Cooties. What exactly are they? And how much do we really know about them? Judging by observational research in control groups at various playgrounds, it seems cooties are most often found among members of the opposite sex. Sometimes — according to repeated claims made near the jungle gym — an entire gender can be wiped out by the nefarious disease. (Example: “Ewwwwww, boys have cooties.”) However, the affliction is usually found only in select identified individuals. (Example [in sing-song voice]: “Sally Jane has cooties! Sally Jane has cooties!”)
While research has been inconclusive in regards to both the plague’s origin and method of contraction (although infection through a popular game known as “Tag” has been well documented), all studies concur that cooties are, indeed, bad. And they are spreading… even onto our favorite television program. For after the events of this week’s double elimination episode there can no longer be any doubt: Returning players have cooties.
Aubry? Cooties. Joey Amazing? Cooties. (Incidentally, Stephen Fishbach warned us about this four years ago.) David and Kelley? COOTIES! There can be no other explanation for the 14 newbies having their hearts set on voting out every returning player in the game. It has to be cooties.
Orrrrrrrrrr… here’s another theory. The new generation of Survivor fan no longer wants to watch the favorite get a fast-pass to the finals. And I think there’s one critical element that put the thought of ousting returning players into the minds of the newbies before this season began. First, a little background.
There was a time when it seemed like all Survivor ever did was stage seasons that combined returning players and newbies. In a span of six seasons — from season 22 (Redemption Island) through season 27 (Blood vs. Water) — Survivor featured a mix of old and new players five times. Only one season in that span (One World) went with the show’s original premise of sticking complete strangers on an island together to see what happens, and the less said about One World, in general, the better.
Along with Survivor: Guatemala and Survivor: Micronesia, there were seven seasons in which Survivor mixed old and new players. And of those seven seasons — including all three times it was just two returnees vs. 16 newbies — at least one of the those returning players made it all the way to the end. As the stats showed, eight out of 93 new players made it all the way to a final two or three of a combo season, for a success rate of 8.6 percent. Meanwhile, a startling 11 out of 39 returnees — 28.2 percent — made it all the way to the end. That means returning players were 3.5 times more likely to make it to day 39 than newbies. Not exactly a level playing field. Perhaps that explains why in the 10 seasons after Blood vs. Water, Survivor never mixed newbies and returnees… until now.
Anyhoodle, those were a lot of annoying stats I just trotted out and I apologize for them, but they are important in terms of the history of the game. Because if you don’t know your history, you are doomed to repeat it. Survivor contestants have evolved since then. They are, on the whole, far savvier than the players of yesteryear. A new tribe is unlikely to let a returning player come in and dominate every decision like Boston Rob did back on Redemption Island.
And then there is this: There are 14 new players this season. However, two alternates came out on location to Fiji as well, meaning there were 16 of them all together for a few days before the game. Even at that number (because they did not know two of them were actually alternates), many of the newbies had already correctly surmised that the show would not stage a season with only 16 players and that returning contestants would be added into the mix. That gave them a chance to strategize and think about how they wanted to handle them. Instead of the twist being sprung on them and having to react in the moment, the newbies were able to formulate a plan and a philosophy on how to proceed. And that plan/philosophy was simple: Get rid of them.
Instead of new players being star-struck or seduced by the presence of a former all-star, the new cast was (for the most part) dead set on getting them gone. And now they are. All four returnees have been voted out, saved in the game only by a twist (Edge of Extinction) that was designed specifically to keep them on the show. Either the mandate was clear when the season began, or they all have cooties. And, possibly, the Cheese Touch, but that’s a whole other malady we won’t get into right now. Instead, let’s get to the other major moments of this week’s episode.
The first immunity challenge of the night involved resting a bar on your shoulders in a weird awkward squatting position for as long as possible. If you went too high, your urn dropped. If you went too low, your flag popped up. The unfortunate visual this created, however, was of six people standing there looking like they were about to drop a deuce. Seriously, I don’t know if David Wright spotted a shark and some minnows out there or what, but it looked like a bunch of Americans struggling to figure out how to use a bidet.
