Somewhere, Eliza Orlins is standing up out of her seat and slow-clapping. You remember, Eliza, right? She competed in the dangerous and mystical-sounding Islands of Fire season — also known as Survivor: Vanuatu — and Survivor: Micronesia. She is probably more famous as a jury member than as an actual player for having some of the most outrageous, over-the-top facial reactions to anything even remotely interesting happening at Tribal Council.
Every episode her eyes would bug out like a cartoon character who had just mistakenly eaten the world’s hottest jalapeno pepper, while all four limbs would be gesticulating beyond belief. Basically, she looked like one of those dancing windsock man balloons that you see flailing about outside used car dealerships and discount liquor stores. Many have tried to inherit the title of MDJ (Most Demonstrative Juror) since Eliza left Survivor 16 seasons ago. All have failed to measure up. She was just that good, people.
But Eliza did not contain her showmanship to merely sitting in the jury box. One of the greatest examples of camera-milking in Survivor history was when Eliza had to award her million dollar vote to either Parvati or Amanda. Rather than do what any normal human being would do and simply walk up, write someone’s name down, then walk back, Eliza used the opportunity to film her own personal acting reel. She hemmed. She hawed. She fiddled with the pen indecisively. She started to write a name, then stopped to hem and haw some more. She put her head in her hands in a tortured pose. She delivered Liam Neeson’s tear-inducing speech from Schindler’s List… at least it felt that way when we got about eight minutes into it.
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The bottom line is that Eliza milked that moment so much she may as well have worked for Horizon Organic. It was spectacular. But in this latest episode of Survivor: Kaoh Rong, a new challenger to the over-the-top throne emerged — a young upstart keen on cementing her place in Survivor lore: Aubry Bracco.
Aubry took Eliza’s pained indecision act, barfed all over it, then scooped up the barf into a pint glass and chugged it back down as her own personal Survivor Smoothie. Because Aubry went truly next level here, ladies and gentlemen. Not content to stop at mere pained pondering at the voting urn, she actually wrote down one name (Julia) on the parchment, before putting a big line through it and then writing down another name (Peter) instead.
Somewhere in New York City, Eliza screamed out at the top her lungs “WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?!?” And then, like any great champion passing the torch, she recognized the spotlight-stealing genius of Aubry’s accomplishment and gave it the slow-clap respect it so obviously deserved. (Besides, Aubry is not a juror, so Eliza’s true title actually remains intact.)
Aubry’s move was the culmination of a topsy-turvy Tribal Council in which multiple side conversations and vote-changing took place, and Aubry’s big X proved the decisive vote in sending Peter home. We’ll get to all of that in due time, but let’s start by recapping this sucker from the very top.
We begin after the events of the previous Tribal Council, and Peter is already thinking about his next step. “Believe it or not I might actually disband the brain trust,” he says. Great idea! What could possibly go wrong? “If I’m going to make a move, now’s the time.” Yes, when you are in the majority with the numbers and everyone is already uneasy with you and how condescending and sketchy you are, that is exactly the time. LET’S DO THIS!
The next day over at whatever the blue tribe is called… wait, let me look it up… Chan Loh — that’s it! Anyway, Nick says he is “thinking non-stop” which sounds a bit frightening. Although he may have a fan in Debbie, who tells us that “Nick looks like a Greek God. The angular features of his face just make for great photography. And I know that because I’ve modeled off and on for years and years.”
As she is saying this, Debbie’s profession is listed on-screen as “Part-Time Model.” Eagle-eyed viewers will notice producers have been changing that occupation designation to whatever past job or accomplishment Debbie happens to be bragging about at that particular time. It’s honestly the best identification tactic the show has used since it listed Phillip Sheppard as “Former Federal Agent?” complete with a question mark. Brilliant.
NEXT: A challenge that Probst is positive is worth playing for
As for Nick, he reacts to Debbie’s attention in typically modest fashion. “Debbie might have a crush on me,” he tells us. “She probably does. Maybe she’s buttering me up. Maybe she’s blowing smoke up my rear end, but I doubt it.” Okay, let me pause for the cause for a second here because there is something I never understood: Why in the name of Medallions of Power would you want smoke blown up your butt? That sounds at best uncomfortable and at worst dangerous. How and why is it that we equate complimenting with blowing smoke up the bum, and why are they considered in equal measure? Like, if I have the choice between someone saying something nice (even if they don’t mean it) and having tobacco inserted into my rectum, I’ll take the phony compliment, thanks. This is a smoke-free zone, people!
Now, I realize that there is a literal application to this in that a few hundred years ago doctors did, in fact, blow smoke up the butts of people presumed dead in an attempt to resuscitate, but I still find it to be a somewhat bizarre thing to say in modern society when you really think about it. Maybe we shouldn’t think about. Maybe I should have just ignored the entire thing and moved on. Probably would have been for the best. Sorry about that. You guys sure are swell for putting up for me, and I’m not just blowing… well, you know.
