Survivor is the best. It just is. I mean, you know this, or you wouldn’t be wasting your time reading a recap of something you just saw. But you are reading it. And I take it about 10 steps further by spending all this precious time that I could be using to, I don’t know, go scroll through Instagram or something for the 518th time today to write about it. And I do it. Why? Because Survivor is the best.
I was reminded of that during this latest episode, and it had nothing to do with any blindsides. It had nothing to do with the Natalie–Jeremy feud. It had nothing to do with the color of Jeff Probst’s hat. In fact, nobody even had to say anything to make this moment so special. But as I sat there on my couch wondering why Milwaukee’s Best is so damn impossible to find these days, I looked up at my TV screen. And there were people being told to “Come on in, guys!” by a dude looking at his feet. And it was POURING!
It wasn’t just raining, it was raining cats and dogs. Actually, someone call the Weather Girls because we appeared about two degrees away from it raining men. (Halleluiah, it’s raining men, amen!) So these poor saps did what they were told by the host and “came on in.” But you could barely even see them due to the torrent of water coming down. To quote my good friend LL Cool J — I actually did sleep in his hotel suite once; long story — it was destruction, terror, and mayhem out there. And as I watched these contestants stand around with their goofy sometimes-all-you-can-do-is-laugh smiles plastered across their faces while they watched their reward blankets and pillows gets absolutely drenched, all I could think to myself was… seriously, why can’t I find Milwaukee’s Best anywhere anymore?
But then I thought something else: Where else on network television can you see something like this? Everything else seems to be either stuffed with laugh tracks or people solving procedural crime cases. I mean, last time I checked there were approximately 8 billion shows with the word “Chicago” in the title. And then there is Survivor. No sound stages. No studio audiences. No craft service tables filled with bags of Cheetos that you know you shouldn’t eat because your breath will be terrible and your hands will be covered in orange dust but THEY ARE JUST SO DAMN GOOD!
None of that stuff. Instead, we have 18 people just getting brutalized by Mother Nature while a host stands there and openly laughs at them. Once again, to all those viewers who think Survivor is fake — and I still meet these people on a semi-regular basis — this is the real deal. And in an odd way, this show is at its most beautiful when it is this miserable. I’m not sure it was challenges in rainstorms that producers had it mind when they first made the move to HD in season 17 (Survivor: Gabon), but it is in scenes like that where the high definition of the location and the trials and tribulations of the contestants really comes into literal and metaphorical focus. Put more simply, it just looks badass.
That’s why even if you have an episode or a season that may not be firing on all cylinders (and thankfully this season has been firing so far), Survivor still brings you an experience you can’t find anywhere else. And, for me, the real emotions you see on the faces of the contestants as they are put through the ringer out there far surpasses any fancy acting mumbo-jumbo you may see on scripted shows.
Again, people walking into a challenge. It’s nothing! It’s a throw-away moment. It’s just so they can get to a mat — that’s literally the only reason they bother to show it. Nothing interesting is supposed to happen there. It’s just people getting from point A to point B. But in those precious few seconds here — as these poor, miserable saps made their way through a torrential downpour — those seconds reminded me of why I fell in love with this show in the first place. And it had nothing to do with knee socks.
Okay, let’s round up what else went down this week.
Things start over on the David beach in the aftermath of the Jessica blindside, and everyone wants to put the heat on Gabby. Bi wants her out because she feels betrayed by the person that she assumed would do whatever she told her to do. Nick wants her out because he is insistent on making this Mason Dixon alliance name happen at all costs. Seriously, I think the guy is still reeling from the Thoroughbreds alliance name not really taking off so he’s going to make sure Mason Dixon happens no matter what.
At least Christian still likes Gabby. And Gabby likes Christian. The two have an in-depth discussion comparing and contrasting Slamtown and Whimpville. We don’t get to hear all the pros and cons of each society, but personally, I would prefer the latter over the former. Frankly, Slamtown seems like something of a nightmare. For one thing, I have no desire to get slammed. Secondly, I can only assume that Slamtown is filled with aggressive Alphas all doing aggressive things. (You know, the “Slamtonians”.) Whimpville sounds far more chill. Plus, it would most likely be a lot easier to run things in Whimpville than Slamtown. You could be like Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles: the self-proclaimed “King of the Dips—s.”
While all the conversations on the David tribe seem to revolve around or through Gabby, the spotlight on Goliath is firmly on Jeremy — right where he likes it. Jeremy has been playing a million miles per hour. The problem is, he’s way too obvious about it. Stealth R Us, this guy ain’t, let’s just put it that way. Even his one friend on the tribe, Mike, admits they have only bonded because “he bosses me around” and openly tells us how he doesn’t want to get taken down with him.
