Survivor: Winners at War recap: The Robfather strikes again
Boston Rob once again proves his absolute and total control over the tribe.
I like to always brag about how I am immune to peer pressure. If I don’t want to do something, I just don’t do it. No amount of cajoling or ribbing or persuasion or influence or intimidation will get me to change my mind. I suppose I’m kind of proud of how impervious I am to peer pressure, even if the sad reality is that it means I am just A) Really stubborn. And B) Kind of no fun. If you want someone to throw caution to the wind and do something crazy and memorable, I’m probably not your guy. Tony Vlachos may be, but not me. I see no homemade ladders in my future.
So as someone who feels no particular compulsion to do something just because someone tells me to (unless it is my wife and refusing will put me in the proverbial doghouse for an extended period of time), I could not help but be flabbergasted and flummoxed and astonished and astounded and baffled and bewildered by what I saw go down at Tribal Council. Not Danni’s eviction from the tribe, which we will get to in a bit, but rather the fact that Boston Rob essentially ordered the tribe to all open their bags to see who had a hidden immunity idol. AND THEY ALL DID IT!!!! Every single one of them! Adam was the only one to call B.S. on the maneuver, but by that point, everyone else had already spilled their contents all over the Tribal set and he was stuck into complying as well.
What. The. Hell? How could this happen? Maybe alliance members like Ethan and Parvati were in on it, which helped others to feel like they should follow their lead and do the same. Maybe some knew they didn’t have an idol and were curious to see who did. Maybe some were hoping it would shift the target off of them and onto someone else. Maybe they were just happy they ended up on the tribe with Rob instead of Russell because had those two picked different buffs after stepping off the chopper in Nicaragua… Oh, wait, sorry, I thought I was watching Survivor: Redemption Island again.
But how can you blame me? Because the scene was like something straight out of season 22, with Rob giving the orders and everyone on the tribe blindly following. With one difference: THESE ARE ALL WINNERS! There aren’t starstruck first-timers doing what they’re told because they don’t know any better. They are all champions! And yet they too, not unlike those poor, misguided souls on Ometepe, are allowing Boston Rob to chart and dictate the course of the tribe. Honestly, that was one of the craziest things I have ever seen. If Rob’s interview before the game did not convince you how good he is, and if stealing Ben’s milk money last week did not convince you how good he is, then this should convince you once and for all.
Why is everyone doing what he is saying, you may ask? Because he either has them under his control, or they are too scared to do otherwise. Either way, that’s a win-win for the Robfather. That’s not to say he didn’t have a significant stumble (which we’ll get into later), but that was one seriously impressive performance by a true Survivor performance artist. Respect is due.
On the flip side of that is Danni. Ooof. Danni was my pre-season pick to win the game. I figured she had social, strategic, and physical game, yet was not viewed as a threat and could skate on by early. And I was not alone in that assessment. No less than Jeff Probst himself also had Danni as his pick to win. Well… we were wrong. Embarrassingly so. I mean, yes, she could still get back in off the Edge of Extinction and win, but that was a pretty epic faceplant out of the gate for a player I respect a whole bunch.
The weirdest thing about it is that I was half right: It appears like Danni could have skated by for a while. But instead, she let her paranoia take over and convince her that she was a target. By the edit (often an unreliable narrator), it appears that had Danni kept her nose down and mouth shut she would have been fine. But then, in a super uncomfortable scene that put last week’s nobody-will-talk-to-Kim-Spradlin awkwardness to shame, Danni started chatting to Ethan about the old-school alliance… right in front of Ben! BOOM! That’s a Danni Bomb that just detonated right in front of your face, Driebergen! You had no idea how much heat the Kansas City Mama was packing in season 40! BOOM! Explosion! Take that! You just got served, sucka!
Only problem is that this particular Danni Bomb self-detonated. I don’t know why Danni would talk about the old school alliance in front of someone from season 35! Maybe it was a brain fart brought on by not enough sleep and not enough food. Maybe it was some sort of mental jiujitsu reverse psychology. Maybe it was just terrible gameplay. But the saddest part is that it was merely Danni’s first mistake. Her second was to ask Boston Rob to vote out his closest ally — something that makes about as much sense as Denise giving Parvati half of her immunity idol. (Was Adam the only voice of reason and sanity this entire episode?)
