Last minute scrambling at Tribal Council leads to two hidden immunity idols being played in a solid outing for an unspectacular season.
Credit: CBS

If you were making a checklist of things you’d like to see in a Survivor episode, this one pretty much had them all:

1. A water challenge. (Check)

2. An endurance immunity challenge with people being successfully tempted out of it by food. (Check)

3. A player making a big move with an elaborate scheme that requires getting every single member of BOTH alliances to do exactly what he says. (Check)

4. Last second whispering and confusion at Tribal Council. (Check)

5. Multiple hidden immunity idols being used to save multiple people that would have otherwise been voted out. (Check)

6. A contestant talking to Jeff Probst about the time the host got naked on national television. (Check)

All the ingredients were there. Except one. But it’s a big one—the fact that it is nearly impossible at this point to really care all that much about the outcome. I loved watching all the shuffling and shifting and last second idol playing. It was fantastic! But I didn’t really give a hoot about the result because I’m not all that invested in the remaining players. So when Wes got voted out, I just kinda shrugged my shoulders and said, “Okay. So less farting on the show now, I guess.”

Folks, what we are seeing this season on San Juan del Sur is the simple law of averages. We have had four stellar seasons of Survivor in a row. (I know many will dispute my assessment of Caramoan as stellar, and I agree that the early action—waaaaay too much Shamar, Brandon, and Phillip—was a debacle, but feel it was lights-out after the merge.) Let’s face it: We were due for a bit of a dud. But I will say the exact same thing I said when Survivor: Fiji or Nicaragua or One World rolled around: It’s gonna happen. Doesn’t mean Survivor has lost its mojo. Doesn’t mean the franchise is fading. Just means this particular group didn’t work out.

But here’s the curious thing about San Juan del Sur and something to keep in mind next time you want to complain about how the network and producers are ruining your favorite reality show. They did almost everything right in putting together this season—at least in terms of listening to the fans. They brought back all new players. They got rid of Redemption Island. They brought back the Blood vs. Water twist, which most of us agreed worked really well last time. THEY DID EXACTLY WHAT WE ASKED! And they deserve a lot of credit for that.

Does that mean we were wrong in asking for these things only to watch them blow up in our collective face? Hardly. It just means this particular group of contestants did not work on either an individual or collective level. Again, it happens. (It’s easy to say, “They should stop taking recruits who don’t know or watch the show,” and lord knows I have said that myself plenty of times. But trust me, many of your favorite players from seasons past were not fans of the show before they appeared.)

Now, I could certainly quibble with the location of Nicaragua, which I am not a huge fan of because it severely limits water challenges and the water itself lacks that clear blue look that pops like crazy on my oversize HD TV set, but other than that, I don’t blame production for this lackluster installment. Sure, the casting didn’t pop this time, but look how amazing the casting was for last season. Hey, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

All of this is a longwinded way of saying I will spend my Thanksgiving Thursday not only eating copious amounts of stuffing—because Thanksgiving is all about the stuffing—and watching even more copious amounts of football, but I will be thankful for Survivor. Because even a sub-par season of Survivor beats anything else, and the longevity of the franchise and the fact that it just had its best four-season run in the show’s history keeps me confident we’re in for plenty of great stuff going forward. Okay, speech over! I know we’re supposed to spend today with family, so let’s jam through some of the noteworthy stuff from this latest episode as quickly as possible, which, knowing me, will not be that quick at all. But I’ll try.

• Keith pretty much summed up his entire game with his first line of the episode: “Reed’s a gamer. He knows how to talk to folks and figure stuff out—mathematics, numbers, and all that mess, which is way above me.” Yes it is, Keith. Yes, it is.

• This was a cool reward challenge, and yes, I was ecstatic they were back in the water. The players had to dive into the ocean, climb up on a platform, jump off said platform and grab a key in midair, and then swim over to collect puzzle pieces that would be used to build a statue. After another mysterious, unseen schoolyard pick ’em, teams were drawn, with Keith going unpicked and therefore having to sit by himself and spit into the water every 10 seconds. Seriously, why is that guy always spitting? Does he have a secret stash of chewing tobacco or sunflower seeds I don’t know about? I can’t imagine why someone would possibly need to spit that much. On the plus side, when he does hawk loogies, at least he does not do it all over himself.

