Swift and deadly is the single episode rise-and-fall. Many Survivor players have been cursed with this narrative and more often than not, their single episode arcs or big downfall episodes are building to an obvious conclusion. The only way the show escapes the realms of a dull episode is by exploiting the inherent humour and/or drama in somebody torpedoing their own game with bluster, bravado or ignorance (hello, Drew Christy). By the time Tribal Council rolls around, every viewer and their dog can see the writing on the wall.
But last night’s episode wasn’t so cut and dry. After Gen X had lost the Immunity Challenge, it seemed likely that a contingent would rise against Lucy as her aggressive play would come back to bite her. But the closer we got to the vote, the more it seemed that she might have escaped the hatchet, and it could be Jessica getting the ignorant goodbye. In the end, it took a ballsy Idol play and a mere two votes to flip the outcome on its head. It’s a testament to how easily the game can change, and how every player can make a difference to the outcome.
As David quipped, “Live Tribal!” Although the flashy talking point of tonight’s episode was an Idol play, it’s fair to say that the episode has shown yet again that the entire game of Survivor is alive.
THE GREAT DICTATOR
Lucy Huang has been an enigma through the opening act of Survivor: Millenials vs. Gen X. She went through her first three episodes without a confessional, and her only notable dialogue before tonight was literally shushing her tribemates at an Immunity Challenge. After her performance in Episode 4, it is safe to say that the enigma of Lucy has completely dissipated. She arose with fire in her belly, and forty minutes later, that flame was snuffed out.
After Jessica, Sunday and Lucy flipped the vote on Paul last week, the muscle of the tribe was feeling understandably isolated. Chris and Bret rebuffed Jessica’s attempts to explain the situation and mend fences and spent the night stewing in their juices. Lucy took full advantage of this dissent, approaching Bret and Chris to throw Jessica under the bus as a scapegoat for Paul’s boot. It was a smart and aggressive play to solidify her own security and power in the game. It would have eliminated an adversary, and it would have garnered allies in the two men who had nowhere else to turn. It should have worked.
In Survivor, you can’t avoid the reality of your personality, and ultimately, it was the blunt and controlling manner of the self-described “Tiger Mom” that undid her. Her plan to orchestrate a coup on Jessica relied on pulling in the perennial Odd Couple outsiders of Ken and David. It should have been an easy sell – they need a way to make it one more day in the game and she’s handing them one on a silver platter. Unfortunately, Lucy flaunted this power and her entire conversation with them at the well was loaded with control: she’ll be “upset” if she sees them talking to anyone else, they can’t go off in the woods alone. Instead of negotiating with Ken and David as allies, she tried to marshal them into war like faceless troops.
It should blow up in her face right then and there, mobilising the ever-sensitive Ken to action. It’s only by the grace of Jessica’s unwillingness to see the truth that Lucy didn’t become the majority target. To Lucy’s credit, her manoeuvring was subtle enough that the District Attorney didn’t pick up on the scent and outright refused to believe it when Ken presented it to Jessica in all its gory detail on two separate occasions. And despite the massive road bump, Lucy managed to assuage Jessica’s fears and neutralise the counter-attack, and despite a heated argument with him, she put Ken back in his place to make sure the vote goes her way. Her plan worked: despite his resentment, Ken still fell in line and cast his vote for Jessica.
Chris lends the episode its title during Tribal, postulating “Who’s the sucker at the table?” By all accounts, he was speaking with foreknowledge of the foreclosure of Jessica’s game. Lucy, the architect of the play, should have been able to head back to camp that night having proudly orchestrated a massive blindside. Yet her play was interrupted by something she couldn’t have predicted: a gifted Idol.
David’s decision to play his Idol for Jessica seemed like a red herring – something the editors of the episode casually drop in two minutes before Tribal to distract from what should be a predictable Jessica boot. All of a sudden, when David made his stand, his talk of a “live” Tribal certainly made more sense: this game can turn on a dime.
David is a twitchy, awkward, nervous ball of energy. He seems to be finding his groove as a player in the game, but shades of the scaredy-cat frightened of his own shadow (and loud noises) persist. It seems, at first glance, that his choice to play his Idol for Jessica might have just been an extension of that nervous energy. Jumping the gun to make a move for the sake of making a move (should it matter whether it’s Jessica or Lucy going? Neither of them are close allies), or maybe to just do away with the anxiety that comes from holding an Idol in your back pocket. It puts the Idol back in play. It takes away his own security. It puts a target on his back. But the closer you look, the smarter the play.
