Loved ones visit — and an immunity challenge ends in a medical emergency.
Credit: Screen Grab/CBS

Survivor is awesome.

The strategy. The adventure. The twists. The turns. The orange baseball caps. All of it, awesome. But you know what makes Survivor even more awesome? Beer. Not to mention Chili Cheese Fritos. And a couch. Air conditioning in September is a plus. As is heat in December (even if the radiator rattles a bit). And it’s so adorable when my cats Clawed and Fang snuggle up in my lap and watch along with me because they think Joe is just so absolutely dreamy.

But Survivor is a totally different experience for those actually playing it. It’s easy to lose sight of that while watching things play out from the comfort of one’s living room. Why did she just make that insanely moronic strategic blunder? Probably because she can’t think straight due to a lack of sleep. Why did he stink in that challenge? Probably because his body is breaking down due to a lack of food. Why does Keith call his wife “Big D”? Well, that I have no answer for, although I don’t know a whole lot of women that appreciate being referred to as “big” roughly 38 times a minute.

The point is, we forget how bad these folks have it out there. And make no mistake, these folks have it plenty bad. I wrote last week about how when it comes to locations, not all Survivor seasons are created equal. It never rained a single day in Gabon and constantly hovered in the 70–80-degree range. Weather was not an issue in the least. Other locations like Nicaragua might get some rain, but never too absurdly hot.

And then there is Cambodia, which appears to offer the worst of both worlds for contestants. They either get three straight days of torrential misery in the form of downpours, or 100-degree heat. Those are the types of extremes that will wreak absolute havoc on your body. And just look at the carnage so far. Ultimate tough guy Andrew Savage was reduced to a befuddled mess after the blindfold challenge. Stephen Fishbach is probably still off crying somewhere after his body revolted on him in the form of #GastroIntestinalDistress. And now the indestructible Joe has been taken down in a super scary incident during the immunity challenge.

This is the thing that scares me most on Survivor — whenever anyone loses consciousness. I still have haunting visions of Bobby Jon’s eyes rolling into the back of head during Survivor: Guatemala. Noted tough guy Boston Rob collapsed during Heroes vs. Villains. And the scariest of all, of course, was Russell Swan dropping in the middle of a challenge in Samoa. Now we can add Joe to that list.

You can look at those names in the previous paragraph and easily connect the dots to notice that all of those examples are big, muscular men, which is not all that surprising considering bigger guys need more fuel (in the form of food and water) to keep the machine running. Deprive that machine of the necessary fuel, and the machine starts to break down.

We’ll get more into the specifics of Joe passing out a little later, but it just serves as another not-so-subtle reminder as to what an absolute ass-kicker Survivor is. What these people go through out there is NO JOKE. Just look at the bug bites all over their legs. Or the weight they’ve lost. Or the sweat dripping off of their faces. And I love it all. Their pain equals our gain through this riveting television program. But it is only fair to give respect where respect is due, and while we can question the motives of why anyone would leave their family and subject themselves to such horrors on national television, do not question their suffering. It’s real.

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There! Now that I’ve spent so much time praising the collective cast, I can proceed to tear them to shreds over the course of the rest of this week’s recap! It’s like I ate the broccoli and now all that’s left is steak. So grab some A.1 Sauce, and let’s recap this sonofabitch!

But first — there’s always a “but first…” with Julie Chen and me — a lot of you have expressed concern as to how could I even continue on with these recaps seeing as how there will be no more glorious Fishbach Moments of the Week to chronicle now that Survivor: Cambodia’s living awkward-highlight reel has been eliminated. It will be difficult, no doubt, but we must stay strong and forge ahead. However, before we do, let’s treat ourselves to a blast from the past — a personal favorite of mine as the Second Chance producers’ personal punching bag does his imitation of (as one tweeter so astutely pointed out) a giraffe on roller skates. Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy…

Okay, now we can recap this SOB! (And if you want more Fishbach tomfoolery, check out my Survivor Talk roundtable with him and Ciera.)

