By Dalton Ross
February 26, 2020 at 09:00 PM EST
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S40 E3
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  • TV Show
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  • CBS
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They’re all dead to me.

I mean, Jeremy is a nice guy with a nice family and he saves lives for a living. So many reasons to like him. Still… DEAD! Michele gave me one of my favorite Survivor interviews of all time, in the process making me rethink a lot of things about not just the game, but my life. And yet… DEAD! Ben has a last name that always reminds me of brie cheese, which is my favorite of all the cheeses. But you know what? DEAD! And last time I checked, Denise had been to (and survived) 5,847 out of a possible 5,848 Tribal Councils. The game tried repeatedly yet was unable to kill her. I will now succeed where it failed, because… DEAD!

Honestly, how dare they? And where do they get the nerve? Because those rat bastards just voted out Ethan Zohn (or, Ethan Zorn, if your name is Bryant Gumbel). ETHAN! The dude was so inspired by his time in Africa while playing in season 3 that he co-founded the non-profit Grassroot Soccer to help combat HIV in the region. ETHAN! He kicked the living s— out of cancer not once, but twice. ETHAN! I know this next point lacks some of the gravitas of the previous two, but he also had the coolest hair of any Survivor contestant ever and that’s just a fact. The guy is a legend. Yet these jabronis just kicked him to the curb. Why, I haven’t been this mad since my buddy Jay Stuckey gained control of Australia in the board game Risk, thereby ensuring him a slow and methodical victory over yours truly, who was forced to hole up in the second-best starting position of South America.

Ethan gone already! I feel like extending a fist in an uppercut motion a few feet in front of the faces of all those responsible and yelling “WHY I OUGHTTA!” at the top of my lungs. I’m hopping mad, people! Steamed! Ticked off! But here’s the thing: This is why this season is so epic. Because someone like Ethan can go this early, and after Natalie (who’s a total badass), Amber (who already won an All-Stars season), and Danni (who was both my and Jeff Probst’s pick to win). This entire season is a murderer’s row, and I would hand over all the Fire Tokens in the world to keep watching. (Unfortunately, it seems Natalie has hoarded all the Fire Tokens in the world, but if I get my hands on some, watch out! Also, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to use Fire Tokens to watch the show. I can just turn on my TV. It’s free.)

However, my anger over Ethan’s elimination and my excitement over the high-stakes electricity of the season are both matched by something else: confusion. If players like Michele, Jeremy, Ben, Denise, and Adam are so convinced and worried that Rob has too much power in the tribe — which he does — why are they not voting him out? Why are they instead targeting Parvati and Ethan? Adam said at the top of the episode that “This is not Survivor: Redemption Island. This is Survivor: Winners at War.” That’s interesting coming off of the heels of last week’s episode, which I noted in last week’s recap felt a hell of a lot like season 22 in that regard.

And yet still nobody is taking a shot at the Robfather. We know how much Jeremy loves his meat shields, so maybe that’s why they’re keeping Rob around, but we were never told this episode why nobody was considering voting for him even as they were all discussing how amazing he is. Hey, here’s a little strategy tip from a guy who has been watching and studying this game extensively for 20 years. DO NOT KEEP ROB MARIANO AROUND! Also, stop using the phrase “meat shield.” It makes me vaguely uncomfortable. Like, I start picturing big slabs of meat and I don’t like what I see, so the sooner we could move off of that terminology the better, thanks.

The lack of clarity or explanation as to why nobody was directly targeting Rob was a little frustrating, but that’s all there is to be frustrated about in what has been a so-far stellar season. Okay, let’s get through some of the other big moments this week.

Tony vs. the Shark
There used to be a show on Fox called Man vs. Beast and you should know about it because it was probably the best show of all-time. In one of the competitions, a sprinter lost a 100-meter dash against a zebra (yet beat a giraffe!). In another, professional eater Takeru Kobayashi lost a hot dog eating contest against a Kodiak bear that did not even know he was taking part in an eating competition. And then there is my personal favorite: the world-class gymnast who defeated Bam Bam the orangutan in a “dead hang”, even after Bam Bam clearly tried to play mind games with the gymnast by dropping his pants and urinating during the contest. Feel free to watch if you don’t believe me.

Anyway, I wish that show still existed, because Tony vs. the Shark would totally make the cut. First off, a note about these small sharks in Fiji. They’re everywhere! I remember standing in the water just off of Mana Island at Survivor base camp and a shark swam by me for a good 20 minutes. I had no issues with standing in the water as it went back and forth by my feet but I’ll tell you what I didn’t do — reach down and pick it up.

