Survivor Survival Guide: “Stuck in the Middle”

“It does look like a king and queen situation. But Sash is more a queen and I’m more a king.”

—Brenda, apparently channeling Shannon

“What do I have to lose? Something has to change, and it has to change soon.”

—Holly

We finally got our shakeup 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 to properly buttress itself.

*Equivocate much?

“Stuck in the Middle” started with a “Previously on…” that was careful to mention the two Hidden Immunity Idols still in play and an image of stars that, like Kirsten Dunst, was crazy/beautiful. That’s what we call scene-setting, kids, what with Holly and Jane sneaking away from camp in the middle of the night to discuss their big strategic maneuver: what would later be referred to as “Operation: Take Out Brenda.”* Holly had some quick takers. With Marty gone, Jane could finally vote for someone else, and she considered Brenda “a villain” by this point.** Benry called Holly’s idea “a wake-up call,” which is odd considering Marty basically told Benry the same thing last week, and it was presumably a wake-up call then, too. NaOnka was the biggest possible get for Holly, with Na referring to her one-time closest ally Brenda as “Marty, Jr.” The one person who was resistant was Chase, who thought Benry should be the next to go.

*Ooh boy, I’d like to take out Brenda…to like a nice dinner, maybe a romantic comedy. I hear that Morning Glory is good. We’d have a nice time.

**Jane’s last non-Marty vote was for Dan, and she did it because “that’s what Coach wanted” one week after Jimmy Johnson had been eliminated.

Complete “Survivor Survival Guide” Archive

The Reward Challenge broke the tribe into two teams of five—by “schoolyard pick,” which begs the question of who the captains were—that had to traverse a course using only four barrels, two planks, and 10 feet of rope (and without touching the ground). The blue team—composed of Na, Jane, Chase, JudFabio, and Purple Kelly—got off to a quick start, even though they somewhat counterintuitively (at least to me) used only three of the barrels and used them on their side instead of upright, meaning they were less stable. The yellow team—with Sash, Holly, Brenda, Dan, and Benry—tried a similar technique with all four barrels to much less success. Eventually, the yellow team fell down, meaning it had to start over, meaning the blue team won going away.*

*Man, referring to these “[color] teams” makes me feel as if this is a RW/RR challenge post. Ugh.

The reward was to visit a volcano and go “volcano surfing,” which is pretty much just sledding down the side of the mountain. BUT, in order to get to the volcano, the five castaways got to take a helicopter, which was like the coolest thing EVER. “I’ve never been in a helicopter,” Jane said excitedly, and Na revealed that she never expected to get a passport, let alone be in a helicopter (as if helicopters are only used for international travel). After volcano surfing—“it was almost like you were walking on the moon,” said Jane of being on the side of the volcano—the quintet feasted on chocolate brownies, soda, and awful-looking pizza. I mean, really truly AWFUL-looking pizza. This is another stable of Survivor: The pizza always looks awful. As a sidenote, though, kudos to not going nuts with the product placement here. It was surprising to see that they drank “soft drinks,” instead of something like Pepsi Max or Fanta or Mountain Dew: Code Red. That allowed the survivors’ reviews of the meal—Jane mentioned downing like three glasses of soda—more trustworthy. The five of them did talk some strategy, with Na boldly pulling JudFabio aside in the middle of the feast to tell him about Operation: Take Out Brenda. JF is obviously onboard, willing to do just about anything to get rid of Brenda, including allying himself with NaOnka. While they’re canoodling, we got the first of three fantastic Purple Kelly moments, with Chase telling her, “You never really talk” and her responding, “Yeah, it’s kind of funny…”. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the thrilling conclusion to that meta-conversation.

Meanwhile, back at camp…DISASTER. With the threat of a downpour early that morning, the tribe had guarded the fire with four chests of food and supplies and some pieces of wood. They were successful in protecting the fire from water, but not in protecting themselves from the fire, which ripped through all the wood and destroyed most of Libertad’s food supply. “This is a day from hell,” said Benry, in between roughly 18-20 shots of him wiping his hands on his face in disbelief.

It was hard, however, to take this too seriously when only Benry seemed to be freaking out and when the reaction of the other five castaways—the blue team that had won reward—upon seeing what had happened wasn’t shown at all in the episode. How bad could it be? It wasn’t even brought up at Tribal.

Back at camp, Chase does what Chase do, going to Brenda and telling her all about the plan to vote her off. Brenda is surprised but “not impressed” by the attempted coup, and she says she’s not going to scramble. Everyone else, though, is angry at Chase. “Chase is sucking up to Brenda, like he wants to get in her pants or something,” said Jane (bless her soul).* Holly was more straightforward: “What the f*** is wrong with Chase?”

*What’s the “or something” in that quote?

The Immunity Challenge consisted of standing with your feet on a small tilted platform (with a sharp vertical angle), leaning back toward water, and holding yourself up with a knotted rope, first at roughly 45 degrees, then about 30 degrees as you moved down the knots. The point is, strength and tough hands were paramount. Sash and Purple Kelly were out quickly, followed by Holly, Brenda, and Dan (who I just noticed was sporting royal blue socks to match his bathing suit. Stylish). JudFabio then let go (it looked like he just quit), with Na following shortly thereafter. That left Benry, Jane, and Chase as they moved down a knot on the rope. After some masculine grunting, Benry dropped out. Jane told Chase she was about to quit, but Probst  convinced her to stay in it, and Chase unexpectedly fell while shifting his position. So for the second time in three individual Immunity Challenges, Jane emerged with a necklace.

