A tribe swap episode ends with a disadvantage being unleashed on one player
I Don't Like Having Snakes Around
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Okay, I’m going to tell you something. But you have to promise not to tell anyone because it’s supes embarrassing. I once had a rat tail. Now, in my defense, I didn’t know I had a rat tail. I didn’t ask for a rat tail. I was 13 years old, went to get my hair trimmed, and the barber at the cheesy faux French haircuttery called Mon Salon said, “I’m going to give you something special.”

At first, I thought he meant something gross. Then I thought he just meant a special super-good haircut. But when he was done, it looked exactly the same as every other haircut this guy had given me ever since my parents started bringing me there because they caught me inserting an issue of Playboy into a National Geographic at our previous barber shop. (They did not carry Playboy at Mon Salon.)

So I went along my merry way, oblivious to the horror on my head until I got home and my mother looked at me and asked, “What is that?” It was only then when I saw what that fake French bastard had done to me. “CUT IT OFF!” I screamed. “CUT IT OFF!” But it was too late. The damage had been done. I had been permanently blemished.

I tell you this because it was one of the most traumatic moments of my entire life and it’s good and therapeutic to share such personal horror stories, but if this ever got out I would be publicly humiliated so please whatever you do don’t…Wait, what? Cole already told you?! DAMMIT! I knew I couldn’t trust that guy!

Hold on, he also told you about the time I wanted to be seen on TV so went to a football game with a big banner I had made, but idiotically wrote the banner in pencil so nobody could read what the hell it said? THAT SON OF A BITCH! Oh, and he also told you how on my first day of high school I put egg whites in my hair to impress everyone with my super spiky punk-rock style and then had to spend the next month convincing everyone to stop calling me Porcupine? THAT MISERABLE GOOD-FOR-NOTHING LOUSE! Oh, and he also blabbed about how I get very confused whenever I shop at Uniqlo because I can’t figure out whether it should be pronounced Uni-Qlo or Uniq-Lo? DAMN HIM TO HELL!!!

What the funk is wrong with that dude? Homie can’t keep his mouth shut. Last week he needlessly started telling everyone about Joe’s hidden immunity idol and how they should get him out. The plan wasn’t that bad, actually, but the timing was terrible. You don’t have that conversation until after you’ve lost an immunity challenge so that way you minimize the time and chance Joe has to figure out what is going on. (Even if nobody goes behind your back and tells him, people can pick up easily on visual clues — something Joe himself would claim to do at the end of tonight’s episode, but we’ll get to that later.)

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So that was a bad move, but it was nothing compared to the completely nonsensical nonsense Cole was spewing this week. After his island showmance partner Jessica pulled a magical advantage out of a bag of chips apparently made by Willy Wonka, she told her fellow Healers Cole and the Sex Doctor. Now, I could quibble with telling the Sex Doctor. What if he was planning to bolt? No real reason to include him in that conversation, but whatever.

After the tribe swap, there was a clear division on Yawa with the three Healers being in power and the one Hero (Ben) and one Hustler (Lauren) being on the outs. So then, for some inexplicable reason, Cole goes and decides to tell the opposition about Jessica’s advantage. “Jessica’s secret is kind of like my olive branch to give to people,” Cole says. “I can extend this information and maybe they’ll see me as more trustworthy.” Okay, first of all, it is most assuredly NOT your olive branch to give. Second, you don’t need them to trust you. You need your alliance to trust you! Even Lauren was like, “Why is he telling me this?” Information is power, and Cole keeps giving his and Jessica’s power away. It was a downright bizarre move.

It’s also the reason I don’t think I could be allies with Cole in this game. As I have written ad nauseam over the years (and was echoed by Ryan last week), you need predictability in an alliance partner and have to be able to count on the fact that they will stick to the script. Unfortunately, Cole thinks he is in the freakin’ Groundlings or some other improv troupe and that he can run off half cocked and do what he wants without consulting the group. Dangerous.

Dangerous, but yes, also hilarious. The scene where Sex Doctor swam out to tell Jessica that Lauren knew about the advantage was priceless. At first, Cole completely denied telling her. “That serves me no benefit to tell her,” he said. YES! EXACTLY! NO ADVANTAGE! THANK YOU! But then, after several awkward silent beats, he looked up like a kid with crumbs all over his face standing next to an off-limits cookie jar. “I mentioned it to Ben.”