Bottom line: Danni panicked. She clearly was never close with the old-schoolers, but instead of still enjoying the safety of second-tier protection while not being a first-tier target, she went Black Sabbath mode and got straight-up paranoid. That makes her the second straight old-schooler to fail to adjust to the speed of the game. Amber was clearly uncomfortable and unprepared for the pace of Tony and others on Dakal, and now Danni appeared spooked by the strategy talk happening that didn’t involve her. And she paid the price.
And that makes three straight women to be voted out. Thankfully, none of it has been due to any sort of perceived lack of strength — a tired old line of reasoning to get rid of people early in the game (yet one that has persisted in Australian Survivor, perhaps due to that show’s much greater emphasis on brute strength in challenges). Instead, Natalie and Amber were tossed due to their close relationships with others, while Danni appeared to be a compromise name from sides not willing to draw first blood. Whom will Sele vote out next? Judging by what we saw at this Tribal, whomever Boston Rob tells them to.
Okay, let’s get to the other big moments from this week’s pretty fantastic episode.
While we’re on the subject of Sele, let’s talk about the idol activity this week. Ben did something pretty interesting here. We all know the last time Ben played he ran around at the wee hours by himself searching for idols, but he knows that won’t work this time around. He needs more. He needs partners. Ben talked about the need to up his social game because “being alone in Survivor sucks.” I’m not entirely sure if he’s referring to the game or a pre-Reddit message board, but either way, he needs to find himself some allies.
To do this, he not only tells Denise how to find an idol, but when she does locate one and finds out she must give half of it to someone else, instead of asking for his half, Ben tells Denise to use it to bring someone else in and build their army. Okay, yes, from the outside looking in, Ben may not look so smart not realizing that Denise is much closer with Adam anyway so he basically just gave that power duo an idol, but I like the way Ben is playing the long game. And perhaps he does realize how close Denise and Adam are (especially after their day 1 extended remix scenic view trip to the water well) and wants them to trust him. But coming into this game, Ben knew he needed to diversify his game, and that is exactly what he is doing.
But I have NO IDEA what Denise is doing wanting to give the other half of the idol to Parvati. On the list of Bad Ideas, that is right up there alongside the time I decided to wear my sister’s white Benetton suit to a middle school dance because I thought it made me look like Don Johnson from Miami Vice. (It did not.) Denise! What in the name of Matsing are you thinking? At least Adam intervened and told her what I’m telling you: “That’s a terrible idea.”
A quick note about the idol itself. I’m not going to bitch and complain about too many idols and advantages this season because much like the Edge of Extinction, it’s here so we need to get used to it. But I do like that if they are going to keep putting idols into play, at least splitting the idols in half and forcing people to share them adds an extra dimension as well as the possibility of bad feelings if someone refuses to hand their half over to the other. And bad feelings make for good TV.
Kim’s Second Act (As Shaky as the First)
Kim had a rough go of it in the last episode as she and her allies were immediately targeted for being in a poker player alliance that she emphatically denied existed even though her two closest allies in the tribe were the dude she played poker with (Tyson) and the wife (Amber) of another dude she played with (Boston Rob).
But there is a reason I said Kim Spradlin gave the most dominant single-season performance in Survivor history. You can’t stop Kim Spradlin; you can only hope to contain her. And you can’t even really contain Kim Spradlin because as soon as you think you’ve contained Kim Spradlin she goes and adds another name to herself and becomes Kim Spradlin-Wolfe! How badass is that? She used to own a bridal shop, and NOW SHE IS A FREAKIN’ WOLFE!!! Leader of the pack, baby! That’s right! And now she just found a hidden immunity idol! What do you think about that? I told you that you cannot keep a player of Kim’s caliber down! Now she’s going to take that idol and flip the script on the entire tribe and……
Wait a minute. What’s she doing? Why is she giving the other half of her idol to Sophie? No. No, don’t do that. ABORT! ABORT! Go find Tyson! Give it to him! Hell, pull a Denise and give it to Parvati over on the other tribe, but do not under any circumstances give that to Sophie! Put the idol down, Kim. Okay, listen to my voice. No sudden movements now. Sloooooooooowly step away from the lady in the glasses. Step away, Kim. Unless you played at some sort of Run it Up Reno poker tournament that Yul Kwon is unaware of with that woman, then you need to take your idol and get to steppin’.
