A challenge stalemate leads to a unique trade between the two tribes, and not everyone is happy about it

By Dalton Ross
February 27, 2015 at 11:34 PM EST
Image Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS
S25 E6
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Some trades you know are dumb the moment they occur. My hometown basketball team, the Washington Wizards, made a series of less-than-magical deals in the 1990s as they insisted on trading young and big players (Chris Webber, Rasheed Wallace) for old and small players (Mitch Richmond, Rod Strickland). That’s just not smart. Sometimes you have trades that are so lopsided you can’t help but laugh (or cry). And there has been a lot of laughing and crying for Wizards fans. Other times, there are trades that actually end up benefiting both teams, my personal favorite being when sportscaster Al Michaels was traded from ABC to NBC for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. (Seriously. Look it up. The dude was traded for a cartoon rabbit.) And then there is the reward challenge food-for-rice swap that went down last night on Survivor. I have made like my man Clint Eastwood and gone over this one every which way but loose, and I still can’t tell who got the better end of it. Maybe I should go ask an empty chair.

Tandang took the sure thing — more rice. They were super low on the crispy stuff and doubling their amount (even if they thought they were getting more) allowed them to increase their rations and stay more consistently fed. Kalabaw, on the other hand, decided to roll the dice. They went all in to acquire a giant feast to fatten up on, while also notching the psychological victory of an afternoon getaway complete with letters from loved ones back home. But at the same, they were gambling that a merge is happening soon (and judging from previews for the next episode, they are probably correct in this assumption). If a merge is not coming, however, and they are stuck with no rice and a few fish the size of my toenail, they are in a heap of trouble.

What would you do in that position: Make the safe long-term play and take the rice, or play for now and take the feast? In most situations, I would take the known quantity and go for the rice, but in this instance I would have probably played the percentages and gone feast. With only 11 players left now, it would be shocking if there were not a merge coming up in the next day or two. Then again, do I want to be hungry as hell for even a day or two after my feast? See! I can’t decide! Although I will say I thought it was quite savvy of Tandang to trade the power of speech to Carter and Katie in exchange for a protective magic spell that would keep Mike Skupin from injuring himself during any and all challenges for one episode. While we’re at it, here are a few other Survivor trades I’d like to make:

* Trade out the Final 3 for the old school Final 2. As I’ve written a million times before, A vs. B is inherently more dramatic than “pick one of the above.”

* Trade out immunity idols hidden at camp for immunity idols hidden at challenges so tribe members in trouble have to decide whether to compete for their team (by helping in the challenge) or for themselves (by, say, using that time to dig and find an idol that is buried in a sand pit next to the challenge). Choices! Drama!

* Trade out the boring final Tribal Council vote delivery to the United States for another wacky jet skiing, skydiving, motorcycling, subway riding adventure. (There is seriously nothing I miss more when it comes to this show.)

* Trade out Jeff Probst’s baseball hats for whatever the hell it was he was wearing on his head in Guatemala. (We all need a good laugh once in a while.)

* Trade out every new contestant for a member of the Hantz family. (KIDDING!)

Okay, the trade deadline has now officially passed, so let’s take it from the very top of the episode. It’s night 13, and after returning from Tribal Council, Katie says she feels like she’s at the bottom of the totem pole now that her two female alliance partners are gone. The next day, on day 14, Katie keeps going on and on about how Penner has the hidden immunity idol and needs to go.  But before she can say much more, it’s already day 15 and we are now over on the Tandang beach. What is this, Super Speed Round Survivor? We just did 3 days in 3 minutes! Was day 14 really that boring?

NEXT: Penner gets up close and personal with Lil’ Skupin

Over on Tandang, everyone is upset about the tribe’s lack of rice — foreshadowing! — and blames Skupin for consuming too much of the uncooked white stuff. Pete even goes so far as to call Skupin “the most useless player that’s ever been returned to Survivor.” (That’s a somewhat dubious proclamation seeing as how Skupin did not quit three days in like Jonny Fairplay on Fans vs. Favorites.)

