by Martin Holmes and Ian Walker
The story of the Matsing tribe is one of the most tragic tales in Survivor history. Seemingly dysfunctional from the start, the words “Matsing Wins Immunity!” were never spoken in the tribe’s existence, each subsequent loss compounding the misery, and right in the middle of the misery was Russell Swan.
There is some great editing in this episode that perfectly captures the despair of the Matsing tribe. The opening two and half minutes of “Create A Little Chaos” are entirely dialogue free – which is a long time in TV terms – as the camera pans through shots of a waterlogged camp, wrinkled hands and feet, and ominous dark clouds. We finally pause on the Matsing three desperately trying to start a fire. At this moment we are truly with the Matsing tribe and their struggle, and much like Russell, we also pray for the biggest comeback in Survivor history.
Side-Note: Another masterful moment of editing in this episode is during Russell’s search for the hidden immunity idol. Russell provides meta play-by-play commentary of his hunt, describing what we are likely to be seeing on screen. “I’ve probably walked by it a hundred times already, and they’ll be flashing it up on screen” – followed, of course, by the idol flashing on top of the rice container while Russell wanders by aimlessly. Superb.
Matsing’s dire circumstances are further highlighted in comparison to the much more lively Kalabaw and Tandang tribes. Over on Tandang, we get a taste of Abi-Maria Gomes’ Brazilian spice for the first time, as her battle with RC Saint-Amor kicks up a gear after mischief-maker Pete Yurkowski plants the idol clue in RC’s bag. “Maybe the rats carried it over,” says Abi with her now well established passive-aggressive sarcasm. Kalabaw meanwhile is breaking down into men vs. women, with Jonathan Penner and Jeff Kent reaffirming their alliance – even if it goes against Jeff’s original intentions.
But Matsing doesn’t have time for creating chaos or building alliances. Comprised of only three people heading into the immunity challenge (Russell, Malcolm Freberg and Denise Stapley), Matsing is just hoping to overcome how bleak and dire things have become for them by finally getting their first win on the board.
In one of the most epic challenges ever, Matsing almost gets that win, getting out to an early lead against the other two tribes while traversing through a mud-soaked obstacle course to get to the final stage- a setup with wrecking balls swinging all over the place attempting to hit pots off of pedestals. Matsing looks like they could finally have a win on their hands, but then, in a gorgeously edited slow-mo shot, the wrecking ball of an opposing tribe smashes into their own pots, ensuring victory for them and sending Matsing back to tribal council.
Russell immediately screams his frustrations to the heavens in a moment of raw humility. He becomes so caught up in his pleadings to the Man Above that he accidentally calls Jeff Probst “Lord” by mistake. Jeff himself is great at this moment, questioning Russell’s need to expect greatness from himself all of the time, delivering great insight into the mind of a man who wanted so much out of this game and instead got so little.
With tribal council looming, Russell tries his best to stay in by attempting to play Malcolm and Denise against each other; unfortunately, he doesn’t realize how close Malcolm and Denise have been since the beginning of the game. In fact, the two of them do a better job of playing Russell than Russell does the two of them. Denise, showing her keen skill set for the game, goes into therapy mode and gets Russell to open up about his past troubles, making him vulnerable enough to convince him that the two of them are voting against Malcolm.
Unfortunately for Russell, he gets duped one final time on his way out the door. Malcolm and Denise, fulfilling their destiny as the real survivors of the Matsing tribe, vote him out and in the process write the end to Russell Swan’s swan song on Survivor.