Watch out for Hurricane Abi!

Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS
S31 E4

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Whoa, that didn’t work out so well. I figured I would try to write this week’s Survivor recap blindfolded. However not only did none of that make any sense, but I also somehow managed to ram my face into the screen and drop the laptop on my cat, which sent her airborne, where she landed on and scratched my face, which caused me to fall down and impale my groin on the corner of my MacBook.

Let me tell you something: I watched college football, and I’ve never been here. It’s scary. I’m ready to fall over. I can’t think. True, that may be the six-pack of Milwaukee’s Best I consumed, but the point stands! This is the most physical recap I’ve ever participated in. But it is worth it. Because this season of Survivor: Cambodia—Second Chance is (so far) flat-out awesome. Four stellar episodes out of the gate. This is season 31, people. SEASON FREAKIN’ 31!!! This show should have started sucking years ago. (And I guess, technically, it kinda did if you count Survivor: Thailand.)

The ability of this program to continue to astound, excite, thrill, and shock over 15 years in is downright absurd. It actually makes me feel sorry for all those folks that stopped watching because they thought they had seen it all or because they’d suffered through one or two less-than-spectacular seasons. You know those people: the ones when you mention Survivor that go, “Oh, is that still on?” even though they know good and well it is still on because they still see the ads all the time. Yeah, those people. They try to make you feel dumb for continuing to watch. If only they knew what they were missing. But they don’t, because they bailed. Their loss. This latest episode was filled with amazing moments that reminded you why you fell in love with this show in the first place. Let’s go through a few of them, shall we?

Hurricane Abi

Be careful whom you align with. The ultimate alliance partner is someone who is predictable in both their behavior and actions. In essence, anyone but Abi. After blindsiding Woo’s ally Peih-Gee at Tribal Council, Tasha told Woo not to worry. “You’re good,” she told him. “You’re not going anywhere.” Whether she meant this or not, it’s a smart move. You always want people to feel safe. That minimizes scrambling and the chances that they can mobilize something against you. A safe-feeling player is a lazy player. Tasha was doing exactly what she should be in this instance. But do you think Abi realized that?

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“Tasha, I’m really uncomfortable with what just happened,” Abi confronted her, while insisting on doing it right in front of the rest of the tribe. “I have a problem when you take someone who just voted for me aside and have a conversation with him in private.” This is so ludicrous and dumb. But here’s the thing: Abi may be driving you crazy, but it is wild cards like her that keep shaking things up and forcing others to constantly adapt to her whims. I don’t necessarily love watching Abi, but I love watching others having to deal with Abi. She’s like a heat-seeking missile deployed by producers to blow up anyone that resides in her immediate vicinity.

Abi is like the anti-Spencer. Spencer’s struggle has been to show an emotional side to other players so they do not see him as merely logic and strategy, but Abi is all emotion. Every decision she makes is dictated by her emotions. And her emotions are often completely irrational, which makes her all the more unpredictable and, therefore, all the more dangerous. She would be an absolute NIGHTMARE to play with. But we don’t have to. We just have to watch those who choose to either align with her or go up against her deal with the consequences.

Something’s Fishy

On the plus side, we did not have to endure any images of Stephen Fishbach attempting to chop something this week. However, in its place we watched as Jeremy fooled Fish into wasting time looking for an immunity idol that did not exist. Not only that, but Jeremy made a point of telling Stephen to look up in the trees. This can only lead to one of two things: a montage of Stephen being unable to climb trees, or a montage of Stephen falling out of trees. Maybe it’s a combo of the two — unsuccessful climbing mixed with successful falling. All I know is that it is not going to end well for Fishbach as his Humiliation Tour 2015 continues. (Next stop: Trying to touch the immunity idol after a challenge!)

NEXT: A kinder, gentler Kass?

A Rewarding Challenge

Finally! We’re back to two challenges in an episode. And they were two beauties. What I loved most about this first reward contest (for barbecue sets) was that it looked so easy, but looks were clearly deceiving. Also, it was a nice change of pace seeing an individual challenge in the middle of the team portion of the season.

Each tribe had to select one person to run the entire contest, which involved racing into the water and getting three sand bags that needed to be launched into a net. Ta Keo picked Terry, Bayon selected Jeremy, and Angkor went with Savage. They seemed like reasonable enough picks. After all, Terry was in the military, Jeremy is a firefighter, and Savage clearly must have a lot of strength and endurance to flip through all those stacks of Playboys scattered across his home and office.