I guess Tony thought it was dead, although I’m not entirely sure why he thought that. All I know is the amount of joy I got watching him scurry up the beach as the shark started flopping around was inordinate.

Fire Woman
Am I the only one that remembers that song “Fire Woman” from the Cult? It was like a less amazing version of their best tune, “She Sells Sanctuary.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m still cranking the volume whenever it comes on, but I know deep down that it’s just an inferior facsimile of the better song I wish was playing instead.

Anyhoo, Natalie is the ruler of all the Fire Tokens in the land as she once again found an advantage, once again sent it to someone still in the game, and once again got a Fire Token in return. This time, she, Amber, and Danni found a combination lockbox that said they had been given all that they needed to open it. Amber ran back and copied down the numbers written on crates by the sail. SMART! But it didn’t work. Then Natalie realized they had been given shells, so she laid the shells on top the numbers and got it. And the “it” in question was a steal a vote advantage hidden at the other tribe’s camp.

I’m not sure why she sent it to Sarah instead of Jeremy. I guess she is trying to spread the wealth as much as possible to make connections should she get back in the game. That makes sense. Plus, the two of them are both workout warriors, so maybe they have some sort of fitness connection which I can’t really understand because I have never set foot in a gym in my entire life. Regardless, Sarah got her challenge and then enlisted her Cops-R-Us buddy Tony to help her execute what may go down as the dumbest covert mission prep in Survivor history. First, Tony tried rubbing ashes on Sarah’s face to “camouflage” her for her nighttime raid of the Sele camp to steal a steal-a-vote-out of one of their torches. So unnecessary. Maybe it was an over-aggressive Ash Wednesday thing? Anyway, when it didn’t work, they both decided to, yes, spit in it. And, essentially, spit all over each other.

This was so astoundingly absurd and I loved every single second of it. Someone sign these two knuckleheads up for a sitcom immediately. The only way this entire event could have been any more ridiculous is if Tony started smearing the shark guts all over Sarah so that the folks at Sele would get scared and run away because they thought their camp had been infiltrated by Jaws — thereby leaving the coast completely clear for 100 percent human Sarah to do her bidding. Look, you don’t need ash camouflage. Just take the damn steal-a-vote. As someone with absolutely zero experience to draw on in such matters, I still maintain that the nighttime tribe infiltration is not nearly as difficult as it looks. Sure, it’s tough to see (especially if you get ash particles in your eyes or sudden conjunctivitis from all the spit), but the likelihood of awakening a tribe member is so small because even if they hear something, they will just assume it is someone doing their usual rounds.

That’s the thing to remember: There are always other people in the camp beside the players. There are camera operators. There are boom mic audio folks. There are field producers. Hell, sometimes even I’m there! So if you’re exhausted and sleeping and you hear someone walking around, that’s not a reason to necessarily remove your face buff (how do they breathe under those things anyway?) and investigate. It’s par for the course. In any event, congrats to Sarah for pulling it off and to Natalie for getting another token.

Finished but Not Done
Oh my Lord, that could have been an all-time great Survivor moment. The setting was the immunity challenge, and after the tribes did a bunch of physical stuff — including Tony climbing a giant ladder because of course he was — we got to the tree puzzle. Sofierce and Sarah had a big lead starting the puzzle for Dakal, but Rob and Michele were gaining ground until we had a back and forth battle. Sele took the lead, only for Dakal to wrestle it back. Dakal finally got down to their last piece, with Sele having two left, but as soon as Sarah put the last one in for the win… it and the piece touching it fell off because she pushed it in too hard!

I like Sarah and Sophie. Strong and smart women who are hardcore gamers. But I ain’t gonna lie: the second they finished their puzzle but were in danger of losing anyway, I totally started rooting for Sele to jump in and win. I’M SORRY! I AUTOMATICALLY ROOT FOR CHAOS! IT IS MY DEFAULT SETTING! I CAN’T HELP IT! I know this makes me a terrible person. The only question really is if the fact that I am self-aware enough to recognize I am a terrible person makes me slightly less terrible or even more terrible because I know it and yet still am that way. But c’mon, seriously — that would have been amazing had Dakal won… and then still lost. I can’t be alone on this. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

Sadly, Dakal got their fallen pieces back in and won the challenge. BOOOOOOOOO!

