Oh, boy. I may be in a bit of trouble now. At the outset of Wednesday’s double dose of Survivor, I innocently tweeted out instructions for a new Survivor drinking game. The only rule was that you needed to chug every time someone said the phrase “voting bloc.” I figured you’d get a few Fishbach mentions, in between him also overstating this to once again be “the craziest most strategy-filled season of Survivor ever that is not even like a season of Survivor because it is a completely new game that is completely incomparable to every single season that has preceded it!”
So, just a few drinks, I figured. Just enough to get everyone a little toasty for the holidays. Little did I know that every single other contestant — and the host! — would pick up on that and also start promoting this code phrase and we would be inundated with voting bloc mentions for two straight hours.
Reports of massive inebriation have already come in from coast to coast as a result of this rampant overuse of a innocuous catch phrase that most people speaking it do not even seem to fully understand. (“Wait, I can’t call it an alliance anymore? Does that make me sound too “old-school’?”) Hell, I’m so wasted right now I think I’m writing a freakin’ Code Black recap…AND I’VE NEVER EVEN SEEN CODE BLACK!!!
The voting bloc branding is absurd, of course. But the dichotomy of someone like Ciera complaining that nobody has been playing this season with Fishbach calling it the most strategy-based season of all time has been kind of hilarious to witness. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle. People have been playing, just not on Ciera’s side. And people have been making moves and switching sides, but it’s stuff we actually have seen before.
Coincidentally, serial under- and over-estimaters Ciera and Stephen were both booted this week. While they’ve both been a bit off in their public proclamations about the gameplay of this particular installment of the franchise, we can say this about the season and tonight’s swan song for them: This was the night when Survivor: Cambodia — Second Chance turned from a very good season into a great one.
More twists, more suspect decisions, personal misery and crying, a Survivor throwback challenge, and two pulse-racing Tribal Councils. This is the stuff (our) dreams and (their) nightmares are made of, and I loved every second of it. So let’s be thankful this Thanksgiving for this double-dip of extraordinary episodes. We have two hours to get through and it’s a holiday, so I will attempt to jam through this as quickly as possible with all the odds & ends that deserve comments and commentary.
I loved the first reward challenge, which has become a modern day Survivor classic where Probst throws a ball out in the water and teams of three have to wrestle for it and toss it into a basket for a point. (Is it just me, or does this challenge always seem to take place in the rain?)
Again, because I am terrible person I love watching contestants push their faces down into the water and wrestle each other within an inch of their lives just so they can attend a Cambodian circus. I also love that Fishbach made no attempt whatsoever to hide his Joe obsession, as evidenced in the following Vine.
As has been the trend all season, Joe got the better of Stephen, and his team went on to win the reward three points to one. In any event, with all the balancing competitions we’ve had this season — seriously, it must be closing in on a record — it was nice to have a physical assault play out for a change. Surprised more bathing suits weren’t ripped off though. I’m sure the ladies that have been openly salivating over Joey Amazing all season were a bit disappointed by that.
Here Comes the Rain Again
I would say you’ll have to pardon the Eurythmics reference, but there is no need to pardon the Eurythmics because the Eurythmics are awesome! The first hour of tonight’s episode was one gnarly downpour after another. It started the morning after Tribal with Keith hovering under his hood and explaining that, “People ask me if Survivor’s fun. I tell them ‘Hell no! Survivor ain’t fun. Going on a cruise is fun. You know, goin’ fishin’ is fun. Goin’ to play golf – fun. This ain’t fun.’”
That quote, combined with his Tuk Tuk joyride, made me hate myself for originally not wanting to see Keith on this season. My beef with Keith — or Beef Keith, if you will — was that the guy was completely clueless about the game last time out. But I realized I need to stop being such a Survivor strategy snob and just enjoy Keith for who he is, which is a hilarious dude who just sort of hangs around, works hard, and makes the occasional wacky comment. I would not want 20 contestants like that, but we have enough gamers running around like crazy that it works to have someone like Keith to lighten the mood.
