“He’s a good old country boy.” –JT on Russell
“Giving Russell the idol could blow up in my face. He could never have been in trouble. He could be the leader of the girls. Do I believe it? Not for a second.” –JT
“Do you believe what Sandra told you, or do you believe the obvious truth?” –JT
“People are villains for a reason. Don’t trust ‘em.” –JT
My respect for JT was at an all-time high four weeks into this season, when he teamed with Tom and Colby to blindside Cirie and eliminate one of the game’s biggest strategic threats. It seemed as if JT, Tom, and Colby would seize control of the Heroes tribe. One week later, I was bewildered when JT went back on what he did a week earlier and voted off Tom. See, look what I wrote then:
“I’m really perplexed by JT’s decision, mainly because he forfeited so much of his power in moving from the guy who saved one alliance to the guy who almost wrecked the one he’s with now. He just made it a lot harder for himself to win the game.”
Well, that’s got nothing on how JT has managed to screw himself and his tribe these last two weeks. He and the Heroes got played not once, but twice—first by Russell, and later more damningly by Parvati.
JT gave Russell the Heroes’ immunity idol last week so Russell could save himself from the presumed female alliance at the Villains camp, voting Parvati out in the process. Russell, of course, needed no such saving, kept the idol, and voted off Courtney instead.
Upon the two tribes’ merger into Yin Yang (ehh),* Russell explained Parvati’s continued presence to JT with an unconvincing story (albeit one told with convincing detail) that she also used a hidden immunity idol, and that’s how Courtney ended up voted off. It’s remarkable to me that any of the Heroes believed this tale: Why would Parvati use an idol when, according to their own assumption, she runs a female alliance? Parvati would only have used an idol if the Villains camp was operating completely differently from what the Heroes assumed, in which case Russell was lying to them. The Heroes’ trust in Russell was akin to a five-year-old’s in Santa Claus.
*I love the idea that these 10 adults sit down and design a tribe flag together. This isn’t fourth-grade art class!
Fortunately for the Heroes, Sandra tells Rupert what’s really going on: that Russell is in charge, and that she is the last member of her old alliance with Boston Rob. This was a strong episode for Rupert, who, in being more discerning than he had been at any other part of this game, reminded me why I used to like him. Based off Sandra’s testimony, Rupert is able to convince the other Heroes to test Russell’s loyalty this week: They’d tell him they’re voting off Parvati, and then all switch to vote for Sandra or Jerri.*
*Why they would consider voting off Sandra, who told them not to trust Russell in the first place, is even more unbelievable than their acceptance of Parvati’s using an idol last week.
The Immunity Challenge was an old-fashioned endurance test; the object was to hold on to a tall pole for as long as you could. First off, individual immunity is always far more interesting than team immunity challenges. You just get a greater sense that there’s something big at stake. Second, I’ve always been a fan of challenges that boil down to endurance. The best individual challenges are the ones that require less skill than dedication to that specific challenge, where a desperate player can overcome physical shortcomings simply by wanting (and needing) to win more. These challenges also serve as a good guidepost to where people perceive themselves in the game. Someone who gives up early and remorselessly obviously feels fairly comfortable.
This challenge showed that Colby obviously felt very comfortable with his position. Less than a minute into the challenge, he and Sandra gave up. Colby! Less than a minute! I guess it shouldn’t surprise me by now—Colby did start the episode by saying, “This is exponentially worse than I ever remember”—but it’s still like seeing Greg Maddux getting knocked around with the Padres a few years back. Russell, Rupert, Amanda, and JT were all out within 40 minutes, leaving four girls hanging. Jerri gave up 90 minutes in, citing dehydration (an impressive showing nonetheless). Candice made the unusual decision to step down shortly after Jerri, leaving only Parvati and Danielle at the top. Now, Candice rightfully wasn’t worried about being voted off herself at Tribal, but it still would have helped her team dramatically if she could have prevented a former Villain from taking home immunity—as we’ll see. Once it was down to two, Parvati and Danielle quickly conferred, deciding that Parvati would let Danielle win because Parvati had her own immunity idol if she needed it.
Rupert was again perceptive of the situation: If Parvati were so worried last week that she needed to play an idol, and if she’s on the same tenuous ground this week, why would she be so quick to let Danielle win? Hmmm. This only strengthens the Heroes’ plan to test Russell’s loyalty at Tribal.