Dude, you can’t even lie well! You either tell the truth or you commit to the lie — none of this in-between garbage. God, Cole you are so infuriating for such a seemingly pleasant, well-meaning person. And now I am angry at myself for being so angry at you because you are a nice dude and now I feel like the bad guy here. But you’re the bad guy! I’m not the bad guy, you’re the bad guy! Because this is really bad gameplay that is undermining the person most important to you in the game. GET IT TOGETHER!
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Okay, one other thing I want to hit here at the top before we get into the other odds and ends of the episode. Something seismic may have just happened on Survivor, ladies and gentlemen. No, I am not referring to the fact that we actually heard the name “Roark” uttered, but rather what was introduced with the advantage — or disadvantage, if you will.

We know Survivor has gone a little advantage crazy lately. We had three different advantages last season, and now two this season already in the first four episodes. I’m of two minds about this. I like having one advantage a season, but I think doing any more than that is overkill. I don’t want every Tribal Council to be a flurry of idols and advantages because as great and dramatic as those are, they lose their power and impact if you do it every single week. Plus, it adds too much chance and randomness — “Hey, I just happened to be assigned the right bag of chips!” — into the proceedings, which often comes at the expense of skill and solid gameplay. As a viewer, I still want to feel like the best players are being rewarded for their effort rather than being knocked out by a spate of random luck…although luck obviously plays a huge part in this game already with tribe swaps and what have you.

So I do think the show needs to tone it down a bit with the Advantagepalooza. Sometimes less can be more. However, producers did something extremely interesting here by making Devon think he was on the receiving end of a mystery advantage — only to reveal when he played it at Tribal Council that it was actually a disadvantage, and that he was blocked from voting. (Jessica chose to block him once the new Levu tribe lost the immunity challenge. Interesting how she did not choose to protect her fellow Healers Desi and Joe by blocking one of the Heroes since the most obvious scenario involved the two Heroes and Healers facing off with Devon as the swing vote. What if Devon had sided with the Healers instead and then Jessica nullified his vote? Whoops!)

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Anyway, the twist is what it is, with someone from one tribe once again impacting what happens at a Tribal Council for another. But let’s look deeper into how this could potentially play out moving forward with a sight tweak. I asked Jeff Probst about this, and you can see his full answer in our weekly Q&A, but the big point is this: Devon had to use the “advantage.” Even if he felt for some odd reason that there was something negative about it and so therefore did not stop Probst before voting to use it, he would have been informed that he had to. So there was no choice involved on his part. But what if there was?

Let’s say you are on season 37 of Survivor. We’ll call it Survivor: Liberals v. Moderates v. Conservatives. No, wait! Shoot, that’s season 38. Damn! Spoiler alert. I forgot, season 37 is actually Survivor: Jocks v. Jerks v. Jesuits. So your tribe loses the immunity challenge when Peyton — who is originally from the Jerks tribe, but he’s actually not so bad. Plus, he was All-State in basketball, so what’s that all about??? — freezes on the word puzzle that was supposed to spell out “A Date With Me at Tribal Council.” Bummer.

So you all lose, but on your way to Tribal, you find a note in your bag that says you have an advantage that can only be read and played once you get there. So here is my question to you: If you have the choice, and after seeing what happened to Devon, do you play it? With that, we could possibly be entering into a new era of Survivor. In the past, whenever you found or played something, it was to your benefit. But what the producers have done here — whether they even meant to or not — is opened up the possibility that there could now be disadvantages floating around. It’s like that covered mystery item at the Survivor food auction, only with much bigger stakes…as opposed to, you know, steaks.

Other shows have dabbled in this chicanery. Big Brother has had things like Pandora’s Box or that goofy Tree of Temptation where you had the opportunity to pick an apple that would have either an advantage or disadvantage in the game. Might we see that start to extend into Survivor as well? Is it Let’s Make a Deal time where the players will have to decide if they want to risk it and find out what’s behind door No. 2?

It certainly offers a potentially interesting twist. You have a power that could help you or hurt you. Do you go bold and take a chance by playing it, or do you play it safe and keep the wild card out of the game? The producers have an opportunity to try something out here in the future. And if it takes hold and becomes another Survivor standby, then you can pinpoint this moment with Devon as the time where it all changed.

Of course, Devon had no reason whatsoever to think there was the possibility that something bad would happen, so he went ahead and stopped Probst to use it. But now that this has happened, what does the next person do? That’s what interests me, and I’m curious to see if producers give someone else that choice, and what that someone does with it. A new era in Survivor twistery may have just dawned.