Again, the challenge looked simple, but almost immediately all three men were gassed running out in that water. They were struggling, and watching them try to power through it made for riveting TV. “Both guys digging deep!” yelled Probst as Savage and Deitz approached the end neck and neck. (Interesting side note: As much as Probst loves to tell people to “dig deep,” he never seems to say it during an actual digging challenge.) Terry missed his first shot, Savage made his, and that was that. Terry finally did secure second place, leaving Jeremy in last and his tribe with nothing. And once again I say to Jeremy what I have said to him so many times since he made the epic blunder at the start of San Juan del Sur by offering to partake in the first duel at the start of the game (thereby sending his wife to Exile Island): NEVER VOLUNTEER FOR ANYTHING!

Chaos-Free Zone

I cannot express how bummed out I am that Kass made a birthday present for Kelley Wentworth. Not that I have anything against Kelley (although I still don’t get the extra “e” in her name). And not that it was not a lovey gesture by the woman who finally just admitted for the first time ever that she did not play a great social game last time out. But had Kass actually been blatantly making a fake hidden immunity idol and then told Kelley “No, go away” when Kelley tried to approach her…well, that would have been the best thing in Survivor history. Better than Parvati’s two idols. Better than Jeff Probst and the word “balls.” Better than Sally’s knee socks. Okay, hold on, I’m getting carried away. Scratch that last one.

The point is, I would love Kass for all eternity if she had done that. Instead, she was doing something genuine and from the heart. Awwww, how nice. Just one thing: THAT’S NOT WHY WE VOTED YOU BACK ONTO THE SHOW!

The Blind Leading The Blind

I’m going to skip right over Monica and Spencer’s super-awkward fist bump and get right to the immunity challenge, which has to be the most dangerous blindfold contest yet that did not involve contestants dropping objects right on their own heads. Because instead of carrying back flags or smaller objects, they had to bring back giant, heavy puzzle blocks. So it wasn’t just people bumping into each other; it was people dropping massive pieces on their feet, people dropping massive pieces on other people’s feet, people tumbling into and over things, people just getting the holy living crap beaten out of them.

Oh my God, it was amazing. The Montage of Misery that producers treated us to was one extended middle finger to every America’s Funniest Home Video ever submitted. Oh, you like the bride who slipped face first into her wedding cake or that toddler who punched his dad in the family jewels? I’ll see that and raise you with Andrew Savage rolling his piece right into Spencer’s leg. And that may not have even been Spencer’s most painful collision!

It was all perfect. As was Kass yelling at the top of her lungs, only to have a befuddled Keith constantly retorting that, “I can’t hear.” As was Terry stumbling around like the guy at the minor league baseball game that just spun around 10 times on a baseball bat between innings and was now racing to first base to try to win a free hot dog, all while Probst commented that “Deitz, like the guy at the party no one will talk to, waiting for an invitation to dance.” As was everything.

NEXT: Woo and Varner pay a visit to Scramble City

And then something truly weird happened. Angkor stopped. They just stopped trying to solve the puzzle. Maybe they were psyched out by Spencer’s boisterous “Win when it counts!” chant, which could be considered a distant cousin of the classic “Don’t let that fool you!” of season 27. “Angkor literally sleeping on the pieces,” called out Probst.

You know it’s bad when you see Savage — the guy who refused to step down with all that weight on his shoulders in Pearl Islands — reduced to that level. I actually worried we were going to have another Russell Swan situation for a second there. And I don’t mean Savage was gong to suddenly grow awesome braids out of his head, but rather than he might pass out from heat exhaustion/dehydration.

I was on the verge of getting really worried about this when something happened that diverted all of my attention away from genuine concern for another human being. I am speaking, of course, of Stephen Fishbach’s hilarious attempt to touch the Bayon immunity idol after Probst brought it over. I don’t even know how to describe it, but I really must insist you go back and watch it immediately. Poor Stephen tries to reach from the back row to gently caress the trophy but is rebuffed by Kimmi. Why was he even doing that? Did he figure since he had been unable to find an idol at camp that he would just attempt to steal the tribe idol, hide it somewhere back at on the beach and that would automatically transform it to a “hidden immunity idol”? I don’t know, but I’m basically canceling work for the next week so I can go watch that on a continuous loop.

