This stretch of three episodes, spanning the Survivor: Gabon merge through to Corinne's boot at final seven, runs the full gamut with respect to Bob and idols, fake idols, and more fake idols. And that's a good thing, because if not for Bob's fake idol efforts, this early post-merge run is a simple, boring Pagonging. It's also a demonstration of Bob's resilience in the face of a show that really doesn't give a crap about him.
After the final tribal challenge, Fang sends Bob to Exile in Episode 9, as Sugar chortles privately that there's no idol there for Bob to find. Sugar wasn't the only one chortling privately. Production played a hilarious joke on the physics teacher. Even funnier than his "I'm history" knee-slapper.
Bob follows the clues correctly, and swiftly locates the exact spot with the nail where Sugar's idol was hanging. But then he is perplexed, because there's nothing there to definitively indicate whether that was actually the right spot. Should he keep looking elsewhere? Maybe this was not the right place. The parade of clues all had something to identify success (wrapped additional clues). This is just a nail in a tree.
That's some straight-up bullshit, Survivor. Obviously, production went to the trouble to go back, repackage and re-hide the entire series of prior clues for Bob to find. If they're going to do all that, the *least* they could do is put an empty "sorry, no idol" package at the final spot. Even an empty fabric wrapper would be helpful.
But Bob is a resourceful guy, and not easily deterred. So he spends his time putting together one of the best, most creative fake idols ever, including using tree resin to glue stuff to the idol face.
This is what's great about Bob, and what makes him a worthy winner, even if he got to the end mostly through a combination of luck and timely immunity wins: The show screws him over, and he responds by shrugging it off and getting to work.
That idol then comes into play in Episode 10, taking out Randy, in surprisingly brutal fashion. Then in the next episode, Bob creates another, even better-looking fake idol, with which he tries to save Corinne. It's amazing that these people bought Bob's story just three days after the Randy boot, but this is Survivor: Gabon. Even so, just amazing stuff from the eventual winner.
The fall of Randy
It's weird watching this season now, after Randy and Corinne have long since established themselves as beloved alumni via podcast appearances and twitter presence. Because both were erratic — at times fun, at times highly objectionable — players this season, and it was a little disturbing watching the show emphasize their least likable qualities, especially as their boots approached, when in the present day, they're well-liked.
But in that context, it's a solid editing choice. Had they been given heroic edits, this stretch of episodes would have felt interminable. It's a classic Pagonging, with Marcus, then Charlie, then Randy, then Corinne going out back-to-back (to back, to back). So interestingly, while the show is delivering the initial shocks of nice guys Marcus and Charlie getting consecutive boots, they're simultaneously ratcheting up Randy and Corinne's unpleasantness. Randy picks a pointless fight with Susie at the start of the Marcus boot episode. He flings invective at Crystal (only partially supported by facts) at the Tribal Council where Charlie leaves. He and Corinne then both go off the deep end, declaring all-out war on their tribemates — especially Sugar. It's so extreme that by the time Randy falls for the fake idol scheme, the audience is mostly just relieved to see him go. (Although everyone was right to object to Sugar's over-the-top cackling when Randy plays the fake idol.)
There's an interesting scene early in Randy's boot episode, where he and Corinne confer about what they can possibly do to get back in the game. Corinne throws out the obvious suggestion that they have to play nice and work their way back in to the dominant alliance. Randy's response is basically, "nah, that's too much work. I hate these people." Randy is a smart guy who knows the game, but his demise came basically because he was tired of trying. So instead he just goes on a three-day-long tantrum, in the blind hope that Bob will find an idol (despite 5 Exile trips by Sugar before that), AND give it to him. It's so extreme that even Matty, who sees the wisdom in their accurate pitch that he's probably the first Fang to be targeted, can't tolerate Randy's antics.
So while they're now popular with Survivor fans, Randy and Corinne's first appearances weren't exactly all-star strategic extravaganzas. And that makes sense. They were cast to create conflict in the first place. They did have some good confessionals (his "This vote is not strategic ... it's strictly personal" vote confessional while writing down Susie's name is pretty funny). But they also had a lot of good challenge luck, and coasted for most of the pre-merge. Corinne sat out of five challenges! Then when the tide started to turn, instead of adjusting, they folded.
