“The greatest snowstorm in more than half [a] century left the Washington area smothered under at most two feet of snow yesterday—a magnificent white menace that virtually imprisoned the city and sent road crews battling to reopen streets for this morning’s commuters.” —Washington Post, page A1, Feb. 20, 1979
I remember this snowstorm all too well, because it hit on my birthday of Feb. 19. I was a little kid, so birthdays were a big deal then. Anyway, I had a party planned for the day but because of the “magnificent white menace”—which sounds more like a description of Gheorghe Muresan than anything else—the only kids who could make it were Jeremy Zucker and Campbell Waldrop, because they lived close enough to walk/trudge. Allow me to say: no offense to Zucker and Waldrop, but that party sucked.
It also didn’t help matters that the reel-to-reel film my dad had rented (which is what you had to do back in those days before the advent of VHS, then DVDs, then Netflix) was The Wackiest Ship in the Army. I’m pretty sure he selected that film because it was the cheapest one they had and it contained the word “wackiest” in the title…which he must have figured would be the right maturity level for kids who still wet their pants on occasion. The movie was terrible. Everything about the entire day was terrible. It was as if my entire birthday was smothered in a thick layer of weak sauce. But here’s the thing: I still complained less about it than Rodney did here. And Rodney is a grown man. Allegedly.
Have you ever heard more bitching and moaning about birthday treatment in your entire life? I hope I am not going to offend any of you out there, but I honestly don’t get people that make a big deal about their birthday. And then there are folks like my wife. She insists I acknowledge her half-birthday every year. Did you hear that? HALF-BIRTHDAY! Is she insane?!? Well, no. Her choice in a spouse notwithstanding, she’s actually a much more intelligent person than I could ever hope to be, yet she seriously thinks that celebrating her birthday is not enough and that I have to mark the halfway point between birthdays as well. (Either that or she brings it up just to mess with me, which is entirely possible. Like I said, she’s smarter than I am.)
Look, unlike Tyler, I’m not a robot. (Sometimes I wish I were and could shoot floppy discs out of my mouth and have a voice like a 1980s Speak & Spell, but that is another matter altogether.) I get the appeal of a birthday. Even though it signifies we are one year closer to death, which is mildly depressing, it offers another excuse to force people to pay more attention to you than you have to pay toward them. I’m not completely immune to this. Sure, an acknowledgement is nice and if a coworker wants to buy me a cupcake I’m not going to complain, but I also would never in a million years insist people give me special treatment just because the day on the calendar happens to match the one on which I was born.
Evidently Rodney feels differently. I get that he hasn’t been on a single reward. I get that people told him they’d give him their reward spot and then didn’t. I get that he hasn’t been able to lift weights in a month, which for Rodney could be considered a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Still…chill out, man. Getting this angry about the fact that someone who earned a reward did not volunteer to give it up just shows you are a dude who likes to get angry. You should hold yourself to a higher standard—you know, like women. (Sound familiar?)
I kind of feel like Rodney’s birthday accounted for approximately 98 percent of tonight’s episode, but let’s go through it nonetheless to see what’s what, and also talk about the big announcement about next season of Survivor. (You can also get some exclusive intel from Jeff Probst’s about that right here as well as hear from the 32 contestants vying for 20 slots in that “Second Chance’ season.)
The episode begins with the gang returning from Tribal Council after Mike threatened to give Shirin his idol. Dan is furiously trying to figure out the two people who voted for him. “Let’s not do this,” implores Will. “Stay focused.” Of course Will does not want to do this. BECAUSE WILL VOTED FOR DAN! Will is like the guy who got caught eating a chocolate cake and to avoid incrimination tells everyone those crumbs on his face are not cake at all but rather he was simply pooping out of his mouth. I have no idea what that means. It doesn’t even make sense. And it was super-gross, too. What is wrong with me tonight? (Perhaps I am just out of sorts over Sally Schumann being left off the list for next season. #KneeSocks4Eva)
NEXT: Rodney loses…again
Anyway, Tyler eventually comes clean about it, as does Will. This latter confession leads to a super awkward scene between Dan and Will in which Dan forces Will to stare into his eyes while he starts growling about how okay it is. It is unclear if Dan is about to kiss Will or kill him. And then…he kisses him! (Bonded over their mutual hatred of Shirin, perhaps?) All I know is, this is not the showmance we were hoping for in season 30. Can Joe and Jenn go make out on the jury or something to get that other image out of our heads? Oh, and Joe—hair up, not down, please.
