It's a humbling week for John Rocker, but one tribemate has an even rougher outing.

By Dalton Ross
February 27, 2015 at 10:01 PM EST
Monty Brinton/CBS
S29 E2
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John Rocker found a hidden immunity idol. Let’s all hear it for John Rocker! I point that out here and now because that was pretty much the only thing John Rocker did right this episode of Survivor. I mean, other than that, this entire installment was one blown save after blown save for the former relief pitcher. (Check me out flaunting a little baseball terminology. Hey, who’s on first?) First off, Rocker volunteered for a reward challenge he had no business competing in because his huge frame would make it super difficult to crouch under poles while balancing the ball on the disc. (I know because I not only took part in this challenge rehearsal but spent an hour after helping producers fine-tune it for the contestants—more on that later.) What possibly made him think he was the best person to take that challenge on? As if this was not demoralizing enough for him, he also lost in the immunity challenge 1-on-1 battle to Jon without an H.

So the professional athlete went 0-2 in physical challenges. But his strategic game was even worse. Stuck at Exile (non) Island, Rocker agreed to help protect Jeremy’s wife, Val. So what does he do when he gets back to camp? He squeals to Josh about Val having two idols (and don’t worry, we’ll get into Val’s asinine decision to tell people that later). And then what does he do? He tells Val they are voting for her and to use one of her idols. WHAT THE HELL IS JOHN ROCKER DOING?!? This is some of the most schizophrenic game play I’ve ever seen. It’s as if he is doing research for his upcoming strategy manual: How To Make Sure Nobody in the Entire World Trusts You. Now the people in his own tribe (who saw him go off and chat with Val) don’t trust him. And people on the other tribe (who are about to get an earful from Jeremy judging from the preview for next week) won’t trust him either.

It’s not surprising, actually. Rocker has freely stated that he was not a fan of the show and was recruited to appear. So should he really be expected to understand how this game operates? Actually, now that I think about it… YES! YES HE SHOULD! Because this is basic logic and personal skills we’re talking about. You don’t need to be Boston Rob and on your fourth time playing to understand simple concepts of tribe dynamics. Anyway, John Rocker found a hidden immunity idol. So good for him.

Okay, let’s get to what else went down in episode 2 of Survivor: San Juan del Sur, and once again I can offer a little insight in places from having been there. We start off with Josh doing some damage control for his mysterious Baylor vote at Tribal Council. I mentioned last week that I was at that TC and Josh said while voting that he had changed his vote while at Tribal (which rarely happens). The question was… why? He tells Baylor here that it is because people were noticing how close they were so he wanted to put some public distance between them. Will she buy it? “That was a smart move in a way, but it was also sketchy and scary that he didn’t tell me beforehand.” (Yep, she bought it.)

NEXT: Behind-the-scenes tidbits on the reward challenge

Off to the reward challenge we go, and it is one with which I am intimately acquainted. Ever since I somehow talked Mark Burnett into letting me test out a challenge during the All-Stars season, the press has been allowed to take part in an official challenge rehearsal. This season, we were supposed to try out a bitchin’ water challenge, but Mother Nature had other ideas and that challenge was scrapped (you can see parts of it still built in the water and get an explanation from Jeff Probst on why they had to kill it here). So instead we tested out a contest at Exile Arena (I know Probst has taken to calling it Hero Arena, but my name sounds cooler). It was adapted from a 1-on-1 duel into a team competition for us so more folks could take part, but the hardest portion—balancing a ball on a disc while navigating through obstacles—would still be 1-on-1. And the two people going head to head would be myself and Survivor legend Parvati Shallow, who was there working for CBS.com.

Allow me to be honest and admit that I was not very confident heading into this particular competition. For one thing, Parvati has a pretty strong record in individual competitions. For another, she excels in anything involving balance due to her years of yoga, while I excel in anything involving a remote control and bottle opener due to my years of sitting on my ass watching reality television. Also, I’m, like, much taller than her and this involves ducking under things. Well, let me just cut to the chase and say it—I smoked her. I took the Black Widow down! But the interesting points are how and why. First off, the disc you are balancing the ball on is attached to an arm which is attached to another pole, and the arm moves with you as you go. I quickly discovered that best way to do this contest was not to move that arm with you as you go, but rather extend that part of the arm as far down as it can go first, and then you move with your disc to catch up to it. That way you didn’t have to worry about moving that arm with you and that extra motion knocking your ball off. So much easier, yet neither Rocker nor Julie did that. Neither did Parvati, which was her first mistake.

