I'm the Puppet Master
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS
S38 E8

“You always remember one conversation in Survivor after it’s over. We’re going to remember this one if we end up going different paths.” —David Wright

We’ve pretty much seen it all over 38 seasons of Survivor. We’ve seen idols, half idols, fake idols, WonderTwin idols, Tyler Perry idols, and even idol nullifiers. We’ve seen purple rocks, white rocks, black rocks, and rocks that Francesca Hogi promised to eat. We’ve seen advantages and disadvantages. We’ve seen blindsides. We’ve seen tie votes. We’ve seen medivacs. We’ve seen almost every form of headgear known to man worn by Jeff Probst. We’ve seen people make fire. We’ve seen people that could not make fire… with matches! We’ve seen everything from #SurvivorBreakdown to #SevereGastroInstestinalDistress.

But we saw something for the first time this week on Survivor: Edge of Extinction. No, not Aurora talking, although that felt like a first as well. No, we saw something else that was absolutely, positively fascinating. We saw an on-camera reality show breakup that was, in its own way, even more intoxicating than the emotional demolition we saw last week between Evan and Kaci on Temptation Island.

I’m speaking, of course, about the split between David and Devens. Look, we’ve seen alliance-mates argue before about the best way to proceed. We’ve seen one person get frustrated with the other because they insist on a certain plan and the other has to begrudgingly go along with it. We’ve also seen strategic partnerships die spectacular deaths — bursting into flames because one person eventually backstabs or blindsides the other. But in 38 seasons, I’m not sure we have ever seen such a closely-aligned duo openly and honestly agree to a mutual parting of the ways over a disagreement in how to proceed. Until now.

David and Devens were two peas in a pod. Granted, it was perhaps the lamest pod in Survivor history in the form of Manu/Lesu, but it was a pod nonetheless. They were a package deal and seemed to be in lockstep on every decision they made. They appeared to view the game identically and had an equal partnership. But Rick just could not get over twice being voted against by Kelly, Lauren, and The Wardog. His bitterness manifested itself in the funniest moment of the episode when he responded to The Wardog’s strategic overtures by replying “I’m dying to get back with the old Lesu. Now that I know I can trust you guys, I really want to get back with you all. Except that I don’t want to get back with you guys at all. Why would I work with you guys? You guys stabbed me in the back over and over again.”

That was hilarious. But also short-sighted. Should Rick trust that trio? Of course not! He’d be a fool to. But should he use them to put himself in a better spot in the game? Absolutely. David tried to point out that Rick was merely a puppet in Eric and Ron’s game and was only delaying either his eventual ouster or getting to the end with a paper-thin résumé. David wanted to play to win rather than play to last three more votes. Rick’s response? “But my way is better for me. You’re not getting numbers, bro. You’re dreaming. I think you’re getting played.”

More likely, Rick was worried about being twice bitten, thrice shy. I mean, I get it. You can work with a bunch of people that have tried repeatedly to get rid of you, or you can work with the people (Ron and Eric) that threw you a lifeline and never crossed you. If framed that way, sure, go with Kama. But where’s your path with them? And — to borrow some Tribal Council terminology — how is being a passenger as opposed to a pilot going to win you respect should you somehow make it to the end? You need to risk pushing the pilot out of the damn plane, even if it means the whole thing could crash into a mountain in a fiery blaze at any second.

“I’m not coming to your side,” Rick told David. And with that, it was done. THIS IS WHY I LOVE THIS GAME AND THIS SHOW SO MUCH!!! Here are two players. They like each other. They respect each other. But they both held firm in their beliefs on what the next step should be. Their paths didn’t line up, so they went their separate ways. “You always remember one conversation in Survivor after it’s over. We’re going to remember this one if we end up going different paths.” David Wright has never been more of a prophet.

Of course, perhaps the most delicious thing of all is the fact that Rick gave David half of the hidden immunity idol he received for getting back in the game. Who would have thought that just three days later this inseparable pair would be split? Rick asked for the other half of the idol back. David said no. And it appears this debate will extend into next week’s episode as well. Who knows? Maybe the duo will reconcile. But if they don’t and now have to face each other as adversaries instead of allies, it will make for one of the most intriguing splits in Survivor history.

But please don’t split up with this here recap! At least not until we get through all the other big moments from the latest episode.

It’s a Family Affair
Do me a favor. Seriously, I don’t ask for a lot, so do me this solid and go look at this gallery I posted Wednesday morning of the current Survivor cast pitching new twists or themes for the show. They did this with me the day before filming began. Some of the ideas were actually pretty decent. Go ahead and check it out here, and pay close attention to what Aubry pitched. I’ll wait here while you do and kill time by reciting all of the terrible cold and ice-related puns delivered by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin.

