Nobody's doing the math

By Dalton Ross
November 15, 2017 at 09:00 PM EST


S35 E8
  • TV Show
  • CBS

She’s a fraud. A total, absolute, and complete fraud. That can be the only takeaway from tonight’s Survivor. She was billed as a human calculator — able to compute large numbers in a single bound (and on little sleep or food). On her Survivor bio, she listed as one of her Personal Claims to Fame that she “graduated from Penn (as a math major!) and MIT.” She analyzed contestants like data when deciding early on which Hero to align with. But it was all a show — a dance, if you will.

Because here is one math equation that Chrissy — and seemingly every other person still in the game— was unable to solve on the spot at the latest Tribal Council: What is 11 minus 1?

That’s it! No decimal points required. No carrying numbers. No long division. No remainders. No pi. Just 11 minus 1. Hell, anyone who learned the ol’ “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” song should be able to figure that out. You take one down, pass it around, and now what are you left with? (Speaking of which, if there truly are 99 bottles of beer on the wall, I never understood why everyone has to share the same bottle before they take another one down. Doesn’t seem very sanitary. Why not just take five bottles down at once so everybody gets their own? I guess they want to serve these bottles Survivor reward “Family Serving”-style to see how big a sip everyone takes out of the communal beer. Oh, and make sure to check the bottom of the bottle for a secret clue!)

Eleven minus one. That was the apparently unsolvable math riddle placed before contestants this week. A mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a question mark, and not even Chrissy could penetrate its many layers. Or could she? Because frankly, it seems bizarre to me that 11 people could be sitting there at Tribal Council, yet Jeff Probst read only 10 votes before proclaiming it a tie, and not a single person would say “Ummmm, where’s the last vote?” (It’s worth pointing out that Probst doesn’t always read all the votes since he stops reading once it is mathematically impossible for someone else to be eliminated, but in a tie situation, he clearly is reading all of them. So again, how could nobody notice that unaccounted-for vote?)

Of course, Lauren used the advantage she found this week to save her vote for a future Tribal Council (thereby giving her two), but by the way she was being so sneaky and stealthy (especially with tossing her parchment behind the table on her revote), we have to assume not everybody knew about it. And yet nobody said a word. Which means one of three things happened.

Thing No. 1: These people are not paying very close attention to what is going on
While I have no problem whatsoever believing that JP or Cole might not figure out the missing vote — because, well, you know — it seems highly unlikely that folks like Joe, Ryan, and Chrissy would not notice. When you are playing Survivor, you are constantly doing the math and crunching the numbers. Even as the votes are being read, you are counting down how many are left and the magic number you need to get someone out. It seems practically impossible that not a single person would notice a missing vote.

Thing No. 2: Everybody already knew about Lauren’s advantage
This also seems highly unlikely, because if they did, why would she take great pains up at the voting urn to hide what she was doing with that Doug Henning-esque sleight of hand. Now, yes, it is quite conceivable that Ben may have told one other person, like Chrissy, who then blabbed to Ryan, who then blabbed to Devon, who then blabbed to Mike, who then blabbed to Cole…you get the idea…and Lauren didn’t realize everybody knew, but I don’t buy that. It certainly is possible that a few other people found out about it, but not everybody.

Thing No. 3: Someone did say something and it was edited out
Tribal Council can go on for well over an hour, sometimes longer, so a lot of stuff gets cut out for time. But the stuff that gets cut is usually because it’s either super boring, relates to story lines that are not part of the episode being presented, or tips off for the audience who is going home. But the confusion and chaos over why there were only 10 votes for 11 people sounds like TV gold, is directly part of one of the biggest story lines of the week, and does not spoil anything. Let me channel my inner Vizzini from The Princess Bride when I say that it seems inconceivable that such a scene could not make the final cut.

So what the hell happened here? Was it cluelessness? Did everybody already know? Was something said that did not make the show? Or was it something else? I went to the Hostmaster General for answers, and you can read his full response in our weekly Q&A, but suffice it to say that Probst confirms that nobody said a word about it at Tribal Council. So we can take that third option off the board right now.

While we’re on the subject of the advantage, I may as well share my thoughts about it here. You all know my feelings on advantages: I like them. But I also think they are becoming way too frequent. Throwing one advantage into a season is a nice little potential monkey wrench, but this third advantage of the season was actually introduced last week in episode 7 (before being found this week by Lauren). That is at a rate of almost one advantage every two episodes. (Note: I asked Chrissy to calculate that for me.) I’m sorry, but I just think that is way too much. Considering we have also already had four hidden immunity idols found, that makes a combined total of seven idols and advantages introduced in eight episodes — a rate of almost one per week. (Thanks, Chrissy!)

