I’m sorry, but before we get into this week’s Survivor recap, can someone please go check Jeff Varner’s underwear? Because judging by what happened and what was said during the casting of votes on this latest episode, we may need a cleanup in aisle 4 of Tribal Council. Only this time it was not Fishbachian levels of #SevereGastrointestinalDistress to blame for any problems down below. (Although it certainly is fun to blame Fishbach for anything really, and I am more than willing to look the other way if you want to do that.)
“If you pull out an idol I will soil myself,” said Varner while casting his vote for Sierra… who promptly then used a hidden immunity idol courtesy of Tai. Look, I don’t know if Jeff Varner is rocking the Depends out there in Fiji or not, but things could get a little uncomfortable for my man from here on out. But fret not, Varner, because if misery loves company then you should be plum ecstatic, as I have a feeling plenty of viewers may have joined you in experiencing involuntary activity after all the madness that went down on their TV screen.
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MADNESS! That really is the only word for it. It was a scene clearly foretold 33 years ago by the singing Nostradamuses known as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who opined that “when two tribes go to war, a point is all you can score.” Well, two tribes did indeed go to war in a joint Tribal Council, and the point scored was when Mana outmaneuvered Nuku to send a shell-shocked Malcolm out of the game.
Let me absolutely clear: I still am not entirely sure what the hell transpired in what has to be considered the most chaotic Tribal Council ever, and I’m not sure the players involved in the melee have a clear idea either. Was J.T. playing double agent to get Sandra out but then it backfired when Mana voted for Malcolm instead? Was Hali only pretending to be siding with Nuku, or did she actually want Brad Culpepper out but the folks at Nuku wouldn’t go for it (which would explain her hesitancy to go vote, telling the inpatient Nukuians, “All right, you may regret, it but I’ll go”)?
We think we know, but the truth is, we don’t really know. At least not for sure. Which is what made this joint Tribal Council such a stroke of brilliance. It put us as viewers right in the place of the contestants themselves — scrambling to uncover the truth and consider every possible angle. I honestly think I bruised my thighs by clutching them so hard while watching, that’s how tense it was.
Here’s a rough timeline of how things went down. We’ll start with some of less consequential stuff and then we’ll get into the big moves by Hali and J.T. I will also point out the big mistake that Nuku made — and it’s not what you think. (I feel like I’m at a Murder Mystery Dinner trying to piece together the clues to figure out whodunit. By the way, can we please bring back that bizarre ABC reality show Whodunnit? where contestants would have to hilariously fake their own deaths after they were eliminated, and all the other contestants would have to pretend like the folks were actually murdered? That was maybe the height of addictive stupidity.)
Anyway, back to Tribal. Brad kicked things off by making me feel like we were at an NRA convention, as there was a hell of a lot of talk about guns. About who has guns. About whose guns are pointed at whom. About whether some guns are pointed at people on their own tribe. Sandra, however, was confident where the Nuku artillery was aimed. “Jeff, all of our guns are pointed at them,” she said in what would not be her last boastful claim of the evening.
The foreplay portion of the evening continued as Debbie pointed out that there was someone in the Nuku 6 who used to be very, very close to them. Was she right? Sure, but why the hell is she selling out J.T? AT this point J.T. — being the only original Nuku in that tribe — is hopefully either acting as a double agent for his former tribe or trying like hell to fit in with his new tribemates. Either way, probably not smart to make his new tribe suspicious of him, yet that is exactly what Debbie did right there.
Back and forth the tribes went, with Brad Culpepper pointing out how there were more threats on the Nuku side that needed to be taken out. This led Probst to ask Sandra if she was a threat because she had never lost. “Oh, I’m not worried,” she responded. “I know I’m not going home tonight. How ‘bout that?” At first gander, this just seemed to be random boasting, but Sandra was actually doing something very smart here. She’s essentially bluffing and leading the Mana folks to deduce that she has an idol. A lot of times, it is easy to see through such bluffs, but since Sandra is such a world-renowned boaster — see her week two verbal takedown of Tony — it is completely reasonable to deduce that if she is bragging about not going home, she simply was unable to contain herself and inadvertently leaked some valuable intel.
Did Sandra just buy herself three more days on the island with that comment? And did that comment set the stage for what was to come? It’s certainly possible it helped shift the target from her to Malcolm. There were also some very interesting things happening over on the Mana side of Tribal Council. Brad (correctly) pointed out that it would make no sense for Hali to switch sides because then she would be public enemy No. 1 on her own tribe and a shoo-in to be voted out at the next Tribal. However, Hali seemingly did not appreciate the threat. “I don’t know. That’s not a good speech to, like, groom me in.” I italicized the word seemingly because everything from this point out in terms of Hali and J.T. is somewhat open for debate. Again, we may think we know, but there is still an element of guesswork involved. Let’s take the Hali side first.
NEXT: Whose side is Hali on?