This Quote

“I’m going with people that value my personality and what I bring to the table,” said Abi. Which is…?

Fight To The Finish

Tasha and Savage wanted Jeff out, but Abi being Abi, she just could not get over the fact that Woo had voted for her twice. So we went to Tribal Council not knowing which way it would go. Would it be the self-proclaimed Ninja Stealth Assassin or the dude who was trying to make like an island version of Dr. House by rocking a Survivor cane due to his mangled foot courtesy of the challenge? Or would it be the flying insect that descended mid-Tribal and almost gave Abi, Tasha, and Varner a collective heart attack. (What? You don’t think Abi seriously considered voting for that thing? She might have even tried to vote for the blindfold as far as we know.)

But the reason why this Tribal was so electric was the never-say-die attitude of the two men on the proverbial hot seat: Jeff and Woo. You expected Varner to not go down without a fight, but Woo? However, it was Woo that fired the first salvo by announcing that, “I’ll be able to outlast him, for sure.” Then after Savage noted that the others would not want to go against Woo in individual challenges, Woo battled back by pointing out that would not be happening for a while. “I will be an asset for you guys,” he announced. “Varner will not.”

Of course, Varner was not just going to sit there and take it. “Woo will be your nemesis,” he countered. “I am absolutely not a physical threat to anybody.” (Am I the only one that found this odd that just three days prior the argument to keep Savage was the help he could offer in challenges, and now this was being turned into a negative for Woo?). Back and forth it went. Varner individually addressed everyone and the connections he had made with them. Woo countered by saying Varner also had relationships with everyone on the other tribes, while he would promise right there to commit to them and stick to it. Finally, Varner had enough: “Can we vote? Let’s do it.” But Woo had I had enough! “Abi, I promise you right here right now that I will stay loyal. Don’t vote me out.”

NEXT: A distinguished exit. Plus: an exclusive deleted scene

And what happened after this barrage of two men taking each other down with the reasons they should be voted out? They shook hands. I freakin’ love it. This wasn’t some ugly personal confrontation (like we saw so many times last season). This was two former alliance members who still seemingly respect each other doing everything in their power to stay alive while keeping it classy like my man Freddie Blassie. They both stated their case. They both pointed out potential weaknesses in the other’s game. And when they were done, they shook hands on a battle well joined. (Varner even told Woo “You rock” while voting for him.) I loved it.

And while we’re discussing, let’s all pause for the cause to give Woo some props. Lord knows I’ve hammered him for that horrific blunder of a game move he made his last season out. And I’ve surely had fun at his expense over the bewilderment he shows when a surprise strategic move is made against him, but this guy battled and battled hard to stay. Woo’s public plea to his tribe to keep him may have seemed weak to you, but I disagree completely. It’s the exact same thing Spencer has had to do in both of his seasons. Instead of laying down his torch, Woo fought to play another day.

All that said, however, it still would have been pretty funny if he had gone up there and voted for Abi again. Especially after she said, “Make sure you don’t write Abi.” I mean, can you just imagine the scene back at camp after Tribal had he done that? It would have been the most delicious thing ever. Of course, he’d probably be dead because Abi would have used the tribe machete to cut him into a million pieces, but it still would have been delicious. And possibly worth it.

In the end, it was Varner that was voted out. Contrary to his joking “You little bitch” comment to Abi on the way out, he took it all in stride. Jeff came into this game with the perfect attitude. He waited 14 years to return so was intent on soaking up every second of it. And then once it was over, no bitterness. No anger. Just joy over having had the opportunity to compete again. “I’m very grateful” were his final words after being voted out. And we’re very grateful for the four episodes of insanity you gave us, Jeff. Well done, sir.

And while Varner may be out of the game, you’re not done with him yet. We’ll have him on Thursday’s edition of Survivor Talk, and you can also check out my pre-game interview with Jeff in the video player below (along with an exclusive deleted scene and previous star-studded Survivor Talk episodes). Also keep your eyes peeled for our weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst, and for more Survivor scoop, you can follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Now it’s your turn. Were you hoping for Woo or Jeff to be voted out? Was the blindfolded challenge too dangerous? And who has played the best overall game at this point? Hit the message boards to weigh in, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols


Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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