Jeremy notices there are a lot of smaller side conversations happening around camp. This is a good thing to notice. Keeping tabs on who is sneaking off with whom is a valuable tool in information gathering. What is not advisable, however, is then calling a tribe meeting and telling people to stop talking to each other for the sake of some nebulous version of “tribe unity.”
Dude, settle down! You’re running around as if you’re all hyped up on Jolt cola when instead you should be downing nothing but Mello Yello. To make matters worse, Jeremy then goes and tells everyone how he found an idol in Dan’s jacket. On its surface, that’s not such a terrible thing to do because it paints a target on Dan. But everything in this game is situational, and the situation here is that the Goliath tribe already thinks Jeremy is sneaky. So him blabbing to everyone about how he snuck into Dan’s jacket to find the idol only reinforces that opinion and makes him appear that much more untrustworthy. But the real Jeremy fireworks are yet to come.
Let’s first get to the aforementioned immunity challenge in the rain. In this contest, one player from each tribe must maneuver through an obstacle, and then three others members must work to untangle ropes. Then, two more tribe members must hook a sled and pull it back before the last two people solve a pyramid puzzle. This is clearly a challenge in which the selection of who does what is crucial. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Because like all challenges, it’s all about the puzzle. You win the puzzle, you win the challenge.
That doesn’t mean the rest of the challenge isn’t worth watching. I love watching the physical stages of challenges. I love watching the folks who tear through a course and I love watching the folks who struggle to keep up. I love when super random things happen like Carl inadvertently channeling that annoying little kid from that Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling movie and yelling “OVER THE TOP, DAVIE! OVER THE TOP!!!!”
By the way, can we pause for the cause to acknowledge that there was a major motion picture about arm-wrestling? What the hell was happening in our country in 1987 where it was perfectly normal for someone to walk into a movie studio conference room, shut the doors emphatically, pause for dramatic effect, and say “Two words: arm-wrestling”? And in what universe do a whole bunch of other people at the table then look at each other and start high-fiving like crazy?!? What sort of world is that? And why can’t I live in it again? (Incidentally, and I don’t want to get too far off-topic, but am I the only person that realizes Hugh Jackman’s Real Steel is basically a remake of Over the Top? I mean, substitute robots for arm-wrestling, sure, but otherwise — same movie. Just sayin’.)
Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, right — how the physical parts of challenges have very little bearing on the actual result and are merely window dressing. That’s true, but it’s damn good window dressing and I look forward to it each and every week. So back to the puzzle — and a little puzzle drama erupts when Natalie insists on staying in the challenge to do the puzzle for the Goliaths, who then sit out Natalia and Angelina instead. Will that come back to haunt them? Spoiler alert: It will!
Even though the Goliaths have a very slight lead going into the final stage, Natalie and Alison are outdone by Christian and Gabby for the David’s first immunity victory — while Angelina, who was forced to sit when Natalie insisted on staying in, claims she saw how to solve the puzzle from the sidelines. But the Davids victory does not come without a cost. We see after the challenge that Bi hurt her knee, and then we hear Probst at the end say that medical will take a look at it. This is usually not a good sign. People get hurt in challenges and back at camp all the time, but it usually does not make air if it is not too severe and therefore not part of the story. Still, there’s not too much cause for alarm at this point.
But you know when there should be alarm? Whenever they go to the winning tribe’s beach after a challenge. They never do this! Never, ever, ever. Now, maybe this was just because they wanted viewers to revel in the underdog victory of the Davids, even though they were not underdogs in the least in this challenge and, in fact, were probably the favorites due to Christian’s puzzle-solving skills. But here was Bi, once again talking about her injury and how she hurt her MCL training for an MMA bout. Why include this scene, especially now as opposed to at the start of the next episode? I worry the seeds are being planted for another medical evac. I hope not, but I worry. Then again, I worry about a lot of things. Unnecessary things. Stupid things. Anyway, we’ll see how it plays out, but I never like to see anyone ousted because of an injury so I’ll hold out hope for Bi. It’s kinda like holding out for a hero, only with less Bonnie Tyler and illegal dancing.
But forget about those Davids over in Whimpville — it’s time for the Jeremy and Natalie show! And what a show it is. “I never have felt that I’ve had your support since we’ve been on this island,” says Natalie, neglecting to define “support.” Jeremy then responds with, “I don’t think you understand your personality or how you speak.” The whole thing comes to a head when Natalie asks Jeremy to leave so she can talk game without him there and he refuses. “I’m a softball player so I can throw some low balls,” responds Natalie, which makes absolutely no sense to me. If you want to play dirty as a softball pitcher, don’t you throw it at the person’s head, which would be a high ball? Unless she is implying that she wants to throw her balls at Jeremy’s balls, which, actually is not low at all. That’s right in the strike zone! (Perhaps in more ways than one.) Anyway, Natalie seems confused, and now so am I.
