By Dalton Ross
May 01, 2019 at 09:00 PM EDT
CBS
S38 E12
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My wife is the best. Sure, I could throw all the usual superlatives at her — smart, funny, beautiful — and they’re more than applicable. But she also puts up with all my nonsense. And all my stuff. Like all my Star Wars toys (including a life-size Boba Fett cardboard cut-out that made her cry when she came home from work one day and saw the galaxy’s most notorious bounty hunter just kinda chillin’ in our living room). Like my relentlessly unnecessary 8-track collection which pretty much takes up an entire attic. Like the two jars of dirt from the field of a perpetually underachieving football team that I keep on display for no apparent reason.

She puts up with all of that. (It should probably be noted that she has also put up with me writing over 450 recaps of a television show she has absolutely no interest in and whose finale in two weeks will fall right on our 20th wedding anniversary. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, HONEY!) So, like I said, she’s the best. But as much as I love her, and as much as I need her, I would do everything in my power not to win a Survivor challenge to spend more time with her.

It’s not because she might smell like bug spray. This is nothing new. You all have heard me rant about this for years. The loved ones reward challenge is not about love at all. It’s a trap, and the only challenge I would ever actively throw to make sure I did not win. Rick Devens understands this. Did you see the way he was throwing water AT HIS WIFE’S FACE and was asking for updates on folks back home in the middle of the challenge? No way that dude was trying to win. Because you don’t want to win it. And we just got the latest example as to why. Ron won the reward, and as a result got to spend a few more hours with his husband Lloyd, along with a FastPass to the Edge of Extinction. Not a good trade-off in my book.

We all know why the loved ones reward is so deadly to those who win it: because while you get to spend some time with your spouse or sibling or parent or child or weird wrestling buddy, and while you get to bring along two other people and their relatives, you also end up denying others a chance with their loved ones. And inevitably, someone almost always uses that a reason to take you out.

We saw it here with the shunned Victoria and Lauren switching it up and taking out Ron. They both said his choice to take Gavin and Julie helped propel their decision, and Ron fell right into that trap by giving them a reason to oust him. And the way this plan progressed highlights just how insidious the loved ones visit really is, because the goodwill the winner of the challenge gains from people selected to go with him/her is always less than the ill will brewed up by those left behind. Victoria and Lauren were shunned so decided to take Ron out. Gavin was brought along and yet still put TWO votes on his benefactor. Quite simply, the risk is never worth the reward.

There’s just so little upside. You can’t even pull an Albert Destrade and win the challenge and give up your spot to someone else because that is seen as a blatantly transparent ploy for jury votes. So just don’t win it! It also does not take a Chrissy Hofbeck level actuary to realize that even if you don’t win the challenge you still have a very decent shot of going on the reward anyway. Just look at the math. Ron won and then got to pick two out of six players to join him. So even by throwing the competition, you still stand a 33 percent chance of going while getting absolutely zero blood on your hands. DO THE MATH!

Dammit, I write this seemingly every season and nobody listens. The only one who listens to anything I say is my wife. God, I love her. In fact, I love her so much that I would sacrifice the few hours of comfort and emotional stability her visit would give me to instead bring that woman home a million dollars. That way we can buy a bigger house to store all my 8-tracks and dirt.

Okay, lots of other loved ones and other stuff to get to, so let’s get to it!

Meet the Parents (and siblings and spouses)
I used to laugh at the loved ones visit and all the people crying who had not seen their relatives for a few weeks and were now acting like they had been reunited after eight years in a prisoner of war camp. But I get it now. And as I’ve become a big softie in my advanced age, I’ve even come to appreciate the loved ones visit as a televised event. I mean, don’t get me wrong: When it comes to reality television, I’d rather watch a sassy wisecracking robot heave insults at contestants any day of the week instead of listening to soft piano music playing as people awkwardly jog on sand towards an oncoming embrace. I just would.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel anything. And predictably, as a parent myself, it is the reunions between fathers and sons/daughters that gets me the most. Which is probably why the Lauren and Victoria moments with their dads hit me. If my daughter ever chooses to play Survivor — something I would encourage her not to do, incidentally — I have no doubt I would be a blubbering mess if I went out there as a loved one. Yes, I would still be whispering in her ear to throw the challenge while blubbering, but I would be blubbering nonetheless.

But all the reunions were moving in one way or another, especially after Gavin told me before the game about having to shift his wedding date to play, and Aurora talked to me about her relationship with her brother. Here’s what she told me the day before the game began about Shane.

My brother Shane is the brother that went through the foster care system with me. He would never leave my side. Once we were split up and neither one of us ate, so they put us back together. He made sure that I had a normal childhood. I remember going through different foster care homes and he would make sure that my bedroom was set up the same way at each one so that I felt like I had a normal life. I have gotten to where I am today because he put me first and himself second. So, for me, I now live my life to make sure that I can do anything I can for him.”

I asked Aurora if we would be seeing Shane if she made it to the loved ones challenge and she told me that, “I definitely put Shane as my top one. I think he would be scared as can be to come over here. He is a little white boy who does not want to be outdoors at all, but I think he would be so excited and he knows this is my dream so I would love to be able to share that with him.”

