Survivor Survival Guide: “You Started, You’re Finishing”

“I’ve been sucking it up for 28 days. There’s nothing left for me to suck.”

—Purple Kelly

“Realistically, you think you had a shot at this game?”

“Yes.”

“Based on what?”

“Based on my drive, once upon a time…”

“This is amazing. Regale me with a story, woman.”

—Probst and NaOnka

How am I supposed to feel about Wednesday night’s Survivor? On the one hand, we finally saw NaOnka have her torch “snuffed” out, and in about as selfish a way possible. On the other, we saw TWO castaways quit within the final nine in an unprecedented show of wimpiness that drew about as much of the show’s editorial ire as possible. This is to say, it was complicated, like watching Boise State lose to Nevada or LeBron James return to Cleveland.*

*What? That WASN’T complicated for Cavaliers’ fans?

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The “Previously on…” established the theme of the episode by detailing the castaways’ prior bouts with wanting to go home. There was Holly on Day 5 when she was hiding Dan’s shoes and becoming a terrible person, Na struggling with that one rainstorm, and apparently Purple Kelly feeling the same way (there’s no link there for a reason; I don’t remember that happening). It didn’t take long for Na and PK to express renewed thoughts about leaving the game as another rainstorm pummeled Libertad’s beat-down and fire-ravaged camp. At this point, I thought that maybe this was just setting up some drama—a “two people might quit but probably won’t because look how close they are to the end” storyline—until all the other castaways pretty much began acting on the assumption that both NaOnka and Kelly would be quitting. Holly, Jane, and Chase had formed a bit of an alliance with Na, but they switched it to include Sash instead. Their position was only strengthened when Na gave Chase the hidden immunity idol—the one he figured out the clue for a day too late at the beginning of the game. Na’s parting advice to the person she decided she trusted the most (and the person every other castaway trusts the least): “You just gotta work your magic. You just gotta turn your swag on.”*

*Are we sure NaOnka isn’t Willow Smith’s songwriter?

JudFabio and Benry were surprised at the two contemplating leaving, but they didn’t mind. Na and PK were both parts of Brenda and Sash’s old crew that they were trying to break apart. And JF offered some excellent advice: “You’ve just gotta find a mental happy place and say this is only temporary. I can deal with this.” I love it when someone on television sums up the themes of both Happy Gilmore and Infinite Jest so concisely.

The Reward Challenge broke the players into two teams, which had to untie a massive eight-foot dummy named Gulliver and carry him through a series of obstacles without dropping him. The Yellow Team (JudFabio, Sash, Jane, and Purple Kelly) held a slight lead throughout the entire race until the end, when the Blue Team (Holly, Na, Chase, Benry, and the not-competing Dan) passed them on the final obstacle for the win. The reward called for a sneak preview of, you guessed it, the film Gulliver’s Travels, complete with cinema food such as popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, and candy. It was some more blatant product placement from Survivor, with Probst spelling out the movie’s theme—“It matters how big you are on the inside”—and everyone on the reward saying how good the movie was, even if you could tell they were lying (Benry!).

After the Reward Challenge but before the reward, NaOnka told Probst that this was her last day, as she was going to quit. A taken-aback Probst expressed incredulity, then asked if anyone else was thinking of quitting, giving Purple Kelly a chance to say she too was going to leave. Probst came down hard on the two of them—something he would continue to do for the rest of the episode.

He also offered a deal to the winning Blue Team. If one member of the team decided to forego his reward, he could bring tarp and a fresh supply of rice back to camp. Without much hesitation, Holly took the deal in what can only be described as one of the most gracious and unselfish moves in Survivor history. When that Sprint commercial asked who made the “Bold Move That’s Going to Be Talked about This Week,” I mean, how could it not be Holly? (Note to Sprint: Quitting the game is not a “bold move.”) Chase and Benry each tried to get NaOnka to do it instead, since you know, she was leaving that night anyway, but she wasn’t budging. “I gave her a look like I can’t believe you didn’t step up,” Holly said. I was really hoping Na would say, “I just really like Jason Segel,” but alas…*

*She did later say, as if it were from a script, “I LOVE Jack Black. He’s so hilarious.”

Back at camp, everyone thanked Holly, and she took it upon herself to give some motherly advice to Purple Kelly. “There’s gonna be a lot worse things in life than this,” she told PK, adding that she could suck it up for 11 more days. Kelly shot back at the confessional, “I’ve been sucking it up for 28 days. There’s nothing left to suck.”

A special Tribal was called to get the final decisions from NaOnka and Purple Kelly, and it took place, fittingly, during another downpour.* Probst asked Na when she started thinking about quitting, and she mentioned her anemic joints (cutaway shot to Dan expressing surprise), that she’s “literally freezing,”** and that she’s proud of being the last African-American (cutaway shot to Sash expressing surprise).*** Probst then asked if she thought she could actually win, leading to the excellent exchange epigraphed above. Some have questioned Jeff’s increasingly editorial role in the game of late, but it’s moments like this that seem to make it worthwhile. It was basically a reunion question asked now, and helped contextualize Na’s decision. He also responded exactly like most fans would when she said she did have a chance, with his “Regale me with a story, woman.” “I want to be clear: You think you had a shot to win this game?” he asked. “I don’t think it; I know it,” Na responded, much to the mirth of Alina, Marty, and Brenda on the jury.

*Which, it should be noted, did not prevent Brenda from trying to look her best by going strapless.

