Man, this is not easy. I mean, I don’t want to give the indication that writing Survivor recaps is usually a walk in the park. I have somehow convinced my bosses that I spew blood, sweat, and tears over each and every recap each and every week, when in reality it’s just a bunch of nonsense off the top of my head (but let’s keep that between you and me; it’s not like my bosses actually read this garbage). But this week is hard. Last week was hard, but at least we could all share and process our thoughts on the enormous mess that was dropped onto our television doorstep. A mess that I can’t even bring myself to once again explain or describe if you just crawled out from under a rock and have no idea what I’m talking about. But you know what I’m talking about.

But what now? How are we supposed to — like the players themselves — shift back into game mode? How do we move on?

Some people won’t. I got a deluge of emails, text messages, and tweets from folks over the last week saying they were done. Some said forever. Others said for the season. My response: I totally get it. And I do get it because watching Survivor is supposed to be fun. Something to look forward to. Something to enjoy. But last week, it all just felt… gross. Who wants to feel gross? Where’s the enjoyment in that?

Sure, the episode last week may have served as a reflection of our society, and it can be argued that there is value in being confronted with the ugliness and boundary-crossing we saw on display in terms of safeguarding against it back here in our day to day lives. But at whose expense? Kellee’s? Janet’s? Was that lesson worth their personal trauma and discomfort? (Answer: an emphatic no.)

So how do we move on? Do we even want to move on? Is it possible to be even remotely invested in the outcome of this season when what happened on a personal level outside of it so clearly outweighs the ultimate decision? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe you don’t either. But, for better or for worse, there is more story to be told this season. I have no idea if it will be good, bad, or ugly. Perhaps we can find out together. And if you want to bail… again, I get it. And if you want to stick around, cool. Either way, I’m here for you. (And if you missed my exit interviews with Kellee Kim and Jamal Shipman, you can read them here.)

With that said, let’s get to what went down on this week’s episode.

It’s Raining Karma
After everything that just happened, I suppose it is only fitting that the contestants then have to suffer what might be the most brutal storm of the season. “Last night was probably the worst night of my life,” says Elizabeth… having no idea how true that statement would turn out to be seven months later.

Also struggling is Karishma, who not only is having trouble with the elements, but with her tribemates as well. Noura points out that Karishma does nothing around camp, is the first to bed, and the last one up. “She’s inconsistent, unworkable, ungrateful — and I have no interest in working with someone like that.” (Other than that, how do you feel?)

And Karishma can sense it. “It’s incredibly obvious I am in trouble and I can only blame myself,” she tells us. If there is a silver lining, it’s that she at least appears to feel better about the relationship with her husband, noting that he decided to be with her for her whole life “when I can’t even get somebody to trust me and care for me for even one vote out here.” (Say what you want about Karishma, but that is going to be one hell of a Loved Ones visit if she makes it that far.)

But Karishma’s reputation for being lazy actually comes in super handy when she finds a hidden immunity idol. Even though nobody seems to suspect that she would actually be capable of finding one, Karishma still has to come up with a cover story when she saunters across Norua, Tommy, and Lauren by the water well after being gone for an hour and having collected only two coconuts! Two coconuts! In an hour! Tyson and Gervase drank twenty times that amount in half the time!

For any other player, that startling lack of productivity would be a huge red flag, but Karishma sells a story to the trio at the well that she was feeling sick and they buy it hook, line, and sinker. In fact, they buy it too much! All of a sudden, Karishma has to backtrack to stop her tribemates from calling the doctor, even having to accuse them of attempting to get her thrown out of the game. (ABORT! ABORT!) The whole thing turns into whatever the opposite of the boy who cried wolf is, as a perfectly healthy Karishma pretending to be sick then has to pretend to be miraculously feeling better even though she felt fine to begin with. It all makes my head spin so much now I think I need a doctor!

Speaking of Spinning…
We’ve seen this week’s immunity challenge before. It’s the one where people stand on a narrow beam and spin a ball in a circular wooden track until your ball falls out. It’s fine. Never been one of my personal favorites, and here’s why. I prefer endurance challenges where you can better track who is struggling. That way you can watch people push through pain or personal discomfort and you have a pretty good sense in terms of how people are progressing through it.

You then get great moments like when that player who has seemed rock solid the entire time drops out of nowhere, or that person who you know isn’t going to win fights to go as long as they can, even as their body is trembling and sending signals to just stop. I love that stuff. On this challenge, however, it’s difficult to track that. Instead, people just kinda spin a ball until it’s not spinning anymore. I don’t hate it. But I don’t love it either. (I also may be biased because I am relatively confident I would be terrible at it.)