Boy, this was tough to watch. But that is also what is so amazing about this season: You have people who won the game getting absolutely schooled, like Ben last week and Kim here. The level of competition is that high. Kim didn’t make a single wrong move in Survivor: One World (except, you know, being on that absolutely godawful season), but she has been on the ropes from the very get-go here and may have just blown her opportunity to get back into it.
The rest of the Dakal footage this week basically centers around people trying to get fruit. It begins with Yul using a large bamboo stick (something I watched him attempt with little success on day 2). But then Tony has another idea. The Jersey boy builds what can only be described as the scariest looking ladder since Jacob’s Ladder starring Tim Robbins as a former infantryman who has visions of his girlfriend having sex with a giant tentacled creature. (I don’t particularly recommend it unless you’re into some super freaky stuff.)
Tony wants to risk life and limb to climb this homemade monstrosity because of course he does. Keep something in mind as you watch this scene: This is a toned-down Tony. This is Tony Light. This is Tony with a harness on. This is Tony on Quaaludes. I mean, the ladder ends up working, so good on him, but also, like, he’s insane. Which is why I love him to death. Tony is one of the most entertaining people in the history of Survivor, and he is so entertaining because… that’s Tony! Unlike a lot of other big characters, he’s not trying to ham it up and be “crazy” to score camera time. This is who he is. And I can’t get enough of it.
“It’s kind of like playing a game with a kid where you just imagine it’s all make-believe,” said Sophie of Tony. “And then you realize at some point, for them, it is not make-believe.” God bless that man. I know there are some people out there that are not fans of Tony, and frankly, I don’t know how they sleep at night.
The Early Bird Gets The Fire Token
I asked Jeff Probst last week whether it made sense in an Edge of Extinction season to go early because you have less competition to find items that can then give you Fire Tokens to get an advantage to get back in the game. After watching episode 2, you have to believe the advantage is real. I’m not saying people should get voted out on purpose to go there, but if you do end up there, it does definitely appear to be an advantage to get there as early as possible.
Not only did Natalie have no competition to find the idol she sent to Sandra last week for a Fire Token, but then she only had to contend with Amber to discover this week’s advantage. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and after neither of them could figure out the clue of the first letter in each line spelling out WATER WELL, Natalie went to get some water and just happened to look down and find what turned out to be an advantage that allows someone to leave Tribal Council before the votes are cast and return to camp — meaning they could not vote, but also could not be voted out.
See, this is the type of advantage I LOVE being introduced into the game, and here’s why. An extra vote or a steal-a-vote is too easy. It’s all positive. No debate or dilemma to be had with those. But leaving Tribal early carries potential positives and negatives. You can’t be voted out. That’s good! But it also means you deprive your alliance of what could be a crucial vote at a crucial time. That’s bad! Especially if they take offense that you ditched them for your own personal safety.
With an advantage like this, you are forcing someone to make a potentially difficult decision, and those of you who have read these recaps for a long time know I am all about forcing contestants into difficult decision-making. So props to the producers for coming up with a cool twist. And props to Jeremy — who had every right to feel vulnerable after his closest ally in Natalie was voted out at their latest Tribal — for not panicking and using it when Sele lost the immunity challenge. Which brings us to…
The Key to Victory
You all know by now that every season the press gets to join Dream Teamers (whose job is to test out challenges) in doing a run-through of a challenge or two before the actual players do. These tests enable the producers to check camera angles on everything as well as evaluate the challenges themselves. Often producers will make major changes to a challenge after seeing something they don’t like. I’ve seen them add or subtract entire obstacles or sections after our run through. That did not happen here.
This immunity challenge had tribes race with a cart, retrieving three keys to get three chests along the way. The tribes then had to disassemble their carts, get through a barricade, and then reassemble them and bring the chests to the end, which would then be opened by two puzzle solvers who would take the pieces inside and solve a giant dragon puzzle. I can tell you a few things from our press run through. I was on key duty. I suppose that makes me the Keymaster and now I just need to locate the Gatekeeper and we can raise Gozer in the form of a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and take over New York City. Or something like that.
Anyway, getting the keys was a bit tricky in that you had to extend your pole (sounds grosser than I meant it) and keep it straight the entire way. You would think that it would get easier the more you do it, but I’m pretty sure I started off strong and got progressively worse on the three stations, so you tell me what that’s all about.
