Survivor 44

Episode 3 Recap – The Benchwarmer

What went down in Episode 3?

Photo: CBS

In the aftermath of Carson’s big flip (which we’ve since learned was caused by Sarah’s lack of a vote being public knowledge!), a new majority trio has emerged and forced Sarah from the top to the bottom overnight. But as much as Carson’s betrayal stings, she can respect the play and still trusts a former ally more than Yam Yam and Carolyn, who never tried working with her at all. Whether she can pull anything off (perhaps by flaunting her Inheritance Advantage as a bargaining chip?) will remain a dangling plot point. But even with low numbers, Tika is living the good, goofy life and laughing it up.

Ratu’s in similarly stable waters. With some time to recover socially, Kane’s warming up his vocal chops and his swordplay skills, revealing he’s a massive Dungeons and Dragons nerd who envisions his tribe as a band of merry knights with himself as the quirky Dungeon Master. He says he wants to be someone’s hero out there in Fiji, and as someone who’s played the bare minimum of D&D and drafted Kane onto my team this season, he’s certainly a hero in my eyes.

But Kane and his botched performance of the Canadian national anthem isn’t the only character content we get. Brandon opens up about being underestimated as a dumb jock because he played in the NFL, hoping we see him as a total Renaissance man who can do anything and everything he sets his mind to, including spearfishing with Ratu’s newfound fishing gear. Meanwhile, Jamie and Lauren feast on earthworms as Jamie decorates the camp with makeshift potted plants.

It’s here we get some actual dynamic development: Matthew and Jamie have a little alliance going on, dubbed Plant Lady and Plant Daddy, because of Jamie’s green thumb. And said thumb goes right into a hole by the well and digs out the replanted Ratu idol! Or… that would be the case had Matthew not found it earlier and planted a fake for Jamie to find. That’s right, it’s a fake idol festival this season, even on the tribe with the least bird cage drama.

But Soka is where the real bird cage drama is this week, as Danny’s ready to go all out and sabotage another player with his dummy silver coin. Eating the parchment it came with, he packages it with the legit idol note, stuffs it back in the bag, and hides the key in an obvious spot. And which hapless victim will fall for it? Well, Matt will rack up even more terrible luck as he adds a fake idol to his collection of lost votes. He’s got so many disadvantages going against him before even going to Tribal, and to make it even more tragic, Danny catches him in the act of finding the key and sells him out in front of Josh, the news of which makes it to the rest of Soka in a matter of minutes.

However, this horrible luck has one major upside: people are suddenly afraid to target Matt and Frannie’s showmance, fracturing what appears to be a four-person anti-showmance majority. So if Soka’s eventually going to lose immunity, they might need to find a new target and fast. And lo and behold, they finally falter and lose immunity after an impressive streak.

I’m going to stop the clock here, though. The narrative being sold here is simple: Matt found an “idol,” so he and Frannie are untouchable. But given how hazy the actual dynamics were on this tribe, I say we’re being sold a bill of false goods with the showmance being on the outs. Everyone knows Matt has no vote, so they’d only have one vote between them: Frannie’s. All the assumed majority would have to do is split 2-2, and there’s literally nothing the showmance could do… but that’s not at all what goes down. Instead, let’s try and parse through the footage and piece together the puzzle as the scrambling carries on.

The immediate target here is Claire, who’s been dragged by Jeff and the editors for sitting out of three immunity challenges in a row all season despite it being the tribe consensus. Danny’s fine with Claire going. Heidi’s fine with it. Josh is fine with it. Matt’s fine with it. Frannie though, is not fine with it. Claire, despite all the evidence we’ve seen that she’s totally against the showmance and wants them gone ASAP, is apparently close with Frannie and might be a crucial number for her. But I do see something of substance here as out of nowhere as this relationship might appear.

When Matt and Frannie first grew close, Claire specified that it could hurt Frannie’s standing, not Matt’s. To me, that implies these two women are a lot closer than the edit let on. Why they couldn’t just show us this relationship straight up instead of leaving so much to be read between the lines, I don’t know. But Frannie and Claire set their sights on Josh on account of his “shifty and cagey” gameplay (another big headscratcher given Josh has spoken so little so far you’d think he found a Beware Advantage that prevented him from uttering a single word), and off they go to stir the pot.

But with Josh having Danny firmly in his corner, Frannie and Claire can only hope to flip Heidi for a 3-2 blindside against the doctor. If she’s firm in voting for Claire, it’s up to the Shot in the Dark to save her. But Heidi is tight with Danny, her true number one, and turning against him for this vote will be a tough sell.

The arguments are there, though. Claire can start competing to fix the strength issue, but Josh’s lack of trust and strong relationships is a long-term issue. Claire wants to talk game with her, but Josh never talks game. But on the flip side, Heidi wants to get back on the winning streak, and Claire sticking around might send Soka soaring into a tailspin.Danny and Frannie agree to follow her lead whatever choice she makes.

And unfortunately for Claire, these arguments fall flat, as does her SITD attempt, sending her packing in a unanimous 4-0 vote. Like the boots before her, I never got the sense that Claire did anything particularly wrong to lead to her elimination here. The weird narrative pitched to us was “Claire sits out too much, so Claire goes home because the showmance got an idol and someone had to be collateral damage.” But if she really was the weakest link in the team, her sitting out was a genuine contribution in its own way, and if she did try to compete and ultimately cost her tribe a win, she was in an actual lose-lose situation.

Instead, I’d theorize that Claire was on the edge of the tribe early on, and we just weren’t shown that in any capacity. When people talked about the showmance being targeted, Claire was usually the only person making that strong case against them. I reckon those two had more inroads with Danny, Heidi, and Josh than shown here. Of course, the show can and will tell whatever story it wants, and the showmance being in danger of an early demise only to be saved by a fake idol of all things is far more interesting TV than an easy unanimous vote against an obvious outsider.

But as Claire departs and we lose a potentially great villain and all her snarky confessionals, a massive issue with this New Era game design has become even more obvious. The smaller tribes, lack of a guaranteed swap, and forced reliance on providers for food make it even harder for women to survive their early Tribal Councils than usual, which only makes it harder for the surviving women to work together and wield any power.

The solutions are pretty obvious: two tribes, a swap, more food… basically undo the New Era gimmicks that have run their course four seasons into this experiment. Do I expect production to embrace these solutions? No, not really. If anything, I’d expect them to double down and “prove” their ideas work with enough trial runs.

But the next episode’s preview does tease what looks like a possible swap, so perhaps my low hopes are about to be raised. Regardless of some unfortunate issues on production’s end, the cast is still delivering some fun moments and showing more personality as the bird cage twist finishes running its course. I still can’t tell you that much about the dynamics of the non-Tika tribes even after a Soka loss fleshed them out, but they certainly aren’t boring tribes by any stretch of the imagination. And sometimes, just not being boring is all a Survivor season needs to get a passing grade.

Written by

Cory Gage

Cory is a writer and student from Texas. He's a die-hard Survivor fanatic who's seen over 50 seasons worldwide, hosted his own season in high school from scratch, and hopes to one day compete on the show himself.

One response to “Episode 3 Recap – The Benchwarmer”

  1. Can you please do an article comparing Survivor USA to Australia? Watching USA is like watching paint dry compared to Aussie version.

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