I’m gonna get him to eat those words.”
–Boston Rob and Russell
Last night’s episode of Survivor felt all along like a kind of contrivance. With the Villains winning four of five challenges, we had only seen them once at Tribal Council, when they suspenselessly voted off the curmudgeonly Randy way back in the third episode. In the intervening weeks, we’ve been treated to glimpses of the burgeoning rivalry between Boston Rob and Russell—one that, ideally, would be a defining arc of the season. Unfortunately, as long as the Villains kept winning, Rob and Russell’s tete-a-tete would remain latent.
In order to change that, the producers resorted to one of their two main contriving tricks: ordering that both tribes go to Tribal Council.* It didn’t matter who won immunity; in fact, immunity was individualized within each tribe. We were finally going to get to see the tussle between Rob and Russell.**
*The other trick is switching up the tribes, which would seem to take some of the meaning out of this season.
**See what I did there? Continue reading »