NEXT: Enter the Loved Ones

The episode begins with my favorite question of the entire season being shown again in the “previously on…” segment as Spencer tells us how “I’m trying to have feelings.” Watching an automated strategy bot attempting to calculate and replicate genuine human emotion is the height of entertainment, people!

Sure enough, this understanding of — how you say, feelings? — continues as Spencer moves onto chapter 2 in his crash course of Emotions for Dummies by trying to repair his relationship with Jeremy, whom he just blindsided by taking out his biggest ally in Fishbach. Jeremy, of course, has to play along because he is suddenly vulnerable. So the two hang out, mend fences, and no doubt talk about how awesome their winner’s edits are.

But then something truly fascinating happens: Kimmi tells Kelley that she wants to set up a female alliance. SAY WHAT?!? Isn’t this exactly why Kimmi got rid of Monica, for having the absolute audacity to suggest such a thing?!? And Monica wasn’t even promoting a rock-solid women’s alliance, but rather just mentioned that, all things being equal, it might be smart to keep a woman around instead of a man at that juncture. Kimmi blasted her for that and now is going full-on estrogen to the end. Weird.

Off to the reward challenge we go, where we are about to be treated to Jeff Probst morphing into another fellow reality show host and offering a fake-out of truly Seacrestian proportions. “As you guys know, a big part of Survivor is the loved one visit,” he begins. “And most of the time, we do bring your loved ones to you. Not always. Sometimes we do something different. Today we are not doing anything different. Today we brought your love to you.”

The best part of this was just how confused the contestants were at the initial fake-out. Tasha looked like she was trying to decipher the Pythagorean Theorem after Jeff threw out the negative of sometimes not bringing out loved ones and then threw a double negative on top of that by explaining “today we are not doing anything different.” Wait, what?

Never mind! Here come the loved ones! Look, it’s Val! I know her! She was the victim of her husband’s terrible decision to volunteer at the start of San Juan del Sur and never recovered. And there’s Dale! I know him! He was the victim of aligning with John Rocker and…well, that speaks for itself. And there are a bunch of other people I don’t know! Like Tasha’s cousin (leading to lots of high-pitched wailing as they run to each other), Spencer’s girlfriend (yes, he loves you, Marcella!), Abi’s mom, the aforementioned Big D, and Kimmi’s dad (whose name I did not quite catch because she was too busy screaming “DADDY! DADDY! DADDY!” at the top of her lungs).

Tears are shed, backs are pounded during long, tender embraces, lips are kissed, and babies are born. Well, not technically born, but Val does let Jeremy know that he has a baby boy on the way, which is just insanely sweet. In fact, I am getting so caught up in the emotion of it all I think I’m going to see if my man Savage wants to go halfsies with me on buying Baby Collins his first ever beanie hat. (Either that or a commemorative Second Chance onesie that says “Voting Bloc” on it.)

Unfortunately, we are not treated to the non-stop hilarity that is loved ones competing in a challenge — somewhere off in the distance Colby is yelling “REED!” at the top of his lungs in disgust — and instead we get to watch the contestants themselves collecting puzzle bags to then solve a world puzzle. Along the way, they have to spin around a post as fast as they can to make themselves dizzy, like some drunken fan spinning around on a baseball bat and then attempting to run to first base as part of in-between innings entertainment at a minor-league ballgame.

Eventually they all get to the puzzle. “I don’t know what it is,” says Keith, in the least shocking development imaginable. Kelley figures it out, so the other contestants do what they always do when someone knows something they don’t — they all look over and attempt to copy what she is doing. Not only is copying not discouraged on Survivor, but I believe it to be actively encouraged. That’s because it creates comebacks by allowing those lagging behind a chance to catch up for the dramatic finish. But it’s too late; Kelley has won and I know she’s won because Dale is yelling “YEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” at the top of his lungs.