**Sigh. We’re never going to win the “literally” war.

***The Minority Alliance is dead! Long live the Minority Alliance!

They then talked briefly about how good Gulliver’s Travels was, with Benry halfheartedly applying it to their current circumstances. Probst asked Jane about the youngsters’ willingness to quit, and she made an “in this economy” point about how, if you want a job, you really have to be dedicated. This led me to imagine Purple Kelly applying for some desk job and her interviewer being like, “But you quit Survivor? How can I possibly hire you???”

Jeff wanted to “get down to the decision,” which was a nice reference to LeBron’s impending return to Cleveland. Both Na and PK say they’re quitting, with Holly looking especially forlorn when Kelly announced her decision. In the jury, Alina was crying—probably because NaOnka’s coming to Ponderosa!–while Marty and Brenda were furious. “That’s really f***** up, man,” Marty said, with Brenda coming back with a disgusted “I gave her so much credit”—likely in reference to Na. Nobody gave PK any credit…ever.

The torches were, in the words of NaOnka, “snuffed” out, but they didn’t get to take them with them. Instead, they sat at Tribal, as a reminder of what they had given up, and the episode ended with a long shot on the two extinguished torches. The entire episode seemed to try to make up for its unsavory subject matter—nobody likes it when players quit at any point, let alone TWO at this time of the game—with its cinematography. There were lightning bolts smoothly superimposed behind NaOnka during the night storm, and then lightning transitioned into the morning fire early in the episode. It was like the producers said, “Well this episode sucks, so let’s make it look nice.”

Na expressed no regrets in her final remarks, while PK said she did feel bad for Alina, Marty, and Brenda, who probably still wanted to be there.

Let’s attempt a Hierarchy:

THIRD ESTATE: Benry, JudFabio

SECOND ESTATE: Dan

FIRST ESTATE: Holly, Chase, Jane

THE STATE: Sash

THE FINAL THREE: Sash, Chase, Dan

Right now, the thing everyone has to be concerned about is that Jane and Holly are really the only two players who you can’t take to the Final Three. No one has a chance against either of them. Not a chance. I think Sash would probably win if he got there without those two, and he’ll need to use his idol wisely to get there. He’s kind of floating between the loosely formed alliances at this point, losing the only players he trusted in the last two episodes. But I trust him to wade through it better than Chase, who has played one of the worst strategic games in memory to last this long. With PK and Na gone, Dan becomes the primary “I want to take him to the Finals” guy, since he brings nothing to the table. Benry and JudFabio are on the outskirts, but they can stay alive by getting everyone to vote off Holly and Jane the next two weeks and finding themselves in the final five, when the hidden idols can no longer be played. And if you get to an all-male final five of Sash, Chase, Dan, JudFabio, and Benry with the idols gone, I mean, it’s anyone’s game.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John S on December 3, 2010 at 5:51 PM

    Obviously things are different when you’re stranded on a beach for 28 days, but that “Reward” was about the least enticing thing I’ve ever seen. Movie theater hot dogs are about the least appetizing food on the planet, and while I don’t hate Jack Black, who gives a shit about this crappy kids movie? Also, candy and popcorn while you’re living on a beach and have only eaten rice and chicken for a month? Do you have any idea what that’s going to do to your bowels? (Although, this brings me to another question: What’s the bathroom situation on these rewards? I would care about 100,000 times more about whether or not I could use indoor plumbing for ten minutes than I would about whether or not I saw Gulliver’s Travels a few weeks before it came out or got to eat a pack of Sno-Caps.)

    Having Said That, I was a little confused about why everyone seemed so baffled by NaOnka’s decision to keep her reward. For Holly, it wasn’t “gracious and unselfish”–it was strategic. Such a huge gesture for the benefit of the camp is the main reason why, as you point out, she’s likely to win any Final 3 that includes her. But what reason does NaOnka have to give up the reward? It doesn’t benefit her to help the camp long-term if she ultimately quit anyway, so why not spend a few hours indoors and away from the rain, which obviously bothered her quite a bit.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Josh on December 3, 2010 at 6:03 PM

    John, even if you don’t agree with Holly’s logic, you have to admit Holly’s look at Naonka was quite humorous. But, yeah, I actually thought there was a much better case for Dan staying back since he obviously contributed nothing to the challenge. But, boy did he love those jalapenos.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Tim on December 3, 2010 at 6:06 PM

    I meant to write that NaOnka made an understandable move, since she’s the one who could use goodwill at camp the least (since she’s leaving). As for Holly, it’s a strategic move in part, but know that it also puts a target on her back–because now EVERYONE knows they have no chance against her. I think Holly had the second-best chance to win in a Final Three even before that move; now it’s just more obvious. So it could be a strategic backfire, which would render it MORE unselfish.

    And Josh, I don’t think Dan was allowed to stay back. I think Probst only issued the offer to the four members who participated in the challenge.

    Reply

  4. […] We kind of knew last week how this episode would shape up, and if we didn’t, the “Previously on…” made sure we did: Sash was going to be the pivotal swing vote between one established alliance of Chase, Holly, and Jane and the loose collective of Benry, JudFabio, and Dan. Sash had seen his own alliance—with Brenda, NaOnka, Purple Kelly, and at times Chase—collapse over the last few episodes, and with his help (in voting Brenda off). Still, he held a lot of power. Each alliance knew they needed Sash, and with the Hidden Immunity Idol, he was pretty much the only person we knew wouldn’t be voted off last night. […]

    Reply

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