The yellow team of Reed, Alec, Jaclyn, and Jon won, but then Reed did something very interesting. He gave up his spot on the reward to Missy (which involved handing out baseball equipment to Nicaraguan youth and then eating ballpark food while taking in a game). “It’s about doing good for other people, and I feel this would do good for Missy,” said Reed. That’s a curious comment considering what Reed said last week when Natalie and Jeremy did the exact same thing: “It makes you want to hurl because it’s so transparent,” he said then. Who’s hurling now, Reed? Still, he did cop to wanting to get the ball rolling on taking out Jon while back at camp with Keith and Wes, and that was a smart enough move.

• Okay, this is a minor point, but how great was it when Probst gave Wes a map to Exile (non) Island… and then a boat picked up him up to take him there? I’ve always wondered what is actually on that “map” because the reality is that contestants are transported by boat/van or both off camera to their locations.

NEXT: Probst has his own personal feast

• I won’t say a whole lot about the reward visit to the baseball field except for the fact that I’m pretty sure that when Jon outran his bunt that was not the first time he’s gotten to first base this season. HEY-YO! Thanks again for coming to the Chuckle Hut. Don’t forget to tip your server! I’ll be here all week, ladies and gentlemen!

• “Sometimes I don’t know if Keith quite understands exactly the intricacies of how this game is played,” said Reed. GEE, YA THINK?!? That became painfully evident on day 1 when he did not even ask to see Val’s clue that she received at Exile Island.

• Honestly, I am so confused as to when there are and are not idols still to be found. Since zero idols had been played going into tonight’s episode I thought Natalie and Baylor’s quest to find one would be in vain. But then I remembered Rocker. He left Coyopa with an idol in his pocket. And when that happens, they rebury it, because as Probst has said openly time and time again—they want idols to be found and they want them to be played, so once Rocker got the boot, they put another one out there. And Natalie did indeed end up with what will later prove to be the only idol still in the game.

• Finally! An endurance challenge! Now we’re talkin’. In this immunity competition, the players had to balance their feet on a narrow perch while holding a handle above their head. “Everybody’s station has been measured by your height so it is equal and fair for everybody,” said Probst, which, of course, is my cue to point out that unless the narrow perches have also been adjusted to the exact same percentage of everyone’s foot size that it is not equal and fair at all. Regular readers know that this has been a personal pet peeve of mine for ages. But I am also cognizant of the fact that Reed’s background in dance—in which you are trained to put insane amounts of pressure on various parts of your feet for prolonged periods of time—gave him an edge to overcome that disadvantage in foot size.

• It also helps when Jeff Probst is tempting everyone off the perch with food. I gotta give it up to the Hostmaster General on this one. Usually he just kind of hangs back and offers the food. This time he got all up in their grill, walking a plate of chocolate and gummy bears right under their noses… and then eating it right in front of them! That was pretty damn harsh, and I loved it. For a little perspective, as a rule on Survivor, no member of the crew is allowed to eat or drink water in front of the contestants. Same goes for the press when we are out there; we have to put everything away when the players show up. And it makes sense, for to be chugging down sustenance in front of these people while they are starving would be the reality show equivalent of Dusty Bottoms nonchalantly gargling and throwing away his half full canteen while poor Ned Nederlander and Lucky Day wilt in the desert heat.

But Probst decided to mess with them. And, unsurprisingly with this group — it worked. Now, I will say this. There are two different kinds of people — the ones who step down because they are hungry and have no will power or will to win, and the others who know they have no chance in this particular competition or feel themselves about to give out anyway so at least get some food out of it to help give them an extra energy boost in the game. I have less of a problem with the latter. Of course, it’s hard to determine which group everyone falls into, but I believe Natalie when, after hours up there, she finally couldn’t take it any longer, knew she was beaten, and at least got some grub out of it, handing Reed the victory.