Anyway, they were all nice moments, but what’s the point of bringing loved ones out there if you don’t use ‘em? Which brings us to…

Blast from The Past
I bug Survivor producers about a lot of things. Not only do I make all sorts of annoying backseat driver comments in these here recaps on how they should produce their show EVEN THOUGH I HAVE NO TELEVISION PRODUCTION EXPERIENCE WHATSOEVER, but I also will sometimes even take it upon myself to email them directly or tell them to their faces when I am absolutely positive that I have the best suggestion in the history of suggestions for something they should do on the program.

I can only imagine how wildly annoying that must be for them for some jackass who lives in New Freakin’ Jersey to chime in as if he knows better than the people who have worked for years in perfecting the greatest television show on the planet not named Shasta McNasty, but they’re all remarkably cool about it. At least to my face. I’m sure they laugh behind my back at some of the idiotic ideas I send their way. As well they should.

But one thing I have felt very passionately about — almost as passionately as Jeff Probst jet skiing or skydiving the votes back the United States — is that if you are going to bring the loved ones all the way out there to the middle of nowhere, don’t just have them watch a challenge. Which is why somewhere in between suggesting producers let teams pick who has to do various challenge stages on the other tribe, and also advocating for the show’s first-ever underwater puzzle, I sent along a plea to put the loved ones back in the challenge. (And I’m not talking about just picking rocks out a bag.) I’ve brought this up to challenge producer John Kirhoffer a few times and he would (astutely) point out that the problem is that some loved ones are in better shape than others and it gives advantages and disadvantages to certain players.

My reaction to that has always been, essentially: So what? Every challenge offers advantages and disadvantages to certain players due to body type. But, as someone who does tend to argue for challenges all being done on equal ground, I get it. So my suggestion to Kirhoffer was to incorporate the loved ones in other ways. What if the last stage in the challenge was unlocking the loved one from a bamboo jail or something? Just anything to get them on the course instead of cheering from the bench. (Although, admittedly, Angelina’s mother should be on the bench at every single Survivor challenge ever.)

But they did one better than that. Not only did they put the relatives into an actual competition, but they put them into perhaps the most legendary loved ones competition of all-time. I’m talking, of course, about the Heroes vs. Villains loved ones challenge where a player would have to toss water from one bucket into a bucket of their loved one. And if I’m talking about the Heroes vs. Villains loved ones challenge where a player would have to toss water from one bucket into a bucket of their loved one, then I’m talking about two words. And those two words are… “DAMMIT, REED!!!”

That’s right, let’s all harken back to when Colby Donaldson mercilessly berated his brother for not catching water to his satisfaction. This was my favorite loved ones challenge, bar none. Colby showed more fire in this one challenge yelling at his poor shell-shocked sibling than he did for the entire rest of the season — certainly more than when he got dragged by Coach back to the Villains’ mat in the opening challenge on day 1.

But this was also a perfect way to reincorporate loved ones into a challenge in that they didn’t have to really do a whole lot except hold a bucket and pour. Ron’s hot husband did the best job of that, which, eventually led to his spouse’s ouster. Congratulations?

Got Caught Stealing
In fairness, you can’t “steal” on Survivor, but I couldn’t resist the Jane’s Addiction reference so just do me a solid and go with it. Anyhoo, Rick totally busted Aurora going through his bag and snooping to see if he had anything. A few things on this. First off, I have no problem with anyone going through anyone else’s bag. You know folks are likely to do it, so that’s on you if you take the risk of storing idols and advantages in your bag.

Not only do I not have any issues with Aurora snooping, I love the way she didn’t sell out Lauren, who TOLD her to go through the bag. If you’re on the outs (as Aurora has appeared to have been pretty much this entire game) then you need to work extra hard to make people like and trust you. Taking the hit from Rick instead of shifting the blame is a step in that direction in terms of trying to forge a connection with Lauren and Victoria. Am I biased because Aurora won my heart by correcting Rick’s grammar during the immunity challenge? Perhaps. But the point still stands.

Apparently, the expired advantage Ron gave Rick (which we’ll get into more in a minute) was in the bag but was not found, and Rick had yet to find his real idol, which he did late at night by scaling a tree above the shelter. I mean, let’s not get carried away here. It was a very low tree. This wasn’t exactly Ozzy going into the clouds to chop down some coconuts. But he did have to be quiet, and I’m sure the struggle not to bust out any spontaneous Kool-Aid Man OH YEAHs was real.

Missing in Action
It seems every single second of footage mattered this episode. Which means certain things had to go. There was no “Previously on…” segment. There was also no “Come on in, guys!” Which also kind of begs the question: In situations where tribes are not seeing whom the other teams voted out, why do we need to see the players “come on in” anyway? I mean, other than the opportunity to watch Jeff Probst look at his feet for no reason whatsoever. (Fun fact: Go back and watch an old season of Survivor. Jeff looks straight ahead when he tells people to come on in. But at some point, for some reason, he was just like, “Screw it. I look where I want to look.” Why he wants to look at his feet, however, remains a mystery.)