Before they get there, though, two very important meetings involving Parvati happen. First, having heard that the Heroes are targeting Parvati, Russell gives her his immunity idol—meaning she now has two. She doesn’t even have to play her own—which Russell doesn’t know about—to stay safe. Second, Amanda meets up with her old friend and promptly tells her everything. Earlier, the two had chatted, and Parvati had divulged to Amanda that she had an idol. Amanda came back to tell Parvati that she should definitely play the idol, but Amanda says this in such a Kristen-Wiig-in-Knocked Up fashion (“You have that idol? Yeah, you should definitely…like, you should definitely go ahead and play it…. I’d play it.”) that Parvati thinks that she is lying and that the Heroes just want to flush the idol out. Parvati, of course, is right. And she uses this smart albeit risky inference to blow up the Heroes’ plans.
The Tribal Council of the merger episode is traditionally (and by this, I mean anecdotally, without me providing any anecdotes) one of the most important of the season. It sets the stage for everything that follows, or as Russell aptly tells Jeff, “Tonight’s vote will dictate the rest of the game.” (This was the perfect response to Jeff’s question, “Can tonight’s vote dictate the rest of the game?” Russell would be a good athlete from a media standpoint. He knows to repeat the question in the answer.) The discussion at Tribal* centers on Banana Wars II (Banana Wars I being when James was voted off) between Danielle and Rupert. Parvati says she feels “like a leper” on the new tribe, to which Jeff rejoins, “Is that because you’re used to getting attention all the time in your life?”
*Courtney, by the way, fulfilled her promise from last week and dolled herself up to look her best. Coach, however, did not wear a kimono. All in all: downgrade.
The Heroes executed their plan, with all five members voting for Jerri (at least they didn’t vote for Sandra) after telling Russell they were voting for Parvati. The Villains targeted JT, and it appeared that we would be headed for a 5-5 tie—and inevitably some type of tiebreaker between JT and Jerri to decide who would move on and which side would control the rest of the game. That’s when Parvati made THE Sprint Bold Move of the Season so far, deciding to bust out not one, but two hidden immunity idols for other members of her tribe. Acting on her correct reading of Amanda’s lies, she gave one idol to Sandra and one to Jerri. This was a ballsy move to say the least; she knew the Heroes wouldn’t vote for Russell and couldn’t vote for Danielle, so by saving the other two, it meant she was the only vulnerable Villain. If she didn’t read Amanda properly, she would have been going home.
Instead, her cunning sent JT packing and gave the Villains a 5-4 lead heading down the homestretch. The Heroes were justifiably stunned. It wasn’t just that Russell crossed them, but that even their “In Case Russell Crossed Us” contingency plan was snuffed out completely. Parvati helped cement herself as one of the game’s greats and as one of the favorites down the stretch, with a chance to become Survivor’s first two-time champion.* Her revelation of the second, heretofore secret idol may alienate Russell a little, but he should credit her for her perception and ability to ensure the Villains the advantage. Also, by thinking Sandra worthwhile enough to save her, it may just keep her in the alliance long-term. In that case, who cares if she screwed Amanda?
*You think Boston Rob and Co. regret not taking Parvati out when they had the chance in Week 3 and opted to get rid of Randy?
The First Yin Yang Aristocracy:
THIRD ESTATE: Amanda, Colby, and Candice
SECOND ESTATE: Jerri and Rupert
FIRST ESTATE: Danielle, Russell, and Sandra
THE KING: Parvati
Parvati proved that she was the one in control of the game with her gutsy move at Tribal. HOWEVAH (Stephen A. Smith style), if I had to pick a favorite to win the game, I’d have to go with Danielle right now. She isn’t a former winner, and she has yet to (and probably won’t have to) double cross anyone to get to the finals. I simply can’t see someone like Amanda, who Parvati played so humiliatingly last night, voting for Parvati to win another million. Sandra gets up to the First Estate because she remains the possible swing vote in a nine-man game. If she decides to flip on the Villains—and her distaste for Russell may provide enough motivation—she can change the numbers. Furthermore, the Villains no longer have any immunity idols to protect against such a flip. Jerri remains on the outside of the Villains’ alliance, while, if Sandra flips and leads a renewed Heroes’ alliance, Rupert would likely be her No. 2. Amanda, Colby, and Candice bring up the bottom, and I would say Amanda is the likeliest person to be voted off next week.