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'Survivor' recap: 'Survivor Russian Roulette'

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

I hate being a guy sometimes. Don’t get me wrong: I’m comfortable in my skin and happy with the way God and/or genetics created me…outside of the fact that I am a complete weakling prone to being knocked over by a moderate breeze. But sometimes dudes do and say really stupid things and this can’t help but drag the rest of us down in a guilt-by-association sort of way. Allow me to say that this season of Survivor has made me really bummed out to be a male, because so many of these Worlds Apart men have been downright horrible when it comes to speaking to and about women.

Max’s comment about appreciating strong women seems like a lifetime ago when matched up against the transgressions of his fellow male castmates. First we had Rodney offering his warped view about how “girls need to hold themselves to a higher standard than guys” and “I’m just stating facts that women disrespect themselves.” Later, Mike explained to Dan that “My personal experience with women? They don’t want the explanation. They just want you to say you’re sorry so they can say they were right.” (Dismissive, much?) Dan has made talking down to females a full-time job, going out of his way to belittle Sierra and Shirin to their faces, and then—in the case of Shirin—thinking it was cool to advocate hitting a woman by saying “somebody slap this woman. For the love of God just slap her and shut her up already.”

Then we got to Will’s explosion last week, where he told Shirin, “I guarantee you there is no one at home in the United States that is missing you. We all have loved ones that love and care for us. You have nothing. You have no family. You have nothing.” See! Guys suck! But wait! It looks like Dan is about to apologize to Shirin. He’s going to show us another side of himself—prove that things can be said in the heat of the moment that he does not really believe, and tell us all how his mistake has made him grow as a person. Okay, here he goes—and right at the top of this week’s episode, no less: “For what it’s worth—I’m really sorry about what happened last night at Tribal.”

Okay, well, technically that was not apologizing for anything he did but rather apologizing for Will, but still, it’s progress. Oh, look! Now he’s talking to us in a confessional. Let’s see what he has to add to that: “Apparently there is violence in her history. If that’s the case, I feel very bad for her.” Again, okay, we’re taking baby steps here. He is expressing sympathy for her situation. That’s a start. Let’s find out what else he has to say. “However…” WAIT, WHAT DO YOU MEAN HOWEVER?!? THERE’S NO HOWEVER! AND WHY IS THE BACKGROUND MUSIC SUDDENLY CHANGING FROM INSPIRING TO CREEPY AND EVIL? WHAT’S WITH THE CREEPY, EVIL MUSIC? DON’T DO IT, DAN! DON’T DO IT!!! “…that being said—Shirin is a drama queen. She is a two-faced liar. She loooooves to play the victim. For Shirin to say that Will is worse than her—that’s hypocritical. Did he go overboard? From what I heard, yes, he did. But when she’s calling him names, when she has no gratitude or appreciation—I ‘d call that karma.”

Crap. What’s with the blame-the-victim she-was-asking-for-it nonsense? Like I said, being a guy sucks. Because, apparently judging by this season’s cast… all guys suck! Okay, that’s an exaggeration. There have been fellas like Max, Joe, and Tyler who all appear to be fine, upstanding gentlemen. And while I will not go so far as to excuse Mike’s unfortunate comment about how women like to be apologized to, that is miles away from the other examples and I do get the sense that he is a generally good dude. But how you feel about all this man-on-woman smack talk (and talk about smacking) may very well determine how you feel about this entire season of Survivor.

Jeff Probst told me before the season began that this might be his favorite cast of all-time. That is a huuuuuge statement to make when you look back at some of the stunning seasons that preceded it. And that statement has struck many as off the mark considering all the ugliness that has transpired in season 30. Many of you in the comments have described this as one of the most unlikable if not the most unlikable cast ever. I’ve seen people complain that there is nobody to root for, which is certainly a problem when you have this many people left.

NEXT: Give ‘em enough rope… that they don’t actually need[pagebreak]

On the flip side, I’ve heard some others stick up for the program for not shying away from controversial comments because they actually expose these people for who they really are. (Still, why cast them in the first place?) There is certainly an argument to be made that ultimately good will come out of seeing all this bad. Dan and Will especially have come off in a very unflattering light. Yes, guys suck, but maybe after seeing how these other men have been portrayed through their comments, guys in general will start to suck a little less as a result.

As for me, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like a good reality TV fight, but I like my Survivor drama to be arguments over strategy and backstabbing and betrayal—not over simple personality clashes that have nothing to do with the game and veer into unsettling racist, sexist, and homophobic territory. Then it starts to feel like Big Brother. Yes, I have watched every single season of that guilty pleasure—including the disastrous Spring edition and the even more disastrous summer of 2013 one—but I want more from Survivor. There’s a reason it’s considered the gold standard of reality TV. I know I am watching trash when I tune into Big Brother. I expect more when Survivor is on.

