Survivor Survival Guide: Banana Etiquette

“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?

First, briefly, the Immunity Challenge, which commenced within the episode’s first 10 minutes. Each survivor was clipped to a rope that was wound around a wooden maze. To reach the end, you had to contort your own body over, under, and through the maze. Candice beat out JT for the Heroes, while Rob won for the Villains. The reward challenge immediately followed, with Candice being pitted against Rob in another, tougher maze—with hot dogs, soft drinks, and a chance to listen in on the opposing team’s tribal up for grabs. Rob won again, rather easily.

The rest of the episode was spent prepping for and going to Tribal. In the Villains’ camp, the goal of the loosely collected main alliance (Rob, Sandra, Courtney, Tyson, Jerri, and Coach) was to both vote off Parvati and flush the immunity idol out from Russell (who they rightfully assumed had found it during his constant search in previous weeks). To do this, they would split their votes three and three. Russell, Parvati, and Danielle would vote for one of the main alliance (since it couldn’t be Rob, they would likely settle for Tyson), and thus Parvati and Tyson would be left tied, presuming Russell saved himself with the idol. The six would vote for Parvati and achieve their two-fold goal.

That’s when Russell pulled Tyson aside and told him that, since it was inevitable that Parvati was going home, he would vote for her, too (presumably so he didn’t have to play his idol). Now, it was smart of Russell to plant this suggestion with Tyson, but it was extremely dumb of Tyson to listen. What benefit does switching his vote from Russell to Parvati have? Tyson wants Parvati gone more than Russell, but she’ll probably be gone if he sticks to the alliance’s plan anyway. He can’t be scared someone in his own alliance will flip sides and vote him out (thus giving him four votes and the ouster) because he’s basing his own decision off the concept that Russell is voting for Parvati and not him. The only possible explanation is that he was afraid he would lose a tiebreaker in which he held a 6-3 advantage.

Regardless his logic, Tyson switched his vote to Parvati—a fatal decision when coupled with Russell’s own choice to give Parvati the immunity idol (now knowing only two castaways would be voting for him—fewer than the three votes he had secured for Tyson). When Russell gave the immunity idol to Parvati before the votes were revealed, the expression on Tyson’s face said it all. He had been played, and he was about to go home.

The Heroes’ Tribal was almost as surprising. After the challenges, Colby pretty much resigned himself to going home since he had no one left on his side. There was some banter about whether James was healthy enough to keep along for the ride, but James seemed to answer that with a strong performance in the challenge—stronger, it should be noted, than Colby’s. It seemed as if the editors were trying to create suspense where there was none and that Colby—“Superman in a fat suit” according to James—would have his torch extinguished.

Instead, my recently coined JAR Alliance dropped its J, voting James out 5-1. It was a surprising twist made more so by its margin; even Amanda, James’ strongest ally, wrote his name down. This isn’t to say it wasn’t a prudent move, although I’m left to wonder why James’ condition merited elimination this week when it didn’t last week (when he was much worse). I suppose the numbers made it easier—Amanda, Rupert, and Co. didn’t want both Colby and Tom left around in a pool of six—but still, if it were a team challenge this week, James could have severely hindered them. James was clearly not pleased: “Imma be good drunk in the next five minutes!” he said as he left the stage.

Since it was a double elimination night, you get two aristocracies. First, the Heroes:

THIRD ESTATE: Colby

SECOND ESTATE: Candice

FIRST ESTATE: Amanda and Rupert

THE KING: JT

JT resumes his throne as the de facto king of the Heroes, largely because he seems to be the driving force behind voting James off last night, therein assuming the leadership rule vacated when he helped blindside Cirie. Colby is still the next one to go.

For the Villains:

THIRD ESTATE: Russell, Parvati, and Danielle

SECOND ESTATE: Sandra and Courtney

FIRST ESTATE: Coach and Jerri

THE KING: Boston Rob

It was a bold and well-played move by Russell, indeed, but he still trails 5-3 in the numbers and has definitely drawn the ire of Rob now. His best chance for continued survival through to the merger is to swing Coach back to his side, possibly luring Jerri in the process and taking control of the numbers. Sandra and Courtney are more closely aligned with Rob, but Coach and Jerri have more power right now as swing votes.

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