I am a big fan of idols and advantages, and they almost always reap huge dramatic rewards (which is why producers keep going back to them). But when you unleash that many, you are also unleashing too much haphazard randomness and luck into the proceedings, which then, in turn, devalues strong gameplay. Yes, there is often skill to finding some idols, but look at how Lauren found this latest advantage: She wasn’t searching for it, she merely needed another nail and there it was. Does she thereby deserve to have extra help that may end up coming at the expense of a better player? Not really. Again, I have no problem with this happening on a limited basis, but lately it has been far from limited.

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

So there’s my oft-repeated spiel on how idols and advantages need to be less of an every-episode occurrence (which has also diminished how special they truly are). But now let’s look at this specific advantage of Lauren being able to basically take a vote at this next Tribal Council and save it to cast at a later one. What do I think of that, independent of my feelings about the overabundance of advantages as a whole? I love it. Flat-out love it. I think it’s a really smart addition. That’s because it’s not just something for free. You have to lose something to gain something. You don’t just get an extra vote; you have to sacrifice your vote at what could be a pivotal Tribal to get it. That also then has the effect of encouraging more strategic thinking. Is it worth it? Do I risk not casting a key vote this time to gain power later? How do I go about making sure I’m covered now? Whom do I tell to make sure we covered on what we want to do here?

While I don’t like so many advantages coming into play, I really do like the direction the advantages have taken this season, forcing players to make difficult decisions instead of just handing them power with no strings attached. The two previous advantages were also contained to specific Tribal Councils, meaning they could not be hoarded, and thereby ensuring nobody else got Ciried. Also smart. So credit to the producers for also still finding inventive new ways to impact the game. Let’s just hope that they have the willpower to limit that impact. Okay, here’s the other important stuff worth breaking down from this episode. (Recap continues on page 2)

Slingshot Special
It can’t just be me. I can’t be the only one who had one thought and one thought only racing through my head as Probst announced that teams would be using slingshots to launch sandbags at five targets in the reward challenge. It wasn’t a thought so much as a vision. Ugh, I wish I could somehow transport that vision from my brain to the page so you could enjoy it with me. Oh, wait, I can!

Ah, Fishbach. The gift that just keeps on giving. Unfortunately, nobody hit the wrong target this time, but it was interesting watching the two different strategies. The red team (consisting of Ashley, Ben, Lauren, Sex Doctor, and Desi) went with a standard approach: Everyone who went through the obstacle course then fired on the slingshot until they hit something. The blue team (with JP, Chrissy, Ryan, Devon, and Cole) had another strategy entirely.

The rules stipulated that everyone had to run the course and shoot at (but not hit) the targets at least once. Also, after you hit one, you had to sub out for someone else. So the blue team had their first two players — Ryan and Chrissy — each only take one shot and then they were done. Cole also only shot a few times and he left. So that meant it was all JP and Devon — who ended up going tag-team back-and-forth style. When Ashley took forever to hit her target for red, blue took the lead and eventually won. A smart strategic play on their part, and a smart rule by the producers to allow for strategic thinking to enter what was otherwise a simple physical skills competition. And the interesting choices were only beginning.

Food for Thought
The winners of the reward got to enjoy a spaghetti dinner with bread, salad, and wine on a private island. (Yo, where’s the Olive Garden sponsorship? Are they not quite up to Outback Steakhouse™ standards? I was so looking forward to Sex Doctor waxing poetic on the succulent Meatball Stuffed Pizza Fritta®.) Ah, but it was not that simple. The food would be served family style, but everyone would eat individually in private in a specific order. And that order would be set by Joe “The Mena Event” Mena, because he had pulled the white rock giving him a FastPass (without competing) to the reward.

So you have two interesting things at play here. First off, how would Joe set the order that people would eat? Would he put himself and Cole at the start so they could down all the food (or just bury what they didn’t want and say they ate it) to keep themselves strong and their opponents weak? Or would Joe play more political and put himself last? Essentially, he had to choose whether to play a physical or social game — and Joe chose the latter.

While I tend to think that is generally the right move, there was another factor to consider. With an idol having just been played, that meant that a new idol was out there somewhere, and a clue to that idol was likely hidden somewhere at the feast. So while clearly the right social move was for Joe to put himself last (especially because he didn’t even compete), there is definitely an argument to be made that Joe may have been better off putting himself first to locate the clue.