A few other notes about the immunity challenge:

• Yes, Alec at point compared himself to Jesus Christ. “Just like Jesus on the cross, baby,” he said. “He could live that long up there. I can do it.” (Note: He did not do it.)

• Apparently, Wes “ate 58 chicken nuggets in five minutes in an eating contest once.” That surprise anyone at all? Anyone?

• Exchange of the season:

WES: “What about the episode of Two and a Half Men where you were naked cooking pancakes or something?”

PROBST: “Cooking bacon?”

WES: “That’s awesome, dude. I love that show.”

Wes, once again with his eyes placed firmly on the prize.

• So, evidently unsatisfied that the endurance contest would ever end, Reed and Natalie decided to instead engage in a Keith impersonation contest by seeing who could spit the best. Reed scored an impressive 9.5 (with a controversial downgrade by the Russian judge). As for Natalie? Well, she pretty much spat all over herself. Another apt metaphor for this season.

• I think from here on out every contestant should be forced to do the splits before Probst puts the immunity necklace around their neck. You’re next, Keith!

NEXT: Keith messes everything up, and his son pays the price

• I expect there to be a lot of debating whether Probst unduly influenced players to use their hidden immunity idols by talking so much about it at Tribal Council. He told Natalie that you have to treat every Tribal like it’s your last. He told Reed “You don’t want it to be a souvenir.” (Although John Rocker told me they did not let him keep his as a souvenir and took his back when he got kicked out.) Was this Probst just stating the obvious or subtly nudging players to finally do something interesting to spice up the game? The fact is, it is very late in the game for an idol to never be used, so it is a natural discussion to be had, and this conversation could also have already happened in previous Tribals but been edited out for time and lack of relevancy since no idols were played. So this one could—and I’m sure will—be argued both ways.

• Hey, what was that Reed said earlier in the episode? Oh, right: “Sometimes I don’t know if Keith quite understands exactly the intricacies of how this game is played.” Well, now he knows. Keith saying to “stick to the plan” at Tribal Council has to be one of the dumbest things I have ever seen in my entire life. Act like you are defeated! Act like you are going home! Don’t let them know there is a plan! There is no plan!!! But no, instead Keith acted like Keith, leading to tons of whispering between Reed (who was trying to keep the others from finding out about his plan to oust Jon) and Natalie and Jaclyn (both of whom were now rightly suspicious). This led Natalie to tell Jon to play his idol, which led to Jon playing his idol, which led to Wes telling Keith to play his idol, which led to Keith playing his idol, which led to Wes going home to Google more naked Jeff Probst clips and sign up for the next chicken nugget eating contest.

• I love last minute confusion and chaos at Tribal Council. And I love that Reed eschewed the safe play of latching on with Jon, Jaclyn, Baylor, Missy, and Natalie to try and make a big power move. It didn’t work, but it probably would have if Keith had not opened his dumb mouth. In fact, Keith should only be opening his mouth to spit out whatever it is he is spitting out every 10 seconds. We didn’t see Reed doing much of anything for the first two months of the season, but he’s gotten his game on in the past few weeks, and I tip my proverbial hat to him because of it.

• Anyone else notice that Jeremy was beating the hell out of Josh over on the Jury? Every time something crazy happened, he started hitting Josh in the arm like they were playing that stupid game where you make that weird symbol with your fingers and then when somebody looks at it you get to punch them. I hate that game, by the way. In fact. I am relatively confident it is the dumbest game ever created. Anyway, remind me to never sit next to Jeremy.

Okay, time to go get ready to eat turkey and watch football. But before you go take part in your Thanksgiving festivities, go read my weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst, where the host gives some great inside intel on how he stacks and reads the votes.. Also make sure to click on the video player below to enjoy an exclusive deleted scene as well as my pre-game interview with Wes & Keith. And for more Survivor scoop you can follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But before you can eat Turkey, you must talk turkey on the message board. Are you evil like me in enjoying Probst mocking the contestants by eating food in front of them? Is Keith the dumbest ever? And do your thighs still hurt after watching Reed do his splits? Make your opinions heard, and I’ll be back next week as they air two back-to-back episodes. And you know what that means: DOUBLE scoop of the crispy!