There are also some troublesome aspects with Randy in particular. While his brand is his cantankerous, caustic, often funny, unfiltered persona, it's hard not to notice a pattern among the people he loathes the most this season: Gillian, Susie, Crystal, Sugar. Hmm, what could they possibly have in common? He is relentlessly rude and demeaning to them, often to their faces. Sugar of course has her own problems, but her "chauvinist bigot" charge clearly doesn't come out of thin air. It's hard to imagine how that kind of behavior could translate to a winning game, unless you're also a 72-year-old Navy SEAL playing the first season of the show, who also has the executive producer actively interfering with plans to vote him out.
She doth protest too much
Corinne's behavior isn't much better. While she at least *usually* doesn't blow up in people's faces, she still can't quite put in the effort to plausibly fake being nice. Sugar gently tries to point out that by openly shunning the Fangs, and only ever hanging out with Randy, Corinne is telling them she doesn't really want to work with them. Corinne's response? Nodding and fake smiling in person, a maelstrom of expletives in confessional. How *DARE* Sugar, of all people, attempt to give her a life lesson?
What's most confusing about Randy and Corinne in Gabon is whether they're supposed to be seen as rootable villains, or just jerks.
Randy and Corinne's role for a good chunk of their time on the show was as (occasional) truth-tellers: people who inform the audience what's really going on, dropping the facade of niceness; stand-ins for producers who want to mock the lack of preparation/ competence displayed by some of the contestants. For example, early on Randy accurately points out the Fangs are eating way too much rice, and that GC has no idea how to do anything around camp. Corinne snickers bougiely about her Ep9 reward group's lack of familiarity with pâté. The problem is, this isn't consistent: Randy is also adamant that the chances of Sugar finding an idol are near zero, because she's too dumb — when the audience is well aware she's been to Exile five times, and found it on the first attempt. Corinne is pretty sure she's a brilliant negotiator when she tells dumb old Bob that there's a core Kota alliance of four, and if he just does what they say, he can be #5, and aren't they benevolent and thoughtful for tossing him this scrap?
After the merge, the show goes a bit overboard in presenting the now-majority Fang alliance as victorious underdogs who overthrew an oppressive Kota majority. This puts a bit of strain on the Randy and Corinne roles. Are they still delivering the unvarnished truth? When they get together in Episode 10 and describe the Fang majority as "a bunch of mutants" whom they hope to never see again as long as they live, are we (the audience) supposed to side with them? What about in Episode 11, after Randy has been humiliated, and kind, saintly Bob harshly criticizes Sugar, who twisted the knife during Tribal with her incessant giggling? Corinne actually is an underdog now (unpicked in the RC, shunned by the tribe), and most of the episode's action highlights her high-wire attempts to save herself, by means of yet another spectacular Bob-made fake idol. But she also reiterates her hatred of every other remaining player at multiple times.
So who is the audience supposed to side with here? Are we supposed to hate the Fang ex-underdogs now? Are we supposed to root for Corinne, who hates everyone? Is the moral that maybe there is no moral, and these are all villains, and we should despise each and every last one of them? That seems to be the message a lot of the fanbase has taken away from this season. Bob and Ken and Crystal and Susie all seem likable enough. Maybe Ken is starting to seem a bit arrogant now that he's seized power, but hey, he's the growth character.
If there's a consistent underdog here, it's probably Bob, who we really hadn't seen at all before Episode 10 or so, except while building huts, or chairs, or fake idols, or fish roasting pans (yes, he's Bob the Builder). Yet as of Episode 11, Bob was the consensus target, until he Mike Hollowayed his way to immunity. So if not for a freakish ability to accurately fling cue balls into a canyon, Bob probably would have been voted out at final seven, and we'd have an entire final six that the show is happy to have us think are unlikable, or are unconvincingly working overtime to persuade us that we actually love them (Matty, Sugar). It's a weird choice, but again, this is Survivor: Gabon.
Bizarre loved ones triangulation
The Ep11 RC, done with seven people left, was for a video message from home and a food reward. To make everyone extra angry, production chose to do it in teams of three (via schoolyard pick) for the first round, such that one person (Corinne) had no shot at reward whatsoever. Then after a simple slide puzzle in the individual second round, only one person (Bob) was eligible for the reward ... no chance to ask anyone else to tag along, nothing. Because if there's one reward that people don't care about winning, it's seeing their loved ones.
