Survivor: Cambodia Episode 2 Review – Petty Fights and Heartbreak

In last week’s season premiere of Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance, Jeff Probst asked Abi-Maria at tribal council how she would view her story if she were the one voted out that night. Abi replied with just one word: “Heartbreaking.” That one word encapsulates the very essence of Survivor. Yes, it’s a game-show, but it’s also a microcosm of life. The people who play Survivor put their heart and soul out there. It is a game of social hierarchy, relationship building, and emotional manipulation. As much as the phrase “it is just a game” has been uttered, it’s hard not to take “the game” personally. Especially for these twenty returnees who are living their second chance. Every elimination is heartbreaking.

This episode, in particular, was like the world’s saddest heartbreak song. The editors didn’t feign any attempt to set-up a blindside and instead allowed the audience to wallow in the agony of watching two of Survivor’s biggest superfans having to turn their pen on each other to save themselves. It was one of the most tragic and brutally poetic episodes in Survivor history.


Somebody That I Used To Know

But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger, and I feel so rough

From Abi-Maria’s perspective, she was the betrayed lover. Abandoned by the one person who was meant to love and protect her the most. Abi and Shirin made it no secret in their pre-game interviews that they had a desire to work with each other. Abi felt that she could relate to Shirin as a fellow misunderstood castaway on her season. Abi sought Shirin’s comfort and protection within minutes of hitting the beach; after she realized her bag had gone missing. But Abi is volatile, emotional, and prone to over-reaction. Shirin became less of a protector and more of a babysitter.

Imagine how exhausting that must be. Not only do you have to play Survivor with little food and little sleep, but you also have to look after a 35-year-old, erratic, highly emotional, big Brazilian baby. It’s like trying to play Survivor while looking after the baby from Eraserhead. Abi needed some of those sleeping pills Monica smuggled into the game to calm her down somewhat.

Spencer described Abi as a “permanent liability” that can be a “cancer” to a tribe and “deathly cancer” to an alliance. And he was right. The Abi virus spread throughout the alliance and ate it alive from the inside out. It sent Shirin and Spencer from the power position to the two on the outs within a matter of days.

So whose to blame? As Probst loves to remind everyone, in Survivor, “perception is everything.” Reality and logic go out the window. Abi percieved Shirin’s decision to remove herself from the Abi vs. Peih-Gee drama as an act of betrayal. Shirin admitted at tribal council that she should have been there for Abi at that moment. I think Shirin realized that despite how emotionally draining it was to deal with Abi, she needed to handle that relationship with kid gloves, not only to appease Abi but to protect her own position within the game. Her momentary mistake turned Abi into the scorned lover out for revenge, and she went and found new protectors (babysitters).


I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

Did you ever see a robin weep
When leaves began to die?
That means he’s lost the will to live
I’m so lonesome I could cry

The evolution of Spencer Bledsoe is one of the fascinating arcs so far this season. He started last week talking about how he had matured over the past year and a half, and how this time around he was going to connect with people on a human level. We saw him putting this into motion in the premiere in his talk with Terry, and he clearly did a good job, having the old school alliance believe he was with them, while already part of the majority alliance. But with his first real position of power in Survivor history, Spencer lost sight of his new goal.

Having the numbers on his side, Spencer felt comfortable, well, as comfortable as one can feel with Abi-Maria in your alliance. While he should have been forging stronger relationships with Peih-Gee, Wiglesworth, and Woo, he instead felt safe within his trio of himself, Shirin and Wentworth. His bond with Shirin was particularly strong. Even though it was Abi seeking Shirin’s love and protection, it was Spencer who ended up getting it. It’s rare in modern day Survivor that we get to see a real friendship blossom on-screen, so to watch Shirin and Spencer grow so close was both heart-warming and ultimately heartbreaking.

Seeing Spencer break down in tears was hard to watch. We have never seen this side of Spencer before. That is what makes Spencer 2.0 such a fascinating character. Yes, sometimes he reverts to default game-bot mode, but even when neglecting the emotions of others, he is expressing his feelings much more openly than he ever did in Cagayan. He mentioned how in his first season he never had that one person he could fully rely on, but in Cambodia, he found that person in Shirin. They clicked, they related, and they trusted each other implicitly. Things were finally looking up for the young lad. Then quick as a flash, his one true friend was ripped away in the cruelest manner – he was forced to vote her out.

Spencer once again finds himself on his own with no real allies. What he needs to pray for is a tribe swap.


I Can’t Make You Love Me

‘Cause I can’t make you love me
If you don’t
You can’t make your heart feel
Something it won’t

Switching gears for a second, we have to check in with the saner but far less interesting Bayon tribe. With Joe continuing to catch fish and make hammocks and rescue puppies from burning buildings, the Bayon tribe is involved in a Survivor love-fest. Well, everyone, that is except for Stephen Fishbach. No matter how hard he tries, poor Fishbach just can’t quite seem to get that same love back.

Emotions were running high on the Bayon beach. Not in the psychotic Ta Keo way, but in a more human, positive way. Although I’m not sure I grasped the emotional hook of Savage’s story about meeting his wife.  The way it was going, I thought he was about to drop a “She died, dude” at the end of it, thinking that some of Jonny Fairplay might have rubbed off on him in Pearl Islands. But no, Savage’s heartfelt story essentially amounted to him falling in love with a beautiful model and marrying her. There wasn’t a dry-eye in the shelter.