Even more curious than that was the fact that Lauren, Victoria, Kelley, and Ron all chose pizza and beer over competing for immunity. I just don’t get it. We know Lauren is a warrior, pushing herself to the point of passing out in a recent challenge. Nobody questions Kelley Wentworth’s will to win this game. Ron seems singularly focused on victory as well. Victoria is a bit of an enigma, but she doesn’t appear to be there to coast either. So why take any chances whatsoever with immunity on the line, especially with votes flipping back and forth seemingly all the time (as they would against Kelley soon enough)?
I’m not trying to minimize their hunger out there, but I was pretty shocked. Also, newsflash: Survivor pizza is usually kinda gnarly. It’s cold and somewhat congealed from sitting out there for a while. Suffice it to say, this is not fresh out of the brick oven. Anyway, I was a bit surprised (and, truthfully, disappointed) by their decision, but hey, maybe they just didn’t want to end up in any memes involving a Squatty Potty — to which I cannot offer any effective counterargument.
We also have to give a shout-out to the camera work here that captured a butterfly landing on The Wardog, and him then spilling his urn. Something as simple as that or a bead of sweat can undo someone in an endurance challenge. It eventually came down to David vs. Goliath… wait, that’s not right. Sorry. Habit. It actually came down to David vs. Aurora, who promptly channeled her inner Reem and informed the returnee that “I’m not dropping, dude. I won’t survive if I don’t have it so I’m not going down. Sorry, bro.” Sorry, indeed, David, because YOU JUST GOT REEMED!!! And not even by Reem herself! You got Reemed by association! The Reem virus is spreading! Not unlike cooties.
And she wasn’t lying either, as David dropped 22 minutes in, giving Aurora the victory. Good for her. If Aurora wasn’t winning challenges or giving away alliance voting plans I don’t know that we’d ever see her this season.
It All Goes Wrong For David Wright
After the previous Tribal, The Wardog organized a new alliance of six consisting of him, Lauren, Kelley, Ron, Julie, and Gavin. To save himself, David had to convince others that the Lesu 3 needed to be broken up. And if that meant recycling the same words over and over, then so be it. So there he was telling Julie about how there is always one conversation you have during Survivor that after the game you think “Why didn’t I do that other thing? And this is that conversation.”
Hold the phone, David Wright! I thought you already had that conversation with Rick Devens by the water well. How many conversations can one man remember? I spend half my time in the shower every morning trying to remember if I already used soap or not and you are out there remembering multiple conversations? Impressive. I mean, it would have been more impressive if you had also remembered how to complete a puzzle, but impressive nonetheless.
So David worked on Julie and then Ron, giving them a big decision to make. “I don’t know if I want to get in bed with David or Wardog,” said Ron, to which I ask: Why choose? How about both?! It’s 2019, Ron. Get freaky with it, my man! I’m not quite sure who is the pilot and who are the passengers in that situation but I’m sure you all will figure it out. Just put on a little Barry White and see where the evening takes you.
I kid about that pilot–passenger stuff, but this cast never kids when it comes to that. And they always need to expand the analogy one extra unnecessary step every time they bring it up. This week Julie was not only talking about being a passenger, but also talking about hitting the ejector button and then boarding her own plane. At this rate, by the finale somebody will be sabotaging someone else’s plane to crash land and then beaming themselves aboard a time-traveling alien spacecraft and flying to another galaxy to battle Thanos before he can snap his fingers and turn half of humanity into dust.
But instead of rolling their eyes at Julie, the tribe saved all the indignation for David Wright for when he proclaimed “My brand is loyalty” — moaning and laughing at the absurdity of the statement. And, in their defense, it is pretty absurd. Maybe that one Tribal Council conversation will be the one after the game where David thinks “Why didn’t I do that other thing?” Alas, David was voted out, meaning my pre-game pick to win is once again looking like a longshot. No surprise there. Perhaps I should have had a different conversation with myself before making it.
