Survivor Survival Guide: The Sinking Ship

“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.

That was followed by the first Immunity Challenge of the night, and one of my personal favorites: The survivors had to stand on a small wooden perch and hold up their hand (which was tied to a bucket of colored water or paint or Nickelodeon slime) for as long as they could. I spoke two weeks ago about liking challenges that were basically about desire more than talent, and this qualifies even before Jeff Probst began tempting the contestants with food. Sandra and Russell ducked out one minute in even before knowing what the first temptation was: cookies and milk. Colby quit 20 minutes in for four donuts and iced coffee while Danielle, Candice, and Jerri all stepped aside for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, candy, and milk.

I love challenges like this because it gives insight into who thinks they’re safe, who doesn’t, and who’s willing to be the one from the latter group who tries to prevent one from the former group from winning. Russell and Sandra each had no qualms leaving early because they felt safe for the foreseeable future. Colby’s just given up, or maybe he correctly figured Rupert was more on the chopping block than he is—although that’s the case largely because Colby’s just given up. Danielle, Candice, and Jerri made the boldest move by leaving Parvati all alone to beat Rupert. Their group decision indicated, among other things, that they thought Parvati had the best chance to win the physical challenge, that she wouldn’t in any way be upset at them for abandoning her, and that even if she lost, they had no problems voting out Colby.

All of that, however, was water under the bridge because Rupert slipped, giving Parvati immunity. After the challenge, Jeff revealed a “twist”,* reading aloud a clue to a hidden immunity idol to everyone. Once back at camp, everyone scattered looking for it, “in the shadow of a burning bush” (paraphrase, folks), with some hilarious results: “What the hell is a burning bush?” Danielle asked, clearly showing that she hasn’t read her Torah. After a few minutes—again, these idols are practically growing on trees out there—Sandra found it beneath a red bush. The idol came with a note on it, but she couldn’t read it surreptitiously, so she hid both it and the idol under a different bush. And without Amanda around, no one spotted her. Rupert, knowing that he needed to at least give off the idea that he had the idol, then threw a large rock in his pocket to look like it in a last-ditch effort to force the Villains to split the vote.**

*He made it seem as if it were a twist to the challenge, and not just to the game in general.

**If Rupert were half the Hero Bob from a few seasons ago was, he would have crafted an exquisite replica of the idol from materials strewn around camp.

It worked very quickly, with Russell seeing the conspicuous bulge in Rupert’s pocket and, knowing a thing or two about idols himself, deducing that Rupert had found the idol. So the Villains determined to split their vote—three and three—between Rupert and Colby. That is, until Jerri tried to sway the others to split it with Candice, who she felt couldn’t be trusted since she so brazenly betrayed her old alliance the day before. Colby overheard this news and devised to vote for Candice with Rupert—which the two may have done anyway—to give her five votes and save the two of them (and, if Rupert did indeed have it, the idol).

Tribal Council I of the evening was relatively anticlimactic, even with a suspense-building commercial between the voting and the revelation of the votes: The Villains split their votes between Rupert and Candice, and Rupert and Colby’s votes put Candice over the top and her torch out. The Tar Heel alum received her due comeuppance, with Colby delivering her eulogy: “I can honestly say I’m proud of the way I played this game. Can you?”*

*Seriously Colby? You might be “okay” or “not that disappointed” or “mildly acceptant” of how you’ve played, but “proud”? You’ve been terrible.

Russell was the only one upset by how the voting went down in the first Tribal—not only at how his alliance thought getting rid of Candice was a smart move, but also that they didn’t think it necessary to tell him about it beforehand. That’s when he said he was worried that he and Parvati were “equally in control,” which was kind of funny because, to me, Parvati had exercised more control than Russell ever since the merge—what with the hidden immunity idols, finding out Amanda’s plan, and voting out Candice and all.

The second Immunity Challenge of the night consisted of digging up a peg, working it through a table maze, using four pegs to climb a wall, and then solving a slide puzzle—with competitors advancing in stages (i.e. first five through the table maze advance, first three through the wall). Colby and Jerri were knocked out in the table maze portion (“proud,” Colby?) while Danielle and Sandra were eliminated on the wall. That left Russell, Rupert, and Parvati on the slide puzzle, which Jeff reminded them “means you can’t pick up the pieces. You have to slide them around.” Russell barely beat out Rupert for immunity, which turned out to be big not only for keeping the necklace from one of the two remaining Heroes, but for giving Russell enough protection to launch one of his more curious plans of the season.

