By Dalton Ross
March 04, 2020 at 08:57 PM EST
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S40 E4
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I went on record early. When I first learned about Fire Tokens, I was excited about the producers applying a super geeky board game currency into the mix. Some people said Fire Tokens sounded dumb. I said, “No, YOU sound dumb!” Okay, I didn’t actually say that. For one thing, I’m not a third-grader. For another, it’s not nice to call people dumb. But the point is, I have always been on board with the concept. I would do anything for a Fire Token. I would wear pink undies throughout an entire season. I would invite Colby’s brother Reed to be my Loved One and then mercilessly berate him throughout his entire visit. I would argue passionately that a guy named Fabio was the best Survivor winner in the history of winners. I would do anything for a Fire Token. But not unlike the wise old sage known colloquially as Meat Loaf, I won’t do that. And by that, I mean I would not hike up and down a heart-stopping hill 20 times for 20 stupid logs of firewood.

Can I ask you something? WHY ARE SURVIVOR PRODUCERS TRYING TO KILL ETHAN ZOHN?!? Jesus Christ, hasn’t this guy been through enough already? Not only did the dude survive cancer twice, but he had to attempt to decipher whatever the f--- Big Tom was talking about while simultaneously trying not to get eaten by lions. Now you’re gonna put him on a StairMaster from hell to collect stupid logs of wood like some sort of demented lumberjack auditioning to be the new face of Brawny paper towels? Get out of here with that garbage!

Any sort of medical intervention is always scary. People go out there to play a game and the last thing you ever want to see is someone suffering physically because of it. So when Ethan collapsed while putting his body through the ringer to get one measly Fire Token, my thoughts immediately went into worst-case-scenario mode (my default setting, incidentally). As the doctor examined him, all I could consider is that there could be no crueler medical evacuation imaginable than for it to happen to Ethan. It can’t end like this. It just can’t. And thankfully, it didn’t.

That sweet bastard got his ass back up. And he started walking — nay, crawling — up the stairs to grab those last four logs. It wasn’t even about the stupid Fire Token anymore. He had to finish it. The mind and will of the marathoner, and professional athlete, and professional cancer ass-kicker would not let him accept defeat, even when his feet could barely move one in front of the other. And, in the end, he did it. Ethan said he would remember the day for the rest of his life. And Survivor fans will remember this segment. It’s why Ethan is bigger than the game. He’s the most inspirational figure in Survivor history, and he just added another chapter to his incredible story. (And you can read what he had to say about his collapse and comeback when I spoke with him.)

It was also a pretty incredible scene from another incredible episode. I loved seeing the pain. The misery. And, ultimately, the triumph. Also, go back and watch this segment from a technical standpoint: It’s a master class in camera work and editing. Bravo to all involved: players, producers, and everyone else that had anything to do with it. Now, let’s break down the other big moments from episode 4 of Survivor: Winners at War, and believe it or not I am going to keep this sucker down to a reasonable word count due to some other life-factors that are annoyingly getting in the way of me spending every waking second thinking and writing about Survivor. The good news for you, however, is that means you don’t need to spend 18 hours reading a dumb reality show recap this week. So… yay? Okay, let’s get to it.

Robert Voets/CBS

Edge of Exhaustion

Ethan was not the only person suffering on the Quest for Fire (Tokens). Natalie and Amber both broke out into tears after completing the brutal task while Danni compared it to the pain of childbirth, noting that “in childbirth, you at least get a baby afterward. Here you get a Fire Token.” Major props to all of them for making it through that gauntlet of anguish. It was an all-around fantastic bit of theater… right until I heard Amber mention how “I also realized the bond we have created in this very short time. It’s strong, and I felt it in that moment, and it felt good.”

I am glad for their bond, but I hate that it could impact the game at large. Because my entire beef with Edge of Extinction is precisely that people bond together over being voted out and become friends in a non-game setting where you don’t have to strategize against anyone or vote them out. Don’t worry, I’m not going on another anti-Edge rant. I already promised you I was done with those for the season. Instead, I’m merely pointing out how Amber pointed out the massive flaw in the format in talking about how much closer she has become to people who were also voted out rather than people still in the game. That’s why it needs to go.

