The loved ones are not pushed to their limits
Not Going To Roll Over And Die
Credit: CBS

I think I need to see a doctor. Not a Sex Doctor, mind you. Rather, I need a doctor for matters above the belt — the neck, specifically. Because I am suffering from some serious Survivor whiplash. And I’m guessing I am far from alone. We may want to consider some sort of class action lawsuit against Mark Burnett, CBS, and the Survivor Entertainment Group (yes, there is such a thing) for the high-speed back and forth that went down in the latest episode.

See if you can follow this: Devon, Lauren, and Ashley seem ready to vote Chrissy off. But then Ben overhears his name in the mix, so he gets Mike and Ryan on board to vote out Lauren. Only problem is, vengeance-seeking Chrissy refuses to go along and insists on voting Ben out. So then Mike goes back to Lauren and squeals on Ben, so now they all plan to vote for Ben. Then, at Tribal Council, Ryan and Mike decide to vote for Lauren. Chrissy then agrees to that. But then Mike says to Chrissy to vote for Ben, and now after earlier refusing to vote for Lauren and insisting on voting for Ben, Chrissy refuses to vote for Ben and insists on voting for Lauren. BUT THEN SHE VOTES FOR BEN! Say what?!?!? But Ben does not go home because he plays an idol. So Lauren goes home even though nobody but Ben ended up voting for her. And a parrrrrrrrrrrtridge in a pear tree!

You presumably came here for me to make sense of all of this, but I can’t. (We did see Chrissy and Ryan asking Mike to be brave and vote for Lauren right before the vote, so I suppose he declined and they fell in line and joined him in attempting to oust Ben.) In truth, it all could not have worked out better for either them or us. For viewers, we got to watch levels upon levels of strategy and gamesmanship. For players, they just burned Ben’s idol (which they clearly did not even know he had) plus Lauren’s extra vote and idol, putting everyone in the game back on equal footing.

The only person who came out a loser in this entire scenario is Lauren, and she can chalk up that defeat to two haunting decisions. First off, she told everyone about her extra vote. That, coupled with the idol she procured, made her a target. Information is power, and she gave away way too much information in this game. Her second error was giving away half of her immunity to Mike, rendering the half she kept useless. “It falls into those stupidest moves ever in Survivor history,” said Mike. “And the only question is, do the Survivor gods make her pay for it or not?” They did.

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Look, I get what Lauren was trying to do here. I understand she was attempting to build some trust with Mike and was trying to make herself less of a target by giving that away. But here’s the thing: You can’t build trust with a guy you just doubly duped by not telling him Ben was a spy and also not using your double vote at the previous TC like you promised. Mike is done trusting anyone. That trust ship has sailed and run into a huge iceberg — and I’m sorry to say that if that plank of wood floating in the water is not large enough to hold both Kate and Leo, then it certainly isn’t big enough to hold the both of you.

And as far as making yourself less of a target, that’s not the way you get rid of an idol. The way you get rid of an idol is by playing it — that way you still maintain some safety and can’t be voted out, but then you are no longer a target moving forward after that.

So yeah, Lauren screwed up, and I’m sure she’s not happy about it. Then again, is Lauren happy about anything? Did we ever even see her crack a smile in 33 days? I’m not saying she needed to be a charter member of The Coconuts, but the woman never appeared to be having any fun out there. And Survivor should be fun — although I suppose Keith Nale would disagree. But even Mr. “Survivor Ain’t Fun” seemed to be enjoying himself out there, like when he stole the tuk-tuk. Regardless of her lack of a certain joie de vivre, Lauren became a fan favorite due to her no-nonsense style. And I’m very curious to see how that translates to her new role as a member of the jury. But that’s looking way too far ahead. Let’s buckle up and recap the rest of this S.O.B.

The episode begins with the aftermath of Super Spy Ben finally being revealed, and the minority is licking its collective wounds. “I just believe people when they tell me something,” laments the Sex Doctor. “I was just duped…I had no idea.… I’m in an awful spot right now,” says Ryan. Chrissy, however, goes on the offensive. “What you did tonight really showed your true colors,” she tells the wannabe Daniel Day-Lewis. “You’re such a jerk, Ben.”