Just a bizarre set of choices, unless the only point was to make everyone mad at each other, as if the game wasn't doing that already. It all just seems unnecessarily cruel. Corinne didn't even have a chance to compete! What kind of psychopath came up with this plan?
Ah, wait ... they got me. I totally fell for this ruse. First, Bob's wife Peggy shows to surprise Bob while he's enjoying his ice-cold pizza and warm beer. Then they go back to Nobag camp together, and as everyone is frantically peppering Peggy with questions about whether she saw their loved ones, Bob whistles the rest of the group in to camp, and it's a full-on Winners at War-esque everyone-gets-love-fest. What follows is at times awkwardly scripted-seeming, and "please, do we *have* to watch this?" cringey (Matty's and Sugar's segments), but at least the show — eventually — did the right thing and let everyone have a loved ones visit, after messing with them this much.
Still, having post-merge team challenges where one person can't participate remains popular with production, for unknown reasons. It's always felt pointlessly spirit-crushing, especially when it's this late in the game, even if it's just for food. Sure, it's slightly more tolerable here when it turns out it's all ultimately just a fake-out, but when the stakes are a loved ones visit, that takes the advisability of such shenanigans back down to feeling just a bit too mean-spirited.
- Finalfourshadowing: One fun aspect of re-watching a season where you already know the outcome is following all the little breadcrumb trails of hints for future events that are sprinkled along the way. One good one is the opening Fang scene in Episode 9 (Day 25), where Matty is unable to make fire (right after a scene about Bob). This is foreshadowing for the tiebreaker at Final 4, when he will eventually lose to Bob.
- Finaltwoshadowing: But that's not all! As Probst is describing the first post-merge immunity challenge later that episode, Susie and Bob happen to be standing next to each other. As Probst says winning the IC will guarantee someone "a 1-in-8 shot at the million bucks," we cut to a tight shot of Susie and Bob (who will eventually split the jury votes 3-4, respectively). Bob whistles and fist pumps. Susie bows her head. Amazing luck that such a shot was even possible, but wow, just absolutely perfect execution as foreshadowing goes.
- Trying to have it both ways: The most head-scratching part of Bob's giving Randy his fake idol was that Bob still voted for Susie. What was he thinking? Randy would obviously be aware that Bob had betrayed him as soon as Probst announced the idol was fake. So why would Bob cast a vote for Susie, knowing the votes are read after the idol reveal? All that does is burn a bridge with Susie. The whole point of going along with Sugar's plan was to curry favor with the majority alliance. By voting for Susie, he undermined that. Just difficult to see the logic there. Oh well, at least Bob also had an Earl Cole Memorial majestic hike up a hill that episode.
- Late merge screwed: Of all the Onions, the one who least deserved his Pagonging was Charlie. He was the rare recruit who was also a superfan, and he seemed like he did everything right. He built a strong alliance based on trust and friendship, starting Day 1. He was useful in camp, a contributor in challenges, didn't stand out as too strong, or too smart, or too anything. Up until the second swap, he was probably the leading contender for the win (he had the highest SurvAv score, anyway). But then it all fell apart for him at the second swap. There's a good case to be made that he got swap-screwed: Marcus was booted pre-merge, leaving the Onions down in numbers at the very, very late merge. (Day 27!) Charlie had basically half a day to try to cobble something together, running up against a Fang alliance that had been active (more or less) since Day 1, and in which Susie had just spent the past six days reunited and working with Ken and Crystal, her original tribemates. After the surprise merge IC, Charlie accurately assessed that the only possible swing vote was Sugar, *tried* to swing her, and had no luck, mainly because she didn't like Randy. Sometimes there's nothing you can do.
- I was put on this planet to not watch your dumb recap episode: The recap episode also aired during this stretch of episodes. It was ... fine. It did do a solid job of delineating the broad narrative strokes, in case they hadn't quite filtered through: The Fangs were underdogs, overmatched against the more physical Kotas, but it was also their fault, because they picked their dumb, hapless tribe. Twice! There's some solid image rehab of Randy, some bonus rehearsed-seeming cattiness from Corinne, and a fourth straight episode mocking Marcus for his glee in throwing the idol away. But the only real take-home message was that Matty should have been voted out unanimously for forcing his tribemates to sing "For she's a jolly good woman" with him, in honor of his girlfriend.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes