Survivor 44 recap: Frannie's big mistake is a blessing in disguise
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"I am so proud of you for winning, and I don't want you to blame yourself for what happened." That's Matt Blankinship talking about his showmance partner Frannie after having his torch snuffed on Survivor 44. Let's face it: He's too nice and lovestruck to blame Frannie. But we will!
Of course it's Frannie's fault Matt went home this week. 100 percent. No question. That's the most brutal reality TV showmance crime since Lisa Donahue refused to vote her snuggle bunny Eric Ouellette back into the house on Big Brother season 3. And that was over 20 years ago! Did I just give a Big Brother 3 shout out? Hell yeah, I did! I see ya, Jason the virgin!
When Jeff Probst divided the players into two groups for the challenge and explained that whoever lasted the longest from each group would win immunity, and the person who lasted the longest out of everyone would win immunity for their entire group, the strategy was obvious. If Frannie or Matt (who were on opposite teams) lasted the longest out of their group, they would then throw it so that way both of them would have immunity. Easy.
But that's not what happened. Frannie was the last one from the orange group (giving her immunity) while there were still four folks left for purple. No problem! Plenty of time for her to drop her ball and keep her island BFF safe. An abundance of time. All the time in the world. All she had to do was drop that damn ball and Mannie (or is it Fratt?) would live to play another day.
So why didn't she? First, Jaime dropped. That's okay. Still plenty of time to throw this thing. Then, Matt was out. Alright, maybe she was holding out hope they would both win individual immunity, but now that he's gone, time to drop. Then, Yam Yam couldn't complete the transition and was done, leading to a Frannie vs. Brandon showdown. Surely, she would now intentionally fall off the balance beam, right? RIGHT?!?
But no. No. A thousand times no! She kept competing. Kept trying to beat Brandon. What was happening? Were her competitive juices flowing too fast? Was she blinded by visions of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches dancing in her head? Did she worry there was an Hourglass out there somewhere that would flip the results completely?
Whatever the reason, Frannie outlasted Brandon, left Matt vulnerable, and he was voted out. She could have easily protected him, and then things would have gotten very interesting because the other team would have been vulnerable — with Frannie having immunity and both Danny and Carolyn having idols. Who knows what would have gone down there if that group was voting someone out.
But let's get back to Frannie's decision to go for the win. At first blush, it seems like just absolutely terrible gameplay. She had an opportunity to protect her closest ally and island boyfriend, and she botched it. I somewhat understand why she botched it, though. You're on freakin' Survivor, you're competing, and Probst is yelling at you to dig deep, and you want to prove to him and to yourself that you have what it takes to beat everyone. It's got to be really, really hard to voluntarily step-off with ultimate victory that close to your grasp. You know you should… but you just can't.
But all of the above is just a way too rambling Covid-haze of a preamble to get to what I really want to say, which is this: As shortsighted as Frannie's decision to go for the win may have been, it's actually the best thing that could have happened to her. As an illustration, let's go back to season 3 of Big Brother. I know, I know! What in the name of Zingbots is going on with all this random Big Brother 3 talk? Did Marcellas Reynolds find the Control-a-Recap advantage and is forcing me to write all about a season of reality TV from 21 years ago against my will? That's actually not fair. If his history with Vetoes is any indication, Marcellas would not have used the advantage anyway. At least not on himself. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZING!
Anyway, on day 42 of that season, the Houseguests had to vote an eliminated player back into the house, choosing between Eric Ouellette and Amy Crews. They each cast secret votes, and Amy was brought back in by a count of five to two. What was so interesting — as much as anything on Big Brother is interesting… and that is coming from someone that has watched all 855 episodes — is that one of the votes for Amy was courtesy of Lisa Donahue. That's right, she chose not to vote her showmance partner of Eric back into the game, correctly determining that being part of a couple would make her more of a target. She was right, and that decision helped pave the way for her eventual victory.
As long as Matt was in this game, Frannie was a target. Everyone could see they were an unbreakable pair — well, maybe not Jaime, who didn't even realize there was some island lovin' going on — and everyone would have been smart to want to break them up. Now, Frannie's threat level is waaaaaaay decreased (even with her impressive performance in the challenge).
Is this why she didn't intentionally drop the ball? Oh, hell no. Otherwise, we would have seen a confessional interview stating as much and it would have been played up as the second coming of Ciera voting our her own mother. But it's the best thing for her game. And if Frannie — like Lisa Donahue — goes on to win this season, I believe this moment will prove to be a big reason why. Sooooo, congratulations… I guess?