The Sounds of Silence
I don’t know what is more awkward: the 45 minutes of Sele silence back at the shelter after they lost their challenge, or the fact that Ben keeps calling Parvati “Poverty.” Who the hell do you think you are anyway, Ben — Cook Islands era Jeff Probst! In all fairness, it took Jeff an entire season to pronounce her name correctly so I suppose we can give Ben 30 more days to figure it out.

Adam’s Big Move
Look, you can’t spell adamant without Adam, and the Millennials vs. Gen X champ was very adamant this episode about telling people he wanted to vote out their biggest ally. “Strategically, telling people truths in important times can be very helpful,” he told us as his reasoning for informing Ethan and Rob that he wanted to take out Parvati.

Okay, this was clearly a terrible, terrible, terrible move and I will indeed be passing out shovels in just a minute so we can all bury Adam for it, but philosophically, I DO agree with that statement. There are times where if you tell someone something you should not theoretically be telling them, it will make them too comfortable around you later because they will mistakenly believe you will therefore always be telling them the truth. There is some merit to that. Unfortunately for Adam, this was not one of those important, helpful times.

Let’s check out the reactions of the people Adam told about what he thought would be an impending Parv vote. Ethan’s reaction was to tell us that Adam made “a silly mistake on his part. Parvati is my No. 1. I trust her with my life.” And Boston Rob’s reaction? “Is this kid crazy? I know he’s seen me play on TV.” Of course, Rob went and immediately told Parvati, who was equally aghast at the lapse in judgment, noting that “Adam broke the cardinal rule of Survivor. I’m ready to pounce on Adam, devour that guy and just spit out his bones on Edge of Extinction.”

The problem with Adam’s plan is that he used a tactic that was successful on newbies and attempted to hoodwink one of the best players in the history of the game with the same strategy. But the same strategy that worked on first-timers cannot be applied to the dude with a statue a few islands over. The entire thing was cringe-inducing to watch. But I will say this: I have been amazed at the amount of story Adam has driven this season. He has easily been one of the most impactful (both positive and negative, for him) players of the season. That’s even more remarkable when you consider that there is a chance that Adam would not even be on this season. Had the events of season 39 not occurred, would producers have brought Richard Hatch back? If so, good chance Adam is not on the beach.

Adam was very open and self-aware before the game started about knowing that he was not seen as one of the high-wattage stars of the season. And yet a lot of the Sele story (Adam and Denise going off on day 1, turning the first vote on Natalie, the shared immunity idol, and now gunning for Parvati while trying to bring her allies, Rob and Ethan, closer to him) has centered around him. Ultimately, that’s what you want from a Survivor player — someone who drives story. And while Adam’s GPS may have been waaaaaaaay off this time, at least he was driving and not just being a passive passenger. Kudos for that.

Even scenes that did not directly involve him were because of him. For example, if Adam doesn’t make that boneheaded decision to tell Rob about voting out Parvati, then we don’t get the incredible moment when Michele and Jeremy attempt to lie to Rob’s face by saying they were deciding between Adam, Denise, or Ben only to have Rob cut in with “Never mind that. We know that’s fake. I know what’s up. I know the plan to blindside Parv.” That entire incident was as uncomfortable as that time I mistakenly wore my Fruit of the Loom underwear backward for an entire day as a kid. And I loved it. (The scene that is. Not the backward tighty whities.)

I also loved Michele and Jeremy ultimately not being so intimidated by that spectacle that they followed the Robfather’s orders by putting a hit out on Adam. Instead — even though they were upset at Adam for playing both sides and making them look bad — they recognized the need to make a move on the old-schoolers and just switched the target to Ethan. Which is why they are now dead to me.

So yes, Ethan was blindsided. The guy looked dazed and confused as he went up to have his torch snuffed. That’s the cruelty of Survivor. You can wait for 16 years to get all the way back on the show, think all is well, and then be gone. Just like that. Well, not entirely gone. After bequeathing his Fire Token to Parvati, Ethan was off to join three women at what apparently is called Edge of The Extinction but feels a lot more like my alma mater Sarah Lawrence College with that gender ratio breakdown. Even worse, it looks like he (or someone at least) may have a medical episode of some sort next week. Yikes!

Okay, Ethan may be done on the Sele tribe, but we’re not done here yet. We’ve got my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst as well as an exclusive deleted scene from the episode. Want more Survivor scoop? Follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss and Instagram @thedaltonross. And now it’s your turn. What do you think about Adam’s big gambit? And how do you feel about Ethan getting the boot? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.

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