I understand that Survivor is stressful, and it must play havoc with your emotions, but they had been out there, what, five days at that point? Even with the pre-season activities, they’d been in Cambodia for a week and a half at most. Maybe I’m just a giant cynic, but I found it hard to get emotionally invested in a wealthy, highly successful lawyer meeting and marrying a gorgeous beauty model. But Savage wasn’t the story here; he was merely the platform used to tell Jeremy and Stephen’s story.

Jeremy had the actual emotional pull of the episode, as he removed himself from camp to have a private cry. Savage’s story reminded Jeremy of his wife Val, who happens to be pregnant. Jeremy is not only missing this valuable time with his family, but he can’t share the news with his fellow tribemates out of fear that it will make him a jury threat. It’s probably because his tribemates don’t know this information why Stephen accused Jeremy of going to search for an idol.

Oh, Fishy. Don’t ruin the love-fest by bringing up idols. What do you think this is, Survivor?


Because Of You

Because of you
I find it hard to trust
Not only me, but everyone around me
Because of you, I am afraid

Jeff Varner. The heartbreaker himself. Varner has demonstrated within two episodes that he is not in Cambodia to play a slow or predictable game. It’s because of his actions that the first two tribal councils have been so dramatic. After flipping on his old school alliance last week to join the majority, alongside Shirin, Spencer, and Wentworth, it seemed as if Terry, Wiglesworth, and Woo were on the outs. But Varner was singing from a different hymn sheet.

He claimed his decision to vote out Vytas was to light a fire under the asses of his old school companions. It was a wake-up call to get their heads into the game. Whether that is true or not is irrelevant because it had the desired effect. Terry, in a moment of surprising social and strategic skill, seized an opportunity to bond with Abi. Now, I don’t buy for one second that Terry genuinely wanted to look after Abi and just happened to benefit strategically. I believe Terry knew what he was doing, and that’s not a bad thing. It worked.

Varner continued to nurture his relationships within the tribe, succeeding where Shirin and Spencer had failed. He played into Abi’s deluded, betrayed victim story, further driving the wedge between her and her former allies. His aim was to the break up the tightest relationship on the beach – Shirin and Spencer. He wanted Romeo & Juliet banished from Verona, and he accomplished this goal by turning everyone on the tribe against them.

Varner is certainly in the controlling position right now, but riding in the middle for too long can prove dangerous. Where do his true loyalties lie? He and Peih-Gee seem to be a duo that is willing to flip to wherever the numbers are. But I think one of the most important conversations of the episode was between Varner and Kelley Wentworth. In his talks with Abi, and even Terry, you could see Varner working his charm and manipulating with his patented schmooze. But the conversation between himself and Wentworth was on an equal footing. He didn’t try and give her the patter. Varner told her the deal – Shirin and Spencer were on the outs – and in return Wentworth told him to chill and assured him that she was on board.

Right now, Varner is putting himself in the power position. Wentworth is going with the flow. They both trust each other and are wary of each other at the same time. Varner is a Godfather of social manipulation. Wentworth is a stealthy assassin with an idol in her pocket. They are the best players on the island right now. I think that is the relationship we need to keep our eyes on, and I will discuss it in more detail in this week’s Edgic post.


How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?

I didn’t come here for cryin’ 
Didn’t come here to breakdown
It’s just a dream of mine is coming to an end

And so Shirin’s Survivor journey came to an end. After suffering through the awful people she had to live with during Worlds Apart, she managed to make it all the way to 8th place. This time around her experience, despite Abi-Maria, appeared to be an overall more positive one, even though she was the second boot. She made friends and allies and got along with the majority of her tribe. Her flaw was playing too hard too fast. She painted a big target on her back with how well she orchestrated the Vytas boot and had her allies stolen from under her nose by some shifty maneuvering and social nurturing from Jeff Varner.

Being sent home by the vote of her best friend in the game was a heartbreaking moment. But Shirin played hard and got to live her dream twice. Her enthusiasm and passion will be missed but I’m sure this game is only going to get crazier from here. I expect lots more tears and broken hearts before it’s all set and done.


The Ta Keo tribe continues to deliver drama and unpredictability and is so far driving the momentum of the season. The Bayon tribe remains underdeveloped and it is therefore much harder to relate and root for anyone not named Stephen Fishbach. Monica, for example, was completely missing from the episode. However, the editors did a fine job of highlighting the emotional effects of Survivor and how different players react to the hardships of the game. The decision to neglect the usual editing trickery used to give us a #blindside was a refreshing change. It allowed us as viewers to feel the pain and heartbreak of both Shirin and Spencer. A devastating but impactful episode of Survivor.

Written by

Martin Holmes

Martin is a freelance writer from England. He’s represented by Berlin Associates for comedy writing and writes about TV and entertainment, currently for TV Insider and Vulture, previously Digital Spy, ET Canada, and Yahoo. A finalist for the Shortlist Sitcom Search in 2012 for “Siblings,” Martin received his BA in English with Creative Writing from The University of Hull. Martin is the owner and editor-in-chief of Insider Survivor.

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