Okay, let’s get into the other notable things that went on this episode, starting on the next page.
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“Drop Your Buffs”
It’s a weird thing to say — drop your buffs. And it sounds a bit dirty too. Those three words can also make or break your game depending on whom you do or don’t end up with. So here’s how the new tribes shook out:

LEVU (blue)

SOKO (yellow)
Roark (at least I think that’s her name)

YAWA (red)
Sex Doctor

The only people who got royally screwed in the tribe swap were Ben and Lauren, who ended up in a clear minority against the three Healers on Yawa. Roark and Devon were alone on their new tribes, but that just makes them valuable swing votes. What could be interesting to see is if the Healers on Levu and Soko consider throwing a challenge to keep Roark (and the Healers numbers) safe heading into a merge. Not something I would endorse because I never think it is wise to put yourself at Tribal Council, especially with so many idols and advantages running around — but something I could see some considering. And, as mentioned, Roark is probably safe as the swing vote on that tribe anyway. (Unless the Heroes and Hustlers recognize the need to oust a Healer for future numbers and team up to get rid of her.)

The only other thing I noticed about the tribe swap is how uninvested I was in the results. Why is that? Why am not head over heals in love with this cast? They seem nice enough. But this group just appears to lack a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s a spark. While there are some big personalities and colorful characters (Joe, Ryan, Jessica, Chrissy, Sex Doctor), as a whole the group seems a bit charisma-free. They are the type of people I think I would actually get along with quite well…however, that doesn’t mean they make for great television. But we’ll see. It’s early! Maybe I’m wrong! Perhaps this is another Millennials vs. Gen X situation where it gains momentum and gets better as it goes along. Or, perhaps not.

Reward Challenge
I don’t have a lot to say about the reward challenge other than: It was nice to have a reward challenge. Players were tied together and had to untangle themselves while going through obstacles and then pull a sled filled with puzzle pieces that then needed to be put together. Like I said, it was fine. Not the best of the season — because there have been some super-cool challenges so far — but fine. The Sex Doctor did smash Jessica’s fingers at one point, but the only real notable thing was Yawa winning peanut butter and jelly, and Jessica getting her advantage chips.

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The Dirty Jers
Jersey girls may not pump their own gas, but they sure are appreciative when people give them advantages in the game. Chrissy and Ryan solidified their Garden State connection (exit 151 comin’ at ya!) when Ryan informed her that he bestowed upon her the super idol advantage. He said he did it because “I just had a good vibe,” casually omitting the fact that she was throwing up after that first challenge and he was clearly trying to make the Heroes tribe weaker by keeping her. But why get hung up on the details!

So hugs followed and Chrissy told us she now felt loved. Awwww….To quote the Church Lady: Well, isn’t that special. Of course, I am a dark and sick person, so a good part of me couldn’t help but think that Chrissy could possibly be better off by getting Ryan out of the game. Not that I want that to happen. Ryan was my episode 1 to pick to win it all and the last thing I want is for my historic streak of futility to now extend to a full 20 seasons straight. But think about it: Chrissy did not use the idol Ryan gave her and mentioned that she might want to use it later in some capacity because even though it is powerless, the only people who know that are her, Ryan, and Devon. Chrissy probably does not even know that Devon is in possession of this information as well, so getting Ryan — who could run back to the Hustlers at the merge — out could, in her mind, preserve that secret.

It’s a tough call, especially when you consider that the Soko tribe is two Heroes and two Hustlers, with a single swing vote Healer. So if you’re Chrissy, what do you do? Do you try to broker some cross alliance to take out the swing vote, or do you target the person who can use that power of information against you at a later date? Like I said, tough call.

Immunity is Up for Grabs
Pretty nifty beginning to this challenge as teams had to race out to a crate of puzzle pieces and then maneuver it through a table obstacle and under a net. That doesn’t necessarily sound super exciting, but it played out nicely. First off, Devon got hit by a pole in his…um, pole. It was the type of Survivor crotch busting usually reserved for blindfolded challenges. And the net was really low and looked really difficult. No crotch injuries on that portion, unfortunately, but still pretty cool. Whatever the red tribe is called won, and the yellow tribe — do I really need to finally learn these tribe names? — took second place, leaving the Blue Man (and Woman) Group as the losers.

Oh, in the hidden Easter eggs department, it seems that Jeff Probst and Dave Grohl are bros. They like to prank each other and do other stuff that bros do. (If I had a bro, I would totally do this kind of stuff as well. I’m super jealous.) Anyhoodle, they’re buddies, and if you had any doubt about that, go back and watch the immunity challenge again as Probst snuck the titles of six different Foo Fighters songs into his play-by-play. I have to say, it’s pretty seamless. I mean, it’s not like he just started yelling out “Weenie Beenie” or “Hey, Johnny Park!” for no reason. That would make no sense. And as much as he loves a pulsating alterna-rock anthem, Probst could not just talk wistfully to himself about “Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners” while Lauren was struggling to find the right key for the lock. It doesn’t work like that. The song titles have to make sense, and he worked them in pretty well. I mean, as a D.C. punk rock guy, I would have been even more impressed had Jeff worked the titles to six Scream songs in there, but I’m not sure how familiar the Hostmaster General is with Grohl’s humble beginnings. (You can watch a clip of the secret shenanigans above.)
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Joe Puts on a Show
Sometimes it’s all in the delivery. Joe’s plan to tell Devon that the Heroes wanted him out was not a bad one. Devon was the swing and Joe needed to bring him over to their side. Easiest way to do that is to make him think the other people want him out. But often it’s not what you’re saying but how you say it. In trying to get Devon to buy the lie, Joe made the mistake of overselling it. As a guy who prides himself on reading facial reactions, Joe clearly has a blindspot for how he is perceived by others.