Next thing we know it’s morning, so we can only assume Dan and Will snuggled and spooned all night long. And thus begins the multi-day odyssey that is Rodney’s birthday. It starts simply enough as he is congratulated on his big day. And there is likely a reward challenge coming up and since Rodney has yet to win one, Will tells him, “You need it. And if I have to give it up for you to go, I’m gonna do it.” It’s not just Will. Apparently Carolyn has told him the exact same thing. Rodney says it would stink to miss out on a reward trip on his birthday, but that because of the assurances by Will and Mama C “the chance of that happening is 0.0000 percent because that’s how much faith I have in these people.”
Okay, we all know at this point Rodney is not going on that reward, right? I mean, it’s as if a giant neon billboard was erected behind him while he was talking flashing “Now watch Rodney get screwed!” No way we get to see him say that and then everything turn out fine and dandy. So the players show up at the reward challenge while Jeff Probst admires his own shoes and it is indeed another team contest. Why so many post-merge group competitions? I get that producers are probably thinking: We’ll do the reward challenges as group ones and immunity challenges as individual so that we get a taste of both each episode, but at this stage of the game I generally prefer as many individual battles as possible. They also create more interesting drama as the winner has to choose whom to bring and leave behind.
So the tribe is divided into two teams of three. Each group needs to work together to unspool ribbons to get a key and then build a ladder and use the key at the top to release a bag of balls. Then they have to go through a net sling and finally jump on a platform to launch balls into a series of targets. First team to get all five targets wins. And what do they win exactly? They get to deliver supplies to kids at a local orphanage while enjoying barbeque.
The teams are once again selected by a schoolyard pick ‘em, yet once again we don’t get to see it. I can’t help but feel that at least once or twice there must have been a little drama about who was picked where and who was not picked at all. It’s been years since we saw one. In any event, Dan, Tyler, and Rodney end up on the blue team while Carolyn, Mike, and Sierra end up on the red team. Seeing as how we know either Carolyn or Will is not giving up their reward to Rodney—and Will is now not even eligible for the reward since he wasn’t picked and therefore has to sit out—the end result of a red victory here is pretty clear even before Probst says “Survivors ready…”
Sure enough, red jumps to a big lead while blue is on the receiving end of not one but two admonishments by Probst. First, they practically give the host a heart attack by climbing their ladder before it is all the way completed. “THAT’S NOT RIGHT! THAT’S NOT RIGHT!” yells Jeff. Then they leave their balls behind their sling—which may be the most unintentionally disgusting thing I have ever typed—and need to go back to retrieve them. But Dan comes alive with the intensity and ferocity of a man acting like the reward in question is the opportunity to belittle as many females as he likes. He hits four targets in quick succession to go up 4-2. Carolyn and Sierra beg Mike to let them sub in for the red team, yet he refuses like a man refusing to pay $20 for a letter from back home. In this instance, however, his refusal works out as he comes back to lead his team to victory. He thanks Jesus repeatedly for the victory, because we all know Jesus our lord and savior totally has a rooting interest in Survivor reward challenges. Not like he has anything better to do.
NEXT: And the Oscar for least convincing ruse goes to…
Jesus may be happy, but Rodney is bummed and says this just went from the best birthday to the worst birthday ever. (Clearly, he’s never seen The Wackiest Ship in the Army.) Then, Probst tees him up perfectly: “Are you hoping, Rodney, that one of these three will feel for you on your special day and give up their reward for you?” How does Rodney respond? “It’s up to them. I’m not going to pressure them or plead me case. It’s my birthday. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. That’s all I’m going to say.” Hold on a second: You said how you weren’t going to pressure them or plead your case—and then immediately followed that up by pressuring them and pleading your case!!! Amazing.