Remember way back at the start of the season when I wondered if the Villains—who made their name the first time around in this game by crossing other players and generally being untrustworthy—would be able to sustain an alliance.* Well, finally, a dozen episodes in and so much later than I expected, we saw the first crack in the Villains’ alliance—and boy, was it a big one. Upset by Parvati’s “equal” control in the game, the megalomaniacal side of Russell wanted to do something drastic to reassert his own dominance of the game. So he approached Danielle and told her that he didn’t think either of them could beat Parvati in the finals and that they should consider blindsiding her sooner rather than later. Danielle didn’t really buy it, mainly because she (I think accurately) believes she can beat Parvati and/or Russell in the finals.** I also thought Russell had a better chance making the opposite case to Parvati instead of Danielle if his goal was to break up their own trio: It’s more compelling and accurate to tell Parvati she has a much better chance of beating him in the finals than she does Danielle, and thus they need to eliminate her before the Final Three.

*I also said in that opening review that I didn’t get a good vibe from either Rupert or Colby. Whatever.

**A lot of the strategizing by Russell in the episode was also carried out under the assumption that it will be a final two, when the math seems to suggest it will be a final three (otherwise, there would be 10 jurors for the last two).

Instead, Russell then went to Parvati and told her that Danielle wanted her gone—a lie Parvati saw through, especially once Russell practically begged her not to talk to Danielle about it. Parvati did talk to Danielle, who reiterated that Russell was in fact the one who wanted to blindside Parvati. If Russell didn’t have the immunity, it’s possible the two would have turned on him and voted him out, so in that sense, this was the best time for Russell to try this ploy. On the flip side, it was too early of him to try to break up the core trio of his alliance—what with Rupert and Colby still around. If he had gotten down to the final five with his three, Sandra, and Jerri, he could definitely have flipped and eliminated either Danielle or Parvati with Sandra and Jerri’s votes. Even this week, he didn’t need to try to play Danielle and Parvati off each other; he could have simply approached Rupert, Colby, and Jerri about voting Danielle off and blindsiding her. It would have pissed off Parvati, but not anymore than he did anyway. (I suppose he thought turning the two against each other would really work and not just strengthen their connection against him.) Before Tribal, it became evident that Jerri would be the swing vote (Russell, Colby, and Rupert on one side; Sandra, Parvati, and Danielle on the other). Jerri told Parvati and Danielle she was voting for Rupert and wasn’t going to give in to Russell’s chicanery. When Russell approached her and told her that if she didn’t vote for Danielle, she would be next, Jerri did what Candice didn’t do last week and pushed him on the issue: “Explain to me why that is.” Russell couldn’t, and he said as much: “I can’t, but you’re next.”

All the issues came to the fore at Tribal II,* where Danielle and Parvati explained what Russell did during the day. Danielle was particularly emotional about it (since she was a target for the first time), breaking down into tears in a very emotionally weak moment. In criticizing Russell’s tactics, she said, “Me and Parvati are closer than you think,” which widened Russell’s eyes and caused him to mouth to Jerri, “It’s Danielle” right before the vote.

*Two Tribals, of course, meant that the best part of this episode in theory was that we’d get two scenes of Courtney making snarky comments from the jury box. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear much from her.

The first three votes went to Rupert, with the next three going for Danielle, leaving it up to Jerri’s vote, which she described by saying, “With this vote, I’m sealing my fate.” When she said it, I thought she meant she had voted for Rupert and was ready to accept that she was “next” by Russell’s contorted calculations. Instead, she cast her lot with Russell by taking out Danielle, and sending the presumptive (at least to me) favorite into the jury.

It was a shocking turn of events that completely alters the landscape of the final six. Instead of a dominant trio controlling events, there are now two former allies warring against one another, two leftover Heroes who will do whatever it takes to survive from week-to-week, one Villain hanger-on, and one who has virtually no allies but does have a hidden immunity idol nobody knows about. It will be very interesting to see where this goes. The scenes from next week show Russell teaming up with Rupert and Colby; does he really think he can beat them in a final? Does he bring Jerri along with him? Do Parvati and Sandra become a close alliance with the hidden idol on their side? The episode took us from one well-established alliance to absolute chaos.

I don’t even think I can do an aristocracy at this point. I don’t see what Russell’s endgame in this all is; I thought the only people he had much of a chance against in the finals were Parvati and Jerri. He has now completely alienated Parvati, and unless there’s a final two between him and Jerri, I don’t know how he can win. Just look at the current jury: Out of the six, I can only imagine two of them (JT and Candice) voting for Russell. I also don’t know how much past success will weigh into final votes; are Parvati and Sandra punished for having won before? And what about Rupert, who was awarded a million dollars by fans because he was so likable? If I had to put my money on one person emerging from all this, it’s Sandra believe it or not, but I don’t feel very comfortable with that guess.

If nothing else, we can at least say the final few episodes just got a LOT more interesting.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. […] pretty sure I came really close to calling this last week (for the first time ever). Check it out: “The scenes from next week show Russell teaming up […]

    Reply

  2. […] 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 a […]

    Reply

  3. […] episode of Survivor: Nicaragua, coming one week before I thought it might* and two weeks before it did last season. “Stuck in the Middle” was a classic case of an alliance crumbling, precisely because it failed […]

    Reply

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