Off to Edge of Extinction David went, and so did we. Thankfully, we did not have to endure a dramatic shot of him gazing off into the distance and talking about pushing himself to the limit and that stuff we have already heard from everyone else there. Instead, it was time for the latest mad scramble advantage hunt courtesy of clues in bottles, and here’s something producers and editors have done that has been very cool.
In past seasons, whenever a contestant would start to talk about deciphering the clue, it meant that they had found the idol or advantage in question. How many times did we have to listen to some jabroni go something along the lines of “So, the clue said, ‘Your camp may be a dump in terms of condition, but find the idol and you’ll get a jump on the competition.’ When I saw the word dump, I thought about how I always take aqua-dumps so figured I would go in the water around the bend to look for the idol.” And then invariably the idol would be found in the next scene.
We must have seen that a million times. I mean, not specifically by where people go to the bathroom in the ocean. That was a terrible example on my part. I don’t know why I used it. Clearly, there is something wrong with me. But the point stands that as soon as someone would start talking about following the clues on the clue, the next thing that usually followed was them finding the item. Not this season.
Instead, we had Eric talking about going to search by the rice because he interpreted the word “hollow” as meaning hungry. Oh, so Eric must be getting the idol. Nope. Then it was Chris and Joe thinking that “jagged” and “smooth” were referring to the flag, so they checked there. Oh, so one of them must be getting the idol. Nope. Finally, it was David who found it hidden in the rocks. “This is the first lucky thing that has happened to me in this game,” said David, conveniently forgetting the idol that Rick just played for him. But it wasn’t that lucky. Because it wasn’t actually an advantage for David, but rather he got to send an advantage to someone at the next immunity challenge. And there was no doubt to whom that advantage would go.
It’s All Ball Bearings These Days
Jeff Probst knows what he’s doing. You can’t convince me he doesn’t. I mean, just listen to the guy…
“Devens, toss me one of your balls.”
Are you telling me he doesn’t know exactly what he is saying? This is the same guy who picks up and picks apart every single syllable at Tribal Council. The only time this guy slips is if a giant wave is smashing into him during a challenge. He is totally messing with us. Don’t believe me? Let’s enter Exhibit B into evidence…
“Ron, working on his second ball.”
SEE! It’s like he’s winking at us right through the TV screen. There’s no chance he is not 100% aware of the multiple contexts at play here. To assume he is not would be to label him a passenger, and JEFF PROBST IS A FREAKIN’ PILOT, Y’ALL! Rather than shy away from the double entendres, he just leans right into them. What? You’re still not convinced? Okay, try this one on for size then…
“Now he’s got two balls on the move!”
I mean, for chrissakes, c’mon! How much more proof do you need? He’s got two balls on the move?! How did that even make it past the CBS censors? Oh, by the way, Rick won the challenge. He only had to land 4 balls on dimples (as opposed to 5 for everyone else) because of his advantage. Why Probst at some point did not say “Devens is missing one of his balls!” is beyond me.
The Wardog Strikes
The Wardog does not know how to jump into water. The Wardog does not know how to throw a ball. The Wardog often does not know how to speak in the first person. But The Wardog knows how to make a splash. Which, technically, I guess brings us full circle to the fact that he does not know how to jump into water. Whatever, the point I am trying to make is that The Wardog definitely does have a little Tony Vlachos in him. He has been fiercely loyal to Kelley Wentworth since day 1, even taking out a solid ally in Chris when Chris expressed interest in getting rid of Kelley.
