While we were disappointed in the overall tone of the episode (it was pretty dark, whereas the last episode exuded a playful lightness), it certainly delivered in the "big move" category. The edit telegraphed pretty heavy handedly that this move was coming, but overall, it was still an enjoyable hour. Not the best, not the worst. But a solid part of what is thus far a very good season.
In praise of foreshadowing
As mentioned on twitter, at the time, the opening shot of the Solarrions returning to camp after the previous episode's Morgan boot seemed like an amusing, innocuous bit of fluff. In retrospect, however, it was a brilliant, artful piece of foreshadowing. Tony is shown leaning his torch against the torch-collecting tree, then a split-second later, the entire set of torches comes crashing to the ground, as LJ stands in the background, mutely observing the collapse.
It's such a tiny little scene, and Tony almost immediately launches into a tirade about seeing his name written down, but it foretells the remainder of the episode so perfectly. Really well done.
We realize this is a completely irrational and highly subjective opinion, but we feel it must be said: we hated both the title ("Supertramp") and the final stage (bouncing sandbags off of a trampoline into baskets) of the reward challenge. Also the first stage, which apparently gave Team Green an insurmountable lead.
First the title: Okay, guys, we get it. The people in charge love shitty late-'70s/early '80s pop-rock. Congratulations. But enough. Give us horrific puns or give us death. As for the "tramp" part... we are still psychologically scarred from One World. It's bad enough you brought back three players from it, including the prime offender, last season. Let's not resuscitate its awful challenges as well, okay?
Was there actually some mass outcry about memory challenges, about which we weren't aware? Or was this all in the head of the host? As Andy Dehnart at Reality Blurred notes, Jeff Probst seemed more unsettled about audience reaction to this week's immunity challenge than Tony did about seeing his name written down at Tribal. To which we ask: Why?
Memory challenges are a great equalizer, because they require an entirely different skill set than the typical agility/ puzzle/ endurance/ strength/ carnival game challenges cover. They don't heavily favor a specific body type. Not only that, but as a viewer, you can play along with them at home, and assuming you haven't been starving for the last 30 days, feel good about yourself by outperforming the people on TV. Why is that so wrong, Jeff Probst?
Questions about Trish
Trish had several confessionals this episode, and it's clear she shared LJ's view that Tony was just in need of calming down, and not a threat to their alliance. But one thing that didn't seem clear was the motivation for her sticking with LJ, in light of Tony's attempt to swing her to his own side before the vote. Was Trish resisting simply because she trusted LJ, and wanted to keep the majority six intact? Or was she actually against voting out LJ because she was planning to go to the end with him, and not Tony? As far as we can tell, she did not pass along Tony's concerns to LJ, since both of them seemed surprised by the vote. So maybe she just staying the course. Whatever the case, her failure to lead a counter-surge against
We saw... something... coming a mile away
To be honest, the opening set of scenes featured 100% Tony, which made it initially seem like he was the person in danger. The focus on Tony's fretting and plotting did nothing to disperse these concerns, even knowing the title of next week's episode was "Sitting in my Spy Shack," which pretty heavily hinted Tony would survive this episode. Couple that with everyone in Tony's alliance saying "IF we stay six strong, things are pretty good right now," and it was clear the six were not going to stick together, and that one of their number was getting voted out.
But it wasn't until that most trite of confessional tricks (LJ saying "I feel pretty comfortable right now") that we started to wonder if it was LJ, and not Tony, that was being targeted. If the editors really want to keep the audience guessing, these are few of their more obvious attempts at obfuscation that they might want to re-evaluate.
The empty bag of tricks
Apart from getting himself some screen time, what was the point of Tony's announcing he had brought his "bag of tricks" to Tribal Council? The people he was about to flip on had no reason to vote against him, since they appeared to believe he and Woo were on board with the vote split. The remaining New Aparri people he was flipping with had no reason to vote against him (and one of them actually had the hidden idol he was inaccurrately hinting was in possession), because they were voting LJ. It was pure Tribal Theatre, to which we're not necessarily opposed, but it seemed to be a bit out of place at this specific Tribal. Maybe Tony thought there was a chance Trish would try to swing Spencer/Tasha/Jeremiah to save LJ, and vote against Tony again? Whatever the case, this seemed like an odd choice for an episode title, in context.
Was Tony's backstabbing of LJ a good move? Yes
Just look at the reactions from Spencer (double fist-pumping) and the jurors (gasps and smiles). It was huge! He really needed this! But it was also actually good. Tony's only real ally in his group of five was Woo. Trish, who had been with him from the start, was ostensibly the third person in his core, but she seemed much more interested in being in an alliance with LJ than with Tony (and in the scene where she, Jefra, and LJ were on the boat while Tony was away at his reward spa day, Trish said as much). Tony bought LJ's temporary loyalty with his merge idol play, but that faith was beginning to wane. Furthermore, if he'd waited two more boots to make this move, it would have been much more difficult, since he'd need Woo, Kass, and whichever person was left from New Aparri (Jeremiah?) all to be on board.It was a move Tony needed to make, and likely the best opportunity he had to make it.
We do, however, take issue with the way this move was presented, in-episode: that Tony made this move because seeing his name on the ballots at the preceding Tribal made him paranoid and jumpy. Tony is always jumpy! His manic, obsessive need to make moves is a key part of his appeal. He's playing Survivor! Tony knew perfectly well that LJ did not vote for him, and he knew LJ trusted him. He also knew he needed to take LJ out at one point or another, and that sooner would be more feasible than later.
Was LJ's departure surprising? No. Thanks a lot, editors
LJ was one of those extremely rare commodities in Survivor: A guy who was handsome enough to enrapture the casual viewers, yet also strategcially competent and sufficiently game-aware to impress the hardcore gamebot subset of superfans. He was, at least until the merge, a highly plausible winner candidate. He had insightful confessionals, he controlled the strategy in his tribe. We always had a lingering suspicion that something must be amiss, but then the merge hit, and it became clear: Once LJ completely disappeared from our screens for two episodes, it was obvious he was not going to win this game.
And that spoiler rests entirely on the heads of the editors. Yes, you need to show Sarah and Kass and Spencer and Tony, the people who are stirring things up. But by hiding LJ to this extent (not to mention his counterpart from Brains, Tasha), anyone could see he wasn't long for this show. And that's disappointing. This could have been edited as a tragic fall of a major character. Instead it was "Oh, that guy we haven't seen in a while is out. Oh well."
Take that, vote split
One more thing: the 3-3-3 (or 2-2-2) vote split to thwart a hidden idol is now so entrenched in Survivor strategy that it was incredibly refreshing to see the move blown up in this way. The vote split is not clever any more, and it's even less fun to watch people discuss it. But it sure was fun to watch it fail. Furthermore, the order in which Probst read the votes (showing three for LJ, three for Jeremiah, one for Spencer, then... What? Another for LJ?!) also worked perfectly, mimicking the rhythm of a typical vote split/revote sequence, only to crash prematurely at the end. While the larger narrative that LJ didn't win was no longer a surprise, the exact path to that loss still managed to have a few tricks in its bag. Well done.
Recaps and commentary
Exit Interviews - LJ McKanas