Phillip Sheppard says he only loses challenges when he tries to lose. But why would he want to do that?
Phillip Sheppard
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols
S26 E7
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Back in sixth grade, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I wore lots of brightly colored polo shirts and was the undisputed master of the freeze dance. Then, at one of the biggest social gatherings of the year — something called the Flower Mart, which sounds precisely as lame as it was — my girlfriend, Lely Constantinople, broke up with me. I think she wanted to date a dude named Ed Miller. I can’t really remember. All I know is that being dumped at the Flower Mart was about as humiliating as it got for a tween. But let me let you in on a little secret: I totally threw the relationship! That’s right, you heard me — I could have made Lely fall head over hells in love with me, and we would have become high school sweethearts, had babies (sometime after high school hopefully), grown old together, and prank called Ed Miller just for the hell of it. But no, I chose to let Lely break up with me instead. Honest!

Oh, and I’d like to talk about when I was played ice hockey on the Chevy Chase Club Pee-Wee squad — specifically that time I managed to score a goal…against my own team. Just so you know: full-on meant to do that. Sure! It was psychological warfare out there on the ice, you see, and I figured such a move would clearly psych out the other team and lead us to victory. One last thing: all the typos you are going to notice in this week’s Survivor recap. ON PURPOSE! Totally. Think of them as Easter eggs — how many can you find?

You all may laugh at Phillip Sheppard for claiming to throw the immunity challenge after he was bested by Reynold. Not me! Personally, I think it’s genius. Anytime you screw up at anything in life, just shrug your shoulders and say, “Meant to do it.” (Concocting an elaborate backstory as a federal agent is optional.) Remember: You can never fail as long as it is intentional. Now, let’s sit back with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and get to this week’s recap.

The action begins as Bikal returns from voting off Duck Dynasty at Tribal Council. “I nearly peed myself,” says Julia. “That was the first time I’ve ever come close to wetting myself.” And this is the first time I’ve ever come close to caring about anything Julia has had to say. Although, in her defense, she hasn’t said a whole hell of a lot. Michael has to start sweating now that his biggest ally in the game is gone, but as long as he is gay, he’ll have an ally in Corinne. “Michael is not going home on my watch,” she informs us.

And now comes the part where the guy who walks around in pink underwear gets upset that Corinne has a thing about playing with gay players. “I want her gone,” Phillip tells Cochran, who does his best to explain why that is such a horrible idea, especially because the Favorites on the other tribe won’t trust them at the merge if they get rid of one of their own. Keeping Phillip and Corinne from strangling each other has become a full-time job for Cochran and Dawn.

NEXT: The return of a classic challenge

Tree Mail! A message comes about a challenge talking about how “the strong must bear the weak if you hope to compete.” This is perfect because it allows both Cochran and Phillip to do what they do best: Cochran talk about how weak he is (“It mentioned the weak so there is a place for me in this challenge.”), and Phillip talk about how strong he is (“Anything to do with the upper body, upper back, shoulders — without being arrogant, I’m almost certain I can win it.”).

To demonstrate his unbelievable strength, Phillip has Cochran aid him in acting out an entire scene from the Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling epic Over the Top, with Phillip playing the part of backwards baseball cap wearing Lincoln Hawk and Cochran seemingly in the role of precocious son Michael. (By the way, if you have not seen Over the Top, stop reading this column immediately and go do so. Easily the best movie about arm wrestling ever made, and I don’t say that lightly.) As for what the rest of the tribe is up to while Cochran lays his entire body on Phillip’s arm, I can only assume Michael is busy acting as gay as possible to curry Corinne’s favor (that’s what I would do), Corinne is monitoring whether Michael is acting gay enough, and tribe mom Dawn is off cleaning up Julia’s pee.