But we truly hit new depths of despair after the reward challenge as the rain continued to drown the tribe. “I’m scared that my body is breaking down,” cried Fishbach. And to be clear, I don’t mean “cried out.” I mean actually cried. The assault went all through the night and into day 26. “I need some ray of hope,” begged Stephen. “I just need the sun to come out for 15 minutes or something.” Such language is almost always followed by a break in the storm and the sunshine finally peeking through the clouds, but not this time. In a masterful piece of editing genius, Fishbach’s plea was immediately followed by…lightening and thunder. Absolutely brilliant.
“I’m not quitting. I’m not quitting. There’s no way I’m quitting,” Stephen kept repeating, more to himself than to us because he knew his credibility was on the line here. When you live and breathe this game like Stephen does with a blog and a podcast and a stream of bon mots on social media, quitting is not an option. But Stephen’s body was sending him other signals. “Severe gastrointestinal distress,” he called it, which also happens to be the name of my new death metal band. Check out our forthcoming Anal Leakage EP, in stores this holiday season!
NEXT: Safety or shelter?
Look, being cold is one thing. I’m always cold. Go ask my EW Radio crew about how annoyed they get when I constantly put the studio temperature at 112 degrees. Being cold sucks. But you can suck it up. However, when your insides start revolting like this, that’s another story completely. I felt for Stephen here, and the purest sign of that compassion is the fact that I did not post a Vine of his blubbering on social media. I mean, I cannot stress how much restraint that took on my part. Not posting that went against every single fiber of my entire being. I had to unlearn all that I had learned. Years of training down the tubes. I actually felt sorry for the dude. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?!?!?!? HAVE I GONE ALL SOFT-SERVE IN MY OLD AGE?!?
But it wasn’t just explosive diarrhea that was hampering Stephen. (By the way, Explosive Diarrhea is the name of our live concert film.) His swollen and waterlogged feet were starting to resemble those of my main man Frodo Baggins. Perhaps this is where my shreds of compassion come into play. When I was out on location for Survivor: Philippines we had nonstop rain for days on end. (That was the season where it infamously poured for 21 days straight.) My feet did not quite approach Fishbachian levels, but they also got so bad I could barely walk and was doing that awkward wobble and eventually had to visit Survivor medical for treatment. Only difference is I had the comfort of a few hours with a dry roof over my head every night, so I can only imagine how bad it was for Stephen here. So I salute him for carrying on. Make no mistake, I would be ripping the guy mercilessly had he quit, because you do not quit on Survivor. And he didn’t.
The Easy Way Out
Sticking with the weather, it is almost impossible to overstate how terrible living in conditions like this 24 hours a day is. You and I can never imagine it because we have never done it. Even most Survivor contestants have never done it. Players in locations like Nicaragua and Gabon had nothing close to this to deal with. It is the very definition of brutality.
That said, how disappointing was it to see eight of the 10 players opt out of the first immunity challenge in favor of a new shelter to protect themselves from the rain? To recap, Probst said they could compete in a challenge that involved balancing one foot on a small block while balancing a ball against an overhanging piece of wood, but if at least five of them opted not to compete, the tribe would get a new shelter. Everyone but Joe and Keith went for the shelter.
I’m going to get Stephen a pass on this one because his foot was so bad there was no way in a million years he was going to even stand on there for 30 seconds in his condition, but what were the others thinking?!? This is why you are there! To compete! My new man-crush Keith said it best when he responded why he chose to forge on: “I’m a competitor and I wanted to play. I want to win that necklace right there.” YES! That’s what I want to hear. You are never safe in this game. Never. You think Ciera regrets her decision now not to compete?
Also, performing in these challenges is one of the most thrilling parts of the entire adventure. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Get in the game! I know they are suffering dramatically and I am not trying to minimize that, but you don’t get these opportunities back. And if you don’t compete, you could be gone. Just ask Ciera.