Also, when we did the challenge there was a tiny, tiny hole in the middle of the disc as a starting position for the ball. I also quickly discovered the key was to keep the ball in that hole. If it fell out of the hole, it became much more difficult and you might as well just let it fall off and go back and restart. So I breezed through this sucker… but it turns out my EW Radio cohost Jessica Shaw is the worst Skee-Ball player of all time, so our team lost anyway. However, the fun was just beginning. Clearly concerned by the speed with which I dominated their course—and for once, I am not making a joke here—Jeff Probst and the other producers asked me how I was able to do it so quickly. I told them about my tiny hole strategy… which I realize sounds a lot grosser that it actually is and I deserve to be made fun of for even typing it. So what did they do? They got rid of the hole! Put a piece of black tape right over it. That’s why you saw John & Julie’s balls moving around a lot more… again, I know, gross. After this, I’m never allowed to make fun of Probst for his inadvertently sexual comments while calling a challenge. (But I will.)

NEXT: John manages to denigrate any and all female competitors

Then they had me and others try it over and over again. They moved the order of the obstacles around. They went back and forth on how far the final platform should be. Tons of tinkering and retesting. I must have had to complete the whole thing 5 or 6 different times with several others also giving it a go. In all, we probably spent close to an hour rejiggering the course. It was super cool being a part of that process and watching a challenge change before your very eyes. And even cooler to be able to bring you guys behind the scenes and give you a little taste of how these things go through a lot of trial and error before the contestants get to them. (Oh, and in your face, Parvati! Don’t think for a second that you will ever live this down.)

At 6-foot-2, I was fortunate enough to best Parv. What 6-foot-6 John Rocker is doing volunteering for this, however, is beyond me. And if he did not volunteer and his tribe collectively nominated him, then I have no idea what the hell they were thinking either. “Nobody would predict this!” screams Probst as Julie is about to win, which is completely inaccurate because I honestly don’t see how anyone could predict she wouldn’t win knowing what it entails.

For his part, John is none too happy that he lost to his girlfriend. And any woman playing against him or watching at home is likely none too happy after hearing him dejectedly say, “Remove the friend part. I’m losing to a girl. I just got beat by a girl.” Yes, how embarrassing for you. Losing to a clearly inferior species that was put on this earth solely to bear your children, do your dishes, and clean your laundry. Humiliating.

I’m going to pause for the cause to give Julie some props, however. I—along with every other member of the press and many of the other contestants I spoke with before the game—had her pegged as the first one likely to go. She just came off as someone who would be completely unprepared to deal with the elements. But I saw no evidence of that when I visited her at camp, nor while watching her compete. But what is she doing making Jeremy take the #7 train to Exile Island with her boyfriend? I mean, I guess it was a good move because Jeremy ends up sharing his hidden immunity idol clue, but that is pretty rough shipping the dude off to Exile after he had already sent his own wife there.

Okay, so let’s head back to the tribe beaches now to…

Wait, what’s that? Reed has a proposal to make? He wants to sell a half-full bag of beans back to Jeff Probst for another flint because they lost their first one? Well, here’s what I have to say about that: I wrote last week about how I watched this go down with my very own eyes on day 2 as the tribe realized their flint was gone and were all frantically searching for it. Then I left on day 4 and assumed they eventually found it. Apparently not! So now here we are with Reed trying to pull a fast one on Probst to score a new flint.

And just like that the show morphs into Let’s Make a Deal, with Probst acting as a crankier, baseball-hat wearing version of Monty Hall. Probst chides them for trying to leverage their victory, informing them “that doesn’t work on Survivor.” The host then counteroffers by showing them what is behind door number two. And what is behind door number two? Absolutely nothing! That’s because that’s what they’ll get of their fishing gear reward if they want a new flint: nothing. He’ll take it all back.