Of course, this is all a shame because so much of this sideshow has now been overshadowing some truly interesting game play. Joe and Mike have gone on immunity-winning runs, the double vote is an intriguing addition, while Mike has made moves both strong (that big wrench he just threw into the Big Six’s plans at the latest Tribal) and weak (that brain fart at the food auction). For me, this season has yet to become the breakout favorite that Probst predicted. But I don’t consider it the complete disaster that some do either. It remains in the middle. Whether it rises or falls could depend on how much Will and Dan open their mouths from here on out.

Okay, so let’s get into the other notable moments from this week’s episode. We’ll pick it up after that aborted attempt by Dan to show a smidgeon of compassion as we head to the reward challenge. (We know it is a challenge because Jeff Probst is looking at his feet as he welcomes everyone in.) In this particular contest, the players will be divided into teams of four and must transport themselves across three sections using only four barrels, two planks, and a piece of rope. Winners get to pretend they are in the Duran Duran music video for “Rio” by enjoying a catamaran ride along the coast, during which Probst says they will be treated to “burgers with cheese and bacon.” So, in other words, bacon cheeseburgers. Not sure why he had to overcomplicate matters.

After a schoolyard pick ‘em, we have Mike, Shirin, Sierra, and Rodney on the blue team with Tyler, Dan, Carolyn, and Will on the red team. I realize this is not necessarily the most dramatic of challenges, but I totally dig it because it is a race, but one which involves strategy and choices as well (I love that stuff)—and we see that come into play. The red team stands their barrels up to go across while the blue team rolls theirs on their sides to advance. (Again, I love seeing different choices at play. Well done, challenge team.) The lead goes back and forth, but allow me to ask something: What’s the deal with the rope? Seems pretty useless. Not that I am opposed to that. If I were able to morph into challenge producer John Kirhoffer and design this sucker myself I would throw all sorts of nonsense items into the mix as well just to confuse people—perhaps a live chicken, a DVD of Pauly Shore’s Bio-Dome, Phillip Sheppard’s pink undies, the Medallion of Power, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Somewhat shockingly, the team with both Will and Dan wins, because the red squad’s strategy of standing up the barrels was just sounder. However, even in victory Dan says he feels bad because Rodney has been on no rewards yet. “You can give your spot to Rodney if you want to,” responds Probst, who is totally on his game tonight. And then…silence. Glorious, wonderful silence. The first time Dan has been silent all season, it seems. (Wonder what would have happened if a female host had asked him that?)

So no, Dan does not give up his burger with cheese and bacon, leaving Rodney to be “f—ing pissed” back at camp because he has an itchy beard, nasty nails, and can’t win a single thing. He says he needs some “Rodney time,” which may or may not be code for wanting to go off and masturbate. I’m not really sure. Then again, with the “nasty nails,” maybe that’s not such a great idea. Don’t want to risk infection and all.

NEXT: An immunity so nice they give it away twice[pagebreak]

But instead of being left alone with some private time to dream about free weights and protein power, Rodney has to listen to a pitch from Sierra to get rid of Tyler sooner rather than later. She wants to bring Shirin to the end instead because “no one will vote for her. She won’t win the game. He will.” There has been a lot of talk from a lot of people how Shirin stands no chance at all of winning—and seeing as how she has now been voted out I guess technically that is true—but I’m not so sure at this point before she got eliminated that was the case because at this point she is kind of in the sweet spot. I know, that sounds odd, but hear me out on this one: Shirin’s been in the minority alliance since the merge, which means she may have the votes of all her buddies (Jenn, Hali, Joe) already on the jury, and then when the majority alliance turns on each other, the people that get ousted may vote against their former allies out of spite, turning their vote to, yes, Shirin. I’m not saying she would be the likely winner at the end, but there is certainly a path to victory at this point for her. Am I crazy for thinking this?

Meanwhile, I retract my comment from before about the “Rio” music video because let me just say that Dan and Will are no John Taylor and Nick Rhodes. Hell, they’re not even Andy Taylor, whom I always felt was the lamest of all the Taylors (yes, even lamer than Roger). “The game is on pause,” says Dan, who should know that the game is never on pause. To prove just how out of the loop he is, Dan proceeds to go on a rant about how absolutely crazy it is that Mike thought the group was after him. Oh, Dan, the group was after him. You just aren’t part of the group. “I love the fact that Dan cannot see past top six,” says the emotionless cyborg that is Tyler.

