Previously on EW, Jeff Probst touted this two-hour block of episodes as: "I can’t tease it hard enough—next week is awesome. Dare I say the best ep of the season?" While these episodes were certainly entertaining and full of action and surprises (although CBS successfully ruined the first boot's surprise with their ads), we're legitimately curious as to what it was that Probst found so great about them. Because as a two-hour block, the theme seemed to be a fairly dark one of triumph of the powerful over the powerless. Or as Homer Simpson so sagely advised: "Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is: Never try."
All of this stems from the bizarre decision to cram together these two particular episodes. Yes, we know the double episode was necessitated by the season's late start date (although there was no obvious reason for that, either), because otherwise, the finale would air after the end of May Sweeps. But why place these two particular episodes together? The first hour fit together quite nicely with, and could have rescued last week's plodding Nina boot episode, which would coincidentally have saved the excitement and mystery of the swap for a standalone episode this week. Alternatively, because the swap was so mismatched, the double episode could have combined Max's boot with next week's hour, which is likely the final pre-merge boot. The pairing made here, however, raises a lot of questions (and not just because it foolishly brought the second hour into direct competition with the Empire finale).
The primary question raised is one of tone: The first episode (Lindsey's boot) was a bizarre, testosterone-soaked exercise in triumphant misogyny, in which the woman who dared speak out was all but literally "spanked like a bad baby." This was leavened solely with heavy doses of "hard-working blue collar" self-righteousness at Tribal Council. It was like a Red State propaganda film rallying support for a victory by poor, downtrodden men against Social Justice Warriors in GamerGate War II. There was a stream of offensive things popping out of Rodney's mouth, and every so often he was crowned with a hashtag. The editing was so over-the-top in its celebration of Men's Rights that it had to be parody, yet there was never really any detectable wink in acknowledgement of that being so. Was Probst parodying disgruntled fans' views of his perceived misogyny with his praise, then? Was he just hyping that he briefly, gently called Rodney's attention to his offensiveness at Tribal Council? Who knows? Whatever the case, Rodney won, and the editors slipped his smirking goodbye wave in for good measure. The lesson is: Never try.
This theme carried over, albeit more subliminally, to the second episode (or "hour" if you must) because of the way the tribe swap ended up. After randomly picking buffs, the three tribes became two, but they were perhaps the two most mismatched post-swap tribes ever. New Escameca was all men (fittingly in blue buffs) plus tall, athletic Sierra. New Nagarote, however, was composed almost entirely of women (sadly in red, not pink), plus out-of-shape Will (who conveniently avoided competing in both ICs this week)... and Max. Which might be fine, except for unknown reasons, production planned two almost purely physical challenges for this episode. Not surprisingly, Escameca's height and muscles won both challenges, easily. He-Men strong! Women weak! But wait, the second episode also revealed there's a subtype of people far, far more worthy of your scorn than disrespectful, pathetic women: Superfans. Yes, Max's boot episode quickly became Nerd Shaming Hour. Again: Never try.
Okay, now we see why Probst liked these episodes so much. He's been on a weird anti-superfan kick since before the season began, starting with his bizarre 180 on Cochran, in which he basically insulted Cochran to his face in the opening of the preseason roundtable: "Let's face it, Cochran had no business being out there, certainly had no business getting to the end...." Nice introduction, Probst! So it's not terribly surprising that Max's and Shirin's edits have taken a nosedive since the early glow of Episode 1. Apparently, it's only cool to be a Survivor fan if you're an attractive person in your early 20s (Spencer, Jenn). Which coincidentally is also the only time it's really acceptable to be a Survivor player. Lesson learned, Probst.
Okay, okay. We understand as much as anyone that it's hilarious to watch blindfolded Survivor contestants take shot to the groin after shot to the groin from strategically placed barriers. (See? And if that wasn't funny enough the first time, watch it again.) Even so, it's amazing that it took this long for even one blindfolded contestant to get whacked in the head in this kind of challenge. Yes, yes, it doesn't look very "Survivor-y" to have contestants wear protective headgear. But why risk a medevac, or a negligence lawsuit from a concussion, or perhaps even something worse? Put a helmet on each blindfolded stumble-dummy, slap a buff over it, and move on. Preferably without future massive head trauma.
Rodney has been the beneficiary of a huge number of personal hashtags now, so many that he's already approaching Tyson/Tony levels. This is alarming. Or at least it would be, if we hadn't just seen last season's excellent head fake with Jeremy's and Josh's seeming winner's edits crashing down at the merge like so many Dan Foley-guided platforms. That's what's going on here, right? Please say yes.
Making sense of Max's boot
In his pre-game interview with Gordon Holmes, Max worried that "there are probably a lot of people who would love to see me fall flat on my face." Thanks in part to both his misreading Carolyn's loyalty and to a less-than-flattering editorial stance, they probably got their wish. But even if Max was as annoying in New Nagarote camp as Jenn, Hali and Will made him out to be, was it wise to boot him?
Actually, yes. On the one hand, Max was a valuable challenge asset on that swapped tribe (the only Nagarote to make a catch in the Ep5 lacrosse reward challenge, he also made the winning ball placement for White Collar in their last IC). Now they're left with Shirin and Will, neither of whom have exactly lit up the challenge course (again, Will sat out both the end of the Ep4 IC and didn't pull the sled in the Ep5 IC), and Jenn, Hali, Carolyn, and Kelly, who are competent, but hardly challenge dominators, apart from Kelly's gritty determination in finishing the blindfolded RC. On the other hand, they didn't even come close to winning either challenge with Max as a challenge asset.
So New Nagarote, already at a challenge disadvantage, further weakened themselves, but really, there's no visible downside to that. The merge is probably one more Tribal Council away, and should the impossible happen and they actually win immunity next week, they've already taken out a post-merge challenge threat (who still had ties to Tyler) before the merge. Much more likely, they'll have one more shot at further picking apart the remaining White Collars, and while isolated Shirin might seem like a sitting duck, it's Carolyn who makes a more intriguing target, since she seemed close with Tyler and Joaquin, and she's just demonstrated that she'll vote against people with whom she'd made a Day 1 alliance. If Shirin plays it right, she could save herself by warning Hali and Jenn about all of that. And if Carolyn plays it right, she could play her idol and send Shirin home anyway.
Riding the swap wave
The swap rescued a fair number of people, and hastened the exits of others. Of the remaining players, who found their fortunes raised by the swap, and who was surrounded and drowned? In no particular order.
Climbing the ladder:
In the neutral box:
Dropping like a platform:
Worlds Apart Episodes 4&5 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Lindsey Cascaddan
Exit interviews - Max Dawson
Podcasts - Episodes 4&5