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CASE FILE: 3510/3511
OPERATION CODE NAME: Secret Spy Ben
OPERATIVE: Ben “The Burger” Driebergen
COMMAND CHIEF: Devon “Ford” Pinto
TARGETS: Ryan “The Bellhop” Ulrich; Chrissy “The Calculator” Hofbeck; Joe “The Mena Event” Mena; Mike “The Sex Doctor” Zahalsky
MISSION: Spy on the enemy in plain sight by pretending to be blindsided while actually being part of the blindsiding.
MISSION REPORT: Clandestine Operation Secret Spy Ben was initiated as planned at Tribal Council at 20:54 hours with former Marine Ben “The Burger” Driebergen successfully engaging tactics of confusion and counterintelligence to dupe the enemy — specifically Ryan Ulrich (Code Name: The Bellhop) and Chrissy Hofbeck (Code Name: The Calculator) — into sharing classified intel. The Burger employed both befuddled head nodding and perplexed open-mouth staring measures to infiltrate named targets and curry favor and trust moving forward. Operation Command Chief Devon “Ford” Pinto — who also initiated the plan — expressed satisfaction at a job well done, praising the team for all its hard work and commenting, “Dude, that was awesome.” He then treated the group to a performance from local comedy troupe “The Coconuts,” who likewise received rave reviews. Please destroy this message after reading by throwing into the Tribal Council fire like a Bob Crowley fake idol.
END OF MESSAGE
Look, we can talk more about what a great acting job Ben did in convincing the others he had been blindsided, but instead let’s talk about the person who orchestrated the maneuver. And let’s begin with the following question:
“How did we get tricked by two 25-year-old surfers?” —Ryan
I think that’s a query a lot of viewers are asking themselves after watching this latest double-shot of Survivor episodes. To be honest, the bulk of the credit goes to only one of those surfers. We haven’t actually seen Ashley do anything, and she even said herself that everyone seemed to know stuff except for her. Ashley just kind of seems to have been in the right place at the right time. She hasn’t done anything wrong, but we haven’t seen her do anything right either.
But then there’s Devon. Mr. Jeff Spicoli No Shirt No Shoes No Dice himself. I liked Devon the first time we met him back in episode 1. Looked like a good dude. Fun. Funny. About a million times better looking than I have ever been or will ever be. But never did I think he had the strategic chops to come up with the plan he orchestrated this week on Survivor. Honestly, I wasn’t sure he had the strategic chops to even spell strategic. I’m not saying I had him pegged as another Fabio, but there was nothing to suggest he would put into a motion a plan players should have been putting into motion years ago. I 100 percent stereotyped him and figured he would be the brawn (and perhaps even the yawn, although that turned out to be JP) to alliance-partner Ryan’s brain.
Now, I went on record last week that I thought Devon was too quick to flip on Ryan just because he learned Ryan had also told Ben about his idol. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have flipped, but I would have at least done a bit more digging and felt out the situation before accepting Ben’s word as gospel. I still stand by that assertion. So I’m not super impressed by Devon diving into his new fearsome foursome with Ben, Lauren, and Ashley — but I am impressed with what he did after that.
After the new power alliance decided to vote out JP, Devon had a stroke of genius, telling Ben to still vote with Chrissy and Ryan for Mike, and pretend to be similarly blindsided by the vote. That way Ben could stay on the inside with them and feed intel back to the new majority in terms of how they planned to vote and if Ryan was going to use his idol. Brilliant.
We’ve had plenty of people pretend to be on one side while actually aligning with others before, but to come up with a group plan to have a player out on secret spy mission of purposely voting against his alliance while acting betrayed and pissed for three days just to have access to the inner workings of the opposition is truly next-level stuff.
To make it even better, they didn’t even tell Joe and Mike — whom they brought in for the vote — about it. Joe was walking around like it was a Fijian Christmas, thinking his arch-nemesis Ben had been blindsided. He looked so happy you probably could have gotten him to even eat some food that was not overcooked to a crisp. The genius of that decision bore fruit three days later when Joe — thinking he was completely comfortable — was blindsided himself by King Arthur and company.