After all, the opposition don’t appear to be Joe fans anyway, so why not just keep going strong, get the idol, turn the tables later, and hope they respect you for your all-out gameplay if you end up in the final three? There is certainly a case to be made that the idol approach may have served Joe better than trying to win friends (in vain).

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

Speaking of that idol clue, it was indeed at the spaghetti feast, on the plate itself under all the pasta. Birthday boy Devon went first and didn’t really eat enough to see it. JP did eat enough to see, but he’s JP so it wasn’t like he was going to figure it out. Then it was Cole’s turn. After telling us how he was going to “eat as much as I want,” Cole found the clue on the plate. I’ll give Cole some points for putting the apron over the plate to cover the clue, but DUDE! GET RID OF THE PLATE!!!

This seemed so obvious to me. Suffice it to say it was not obvious to Cole. And then, surprisingly, Chrissy found the clue and also left the plate, even saying she did so because she wanted Ryan to find it. Why not just ditch the plate and tell Ryan about the clue, ensuring that Joe doesn’t also get a peek? I don’t understand her logic here, unless she was just trying to justify after the fact why she left the plate, which, now that I think about it, is probably a lot more likely.

This happens a lot on Survivor. Think about it: Contestants in those interviews are usually describing after the fact what they did and why they did it, but they can tweak and shift that narrative depending on what else happened in between the action that took place and the interview. Did Chrissy really leave the plate there so Ryan could see it — which makes no sense for the reasons outlined above — or did she realize after the fact that was not the smart play so just threw in that line in an attempt to explain her lapse in judgment?

Fortunately, Ryan restored sanity to the proceedings, burying the plate so The Mena Event would not learn the whereabouts of the new idol. But not unlike Frank Stallone, the idol drama was far from over. I’ve also chosen to do the right thing and gloss over the fact that the show edited together a montage that implied Devon was basically having super orgasmic sex with his pasta. (Maybe he thought it was Olive Garden and he was contractually obligated to do so?)

(Recap continues on page 3)

I have a rule. I won’t drink anything for an hour before seeing any movie at a theater. If the film starts at 7:15, I stop any and all liquid consumption at 6:15. Then I pee at 7:14 so I am good to go for the movie and not spending half the time worrying about if I have to pee or may have to pee at some point during the film. The anticipation of monitoring whether I may possibly need to pee is oddly worse than actually needing to pee. (SIDE NOTE: There are also rules in effect regarding water drinking and airplanes, but they are a bit more complicated and vary depending on aisle or window seating.)

Evidently, if I ever am completely stripped of my senses and decide to be on a reality television show, it appears I now have to come up with some Survivor urination rules as well. Rule numero uno: Do not go pee if you have just returned from a reward challenge with a clue to the hidden immunity idol — a clue that others likely saw as well because you were too dumb to get rid of the evidence. I call this rule “Coleplay” — partly because that’s exactly what Cole did this week and partly because it sounds like Coldplay, which is the band fronted by Chris Martin, who had a “conscious uncoupling” with Gwenyth Paltrow, whose last name starts with the letter P, which sounds the same as the word “pee”, which is exactly what Cole should not have been doing. See, Coleplay. Makes total sense.

So while Cole was off in the urination station, Ryan went to go get the idol hidden under the tribe flag. It appears to have been buried in a pretty shallow manner — I thought Probst always said you had to “DIG DEEP!” — because Ryan retrieved it pretty quickly. But then the real fun began.

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

First off, did you notice JP just walking right by Ryan as Ryan was clearly digging for and retrieving the idol? The dude did not even break stride! JP!!! How can you not see that?!? It was happening right in front of your face! (Maybe JP actually did see it but was worried someone would once again make him strip and hop around naked just for being in the general proximity of an idol.) But then Ryan asked Chrissy to cover up the area where he was digging. The freshly relieved Cole saw this and practically knocked the mathlete over as he tried to get it. Then Ben muscled in. Then Joe joined the party. Everyone was wrestling and fighting for an idol that was not even there! Oh, and then the flag fell down, serving as the perfect punctuation point to this absurd scene.

At this point, Ben was insistent that Cole had the idol stuffed down his trousers — is that a hidden immunity idol in your pants or are you happy to see me? — and Cole seemed a little unsure as well. First he pretended like he had it, then he said he didn’t have it, but then he told us that he was bluffing to everyone as if he did have it. Honestly, I think Cole confused himself as to whether he had the idol or not.