Even without Brenda scrambling, there was still one more major move to go down before Tribal; namely, Na told Sash about the plan. I thought this was beyond dumb at the time. Na already had the numbers to get Brenda out (it was six against four with Chase, Sash, and PK voting with Brenda), and telling Sash meant he could save Brenda with his idol. What did she hope to gain with the disclosure? Brenda, then, just grouped up with Chase and Sash, reiterating how much she trusts them and planning to use Sash’s idol to then blindside her betrayer, Na.

At Tribal, Brenda called out Na, saying how she broke her alliance. Na oddly put the onus on Chase for going around like a chicken with his head cut off, with Chase then saying how loyal he’s been. Has there ever been a season with so much openness and candor at Tribal? I mean, there has been no discretion at all during Tribals. You have Wendy going off, Shannon calling Sash gay, Marty criticizing Jimmy T., Na disclosing her divorce, Yve and Dan arguing over who was arrogant, Brenda telling Jane Marty wanted her off, Sash revealing the idol, Marty calling Jane a threat, Na going after Marty and JudFabio…. Each week, Tribal has included some sort of bold indictment of another player. This usually doesn’t happen at all, right? It’s usually all Go-Gos, Duff Sisters, “Our lips are sealed,” no?

To sort it all out, Probst went to the most involved castaway: Purple Kelly. “Purple Kelly, weigh in on this. Give us your 20 years of wisdom.” PK answered this wonderfully open-ended question by expressing her confusion about what was going on, saying she was totally “out of the loop.” At least she’s becoming increasingly self-aware about it.

The vote went down, and it became a question of who would play their hidden idols. Would Sash save Brenda? Would Na feel threatened and rashly play hers in case Sash saved Brenda? Was it possible both idols would be played? What happens if all the votes are cancelled by hidden idols?

When Probst asked if anyone wanted to play their idol, though, NEITHER Na nor Sash made a move. I was stunned Sash didn’t help Brenda, who looked beseechingly over at him. The first three votes were split among Brenda, Na, and Benry, but the final seven all went to Brenda.

So not only did Sash not save Brenda, but he voted her off—with Chase, for that matter. It was Purple Kelly who hilariously voted for Benry with a shrug of the shoulders. That means it wasn’t so misguided of Na to approach Sash about voting Brenda off, and I’m still trying to figure out whether he made the right move or not. I suppose, on the one hand, he didn’t have much of a choice. Even if he saved Brenda with the idol and they were able to vote NaOnka off, they still didn’t have the numbers for the next Tribal, and there’d be no idol to save them. So he decided to get it over with now and keep the idol for himself, which at worst might cost him a jury vote from Brenda.

It just speaks to the BS Alliance’s inability to hold its fringe members—something that came back to haunt Marty and Jill when Jane defected post-tribe swap. Purple Kelly and Chase stuck with them, but NaOnka—always unstable—didn’t, and the other five have-nots were able to organize behind her and Holly. Let’s talk about Holly, who’s transformed from the crazy woman who defended Wendy Jo and put sand in Dan’s buried shoes in the first two episodes into a legitimate threat to get to the Final Three and, at this point who knows, win the whole thing.

A really weak attempt at an aristocracy:

THIRD ESTATE: Chase, Jane

SECOND ESTATE: Benry, JudFabio, Holly

FIRST ESTATE: NaOnka, Dan, Purple Kelly

THE STATE: Sash

FINAL THREE: Sash, Purple Kelly, Holly

I really have no idea. Sash still has an idol and is less likely to irritate the rest of the tribe and be stupid enough to be blindsided than NaOnka. Thus, I think he gets to the final five on the strength of that idol. Chase is probably at the top of the chopping block, given the fact that his capriciousness last night got on everyone’s nerves—even if he ultimately voted with them. Jane is an increasingly potent threat, and it would behoove the rest of the tribe to vote her off the next time she doesn’t win immunity. Dan and Purple Kelly are in the same boat, as players who go along with the tide (so long as they know where it’s going, right Kelly?) and who pose little to no physical threat. Who wouldn’t want to take these two to the Final Three? Benry, JudFabio, and Holly all played a part in getting Brenda out, but I would say they’re listed there in inverse order of strategic acumen. I trust Holly more than JudFabio to make a wise move if she needs to, and she appears to be less of a threat in challenges.

But all that’s a rationalization for the topic sentence: I, like Kelly, have no idea.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Josh on November 19, 2010 at 12:23 AM

    I think Naonka actually will be hurt by turning on Brenda (and Sash). Now she doesn’t really have any firm alliance protecting her, so if she does something idiotic again, which is inevitable, there is little protecting her from being voted off. Perhaps people will want her to be in the Final 3 since she won’t get any votes, but probably the same could be said about Dan or Puple Kelly.

    Reply

  2. […] Let’s consider how “flighty” Chase has been. He has sided, at various times, with Shannon and Benry, with Brenda and Sash, with NaOnka and Holly, and now with Holly and Jane. At no point, though, has he been subtle or decisive about this. He has been called-out for playing both sides on multiple occasions—by Shannon as early as Day 6 and by just about every castaway two episodes ago. […]

    Reply

  3. […] transition from an alliance-based game to an individual one—even though Sash did that the minute he voted off Brenda (or at the very least, when he called himself “a free […]

    Reply

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