What was even more ridiculous than 80 percent of the contestants sitting out the challenge was the absurd spin that Ciera and Tasha tried to put on it at that night’s Tribal Council. Ciera attempted to paint herself as being selfless by abstaining from the challenge: “I’m willing to give up my spot for the team, but who else is?” Then Tasha continued that thread by asking out loud, “My first question was, who is going to be selfish and who is going to be unselfish? And I would not have been able to live with myself had I not chose the unselfish choice.”
With apologies to a decades-old advertising campaign, my baloney has a first name, it’s T-A-S-H-A. My baloney has a second name, it’s F-O-X. Are Ciera and Tasha actually trying to convince us that they had no interest in getting a shelter and a new fire and only did it for their teammates? If you believe that for even a second then I’ve got a Medallion of Power to sell you. C’mon, ladies — you all wanted that shelter and were willing to give up your own shot at immunity for it. It has nothing at all to do with being selfless. This is the worst spin doctoring since the release of that terrible “Two Princes” song back in 1992.
NEXT: Stephen gets a new nickname
Abi Strikes Again
I realize I skipped right ahead to Tribal Council, but I simply have to backtrack for a second to properly recognize the fact that Abi referred to a grown man as “Poopy Pants.” And not once. Not Twice. But THRICE! Three times she dubbed Stephen “Poopy Pants,” and I just have to say, that’s pretty uncalled for. If anything, he should be called “Poopy Shorts” or “Poopy Bathing Suit.” It’s not like the dude was wearing slacks or anything. Less alliteration, to be sure, but just more accurate on the whole.
Thanksgiving (Emphasis on the Giving)
So Fishbach was all set to be a goner with fives votes against him, but they were all null and void because Jeremy played one of his two idols for his sickly BFF, and as a result Ciera was voted out instead. But was it a good move for Jeremy?
Obviously, seeing as how Stephen was voted out at the next Tribal, the answer is no, but put that aside for a moment and let’s pretend like we can’t see the future. Giving idols away can be savvy strategy of shortsighted impatience. When Russell gave Parvati an idol and then Parvati gave two idols to Jerri and Sandra in Heroes vs. Villains, it preserved that alliance’s numbers and they rode it all the way to the finals. Smart. When Malcolm gave away an idol in Caramoan, however, to get the Specialist out, it was an impulsive move that generated fireworks but left him completely exposed at the next vote, at which he was indeed eliminated. Not smart.
So how do I size up Jeremy’s move here? The chief reason that supports the move is the importance of maintaining numbers and his biggest ally in the game. The fact that he also has another idol meant he still has safety through at least one more vote and allows him to be a little more loosey-goosey with this particular idol. Plus, any big move you make theoretically should get you points with the jury should you make it to the end, so that is a plus as well. So with all that, you can’t call what Jeremy did a terrible move.
But I still would not have done it, and here is why: First of all, as we have been reminded ad nauseam all season, allegiances keep shifting. I’m not saying Fishbach would have turned on Jeremy, but clearly this has not been a season where being on the bad side of the numbers is a death sentence. Even if Stephen had been voted out there (and was later) there is still time for Jeremy to recover and form new bonds and make new deals to carry him further in the game — especially with two idols to give him that much more protection.
And here is another reason he should not have played the idol, and it is one that players don’t often consider: The second Jeremy uses that idol, it means another one is put into play. That gives people you are playing against (as opposed to with) the opportunity to improve their game and use it against you. And that is exactly what happened when Kelley Wentworth found the replacement idol. This is kind of why the aforementioned Medallion of Power from Nicaragua made absolutely no sense — because once your tribe used the advantage, the other tribe automatically got it and an advantage against you in the next challenge. So why bother using it at all?
Had Jeremy not saved Stephen, he may have lost an ally, but he would still have two idols and Kelley would have zero. Again, not saying what he did was a clear-cut bad move (putting aside how it played out), and convincing arguments could be presented otherwise, but I would have held onto it.