The best way to get through the last obstacle with the dirt speed bumps was all about momentum — starting as far back as possible and getting up as much speed as possible before hitting the bumps. That allowed us to get through those relatively easily while the other tribe faltered, which was a good thing because we lost a lot of time due to a faulty cart that would not reassemble properly. (See, another reason to do run-throughs! We showed the challenge team after how one of the rails would not reattach and they had to fix it for the actual Sele-Dakal battle.)
We won in our test with the Dream Teamers because puzzle master Gordon “Hurricane” Holmes brought it home, and what do I always say about a challenge like this? Repeat after me: It’s all about the puzzle. I’ve said it a million times before and will say it a million more: The physical stuff is all window dressing. Which is why I was 100 percent positive that Sele was going to win, even though Dakal had a huge lead. And even though Sophie was on the Dakal puzzle (and Sophie is Sofierce). Because let me tell you something, ladies and gentlemen: Boston Rob is a puzzle annihilator.
I still remember being in Samoa for the first challenge of Heroes vs. Villains. We were talking with Probst before it started, and Jeff told us that if Rob was on the puzzle portion in that contest that the Villains would win. But then the tribe did not put him on the puzzle. Instead, they had him out on the physical portion… at first. But as the players were taking their positions, the Villains made a last-second switch. Probst yelled over the press peeps to make sure we saw what had happened. Rob moved over to the puzzle and the Villains won (which sent Sugar out of the game).
So, sure, Dakal had a lead. And sure, Sofierce was on the dragon, but Rob was already working on the puzzle before his tribe got him the pieces, staring over at the competition’s completed portion to study what they had already done. Here comes the comeback, I thought to myself. And sure enough, it looked that way at first. “Denise and Rob made up a lot of time in that first section!” Probst called out. Boston Rob to the rescue again, I assumed. And then… nothing.
A little inside intel for you here about the puzzle. There was a large platform the puzzle-solvers stood on to complete their dragon. However, you were not allowed to put any puzzle pieces down on the platform. Meaning you could not lay all the pieces together by your feet and then put them up in the circle. Instead, you could only put them on a little table to organize. That’s what Rob and Denise were attempting to do, but there simply was not enough space to effectively lay out your pieces. “Rob and Denise are absolutely nowhere,” bellowed Probst. “All that time they spent organizing, absolutely nothing to show for it. Absolute disaster on the puzzle.”
He’s right. It was a disaster, especially for someone of Rob’s caliber, whom I’ve watched dominate in person and on TV many times over many years. Was Sofierce that good or Rob that bad? Probably a little bit of both. In any event, Rob saved his best move for Tribal Council, which we’ve already gotten into.
Before we wrap things up, some credit to the producers again for providing some effective red herrings before the vote. While Danni was the easy consensus vote, we also saw Jeremy and Adam and Michele (who was Purple Kellyed again) discussing taking a big swing of Parvati, and Rob worry about Ben being a “wild card.” They didn’t oversell these options, but presented them as legitimate possibilities and helped add some intrigue to the vote in what has been a super intriguing season so far. Listen, we had super high hopes for season 40. And when you set such high expectations, it is almost impossible to match them. (See: Survivor: All-Stars). But this all-winners battle has been everything we hoped for. The players. The personalities. It’s all clicking. I’m so freakin’ happy right now.
And I want to finish this week’s recap by giving a special shout-out to Adam Klein. As I wrote in last week’s recap filled with behind-the-scenes secrets, Adam struggled mightily in his first Tribal Council to simply light his torch, requiring the assistance of both Ethan and then Danni to get it lit. So how does he follow that up? By not being able to find the hole to put his torch in at his second Tribal. I wish this was all some master plan by Adam to make the others think he’s a big doofus and then not take him seriously and overlook him, but in reality, he’s just being a big doofus. And I love it. The fact that editors did not show his lighting issues last week knowing what was to come this week is now even more baffling to me. That’s a theme, people!
In any event, I’ve already wasted enough of your time with this nonsense. Now allow me to waste some more! We have an exclusive deleted scene from the episode for you to enjoy above of the Sele tribe getting their tree mail (which they never show anymore) and Boston Rob explaining his A, B, and C plans. Not only that, but check out my weekly interview with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst, where he answers some burning questions about week two. I’ve also posted some more behind the scenes pics over on my Instagram @thedaltonross, and you can always find my Survivor article links on the Twitter @DaltonRoss.
But now it’s your turn. Did Sele make the right move ousting Danni? Is it a miracle Tony is still alive? Thoughts on the newest advantage? Weigh in on all that and more in the message boards below, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.