Anyhoo, let’s head to a very rare sighting this season — an actual reward challenge, only our second of the season. Making up for his bizarre decision last week to actually look up from his feet while telling the contestants to “Come on in, guys!” this time Jeff Probst has his eyes firmly focused on the sand as he welcomes the players. Order has been restored.
The tribes come in, followed by some young lady I have never seen before. It’s unclear whether she is some beach bum who just wondered onto set or what, but Probst decides to let her join the Gondol tribe, so I guess she’s in the game now. Welcome, mystery woman!
In this contest, one member for each tribe must dive down to release a group of buoys. Then the whole team must work together to get the buoys back to shore where the two remaining tribe members will shoot them into a basket. First team to get to 10 in wins. Victors get a Survivor picnic that looks so awesome that Probst doesn’t even ask if it’s worth playing for!!! What the hell is that all about? You ALWAYS need to ask if it’s worth playing for. Right when order is finally restored with him looking down at his feet like a shy 12-year-old afraid to make eye contact while asking a girl to dance to Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything), now Probst has to go thumb his noise at tradition by not asking everyone’s favorite rhetorical Survivor question. For shame, Jeffrey!
In any event, Aubry and Michele dive down. Aubry is successful; Michele is not. As a result, Gondol gets a huge lead at the shooting portion, and who happens to be shooting but former NBA player Scot Pollard. Game over, right? Au contraire, mon frère! Even though high school point guard Nick is facing down a 2-0 deficit, he catches Scot and even takes the lead 7-5 over the professional athlete.
Images of pro river guide Kelly Wiglesworth losing to water-phobic Gervase in a paddling competition back in season 1 start dancing in my head. Unfortunately, the humbling upset to end all upsets does not happen as Scot regains his form and pulls back in front to win 10-8. Now, you’re all probably waiting for me to light into Scot for essentially only performing evenly with a guy who never played past high school ball. And yes, the fact that Scot must have hundreds of jump-shots every day for years on end at practice would make a loss here to some kid that spent roughly the same amount of time each day admiring himself in the mirror a tad embarrassing.
But the truth is that shooting and scoring was never Scot’s game. He was a banger. Clog the paint, play strong defense, snag some rebounds, block a shot here and there — that was what he expected to do out on the court, not shoot the basketball. The guy only averaged 4.4 points a game. Again, that’s not what he was expected to do. If you’re playing alongside LeBron James and Paul Peirce, you pass the basketball! Would it have been bad if he lost, especially with that big lead? Absolutely. But it would not have been as shocking as you might think. The point is, this wasn’t exactly Steph Curry out there. Probably closer to former America’s Top Model Winner Adrianne Curry. On second thought, that’s a terrible example. Maybe the worst one I could have made on multiple levels. In any event, I’m actually going to give Scot a bit of a pass on this one.
NEXT: How NOT to stack blocks
So Nick blames himself for the loss, but Michele knows all too well that it was her inability to release the buoys that doomed her team. Plus, her bestie Anna is now out of the game, so things in general have been better. “She might go drown herself,” says Debbie. “You might want to keep an eye on her.”
Michele and Debbie have a chat and Debbie says she wants Jason out because he doesn’t do anything around camp. Plus, she wants a woman to win. This is music to Michele’s ears, but Nick follows this up by not only raining on her parade, but unleashing an entire tropical storm on it by boldly announcing, “Yeah, we’re not going that way.” You can imagine how well Michele takes those comments, informing us that, “The way Nick speaks to me is not in a way that I would ever tolerate a man speaking to me in my regular life.” That’s so odd, because Survivor has such a great recent history of men speaking respectfully to woman.
Over at Gondol, the Brains tribe is starting to fracture. Peter is off selling Aubry and Joe out to Scot, but the former FBI agent is getting suspicious, so Joe goes to confront Peter. “I’m gonna ask you one question and I want you to tell me straight up. Are you trying to take me out? And if you lie right now, I’m telling ya, you’re done. Tell me the truth. Don’t dance around.” This is somewhat ironic seeing as how Peter does lie to him yet Joe eventually fights to keep him anyway so the whole thing ends up being something of an empty threat, but maybe that’s how they roll in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
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It’s challenge time! And there is a serious #OrangeHatAlert happening so get pumped, people! This week’s immunity competition has the teams go through a series of obstacles, and then two tribe members must use poles to knock 20 blocks off an overhead net. Those blocks must then be stacked on top of each other to build a tower. First tower up wins.
