For the third week in a row, Heroes v Healers v Hustlers has had the feeling of a slow burn. That’s not to say we haven’t had peaks of excitement – Alan’s behaviour in the rushed premiere, and Patrick’s general wackiness last week among them – but with three consecutive unanimous boots, HHH has had to look beyond episodic intrigue in order to give us a compelling story.
With a shake-up on the horizon, these first three episodes have been used to lay the foundations for the stories to come, showing us characters and relationships and moments that promise to pay off in the future. Subsequent to the often fragmented story-telling throughout the Game Changers merge, this is a promising sign for the new season as a whole. As tonight rounded out the story of one of the bigger supporting characters, it also shone a light on new players who emerged from the background and took its time to highlight, once again, how essential social savvy is to the game of Survivor.
ONE MAN SHOW
With the Hustlers tribe heading straight back to Tribal Council, the conflict between Patrick and Lauren that began to brew last episode bubbled over tonight, as both found themselves in danger of going home because of the social hurdles they faced. Lauren struggled to feel included on a tribe that was significantly younger than her, comparing her mid-thirties single mother self to a teacher supervising a gang of high-school buddies. Meanwhile, Patrick continued to behave erratically, openly searching for the Idol at every opportunity and speaking before thinking, which made him appear sketchy, unpredictable and unreliable.
With Ali and the secret power couple of Devon & Ryan sitting in the middle as the decision makers, the choice between the two outsiders was a back and forth. All three of these players are strong contenders and positioned themselves well in the tribe as the people that everybody wants to work with, giving them power over the vote. Devon & Ryan vacillated between the two options, trying to weigh up short term versus long term gain for Patrick or Lauren as allies and assets. Ryan appeared to favour keeping Patrick for his strength and to remove Lauren for her lack of social ties, but Devon saw Patrick as a liability who choked in challenges and under pressure at Tribal, whereas Lauren was a steady and trustworthy ally.
Ali was much closer to the situation, having partnered up with Patrick from the beginning. With his name seriously in the conversation, she was forced to weigh up the value of sticking her neck out to protect their partnership. Ali is emerging as a fantastic player – adaptable, amiable, social and strategic – and the dead weight of a weak ally could torpedo her game. Patrick was certainly loyal to her, but was he worth the lack of social tact that required Ali to put out his fires? Her conversation with him, where she asked him to get some ice on that Idol Fever and play nice with the rest of the tribe, seemed to hint at one of many such discussions. Patrick was a loose cannon, and even Ali’s careful direction to play smarter seemed to go over his head as he lamented that he couldn’t make bonds with people if he wasn’t “being me.” Of course, the whole trouble was that being his loud and over-the-top self was causing the friction in the first place.
This gap between Patrick’s perception of his social ability and the reality of his situation was one of the critical discussions to arise at Tribal Council, as Yawa rationalised the need to keep players who could integrate well into a swap or merge to overcome the likely numbers-deficit they would face. Patrick confidently stated that he could easily and genuinely connect with other people, but Ali rebutted with an excellent point: if he couldn’t get along with Lauren after eight days together, how could he expect to squeeze his way into alliances that had already been forged during this early game?
Self-confidence can be a boon in Survivor, but as Devon pointed out, you have to be able to put your money where your mouth is. Patrick’s self-assurance had cost his tribe the challenge as he selfishly refused to sub out of the throwing portion of the Immunity Challenge despite growing weary, doubting on looks alone that Lauren, a lifetime outfielder, could do any better than he could. Back at camp, he confidently planned to ease Lauren’s concerns that she was at risk, but when she point-blank asked him who he was targeting if not her, all he could do was smile. Patrick’s inability to throw out a lie to assuage an adversary at this moment was damning, particularly as he contradicted his actions at Tribal by claiming to be capable of comforting people. Even his salty exit betrayed his inflexibility of self-perception as he accused his tribe of being “awful” people for lying in a game that demands it and seemed incapable of understanding why he was voted out. Patrick talked a lot of talk, but rarely walked the walk, and this made him an unreliable ally.
Lauren, meanwhile, fought to prove herself as an asset, bringing her A-game to Tribal Council. This was a breakout episode for Lauren, and she is fast-becoming one of the most compelling characters of the season. The no-nonsense salt-of-the-earth personality doesn’t always make for the best television, but her incredibly dry sense of humour (her deadpan quip about having two Idols at Tribal was one of the best lines of the episode) and her articulate and no-holds-barred approach to playing Survivor make her a legitimate force in this game. As an “older mom” archetype, she’ll have a rocky road ahead, but she seems to be up for the challenge.
Tonight alone, Lauren took full advantage of Patrick’s behaviour to throw him under the bus. She rode his comment from last week about trusting “most” of the tribe to nurture doubt in her tribemates’ minds. Even before he flubbed his opportunity to misdirect her with an alternative name, Lauren saw through Patrick’s perpetual grin to read his intentions to target her. She emphasised her value as a team player and a loyal ally by comparing herself to Patrick, whose self-interested behaviour had cost the whole team a win. Lauren compared her tactics to her fishing – you don’t just stay in one spot and hope you get a bite, you have to move around – as she approached Ali, Devon, and Ryan at different points to make her pitch, showing a willingness to adapt and try every option.
