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'Survivor' recap: 'Bring the Popcorn'

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TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Jeff Probst
Reality TV

My timing is absolutely terrible. Especially when it comes to Survivor. This problem extends all the way back to season 1 when my wife went into labor on July 12, 2000—forcing me to miss my one and only episode ever of the show. Come to think of it, maybe that was actually my wife’s bad timing. Or my at-that-point unborn son’s bad timing (after all, he was by that point a week late already). All I know is, I was bummed. Gotta be honest—kind of put a damper on the whole “miracle of life” thing. (Plus, not only did I miss an episode, but it was the very first merge episode. Survivor history was in the making! Oh, also…sorry, Gretchen. Bummer for you.)

This crappy timing has continued throughout 30 seasons as longtime readers of this here recap know that whenever I am out due to vacation or other work obligations, that the particular episode that I miss always ends up being the craziest of the season. This happens without fail. So seeing as how I am on vacation this week, I knew some big stuff must—by law—be on the horizon. So I did the only thing any sane individual would do in such a situation—I decided to tell my kids to get lost so I could work while on vacation. Wait, what? Why would I do that?!? This is supposed to be my time off. What was I thinking? Dammit. Now it’s too late and I guess I have to just see this thing out. However, to nobody’s surprise, my vacation week did once again line up perfectly with an episode filled with big moments and big new twists, so let me try and jam through all those big moments right here and right now before my wife discovers me all huddled away in my make-shift pillow fort with the trusty laptop—which sounds a lot dirtier than it actually is.

Auction Agita

I’m not the type to yell at my TV… except when we get to a Survivor auction and knuckleheads start automatically bidding on food when they KNOW there is an advantage to be purchased at some point in the proceedings. It legitimately makes my furious. I honestly do not get how anyone who has seen even one season of this show can do that. (Which is what makes Shirin’s proclamation that “I didn’t want to bid for an advantage in this game” so odd. She, of all people, knows the importance of said advantage, so I can’t help but wonder if she cut some sort of deal with Mike beforehand to stay out of it and he would keep her safe.)

In any event, Jenn, Shirin, and Will all bid on the very first covered item, with Will winning at $100. “Probably grilled ass or something,” he said as he walked up. Not quite. Instead, it was a note: “You just bought yourself out of this auction. Pick up your personal items and head back to camp.” Let me just say: love it. I love it because you need to mix it up at the auction and throw some negative items in there as well just to screw with the contestants. Does that make me a horrible person—turning contestant pain into my own personal gain? Perhaps, but such is their role as reality television guinea pigs. This particular auction twist also couldn’t help but remind me of Wanda and Jonathan being ousted from Survivor: Palau before they ever made it on a tribe. I loved that, too.

But we knew there was more to this thing, right? Otherwise they would have just made Will sit there and watch the auction instead of sending him back to camp. And alas, there was another note with a map that took him to a dig site with a personal stash of rations to last him the entire game, and this was pretty great too, because it forced Will into a decision—and, thankfully for us, it was a bad one.

Upon receiving his food, Will began quoting The Bible and talking about how it is better to give than to receive so he was going to share it. Well, that’s all fine and good, but I just consulted the Survivor Bible and it says that any such magnanimous move post-merge only leads to ruin. Think about it: Survivor players are automatically untrusting of any gesture whatsoever. If you give them food, they’re just going to assume you saved more for yourself. And if for some odd reason they do decide to believe you 100 percent, then you run the risk of being punished for your act of kindness because it could play well with a jury. There really is no upside whatsoever. As is, they think you got a raw deal by being evicted from the auction, so let them think that and just carry on. Will chose not to do that, and we’ll get into the result of that action a little later. But first, let’s get into an even worse decision.

NEXT: Mike takes his entire game and throws it in the trash can and then lights it on fire[pagebreak]​

Mike’s Big Mistake

Unfortunate back tattoos aside, Mike has played a really solid game so far. Strategically, the guy has been on point. But boy did he make an epic blunder here. Just a terrible, terrible move. After Shirin paid for chicken and waffles, Jenn bought her booze, Rodney rocked a steak, and Sierra and Tyler got their own stuff, it was almost time for the advantage, But first, Probst decided to temp them with notes from loved ones back home. A plan was concocted to each pay $20 for the letters so that Mike, Dan, and Carolyn would still have $480 to each compete for the inevitable advantage.

