Tony's scheming doesn't seem to rattle anyone in his alliance except for Jefra, who must make a life-altering decision over ribs.
Credit: Michael Yarish/CBS

In the beginning, there was Dalton Ross. Forged from 96% twigs and local flora, 3% tropical ocean air, and 1% the fabric they use to make the buffs, Dalton is one with the many lands of Survivor and has easily adapted to each season’s exotic environment because he, like Jeff Probst, is risen from the ashes of a fallen phoenix whose only crime was trying to make the merge.

I am no Dalton Ross, sadly, but while he is away—I forgot to ask why, but I think jury duty? Dalton is honestly always on jury duty—I’m recapping Survivor in his stead. I can’t pretend to offer the same type of tough love and brilliant insight into Survivor that Dalton does (or that you deserve), but I sure as hell love this show, so I’ll do my best to offer my opinion on what’s happening in crazy old Cagayan. It’s also worth noting that my significantly older but moderately wiser boss has expressed his concern that he always misses the best episodes when he gets a recap sub, so I hope he can civilly adjudicate with a clear mind knowing that he definitely did not miss the season’s best episode. But he did miss a very silly one.

Where are we? In the grand theatre of Survivor, the second act (of three) is drawing to a close and the star player—one Tony Vlachos, 39—is thisclose to performing his version of “Rose’s Turn.” (For those unfamiliar with the theatre, that’s the famous musical number from Gypsy in which the main character goes full bonkers.) Fueled by paranoia, Tony is growing increasingly skittish as his steamboat journey to Port Crazy chugs on, and I sense that we’re coming very close to a full-scale Tony meltdown before the season’s end.

But we’ll get to that. We start with Act I, Scene 1: Twilight After Tribal. After Tony and Woo decided to blindside LJ, they have to face the three burned members of their alliance…who, aside from Jefra, really don’t seem that burned at all. That’s the first shocker of the evening, and my disbelief fuels the rest of the episode, so hopefully I’m not alone here in my befuddlement.

The intra-alliance blindside should have exposed Tony for being an untrustworthy instigator, but it’s alarming that Jefra is the only one who is outraged. I mean, Kass and Trish are, like, moderately peeved, but they’re definitely not mad. Gentle Kass seems to take solace in the fact that it was a one-time thing, suggesting that she’d also be super content to suffer through a one-time carjacking or a one-time triple homicide. Meanwhile Trish appears subdued for no reason other than blind loyalty: “At first I felt like, oh wow, I wish I kind of knew, but then immediately I understood why he didn’t tell me. He was afraid the plan might get destroyed, so I wasn’t mad.” Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you think someone is going to destroy your work, then you probably don’t trust that someone? It’s amazing that Trish doesn’t even seem irritated that her closest ally decided she wasn’t important enough to let her in on his plans. Honestly it’s mind-boggling that she and Kass still stand by their man without so much as a raised voice. (That said, didn’t Tony try to get Trish onto the LJ elimination train last week the same way he convinced Woo? Or does she not realize that, yes, that actually happened?)

Spencer, meanwhile, continues to exercise his intelligence in his interviews, recognizing that in the Alliance of S’mores, Jefra is a toasting marshmallow ready to be rescued away from the open flame before she catches full-on fire. (In this s’mores-based analogy, it must be noted that Tony is the fire, Woo the stick, Trish the chocolate, and Kass the stale, bland, utterly awful graham cracker.)

NEXT: Tony’s been watching too much HGTV

Act I, Scene 2: Espionage Au Naturel

Even though Trish and Kass don’t seem that upset with Tony, the man still recognizes that he could be—nay, should be—in big trouble after his power play ousting LJ. And so we come to what I hope will be known as Tony’s masterpiece move: the construction of a spy shack by the water well, built specifically so that Tony could sit and listen as thirsty individuals come a-strolling along talking strategy. God, I wish Dalton was here.

Laughable and juvenile as Tony’s leaf fort is, it’s actually not half-bad of an idea. Sure, it lacks the artisanal craftsmanship of Wendy’s house in Peter Pan and the cozy feng shui of Luke Skywalker’s tauntaun, but it’s built for function, so long as a camera guy watching Tony watching the water well doesn’t blow the whole plan. And when Trish and Jefra come sauntering by expressing their doubts about Tony, sure enough, the plan works. You have to imagine that when Tony actually achieves success, the little atomic Tonys that operate the control panel in his head put down their beers and gave each other little bitty high-fives for a mission accomplished before starting to drink again. Although, let’s also think about the fact that Tony didn’t really glean much information than this aside from the knowledge that Jefra thinks he’s sketchy. Big revelations!