Of course, nobody does give up their spot—and that includes Carolyn, who calls it her once in a lifetime opportunity—setting Rodney off into a flurry of pixelated cursing. “They just turned me into the psychotic person I am,” says Rodney, who I feel is really shortchanging himself here in terms of credit for being psychotic on his very own. I mean, just look at him—he’s complaining about “washing dishes on my birthday,” which is something I’m pretty sure everyone does on their birthday. He’s also calling the people who did not hand over their reward “a bunch of scumbags who neglected me on my birthday” and then telling us how he’s “really f—-ing pissed at Mama C.” Try being pissed at yourself for never winning anything. And no offense dude, but although this may come as a shock, your birthday is not a national holiday.
By the way, I haven’t said anything about the reward trip to the orphanage yet. You probably think I hate these things and consider them a colossal waste of time, but I don’t. Having visited many of these communities while covering the show I think it’s nice to show the positive impact production can have in the places they film. Plus, unlike food rewards on a catamaran, these are the types of moments that really do resonate—for both the givers and receivers. See, I can go soft serve and get all mushy and emotional when I want.
In any event, somewhere in between Rodney’s hissy fit and his Carolyn impersonation the self-proclaimed psychotic concocts a scheme to try and convince Mike that he is so upset that he wants to be the next one voted out so Mike does not play his idol. It’s actually not a terrible plan. Don’t get me wrong: Mike does not even come close to buying Rodney’s acting job, informing us that “Just because I talk slow doesn’t mean I think slow.” But still, at least Rodney was trying to figure out a way to use the situation to a possible advantage. Better than just sitting there stewing, even if the execution was a bit lacking and he did lay it on too thick. If I were Mike, I actually would have played on like I believed it just to mess with Rodney and force him to continue to carry out the lame ruse for the next 24 hours. I would have even brought it up at Tribal Council:
MIKE: “Well, Jeff. I was planning to use my hidden immunity idol tonight, but since Rodney is so upset about us not giving him a pony for his birthday, he wants to be voted out instead so I guess I’m safe and don’t need to. But you should definitely ask him about why he wants to go to the jury because he’s still pretty hot around the collar and I bet has a lot to say on the subject, right Rodney?”
RODNEY: “Huh? What? Oh, yes. Very hot around the collar. Extremely agitated, Jeff. Mama C is a…uh, a big jerk face. She’s, like, the queen of the jerks. And as for Sierra, she can just…she can just get lost is what she can do. They better vote me out or else I am going to be hopping mad. That would be a truly vexing situation, to be sure. Like, I am seriously vexed right here. Mike sure doesn’t need to use that hidden immunity tonight, I’ll tell you that much. He is safer than a dude doing the safety dance is how safe he is.”
Alas, Mike does not poke the rat in the cage, which means he is a much better human being than I am.
NEXT: The endurance queen continues her reign
The next morning, the emotionless cyborg from the future that goes by the name Tyler convenes with Carolyn to talk strategy. She tells him to win immunity. He tells her to start bringing her idol to Tribal for him, and she says they’ll use it when they need it, which is about as believable as Rodney’s Robert De Niro acting clinic from the night before. No way is Mama C giving Tyler her idol. Mama C will give Tyler the finger before she gives him the idol.
Of course, Tyler can guarantee his safety by winning immunity, but once we see the contest, it looks tailor made for Carolyn the endurance expert. It’s one we’ve seen many times before as players must balance on a small perch while leaning back and holding on to a rope. Every five minutes they must move their hands down on the rope. Last one standing wins. Obviously this is harder for big dudes who have to hold up all that weight so it’s only a matter of time before Dan or Will drops because…. Oh, wait—Will already dropped. Wow. That was quick. That’s probably because he… Hold on, Dan just fell, too.
Well, there you have it. That was almost too easy to predict—as easy as it is to predict a Carolyn victory, and indeed that’s exactly what happens. She’s excited. And Dan is excited too because next thing we know he is attempting a back flip of the pier. The word you should be focusing on in that last sentence is “attempting” because he doesn’t quite make it—landing face first in the water. Lord knows there has been a lot of flipping in 30 seasons of Survivor, but this just may be the worst one yet. Incidentally, at the same time, it may be the most satisfying moment of Survivor: Worlds Apart so far.