This is the first (but far from last) hypocritical picking at Ben for deceiving by folks who have done plenty of deceiving on their own. Deception is part of Survivor and I don’t have time for people who celebrate when they’re on the giving end of it but whine and get holier than thou when on the receiving end. If you can’t handle being lied to, DON’T PLAY SURVIVOR!!! (And I say this as someone who actually likes Chrissy.)

Okay, enough ranting. Let’s go watch people break down and cry for 10 minutes. Yes, it’s the loved ones visit! I dig the loved ones visit. Not because I am so moved by these super-emotional displays of affection. You all know me better than that. No, I dig it because you see contestants at their most vulnerable. I dig it because there are usually one or two zany relatives you kind of want to build a sitcom around. And I dig it because you get to hear Jeff Probst utter super-awkward things like “Ashley, let’s get you some love,” and “Chrissy and Keith, you’re in charge of love!” (In charge of love? Does that mean Chrissy and her husband just became island pimps or something?) (Recap continues on next page)

As for my favorite moments from the family reunions, I’d have to start with Ryan and his dad Steve. I know from background that Ryan and his dad are both huge Survivor fans and as he said on the show, they would watch and dissect episodes each week. So for them to both be appearing together on the beach and on the show is pretty awesome. “This is my dream,” said Ryan. “Sharing this moment with my dad, it’s the best moment of my life.” Let me tell you, as a fellow dad from New Jersey who loves Survivor, that struck me as particularly great. (See, even I can get a bit sappy!)

But the true champion relative has to be none other than Lauren’s sister Sunny. First off, she refused to run around the corner to greet her sister, instead proclaiming, “I’m walking!” I can’t tell you how much I love that. Clearly the well of emotion runs pretty deep in this family. Then, rather than going to embrace her sibling, Sunny channeled the Survivor ghost of Dawson’s past and hugged Probst instead. Such a baller move. Although I couldn’t help but feel a bit bad for Sunny upon hearing that she is the super-fan who begged Lauren to go to an open casting with her — only to watch her sister get cast on the show instead. (Talk about Blood vs. Water!)

But really, all the reunions were nice to see. I wish I could say the same about what the loved ones did once they were all out there. Now, in the past the loved ones challenge has gone one of two ways. Usually the players compete while the loved ones watch, but sometimes the loved ones compete with the contestants. I never understand why they don’t do this every time because it almost always leads to absolute gold. (I think somewhere out there Colby is still yelling at his brother Reed for his lack of water bucket-throwing prowess in Heroes vs. Villains.)

So I was pretty excited when Probst said that the players would be “running in pairs, but not with each other — with your loved ones.” Finally, we’re back to the good stuff! Only we weren’t. Instead of putting the loved ones through a rigorous physical competition certain to lead to instant hilarity, the challenge consisted simply of each person pulling a marble out of a bag. If a player and loved one pulled the same color, they stayed alive. If not, they were out. It was a game based entirely, 100 percent on luck, with no skill involved. And, as a result, it was also pretty damn boring to watch. The challenges this season have for the most part been excellent so I can only complain so much, but this was a big bummer. (Don’t ask me why I love pulling rocks as a tiebreaker but hate it as a challenge. I just do!)

I don’t know what happened here. Maybe there was a water challenge that at the last minute had to be canceled due to swells (it happens out there in Fiji). Or maybe they just decided that minimalist was the way to go. The thing is, I like minimalist! I’ve been lobbying for years for them to bring back that last Hands on a Hardbody-inspired immunity competition from Borneo. Simple is often super dramatic — but not when it is just based on luck. There is enough luck running around this game these days with all the advantages; let’s get back to rewarding skill and effort. Also, let’s get back to watching relatives have to get down and dirty and see how they react in a dogfight (and how the players react to them if they disappoint). Just a missed opportunity here, I would say.