The reward challenge is a redo of a Survivor classic first seen in Palau, as the contestants are belted together with 20-pound sand bags on opposite ends of an oval course and must race to catch the other tribe. If someone wants to opt out, they must give their weight to someone else to carry. I love this challenge. Always have. And the contestants do as well. Why, self-proclaimed weakling Cochran is so fired up he even took his shirt off! (Take a number, ladies.)

Gota has an extra member and decides to sit Brenda out. Then, during the pre-game strategy sessions, Reynold mentions that, “If someone dies, we all have to stop.” The fact that Reynold is actually worried about how to proceed in challenge should one of his teammates die would be funnier if someone hadn’t actually just died last week on the French version of Survivor, so let’s just let that comment go and move on, shall we?

We all know how this one is going to end. What we did not now is how animated former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Brenda would be on the sideline, hopping backwards on the bench, imitating Jeff Probst, and finally, eating her own hair. Oh, and This Just In: Arm wrestling has no correlation whatsoever towards being able to run in water with a 20-pound sack of sand. This becomes readily apparent once Phillip declares himself unable to run and is even passed by his own teammates. The falling down in the water part is a bit of a tip-off as well.

So Gota wins again and as a reward gets to go to a coffee bar and eat cookies, croissants, and brownies. Hmmm, reward…or punishment? “They’re gonna get sick,” says totally not sore loser Dawn. “It’s not a big deal. That’s a diarrhea fest.” Diarrhea fest?!? First off, I like where you’re going here, Dawn. The clear lack of interest in the reward is straight out of the book of I-lost-on-purpose Phillip Sheppard. Well played. But as for the actual diarrhea fest, worry about your own tribe, woman. JULIA IS PEEING ON HERSELF FOR CRISSAKES!!! Get your own house in order!

NEXT: Cochran strikes gold — vanilla gold

At the reward, Reynold and Malcolm compete in their own private bonus challenge to see who can get more over-caffeinated as they high five and kiss everyone in sight. (Tata the bushman is going to be soooooo bummed he missed this. Right up his alley.) But Malcolm is also concerned that he will be targeted as an athletic male after the merge so he comes up with a backup plan to get an athlete alliance together with Reynold, Eddie, and Erik. Down in numbers, Reynold eagerly accepts and immediately tells Malcolm he has a hidden immunity idol. Hey, we said “athlete alliance” not “brainiac alliance”.

Over on Bikal, Phillip is trying to figure out whether that was a reward or immunity challenge they just participated in while Cochran must listen to Corinne bitch about how much she hates Phillip. Cochran wants to maintain the Favorites’ peace, especially because Julia is…So. Damn. Boring. “Julia, on the other hand, is such a non-entity out here,” says Johnny C. “I’m tempted to say she has a vanilla personality, but I feel like that would be doing a great disservice to the flavor vanilla. I mean, people actively seek out vanilla-flavored products. Children clamor to get a vanilla ice cream cone. Nobody is clamoring for anything Julia-flavored.” With apologies to Corinne and the flurry of incredible one-liners she busted out last week, that has to be the best confessional quote of the entire season, if for no other reason than it reminds me of Vanilla Ice’s hilarious ganja-rap phase. (Unlike all of Vanilla Ice’s other phases, which should be taken completely seriously at all times.)

Phillip is trying to break through that impenetrable wall of boredom to make Julia his first-ever “double agent.” Only one problem: Julia then goes and tells Dawn all about her chat with Phillip, and Dawn relays that info straight back to The Specialist, who now says that Vanilla Sky “has managed to commit several foo-pas in terms of Survivor play.” (You mean like Fransesqua?)

Hey, I got an idea: Let’s go watch Reynold throw some more stuff at the immunity challenge! He loves throwing stuff. And he’s so good at it! While at this point I would say that this season as a whole has not lived up to the massive hype that Jeff Probst heaped upon it, the challenges this go round have been INCREDIBLE. I can’t remember the last time contestants were in the water this much. I absolutely love it. It’s another doozy here. Simple, yet exciting to watch. Three members of each tribe must paddle out into the ocean, dive down to untie a statue, paddle said statue back to the beach and place it at the base of the tower. Then someone among the other three people who did not paddle must use a grappling hook to get five keys that must then be used to unlock a tower and raise the statue to the top.

