Survivor Survival Guide: I’m Not a Good Villain

“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!”

The conflict between Rob and Russell deservedly spread across the rest of the episode. Rob and Russell have been the two opposing leaders of the Villains tribe, tensely coexisting for 15 days because the Heroes couldn’t beat them in a challenge. The episode began with the fallout from the Russell-led, Tyson-assisted blindside of Tyson last week. While the numbers still favored Rob’s alliance 5-3, it was clear he didn’t have as strong a hold on Coach and Jerri as he had hoped; they were the swing votes that could burn him.

Russell, Parvati, and Danielle knew it, too, and they wisely started their persuasion propaganda with the more susceptible Jerri. Here’s the first major time where the players’ unfamiliarity with Russell really helped him; Jerri was loath to trust Boston Rob because she had seen the way he had played in the past. Not knowing Russell, she had fewer problems casting her lot with him than with the known, untrustworthy quantity. In the process, she (and later Coach) ignored what I thought was a big misplay by Russell, when he told them he wanted to take them to the final three. Now, I understand Survivor is fraught with empty promises, but this might be the emptiest I’ve ever seen. There’s no way Russell would take them to the final three! Parvati and Danielle are her closest allies and have been with him for the duration of the game. To me, this was an insight into Russell’s basic unreliability—and one that should have stood out to Jerri and Coach.

Once Jerri started swaying toward Russell’s side, she began working on Coach. The Coach-Jerri connection was played up strongly early in the season but hadn’t been shown much the last several weeks; “I’m Not a Good Villain” brought it back to the fore. Coach was angry with Jerri for so quickly casting her lot with Russell without consulting him and making a group decision; she in essence left Coach out to dry, having to choose not between Rob and Russell, but between Rob and Jerri. He briefly pushed Rob to vote off his closest ally in Courtney for the strength of the team (since she did cost them the challenge and all), but Rob rejected the notion quickly and tried to play into Coach’s loyalty, asking him to keep his word.

Coach went back and forth between both sides, promising each of them his vote and then seeming upset that he would have to break it with one of them. “I came here to win this game—not at all costs,” he said.

Heading into Tribal, there was still a fair amount of uncertainty. We knew Rob would get three votes (from Russell, Parvati, and Danielle) and probably a fourth (from Jerri); we also figured Russell or Parvati would get three votes (from Rob, Sandra, and Courtney). And so it came down to Coach’s decision: Does he side with Rob or Russell? And to whom does he break his word?

The pre-vote discussion at Tribal was one of the most intriguing I’ve seen in a long time—almost as gripping as a Final Tribal. Rob and Russell went back and forth at each other while Coach denounced Russell’s decision the week before to blindside Tyson.

In the end, Coach made the worst decision of all: trying to keep his word with both sides by voting for Courtney. It was his futile attempt to shun the alliance system simply by ignoring it and to make the noble choice by voting out the tribe’s supposed weakest player. But this was a Manichean vote, and voting for Courtney was more or less voting for Rob, who lost 4-3-1.

As he left, Rob turned to Coach and delivered a stinging closing salvo, “You’re a little man.” Rob wouldn’t have minded if Coach had voted against him; he just wished Coach had had the guts to write his name on the parchment.

And thus, the player I appointed as “King” of the Villains last week is headed home this week. I’m interested to see the Heroes’ reaction to news of Rob’s ouster at the first challenge next week; it certainly helps them in the puzzle category. The Villains Aristocracy:

THIRD ESTATE: Sandra and Courtney

SECOND ESTATE: Coach and Jerri

FIRST ESTATE: Parvati and Danielle

THE KING: Russell

Russell ascends to the throne with Parvati and Danielle as his right-hand women, but how long will that alliance stay together? I hypothesized earlier in the season that the individual players cast as Villains were known, more or less, for their disloyalty. Will that manifest itself in weeks to come? Or will Russell’s alliance, now perhaps buttressed by Coach and Jerri, stay intact until the now-within-sights merger?

I’m upset to see Boston Rob go; in Survivor terms, he was a three-tool player as a physical threat, a master at puzzles, and a strong social player that didn’t mind risking being disliked. But although seeing him go this early is disappointing, it did happen in one of the best episodes of Survivor in recent memory. Rob and Russell’s tête-á-tête was as intense as it was inevitable and worth our anticipation. We’ll just have to see if the rest of the season can live up to its standard.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. […] very well for dramatic purposes, and it has given us, by my count, two pantheon Survivor episodes (“I’m Not a Good Villain” and “The Sinking Ship”). There’s been Sugar going topless to win a challenge, enough time for […]

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  2. […] The Q&A session between the jurors and the finalists also seemed edited more tightly than usual with disappointing results. Most of the jurors attacked Russell for the way he played the game and his remorselessness, with Colby calling him “delusional” for not thinking luck played a part, Danielle telling him that “nobody respects the way that you played the game,” Candice saying there’s a difference between lying and “the dirty lies” Russell told, and Rupert saying he “took the easy way out” by being manipulative instead of honest and reiterating that he is “a disgusting human being.” And through all that, the BEST insult directed at Russell was from Coach, who hilariously and seemingly unconsciously called him “a little man”–the exact same thing Rob called Coach when he chickened out of taking sides in the Rob-Russell showdown! […]

    Reply

  3. […] a few episodes back—but it never boiled down to a me-against-you tête-à-tête the way it had between Boston Rob and Russell, the way I hoped it would here. In its place, though, we got as personal a feud as I can remember […]

    Reply

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