Off we go to the immunity challenge, in which the players have to hold on to a rope handle attached to 25 percent of each player’s body weight as measured on day 1 of the game. [NOTE: I had a whole section here about how WIll & Dan probably lost a lot more weight than the others since the game began so had it easier because their weight had changed, but it was late and I was tired and as many commenters pointed out, it is the exact opposite, that they probably had to now carry a greater percentage of their current weight as opposed to day 1 weight. Thanks, smarter readers!] But wait! TWIST! There will be two immunities handed out—one of the male who lasts the longest and one for the female who outlasts the rest.

So what are my thoughts on this? Complicated. Generally, I like it because it doubles the drama of who is going to win and how might that screw up the plans of the majority. But now allow me to take off my writer/viewer hat for a second and put my Fairness Police cap on instead. First off, allow me to warn you that I am insufferable when it comes to questions of fairness in challenges. I seriously could not be more annoying in this regard. I realize it is completely stupid because no challenge is completely fair due to a variety of factors, yet I insist on obsessing about it anyway. (And don’t even get me started on footholds! Seriously, we’ll be here all day.)

So while in theory I like the double immunity twist, in practice, I simply can’t allow myself to be a fan of it when you have a gender inequality as is currently present with five men and three women. By giving immunity to one guy and one gal you are in effect telling the women they have a 33% chance of winning immunity while men have only a 20% chance of winning immunity in the exact same competition. Sorry, but I can’t get down with that. Again, I LOVE the extra drama it brings, and I realize several of the men have been total butt brains this season, but I just can’t let it go—every person should have the same chance of winning as everyone else. Am I alone on this? I very well may be. In any event, hit the message boards and register your opinion as I am eager to hear it.

NEXT: Tyler goes rummaging through Dan’s bag[pagebreak]

Hey, remember how I said Will and Dan might not do as terribly as you’d think because they should have lost more weight? Well, they do in fact beat out Sierra and Tyler before falling out, leaving Rodney vs. Mike for the men and Carolyn vs. Shirin for the women. If Shirin and Mike can both pull it out, then we will have a delicious Tribal Council for sure as the others will be forced to turn on each other. However, it would take a miracle for Shirin to beat Carolyn, who has been a force to be reckoned with in endurance contests, and sure enough Mama C wins here. Props to her.

As for the guys, it’s a bit more in doubt, but even with Dan morphing into the Rodney whisperer by blurting out every Tony Robbins motivational cliché imaginable—“You want it. You want it, baby! Dedication, motivation.”—Mike is still able to triumph. The guy has been money in challenges lately now that Joe is gone. He needed to step up after his double-debacle during the auction and right after, and he has done so. If he can just stick around long enough to wait for cracks to emerge, he can get back in this thing. Plus, he has another idol to play, but more on that later.

Now Shirin has to go into scramble mode. She gives her pitch to Dan, who reacts pretty much as you would expect Dan to react—by shaking sand out of his shoe and spitting out water. However, Dan shares Sierra’s view that Shirin is the perfect person to bring to the end: “In a dream scenario of course I’d love to sit next to Shirin in the final three. Who wouldn’t? Nobody likes her.” Speaking of Sierra, she’s next on Shirin’s pitch list. “I can’t think of a single good reason to vote me out,” says Shirin and Sierra sees merit in this, telling us that nobody would vote for her at the end. (You sure, Sierra? Take a gander at the jury right now and tell me Jenn, Joe and Hali would vote for you over Shirin? And then what about the people you may have to screw over in the future to get there?)

But there is other drama afoot. Tyler decides to go into Dan’s bag to see what the advantage is. To be clear: This is allowed. You may go through someone’s bag, but you cannot take their advantage. So how do we feel about Tyler rummaging through Dan’s personal belongings? On one hand, I’m not crazy about it because I like maintaining the surprise of what someone has. But on the other hand, WHAT IS DAN DOING LEAVING THAT IN HIS BAG?!? I don’t think this is even an item that needs to be presented (like a hidden immunity idol). I believe it was just instructions telling Dan the new power he had and how to use it. If I’m Dan—and thank you Lord God and Savior that I am not—once I read that note, I go bury that box as far away and as deep as possible. This is kind of apropos of nothing, but have you noticed that we have heard nary a word yet from Will this episode? This is not a complaint, mind you—just an observation.

