The Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan, India, is home to over 20,000 rats. These rats are worshipped, fed and protected by thousands of devotees who travel from afar to pay their respects to the furry, little creatures. In India, the rat is sacred. Not in Survivor. Oh no. The rat holds a special place in the lore of Survivor, and it is not one that people dedicate prayers and rituals of worship to.
Ever since season one, when Susan Hawk tarnished runner-up, and current Cambodia castaway, Kelly Wiglesworth with “the rat” moniker, it has become a dirty word in the game of Survivor. To be a rat means you are a snitch or a flip-flopper or a deceptive person – sometimes all three. I mean, people think being a goat in Survivor is bad, but at least people want to actively work with goats because they think they can get an easy win against them at the end. It is much harder to overcome the stigma of being labelled a rat.
Jonathan Penner was characterised as a rat in Survivor: Cook Islands, after not only mutinying to the opposing tribe but for flipping on his alliance at the merge. He was never able to live down the rat reputation and was eliminated. In Survivor: South Pacific, John Cochran was labelled a rat for flipping on his original tribe at the merge; he also was unable redeem himself (in that season) and was quickly eliminated after his flip. It’s a desperate life in Survivor for a rat.
I don’t think anyone would disagree that up until this point Jeff Varner has been the star of the season. His confessionals are humorous, his enthusiasm radiates off the screen, and he has been controlling the direction of the game with his balls-to-the-wall approach. The main problem with that kind of aggressive game-play out of the gate, is that it can come crashing down oh so quickly.
Last week, after returning to his old school alliance, nurturing his relationship with the volatile Abi-Maria, and sending his biggest strategic threat, Shirin, home, Varner looked to be king of the Ta Keo castle. He had the numbers and an easy next vote-off in Spencer. But as always in Survivor, just when you get comfortable, there is a twist around the corner. And that twist came this week in the form of a tribe swap. Actually, a tribe expansion, as the castaways were shuffled from two tribes to three.
It was obvious immediately that the new Angkor tribe were screwed challenge wise. Not only was it the physically weakest tribe, on paper at least, but they also had the huge disadvantage of having to build a new camp from scratch. Oh, what, the tribe with no camp, no food and no supplies lost the immunity challenge? You don’t say! It’s like Survivor: Fiji’s terrible Haves vs Have Nots twist all over again.
But at least for Varner he still had the numbers, right? Ending up with his former Ta Keo members, Abi, Peih-Gee and Woo, whom were all on the same page at the previous tribal council, was a great stroke of luck. It was so obvious that even Woo could see it: “Can we just be smart and stick together? Pleeeease.” If you had predicted Tasha or Savage to go home at the start of the episode, no one could blame you. That is what logic would suggest. But you can’t apply logic to rats and Brazilian dragons.
The funniest thing about Varner’s cross-tribal communication with Kelly Wiglesworth after the challenge, is that this same thing is what eventually led to his demise back in The Australian Outback. If rumour is to be believed, during an off-camera sequence at the second immunity challenge, eventual winner Tina Wesson asked who else got votes at Kucha’s frist tribal council other than Debb. Now, depending on who you believe, either Kimmi or Varner naively revealed that Varner had got two votes. Knowing this information helped the Ogakor tribe win the tie-vote at the merge (at the time tie votes were decided by whomever had the most previous votes cast against them). The fact that cross-tribal whispering at a challenge almost cost Varner again is an amusing thought.
What was Varner mouthing to Wiglesworth? It looked like he was saying “Kimmi and Monica”; one would assume that Varner was suggesting that Wiglesworth align with the women. Why he felt the need to do that has not been fully explained as of yet. It could have been completely innocent and just a friend looking out for a friend. But Tasha caught him in the act and labelled him a rat, which sent Varner into a tail-spin; throwing everyone under the bus in a post-challenge meltdown. Fraternising with the enemy in Survivor will not be tolerated and is a sin that can tarnish you for the rest of the game – again, see Penner and Cochran.
The fact Varner managed to escape the rat trap in this episode is quite astonishing – but I think it’s going to take a lot of ocean scrubs to get rid of the scent.
Other than her ominous “I’ll pray for forgiveness” opening confessional, Tasha has remained relatively quiet throughout the first two episodes. This week though, Tasha came to play. Tasha is no stranger to combustible, underdog tribes – some could say she thrives in that environment. Things looked bleak for her and Savage at first; Savage couldn’t stop pouting when Probst revealed the twist. Savage is like a war vet, except rather than having flashbacks of combat, he has images of Lill and Skinny Ryan popping into his head. But Tash and Savage somehow managed to fracture the Ta Keo four and put themselves in the power position.