NEXT: To flint or not to flint—that is the question

At first, the tribe refuses. But then the Survivor Godfather makes it clear that he has just made them a offer they shouldn’t refuse: “Now that I know you don’t have a flint, when it rains, and it will, and your fire goes out, and now you need to make a trade, the payment will be much tougher,” he tells them. “So this is your opportunity now, so seize it if you want it, because I promise you, to get a flint later will cost you more than fishing gear.”

Here’s the thing: Producers want them to have the flint. This is not like the Survivor of yesteryear when they liked to see contestants starve for a prolonged period of time. Starving contestants make listless contestants. Also, it could be noted that starving contestants eventually make dead contestants, and unless the dead contestants are going to come back to life and feed on the flesh of their tribemates for Survivor: Heroes vs. Zombies, an awesome show that does not make. So the subtext here is that Probst wants them to take the flint. He knows they will suffer greatly without it once their fire goes out. He is using the threat of a worse trade down the line to make them take it now. Also, the swap makes sense for the tribe. (Fire represents your life, people!) Although I will admit there is a not-so-small part of me that wanted them to hold out so they could later swap the flint for some crappy-ass Adam Sandler movie reward screening instead. Then they could use the flint to set fire to the original master print and protect us all from said movie (Jack & Jill 2: Jacked Up!, perhaps?) ever making it to American shores.

One thing we learned last week is that Wes recognized John Rocker. We also learned that Wes has no clue how to spell R–O-C-K-E-R. But Wes is not the only Crayola crayon tribe member to figure it out. Alec also knows him, and Dale recalls that infamous Sports Illustrated article that got Rocker in all sorts of hot water. How does the gay Josh feel about his tribemate using the word queer? “That makes him more of an asset to be used,” says Josh of Rocker’s unlikability. Spoken like a true gamer.

Of course, after all the racial comments that Rocker made in that article, it might seem like he and Jeremy would make for an awkward pairing at Exile. But au contraire, mon frère! Jeremy told me before the game that he knew exactly who John Rocker was, and, like Josh, he wanted to potentially team up with him because of that. And team up with him he does here. After Jeremy is the one to pull the clue to the hidden immunity idol, he immediately shares it with John, making a pact to protect each other’s loved ones. And what could possibly go wrong with a pact like that?

Well, we’re back to another challenge. Which feels weird because I could swear we were just at a challenge, but okay, fine by me. This one is for immunity, however, and it is a Survivor classic. The old sumo ring in the water deal. Don’t quote me on this because my memory is almost as lame as my taste in sports teams, but I believe this challenge may have first debuted in this form back in Palau. At least that’s as far back as I can remember at this point thanks to years of Milwaukee’s Best consumption. But it’s always fun to watch. The rules are simple: a series of 1-on-1 battles, first person to knock their opponent into the water wins the round, first team to 5 wins the challenge.

NEXT: Val makes an inexplicable move… and pays for it

Up first is the battle of the blondes as Kelley takes on Jaclyn, who seems to have misunderstood the rules and thought it was the first person to grab her own boobs that wins, judging by the force and speed in which she clutches her own bosoms before the actual match begins. It is a seesaw affair between the tribes, as they alternate victories back and forth. A few of the highlights.

• At one point Rocker yells out to Val to “choke hold” Natalie, because cutting off air to the brain is a totally awesome way to win a challenge!

• Rocker follows that up by losing in his second straight challenge, this time to Jon in a football vs. baseball smackdown. Rocker leaves the ring with both a bruised ego and a bloody nose.

• Missy and Baylor begin their mother-daughter match by turning each other into ex-husbands and boyfriends. Missy follows that up by bashing her daughter in the face, bringing an immediate end to the action. When play resumes, it’s clear that there is no way in hell Missy is going to do that again and that Baylor will prevail. And that is exactly what happens. And in case you are scoring at home, that makes the score Blood: 1, Water: 0.