Mea culpa

Super weird thing happened to me today. Adam Klein called me up and offered to write my Survivor recap for me this week. And that’s not all. He also offered to come collect my garbage, take care of my pets, rearrange my sock drawer, and alphabetize my record collection. The guy just wants to help in any way he can, people! It has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that he was left out of both sides of the last Sele vote. No way, José!

I make fun, but this was actually the right move for Adam, even if it was super transparent. I mean, the man was castrated and pooped his pants for crying out loud. Amends (not to mention a good cleaning crew) need to be the immediate priority. And the best way to make nice is to be a good worker bee. Don’t make waves. Decelerate. He did everything right. And sometimes, that just doesn’t matter. Because sometimes you’re playing with Boston Rob. Even with Adam’s antics, Rob was sitting on the bottom with Parvati. And people sitting on the bottom will do whatever it takes to move up the food chain. So even though the newly reformed Adam refused to divulge any information to them after everything that went down, Rob had no issues with asking Parv, “Should we bury him?”

He then proceeded to walk up to Jeremy and Michele and innocently ask, “What should I do about Adam? Because he keeps coming up and talking to me.” Next thing we know, Michele and Jeremy wanted Adam out. It was that easy. Just like that. One simple lie that Rob knew they would believe because Adam had been playing both sides all game. It’s easy to knock Jeremy and Michele for being so gullible, but I probably would have believed it too. It was impressive work by the Robfather, and yet it also kinda bummed me out because I am feeling the unlikely Jeremy-Michele alliance, even if they are both still 100 percent dead to me after last week’s vote.

A Breath of (Not So) Fresh Air

People on Survivor are stinky. They can’t shower. They have no soap. And the only option for oral hygiene at their disposal is homemade toothpicks. That explains why Tyson refused to breathe in Sarah’s face, but it certainly doesn’t explain why she wanted him to do it in the first place. Of course, at this point, Tyson should be performing his best Adam Klein impersonation and pretty much do whatever anyone asks since he was on the bottom of the tribe. He also should probably be remembering people’s names, especially a stealth assassin like Sophie.

But — contrary to what we may have seen in Heroes vs. Villains — Tyson is a smart dude, and he could see the unconnected folks on the tribe amassing power. He told Sandra and Tony about it, but Tyson had already committed the ultimate sin: He came after Sandra. And that put him “in deep doo-doo” — like, an Adam’s pants level of doo-doo we’re talking about here. But would he be able to clean himself off?

Even LL Cool J Would Call This a Comeback

You know my “It’s all about the puzzle” rant is coming, right? Like, you cued it up in your mind the second you saw this immunity challenge run. You knew I would call the physical part “window dressing.” You knew I would ramble on about how 95 percent of the time in this game whoever wins the puzzle wins the challenge and the rest doesn’t really matter. You’ve read the same script way too many times over 40 seasons.

But here’s the thing that I’ve always said. The rest does matter. It matters in the sense that the physical stages of any challenge are exciting to watch. It may be window dressing, but it’s the best damn window dressing you’ve ever seen. And, because it’s all about the puzzle, that means that the chance is always there for a seemingly remarkable comeback to take place. And that’s exactly what happened.

The first stage of this particular contest had four players tugging a boat (with the three other players inside) through the water. The three in the boat then had to climb a tower and reach to grab keys in mid-air. And therein laid the problem for the Sele tribe. In a huge miscalculation, Sele put their three shortest members in Denise, Parvati, and Adam on key-grabbing duty, and they were simply not tall enough to grab them. Denise and Parvati could not get a single key, leaving it all up to the castrated male to get them all, and it was not easy. Not only is Adam not what anyone would describe as a towering figure, but he was exhausted from repeated trips up the ladder and then swimming back to the platform. Plus, he had Tony yelling “YA FALL! FALL YA!” at him for no particular reason.

By the end, Adam climbing that ladder looked like Ethan climbing that Edge of Extinction hill, only with a lot less sympathy. “This is a disaster for Sele!” bellowed Probst. “Absolute disaster. This has become one of the biggest blowouts ever in Survivor!” In the end, after finally nabbing the last key, Adam told us that his eighth-grade teacher said that there is no stopping Adam when Adam decides he is going to do something. Of course, couldn’t Adam have decided to do something a few jumps earlier? Just asking.