Act II: A Most Rewarding Challenge

There’s not much fanfare for today’s reward—a BBQ lunch in a cave beneath some sure-to-be jaunty stalactites—nor for the challenge itself, which involves two teams of four racing out onto the water to collect paddles, which they will then have to use to solve a basic word scramble. The highlight for me all challenge long is Jefra, who is not five seconds into this challenge when she takes a tumble and screams, “Help me, Jeremiah!” Her comedy of errors continues when she gets a whack to the head from, again, a very apologetic Jeremiah. Poor Jeffy. As we’ll later see, she’s just going through it in this episode, and all I can do is sit here on my couch eating Special K and feeling bad.

During the puzzle portion of the challenge, it becomes hilariously evident that nobody cares about being called a cheater for looking at the other team’s puzzle. Those days are long gone for these tribe members. And in fact, there’s a nice back-and-forth as each team starts Paula Abduling each other, gaining traction and then falling back, only to be led down the wrong track by Kass the Wordsmith in the end. Spencer saves the day, and Kass learns that the word “fighting” does not have the letter “Y.”

With the still-bitter Jefra going off on reward with the trio of misfits, it appears that Tony’s worst nightmare has come true. But in a weird way, isn’t Jefra winning the best outcome for Tony? He already knows he’s lost her trust and a flip seems inevitable, so if he’s going to lose a team member, why not have it be the one whose jumping ship already appeared the most likely? It all but eliminates the hypothetical nature of the flip, and this way he can strategize ways to loop her back in when she returns to camp. I know that’s a lofty interpretation, but surely if someone like Kass went off on the reward instead of Jefra…just think of Tony’s paranoia then. He’d build a spy LOFT! And NOBODY builds lofts these days.

NEXT: Speaking of lofts and other high things…

Act III: I Know Where The Papaya Tree Grows

Back at camp, Tony and friends are bitter about the reward loss. While Tony can’t stop ranting about the danger of Jefra eating ribs, his frustration falls on deaf ears because Trish refuses to talk strategy as there is fruit to be harvested. Clearly Trish’s childhood board game inclinations involved less Stratego and more Hi Ho! Cherry-O. Trish enlists Woo to go fruit picking, which frees up time for Tony to search for an idol (to no avail) while poor Kass is left alone with her horrible green shirt and highly introspective mind.

Kass Says: “If I want a million dollars, I need to stick with this five.”

I Say: That’s not entirely true, boo. The fault in this logic is that Kass, who has the charisma of a cup of yogurt, really stands no chance of winning a million dollars at all, regardless of whether she makes the final three with Tony/Trish/Woo or Tasha/Spencer. Seriously, is anyone voting for Kass when this thing ends?

Kass Says: “Tony’s annoying, but my philosophy is to keep the annoying people and get rid of the threats.”

I Say: We know this ‘keep the annoying’ philosophy rings true for Kass—because J’Tia—but it’s interesting that in this instance Kass considers Tony to be more annoying than threatening. Obviously he’s both, but she doesn’t seem to recognize the inherent threat that comes with keeping Tony close. Yes, she recognizes that Spencer has to go, but she shouldn’t be so quick to write off Tony as merely, harmlessly annoying.

Back to reality. Trish and Woo are off a-hunting for their own sweet pleasures: lemons (or is it limes?) and papayas. I choke on my Special K when Trish says the papayas look like Morgan’s boobs (BOOB-RELATED BURN! Dalton would be so proud.). She even makes Woo go get the fruit, and is thereby responsible for his death fall from the tree. It’s actually not as dramatic of an event as the preview made it look, but we did get Woo’s perhaps not-quite-right self-comparison to Sylvester Stallone hanging off a cliff. (Quick, find that movie!) Woo is hurting, but he’ll “break ass for papayas any day,” so yeah, that’s great. Thanks for the memories Woo.

In the Reward Cave, things go down exactly like you might expect—the ribs are delicious, and the talk of alliances even more so. Tasha and Spencer waste no time trying to reel in the still-fuming Jefra, who is obviously going to be a sure flip but pretends she needs a rib before making her decision (I can relate, as I have never made a large-scale life choice without first indulging in a babyback). Then the letters from home arrive and Jefra’s love of penmanship makes her break down entirely.

