I’m in. As of this episode, I am officially in.
Allow me to explain. As most of you know, I wasn’t a huge fan of Survivor: San Juan del Sur. I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t one of the absolute worst. But it was a letdown from the genius that was Survivor: Cagayan. Granted, pretty much anything would be a letdown from that, but the cast featured way too many people who weren’t fans of the game and had no idea what they were doing. Finding people to root for was difficult, especially after Josh and Jeremy went out right after the merge. Thankfully, Natalie stepped up in a big way down the stretch, but it still just wasn’t one of my faves.
Then Jeff Probst talked up season 30 big time. Said it was maybe his favorite cast ever. Those are strong words. Contrary to what some of you may think, Probst does not say things like that every time out. I don’t always end up agreeing with him—the Redemption Island season being our biggest split in opinion—but when he gets excited (like with Heroes vs. Villains, Philippines, and Cagayan) I tend more often than not to get excited as well.
So back to Survivor: Worlds Apart. I’ve watched, and for the most part the season has felt middle-of-the-road to me. Not top 10. Not bottom 10. Just somewhere in the middle. Some big personalities, some cool challenges (although because this is Nicaragua, not enough in water), some fun blindsides, but I never felt fully invested. I hadn’t pegged anyone I was truly rooting for in a big way. But over the past few weeks, something has clicked and I find several people I would be happy to see win this game. People like…
Not just because he was my episode 1 pick to win it all (although that certainly does not hurt. I have not had an episode 1 pick win since Todd Herzog took home the million in Survivor: China—he was my third straight choice to win after Yul and Earl, but it has been Goose Egg City ever since). Joe is now undefeated in individual challenges, having won all three contests. But where he really impressed me was with whom he chose to go on the zip-lining/pizza reward. Instead of picking his biggest No Collar allies—as winners usually do—he wisely chose the four potential swing votes in Tyler, Carolyn, Will, and (to a lesser extent since she was already in the fold) Shirin to try and win their loyalty over. It always bugs me how others think socially over strategically and do not do this and instead pick their best buddies. Not Joe. Now, did he capitalize on this? No. And I can certainly shake my head over his decision to share his immunity idol clue with Tyler (who then immediately reported it back to Mike). But at least this guy is thinking out there and has proven himself to be a formidable foe. Probably too formidable to make it to the end, though.
He’s still on my s— list for throwing the challenge, but they always say how you can never sleep on Survivor, and that proved true right here as he faked snoozing and then spied on Joe and Tyler reading the idol clue. He then made his presence known, which spooked Tyler into revealing the clue. But that wasn’t even the best part. The best part was watching Mike endure heat, fatigue, and an ouchie on his finger in his quest to find the idol. I swear, for a minute there I thought I was watching the training montage from Rocky IV, where Rocky works out in a cabin and outruns KGB agents in a Mercedes Benz before scaling a giant mountain to the sweet sounds of “Hearts on Fire” by John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band. All that hard work paid off when Mike found the idol, culminating in an awkward air kick/high-five combo that morphed into something called “the happy dance.” Mike has been playing the game and playing the game hard. It’s fun to watch.
Speaking of playing the game hard, “Mama C” has been very active since day 1 and showed grit in challenges. She found an idol and has not even come close to needing to play it yet. Did she make the right move in aligning with the Blue Collars, however? That remains to be seen, but you have to appreciate the hustle. We just need to work on that nickname.
Gotta be honest. Kind of rooting for her to win just to watch Dan’s head explode.
And there are others as well. Tyler is a wild card but could prove to be one worth watching if he ever makes that big move he keeps talking about. And Jenn has certainly had her moments as well, including last week’s playing of the idol. Now, I’m not ready to call this season a runaway success yet by any means. It still hasn’t cracked the top 10 for me. But the fact that there are multiple people playing hard, and worth rooting for has hooked me. The best Survivor seasons always have people to root for and against. This isn’t in the “best” category yet, but maybe it can get there.
Okay, let’s get through all the other notable moments from this week’s episode.
Rappin’ Rodney (No Respect)
Anyone who remembers “Rappin’ Rodney” is aces in my book. But Rodney Dangerfield was not the only Rodney to talk incessantly about respect. Survivor’s Rodney was upset that people wouldn’t let him eat more food, or handle more food, or basically do anything near the food. He ended up walking away and saying he needed to punch a tree to get his aggression out. (Roid rage?) Then he started talking some nonsense about how he has to respect someone to give them respect, which got me to thinking: Have you ever noticed that the people who obsess over “respect” the most are the ones who actually respect other people the least? Just something to mull over.