As we head to Tribal Council, the big question is whether Mike will give Shirin his hidden immunity idol. On one hand, it would make for great drama. On the other, it would be piss poor strategy. Remember when Malcolm gave away one of his immunities in Caramoan so the entire Three Amigos alliance was protected and the others had to vote out Phillip? It was awesome! Some of the best TV we’ve ever seen! The best Three Amigos moment since Dusty Bottoms went toe-to-toe with the diabolical El Guapo! And it was also really dumb. Malcolm was eliminated three days later with no idol to save himself. If only Mike could think of another way to use the idol without actually using the idol…

NEXT: Dan inserts foot in mouth… again[pagebreak]

But first, let’s get to some more embarrassment from Dan. After everyone sits down at Tribal, Shirin talks about her last emotional trip there and how she has no family whatsoever to share her Survivor experience with “and that is fundamentally different from what everybody else has.” This causes Dan to shake his head in annoyance. “I don’t want to take anything away from Shirin,” he says. “But I’m an adopted child. All I have for blood in this world is my mother.… My scenario really isn’t much different from hers.”

Oh my God—DUDE, LET HER HAVE HER MOMENT! Are you seriously trying to one-up her on the emotional distress scale right now? How lame is that? Unfortunately for Dan, he just left himself wide-open to a cross-examination from Jeffrey Probst:

Probst: “So you had domestic violence in your upbringing?”

Dan: “I’m an adopted child.”

Probst: “Dan, not to split hairs but that’s a very big difference.”

Indeed it is. This matter goes beyond a mere lack of compassion. It’s just common sense. Keep your yap shut and stop exacerbating an already painful situation. Speaking of which, Probst then poses to Will the question I asked throughout all of last week’s recap: “Why not apologize?” he asks. “What if you make it to the end and Shirin is the vote and all she wanted was an ‘I’m sorry’?” Will responds that if he’s going to apologize then he wants it to be sincere because “that’s the game.” I’m sorry, but what the hell is he talking about? Wouldn’t “the game” be to apologize even though you didn’t mean it to improve your chances of winning? Isn’t that how “the game” works? Does Will even know what “game” he is playing? Does he still think he’s singing for free gas on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show?

After all that personal drama, we get to some actual strategy. Mike indeed whips out his hidden immunity idol while saying that Shirin is voting for Tyler and he’s voting for one of the other four people who doesn’t have immunity. It’s a bluff. It has to be a bluff. He won’t actually use the idol. But will the other players call his bluff? Will they risk it and stay the course with their vote or fold under the pressure. Let me just say: I love it. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. Now this is the way to play—while not actually playing— an idol, and we’ll find out in a minute exactly why.

So the votes are cast and the votes are read and it is a three-way split. At one point we have two votes each for Shirin, Tyler, and Dan. Yes, Shirin gets voted out eventually with 4 votes. So does that mean Mike’s gambit failed? Absolutely not, and here’s why: Mike and Shirin voted for Tyler, but that means two people—Tyler and Will—panicked and voted for Dan instead of Shirin. Not only has the trust been broken but a public pecking order has now been established—and with Dan on the bottom. And who has the double vote advantage again? Dan. This is exactly what Mike needed—dissension and division—and he got it while also hanging on to his idol. Also, I’m hereby issuing a serious strategic demerit for Tyler. If there was any chance Mike was going to actually give that idol to Shirin, he would have done it before the voting. I didn’t expect Will to see through that ruse, but Tyler should have been able to figure that one out.

NEXT: Shirin’s last stand[pagebreak]

So it’s the end of the line for Shirin. What to make of her? A lot of people who lived with her out there did not seem to enjoy their experience, and even her island BFF Max tweeted out recently an acknowledgement that she can be a “f—ing handful.” Whatever. She’s quirky. She’s weird. Maybe she’s high-maintenance, I have no idea. I wasn’t out there. But I actually like quirky and weird. May have been described that way myself once or twice. What I do know is that she was clearly psyched to be out there and have the Survivor experience and I’m sure other fans can relate to that. She made it far even though she was a target almost from day 1. Shirin should be proud of how she did and the fact that she kept battling to the very end, all the while dealing with some pretty gnarly characters.

And you should be proud for making it to the (almost) end of another epic Survivor recap. But there is still so much more! You will definitely want to read this week’s Q&A with Jeff Probst as he goes in depth about the show’s reaction and responsibility when it comes to showing some of the ugly behavior by the men. We also have a fascinating exclusive deleted scene in the video player below featuring Tyler talking about his plan to use Dan’s secret advantage against him. Also make sure to check back Thursday afternoon for our exit interview with Shirin, and for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But now it’s your turn. Sorry to see Shirin go? Was the double immunity challenge fair? Did Mike do the right thing by exposing—and keeping—his idol? And how has the behavior of Will, Dan, and Rodney toward women impacted your enjoyment this season? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.