“This is I guess my sign that I should probably jump ships at this point,” she says, and with that, she seals a final four deal with Spencer, Tasha, and Jeremiah. But oho, don’t I laugh when she admonishes Jeremiah: “You’ve shook my hand before, buddy! I’m holding you to it this time.” I kind of love sassy Jefra in this episode. Up until now I had no idea she was actually that personable. True, she wears her heart on her sleeve more prominently than a Lisa Frank sticker on a 1993 Trapper-Keeper, but there’s an endearing honesty to her that, unfortunately, is just about the worst quality a player could have on Survivor.

NEXT: Oh, Jefra, you sweet impressionable piece of innocent, well-endowed clay…

Act IV: Tinker Tailor Soldier Ball-on-Stick

Balance challenges are among my least favorite on Survivor if only because they stress me the f— out. Add in dramatic music and fake-out edits and they’re a regular episode of Homeland. It’s your standard balance-ball-on-increasingly-elongated-pole-on-increasingly-skinny-beam (oh, that old thing) and Jefra’s the first one out, followed quickly after by Trish, Tony, and Kass within the first three minutes. LJ [EDIT: OOPS, JEREMIAH] drops, then Woo, who strikes a great Master Splinter pose that makes me think he might pull off a miraculous recovery when oh, no, never mind, he doesn’t.

With this challenge, Tasha scores her second consecutive individual immunity win. I’m suddenly wondering if I’ve been underestimating Tasha. I haven’t been rooting for her, likely because it was easy to loop her into the ineptness of Kass and J’Tia early in the season, but now she’s becoming more of a force in challenges, and we already know she stands to survive longer than Spencer (future immunities notwithstanding) since he has the bigger target on his back. With the inevitable departure of Spencer, could Tasha be the one to root for? I’m keeping my eye on you, girl.

P.S. Raise your hand if you giggled when Jeff said “Place your balls on the platform.”

P.P.S. This is a good time to admit to you all that I’m 14 years old.

Act V: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s… Just Tony

After the challenge, right when we get back to camp, Tony takes off running again, but not to his spy shack (which I pray makes a reprise appearance later this season). No, Tony’s not chopping down no wood. Not making no fire. Not boiling no water. He’s finding that idol, and he won’t rest until he finds it, no matter how many silly-looking trees he has to investigate.

Now, I personally have a love-hate relationship with players searching blindly for idols because I really don’t care for dumb luck. When I was in seventh grade, my best friend beat my Minesweeper score and gloated about his stupid luck for months. But if Tony is anything, it’s determined (among other adjectives), and lo and behold he gets dumbly lucky and finds an idol buried underneath a “rocket ship tree.” And it’s not just any idol. It’s the buzzy idol bestowed with special powers, turning this ordinary, mild-mannered Jersey cop into…

…SUPER TONY! Super Tony comes complete with x-ray introspection into human behavior, superhuman strength of poker face, invisibility (though he already has the spy shack so consider that one extraneous), and the ability to fly high into a cloud of paranoia. But don’t wait! Call now and your Super Tony action figure will come with such catchphrases as “I’m not a cop,” “Everybody’s eyes say bing!” and “Lime and papayas! You gotta be kiddin’ me!” Order now!

(Jokes aside, the idol’s rules state that it can’t be given to another tribe member, but it can be used after the votes have been read. Of all the people who could have found it, I just can’t believe it’s actually Tony who has it. Ugh. If you’re a fan, that’s the best news you could imagine for Tony, whose love story with his new idol is still more developed than Twilight. Now if you’ll excuse him, he’s gotta go wash up, gotta go wash up, gotta go wash up.)

NEXT: Jefra goes back to the dark side

As Tony’s off on his idol hunt, Jefra is cornered—well, in open water—by Trish and Kass, who easily wrench it out of her that Tony’s lying has gotten on her nerves. Kass mistakenly reads Jefra’s concerns as Tony being more annoying than untrustworthy, which is yet another painful underKasstimation of the problem here. Even though Tony likely won’t flip again because he couldn’t beat Tasha or Spencer, I still can’t handle the coolness with which Kass and Trish accept his infidelity. But I suppose your interpretation of their forgiveness of Tony is rooted in whether you think Tony would beat them in the final three. I do. They clearly don’t.

Tony arrives in the water, and Trish and Kass (can I collectively call them Trassh or is that just rude?) call him out on his double agency, which he vehemently denies with a casual “Don’t insult me, bro.” Rather than apologizing, Tony gives some BS excuse and swears on his baby/father/mother/landlord, and just like that, he’s gotten them all back under his thumb. It’s this truly inexplicably effective social game that makes Tony such a great Survivor villain, and so infuriating at the same time.