As everyone went up to get their letters, Mike went out of his way to make sure others went before him. “I’m gonna do it” he told Tyler after Tyler seemed suspicious. “Why would I displace trust? Go,” he told Dan when Dan tried to go after him. But once Dan got his letter, Mike turned and brought his money back to the seating area. “That’s bulls—,” cried Carolyn. “So much for your trust, Mike,” said Dan.

After a commercial break, Mike seemingly found his moral center and walked up and threw his money on the table while proclaiming, “I can’t do that. That wouldn’t go with my conscience. That goes against who I am as a person.” Nice try, dude. In reality, Mike saw his entire game flash before his eyes. All that work and all that trust he had built up—gone, just like that. Look, I think you guys know how I feel about this game: You do whatever it takes to win. Emotions and friendships are a secondary concern. Every single person came out there to win, so one should not feel bad about moves that hurt others if they further your own cause. But part of furthering your own cause is keeping a support network to help get you to the end, and Mike just took an atom bomb to his support network. Why would ANYONE trust him after that move? Mike pretended to have an ethical awakening, but in truth he realized strategically what he had just done. He might as well have just kept his money at that point because the damage was done—and irrevocable.

I was actually stunned at the stupidity of the decision, especially considering how well Mike had played to this point. There are certain sly and crafty moves that players (and a jury) will respect. This is not one of them. This just comes off as a douchebag maneuver. I don’t think Mike is a douchebag. I think he just severely miscalculated the ramifications of his actions. He got caught up in his unwavering desire to have that advantage, and it cost him. But he wasn’t done digging his own grave.

How To Make Rodney—RODNEY!—Seem Like The Good Guy

All I can think about Mike’s next blunder is that he was hoping to deflect the negative attention off of himself by shifting the spotlight over to someone else. At least I guess that was the plan. Instead, it turned into strike two.

Once back at camp, Mike confronted Rodney in front of the entire group about flipping and how he heard conversations taking place behind his back. One problem: He brought it up right as everyone was settling into to read the letters from loved ones back home. Seriously, Mike? Man, your timing is even worse than mine! The reaction was immediate: Rodney turned into a broken Frankie Goes to Hollywood record, repeating the word “relax” over and over. Rodney also told us that he wished he could fight Mike “like real men do in the street. But this is Survivor and I just need to beat him with my mind—I gotta beat him with my wit.” That tells me two things: 1) I am not a real man since I have never fought anyone in any street in my entire life. And 2) It would be super, super depressing to be beaten by Rodney’s mind. I honestly can’t think of anything more depressing, and this comes from a guy who watched Leaving Las Vegas.

Rodney was not the only one bummed out, though. Sierra and others were also clearly annoyed by Mike’s public beef. Once again, Mike went into apology mode, and once again it was too late. Also, forget about the letters for a minute. Even if they had not been in play, it still would not have been the right move to make a scene about Rodney flipping. Work the edges privately instead of making a very public spectacle about it. That’s how you change votes—in a secret one-on-one setting when you can make side deals and state your case calmly using logic and reason as opposed to anger and bitterness. Mike’s intensity was his ally early on, but it is clearly working against him now.

NEXT: Dan manages to double his pleasure, double his fun, and double his vote[pagebreak]​

Dan’s Double Vote Advantage

After Dan drew the white rock over Mike and Carolyn to secure the advantage, he brought it back to camp and opened it up to discover just what he had won—a second vote at Tribal Council. Basically, when he chooses to use it, Dan can vote twice at a Tribal Council. I did a big in-depth Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst about the ins and outs of this double vote advantage, and I encourage you to go read it now if you have not already. But I have yet to express my own personal feelings about the twist. My feelings are these: I like it, with one small caveat. Having a second vote at Tribal Council could potentially reap huge dramatic rewards for a show that constantly has to evolve and tinker to keep things fresh and keep players on their toes. So I do not have a problem with someone holding that power. Every single player this season knew there would be a potentially game-changing advantage handed out at the auction yet only three people cared enough to save their money to bid for it. So Rodney, Tyler, Sierra, Shirin, Jenn, and Will have no room to complain about Dan having this power. None.