A Rewarding Situation
I am not a big fan of multi-stage challenges—where only a few people advance—when they are for immunity because all the drama is often drained out of the contest if the one person everybody is targeting doesn’t even make it out of the first round. But I have no such reservations when it comes to doing them in reward, which is what happened here. The players had to cross over balance beams while collecting puzzle bags. The first three to do so moved on the next round to solve an anchor puzzle. Naturally, Joe came in first on both stages of the challenge and then took those swing votes zip-lining. (NOTE: I was fortunate enough to go zip-lining on this course when I was there last summer. It was super fun. The dude who chastised Shirin for “coming in way too fast” actually had to ride tandem with my EW Radio cohost Jessica Shaw because she was too scared to do it herself.)
Message in a Bottle
I’ve always struggled with how I feel about when they hide a hidden immunity idol clue under one person’s napkin or something at a reward feast. It’s not necessarily unfair because the chances of everyone receiving it are equal, but it also is just so random and rewards luck more than ingenuity. It is somewhat akin to a dressed-up version of eeny-meeny-miny-moe. Except in this instance, Carolyn actually had the Survivor gods smiling down upon her when she picked what appeared to be a Nicaraguan Fresca (which actually tastes different from American—or, excuse me, Merican—Fresca) that contained the clue wrapped up inside the bottle. Nice work, props department. But then Carolyn essentially spit her Nicaraguan Fresca back in those gods’ faces by not even noticing it. Not only that, but then she gave her soda to Joe! Maybe that was actually a good thing seeing as how she was about 10 seconds away from inadvertently choking on a hidden immunity idol clue, but still…UGH!
I give Joe props for noticing the clue and getting it into his possession. The tricky part was deciding what to do when Tyler spotted him fishing the clue out of his mouth. On one hand, I get why Joe later shared the clue with Tyler: He is down in numbers and while an idol may save him for one more week, a number shift is a move that could take him to the end. But it was still the wrong move. If you want to show Tyler you trust him and want to play with him, then pull a Yul Kwon and show him the idol after you find it. (Yes, I realize the idol is not as powerful as it was when Yul flipped Penner with it because back then in Cook Islands it could be played after the votes were read, but it still is a better move than giving him the clue—which then was given to Mike, who found it.) Of course, Joe was not even able to find the idol, so that point is kind of moot, but by not waiting, he not only did not find the idol, but he put it into the pocket of his biggest threat. DOH!
NEXT: When Dan opens his mouth…bad things happen[pagebreak]
Dan Sticks Both Feet in Mouth
We’ve seen some terrible moves on Survivor. Erik and Brandon handing over their immunities and getting immediately voted out of the game. J.T.’s love letter (complete with hidden immunity idol!) to Russell. Tyson essentially voting himself out of Heroes vs. Villains. The male tribe volunteering to go to Tribal Council even though they won the immunity challenge. Jeff Probst’s hat in Guatemala. Those are obvious. But what Dan did here was just as inexplicable. Look, when people are cold and wet and hungry, tempers can flare and regrettable words can be uttered. I get it. But that’s what makes Dan’s verbal beatdown of Shirin even more curious. He didn’t seem angry. In fact, he appeared downright calm as he belittled her and her Survivor skills (or perceived lack thereof), talking about super-fans that “can’t do basic math. You’re just one of Joe’s minion’s and that’s how people see you now. Your game is done. Your game is over. Once again, another fan who can’t do basic math.” He then went on to call her “an easy mark” and tell her how much she annoys everyone. “You just did it to yourself. I’m actually just trying to be nice. I truly am.”
First off, that is the worst job of being nice I have ever seen. What other niceties could Dan have in store for Shirin? Is he going to cut off her hair while she is sleeping? Put bamboo shoots under each of her finger- and toenails? Teach an abstinence class to local monkeys? Does Dan not realize this is someone who he may soon be asking to vote for him to win a million dollars?!? Regardless of how you feel about someone, why would you go out of your way to antagonize a potential juror? This is the epitome of bad gameplay. And, again, it’s not like he just got caught up in a heated argument and lost his cool for a second. No, this was pre-meditated stupidity. Dan’s a huge fan of this game as well, so how he lost track of the fact that this is the point in the game when you should be working future jury members instead of belittling them is beyond me.