Of course, the big twist is that Jeff Probst randomly divides the tribe into two groups, and one person from each group will win immunity, with each group going to a separate Tribal Council to vote somebody out. In addition, the last person standing out of everyone will win PB&J for their group, which will go to Tribal last and therefore have the knowledge of what happened at the first Tribal. This becomes noteworthy when Noura wins immunity from her group and then celebrates by throwing her spinner up in the air, thereby forfeiting the food and Tribal advantage, to the consternation of Dan and Dean. That’s such a Noura move, and I absolutely love it.

We’ve heard players on the show complain about Noura, and I understand why. Living with that big bundle of energy and opinions when you’re cold, tired, and hungry… well, that sounds like a lot. But for us viewers who get to experience it from the comfortable distance of our living rooms, Noura is an absolute blessing. She appears to think through absolutely nothing, which is SO DAMN REFRESHING!! She survives on spontaneity and spunk. Perhaps with a little moxie and sass thrown in. And, possibly, pluck. Personally, I wish this entire season was just Noura being sent repeatedly to Island of the Idols and having to come back each time and convince her tribemates to let her do something. When all is said and done on season 39, that may be the one thing that ends up making us smile.

While Noura is busy turning down protein for her tribe, Elaine and Missy are battling it out for the other immunity, which Elaine finally wins, calling it the best moment of her life. It’s always a cool moment when you see the impact winning an individual immunity can have on people. They’ve watched Jeff Probst put that necklace around people’s necks for years, and to finally get on the show and have him put it around yours? Cool. Very cool.

The folks then separate onto two different beaches at Tribals, which is exactly what we will do as well.

The PB&J-Free Zone
Dean, Dan, Lauren, Aaron, Noura, and Janet all have to make their way to the peanut butter and jelly-less old Lairo camp. It appears at first blush as if Janet is a goner, but then everyone looks over and notices Aaron is not wearing a necklace. And then they notice something else: His allies of Missy and Elizabeth are not there to protect him. This could be the time to take their shot.

Just one problem: Dean sees Aaron as his shield and is worried once the biggest male physical threat is gone, the target may find its way to him. I still don’t get this line of thinking. Survivor challenges are not the same now as they were 15 years ago. Yes, there are instances where a big burly dude (like F.U. Brad Culpepper) goes on an immunity winning streak, but there are just as many instances where someone like Chrissy Hofbeck or Nick Wilson dominates down the stretch.

Just because Dean was good at shooting baskets doesn’t mean he’ll be dominant at a puzzle, or putting multiple balls down a chute with one hand tied behind his back, or holding his arm up in the air for a really long time. Muscular dudes need to get over themselves! Granted, this is coming from a very unmuscular dude, so you can take this whole rant with a grain of salt, but I still see this attitude as pretty pervasive among players. And not just among the alpha males, but among the other contestants worried so much about getting them out because they are such “physical threats.” Honestly, if I were in that game, I would be much more concerned with going against a puzzle genius. And before you heap too much praise on Aaron for being an endurance beast that absolutely had to go because he won twice last week in very impressive fashion, keep in mind he was the very first person out from his group this week.

We go to Tribal Council to find out what will… Wait a minute? What are Boston Rob and Sandra already doing in their hot box? If anything was ever going to get us over the traumatic events of last week it was bearing witness to the unintentional comedy of watching the two legends sneaking into their little Tribal Council spy shack. Denying us that pleasure is simply wrong and uncalled for.

After Dean rolls up his shirt to show off his muscles, Rob and Sandra place bets on who is getting voted out. Rob is right as Aaron is unanimously kicked directly to the jury, and we all place our own bets on if Rob can refrain from I-told-you-soing Sandra. (Note: He can’t). Aaron takes his ouster in stride and a nation celebrates at the safety of Janet, because losing her now after everything that happened last week would just be too brutal to even consider. But there’s still another Tribal to go.

The PB&J Zone
First off, let’s be clear about something: Creamy peanut butter is for suckers. There is no room for compromise on this issue. It’s crunchy all the way. My wife brought home creamy Skippy from the supermarket recently and I immediately began divorce proceedings. (I’m pretty sure her move was merely payback for all the times I came home from the Acme with generic-brand non-organic grape tomatoes that make her want to murder me in my sleep.) Anyhoo, get that creamy garbage out of my face.

Now that that’s settled, the vote over at Lumuwaku also seems easy at first glance: Karishma. But nothing is ever easy in this game. Missy sees the tribe separation as a way to separate the power duo of Tommy and Lauren. I cleverly deduced this once I heard Missy say, “We need to separate Tommy from Lauren,” and definitely deserve a gold star and a cookie for doing so.

Missy says that everybody loves Tommy but that “Nobody is going to award Karishma a million dollars.” That’s a solid strategic play, but it is then backed up with a really poor social one. Missy attempts to get Karishma on board with her plan, but the way she goes about it is in the least collaborative manner possible. She starts off the conversation with “listen” and then keeps using that word like an order over and over. She also repeatedly keeps grabbing Karishma’s arm to prevent her from walking away.