NEXT: Double immunity the way it was meant to be given out

But here’s the problem: Now Kelley has to choose whom to include in her little loved-one reward feast — and, more problematically, whom to leave out. This is exactly why I always argue that you should not win individual-immunity challenges. Because in a cruel twist, Probst tells Kelley to pick four different players and their family members to join them. She chooses Keith, Abi, Kimmi, and Joe. That means five players total will be enjoying food and time with their loved ones, and three will not. So, by winning, Kelley put herself in the position to have to exclude less than she includes. That’s a recipe for pissing people off and simply not worth it. Especially if you play the percentages.

Think of it this way: If you actively go out of your way to not win the challenge — as I have argued all contestants should do in individual-reward challenges — then you still stand a 57 percent chance of getting the reward anyway because the winner got to add four people to go with him or her. So you get the spoils without potentially spoiling your game by pissing someone off you excluded. Oh, and what happened to those three that were excluded? Well, they just happened to make a final three deal while the others were off enjoying their “good ol’ fashioned American BBQ.” (Not that I believe for a single second that Spencer, Jeremy, or Tasha plan to honor that deal, but still.)

The only real thing to note about the BBQ is a nice moment between Joe and his dad, Pat. Joe shows his dad the tribe flag he painted — because, you know, No Collar and all — and Pat all of sudden gets super tender, telling Joe, “I never had a friend like you” because he had trouble showing genuine feelings and never let anybody in while he was growing up. Joe confirms that his father always had problems showing any sort of genuine emotion. Holy crap. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I bet you are because there is clearly only one conclusion to draw here: SPENCER IS JOE’S DAD!!!!

I don’t know how this works. Is this one of those Looper situations I’ve heard about, or does Spencer own some sort of time-traveling DeLorean? And not for nothing, but didn’t Doc Brown say older and younger versions of yourself should never cross paths? Just look what happened to Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer, in BTTF2! She couldn’t handle it, screamed, and passed out. So it seems future Spencer (who, for reasons unknown, decided to grow a ponytail) sired Joe and then traveled back in time along with his son to try and defeat his present-day self at Survivor for motivations that remain murky at best.

In any event, we’ll let the time-space continuum sort that one out, but it’s time to get to the immunity challenge and all the medical drama that comes with it. But first we need to see which person will win immunity. Or should I say, which people because this week immunity is so nice Jeff Probst is going to hand it out twice! The last male and female standing will both win immunity. How do I feel about that? A hell of a lot better than I felt about it last season when they pulled it out for Worlds Apart. Here’s what I wrote then about it and why I was not a supporter:

“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.”

Wow, a lot of percentage talk in this week’s recap. Next week I’ll be sure to give a dissertation on the irrationality of the square root of 2. Anyway, I have no such qualms with the double elimination here because there were the exact same amount of men and women. Every player had a 25-percent chance of winning safety for the vote, so I am completely down with it…as opposed to down on it. The challenge itself is that one we’ve seen before where the payers have to balance a wooden statue on a pole that at five-minute intervals gets longer and longer, and yes, the fact that Survivor is doing a challenge about rapidly expanding poles is simply perfect.

NEXT: Down goes Joe! Down goes Joe!

Kimmi and Abi both go out at the 20-minute mark, leaving Tasha and Kelley to battle for female immunity. Five minutes later, Kelley wins. And that leaves the men. Spencer and Jeremy both quickly drop their statues, leaving Keith and Joe to once again battle it out.

They eventually get to 16 feet of pole, which they manage to hold for an incredible 1 hour and 20 minutes.

But then something truly scary happens: Out of nowhere Joe collapses. Just drops. Holding that weight for that long in that heat has taken its toll. At first, the women celebrate because Joey Amazing has not won immunity, but then it quickly and clearly becomes evident that something is amiss.