Gondol gets to the block tower portion first, but for some inexplicable reason starts stacking the smaller blocks that go on top first. This is a terrible strategy. It would be akin to me putting this recap in non-sequential page order — which, come to think of it, might cause this thing to actually make some sense for once. But I seriously don’t know what they are thinking with this lame-brained strategy. It’s the type of thing a teammate would have suggested back on that Anderson Cooper reality show The Mole, where one person was attempting to sabotage the other players’ efforts without being noticed. (Fun fact: After The Mole was canceled, ABC brought it back for two celebrity-filled seasons, including Celebrity Mole Yucatan, which were hosted by Ahmad Rashad. Would it surprise you to learn that Stephen Baldwin appeared in both installments? And would it further surprise you to learn that I watched every single episode of each? #NoShame.)
So Gondol naturally loses, and the big question is whether the Brains will all turn on each other. Surprisingly, the early answer looks to be no. Aubry is worried about keeping their numbers while Peter has been scared straight by Joe’s interrogation (which basically seemed to consist of imitating the “Close Talker” from Seinfeld). So it appears as if that random woman who just joined the tribe — they keep calling her “Julia” — is going to be voted out. But then she and Scot and Tai meet and bond over their dislike of Peter. They put that bond into action by telling Aubry how Peter is after her.
The seed has been planted, but after Joe shuts down an Aubry switcheroo, it seems Julia will be the one to go. All that’s left is the Tribal Council ceremony to make it official. And that is where all heck breaks loose.
NEXT: Everything changes at Tribal Council
As Aubry talks about how nobody knows where Peter stands, Tai and Scott begin a side conversation, mouthing the words “Peter” and “original plan” to each other. And then Aubry asks Scot, “Is it her or Peter?” “Peter,” answers the former NBA player. Probst then asks Scot about all the chatter happening, leading the latter to make eye contact with Julia and say “original plan.”
Oh my God, this is delicious. Now Aubry is scrambling with Joe. “Is it Julia?” he asks her. “Yes.” Several side conversations continue at once. “This game is live!” exclaims Probst. And he’s right. The game of Survivor has evolved over the past 16 years, and we could debate whether the game is better or worse than when it started in the summer of 2000, but one of the most intriguing things about the evolution is that something like this could actually happen — where multiple members of a tribe change their vote at Tribal Council.
In the early days of Survivor, we were meant to believe that what was said at Tribal Council actually had impact into who stayed and who was voted out, but it never did. Minds were made up well before the contestants ever carried in their torch — and, in the old days, banged a gigantic gong. (God, I miss the gong. And the cheesy trunk of cash.) Sure, as new twists were introduced unexpected things might happen due to the use of a hidden immunity idol, but everyone at least left for Tribal Council knowing whom they would vote for. What actually happened when they got there was just theater — albeit very dramatic theater, but theater nonetheless. The votes were locked. (Even Boston Rob’s seemingly spur of the moment tap-on-the-shoulder move to clue Phillip in on whom to vote for in the Redemption Island season was predetermined.)
But in recent seasons, we’ve seen a shift. Yes, the vast majority of decisions are still made back on the beach, but we have seen more open debate and discussion at Tribal. The Brawn tribe almost changed their vote last second to keep Darnell and vote off Alecia, and here we saw a massive shift right before our eyes. And I love it. I love the scrambling. I love the confusion. I love Aubry milking it at the voting urn and taking enough time to read the entire Magna Carta before making her final selection. I love it all. Probst is right — the game is live!
Watching it go down just reminds me that Survivor should experiment with setting up scenarios that will create more live scrambling. Perhaps an impromptu vote-off right after a challenge at the challenge itself — or, right when they think they are all meeting for a reward contest, you tell them it is a daytime Tribal on the beach. Not saying this should be a regular thing, but it could be another way to keep the contestants on their toes while also creating a scenario filled with desperate people having to fight and claw to stay in the game. Worth thinking about, at least.
As for Peter’s final thoughts after being blindsided: “I’m disappointed in Joe and Aubry. One million dollars is not worth my dignity or my word.” First off, Joe voted for you to stay. Secondly, you were backstabbing them every chance you got so what in the name of Dreamz with a Z are you talking about?
I’ll be sure to ask Peter that when I speak with him on EW Morning Live (SiriusXM, channel 105) on Thursday morning. We’ll also have that interview for you later in the day right here on EW.com. In the meantime, you can enjoy an exclusive deleted scene from the episode in the video player below in which you can see more of Julia in one clip than you have seen all season combined! I’ll also have my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, so be on the lookout for that as well. And for more Survivor scoop, just follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
But now it’s your turn. Will you miss Peter and his anchor tattoo? Did the tribe make the right call in getting rid of him over Whatshername? And how crushing would that have been for Scot to lose to Nick in the shooting competition? Hit the message boards to weigh in with your thoughts and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.