Regardless, to prove that Hollywood could not have scripted this thing any better, not only was Sele ridiculously far behind going into the puzzle, but Dakal had Nick on the puzzle, the same Nick that had won on the same puzzle just three seasons ago. On Sele’s puzzle was Boston Rob, one of the best puzzle solvers in Survivor history, yet one who had stumbled in the past two challenges — one of them badly. He and Michele almost brought Sele back last week from a deficit but ran out of time, a rare exception to my “It’s all about the puzzle” rule. There was no exception this week.

Rob and Michele not only staged a remarkable comeback with their puzzle prowess, they full-on SMOKED the other tribe as if Dakal was a big batch of CBD that Ethan Zohn had been storing for the long New Hampshire winter. “An incredible comeback!” noted Probst. “What just happened?” Excellent question, Jeff. How could Dakal stumble that badly, especially with a guy who had already won on it? As I have said, Survivor puzzles can often take forever in real-time, so even having a massive 5 to 10-minute advantage going into a puzzle does not guarantee you will win. Puzzle comebacks hardly ever shock me anymore. But still, for Dakal to botch it so completely was stunning. And Rob firmly regained his puzzle king crown. Even those sitting on the newly-dedicated Sandra Bench would have to agree.

The Shield

I’m a huge fan of The Shield. Unfortunately, I’m talking about the landmark FX drama where the guy from The Commish and Daddio went rogue by shaving his head and killing other cops. What I’m not talking about is the strategy of keeping bigger targets in the game to protect yourself from elimination. I’m not saying that strategy doesn’t work, I’m just saying I don’t like the aesthetics of it. The whole whiff of I’m going to keep better players that are better than I am ethos sort of turns me off. To me, the fun is taking out better players, not settling for the easy pickins.

Anyway, that was Tyson’s sales pitch to Tony on why they should keep him around — because once they got rid of him, Tony would be the next biggest target. And it seemed to work. Next thing we know, Tony went to Sarah, and Sarah went to Kim, and they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on and so on! (Warning: You’re showing your age and love of 1980s hair care products if you get that reference.) Before you can scream FABERGE! everyone was talking about how the big threats needed to band together. Everyone, that is, except Sandra. While the self-proclaimed Queen faked like she may warm to the idea, noting that “I like revenge, but at the end of the day I love 2 million dollars even more,” Sandra simply likes revenge too much and the whole plan crumbled at Tribal Council.

Apparently not too distracted by Nick’s puppy dog crush on Parvati and Professor Yul professing that he thought “Tony was going to be an a—hole,” the tribe indeed voted Tyson out. “It was too easy,” noted the man who told me before the game that he would not stop playing until he won three times and was considered one of the best Survivor players ever. “I should have seen it coming.” It’s not really his fault. Tyson now becomes the third person to be voted out of the game primarily due to a relationship either in or out of the game with Boston Rob. First, Dakal took out Rob’s wife Amber. Then Sele took out Rob’s alliance partner Ethan. And now Dakal took out Rob’s BFF Tyson. Three of the five votes so far have been in the hopes of weakening Boston Rob, and it once again gets at the difference between newbie and returning player seasons, where relationships outside the game can take on paramount importance. These aren’t strangers playing, and it shows.

However, instead of then bequeathing his Fire Token to Kim or Rob or anyone else in the poker alliance that the poker alliance insists does not even exist, Tyson gave it to… Nick? Nick, whom Tyson just tried to get out. I suppose he was simply not immune to the power of hero-worship flattery. Still, that was a bit of a shocker.

But how great was that episode? And how great is this season? Firing on all levels, ladies and gentlemen. We’re four episodes in and every single one has been tremendous. Can the show keep up this blistering pace or will it pull an Adam Klein and poop its pants? We see there is either a tribe swap or expansion (to three tribes) next week, meaning a game reset is in the works, which can always be a good or bad thing. We’ll keep our fingers crossed on that and crossed that Ethan has no more medical issues.

In the meantime, we’ve got another exclusive deleted scene for you to watch above starring Tyson the octopus slayer! And my weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst is always worth a read. And believe it or not, I have not one but TWO interviews with Ethan Zohn about the events of the last two episodes. You can read all about his brutal blindside as well as his Edge of Extinction medical scare. And to stay on top of all the latest Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and also weigh in on the message boards below with all of your thoughts on the episode. Okay, I think that’ll about do it, but fear not because I will climb up 20 flights of stairs for 20 logs of wood if it means bringing you another scoop of the crispy next week. I just won’t do it for a measly Fire Token.

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