We already saw last week how the other Healers want Joe out, and now Devon says, “I thought I was being talked to by a car salesman” during Joe’s lie. “Joe’s a snake and I don’t like having snakes around.” Hey, who does? Certainly not one Indiana Jones, that’s for sure. So I don’t hate Joe’s move, just his execution.

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And this was only the start of the good idea/bad follow-through on Joe’s part. Knowing he had an idol, but also knowing that he wanted to keep Desi alive so he had the numbers, Joe wanted to make sure the target was firmly on him so he could use the idol and keep both of them safe. Again, smart. But again, Joe was unable to calibrate with any subtlety whatsoever. He came on way too strong, starting a ruckus at the shelter and then apparently forgetting what he was doing in the first place and yelling “You all may be surprised tonight! I guarantee you that.”

Why in the name of Tata the Bushman would you blatantly advertise you have an idol if you want people to throw votes on you? It makes absolutely no sense. And do you know what makes even less sense? Not throwing the votes on him! Clearly we had yet another “I know that you know that I know that you know” type of situation. The only thing missing was a vial of iocane powder and this whole ridiculous situation would have been complete.

So all that was left was to see whom he would actually end up playing it for. Of course, this being Joe, he had to make a huge spectacle while doing it. “I got something for you, Jeff,” he announced as the votes were about to be read. And then, instead of just handing it over, he ripped a page out of the book of Eliza Orlins and hemmed and hawed to milk as much drama out of the situation as humanly possible before finally making a decision. “I can keep it for myself or give it to somebody,” he announced to no one in particular. (Seriously, who was he taking to there?) Then, after a super long pause. “I’ll keep it for myself.”

OF COURSE YOU WILL! Joe does not have the DNA of a guy who would hand his idol over to someone else. Because if he did, and they voted for him, it would haunt him until his dying breath. So he can crow all he wants about reading Ashley’s face, but I don’t think there is any chance whatsoever that Joe gives up that idol no matter what Ashley’s face is saying. (Also, can we agree that what Ashley’s face was actually saying at Tribal Council was probably something along the lines of “Wow, I really miss JP and the size of his…fish”?)

Joe also made no attempt to keep his emotions in check during the reading of the votes, punching the air repeatedly, taunting the losers, and appearing to attempt to vote out the fire pit in front of him. A bit over the top and another sign that as hard as Joe is playing — and I love people who play hard — his social game is definitely lacking.

Farewell to Alan
Crazy Joe being safe meant that crazy Alan had to go. To his credit, Alan did not seem bitter about what transpired. He gave Joe credit for playing a hell of game and admitted that they got him. We didn’t really see a whole lot of Alan outside of him making JP hop around naked to prove he did not have a hidden immunity idol, so I don’t really know what to make of the guy. Was there a long-term strategy there (outside of trying to break up what he saw as a power couple)? I have no idea. I do know he used to play for the Dallas Cowboys — making him, like, the one billionth Survivor to play for or coach that team — so for that reason alone I’m glad he’s gone. Rooting against someone solely because of what football team they suited up for is about as stupid as it gets. And I’m stupid.

Interestingly enough, the vote block ended up playing no role, since Alan would have gone home regardless of what Devon did. So that makes two advantages that have yet to impact the game at all. (Although the seeds of Ryan gifting his now-powerless idol to Chrissy could still bear fruit later.)

Okay, time for goodies. All sorts of goodies! If you want to watch me break down the episode with Andrea Boehlke, Parvati Shallow, Zeke Smith, and Celebrity Apprentice champion Matt Iseman, then head over to PeopleTV. (We do it live every week right after the episode airs and then it is archived for future viewing.) Speaking of watching things, you can check out an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. I have my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, and the first place you can hear from the voted-out Alan is on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) at 9:40 a.m. ET. That interview can also be found later on the EW Morning Live podcast. And, of course, to have these goodies sent directly to you, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Okee dokee, now it’s your turn. Do you think Joe ever had any intention of giving his idol to Desi? Would you trust Cole in an alliance to keep his yap shut? And do you think the show should start introducing more disadvantages — with choices whether to use them — into the game? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.