We all know Gota is going to win, but big props to Dawn, Michael, and Corinne for staying as close to Erik, Eddie, and actual paddleboard company owner Brenda as could be expected. And this leg of the race also provides us with our official Someone Please Make a GIF of Dawn Clip of the Week as the Mormon bread baker extraordinaire magically morphs into Spazzy McGee as she attempts to jump out of the boat into the water. (Seriously, first person to send me a GIF of that awkward plunge wins a public shout out on Twitter. My good pal Janae and I thank you in advance from the bottom of our hearts.)

NEXT: When in doubt, talk about Boston Rob!

Gota sits Sherri out of the challenge, but they might as well have sat Malcolm and Andrea as well since best-thrower-in-the-history-of-throwing Reynold does all the grappling hook tossing. That’s how dominant Gota is right now: Malcolm can sit and watch pretty much the entire challenge without lifting a finger. Throwing for Bikal is Phillip who actually closes the gap to 4-3 key rings at one point before clearly realizing that he did not want to win and letting Reynold and Gota cruise to the victory. Because if Philip had wanted to win, he would have won. Oh, make no mistake about that. Clearly he threw it for the obvious strategic advantage such a loss would bring. That advantage being…uh, well, you know…stuff.

For some crazy reason, Cochran has a hard time believing Phillip’s story about purposefully losing: “It’s complete crap. You can’t make up this level of delusion, and that’s what excites me about playing with Phillip. I think he actually at this point is convinced he threw the challenge.” You mean, because he did?

The Favorites now have to decide whom to vote off: Julia or Michael. Everyone agrees to split the votes in case someone has the idol. Everyone except Corinne, that is, who does not want to do that to “my gay.” This flusters Phillip, and when Phillip gets flustered he starts repeating Boston Rob’s name over and over. Says the Gorilion: “I played with the strongest player that I’ve ever had the opportunity to play with,” which sounds less impressive when you consider that he is only stacking Boston Rob up against people like Natalie Tenerelli and Ralph Kiser. That, my friends, is the definition of grading on a curve.

At Tribal Council, Phillip tells Probst how Corinne and he have disagreements on the best way to get to the same point, Corinne comments that while “I think it’s neat that he’s gay,” her love for Michael’s sexual orientation has been overblown, and Julia says something about wanting to play one way but playing another instead and that…Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Whoops! Sorry. I honestly started to fall asleep the exact second Julia started talking. Who knows? Maybe she’s been talking all season and I just slept through it all. Forget about Ambien and Lunesta; just record Julia talking about pretty much anything and you’ll sleep like a freakin’ baby. OH, WAIT! I GOT IT! THAT’S HER STEALTH “R” US NCKNAME: THE SLEEPER AGENT! BAM!

Anyhoo, the fans do split the votes, making it a 3-3 tie (as self-preservation kicks in and Michael and Julia vote for each other), and Julia is indeed booted on the revote. I feel bad for saying how boring Julia was, but when I say boring I mean “TV boring,” which just means she wasn’t good at narrating the action or explaining what was happening and why it was happening. It’s the same reason we never heard from Brett, Rick, Purple Kelly, Leif, or Carter. All nice people. Just not very exciting to watch on television. And surprisingly, I’m actually excited to chat with Julia for the InsideTV Podcast on Thursday to find out everything about her we did not see, as well as how she feels about being so marginalized in the edit.

But before then, you can check out our weekly Q&A with Jeffrey Probst as well as an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode in the video player below. And for more Survivor scoop delivered right to you, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss. Now it’s your turn. Sorry to see Whatshername go? Impressed by Phillip’s arm wrestling technique? Think the Favorites will align back together at next week’s merge? Hit the message boards to let us know 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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