In late 17th century colonial Massachusetts, twenty people, most of whom were women, were prosecuted and subsequently executed, after being accused of partaking in dark magic and malevolent sorcery; famously known as the Salem witch trials. The after effects of these trials were pivotal in shaping United States history. It highlighted the extreme dangers of false accusations and isolationism and virtually destroyed theocracy in America.
Last week, Ciera Eastin prayed for a miracle to take place at tribal council. Hours later, when all hope seemed lost, Kelley Wentworth cooked up a magic potion in the form of a hidden immunity idol, blindsided Andrew Savage, and left her fellow tribemates in shock and disbelief. Upon returning to camp, Wentworth was the woman of the hour and everybody wanted a piece of her. More importantly, they wanted to know how this badassery was possible. Up until that point, hidden idols had been something only talked about, not seen (kind of like Kelly Wiglesworth). To the Bayon Strong alliance, Wentworth playing an idol was not only unexpected but an impossibility.
But it wasn’t long before the pitchforks came out. Kimmi quickly dubbed the trio of Abi-Ciera-Wentworth the “witches’ coven”, which sent Stephen on a riff about Macbeth and the fear of getting killed in the night by the deadly trio. Although, Stephen should probably be more afraid of upsetting his high school English teachers after misquoting Shakespeare. Rather than a “badass”, Wentworth was now “trouble”. Rather than scrappy, passionate players, Abi and Ciera were now “boil” and “toil”.
It’s part of Survivor gameplay to demonize other players to make them appear more threatening, but there was something about Kimmi’s tone that was very “burn the witches!” It’s Survivor isolationism; isolating yourself from the affairs of other players and alliances and being completely self-reliant. Again, that is understandable, but the truth is, the three girls haven’t been particularly cut-throat or malevolent, they just happen to be underdogs fighting for their position. In Survivor: Caramoan, nobody called Eddie, Malcolm, and Reynold the “Warlocks” (although that would have been hilarious) or the “Satanists” or any other kind of evil entity; they were the “Three Amigos.” It is just another example of Survivor’s long history of demonizing women that speak out or play aggressively.
Kimmi and other members of the Bayon Strong alliance didn’t want the three girls putting a spell on people and forming a new majority. Panic was prevalent all around the camp. Joe and Jeremy immediately set about idol hunting. While Joe’s search was put to a quick stop by Abi and her urgency to poop at a specific tree, Jeremy had better luck later in the day when he went to “poop” at a specific tree. There was a lot of talk about how the idols were going to be difficult to retrieve this season. The ones hidden in the challenges definitely came with significant risk, but Jeremy’s stroll down the beach at night to a lighted up area where he could pluck the idol off a clothesline seemed a little too easy. It was worth it though for the callback to Val’s idols from San Juan Del Sur.
But while everyone else was in a frenzy about witches and idols, Stephen wasn’t thinking about isolating the girls; he was thinking about utilizing them for his own benefit. “How do I get the witches to make the potion that’s right for me?” Stephen has been possessed by the thought of a “big move” for weeks now, and Wentworth’s big move in the previous episode only spurred on his desire to do the same. His strategy was to align with the outsiders and use them to take out a threat in the majority alliance. It’s a strategy that he and his partner in crime JT used to brilliant effect in Survivor: Tocantins; flipping the vote each week by using different groups of outsiders. The problem for Stephen was that he needed to convince two of his fellow allies, Jeremy and Spencer, to flip with him.
Stephen has had a strange second chance story. He has cried about golden boys, failed to chop wood, and been yelled at by Jeff Probst for not sliding down a slide better. It is hard to tell whether this confusion is a result of poor editing or whether Stephen himself brings about such a topsy-turvy narrative. It could be because Stephen is too self-aware. He makes a living out of analyzing and discussing Survivor on a weekly basis. Stephen skews his game through the perspective of a Survivor “Know-It-All”. It’s why he has been the biggest proponent of the so-called “voting bloc evolution.” He speaks in hyperbolic terms about game development and big moves because he understands the importance of building a Survivor resume to present to the jury at the end. I find it hard to believe that Stephen believes shifting voting blocs are unique to this season. But I can believe that Stephen is aware that crafting a narrative in both a game sense and a televisual sense is hugely important.
For the first time this season Stephen created some magic of his own. Not only did he convince the three girls to vote with him, but he managed to persuade his more reluctant allies, Jeremy and Spencer, into doing the same (oh, and he won the new game advantage!). The episode tried to tell us that eliminating Kelly Wiglesworth was a big move. After meditating for eight episodes, we were suddenly supposed to believe she had this stupendous social game. Whether Wiglesworth was a big move or not though is mostly irrelevant because Stephen and the edit sold it as such. As an epic thunder and lightning storm engulfed tribal council, Stephen, the man once nicknamed “The Wizard” by Benjamin “Coach” Wade, joined the forces of darkness and made his big move. Will he be demonized and put on trial by the betrayed Bayon next episode? Or has Survivor now become the devil’s playground?