By the way, how exhausting are all the Knights of the Round Table references on this show? I guess because they filmed this back in the spring, maybe they thought the Charlie Hunnam-Guy Ritchie movie was going to be a huge summer hit so they wanted to look really timely and topical by referencing it as much as possible. I guess it could have been worse. They could have been all, “Sometimes playing Survivor is kind like sitting in the eye of a storm — a Geostorm, if you will.” Or, “It’s really hard being out here alone on Survivor. It’s the type of thing that really makes you miss your mommy — or The Mummy, a new Universal blockbuster starring Tom Cruise in the role he was born to play!” In any event, I would like to hereby apologize for taking part in it myself with the above King Arthur reference — and any and all Entertainment Weekly King Arthur covers that preceded it. (Seriously, sorry about that.)
So big props to Devon — do people even say “props” anymore? — for a strategic masterstroke. It’s one that may help pave the way to a million dollar check. (Unfortunately, not an oversized novelty check, since they sadly stopped giving those away years ago, but I suppose you could always buy one with all that money.) “I don’t think anybody knows that I’m as good at this game as I am,” Devon said at one point. I certainly didn’t.
Okay, let’s take a look at what else went down in this two-hour, double episode and double elimination extravaganza. But before we do, make sure to make your voice heard! Go vote in our fan survey ranking all 34 Survivor winners. Who are the best and worst winners ever? You tell me! Go vote here and we will reveal the results before the finale.
A True Challenge Feet: Part 1
I’m neither one who is turned on by feet (sorry, no freaky fetishes here), nor one who is disgusted by them. Feet are just kinda there. They get the job done. Hurt sometimes. No big deal. But I always think it looks weird when Survivor players have to move stuff around in a challenge using only their feet. It kind of reminds me of Sebulba from The Phantom Menace — an alien “Dug” creature that walked around with his hands and grabbed everything with his toes. You probably forgot about him because like any normal person you tried to block out anything and everything from that movie because it was too painful watching Jar Jar Binks and a future Sith Lord yelling “Yippie!” at the top of his lungs. (Go back and give that final lightsaber battle between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul another look though. It’s the best lightsaber fight scene in any Star Wars movie. Not saying it redeems the whole film, just saying there is indeed a silver lining to that cloud of a movie.)
Anyway, Lauren moved all of her blocks over and then planted the flag first, so she won a bunch of food that Jeff Probst described orgasmically (“cheeeeeeeeeseburgers, frenchhhhhhhhh fries, ice cold beeeeeeeeeeeer”). “It feels good,” announced Lauren with all the emotion of someone reading an online bus schedule. Of course, she got to bring folks with her — those folks being her new final four alliance of Devon, Ben, and Ashley.
Naturally the editors juxtaposed the formation of this alliance with a clueless Ryan and Chrissy back at camp plotting how and when to get rid of the others. “Me and Chrissy are playing a little more of a strategic game than everyone else,” Ryan proclaimed in a quote that I’m sure made him wince as he watched it play back on TV. (Recap continues on page 2)
OPERATION CODE NAME: Idol Hunt
Did you notice how I skipped right over talking about the Tearfest 2017 that took place once the players on reward found their love letters from back home? That’s because I have no heart and remain unmoved, no matter how much soaring orchestral or piano music you play under it.
Of course, Ben did credit the letters for giving him more fuel to play the game. (Wait, did he burn the letters as fuel to stay warm or something?) The former Marine then stumbled onto an idol clue, which in turn launched him onto a new objective. “My mission now is to get this idol!” he announced. To be honest, his mission didn’t look like it was going so hot, until he did what any and every player should do whenever they are searching for an idol — look exactly where the camera is pointing. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. Another sure sign that you are looking in the wrong area for an idol is if the cameraperson goes and starts filming someone else. It’s like a game of “You’re getting warmer…warmer…oh, wait, colder…colder…now warm again…warmer…”
In any event, Ben finally looked where the camera was looking, finding the idol and then jumping up and down as if an Outback Steakhouse™ rib-eye steak was somehow involved. The idols just keep on coming.
