Survivor 44 recap: The best episode of the season
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LAST GASP! It's not only a pretty accurate description of my futile attempts at respectability in the field of entertainment journalism after remaining stubbornly and perplexedly obsessed with reality competition television in which contestants on an island are implored to go full tilt boogie; it's also the name of my favorite Survivor challenge (just narrowly beating out the time back on season 4 when players were literally told to go fly a kite).
So I'll say it again: LAST GASP! I was begging John Kirhoffer and his Survivor challenge team for years to go back to this classic, but they said it couldn't be done. The tides had to be just right, and it needed a very specific location. But then… they did it! Last Gasp returned for Survivor 43… and it was awesome.
At least, it was awesome for us. But it didn't quite turn out the way producers imagined, as instead of a horror-movie worthy tide slowly creeping in, you had humungous swells completely overtaking the contestants and then receding back. In a super impressive display, Owen Knight (who was on the verge of an accidental aqua-dump) and Karla Cruz Godoy actually outlasted the challenge, which was finally called a tie after the tides went back out and no threat (other than freezing in the water) remained.
The fact that two players "beat" the challenge had me as paranoid as Lindsay Carmine before a big Tribal Council vote. I was paranoid that producers would once again retire the best challenge in Survivor history due to that unforeseen result. After all, what if it happened again? You can't continue running a challenge — one that is considered the scariest ever — that people keep beating. DAMN YOU, OWEN & KARLA AND YOUR ABILITY TO FEND OFF HYPOTHERMIA!
No way they bring it back, I thought. But, once again proving that I am perhaps the worst prognosticator in Survivor history (see: Claire Rafson winner pick), I was wrong. Dead wrong. They brought Last Gasp back. And again, it was awesome.
The tides seemed to cooperate more this time like they originally hoped for, making the challenge look and feel like it was back in Palau. But, even better than that, we had a completely unexpected result. At least unexpected to me, because once again, I was wrong. Dead wrong.
As soon as everyone else bailed out for dear life, it came down to a showdown between the two Puerto Ricans, Heidi and Yam Yam. As Probst yelled at them to "KEEP DIGGING!" and told us how "absolutely miserable" they were, stupid know-it-all Dalton (I'm taking a cue from Yam Yam and referring to myself — I mean himself — in the third person) rolled his eyes and shook his head. Because of course I knew who was winning!
It was Heidi. Obviously! How did I know it was Heidi? Because they showed that gooey backstory package of hers earlier in the episode while she talked about overcoming adversity, and we saw images of her weightlifting, hang-gliding, and looking like she was about to repel down a building, Amazing Race style.
Now, why would they show that package this episode? Producers have those inspirational packages on every single player, and they strategically place them into the season at the most opportune time. If Heidi was going to win the most hardcore challenge of the season, naturally producers would want to set that up in advance to make the win that much more emotional and triumphant, right? No doubt about it. Heidi challenge win. Lock it in. Yam Yam might as well just bail out now.
Only that isn't what happened. Those glorious bastards got me, and they got me good. I was burned worse than John Cochran in the Caramoan sun. In what had to be the best pump-fake seen on TV since Peyton Manning retired, Survivor editors and producers completely fooled yours truly. And I love it. Next thing we knew, Heidi bailed out, and Yam Yam apparently didn't want to stop because he had some sort of Spidey-sense telling him he needed to hang on for another hour to tie Owen and Karla's record that he didn't even know about because he was not able not watch their season.
Not only was the Yam Yam win amazing because it was so unexpected— at least for an idiot like me who likes to pretend that he possesses some sort of Survivor clairvoyance even though there is a mountain of evidence suggesting otherwise — but it was also stupendous because it means we got to witness some of the most absurdly unhinged dance moves this side of Aubry Bracco being forced to participate in Ron Clark's Kama dance party.
Also, while we may want to all focus on Yam Yam's Dance Party USA and awkward hug, let's make sure to not sleep on his celebratory dive into the water that followed… with his glasses on! Not to sound like a big time wuss, but that seems dangerous. Visions of Philippines-era Michael Skupin (which is after burn-your-hands-off-era Michael Skupin yet before go-to-jail-era Michel Skupin) started dancing in my head of when Skupin dove into the water with his mask on and ended up with cracked glass and blood on his face. Alas, Yam Yam emerged unscathed. As he has pretty much this entire game.