Missy’s problem is dramatically underestimating Karishma’s self-esteem and treating the conversation less as an exchange of ideas and more like a set of marching orders — while assuming Karishma would be so happy to not be voted out that she would go along with it blindly. But the assumption is wrong. “Missy was talking at me, not talking with me,” says Karishma. “She was a bully to me. I’m not taking that anymore, especially from a 24-year-old girl who thinks she’s on top of the world.”

Karishma then tells Elaine about Missy’s plan and Elaine tells Big Red, which I always thought was an obscure brand of cinnamon gum but apparently is also Tommy’s nickname. And here’s where the social game comes in, because Elaine tells us that “They came at Karishma hot. I’m coming with compassion and understanding,” while Tommy notes that “Missy has not been very nice to Karishma. I view her as a person and not as a goat. She has been bullied on this island.” So which side do you think Karishma is going to choose to side with?

SPOILER ALERT: It’s not with Missy. (Social gameplay matters, people!)

This second Tribal Council is a little difficult to dissect because Missy told Karishma she was going to come at her for show to fool Tommy and Elaine, so she may have thought she and Karishma were playing roles to make them seem at odds. For that reason, I don’t want to read too much into what is said here because I don’t know how much is real and how much is part of an act.

What I do know is that I took pretty big issue — as did we all — with what Missy did last week with the whole Dan–Kellee–Janet situation, and I also really didn’t like the way she addressed Karishma in this episode, which clearly read like the powerful talking down to the powerless. So now I will point out something I did like. Right before voting, Missy addressed the host: “We’re ready to vote, I think, but real quick: I love you, but the other day, two African-Americans wore the necklace at the same time. And at our Tribal, there was no mention of it at all. It doesn’t happen very often. Women typically are the first voted out. Minorities are the second. So to have two minorities on the same day and in a double challenge wear the necklace, that’s just something that I feel like, representation matters and I feel like my future nieces and nephews and my future other family members need to see that because we’re here too.”

Representation does matter. For way too long, there was way too little of it on this show. When Survivor finally did go racially diverse, they did it in the worst way imaginable by dividing the teams up by ethnicity for the Cook Islands season. The following season of Survivor: Fiji also featured a multicultural roster. But then the show abruptly went back to being overwhelmingly white. It was a huge bummer.

One of the things that made me and many others very excited at the outset of season 39 was seeing so many different complexions on the island, and then to see them be front and center in terms of both the strategy and storytelling of the season. To watch people like Kellee, Jamal, Vince, Karishma, Missy, Aaron, and Lauren driving the season in those early weeks was really exciting. So I love that Missy brought that up.

And I also like the way Probst responded, because instead of saying something slick and host-like, he chose honesty by revealing that not only was he not sure that the fact even occurred to him, but that if it had, he may have been reluctant to bring it up anyway out of fear that it would come across like it was something that you would not expect to happen. If we’re going to have conversations about race, they should come from an honest introspective place, and that comment showed Jeff looking inside himself and acknowledging and coming clean that he too has questions on how to properly navigate those waters. He could have just gone, “Very well said, Missy,” and been done with it. That would have been the easiest thing to do. I think that’s what most hosts would have done in that situation. I appreciate that he said more.

Anyway, Missy gets voted out and is legitimately shocked. “Yoooooo, who did it?” she asks. Both Tommy and Elaine take credit, and there are departing hugs all around. But lest anyone think Missy is ready to let bygones be bygones, she delivers one last whispered message into Elizabeth’s ear: “You realize now you gotta kill Elaine. You understand me? Slowly and methodically.” (But not literally, I assume?)

So there it is. The guy who said there could be no inappropriate touching because he as a man would know about it if it happened, and the woman who came up with the idea to exaggerate feeling uncomfortable and unsafe as a strategic ploy are now out of the game. I don’t know if that makes anyone feel better about the season or not. We all still have our own complicated emotions on what has turned into the most complicated season of Survivor ever, and I don’t expect those feelings to be suddenly undone by one episode.

But I’m here. You’re here. We’ll figure it out together. And if you want to continue to figure it out over social media — always a dangerous proposition — you can follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss. We also have an exclusive deleted scene from the episode, and another weekly Q&A with Probst (in which I also asked him about the public reaction to last week’s episode and if any changes will be made on the production end after the events we saw unfold), so keep your eyes peeled for that.

That’s about it, folks. Sorry if this week’s recap wasn’t quite up to snuff. It’s far from my best, but I feel like we’re all still working through some things and it may take a bit of time to fully unpack. But I’ll be back next week, when I look forward to delivering you a Thanksgiving-sized scoop of the crispy!

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