The only small caveat is that we have noticed a slight evolution in the improved strategy of Survivor players. It used to be only one person was smart enough to wait for the auction advantage, but in recent seasons we have seen more people holding out for it, leading to these rock-pulling tiebreakers to determine the outcome. What if two or three seasons down the line—let’s call it Survivor: Civil War—North vs. South (which is only slightly less absurd than the Cook Islands race war edition)—you have almost entire casts holding out for the power and then it is just going to whomever is luckiest to pull the white rock, as opposed to any skill or strategy whatsoever? Just something to monitor. Why not have the double vote advantage be the unnamed reward at a challenge? A future possibility, perhaps.

Other than that, I dig it. Everyone knew there was an advantage and had equal opportunity to go for it, and this non-Tyler-Perry-sponsored power does not seem ridiculously over-the-top by any means—you could even get voted out while playing it. I actually like this twist a lot more than the challenge advantage, which I have never been a fan of anyway because it often just sapped the drama out of the contest by making it too easy for the person who won it (see: John Cochran in Caramoan). Too bad it looks like Tyler finds out about the double vote next week as that will cut down on the amount of shocked Eliza Orlins-type faces we will be treated to at Tribal once it is used.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Remember back when I said Will would only create problems for himself if he shared his secret stash of food? I know, it seems forever ago what with all the other auction shenanigans taking place, but we need to get back to this now. As predicted, Will’s generosity only bred suspicion. First it was Mike off planting seeds of discontent that Will must be lying and hoarding more food for himself. Then he passed the baton to Jenn, who raced through camp spreading more lies about her tribemate. And then apparently Shirin may have gotten in on the action as well.

Once this got back to Will, stuff got real. He unloaded on Shirin: “All you been doin’ is running your damn mouth. So what else can fit in there, Shirin? I know you’re hungry as hell. All you f—ing do is eat and talk. What else can fit in there?” First off, I have to be honest: I don’t really understand what he is saying here. The whole fitting stuff in her mouth thing? I don’t get it. She likes to eat? Okay.

NEXT: Shirin raises her hand[pagebreak]​

This was all pretty standard boilerplate Survivor argument stuff. And, although he never should have told people about the food to begin with, you couldn’t help but feel a bit bad for Will considering he tried to do the right thing only to hear people then talk behind his back and accuse him of being a liar. The point is, you can completely understand why he got upset. But then he went next level. “I guarantee you there is no one at home in the United States that is missing you,” he raged on. “We all have loved ones that love and care for us. You have nothing. You have no family. You have nothing.”

Whoa. That is dark. Again, it is important to remember that we are seeing these people at their most susceptible to blow-ups—after all, they are all hungry, tired, and often wet from the rain— but it’s one thing to yell at someone, act annoyed, and be done with it, and another thing altogether to get this personal and extend your rants and ravings to things outside of the game. The fact that Will would take information that Shirin had shared with him about her life back home and use it against her is pretty damn low. And I have to imagine that he cringed watching it back on TV. But we weren’t even close to being done.

Shirin’s Revenge

After Probst looked down at his feet and welcomed everyone to the immunity challenge, Will tried to strike a deal. He asked if he agreed to take himself out of the immunity challenge if he could get his letter from a loved one he was denied when he got booted from the auction. If I were Probst, I wouldn’t have agreed to this because we all know Will stood no chance of winning any sort of challenge anyway. So, in effect, you are giving him his letter for nothing in return. But Probst is nicer than I am, and he also likes to allow the players themselves to decide such matters, so he told Will if no other player objected, he would allow it. And then Shirin’s arm went in the air.