Jefra, being honest to a fault yet again, tells Jeremiah that she’s not going to flip after all. Again, poor Jefra. I really wish she had listened to her mother. Hidden inside that petite little head is a major existential dilemma that just doesn’t know what her best option is, like when you have to choose between watching Game of Thrones or Mad Men and genuinely can’t decide which spoiler would upset you more. Perhaps Jefra should just run all of her life choices by Kass, who, lest we forget, knows “how to read people.” (She neglects to mention that she can only do so at a fourth-grade level.)

As Jeremiah delivers Jefra’s bad news to Tasha and Spencer, he seems to accept defeat and decides that now is the best time to reveal the excruciating secret that he’s been keeping inside of him, burning a hole through his heart with agonizing, searing pain every time he must lie about it. Lifting the weight of the world off his gorgeously chiseled shoulders, Jeremiah confesses: “I’m a fashion model.”

Yep, found it!!

As Jeremiah now rests easy and breathes sexily, Spencer comes forward with a confession of his own: he has an idol. (FYI I legitimately thought maybe he was about to come out, which would have been completely unnecessary and totally awesome.) “The game is not over!” Spencer cheers, and that leads us into…

NEXT: Tony thinks people actually care about his fake idol

ACT VI: Tribal: There and Back Again

Tribal is significantly less exciting than it should be since we go in knowing that Jefra has already unflipped back to her Alliance of Horrors. Still, it’s completely loaded with statements from people like Tony, Woo, and Trish that make me wonder how I haven’t pulled all my hair out yet listening to their atrocious displays of logic.

A frustrated Spencer calls out Tony for breaking promises, to which Tony replies, “I didn’t break promises. I did it for a reason,” which is not a rational excuse nor an acceptable appropriation of logic. You know the days are dark for Spencer when he has to resort to the age-old “If You Keep Him, I’m Voting For Him” threat, which Tasha joins in on, but it doesn’t register, especially not with Woo. “They might vote for him, but the only way he’s going to get there is with the help of us,” Woo says, not realizing that “with the help of” is another way of saying “by completely manipulating.”

On the Trish front, it seems that she genuinely thinks that her scolding of toddler Tony did the trick, because she’s proudly beaming, “He said he’s going to stop his crap, and I hope that he heard us.” Tony nods along like a troublemaking 6-year-old being reprimanded for drawing on the walls, all the while fingering the crayons still in his pocket. Tony also explains to Probst, “Jeff, in this game, you have to make power moves, but there’s a time to do those. Right now it would be a reckless move. In this stage of the game we have to stay solid.” Hmm, interesting since that COMPLETELY CONTRADICTS what you just did two days earlier! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

Tony also reveals himself to be one of those players who uses fake idols and thinks he’s Sneaky McBrilliant for having done so. Jefra rolls her eyes, as do I. Spencer plays his idol for himself rather than Jeremiah, and although the decision seemed to pain him, it was the better move for him not to risk giving it to Jeremiah and being ousted himself. And thus, we say farewell to Jeremiah/Geremiah/Jeremy, who will no doubt go on to a lucrative career as a…shh…male model.

Sigh. I had hoped that Spencer might have guessed correctly between him and LJ and negated the votes with his idol and bounced them back to Woo. But then Tony might have given his real idol to Woo which would have resulted in a crazy deadlock and a revote that may or may not have ended in a last-minute Jefra flip and Tony’s elimination. Now THAT would have been a crazy council! But alas, one can only imagine. [MORNING AFTER EDIT: You really might as well not read this paragraph since you have astutely pointed out that Tony can’t give his super-powered idol to Woo, and LJ is most definitely not Jeremiah…although, let’s be real, they’re basically the same person.]

Dalton should rest easy knowing that he didn’t miss one of the season’s best episodes—but he did miss out on some truly mind-numbing Tony moments and a further exploration into the unbelievable mind of Kass. Next week, it appears that auction time is sending Trish into a much-needed food frenzy, and Spencer is trying to rile up Tony, which is a move we’ve seen before that always seems promising but rarely ends up working, especially for more stubborn players like Tony.

Before I leave you, let me say thanks for letting me indulge in my Survivor love and squat on Dalton’s territory for a week. Stick around for my Q&A with Jeff Probst, and tune into EW’s channel on Sirius XM 105 for my exit interview with ousted Jeremiah. And if you liked my style of recaps that critics have described as “way too long” and “at least it’s English,” get at me @MarcSnetiker.

Did the right player go home? Do you wish Jefra hadn’t flipped back? Does Kass annoy you as much as she annoys me? Do you dream of the day when Dalton is returned and you can get this hack recapper off your beloved Survivor? (Don’t worry, I can take the heat.) Sound off in the comments!