“I realize now you have never seen Survivor before,” responds Jeremy. WHAT? A SURVIVOR CONTESTANT WHO HAS NEVER SEEN SURVIVOR BEING RECRUITED TO PLAY THE GAME??? I am shocked—shocked!—to find that gambling is going on in here! While all this is happening, Angelina decides she wants to get Jeremy out instead because he is off looking in people’s jackets. She tells us that she can turn the tide because she uses her power of persuasion in everyday life to get out of speeding tickets and get discounts at restaurants.
On one hand, I guess that is impressive. On the other hand, who gets discounts at restaurants?!? I mean, who would even ASK for a discount at a restaurant? Can you haggle with your server at Bahama Breeze now? Is that a thing? I was honestly so confused by that comment that I kinda only half-watched the rest of the episode as I contemplated all the ways to get these alleged restaurant discounts. (Is this a Groupon situation or just pure flirting? Because Groupon, I can do. Flirting, I have a feeling I’d be considerably less successful at.)
So Angelina gets to work, and work it will take. That’s because Mike is close to Jeremy and feels Natalie is a “Demoralizer,” which, coincidentally enough, also happens to be the name of my new Swedish death metal band, only we use an umlaut over the letter o. Natalia and Alec are also set on Natalie because she is a liability in challenges and will flip away from them at the tribe swap. It looks like a tough sell for Angelina, but again, and I cannot stress this enough, SHE GETS DISCOUNTS AT RESTAURANTS!!!
We head to Tribal Council where the heavens have once again opened as the rain crashes down on the Goliaths. And there is another storm brewing between Jeremy and Natalie. “How does she get to be 57 years old and not know how to talk to people?” Jeremy asks before pointing out that when told she needs to talk nicer to people Natalie “doubles down on the bulls—.”
Natalie responds that if you look up “not being self-aware” in the dictionary that you will see a picture of Jeremy next to it. First of all, “not being self-aware” is a weird thing to look up in the dictionary. Furthermore, I am pretty sure “not being self-aware” is not even in the dictionary, much less with a picture of a heretofore unknown reality show contestant next to it. But I guess the point stands nonetheless. However, Jeremy then drops the haymaker, telling Natalie that all the players there would attend his funeral and not hers. (Little does he realize that this IS his funeral, as fire represents life, and his is about to be snuffed.)
For her part, Natalie has some pretty unintentionally hilarious comments of her own, claiming “I am very open to constructive criticism” at one point and — in a moment that must have been as painful as Arthur Fonzerelli attempting to say he was wrong — proclaiming that “I don’t have all the answers. I have many of them.” But Natalie’s funniest line of the night is very much intentional, and it immediately enters the pantheon of best Survivor voting lines of all time as she casts her parchment for Jeremy: “That stinging sensation you feel in your eyes right now? That’s the Natalie Napalm. Get off of my island. By the way, your skin is gorgeous, darling.”
BAM! Incredible. Not quite Wendell Holland level, but pretty damn close. (Also, is that the only time Natalie has given anyone credit for anything on this show? I also am pretty sure that could be the first time we have seen her smile.) And while we give it up to Natalie Napalm, let’s also give it up for Angelina, who somehow managed to sway the entire tribe for a unanimous vote-off of Jeremy. Now, I’m not saying that was a strong long-term move for her. She spent a lot of strategic capital to get one of the people on the bottom out instead of someone else on the bottom — neither of who appear to be aligned with her.
And now that she has exerted her power in making that happen, Angelina has set herself up as a target, so I’m not sure if the short-term result was worth the potential long-term damage here. You want to save those forcefully-argued moved for ones that really matter and I’m not convinced this did. That said, she proved she has the capacity to not only change prices at restaurants but to change votes as well. It’s a unique skill, and Angelina has it. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if it costs her.
One thing we won’t have to wait for is that tribe swap. The previews show it appearing to come next week, which leads me to ask: What will the new reshuffled tribes be called? After all, this is the first season there have not been any actual tribe names. Even when teams were referred to by goofy nicknames like Healers or Beauty or No Collar, they always had a proper tribe name as well (in those cases, Soko, Solana, Nagarote). So what now? Is Christian going to all of a sudden be a Goliath? Are we supposed to believe Angelina is a David all of a sudden? Could the Mayor of Slamtown be demoted to the Phys Ed teacher of Whimpsville?
All we can do is wait for the impending Charmpocalypse to find out. But in the meantime, please enjoy the exclusive deleted scene we have for you here. And please peruse my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst. And please keep your eyes peeled for my exit Q&A with Jeremey on both EW Morning Live (EW Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) and here on EW.com. And also follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss for more.
But now it’s your turn. Hit the message boards to share your thoughts. Sad to see Jeremy go? Happy Natalie stayed? Huge move or mistake by Angelina to go that strong that early? Weigh in below and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!