Okay, did you do me the favor and go read in? LIAR!!!!! I know you didn’t. I know you didn’t because I wouldn’t have and we share one mind, you and me. Anyway, here’s what Aubry pitched the day before the game began:

“Get rid of the family visit. Because people play for the family visit instead of playing to win. I think there are certain goal-posts in Survivor. You don’t want to be the first boot. You want to make it to the merge. You want to make it to the end. There’s this funny spot, mid-merge, where people get exhausted. They’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve just got to make it to the family visit,’ and then I feel like sometimes, someone’s easily hacked off right after that. Get rid of the family visit, and I think it leaves people guessing a little bit.”

Little could Aubry have known then that the family visit would play such a pivotal role this season — and several episodes before the actual family visit, no less. The woman is a seer! (So are Eric and Joey Amazing. Read what twists they pitched, and no I am not going to print them here to make it easy for you because I am a big meanie. Again, here’s your link.)

The first mention of the family visit came up just minutes into the episode as Eric used it as a less-than-subtle attempt to keep David and Rick in line as bottom-level allies. “If we just stay the course, three votes from now, you know where that puts you? Family visit.” Eric would later repeat the same basic speech to keep his own Kama alliance-mates in line as well. I guess he thought this was the proverbial carrot at the end of the sick.

The problem was it was sooooooo transparent. If you want to promise me something, promise me final three! Or promise me a signed Rowdy Roddy Piper They Live poster! One of the two. But don’t promise me a family visit. First off, let’s be honest: My family could probably use the break from me. Secondly, if the best thing you can dangle in front of me is a family visit, that just tells me I’m expendable like my man Sly Stallone. Which is fitting, because Eric thought he was being so sly in using it as bait. This strategy would come back to haunt him in a big way.

The Extinction Blues
It will not surprise you to learn that the two Edge of Extinction segments this week focused on the two returning players there. First, we see Joey Amazing crying and upset. Although maybe he should be celebrating. If Extinction Island works post-merge the same way it did pre-merge, then all Joe has to do is hang out, become friends with everyone while not having to worry about strategy in the least, win one challenge to get back into the game, maybe win one more once in it, make fire, and then collect the jury votes of all the Extinction Island people he befriended while hanging out there. He may have just won the game by being sent there.

The other big scene at EOE involves a clue to an advantage. An advantage that is found by Aubry, which enables her to practice one phase of the upcoming challenge to get back into the game. Not only that, but she also receives an extra vote to give to someone still in the game. I’m so torn on these challenge advantages and disadvantages. I’m torn because I really, truly, fully do think that any challenge to get back in the game should be done on a completely 100 percent level playing field. That way there are no excuses and whoever wins truly deserved it. It really bums me out when folks have a leg up or leg back on the others because I want to see who actually does the best without any asterisks attached.

On the flip side, they do need to give the folks at EOE something to do. I like them having clues and scavenger hunts and arguments about who muscled whom out for an item or who blurted out what so that who found one. That’s good stuff. I guess if I had my druthers, I would have them searching for things like reward items on Extinction Island, or advantages to give to people still in the game, but I would leave anything related to the challenge to get back in alone. No practicing. No making other people untie extra knots. Keep that pure.

A Puzzling Situation
I just don’t get it. How is David Wright so bad at puzzles? Okay, that’s not fair. I don’t know if he’s bad. But he’s certainly not good. You all know I went on and on about all the puzzle prep David did before the season and how he was going to set the new standard for puzzle performance this season. Suffice it to say, it hasn’t happened. He has blown leads. He has been generally — outside of one single time — unable to use his alleged prowess to come back from behind. He has looked totally lost out there, not unlike poor Wendy Jo trying to find her way down the path after her having her torch snuffed by Jeff Probst in Survivor: Nicaragua.

And every time David falters, I keep saying to myself, “Aw, he’ll get ’em next time.” But then he never does! He never gets ’em! His latest trial and tribulation comes in the reward challenge when the players must race through water and obstacles before solving a plank puzzle. Naturally, David is on the puzzle, and naturally, David loses. ACK!

I hate having to write this each and every week. For one thing, I genuinely like the guy. For another, he was my pre-game pick to win so if he looks good, I look good. (Or, you know, at least as good as I am ever gonna look.) I mean, we all know what happened here, right? I made my pick when I was out there on location in Fiji before the season began so it’s clear I have jinxed the guy beyond belief. Dammit, I guess this is all on me.

Fly, Away
I don’t know why Kelley Wentworth swatting at an airborne insect is so funny, but it just is. Survivor producers and editors have done a great job of including fun little asides and moments in confessionals lately. We saw (and heard) it with the chickens, and now again with Kelley trying to go all Mr. Miyagi on a fly. (Miyagi was more successful… and with chopsticks, no less!)