Lauren’s not a perfect player out of the gate. There’s an abrasive quality that could arise from her direct approach, and she doesn’t always have the best way with words – labelling Ryan as an “oddball” seemed to rub him the wrong way, and her repeated redhead slurs were a bad look. Yet Lauren is on the beach to play Survivor, and tonight, she hustled her way out of the line of fire.
THE LOVE BIRD FLU
In three-tribe seasons, it’s often the case that the tribes who avoid Tribal Council get shafted in the story-telling. It’s understandable – there’s less urgency to their story – but it does mean that we lose the full picture of the winning tribe and its players. Thankfully, tonight’s episode spent ample time introducing a new player onto the scene in Jessica.
Her flirtation with Cole – and his burgeoning interest in the “super cute” nurse – has been a background plot thread through the first couple episodes, but this is the first chance we got to see Jessica’s side of the story and understand how their relationship could impact the game. As they lay on the beach, their flirtation turned to the topic of the game and Cole shared his big secret: he knew that Joe had the Idol. Fulfilling Joe’s own uncertainty about sharing the clue and the Idol find last episode, Cole’s decision to share intel with Jessica was a well-employed move to build trust and parlay information into power and a solidified alliance. In her excitement, Jessica kissed him on the cheek in thanks – a big step for a self-confessed romance “slug.” Their kisses might have been private, but unfortunately, their secret was not.
Barely a day later, Cole frittered away all that goodwill by going a step too far. It was a natural progression for Cole and Jessica to conspire to blindside Joe should their tribe lose Immunity, but his unilateral decision to then bring others into the plan without consulting his partner was incredibly short-sighted. On the one hand, it was clear that Desi and Roark were growing tired of Joe’s attitude – not to mention his callous behaviour, literally throwing out food others would be happy to eat simply because the “po-ta-tas” weren’t cooked to his liking. Sympathising with their frustrations against Joe is a good tactic to build trust, but Cole went way beyond that and showed all his cards – plotting with them to blindside Joe rather than pick off the easy target in Mike. With Roark, too, he also revealed that Joe had the Idol. Maybe the love-bird flu was starting to affect his thinking.
Jessica was aghast – and for good reason. Knowledge is power in Survivor, and Cole just gave it all away too early for no concrete gain. He’d trusted her with the secret, and it had brought them together, but if he was just going to dispense secrets willy-nilly, could she really trust him with any secrets of her own? Not to mention that the entire idea of the “enjoy your Idol as a souvenir” blindside hinged on Joe not knowing they were coming after him. By putting the scheme out before they even lost a challenge, it increased the chance that word could get back to Joe, which could, in turn, backfire on them. This is even more pertinent in hindsight, knowing that a swap is coming the very next day!
Jessica is an astute player, a delightfully bubbly character and an engaging narrator – and I’m so glad we finally got a chance to know her this week. Despite getting caught up in the dangerous riptide of the showmance, she clearly has a good head on her shoulders and a keen eye for the game. If she and Cole are able to recover from this incident of word-vomit, and she can temper his more impulsive tendencies, they could make a deep run with her as the brains of the operation.
I DREAM OF JP
The Healers weren’t the only ones to win love-goggles with their fishing kit – or maybe, between Cole & Jessica’s raft dates and JP’s new role as the hunky fisherman, it’s just something in the water. Last week, JP rationalised that you might as well take advantage of being labelled a power couple to just go ahead and hook up, and if Ashley’s comments about the dreamy firefighter are any indication, that wish might just come true. Yet Ashley found herself in a predicament for her game. Liking JP as both eye candy and an ally, she wanted to work with him but was wary of spending too much time with him – particularly alone – lest the spectre of “power couple” haunt them. Kudos to Ashley for trying to de-escalate the accusations, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to be working.
She approached Ben about trying to target the dangerous and unpredictable Alan and keep JP on side as a puppy they could train. However, Ben was wary of keeping a follower like JP around, worried he might start following someone else if they had a better treat – and was still cautious of the connection between him and Ashley. For all the talk of their power couple, the real power lay with the secret alliance of Ben & Chrissy who began weighing up their two potential targets – the erratic and unpredictable Alan, whose feud with coconuts will be a rivalry to watch, or the unaware and dopey JP who didn’t really seem to know what game he was playing. They didn’t have to make their choice tonight, but they are playing it well, and their openness to keep working with either side could give them options going forward, particularly given what’s on the doorstep…
DROP YOUR BUFFS!
Already? Yes, it’s time for a tribe swap! Most three-tribe seasons seem to stage a swap at 14, but we’re mixing things up one round earlier this season, and it could make for an interesting change of pace. Whether we narrow down to two tribes or see an unprecedented swap from three tribes into three new tribes of 5, new dynamics abound!
We’ve spent three episodes now establishing the stories of the Heroes, Healers, and Hustlers: the power couples, the game-players, the secrets and Idols, and personalities. It hasn’t been the most dynamic strategic game out of the gate, but we’ve gathered a healthy amount of information about these castaways and given them their foundational narrative. Now it’s time to turn the page and begin the next chapter.
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