Why did Shirin object? “He bought what he bought at the auction. He got out of it. He missed out on the loved one letters. And that’s the way the game works.” While a rules-obsessed-no-gray-area traditionalist like myself can appreciate the sentiment and LOVED the fact that Shirin raised her hand, I don’t buy her reasoning for a single second. I agree with Shirin that I don’t think Will should be afforded the option, but I also don’t believe that had that been Jenn in that position asking for her letter that Shirin would have forced her to play. Not a chance. This was a revenge play, pure and simple. You want to embarrass and humiliate me by talking about how I have no family? Fine. But don’t think I’m going to do you a favor now by letting you read a letter from your family instead of losing again at a challenge. Suck it!

By the way, the challenge itself had the players use metal tongs to transport a ball across a series of teeter-totters. First to place all six balls in stands won immunity, and that winner was Mike, who celebrated by doing this most uncomfortable white boy celebration dance since the Mark Madsen era…or error, as it were.

A Very Tense Tribal

Judging by their interactions with one another on social media, the cast of Survivor: Worlds Apart seems for the most part to get along pretty gosh darn well. Yes, they insist on hashtagging “Dirty30” in their tweets, which is mildly unfortunate because there is always a faint whiff of desperation surrounding any self-appointed nickname, but it’s otherwise nice to see. But there was no such Kumbaya moment at Tribal Council this week. Rodney went off on Mike again for pulling back his $20 and then starting a ruckus, while Mike and Shirin landed some grazing body-blows at Dan and Sierra for being on the outside of Rodney’s new four-person alliance. But those were the mere undercards to the main event: Will vs. Shirin 3—This Time It’s Personal (As Opposed To The Other Two Times, Which Were Also Personal).

NEXT: Jenn sizes up her (now former) tribemates[pagebreak]​

Will started in on Shirin again and admitted that, “150,000 percent I exploded,” which puts all of Lou Ferrigno’s Celebrity Apprentice boasting of 140 percent to shame. 140 percent? Get that weak stuff out of my face, Ferrigno! Will is going 150,000 percent! Take that, Incredible Hulk! Then, Shirin lost it. “Do you know why I don’t have a family?…. I don’t have a family because my biological father verbally assaulted me…. And I’m victim of domestic violence.” Bombshell.

Of course, the natural question is—how much did Will know about this when he brought up her family troubles back home? If he knew the full extent of it and used that as a weapon against her, then that is pretty damn low. If he didn’t… well, this is why you keep arguments on the island confined to events that have taken place on the island. And in between Dan and Will, is nobody even in the least bit concerned with being kind and considerate to a possible future jury member? Trust me, if your name is Dan or Will you need help with every single vote you can get—and even then you probably still need some family members to be granted special votes sponsored by Sprint or something as well if you want to even have a prayer of taking home the million dollars. So why antagonize someone? Did Will have cause to be upset after people questioned his honesty? Sure. But he took it waaaaaaay too far. It was more than just mean—it wasn’t smart. However, the trash talking was not close to being done.

Jenn Finally Gets Her Wish

So Jenn finally had her wish of being voted off granted after Mike won immunity. Even Mike and Shirin voted her out. But she couldn’t help taking one last parting shot on her way out with her final words: “A lot of people suck super hard. Will seemed to be a nice person, but he’s kind of shattered now. Sierra—I don’t know. She just sucks. I hated Rodney. But I really hate Mama C. The same way I hate Dan. They’re just fake and it kills me.” Well, tell us how you really feel, Jenn. On one hand, that sounds like an entire vineyard of sour grapes. On the other hand, Will and Dan and Rodney. So, she makes some solid points, I guess.

Jenn was ultimately a frustrating player to watch in that she gave up. Anyone who gives up automatically loses points in any Survivor fan’s book. But she also had her moments this season and ended up being one of the more intriguing characters out there. Maybe she and Kimmi Kappenberg can go live on a farm and raise chickens together.

Speaking of which, I have a vacation to get back to! But you are far from done. Make sure to go read my weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst on all the volatile moments that went down this week, and check out an exclusive deleted scene from the episode in the video player below. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But now it’s your turn. Do you like the new double vote twist? Did Mike blow it? Did Will go too far? Did Shirin do the right thing by denying Will his loved one letter? TOO MANY QUESTIONS! But hit us up with your answers in the message boards below, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the non-vacation crispy.