And give Kelley and David credit for mending fences to recognize that their strongest play was to put strategic differences aside and come together in the hopes of toppling the Kama dynasty. In fact, there was another great piece of editing to illustrate that when we saw Kelley and David talking about making the Kama folks feel safe enough to split the vote, and then they cut right to Eric telling Ron that they should split the vote.

This is exactly why Ron and Eric made a mistake in ousting Joe last week. For one thing, the numbers are too tight. All it takes is one Aurora flip and you’re at 6-6. But even beyond that, once you cut one of your own, it makes such cannibalism acceptable and gives license to others in your alliance to do the same thing, only this time TO YOU! Once you open that door, it can’t be shut. And that same door will hit Eric on the way out of Tribal Council soon enough.

Lights Out
The immunity challenge is one we’ve seen before with contestants balancing a block on top of their heads while standing on tippy toes. It’s fine. Not an all-time great. But not the S.O.S. challenge or picking the same colored rock out of a bag either. Eventually, it gets down to three women (Aurora, Victoria, Lauren) and David, which is to say, four women. At least if Kelley Wentworth is counting. And that’s when things get scary.

“I’m a little dizzy,” says Lauren to herself. “Very dizzy.” However, she continues on, even outlasting David, who falls out of the challenge. But things then progress from scary to really scary. “I can’t see anything,” says Lauren, louder now. “I’m about to black out.” And then, boom! She drops. I have to admit, as concerned as I was for Lauren’s safety at this point, I’d say that about… oh, 58 percent of my attention was diverted by the goofy line-waving camera work used before she collapsed that I guess was supposed to simulate someone either on the brink of passing out or taking a ride through Willy Wonka’s tunnel of psychedelic horrors.

The collapse immediately brings to mind a similar fainting of Edge of Extinction castmate Joe when he dropped in Survivor: Cambodia — Second Chance. But there is one big difference: Lauren’s happened while a challenge was still in play. When Joe dropped while balancing a statue up on a pole, Keith was the only person left so automatically won immunity. But when Lauren drops here, both Victoria and Aurora are still standing.

This means Jeff Probst has to get to some serious multitasking. How do you check on a medical emergency while also continuing to monitor an immunity challenge that has yet to declare a winner? Not unlike Run D.M.C., it’s tricky. Probst immediately rushes over to Lauren’s crumpled body, calling the medical team along the way. But rather than hovering a bit awkwardly while Dr. Joe makes his assessment (as is the norm), Probst then retreats back to keep an eye on the women still standing. “Joe, let me know if we need to stop this challenge,” he instructs.

This is interesting. What would have happened had they been forced to stop the challenge? Here are what I see as the three options.

OPTION 1: If Lauren had to be medevaced out of the game, then they may have just canceled Tribal Council, making the challenge and immunity winner null and void anyway.

OPTION 2: Both Victoria and Aurora would have been awarded immunity.

OPTION 3: Instead of Victoria or Aurora winning immunity, it would have gone to both Kelley and David, while Aubry and Joe would also have been brought back into the game and given permanent immunity until the final four, because, you know, returning players and all.

My best guess is it would have been option 1. But it isn’t just that Probst has to keep an eye on a fallen Lauren and keep an eye on who would win the challenge. There is also a lot of chatter going on, at least form Aurora. This season’s Purple Kelly is begging Victoria to drop and hand her the immunity win. “I need this, just to feel better with our group,” she pleads. “I was the only one left out of the vote, dude.”

This does not please Julie — who is sitting on the loser bench, hopefully not peeing herself — in the least. “She’s passed out! She’s not awake right now!” complains the New Yorker about the odd timing of Aurora’s request. “I’m gonna f—-in lose it.” (It’s unclear if Julie is referring to her bladder or Aurora with that comment.)

In the end, Lauren is fine, if a bit embarrassed, while Aurora outlasts Victoria and her cheering section to win immunity. Props to Lauren. Props to Aurora. And props to Probst and the Survivor medical team. Once Dr. Joe made it to the patient, there was no reason for Jeff to stay there. He made the right call to get back to the challenge while his medical professional could alert him if the situation turned direr. This is why the entire Survivor crew and production team is so incredible. They have to make these insane split-second decisions you won’t find on any other television show, and the remarkable part about it is, they never seem caught off-guard. Never. Seriously impressive work done here by all parties involved.

Kama Weak
Maybe things are turning around for Aurora. Not only did she actually get a confessional, and not only did she win the immunity challenge, but she also received a present in her bag back at camp — the extra vote from Aubry. Wow, that sure could come in handy at this next vote should she decide to jump ship and join the Lesu five.