Ode to Ciera
I’ve often pointed out how Ciera’s cries about how nobody was playing the game rang hollow due to the ample evidence to the contrary (they just weren’t playing the game with her), but I don’t blame her in the least for saying it. Of course she should be imploring people to flip to her side and convincing folks they need to make big moves and that there is an inevitable winner in their midst (Jeremy) if they don’t do anything about it is the best way to do that.
If Jeremy doesn’t give Stephen his idol then Ciera is probably still in this game. I’m impressed by how she fought, and I thought she was a completely different player than her last time out. And she is the first of my pre-game final 3 prediction to go. (Spencer and Kelley Wentworth are still alive and making me look good.) So well done, daughter of Laura. I’m sure mom is proud… assuming she has forgiven you for voting her out.
Let Me Tell You a Story…
So on to the next episode we go, and holy crap, it’s the Survivor folklore challenge!!!! We haven’t seen this baby since about season negative 5. Of course this doofy challenge is probably best known for making Rudy Boesch repeat the words “I don’t know” every time he got to a new question. In truth, the challenge is not a tremendously exciting one, which is why they got rid of it, but what a blast from the past it is to see it here. For one thing, it’s a challenge at night, which we never see anymore. For another, it’s just hilarious and weird to see Jeff Probst standing there reciting a story about King Jayavarmin VII. What an odd — and welcome — throwback that was.
But it wasn’t just pure nostalgia that fueled this one. Kelley found an idol clue in one of her pieces (thanks, Jeremy!), Abi morphed into Gervase (walking instead of running through portions of it), and Stephen beat Spencer by about half a second to actually add a little intrigue into the mix. But that win would come back to haunt him.
NEXT: When winning = losing
The Danger in Winning Individual Reward Challenges
I have a theory. It’s not particularly complex. And it’s not a hard and fast rule because specific circumstances can dictate the proper course of action, but the theory is basically this: Winning individual reward challenges where you get to pick people to come with you almost always do more harm than good and therefore you should not win any such challenges.
It’s hard for me to write that because you know my strong feelings against throwing any sort of immunity challenge, as evidenced by my disdain for those who opted out of the previous episode’s immunity contest for a better shelter. I also wrote back then about how fun the challenges were and how you should compete in all of them to properly take in the full Survivor experience. And I meant it.
But winning these non-immunity competitions all too often leads to bruised feelings among the tribe that you just left back at the beach. You separate yourself from the majority (which is never a good thing) and you show your cards in terms of who is truly closest to you in the game, giving others (like Spencer) an easy excuse to take you out.
I stand by my assertion that the smartest play in Survivor is to never win such a challenge unless you have a specific situation where the numbers work out in a way that you are not leaving a majority of the tribe, or that the strategic advantage of guaranteeing you be with certain people outweighs the bruised feelings and conspiring against you likely to happen in your absence. Stephen thought the opportunity to bring Tasha back into the fold was worth it. He was wrong. Now maybe he gets voted out either way. I’m not saying this was his ultimate downfall. But it certainly didn’t help him. I would rather be back on the beach in a majority of six, all bonding together against the people living high on the hog than off in that resented minority of three, even with the food. That’s just simple social dynamics. I’m curious whether you agree or think I’m crazy, but that has always been my viewpoint on these scenarios. Hit the message boards at the end and let me know your thoughts.
Kelley’s Idol Worship
Remember when the idols were hidden in plain sight back in China? That was cool. This time, Kelley’s clue told her the idol was attached to the bottom of her shelter, so she had to play the waiting game to get it out once everyone was off doing various stuff. That’s certainly better than the last one, where Jeremy just had to walk off in the middle of the night. This required far more stealth and patience. What’s also neat about it is how situations like this play forward, meaning watch how contestants in future seasons now tear up their own camp and shelter looking for idols (although not next season, since it has already been filmed).