A True Challenge Feet: Part 2
For the first immunity challenge, we were treated to a classic first seen (I believe) in Survivor: Caramoan, as players had to stand on a triangular platform out in the water for as long as possible with their toes balanced on very narrow footholds — so narrow that any big dude was in big trouble. That explains why JP was the first one out and possibly why Devon and Ben joined Lauren in channeling their inner Jenna Morasca and Heidi Strobel in choosing chocolate and peanut butter over competing.
You all know I am normally aghast when folks choose food over competing. How many times over the years have we seen someone who felt safe take the food and then promptly get voted out? Also, you came on Survivor to have this once — or twice, or thrice, or now four-time —in a lifetime experience, and now have this incredibly cool competition built in a crystal clear South Pacific lagoon just for you, and you decide not to bother? Lame!
Anyway, that’s how I normally feel. But if you’re a big dude like Devon or Ben and have no chance of winning because of your massive hooves and those tiny footholds, and need to fortify with nutrition for the homestretch, then I can be a bit more forgiving. I do wonder what it says to your alliance-mates, however. If I’m Ryan or Chrissy and see three of the four people who just went on a reward together all sitting out of an immunity challenge, I might be wondering why they all seem so comfy. Appearances are important.
In any event, the one person from that new final-four alliance who did compete, Ashley, won. Mike looked like he may take it, but then once again turned into a Chatty Cathy by yucking it up with Probst…and then dropping. Maybe the middle of an immunity competition is not the best time to be trying out potential new set material for The Coconuts.
JP’s Last Stand (Wait, who is JP?)
Man, JP was boring. I cannot stress that enough. He made for truly yawn-inducing television. And let me be absolutely clear about something: That is not a dis on the guy. If you are a boring reality show contestant, that most likely means that you are a perfectly pleasant well-adjusted member of society who does not have to resort to silly stunts and zany one-liners to satisfy an inner craving for attention and camera time. I bet JP is a totally solid dude. He just didn’t make for particularly interesting TV. Yet the fact that he was so unconcerned with making interesting TV makes me kinda like him. Yet it also simultaneously makes me wish he had stayed home in L.A. and posed for one of those hottie firefighter calendars instead — complete with some intentionally double-entendre laden quote about the size of his hose under the photo.
Anyhoodle, it wasn’t like losing JP made any huge dramatic impact, but the looks on Ryan and Chrissy’s faces certainly did. Other than Jeff Probst nonsensically staring at his feet when he tells people to come on in, there is truly nothing better that witnessing true looks of bewilderment as unexpected votes are read at Tribal Council. God, it’s good. Of course, I was a bit confused as well. Because why take out JP? Sure, he’s good in some physical challenges, but only some. And I don’t think he’s much of a threat in the individual puzzles sure to come as we get closer to the finale. Why not take out Chrissy here? Maybe they were worried Ryan would share his idol. Of course, that would mean him taking it out of his pants, and we know how loath he is to do that.
And the Oscar Goes To…
I gave a lot of credit to Devon for coming up with the Secret Spy Ben play, but let’s also hand out some proverbial hardware to Ben for his comedic and dramatic acting performance after Tribal. It would have been very easy to go over the top and lay it on way too thick, but Ben seemed to calibrate his response pretty perfectly. He expressed shock, confusion, and disappointment, but didn’t overdo it to the point where it seemed unnatural and made folks suspicious. I mean, I’m not saying Ben Driebergen is the second coming of Meryl Streep. But he’s not Tommy Wiseau either.
Orange Hat Alert
Nice to see Probst bust out the orange hat for the final two challenges. I’m going to go ahead and just skip the second reward one for the most part. After all, I think we all need a moment to recollect our thoughts after watching that video above, but suffice it to say it involved swimming, paddling, a puzzle, and people using their bodies to shove big logs through a narrow opening. (Hey, I don’t come up with these things.)