• Drew roots on Josh in his match against Reed. Just one problem—Josh is on the other tribe. “It’s Reed that’s on our team,” Jon informs the self-proclaimed shelter-building genius who I believe then went on to order a pizza delivery to Mr. Hand’s history class at Ridgemont High

It finally comes down to Kelley vs. Jaclyn, who—and I swear I am not trying to sound creepy, nor am I making this up—but there she goes grabbing her own boobs again! Is that some sort of superstitious pre-game ritual? Is it just making sure the girls are all tucked in nice and neat before the bashing and crashing begins? A little from column A and a little from column B, perhaps? Well, her good luck runs out because this time Kelley takes it, handing Hakuna Matata their fourth straight challenge victory.

Can we take a break for a second to talk about how much I love mint chocolate chip ice cream? It definitely is the raddest of all ice cream flavors. And how about Caddyshack? That movie is hilarious. The amount of cocaine that was clearly being done on the set of the film… I mean, wow! And does anyone know that Prince record Graffiti Bridge? Sure, it’s a terrible album, but it has this one song “Joy In Repetition” that gets me every time. Damn, that’s a good song. Nice job, Prince!

Sorry about that little sojourn into madness, but I am trying my best to think happy thoughts to combat the rage currently swelling inside of me as I consider the events that are about to unfold on the island. Infuriating, really, is the best word for it. But I can procrastinate no longer, so here we go. The first maddening thing to occur is that after Rocker tells Val how he and her husband are working together, Val decides to go and tell John and Jaclyn that she has not one idol… but TWO! This is ludicrous for so many reasons I cannot even bother to count that high. This is truly one of the worst Survivor lies of all time. How did you get two idols? That doesn’t even make sense. And why are you lying and telling people this? Does Val not realize that this only makes her a massive target? See, I was not overselling when I used the word infuriating. I’m making like a green-tinged Bruce Banner over here I am so irate right now.

NEXT: Tie-ing one on at Tribal Council

But then it just gets worse. Because Val walks away and then Rocker—using what appears to be the exact same clue information that Val had before—goes and finds the idol in about 2 seconds. Why did Val not find this idol with a multi-day head start? Ugh. Jeremy and Val were my favorite couple before the game, and Probst had her as his pre-game pick to win. So that makes it that much more maddening to see her screwing this up so royally.

And she is not even done screwing it up. So then, after Val has bragged about having two non-existent idols, and after Rocker then goes and tells Josh, and then Josh says they should split the vote, and then Rocker tells Val to play her idol, is Val worried? Nope. “I don’t have the idol and it doesn’t even matter,” she says, because once you add in Jaclyn and Val’s votes it will be 5 votes on Baylor. No, Val, it does matter. Because you are assuming waaaaaaay too much. And in case you haven’t noticed, people talk. And things change. And John Rocker is doing perhaps the worst job of protecting anybody that I have ever seen in my entire life.

We head off to Tribal Council, where Josh compares the terrible job their tribe has done so far to a Broadway show that is a complete disaster in previews. And it is at this point in the column where I will point out that Josh’s boyfriend Reed appeared in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. So he knows a little something about disastrous previews. And disastrous regular views. And disastrous reviews. Basically any view having anything to do with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Val then attempts to turn the tables on Baylor for playing two sides and telling her to vote off Dale, but you know what? It’s too late for that. So the tribe votes, Val does not use one of her imaginary idols, and on the revote is sent home. “You’re making me look like a liar to your husband,” says John on the revote, although didn’t he become a liar when he told Josh about the two idols?

Anyhoo, Val is toast and the repercussions appear to loom large next week when Jeremy IDs Rocker to the rest of his tribe, leading Natalie and John to go at it verbally at the next challenge. Good times! And the good times have just begun here, because you can check out an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode as well as my pre-game interview with Val and Jeremy in the video player below. My weekly Q&A with the Hostmaster General, Jeff Probst, will be available Thursday morning, and check back Thursday afternoon for our InsideTV Podcast exit interview with Val.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Where does Val’s two-idol lie rank on the list of dumb Survivor moves? Is Rocker done for? And should Probst have provided the tribe with a second flint? Hit the message boards to weigh in, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.

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