Calling out Varner at the challenge was a bold move that could have easily back-fired. Tasha didn’t exactly handle it with subtly. But it worked. She threw out that rat term and that’s all it took for Varner to meltdown in front of the entire cast. It was the catalyst in breaking up the Ta Keo four.
Back at camp everybody was ready to stomp out Varner, until again, communication broke down between Abi and Peih-Gee, turning them against each other and opening up even more options for Tasha and Savage heading into tribal council.
All Love on Ta Keo
Ta Keo benefited the most from the tribe swap. They have big physical challenge performers in Joe, Keith, Terry and Kelley Wentworth, and Kass is an excellent puzzle solver. And Ciera’s there too; she’s a great social player, but lets just say she lucked out with her new tribe. Within minutes, hammocks had appeared, fish had been caught, and Joe’s hair was looking as luscious as ever. The Bayon love-fest had found its way over to camp Ta Keo, whose only real sign of love so far had come when Abi was reunited with her bracelet. “It’s sick!” Terry said of his new tribe – sounding like a dad pretending to be down with the new Drake song.
But while Terry was all ready to jump aboard the new Ta Keo party bus, Wentworth was quick to kick him under it. After falling victim to a tribe swap in San Juan Del Sur, Wentworth recognised that she and Terry were on the outs, and so she wasted no time in positioning herself one spot above Terry. She ratted him out to Ciera and Kass, telling them that he had spent hours looking for the idol, despite having the idol comfortably in her own possession. That’s the thing, rats exist everywhere in Survivor – the key is to not get caught.
Spencer found a new lease on life on the new Bayon tribe. I think most people were super pumped to see Spencer and Fishbach end up together and were looking forward to them geeking out and strategising. But this is Spencer 2.0 – now with feelings. Continuing with his promise from the last tribal council, Spencer worked on bonding emotionally with his new tribe-mates. But the person he bonded with was not Fishbach, but his former Mr Survivor running mate, Jeremy Collins.
It’s funny to watch Spencer try to connect emotionally with people because he still approaches it like strategy. He makes the pure human ability to love sound as exciting as trigonometry. However, whatever he is doing seems to be having the desired effect. He did in ten minutes what poor Fishbach has been trying to do for six days, and that’s bond with an alpha male. Jeremy took the young lad under his wing while Fishy was struggling to chop a coconut.
Speaking of Jeremy, it was a good night for the fire-fighter. Not only did he remain at the Bayon tribe with his numbers in tact, but he joined his fellow San Juan Del Sur cast mate Wentworth, in being the only other person this season to find an idol. Although, that idol grab? Looked like he was playing hide and seek. It lacked the tension of the Wentworth idol grab from the premiere, but that could be because this idol was placed in a more convenient place to grab, rather than awkwardly under the structure like in episode one.
Once again Abi avoids extermination and lives on to continue terrorizing the inhabitants of Koh Rong island. While she is a pest to some, namely Peih-Gee who had been stuck in a perpetual cycle of conflict with Abi since hour one-day one, she is a pet to others. Comforted and nurtured by Tasha and turned into a loyal and obeying servant…. for now.
Like Shirin and Varner before her, Tasha pandered to Abi to get her on side. Every week Abi has turned on her current alliance to join a new one. You see, while Tasha may have been quick to call Varner the rat, the truth is, she may have just aligned herself with the biggest rat in the game. Abi has no loyalty to anyone; she will scurry to whoever is giving her the most attention at that given time: the person who is feeding her, protecting her and worshipping her.
Tasha may have made a smart move in the short-term but if she is banking on Abi as a long-term ally then she is going to be in for a rude awakening. As soon as someone new comes along that worships Abi more, then Tasha will be left for dead – just like Shirin and Peih-Gee.
Before you know it, this entire cast will be infected by the crazed creature of Cambodia known as Abi-Maria Gomes.
The tribe swap is usually a guaranteed way to shake up the game and bring about new, interesting dynamics. However, in this episode it still felt like a one tribe show. That one tribe was Angkor and of course it contained Abi-Maria. Everyone who voted for Abi to come back, and I’m one of those people, are certainly getting their money’s worth. So far no alliance has properly stuck together for more than one vote and that is in big part due to Abi. But I would like to see more from the other players, such as Keith (who gave a very funny confessional about Joe in a secret scene from this episode), Ciera, Kimmi and even Monica. I’m not saying entire segments have to be dedicated to these castaways, but it would be nice to get a fresh perspective and an idea of where their heads are at. The episode itself had drama, and tension and another big vote-off but I’m desperate to see what a tribal council without Abi-Maria would look like.