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Anyway, Chrissy wins a Survivor BBQ and has to pick three folks and their loved ones to join her and her hubby. Whom she selects — Ryan, Mike, and Ashley — is pretty unremarkable, but what is fascinating is the way she makes her choices, without a moment’s hesitation. No hemming. Ho hawing. No “Oooooh, this is really difficult decision.” No “Gee whiz, can’t I bring everyone?” Chrissy doesn’t even pretend to make a show of feeling bad for the people she does not pick. In fact, she tells us, she reveled in it. “Poor Ben picked the wrong time to pick a fight with me because he did not get to see his sweet Kelly. And now I’m going to make sure that he regrets that he ever crossed me.” DA-YUM! Hell hath no fury like a Survivor scorned.

A lot of people who have come out of the game have had pretty harsh words about Chrissy, and you may be seeing why here. There’s no softness around the edges with her. As a viewer, I kind of like it because she has a singular purpose and is following that full-steam ahead, but it does pretty clearly speak to a blind spot in her social game if people are feeling that negatively about her. Even if you’re not the soft and cuddly type, sometimes you have to fake it if you want to make it. (Recap continues on next page)

We do see Chrissy trying to mend fences with Ashley on the reward feast. Chrissy knows she needs to bring one of the four over to flip the script and thinks Ashley is the most likely to break. Her argument that Ben will win if allowed to get to the end is fine, but what she should really be telling Ashley is that she needs to make a signature move if she wants any hopes of getting any votes at the end. And a signature move does not mean joining Devon and Lauren in taking Ben out, because that becomes a group decision. The signature move is making that move by yourself now! That’s a signature move!

Of course, that’s all kind of a lie. Because let’s play along and see what happens. Let’s say Ashley does flip and join Chrissy, Ryan, and Mike in getting Ben out. History has shown us that it is not the flipper who gets the credit, but rather the person who convinces them to flip. And rightfully so. If you are on the bottom and convince someone on the majority to join you and it works, that is a lot more impressive because you did all the work. Plus, the person who initiates the flipping was not aligned with the majority party that just got flipped on so does not get nearly as much bitterness directed their way as the person who actually deceived them.

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So what I’m saying is that at this point Ashley is not going to get a lot of credit no matter what she does. But Chrissy should have been hoping she was not schooled in the game and Survivor psychology enough to realize that and still tried to convince her she needed to make a big move anyway. (Of course, maybe she did and we simply didn’t see it.)

While Chrissy is enjoying her vengeance against Ben, Ben is creating some of his own back at her. He’s making a fake idol and wants to plant it so others find it. I have a few questions about this. First off, does he have a note with a previous idol to go with it? Because if not, is anyone going to buy that phony baloney? I wouldn’t. Also, Ben may have had a harsh back and forth with Chrissy, but he already embarrassed the minority alliance once with his super secret spy routine, so why do it again? What’s the tactical advantage here? Aren’t you just unnecessarily pissing off jury members? Don’t get me wrong: I’d laugh if someone tried to play it, but I’m a horrible person and am not then asking for that individual I just humiliated to hand me a million dollars.

While all this is going on, Lauren finds a rope that acts as the first half of a hidden immunity idol, with a note telling her she must get a shell in front of her platform at the next challenge to make it a complete idol. Hiding idols at challenges: stellar idea! Although this one was a little too easy to get. Here’s another idea I’ll pitch: Why not also try doing something fun here like saying that to retrieve the second half of the idol she would also have to be the third person to drop out of the challenge or something — forcing her to make a difficult decision. Is it worth dropping out of an immunity challenge to get an idol? It’s a decision you could make on the fly as well once you saw how you felt during that particular challenge. (Seeing as how I still haven’t heard back from anyone about the idea I pitched this season of hiding an individual immunity idol in the tribe immunity one, I don’t expect to get much feedback on this one either. I can’t say I blame them. Apparently I’ve hit my quota of annoying ideas to pitch.)