Why, just earlier in this same episode, The Wardog was promoting how loyal he, Kelley, and Lauren were to each other. That had been his big selling point to Kama Control on why they should stick with them — loyalty. But now The Wardog wanted to take that loyalty, lay it down next to a fire hydrant, and pee all over it. Maybe even sniff loyalty’s butt, but definitely pee on it. That’s because now The Wardog wanted to take his biggest ally out of the game. (Or at least out of the tribe since it is technically impossible to take anyone out of the game this season.)
But instead of being excited that The Wardog would be willing to take out one of his own, Ron was scared, because if this guy would take out his biggest ally, how could he, Ron Clark, star of TNT movie The Ron Clark Story starring Matthew Perry, trust anything The Wardog would ever say? And that wasn’t even the weirdest thing to happen to Ron that afternoon. The weirdest thing to happen to Ron was when Aurora walked up to him and handed him her extra vote advantage. Just gave it to him. Said that if she got voted out that he could keep it. Well, that was odd, I thought. And it was odd. Because by giving him the extra vote and then saying that if she was voted out that he could keep it she was INCENTIVIZING HIM TO VOTE HER OUT!!!
On the surface, it’s a terrible move. But let’s look underneath the surface, down where the shark, the minnows, and David Wright’s poop all reside. Aurora no doubt felt like she was the one about to be voted out. You can hear it in the words she is saying to Ron. She firmly believed she was going. If that’s the case, and you have exhausted all other options, why not make a last-ditch effort with the last remaining card in your deck? So while yes, Aurora’s move brings to mind Sarah voting out Sierra to get her Legacy Advantage in Game Changers, the circumstances are a bit different and I’m not ready to bury her for it. (Also not saying I love it, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Also, it got her a few extra seconds of screen time, so there’s that.)
There was a really interesting discussion at the second Tribal Council over whether players are seduced by and chase the rush of the blindside, even at the expense of their own games. I have no doubt that has happened before, and it may have just happened here. Contestants are constantly told they need to make big moves in this game to win. It is drilled into them over and over.
I think they often get caught up in the buzz and excitement of landing the latest punch when the boring, calculated play might actually be for the best. But they want that rush. And they want to please viewers. And they want to please Probst. (Never underestimate that key ingredient in this game — contestants have told me they often said things they shouldn’t have at Tribal or elsewhere because of the desire to please Jeff.) So the big moves happen. They’re excited. We’re excited. Probst is excited. What’s not to love? Besides, you know, losing a million dollars because of it.
Is that why The Wardog turned on Kelley, or did he worry he wouldn’t get the votes against her at the end? Possibly both. But that wasn’t the only big split of the night. Ron eventually joined The Wardog, Aurora, Rick, and Victoria in voting out Wentworth, but Julie did not. For Ron and his ride-or-die to find themselves on different sides of the vote is potentially very significant. What will happen? Will Julie have another #SurvivorBreakdown? Will she rant about Kama Control? Will she pee on herself again? Only time will tell, but seeing how that shakes out is probably the thing I am most looking forward to for next week.
But here’s what else you have to look forward to this week. We have an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. And Hostmaster General Jeff Probst weighs in on David and Kelley’s ousters in our weekly Q&A. Do you miss Jeff’s final words of wisdom that have been absent all season? Then you’ll want to read our EW Investigates exposé into what happened to them this season. And then there’s the whole social media thing. I’m going to be giving away all the original copies of the embarrassing moment confessions written by the contestants, so if you want a chance to win, follow me on Instagram @thedaltonross. And for more Survivor scoop, hit me on the Twitter @DaltonRoss.
Okay, now it’s your turn. Did The Wardog make the right call in ousting Kelley? Are you loving or loathing that all the returning players have been voted out? And are cooties real? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with…. WAIT! I WON’T! There will be no scoop of the crispy next week! I’ll actually be on vacation with the family trying my best to unplug. But fear not, the incredible Patrick Gomez will be filling in and hopefully writing a far more coherent missive than you just had to endure here. So thanks to Patrick, and I’ll see you all in two weeks!