Well, let’s see how useful he is in the reward challenge. The contest is one we’ve seen before: teams of three try to push a giant sphere through the other tribe’s goal for a point. First tribe to three points wins. The date confusion continues as Probst introduces the reward and says, “After 13 days, you need some food.” (Wait, didn’t we already establish that it is day 15? Did we just go back in time? Dear God, what is happening?!?) The host announces that the winners will be taken to a “dry hut” where they will feast on sandwiches, soup, potato chips, and brownies.

Then, something else curious happens: Probst tells Tandang that they must sit two players out due to their numbers advantage, but instead of sitting out any two they want, he tells them they must sit a man and a woman. Previously, the tribes had not been forced to sit a man, so why now? Is this because the challenge was so physical, or because Tandang already had an extra man from when Malcolm joined them last week? (I asked Probst in this week’s Q&A and you can see his answer there.)

Of course, what producers ultimately want from this challenge is for people to be grabbing, tackling, and body slamming each other within an inch of their lives — and that works out great because that’s exactly what I want as well! And the contestants more than deliver: Pete and Carter take turns with take-downs while Lisa pins Denise. As for Penner, he puts his hands between Skupin’s legs and grabs a giant ball. Hey! That’s what happened! That is a perfectly accurate description! Not only accurate, but, according to Probst, “totally legal.” Skupin then fights back by sitting on Penner’s head, and — one can only assume — passing gas on his fellow returnee’s face. (Again — totally legal!)

Finally, after an hour of no movement, Penner and Skupin began their epic reenactment of the Treaty of Versailles. Other than Artis, who tells the others “You can keep all that mess to yourself,” it is unclear how the players who are actually addressed by their first names feel about the proposed trade of Kalabaw’s rice in exchange for Tandang’s forfeit. For instance, Pete seems to agree to it, but then later gets all pissy back at camp while announcing, “Here’s the rice that you guys wanted to forfeit for. Enjoy.” All I know is, it is something different and unexpected, and when you can get different and unexpected in season 25 of a show, that is most certainly a good thing.

The Kalabaw crew certainly seems happy about their decision when they see the spread of food before them. Perhaps not used to such an overabundance of delicacies, they make the rather curious decision to split one brownie among the five of them rather than each enjoying their own. (Hello! Has anyone ever heard of cooties?) But then they get an extra special treat — letters from loved ones back home. (One has to assume that had Tandang taken the reward that Lisa’s letter would have been from stand-up comedienne extraordinaire Cousin Geri. At least that’s what I’d like to assume, and so I will.) Denise says that the letters alone make the trade worth it because they are giving the tribe a different kind of energy and fuel. I don’t know — unless they plan on eating those letters for sustenance 48 hours from now, I’m not so sure they’re going to do it long term.

NEXT: Here, fishy fishy…

There is another person who absolutely loves the deal Penner made — only he’s on the other tribe. “I applaud Penner,” says Artis, who is pissed about the trade. “I would have done the same thing. That was a brilliant move by Penner.” Pete and Abi pile on Skupin as well, with Abi saying it might go down as one of the dumbest moves in Survivor. (Abi has clearly not seen a lot of Survivor if she thinks that is the dumbest move ever. Abi, meet James. And Erik. And Tyson. And JT. And Brandon. And the entire Manono tribe from One World.) This leads Skupin and RC to talk about how horrible Abi is, a conversation that is no doubt simultaneously taking place in living rooms across the country. (Other living room conversations include: Will it ever stop raining on those poor schmoes? Will Denise ever win a challenge? And why hasn’t Dalton mentioned Milwaukee’s Best in the past month?)