Okay, as previously mentioned, I'm fighting through Covid (which means I had to cancel a very important trip this week… hint, hint) so apologies if none of this makes sense as we hit on a few other things from episode 7 of Survivor 44.
It's all in the name
I asked all the cast members right before the season began to tell me what they would like to call the merge tribe, and wouldn't you know it: one of the answers is exactly what it became. Yam Yam suggested Va Va, because va means four in Fijian and they are Survivor 44. A decent sounding tribe moniker, if I do say so. And he was telling the truth too. This wasn't some shady mission to sneak in the name of a fourth cousin or his significant other's favorite stuffed animal. This was an actual translation. Check out Yam Yam pitching his tribe name before the game, as well what everyone else on the cast — including those that did not make it this far — wanted to name the tribe. Not only that, but you can see the other naming nomination that got shot down by the tribe in our exclusive deleted scene!
Brandon vs. the Survivor production team
Boy, Brandon really just has been going out of his way to sabotage the producers of the show. The dude has tried his hardest all season long to completely ruin the Birdcage idol twist. And it was a good, fun twist, too! But at every turn, there has been Brandon ready to stomp out any potential mischief it may inspire.
First, he opened the Ratu birdcage in front of his entire tribe, negating any possible sneakiness with the second fake idol. And now, he goes and tells Matt his idol is fake and that has he has been "set up like a chump by Danny Bronx" — meaning we didn't get the fun of watching Matt confidently walk up to Probst swinging what he assumed was a real idol around, only to then watch it get tossed into the fire. (Although I suppose he would have actually needed his bag to do that.) I can picture producers cursing Brandon's name throughout all of this each and every night back at Mana island over a plate of chicken and rice.
On a side note, I was wondering when we would have a Danny Bronx sighting. In our EW video of the cast explaining why they would win this season, Danny referred to himself as Danny Bronx, because I guess he's a big fan of Bruckner Boulevard and the fish platters on City Island or something. But the nickname hasn't really taken hold. Maybe he messed up by not putting the location first and making it Bronx Danny, like Boston Rob. Of course, Boston Rob only became Boston Rob because there was another Rob on his season — Rob DeCanio.
And Rob DeCanio didn't even really go by Rob. He went by "the General." Really, if anyone should have been adding a location to his name this season it should have been one of the Matthews to help differentiate them. Although I'm not sure "Columbus Matthew" has the same ring to it. By the way, to bring this entire thing full circle, when I spoke to Robert DeCanio two years ago, he was working in… the Bronx.
Split 'em up
I don't have the huge issues I'm sure others will over the concept of splitting the tribe up into the two groups for the immunity challenge, and having one group vulnerable and the other safe. Yes, i'd like to see things play out more organically and yes, it's bad luck for someone depending on how the tribe gets split up, but luck has been a big part of this game going all the way back to season 3 and the first tribe swap. My bigger issue is that they did it one week after essentially doing the same thing.
I totally get that it makes sense to do this with as many players in the game as possible so the groups aren't too small, so if they were going to do it, it had to happen soon. However, waiting at least one more challenge to do it would have at least inserted a little more variety in that you could have broken up having two back-to-back half-the-tribe-has-immunity Tribals in a row. Also, waiting one more go-round would have given you completely even numbers for each group instead of having one person with a grey rock having to sit out. I'm sure the producers have a reason for why they did group immunities back-to-back. I'm just not smart enough to figure out what it is.
I mean, maybe it was because they couldn't have the winners sit over on the jury if there were already members of the jury sitting there — although that would have been fantastically awkward — but it's not like they had to sit in the jury area. There still would have been room for them to be somewhere else, the same way they create a separate area for the final 4 tiebreaker. Anyway, maybe that's why they felt that had to do it now, before they had an actual jury.
Land of a million keys
Not only did Frannie ensure her boyfriend's ouster with her victory, but she also got her group peanut butter and jelly sandwiches… and a mysterious envelope. The message inside said that there was a new advantage locked in a cage with keys — only one of which would open the cage — scattered in the jungle. This set off a mad scramble of both players and sloppy sasquatches searching for the correct key, with Heidi finally opening the cage.