Meanwhile, Eric is doing everything wrong. He’s once again hammering home to the people on the bottom of his alliance that they are just a few votes away from the loved ones visit. Not only that, but he tells them they should all split their votes on Kelley and Lauren, making himself vulnerable should one or two people flip. Seeing Eric talk this entire episode is like watching a horror movie. You know the guy is about to get murdered and want to stand up and yell at the TV to warn him: “THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!!!”

And now we have come to the point in the recap where I am going to say something nice about The Wardog. Look, it’s been a rough go for The Wardog this season. No doubt about it. His swimming has been questionable, his diving has been worse, and his throwing motion has certainly left something to be desired. The Wardog’s tribes lost pretty much everything they competed in, and even earlier this episode he got totally dunked on by a sarcasm-spewing Rick Devens. But The Wardog is in his foxhole now, preparing for battle. And damn if he isn’t stocked with some ammunition.

In a cleverly edited sequence, we see The Wardog going back and forth in conversations with Julie and Gavin. He has accurately sensed they are not in power now and expertly dangles the threat of David and Devens siding with Ron and Erik later to take out fellow Kama. And now the seed has been planted. Considering all this, Julia stages a test. She asks Eric about getting rid of David now to see his reaction, and when Eric pushes back, the seed that The Wardog planted officially sprouts.

Gavin has also had his doubts. Remember that whole “play for the family visit” speech that Eric has on a heavier rotation than “Despacito” in the summer of 2017? It was supposed to keep people in line. Instead, it served as “an epiphany” for Gavin that he was doing this to bring a million dollars back to his family. Instead of lulling Gavin into docility, it did the exact opposite and woke him up. WHOOPS! The one issue to flipping the script is Victoria, who wants to wait a few more votes before striking, and Victoria is probably right. By flipping now with so many Lesu, the Kama traitors would be giving up their majority. Waiting for another vote or two is indeed the more prudent move. But also less exciting! And this is Survivor! So let’s do exciting! Throw caution to the wind! Dip deep! BIG MOVES!!!!

At Tribal Council, it becomes clear that Rick is not part of the attempted coup, exclaiming that “I’m doing whatever I can to get on the Kama train.” (I can only assume the Kama train somewhat resembles the Gap Band’s “Party Train,” only with fewer cowboy hats and considerably less funk.) His former island BFF David then continues the transportation theme by noting that everyone has to decide if they want to be a pilot or a passenger. And that pilots win. (Not always, actually, but that’s a whole other debate we don’t need to get into right now.)

Eric’s response to the pilot/passenger analogy? “Maybe it doesn’t feel great to feel like a passenger, but I know from talking to everyone out here how much we want to see our loved ones.” Seriously? The loved ones AGAIN?!? If the rest of Kama did not feel manipulated before, they surely felt manipulated now. That is just a terribly transparent way of keeping people you plan to ditch along the way in line for a few more votes. Which is why The Wardog puts the perfect punctuation mark on the conversation with “Are we playing for a million dollars or just to get to the loved ones visit?” See! More praise for The Wardog! Way to go, The Wardog! I would high-five you right now, but I’m kinda afraid you might miss.

In the end, Julia, Gavin, Aurora, and Victoria join Kelley, Lauren, David, and The Wardog in voting out Eric (meaning Eric, Ron, Julie, and, yes, Rick Devens were left out of the loop). Again, probably not the best move for the defectors at this time, but definitely the more exciting one, and honestly, I can’t blame them after how patronizing Eric was by blatantly sitting them at the Survivor equivalent of the kiddie table. Of course, Ron looked positively pissed by the outcome and I’m sure that was tough to see his tribe turn on him and his biggest ally ousted. But, on the plus side, he’s still the most dapper Tribal Council attendee we’ve ever seen. (I love the way he puts his tie on for Tribal. So unnecessary, yet, at the time same, so crucial.)

So that does it. Eric is gone, but not really gone. And the biggest irony of all? He’ll now miss the family visit!!! But there appears to be more drama afoot. Judging by the previews for next week, it looks like Aubry will be issuing an official challenge to Eliza Orlins for the title of Most Exaggerated Juror of All-Time. Can’t wait to see what prompted that. And now I will prompt you to read my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, where he takes us inside that scary scene with Lauren collapsing. We also have an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above, and don’t forget to check out all the cast members pitching new Survivor twists and themes. Some of them are actually pretty decent. Not all, but some. And follow me on Instagram @thedaltonross for a chance to win all the original embarrassing moment confessions from the cast, and follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss for an overabundance of Survivor scoop.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Was the David and Devens split as fascinating to you as it was to me? Should they have stopped the challenge after Lauren collapsed? And did the Kama defectors make their move too soon? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.

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