I have to say, the feet challenges just freak me out. I have nothing against feet in particular — unless they’re Stephen’s overgrown monstrosities, that is. But it just looks freaky watching contestants having to carry objects with their feet. They all look like Sebulba the creepy Dug from The Phantom Menace. And I’d like to apologize right now for busting out a reference from the lamest Star Wars film of all time. Like, does anyone even remember who the hell Sebulba was? And if you do, did you really need to be reminded of his existence? These are the types of questions I ponder on Thanksgiving eve when I’ve spent way too much time recapping a reality television program/Cambodian royalty history lesson.
Anyway, it was hard for me to watch, but Spencer won, meaning Joe was vulnerable, making this the first time all season he could possibly be voted out of the game. How incredible is that? The guy went 29 days without once being eligible for elimination! Of course, this was the moment Fishbach had been waiting for since, in his words, “day 1.” But his dream turned into a nightmare.
A Savage Spread
Can we just pause for the cause to pay tribute to this epic jury manspreading/crotch-framing by Andrew Savage?
NEXT: Yet another blindside
A Terrific Tribal
It’s always great when someone busts out a twist that dramatically saves them in the game. It’s even better when that someone busts out a twist…and still gets voted out anyway! And that’s exactly what happened at the second Tribal Council. After more unnecessary talk about voting blocs (DRINK UP!), it came time to vote, and Fishbach announced that he was going to steal Joe’s vote and vote for him.
You could see the absolute delight on Stephen’s face as he went up to cast his two votes. He looked like a kid that had just scored every available golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, complete with an option to bypass that freaky acid-trip tunnel of doom. “And with Joe’s vote, Joe will be voting for…Joe,” said Stephen while holding up his parchment. “This has been 29 days coming, so I just want to take a second and marinate in it.”
He was so proud. He was so happy. But a second is all he would have to enjoy it, because Stephen made the fatal flaw of trusting the wrong person, and that person was Spencer. Fishbach told his fellow nerdy strategic doppelganger about his advantage, but the advantage didn’t matter because Stephen’s side decided to split the vote between Joe and Abi — a perfect example of why splitting the vote is not always the right call, as I explained a few weeks back. Had they not split, Joe would have received 5 votes (including his own, via the steal) and he would be gone and Stephen would be celebrating as if it were New Year’s Eve, Mardi Gras, and Gastrointestinal Awareness Day all rolled into one.
But Stephen trusted Spencer and paid the price. After all the votes came in, Fishbach practically cheered his own ouster, going a bit overboard in his congratulations to the others — kinda like those nominees you see on the Academy Awards split screen that just lost the Oscar yet clap a little too vigorously for the person who just beat them. However, Stephen leaving awkwardly is really the only way for him to leave, so it was completely in keeping with the rest of the season.
Whether you were pro-Joe or pro-Fishbach you had to love the dramatic twists and turns that Tribal took. It’s why Survivor is still so thrilling 31 seasons into its run. My only real qualm about this season is that we’ve had way too many immunity challenges where people just stand at a station and build or balance something. It feels way too samey-samey. Get them out there running around doing more. Other than that, it’s been pretty lights out. We’ll see if it can continue that momentum into the homestretch.
Speaking of homestretches: Congratulations, we are now passing the 4,000 word mark! I’m sure this is exactly how you pictured spending your Thanksgiving holiday. But I am thankful for your reading and your comments and for generally making all the work I put into this worth it. (At least I hope it’s worth it. My family that I choose to constantly ignore while watching and writing about Survivor may disagree.)
And as a thank you, I present two exclusive deleted scenes in the video player below, along with my pre-game interviews with Stephen and Ciera. Plus, we’ve got my extended remix Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, and for more Survivor scoop, you can follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
But now it’s your turn. Happy and/or sad to see Ciera and Stephen go? Good or Bad move for Jeremy to give away his idol? And what are your thoughts on my theory that one should never try to win individual reward challenges? Hit the message boards to weigh in, and I’ll be back next week for another scoop of the crispy. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!