But this incredible challenge and delightful result were just part of what just may have been the best episode of the season. Look, there was nothing crazy here. No giant moves. No Parvati or Malcolm walking up with two idols. But for those who love old school Survivor (or, at the very least, middle school Survivor), this episode really had it all. Yes, there was a thrilling challenge. Yes, there was juicy strategy talk. Yes, there was an (albeit unnecessary) idol play. All that was great. But there was so much more.
Because the stars of this episode were the players themselves. And we saw sides of them we don't normally see. We love Carolyn because she's kooky and wacky and zany — and we saw some of that this week with the lobster in her hair, and that weird Edward Scissorhands thing on her finger, and her cross-out vote for Lauren. But we also got a scene of her just taking a break from the game and enjoying life in the water — snorkeling, doing flips, unleashing her inner Ariel.
I've said it before and I'll say it again that I think Jaime has come off super endearing on the show due to her energy, her enthusiasm, and the circumstances surrounding her game that can't help but make you (or, at least, me) root for her. But we saw another side of her this week as she led the tribe in meditation, which also gave us a new look into the tribe dynamics. "We are cheering each other on, but battling toe-to-toe at the same time," Jaime told the camera.
Th interesting part of both the Carolyn swimming and Jaime meditation moments is that they led absolutely nowhere. There was no game mechanic involved. There was no ulterior motive to them appearing. There was nothing in either of those scenes that had to be in there, yet they made the episode so much better. They took the viewer onto the island and made you feel like you were in that meditation circle or out in that gorgeous water doing flips (which I actually do myself when on location and yes, it looks far less graceful when I do it).
Don't get me wrong. I love the strategy talk, and there was plenty of it this episode as well, with players from different factions going back and forth on whom to target, and who believed whom. But this episode struck a great balance between game play… and just plain play.
Which brings us to Tribal Council. How great was that? Again, an idol play is always a joy — even when it does not change the result, as was the case this week — but beyond that, we got both sugar and spice at Tribal. The sugar was in the form of fun — whether it was Carson learning how to bro shake (I guess you can't 3D print that?), Danny impersonating Conor McGregor with his jelly arms walking up to the voting booth, or Carolyn impersonating Eliza Orlins at the urn with her extended 12" dance remix of a vote, taking as much time as humanly possible.
And there was also spice! I've been begging for Tribals to get a little more confrontational. Not ugly. Not mean. But confrontational. And it was refreshing to see some bite, with Carolyn getting upset with Danny and Lauren. Of course, the absolute best was the combination of sugar and spice that took place during this exchange:
PROBST: "Are you annoyed?"
PROBST: "You get some sleep, Carolyn, who knows how you'll see things."
[Carolyn sits stone-faced staring at the host.]
PROBST: "Are you mad at me now?"
So great. Right up there with Chet and Joel's "I hit my head back there… I don't care… I know." Just instant classic stuff. And Danny Bronx brought it all home, insisting on giving Probst "De Niro face" while having his torch snuffed. I'll admit it – when Danny said "De Niro face," I was hella nervous, but his Bobby D. impersonation was pretty damn good. Better than his McGregor, that's for sure. And did you see how hard it was for Jeff to keep a straight face during that? He couldn't do it! And I don't blame him. I couldn't do it either. I probably would have responded with a little "Am I clown?" Pesci action, and then it would have been edited out for air because it would have been hugely embarrassing.
Whether you dug Danny Bronx or found his antics annoying, he did what fans say they want all players to do — go all out. Or, in more proper new era terminology, full tilt boogie. He gave clever confessionals ("If I cloned myself and saw me up there against Carson, I might vote for Carson") he parkour-ed through the camp for no apparent reason, and he looked Owen Knight-level pissed off when he didn't win challenges (which I absolutely love). That's an entertaining player! And he provided the perfect comedic exclamation point to a very entertaining episode.
And we have only two episodes left! That's it! But why rush it? Because we still have some stuff this week for you to enjoy. Stuff like an extended version of that meditation scene that never made it to air. Stuff like my exit interview with Danny Bronx. And stuff like the news that Survivor will be airing 90-minute episodes in the fall, so we hopefully will have more scenes like the swimming and meditation. And stuff like Jeff Probst revealing he almost died doing a Survivor stunt. (Can you guess which one?) Enjoy it all, and I'll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.
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