It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it? The ones you least expect. They are there in the background, minding their own business, going with the flow. Until one day, like Milton in Mike Judge’s cult classic Office Space, they snap and burn the building to the ground. Or, in this case, use an idol and reduce tribal council to mere ashes scattered around Jeff Probst’s feet.
The thrill of a perfectly executed blindside never gets old. It makes for downright giddy television seeing the fading smiles and open-mouthed panic of the overconfident. It’s what keeps Survivor’s lifeblood pumping. Last night, this Second Chance season was turned on its head by an underestimated player, in what was the most narratively satisfying episode of the season with a highly exciting climax.
The episode played brilliantly with expectations, with Fishbach leading us down a trail towards Joe’s execution, before reaching a dead-end when Joe inevitably won immunity. Fishbach has had a fixation with blindsiding Joe since the days he was wrestling tree branches on the Bayon beach. But much like his struggle with axe-to-wood logistics, Fishbach has been unable to rally troops against golden boy wonder.
Not that Fishbach has had the opportunity to put his plans into motion. Joe has yet to be vulnerable in this game, having had immunity for the entire 21 days – almost tieing the record held by Marcus in Survivor: Gabon. The predictability of Joe’s challenge dominance is what made it so easy to root for Keith Nale when he almost beat Joe in yet another ball challenge. Did somebody in the prop department order too many balls for this season? Or does Probst just really enjoy testicle innuendo?
Despite the similarity between this and the previous week’s immunity challenge, the Fishbach versus Joe narrative was enough to rack up the tension and make us feel invested in the outcome. Joe retained his fancy necklace by narrowly defeating Keith. To be fair, Keith was probably distracted from being pulled over earlier in the day by Cambodian police officials for illegally commandeering a tuk-tuk and soliciting passengers.
With immunity around his neck, the narrative shifted to Joe’s desire to vote-out Fishbach, because turnabout’s fair play, right? The Bayon Strong alliance appeared to be on board with the plan until Jeremy got wind of the idea. Jeremy decided it was too early to turn on each other and masterfully convinced his allies to target Ciera or Kelley Wentworth instead. At this point, the narrative we had been following washed away and revealed the true underlying story of the episode.
Andrew Savage operates in his own particular brand of solipsism. The lies and deceit in Survivor are disgusting – unless he is the one lying and deceiving. Savage’s downfall has been on the horizon for a while now. Over the 21 days he has devolved into a moody teenager; if the shelter had a door, I bet he would have slammed it in a hissy-fit by now. When the episode started with him gloating about the perfection of the Kass vote-off and how happy he was to have made the jury, it should have been obvious the axe was about to come down on his head. Psycho style music cues even punctuated his scenes.
At tribal council is when all of Savage’s Survivor nightmares started flashing before his eyes: the Morgan beach, the Outcasts, Lillian Morris in her Cub Scout uniform. All it needed was Skinny Ryan to pop up and ominously utter the words “It’s happening again” like the Giant from Twin Peaks.
And why was this happening? According to Ciera and Wentworth, it’s because nobody had the balls to make a big move. Yes, there were half-assed plans and teases of moves from the likes of Joe and Savage, but ultimately they all fell apart. Wentworth said it herself about Joe; someone needed to “grow a set of balls.” I guess the prop master forgot to order some for the players themselves.
It was up to Wentworth herself to show some testicular fortitude. Kelley Wentworth found the hidden immunity idol in the first episode of the season; she had to grab it bravely at the first immunity challenge in sight of 19 other players. Since then she has played relatively under-the-radar, going with the flow, and flipping her vote when necessary. She has remained quietly aware of the game. But others haven’t been aware of her game.
There is a vocal section of the Survivor fanbase that didn’t want or expect Wentworth to make it on this season. I suspect many of her castmates felt the same way. They wrote her off as a non-entity and underestimated her ability and willingness to play the game. You only have to watch the secret scenes from this episode to hear the condescending and dismissive remarks made by the likes of Jeremy. Whether they overlooked her because of her limited Survivor experience, or because she’s a woman or blonde or because she doesn’t shout and cause drama, who knows? In one decisive move, Wentworth proved she had balls so big that not even Joe would be able to balance them.
It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it? That is what made this particular blindside so thrilling. Not a single person on that tribe suspected Wentworth had an idol or was capable of such a move. Clapping, cursing, laughing, gasping – the range of reactions made for electrifying television. Wentworth was in complete control. She held the gun, and the Bayon Strong alliance could only sit and wait to see where the bullet landed.
That bullet went straight through Savage’s heart. He was sent packing with his tongue firmly lodged under his bottom lip. “You made the jury!!” Abi sarcastically exclaimed, leading to a perfect final image of Andrew Savage – angry, beaten, middle finger in the air.
Wentworth made the big move. Who’s going to step up next? Ball’s in your court.