Hold on to Your Pole
We’ve seen this immunity challenge before. Everyone had to stand on a narrow beam while balancing a statue with a “long pole.” (Probst’s words, not mine.) Every 10 minutes, the players had to move back farther from the statue. Clearly this was a challenge that is harder than it sounds, as five people dropped out in the first five minutes.

I assumed that this competition — like the one last week — would end up with two women battling it out due to their smaller foot size giving them an advantage on the narrow beam. But, as usual, I have no idea what I am talking about, as it came down to Cole versus JP, with Cole winning. There are a million more Cole and his pole jokes to make here so I will just move on before I get myself in trouble. (Thank God there were no balls in this one.)

Joe’s Hail Mary
So it was not looking good for the outnumbered Healers. With that in mind, Joe decided to reach into his bag of tricks. His target: Ben. That makes sense. When someone like Ben starts to emerge as a ringleader and favorite to win, you have to do one of two things: You have to make everyone realize why he is the biggest threat and one that needs to be taken care of sooner rather than later, or you have to spread lies to make people mistrust him.

But what we saw from Joe before Tribal Council was neither of those things. Instead, we saw him accusing Ben to his face of swearing on the Marines to three different people. Whether Ben did this or not (and Joe admitted that he made it up) is somewhat moot. This just isn’t the best strategy for Joe to get rid of Ben. And at this point in the game, a direct confrontation with Ben is counterproductive. Why bother going last at the reward feast to get people on your side if you’re going to then undo all that work the very next day? Because attacking Ben on a personal level and bringing his military past into it is only going to serve to rally people back behind him. Joe is right to try and sow the seeds of doubt upon the majority, but doing this on such a personal level was not the way to do it. Work the edges of the alliance, not the heart of it. (Recap continues on page 4)

Tribal Council
Joe does what he should do at Tribal, finally pointing out how Ben is running the game. Well, what Joe really should be doing at Tribal is making crazy faces, punching the air, yelling, “DEUCES!” and just being an all-around lunatic. That’s what I want The Mena Event to be doing at every Tribal, but drawing attention to another big target is also good.

However, Chrissy’s admonishment to “stop talking — none of us want to listen to you anymore” shows you how much damage Joe has done to himself, at least with some of the people out there. Yet Joe is not the one they vote out. After Lauren takes her advantage out of her bra and then stuffs a parchment back down there, we get to the vote and it is a 4-4 tie between Joe and Desi (with one each for Ben and Lauren).

Beyond the curious fact that nobody appeared to notice the missing vote is the fact that both Cole and Sex Doctor flipped, voting for Joe. Not only that, but Joe and Desi did not vote for the same person, which also seems odd.

With no idol played, I figured Joe was a goner on the revote. After all, he had already played two idols, had been described by many as the scariest player in the game, and greatly annoyed people like Ben and Chrissy. But no! Instead it was Desi who was voted out and became the first member of the jury. I may have been surprised, but Joe seemed downright offended he was not deemed a big enough target to take out. Go back and watch him as he shakes his head in disgust as Desi goes on the revote — he appears insulted that it’s not him.

Is he right? Should it have been Joe? My gut says so. Yes, Desi is a threat in endurance competitions, but not every challenge will be one and she was not likely to go on a sustained winning streak. Joe is more likely to cause strategic mischief back at camp and work every angle and margin to flip the majority. Bottom line: He’s a more dangerous player. They’ve all been saying it all season, so why not do something about it when you had a chance and — more importantly — when he did not have an idol to play? Because again, he is a lot more likely to find the next one in play than Desi is.

You could try to make the argument that Joe is less liked and therefore a better candidate to bring to the end, but that is a huge risk. However people may feel about Joe personally, they do seem to fear his game, and if he can make it to the final 3 playing that aggressive a game, then that very well could be rewarded with million dollar votes. (See: Vlachos, Tony.) When you have an opportunity to take out someone like that, you do it. Only they didn’t. Now they all have to hold their breath that 17 billion more advantages are not unleashed, thereby giving him another get-out-of-jail-free card.

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

You probably feel like you’ve been in jail having to read these 4,000 words of nonsense, but I will now reward you for your efforts with the deleted scene from last night’s episode, right here after the West Coast airing. Plus, you should definitely read my weekly Q&A with Jeffrey Probst, and check out our exit interview on Thursday at 9:40 a.m. ET with the ousted Desi when she calls into EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105). And for more Survivor scoop delivered right to your digital doorstep, you can follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

And now it’s your turn. Do you like the latest advantage twist? Are there too many advantages and idols in the game? And did they make the right move in ousting Desi instead of Joe? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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