Probst immediately yells for medical. Doctors rush in. Cameramen rush in. Contestants rush in. It looks like chaos, but in reality, the Survivor crew is well-trained in exactly how to handle such a situation. I watched them in action in person deal with Stephenie’s dislocated shoulder and Rupert’s broken toe in the same challenge to start off Heroes vs. Villains. Clearly, this was a much more serious situation, but there is nothing haphazard about it. Next thing we know, the doctor is calling Joe’s name, but Joe does not respond — either because he is unconscious or he thinks the doctor is talking to himself because the doctor’s name is also Joe, which could not be any more confusing. (What happened to the good ol’ days of Ado and Ramona?)

Jeff Probst wants us to know what’s up, so he makes Dr. Joe tell us. “He’s used up all his energy stores in the last hour.” ENGLISH, DOCTOR! ENGLISH! “Basically, his blood sugar’s come down to the point where he’s not able to support himself.” Okay, now that we can understand. Joe eventually comes to, while Jeff Probst holds an umbrella awkwardly because there is really no other way to hold an umbrella when it is sunny outside. “I just want it so bad,” says cotton-eyed Joe. “I love this game. I want to play it as hard as I can.” To which Probst responds, “I think this effort just showed that you are.”

Thankfully, Joe is going to be okay, so really my only regret is that Fishbach was not here to take it all in so producers could cleverly edit it to make it seem like Stephen was triumphantly dancing on Joe’s grave and taking Probst’s umbrella and spiking it like a football in celebration of his sworn enemy’s demise.

And indeed Joe’s demise in the game seems imminent. After all, why give a guy who was on the verge of winning five out of six individual immunities another shot in the game? But then Tasha does something very interesting. She tells Jeremy and Spencer about the all-female alliance. Now, at first blush this seems like an odd thing to do. Why not just play the middle and keep both alliance options open? You have Kelley, Abi, and Kimmi on one side and then Spencer, Jeremy, and Keith on the other. Let it play out a bit, and then make your call. That’s what I would have done.

However, loose lips can sink ships, and should someone else decide to shake things up and target Tasha, all they would have to do is tell Jeremy and Spencer about the female alliance for them to lose trust and potentially turn on her. So Tasha took a preemptive strike against that, and I get why. Better to hear it from her than somewhere else. Not saying I agree with it, but I get it.

NEXT: Stephen’s dream comes true…one vote too late

So there is at least a little doubt heading into Tribal Council, but I mean, c’mon — we all know who is going home here. We can spot a red herring when we see one. It’s Joe, so really the only true purpose of Tribal is just to see Stephen looking waaaaay too happy to see no immunity necklace around Joe’s neck. (Although he probably then felt kind of like a jerk once he heard that Joe almost, you know, died.) But in Stephen’s defense, at least he never told Joe, “You’re moldy. You gotta go. And please get a haircut. You look like a clown.” (I’ll give you one guess whom that was.)

So yes, Joe is voted out by Spencer’s shadow and the other players, causing Stephen and the jurors to celebrate wildly, though there seemed to be some weird editing there, and I can’t help but wonder if something else was going on. Maybe they were just simply entertained at the sight of this.

So here we are with just seven players and two episodes left. My pre-season pick of Spencer to win is still standing. As is my final-three pick of Kelley. (Way to ruin my trifecta, Ciera!) Who deserves to win? At this point, you have to like what Jeremy, Kelley, and Spencer have done — all with impressive résumés but for vastly different reasons. If they all somehow happen to make the finals, you could certainly make a case for that as the best final three ever. Doubt we’ll see it, but man, that would be glorious.

Speaking of glory, look at the bounty of goodies we still have for you. There’s our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, where he takes you behind the scenes of the big medical scare. We also have an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode as well as our pre-game chat with Joe and recent episodes of Survivor Talk (starring Stephen Fishbach, Ciera Eastin, Kelly Wiglesworth, and Parvati Shallow). Check back Thursday afternoon for our new Survivor Talk with Joe, and for more Survivor scoop delivered right to you, follow me on the Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Now it’s your turn? Sad to see Joe go? Who was your favorite loved one? And who at this point has played the best game of the season? Hit the message boards to weigh in, and I’ll be back next week with a penultimate scoop of the crispy!