Back at Kalabaw, now it is Jonathan Penner’s time to shine! He’s gonna show the newbies how a real player goes out there and gets fish! Rice? They don’t need no stinkin’ rice! Rice is for suckers! Check out this haul that Penner is bringing back to shore right now! Why, it’s…it’s…what is that? A goldfish? A krill perhaps? A dwarf pygmy goby? Whatever it is, it sure as hell is not going to be enough to feed Carter, whose energy level has been seriously depleted — no doubt from all the talking he is suddenly doing. Pace yourself, man! You haven’t spoken in 13 days. You can’t just start jibber-jabbering suddenly about every little thing. You got to ease your way into it.

Let’s see if that lack of energy will impact Carter in the immunity challenge. (Spoiler alert! It will.) The contest involves one member for each tribe launching a ball that three other members from each tribe then attempt to catch for a point. First team to five points wins. After losing a rock, paper, scissors battle with Malcolm, Skupin agrees to sit out along with Abi, who takes some more ribbing from Probst for still having competed in only two challenges. (Not her fault. You want her to compete more? Then change the rules about being able to sit out back-to-back challenges when not in the same episode cycle. To quote the host himself — “totally legal.”)

And while we could focus on Carter’s obvious struggles, Jeff Kent’s early dominance, or Malcolm’s epic run of catches to bring home a Tandang win, I’d rather concentrate on the latest in a long line of hilarious sexually-explicit-when-taken-completely-out-of-context challenge play-by-play comments from Probst. I don’t know if it was as good as when he waxed poetic about Tarzan’s balls, but Probst shouting out the order of “Katie, hand on the pole!” was still pretty good. (Yes, I realize I have the maturity of a 12-year-old.) Of course, Katie is on the receiving end of more Probst smack talk about her performance (“Katie, completely ineffective in this challenge”), but this time she is not the only one: “Malcolm is on a tear, yells Probst at one point. “He is eating Carter’s lunch!” That’s actually accurate from a literal standpoint as well seeing as how Malcolm chowed down on Carter’s rice before the challenge.

NEXT: Why Kalabaw voted out the right person

With another Kalabaw loss, the question becomes whether it will be Penner or Katie to get the boot. Since Jeff and Carter can’t quite decide, Carter does what any sane person would do in that situation and asks Penner to cast the tiebreaking vote: “Penner, what do you want to do — Katie or Penner?” Penner shockingly decides NOT to send Penner home and says Katie should be the one to go. The other men would do well to listen to him, because since Kalabaw will likely go into the merge down in numbers, they don’t need to worry about someone like Penner flipping from their tribe. They need to get someone on the other tribe to flip, and Penner is more likely to bring someone over (like he brought over Jeff and Carter when he was on the outs to form a male-only alliance). Plus, Penner has the idol and that can be used by the Kalabaw crew after the merge to perhaps flip the script one week. You vote out Penner, you vote out your idol.

At Tribal Council, the main topic of discussion seems to be a competition between the two Jeffs as to who can say the word “sucks” more. Jeff Kent wins, saying the game sucks because everyone is too chicken to tell their friends they are blindsiding them. (Au contraire, mon frère — that is precisely why they game is AWESOME!) Katie and Denise are the only ones who say they feel vulnerable, and they’re on to something because Katie is indeed voted out. The best news for Kalabaw is that Penner does not use his idol, so they should have that as a weapon in the likely event of a merge next week. Of course, Tandang has two idols, so even there, the red tribe is coming up short. Still, I have a feeling we are not looking at a straight-up decimation with Tandang running the table. Too much friction right now on that tribe. Things could be ripe for some flipping once the two tribes come together.

Speaking of flipping, make sure you flip on over to my weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst, where I ask the host which tribe he thinks got the better of the big trade. You can also check out an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode as well as my pre-game interview with Katie in the video player below. And for more Survivor scoop delivered right to your virtual doorstep, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss. Now it’s your turn. Very curious to hear which tribe you feel got the better end of the deal. Hit the message boards, and I’ll be back next week with another Skupin of the crispy. If there’s any rice left, that is. Could be time for another trade.

Jeff Probst leads adventures in the ultimate (and original) reality series.
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