The Gen X tribe now numbers seven, and David is positioned at the centre of a tentative majority. David has a close ally in Ken – even though they voted differently tonight, their friendship and allegiance seem much stronger than any of the times David has pointed at someone upon meeting them with an almost accusatory “I trust you!!” They conspired on the plan to boot Paul last week, and again on the counterstrike on Lucy. That’s one number there. David’s also got a number in CeCe, who is firmly lodged at the bottom of the pecking order and who he’s able to get on side for a vote with a mere few words.
Playing his Idol for Jessica secures him another ally moving forward – someone whose game is indebted to him. It shows her that even though she can’t rely on her old alliance, she can trust him, and he’s demonstrated that trust by choosing to give up his own certain security for her when she was blind and could not see the reality of her predicament. Unbeknownst to David, he also made a fast friend with the woman holding the secret of the Legacy Advantage – and it would not surprise me if David was willed the advantage upon Jessica’s boot down the line as her final act of gratitude.
For the viewer at home, this play was a welcome relief to bolster the episode, which had otherwise been a little run-of-the-mill and had the tone of a necessary but predictable table-setter. It also provided some assurance that although the Gen X tribe might not have the high energy entertainment value of the Millennials, there are gamers in the mix. David, Ken and Lucy all played strategic offence this week and going forward, everyone else on the tribe has faced at least one blindside to “zap their ass” and launch them into action.
Meanwhile, the narrative over at the Millennial tribe was one of hunting – whilst half the tribe got their Lord of the Flies on to hunt some pigs and goats, Adam took advantage of a quiet camp to turn up his hunt for the Idol. After being left out of the Mari vote and knowing he can’t contribute meaningfully to physical challenges, he’s feeling more in need of security than ever.
He manages to find a clue wedged in a tree pointing him in the right direction with an excellent pun (“in a SHELLtered area,” geddit!?), and he eventually notices the marked shell. Despite a brief moment of danger as Hannah spots him from afar and encourages her “buddy” to keep his spirits up in the hunt, Adam breaks open the clam shell to find his Hidden Immunity Idol. In step with what we’ve seen of his audience surrogate character so far (the guy is constantly in a state of geeking out over being on Survivor), he’s positively giddy as he hangs the Idol around his neck. His excitement and relief are palpable, but interestingly, the show doesn’t stop there.
For the first time this season, we see more depth to Adam’s character. He’s not just the Survivor “super duper fan” of this reality show, but he’s also grappling with a very harsh reality back home. While he’s on an island living out his dream, his mother is fighting stage 4 lung cancer in what Adam describes as a “nightmare.” It’s a brutal dichotomy, and as Adam relates that he hopes his Idol success can be something he looks forward to sharing with his mother, it’s easy to pull for a happy ending to this story. Let’s hope there’s some more good in his game for Adam to share with his family.
Two challenges tonight! Our Reward Challenge was a classic physical brawl in the intense stormy swell of Fiji, and it provided ample entertainment – and not just because Jeff was almost knocked off his feet as he announced the winner of the challenge. Between Chris (aka. Hulk) and Bret’s “huuuuuge” domination of the Millennial boys and Michaela’s Amazonian (in more ways than one, as she pulls a Heroes vs. Villains Sugar to free the “ta-tas”) powerhouse performances, it was a fierce battle over steak and sausages.
Later, we’re treated to an innovative Immunity Challenge that may or may not have been repurposed from a theme park. As happens more often than not, however, the physical feat (in this case, a window-washer chairlift) is mitigated by the puzzle: in this case, a challenging 30-letter word scramble that took the tribes over 45 minutes (and a hint from the sidelines) to solve. Of note, this is the third puzzle that David has competed on – and the third puzzle he’s failed to solve. Thankfully, puzzle smarts isn’t the only thing he’s got going for him in the game.
DROP YOUR BUFFS
Next week, it looks like we’re in for a shake-up as the Millennials and Gen X tribes are shuffled together. It might make the season title redundant, but it should hopefully inject some more excitement into the game!
It’s impossible to predict how the next stretch of the game will play out, but with an Idol back in play and an underdog in Adam in possession of the other, and a whole cast that seems ready to play, it’s bound to be a fun ride for one simple reason: the game is live!