Back at camp, it’s time to make like some eggs and scramble. In one corner you have Dan. He and Carolyn come up with a plan for the guys to vote Mike (who must then play his idol) and the girls to vote Tyler. In the other corner you have Tyler, who wants to knock out Mike’s idol and Dan’s advantage, so he works on Will and Carolyn to vote for the big fella. And in a third corner you have Will, who is all “You guys do whatever you want. I’m going to sit over here with Sierra and not be interviewed by producers.” What we take out of these various conversations are two things: 1.) Will and Sierra’s confessional chats must be positively riveting, and 2.) Carolyn is probably the swing vote who will decide this thing. Will she keep her biggest ally in Tyler or oust one of her main challenge and final vote threats? Let’s head to Tribal Council to find out.
And according to Mike, today’s Tribal Council comes complete with Pepsi and popcorn! A lot of talk about popcorn at Tribal Councils this season. Maybe they should get one of those old-timey popcorn poppers for the Tribal Council set. They can put it where the cheesy trunk of cash used to go. Or better yet, they can rock some Jiffy Pop in those wacky pans with the expanding aluminum covers right over the open fire. Because fire represents life, people! And popcorn! Although am I the only person who could never get the Jiffy Pop right? Either only 13 percent of the kernels popped, or 100 percent of the kernels burned—and you had approximately 1.3 seconds in between those two things happening. Impossible.
“This is the perfect Tribal to make a move,” says Probst. “It doesn’t get better than 7.” Left unsaid is that they HAVE to make a move because Mike is going to use his idol, and once Tyler tells us he will be surprised if it is him walking out, you can’t help but feel he is the one about to get snuffed—which sounds much dirtier than it actually is. Indeed Mike does play his idol and the first four votes are null and void.
NEXT: The six finally turn on one another
So whom will it be: Dan or Tyler? Yes, Dan has the double vote advantage, but Dan also has about as much a chance of winning a challenge (and winning votes at the end) as my mother, and my mother does not know what the hell Survivor even is. Tyler is the bigger threat. Tyler needs to go, and go he does—with Mama C, Sierra, and Mike delivering the votes that send him to the jury. “Well, if there is one thing that is concerning,” says Probst, “it should be the admission that everybody wants to take the weakest to the end.” No! Don’t tell them that! You’re basically ensuring Dan and Will a Fast Pass to the final three. Take that back, Probst!
So we say goodbye to Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto. He seems like a bright enough fellow. Not exactly the warm and huggable type, but Tyler had a good grasp on the game. I look forward to his super-technical, emotionless question from the jury at the final Tribal Council. But can we pause for the cause for a second and give it up for Mama C? The woman has played a damn good game. She’s excelled at challenges and she has had no problem flipping back and forth to suit her needs while never once becoming a target. Now, has she established enough personal connections to win at the end? Perhaps not, but then again, if she goes against Dan and Will in the finals, does it matter?
Now we get to the interesting thing: Carolyn and Mike were both announced last night as being among the 32 Survivor non-winners competing for votes to play in next season’s “Second Chance” edition. Yet they are still competing in this season, so is that a massive spoiler unleashed by CBS that they do not, in fact, win? I asked Jeff Probst that very question and you’ll want to read his response immediately. Then go make sure to read pitches from those 32 eligible contestants in our exclusive gallery as they tell you what they would do differently a second time around. Of course, we also have our weekly Q&A with Probst about the episode at hand (and he has some interesting words about how he is going to handle all that ugly activity by Dan and Will at the reunion), and our exclusive deleted scene (in which Rodney tells us what his birthday is usually like back in Boston) in the video player below. And for even more Survivor scoop, you can follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
But now it’s your turn. Did Rodney overreact to his birthday slight? Did Carolyn make the right move in ousting Tyler? Would you rather see individual reward challenges? Hit the message boards below to weigh in on all of that and more, and I’ll be back next week with a scoop of the penultimate crispy!