What’s even worse is that this was not the most problematic thing Dan said when it came to Shirin. While illustrating his frustration with her to the camera, he told us that “Shaneeni or whatever her name is—I can’t remember her damn name because she annoys me so much—somebody slap this woman. For the love of God just slap her and shut her up already. Dear God in heaven, do us all a favor. I cannot wait until her torch goes out.” Okay, full stop. Put the emergency break on and everything because something needs to be said here. A few things, actually.
The first thing is this: I am going to go ahead and assume that Dan is not speaking literally here. I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and work on the assumption that Dan has never struck a woman in his entire life. But wow, talk about a tone-deaf comment. Asking someone to come over and slap a woman because she “annoys” you and then repeating that you are begging for someone to “slap her and shut her up already” is just a terrible message to be sent on every level imaginable. How in any way, shape, or form is that acceptable? I’m not going to sit here and recite domestic violence facts and figures, because A) I am too lazy to look them up, and B) I shouldn’t have to throw numbers around to make men realize this is still an issue in 2015. Again, I’m not saying Dan was trying to consciously condone violence against women. I know the way Survivor works: The camera is on you and there is an inherent pressure to say outrageous things to please the producers and make good TV and that can backfire. But this was a really bad look for Dan—even worse than the manties.
NEXT: Another One Bites The Dust[pagebreak]
A Puzzling Situation
Okay, who was gonna win the pimped out Flavor Flav immunity necklace with the random giant compass in the middle? It was Puzzlepalooza time as players had to move a puzzle piece through three slide mazes and then use that piece to complete another slide puzzle. But first we were treated to Jeff Probst and Shirin in an awesome contest of awkward physical gestures. Take a look below.
Brilliant. Once again it was Joe in first place through the first three slide puzzles, but then it was Dan who appeared to claim victory by finishing the final puzzle first. Only he had it wrong, Then Dan did his best Yogi Bera impersonation by making it déjà vu all over again as he called Probst over a second time to look at his completed puzzle. Only he still had it wrong. That opened the door for Joe to take his third straight individual immunity win. The dude is undefeated so far. On the other hand, it means he has to wear that ridiculous looking necklace. (Hey, at least he’ll always know which way is north!)
Hali Heads Out
Once bitten, twice shy—the majority alliance wanted no part of trying to vote off Jenn again so were targeting either Shirin or Hali. They came to a consensus that Shirin did not have an idol because according to Dan, “I don’t think her game is good enough to keep her mouth shut.… Maybe she’s an idiot savant. I’m leaning more towards the idiot side.” Well, at least he isn’t piling on or anything.
Meanwhile, the ladies on the opposite side tried to woo over Sierra and Tyler to get rid of Dan. This led to what felt like one of the shortest Tribal Councils ever. There was a brief discussion on whether flippers ever win and weird reference to the colonists flipping on Britain that came off like an inadvertent advertisement for the season 2 premiere of AMC’s Turn: Washington’s Spies, but in the end the majority stayed strong and voted off Hali, who looked genuinely shocked. After snuffing the somewhat forgettable contestant’s torch, Probst informed the remaining tribe members that, “Lines drawn in the sand tonight can be washed away by the tides tomorrow.” I’m sorry, but did he just paraphrase the introduction from The Days of Our Lives? Or did he lift that off of a fortune cookie? Because it kinda sounds like something you might read in a fortune cookie—which, incidentally, are never fortunes. Or maybe he got it out of Coach’s book of Famous Philosophical Quotes to be Memorized and Recited on Reality Television. (The fact that Coach one time attributed one such quote—“Some of the greatest inspiration is born of desperation”—to Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius when it really came from the guy who invented Jheri curl remains my favorite thing in Survivor history.) Regardless, I love it when Probst gets all new agey. NAMASTE!
Okay, I better get going before the tides come in and wash this entire recap away. But you can also read our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst and check out an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode in the video player below as Joe talks about his friendly rivalry with Mike. Come back Thursday afternoon for our exit interview with the ousted Hali, and for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
Now it’s your turn. Sorry to see Hali go? Was Dan out of line with his comments to and about Shirin? And whom are you rooting for to win Survivor: Worlds Apart? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.