Speaking of immunity, off to the challenge we go to see who gets to win some new (temporary) jewelry. It’s that one where players have to stretch their arms out so their fingertips are pressed against discs on each side. You drop a disc, you’re out. The reason I approve of challenges like this is not because I enjoy watching people suffer. I mean, I do, but it’s actually seeing who has the grit to overcome that pain that I enjoy. It’s why I love the final Thailand coin challenge. It’s all about mastering your pain. (Something I have not been very adept at doing myself, as evidenced by the amount of incessant whining I have been doing the past week over what is essentially a glorified case of the sniffles.)

In any event, when Probst starts off a challenge by announcing, “This will hurt,” I know we’re in for a good time. Although whenever someone says something about being “in for a good time,” that does sound vaguely sleazy, as if someone is providing very specific “good time” services, if you know what I’m saying. Do you know what I’m saying? Hookers. I’m talking about hookers. I suppose since Chrissy and Keith are “in charge of love,” we should find out from them how much this good time is going to cost us.

I’ll tell you someone who is definitely not having a good time, and that is Ben. The former Marine is huffing and puffing and looks like he is about to blow himself down. Sure enough, he is the first one out of the contest, followed by Chrissy and Ryan. Then, after openly encouraging the Sex Doctor to drop out, Lauren out of nowhere carefully takes her discs and puts them down on the ground. Why she just did not let them drop and crash is beyond me. That she took the time and effort to carefully remove them was simultaneously hilarious, bizarre, and terrific.

Eventually it comes down to Devon and Ashley, with Devon negotiating a massage — at least someone is having a good time — to drop out and hand it to her. You really don’t see a lot of immunity negotiating on Survivor, which I suppose is a bit surprising since it happens EVERY SINGLE WEEK on Big Brother. Then again, Big Brother also has a sassy, wisecracking robot who enters the house to insult the contestants sooooooooo, you know…apples and oranges, I guess.

In any event, I don’t like this move by Devon to give up immunity at all, because as we will see later at Tribal, you never know what will happen. And I like it even less when Devon explains that “it is known across the tribe that Ashley and I are big allies.” First off, if that’s true and you are indeed known as big allies even within your own alliance, then you have done a poor job of hiding that. And then why would you point it out? Devon tried to backtrack later at Tribal and say he meant he was big allies with everyone in his alliance, but I still was not a fan of that.

So Ashley wins and then the crazy carnival of strategy shenanigans begins. We’ve gone over most of those events already so I will attempt to show remarkable restraint and not unnecessarily repeat myself, but there are a few things worth pointing out. First off, how incredibly awkward was that scene where Ben walked up to the water well after overhearing his alliance discussing whether to get rid of him? It was absolutely cringetastic. Also, does it count as a Spy Shack if you don’t have to build anything and just walk over and hear people talking about you? Will Tony Vlachos just try to hide inside Ben next time he comes to play? It also seems like this has been happening more and more lately — where people are being overheard talking strategy smack about someone else. (Recap continues on next page)

Also, some thoughts on Chrissy refusing to listen to or believe Ben. As the Sex Doctor said himself, “It is vengeance at this point.” On one hand, you could say that since Ben burned her before, it does not make strategic sense to trust him again. That can be situationally true, but look at the situation she is in: Whom else can she trust? What other options does she have? Ben shares a plan to get rid of Lauren, and yet then Chrissy says she still wants to vote out Ben? How does that make sense? (Unless that scene with the Sex Doctor was shown out of chronological order and Chrissy had already been approached by Lauren and Co. to vote Ben off, in which case, it totally does.)

Regardless, Chrissy clearly has an axe to grind with Ben, and if she was worried she could not trust him, here’s what she should have said. “Look, you duped me and made me look really foolish. Fine. I’m prepared to let that go. But I am telling you right here and right now, if you are lying to me about Lauren, not only will I not vote for you at the end of the game to win, but I will do everything within my power to influence the other jurors and tell them all the reasons why they should not vote for you either. I will poison that jury so hard that not even a lifetime of building up a tolerance for iocane powder will protect them. So if you are telling me the truth, I am with you and let’s go do this. But if you are lying to me yet again, your game is done. What’s it going to be?”