The final immunity challenge of the evening also involved multiple stages as players had to use a driving wheel to transport a key through a series of obstacles. That key would then unlock block puzzle pieces that had to be transported to the finish and used to solve a word puzzle that spelled invulnerable. (Recap continues on page 3)
The challenge is cool enough. Unfortunately, however, Chrissy figured out the answer too quickly, depriving us of the opportunity of watching Jeff Probst providing unsubtle clues through his play-by-play. Had she just held off for a few more minutes, we no doubt would have been treated to commentary along the lines of “Everyone digging deep to win this! If you don’t win you will be at risk. Some might say you would be helpless, or powerless, or even defenseless. Of course, if you win, you would be the opposite of that. The opposite of a word that would be synonymous with those other words I just happened to mention for no particular reason whatsoever. Hmmm, I wonder what that word could be? It sure would be INVALUABLE if I could figure that out. In fact, I bet that mystery word might even sound a little like invaluable now that I think about it.… Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?”
For a player, these mystery word or phrase puzzles are pretty much the only time you ever want to actually listen to Probst during a challenge, especially the longer it goes. I guess we should also make note of the open cheating once again happening on a puzzle. Not even open, but encouraged! “Devon stepping back to look at Chrissy’s puzzle,” said Probst. “All is fair in Survivor.” We actually should call it copying and not cheating, because cheating implies doing something that is against the rules, but Survivor producers a long time ago made the decision to let people copy from each other, and the reason is simple: They want close finishes and they want dramatic comebacks.
Think about all those times when one person or one tribe was way behind after the physical portion of a challenge and then somehow miraculously won on the puzzle anyway. Keep in mind that said last-place person or tribe can easily look over at what other people or teams have already done, and there are times — not always, but sometimes — when they can copy that work already done and it enables them to catch up.
Survivor producers won’t set up partitions so players cannot copy off of each other because they want as many close finishes as possible. And guess what? That totally makes sense. I don’t necessarily like it, but I get it. Let’s not forget: They’re making a TV show, ladies and gentlemen. And it certainly does not qualify as “unfair” since the same rules apply to everyone. It may work against you in one challenge, but then help you in the next. So it all basically evens out.
And while I don’t like the fact that players can shortcut by copying off each other, it is in the rules, so if you don’t do it, then you’re a fool. (Unless you don’t need to do it, in which case, you’re a genius!) I may hate it, but I would TOTALLY copy off someone else if I were out there. I would just have to hope I was copying off of someone smart…like Chrissy.
Devon Does It Again
Apparently not satisfied with one master deception, Devon was back at it with a brand new plan. This time he came up with the idea to tell Mike and Joe about Lauren’s extra vote and how they would use it to split the votes on Ryan and Ben and ensure one of them went home. This made Joe feel safe — giddy actually — heading into Tribal Council, because he was so happy to get rid of his nemesis Ben.
And maybe he would. Lauren had brought up to Ashley — who then brought up to Devon — the possibility of cutting the former Marine now. Would they do it, though? The first part of the plan played out as expected as Ryan indeed played his idol…after some encouragement from Ben the spy. The first two votes went on him, and the next two on Ashley as we waited to see which alpha male would be cut loose.
In the end, it was deuces for Joe, who had to walk out while Ben celebrated and Chrissy snarked it up by commenting, “That was an incredibly tight alliance.” But Joe didn’t scream or holler (or holla, for that matter). He took his lumps in stride. “They definitely got me,” he said in his final words. “Kudos to them and I’m looking forward to seeing who’s in the final three.” Good for him for leaving game animosity in the game. It’s not personal, just business.
Look, I have no idea what living on the island with Joe was like. My best guess is that it may have been something of a nightmare. But from a viewer’s perspective, Joe played 100 miles per hour, and that is something I always love to see. He wasn’t just there to give kooky sound bites; the dude actually wanted to play and play all out. Just imagine a tribe with Joe Mena and Tony Vlachos together. (Survivor Gods, please make this happen.) So kudos to Joe. He delivered the goods, even if he could not deliver himself a victory.
Speaking of delivery, we have a few more goodies for you this week, starting with our exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. We also have our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, where I ask him why he insists on staring at his feet when he tells players to “Come on in, guys!” And the first place you can hear from the eliminated Joe and JP is Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. ET on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105). Plus, for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
Now it’s your turn. Were you as impressed with Devon’s gameplay as I was? Are you psyched or sad to see Joe go? And who’s your pick to win from everyone left? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.