We were planning to ditch the Trolly this episode, because we actually felt bad about besmirching the good name of Russell Hantz by comparing him to Colton. Or, for that matter, also-ran Tarzan. But that would be almost as much of a cop-out as the Manonos collective inability to voice even the slightest objection to going to tribal council voluntarily.
To a certain extent, we can kind of get Colton. He's 21, he's watched a lot of reality TV, and he knows that editing loves catty comments in confessionals. That's a pretty combustible combination right there. When we were 21, we delighted in Hunter S. Thompson writing outrageous, crazy things about people in power, and, as any kid raised on punk rock would do, we happily went around making objectionable statements of our own, just to provoke a response. Luckily, most of that was not nationally televised. While our idols raised the profile of the powerless by speaking rude truths to power, kids today have the option of reading Ann Coulter or NewsMax, and listening to talk radio. Speaking half-truths to beat down the powerless. Sort of a similar-ish thing.
In another sense, the larger problem with Colton is not Colton himself, but the way shows like Survivor have recently hoisted two-dimensional, mustache-twirling "villain"-hood onto a pedestal, to the detriment of the show's strategic and survival elements. Sure, people can still plot and scheme their way to the million, but that's boring, hard, and probably will end up on the cutting room floor. Ever since Coach in Tocantins, show-aware "players" have noticed that it's almost as profitable to ignore the game entirely, and just crank up the crazy quote machine, whether in camp (virtually guaranteeing a Final Three goat slot), or confessionals (earning notoriety and an invitation to a future season), or both. When you combine this with the show's increasing interest in casting younger and younger contestants, who perhaps lack the experience to weigh short-term gains (outrageous behavior on TV = fame! Prizes! Money! Free ponies!) against longer-term effects (outrageous behavior on TV also = backlash), you start to feel like maybe Survivor is partly at fault here. Still, Colton wanted to be a Real Troll, and now he's made himself one. Enjoy?
Then again, this doesn't really begin to explain Tarzan, who's well past his teenage years, yet thinks little people should be talked to at a two-year-old's level (unless that was an "acting" job to trick Bill into agreeing to go to tribal). Or whatever he was yelling about at tribal council, backing up Colton's apparent racism and self-contradictory elitism by denying that racism/elitism exist. Uh, yeah. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar?
This episode was essentially all-Manono, all the time (with a brief interlude in which Monica cooked snails and revealed Salani has rice). The early episode initially seemed to revolve around the previously invisible trio of Leif, Jonas, and Bill. Later, they were joined by Colton and Tarzan. That meant, despite their losing the IC, virtually no attention at all was paid to Salani camp. We would go with the obvious, "Was Christina even in this episode?"-type question, but to be fair, that could be said of pretty much the entire women's tribe. Except, of course, when it was time for Jeff Probst to extendendly bawl them out for losing the immunity challenge. That's guaranteed screen time right there. Le sigh.
Let's be honest here: the "puzzles" in the immunity challenge were barely tougher than pre-school level. Three chopped logs, a four-piece pyramid puzzle, and a slide puzzle? Come on, that's marginally harder than putting numbers in order. But we'll give the Beasty to Bill, because Manono lost the challenge he sat out, then won the IC, in which the largest obstacle was the slide puzzle, the same one that he and (mostly) Troyzan solved. Clearly, Bill was the difference maker.
And in a remarkable feat of circular reasoning on our part, Bill's newfound challenge prowess (the display of which we explicitly warn against in the graphic above) was promptly rewarded by his being voted out. Good going, Manono, you saved us the tedious waiting that's normally associated with contestants creating target upon themselves, then waiting to be punished for it. You've eliminated step 2 in the Underpants Gnome business plan, and skipped directly to Step 3: Profit. Things are looking up now!
One of the biggest problems with Survivor in recent seasons has been what we like to call The Reverse Singularity. In older editions of the show, multiple people would be aware they were on a game show, and would actively plot to vote each other out. Today? Whether through lack of awareness of the game, timidity, inability to accurately assess their position in the tribal hierarchy, or a steadfast rigidity that effectively blocks out ever cutting ties to an alliance, we're now down to one solitary person per tribe who's sufficiently aware of their own intelligence to actually play the "outwit" part of the game. Reverse Singularity. So instead of a tribe full of Richard Hatches wheeling and dealing, we're instead treated to a few good-looking robots, plus the invariable "fan" who talks about making moves, but never actually does so, at least not until it's too late (we're looking at you, David Murphy).
Oh sure, Survivor casting could get around this by putting more game-savvy fans on the show. They could put all their eggs in one basket. But why do that, when it's far easier just to spread those eggs sparingly across multiple seasons? Chickens aren't cheap, you know! Finding lots of people skilled at the persuasive arts, willing to ruthlessly ensnare their opponents in intricate, fiendish schemes is hard! Far better to leave the all-talk guy in, and surrounded him with a bunch of gullible yes-men, so that the all-talk magically turns into occasional action. And now... we're looking at you, Manono tribe.
To Casting's credit, this same formula worked particularly well (at least for the purposes of preserving their precious returning player, Boston Rob) in Redemption Island, so it shows Casting is learning as they go. Well played, Lynne Spillman. Well played.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Bill Posley