But there was something else missing this episode: Any footage of Edge of Extinction. I mean, yeah, we saw a few seconds of Ron arriving there at the very end, but nothing the rest of the episode. This is not a complaint but merely an observation. Consider it observed!

Brace Yourself
The immunity challenge forced players to use their arms to brace themselves on two walls while balancing their feet on very narrow footholds. “It’s really just willpower,” said Probst. Ron disagreed, and so do I. While yes, the “Who wants it more?” definitely plays a part in weeding out the weak-willed, there are always other factors at play. For instance, if you are a large man with large feet you are working at a massive disadvantage in this competition. You just are. And, right on cue, the two biggest people, Rick and Ron, were the first two to drop. That’s not willpower. That’s biology.

All that said, I have always loved watching people push through the pain. Or maybe I just like watching people in pain. How else to explain the glee I felt in observing Julie not even being able to walk after dropping out? She was crawling around on all fours like the dog Gavin felt like when he was talking to Dan DaSilva. Why did I love seeing Julie in such discomfort? I like Julie! I kinda feel like Julie and I could maybe be NYC buddies outside of the game, and yet here I am riveted by her personal discomfort and taking more pleasure in it than the destruction of the stupid Night King. What is wrong with me?!?

Anyway, newlywed Gavin won his second individual immunity so good for him.

Idol Thoughts
Winning the loved ones challenge was not Ron’s only controversial decision this week. He also took the advantage menu he found on the boat at the marooning (the behind-the-scenes hiding of which you can read about here) and gave it to Devens. The question now becomes: Was it a savvy strategic move to keep an opponent feeling comfortable, or was it an unnecessary twisting of the knife?

Rick certainly let his feelings be known after Probst explained that the idol he tried to play was, in fact, expired. “Ron and Julie, you are villains!” Devens exclaimed.  “I was already going home. Do you just want to make me look stupid? So my kids think I’m an idiot. Except…” Then Rick revealed his other idol while calling the duo out for lying. “You guys are gems,” he finished.

So what to make of Ron’s move? Was it a legitimate move, like so many fake idols before it, or was it reminiscent of Angelina’s absurdity when she tried to get people to vote against her so she could make a big show at Tribal of using her idol while also planting a fake idol for Alison to find even though Alison was already getting voted out? Honestly, I think it was probably a little from column A and a little from column B.

Allowing someone to think they are safe and therefore hopefully take their foot off the gas a bit is a legitimate strategic move to make. It’s been done before and it has worked before. Ron even used this as his reasoning, telling us: “Now he may relax thinking he’s safe and we’ll be able to take advantage of that and send him home.” However, to think that Ron Clark — who has starred in several viral social media videos related to his teaching academy and had Matthew Perry play him in a TNT movie — does not like to put on a show is being a bit naïve.

But it wasn’t the type of show likely to gain good reviews from the jury. The problem is, you have to read the room, and the room that is the jury I believe genuinely likes Rick Devens. Certainly more than they seem to like Ron judging by their reactions after his ouster. When you try to embarrass a bully or villain in the game, people love it. When you try to do it to a guy who has been making the tribe laugh for 30 days, it’s less likely to go over well. Even had Ron not been voted out, this move would have been deadly for him in terms of the jury. It simply did not play well. At all.

Now, that’s partly because of how expertly Devens pulled it off. Remember, if there is one person in this cast who loves a camera more than Ron Clark, it is Rick Devens. THE GUY WORKS ON CAMERA FOR A LIVING! His entire job is making audiences like him so they tune into his news broadcast every day. You think he wasn’t working that room with his little speech there to get them on his side and away from Ron and Julie? Of course, he was! And he did a damn good job of it.

The bottom line is, I don’t think what Ron did was super evil. (Then again, this is coming from a guy who took an absurd amount of pleasure out of watching a woman he actually likes not be able to walk after a challenge, so take that as you will.) But while I don’t think it was super evil and did actually have traces of strategic merit, I also think it was a huge miscalculation on his part.

It’s kind of funny. Remember when Rick, Ron, and The Wardog had that chat about the fact that they were the three biggest threats left in the game and needed to protect each other because if one went out then the others would follow. Well, what has happened since then? The Wardog? Gone. Ron? Gone. Rick? Saved only by an idol. Pretty fascinating.

Speaking of fascinating, you’ll want to check out this week’s Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, where he weighs in on Ron’s idol fake-out. You’ll also want to take a gander at the exclusive deleted scene from the episode we have above. Also, big news! Next week I will finally be giving away all the original embarrassing moment confessions as written by the Edge of Extinction cast out on location, so if you want to win the complete set, follow me on Instagram now @thedaltonross and await instructions. Of course, you can also follow me on the Twitter @DaltonRoss for all the latest Survivor scoop.

And now it’s your turn. What did you make of Ron’s phony baloney idol giveaway? Would you throw the loved ones challenge? And how do you feel about someone voted out of the game (say, Rick Devens) potentially winning it? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with a scoop of the penultimate crispy!

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