Now, let me be clear about something. I don’t think Chrissy should follow through on that threat and not vote for someone or poison the jury just because she got lied to. That would be super lame. (Unfortunately, it happens all the time.) You all know my feeling on bitter juries — it’s as if their entire view of the game is clouded by a thick layer of weak sauce. HOWEVER, there is nothing wrong with threatening to do that. It’s just one of many calculated bluffs that can be made throughout the game. And if you think the empty threat of repercussions will get you closer to the truth or further in the game, then you should absolutely 100 percent do it. Had Chrissy pulled this and said that to Ben, she likely would have been confident enough that he was on the level.

Speaking of reactions to Ben, let’s get into the fact that Ashley, Lauren, and Devon were killing Ben at Tribal for betraying them and being disloyal. Are they auditioning for roles on The Good Place or something? Because that was pure comedy. We’ve heard the three of them discuss the possibility of turning on Ben for days now. And his move to get rid of Lauren was only a reaction to hearing them talking about when to get rid of him! And yet now they are getting all holier than thou about trust? Puh-leeze.

Also, did Lauren really not bring her extra vote to Tribal? I couldn’t tell if that was fact or fiction. She didn’t use it, but that could just be because she was confident everyone was voting for Ben anyway — which they were. But if she did indeed leave it back at camp, that was yet another boneheaded move on her part this episode. You always bring every idol and advantage with you just because YOU NEVER TRULY KNOW. And if you get in trouble, you can’t play it if you don’t have it. If Lauren had brought it, she could have used that second vote on Mike, Chrissy, or Ryan to force a tie as a safety measure in case Ben played an idol (which he did). She still probably would gone out on the revote, but again, you don’t even have that option if you don’t bring it with you.

Another thing will never be played? Lauren’s idol. That was assured once Mike threw the half she had given him into the Tribal Council fire. “I’ve been wanting to do this for 15 years,” proclaimed the Sex Doctor, whose math is clearly a bit off seeing as how there were nether idols nor fake idols 15 years ago. But much like Bluto talking about the Germans bombing Pearl Harbor — forget it, he’s rolling.

So then all the craziness goes down, with so many sidebar conversations happening I half-thought I was watching an old rerun of The Practice. In the end, Ben’s idol saves him, and as the wise Jeffrey Probst so eloquently points out: “It was a Tribal Council in which everything was out in the open, and yet the one thing that had the most power was the only secret.”

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This whole season has served as Exhibit A as to the dangers of sharing information. Joe asked Cole to help him find an idol, and then Cole told everyone. Cole also told everyone about Jessica’s advantage. Ryan told Ben about his idol, and Ben immediately squealed to Devon about it, causing Devon to leave his day 1 alliance-partner. Lauren told everyone about her extra vote and it made her a target. Lauren’s idol was found with Ben and then Ben told everyone about it, making her an even bigger target, forcing her in her mind to give it up. “Jeff, here’s what people are saying at home,” said Ben at Tribal. “Don’t reveal that you have an idol or an advantage.” I feel like we have been saying that for years. And yet people keep doing it, and people keep paying the price.

And thank God they do, because it makes for fantastic television. This season has definitely picked up since the merge. It’s certainly not an all-time great for me, but it’s not an immediate afterthought either. I have a lot of meditation and thinking to do before I put it into my updated season-by-season rankings next week, that’s for sure. But that’s for next week. We’re not done with this week yet. That’s because we have an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode for you above. And our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst is always a must-read. Want to hear from the ousted Lauren? Well, the very first place you can do that is on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) at 9:40 a.m. ET, and we’ll have that up later on as well. Also, if you did not yet vote in our Survivor winner rankings, please do so and make your voice heard, as we will be posting the results next week. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on the Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Did you want to see Ben or Lauren go? Were you as underwhelmed by the loved ones challenge as I was? And who do you want to see win from those who are left? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with a penultimate scoop of the crispy!