What she found inside was the Control a Vote advantage, which gave her the power to control the vote of one player at Tribal Council — with that player having to cast their vote as directed. Unfortunately, the advantage was a bit of false advertising as it did not involve the use of mind-control or hypnosis, which would have been the most awesome twist in the history of Survivor. Instead, Heidi would verbally tell someone whom she wanted her vote on, and that person would then go do it.
I'm sorry, but mind-control totally would have been better. It just would have. Probst could have walked up to Lauren, started waving a big pocket watch back and forth in front of her face, told her she was getting sleeeeeeeeeepy, and then made her do stupid human tricks while casting her vote for Yam Yam. Now that's television. Total missed opportunity.
I actually think, outside of the disturbing lack of hypnosis, that the advantage is interesting and was put into play at precisely the right time — when there were only five people, so flipping just one vote could potentially alter the entire balance of power. Just one problem: Lauren had two votes, essentially rendering the Control a Vote somewhat useless. Oh well.
It's weird. For so long, Tribal Councils were the most dramatic and suspenseful part of every Survivor episode, and obviously there is still that tension and excitement around the vote. But more often than not for the past few seasons, the conversations before that vote at Tribal have actually been the least interesting parts of the show. Because nobody says anything!
I think it's just a natural evolution of where we are with contestants these days. They're smarter. They're less impulsive. And they don't take personal offense as easily. It's actually a credit to them as people that they are not flying off the handle over perceived slights. Nor are they pointing fingers at other folks as much to try to save their own hides. The problem is, this far more kumbaya atmosphere at Tribal these past few seasons does not make for as compelling television.
Players have also gotten so much better at figuring out how to answer Probst's questions in as safe a manner as possible without giving anything away or offending anyone sitting next to them. Again, kudos for that. I would do the exact same thing in their shoes. It just makes all these Tribals sort of feel very samey-samey without a lot of true fireworks or emotion.
We didn't get fireworks this week either, but we did get some raw emotion, and probably the most engaging pre-vote conversation we've had all season. I know, I know, we've heard a million and one emotional I-never-knew-I-had-it-in-me-and-I-thought-I-was-a-big-loser-until-I-came-on-Survivor speeches, but that doesn't mean they're not impactful, especially when spoken through tears, and especially when the woman you have a huge crush on is sitting right across from you and it's kind of her fault you're about to leave the game and you can't even talk to her or say goodbye to her and you know she is going to curl up into the emotional fetal position blaming herself for your ouster.
That was good stuff. And kudos to Probst for astutely calling Yam Yam out for deflecting with humor. Yam Yam's hilarious bon mots are one of the highlights of the season, and the last thing the host wants are less of them, but by pointing it out, he forced Yam Yam to take a harder look within himself as to why he does that, ultimately leading to his declaration that "I'm a teddy bear, but I can be a badass."
By the end of Tribal, it seemed like everyone was in tears. And even though the Control a Vote sort of fizzled out due to Lauren's two votes, it was still the most captivating Tribal of the season. But I do have a question, and it's in regards to Matt's bag.
For some perplexing reason, Matt did not bring his bag to Tribal Council. I have no idea why. On Survivor, you have to always assume there's a twist around every corner — and when you go to a challenge, you may leave that challenge on a boat to God knows where. Could be for a "journey." Could be to Exile Island. Or, as in this case, it could be to the old Soka camp. In short, BRING YOUR POSSESSIONS WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES!
But my question is this: was Matt hoping that Frannie would bring his bag with her to Tribal so he could play his idol (which he suspected was fake at this point) and his Shot in the Dark? She didn't. But if she had, would she have been allowed to give it to him? The group with immunity was essentially acting the same way a jury would. They were sitting in the same spot. They weren't allowed to talk (except to play the Control a Vote). And they were not part of the voting. So would Frannie have been allowed to walk over and give Matt his bag? It's a question I put to Probst, you can read his answer right here!
Okay, I hope that all made sense, but, if not, I'm going to use my Covid get-out-of-jail-free card and blame it on both the sickness and copious amounts of medication. But while I may be done, you are certainly not. Did you read about the Survivor 44 cast passionately defending sitting out of challenges for food? Some interesting stuff there to be had for sure. Also, make sure to check out or exclusive deleted scene from this week's episode that shows what proposed tribe name was shot down as well as our exit interview with bagless Matt and exclusive some intel from Probst as well as the host revealing the concept season we never saw. In the meantime, I'm going to go rock some more Nyquil, but will be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!
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