The hazard of weekly reviews for a serialized story that plays out over a 14-episode season is that specific events that invite reactions in one episode may be part of a larger, season-long arc or theme, which can lead the audience to infer a certain tone or editorial position that may, in fact, be invalidated by the way the show presents later, as yet unseen events. Survivor is often a morality play, and bad behavior seldom goes unpunished, at least eventually. This creates a dilemma: At what point should the audience object to the show's apparent championing of disturbing acts or speech?
We ask because this episode again showed women coming out on the losing end of a particularly uncomfortable power struggle, a storyline quite similar to the fourth episode's, which featured disputes between the Blue Collar men (mostly Rodney and Dan) and Lindsey, culminating in the men gaining the upper hand, and smugly booting Lindsey. This week, Rodney and Dan again found themselves disparaging their tribe's women, with Dan laughing his way through a particularly ugly scene in which he repeatedly denigrated Shirin as worthless and stupid (to her face!), then pleaded "Somebody slap this woman! For the love of God just slap her and shut her up already!" in confessional. Once again, as in Episode 4, the women cobbled together an attempted counter-alliance, with Hali (in confessional) specifically pointing out that they were united in response to Dan's flagrant misogyny, but their rally failed yet again, and Hali paid the price. Rodney smirked at the result, as is his wont.
It's hard to believe that Survivor is actually suggesting we should be rooting for Dan, but it's challenging to separate his edit from that of Rodney, who not only publicly fantasized about spanking Lindsey "like a bad baby" in Episode 4, but also spent the first half of this episode grousing about how the merge had brought all these women into camp. Women who dared to have opinions about how to do things. Opinions that differed from his, and were therefore wrong and annoying. While Dan has only occasionally been shown, and usually in a negative light, Rodney has been given extensive screentime, much of which has been editorially high-fived with suggested hashtags. So... should we be worried here?
Probably not. As much as fans cringingly acknowledge Jeff Probst's alpha male worship and dismissive view of female winners, such a position (openly embracing misogyny) would still be completely out of character for Survivor, the show he runs. There must be a comeuppance coming up, an imminent tone atonement. There must be. It should happen at any time. Any episode now. Really, there must be.
In praise of multiple winner candidates
Despite the problematic tone, the editors this season have actually done an impressive job of creating multiple plausible winner's storylines. Notably, Andy Dehnart came to the opposite conclusion this week, arguing that there is nobody worth rooting for left in the game (and that it's the editors' fault), and that the season feels "flat" because of it. We get Andy's point, and agree that some of the negative character development has been pretty heavy-handed, and we remain thus far underwhelmed at this season, relative to its hype. But we're still hopeful, because multiple players left could still be the winner, and at least through this selective, game-oriented prism, the season is holding up quite well.
Of the remaining players, the only one who definitely can't win is Dan. But Mike, the hard-working worker bee who works and works? He was hashtagged and annointed with angelic choirs as he discovered the hidden immunity idol this week (after working for it, of course). He could definitely win. Shirin has also staged a comeback of sorts from the nadir of the tribe swap, and the merge episode established her as an alternative voice to Mike (and here, clearly, to Dan). She has a shot. And while it's hard to believe Joe will actually be able to stick around for the full 39 days, he's clearly received the character development and scrappy underdog narrative one would want for an eventual winner.
But these three are clearly not the only contenders. Dark-horse candidates Tyler and Carolyn, quietly observing from their virtual spyshack and waiting to strike, have received just enough notice for that threat to be credible. As mentioned above, a satisfying payoff to the recurrent (mostly Blue collar) male-female conflicts, which have thus far consistently broken in favor of the men, would be an eventual female winner. (Shirin? Jenn? Maybe even Sierra?) You never know, if everything breaks correctly, maybe even Will or hashtag king Rodney could pull this thing off.
Casting people who know the game, actively play, and narrate their strategy in confessionals goes a long way toward creating this embarrassment of riches. But it still takes time to craft that footage into a cohesive story in which multiple viewpoints could potentially be the "correct" one. We like that Survivor's editors are trying to build up the storylines of people who won't ultimately win, and that they are thus far succeeding.
Unless it's just Mike winning in an obvious cakewalk. In which case... nice second-level gameplay by Probst in leading everyone to expect something different, we guess?
Does the data support the 'great season' claim?
One of the reasons Survivor keeps going back to the three-tribe format is that it easily sets up the potential for multiple post-merge shifts in power. In this episode, that... was lacking. The majority alliance easily picked off a member of the dwindling minority alliance, and in fact, made itself even stronger by finding the last remaining hidden immunity idol, thanks to an impressive combination of tactics and hard work by Mike. Is there any reason to suspect the coming weeks will be any different?
At the moment, we have two major power structures: 1. The Blue majority over the remaining No Collars, and 2. The sustained promises that at Final 7, Rodney (along with Carolyn, Will, and originally Kelly, but now maybe Tyler?) will flip the tables on Mike, and start voting out ex-Blue Collars. On the one hand, now that Mike has his idol, he can definitely create chaos at that F7 vote, and send Rodney to the jury, instead, which should shake things up. On the other, there are now 10 people left, so that vote is still a full four episodes away. There are now three people left of the No Collar (plus Shirin) alliance, and they could well be those next three boots. So is that it? Are we in for a boring Pagonging until then? That doesn't sound... "great."
Maybe. Certainly in the short term, Jenn, Shirin, and Joe, are in palpable trouble. But there are signs things could, in fact, get more interesting before then. Here's a short list of ways that could be:
Okay, we get it, Survivor, you hate your fans
This season began with a number of avowed fans among its cast (Max, Shirin, also Dan), and in just about every episode, one or more of them has been used as a punching bag for cheap laughs. The message is simple: if you're a fan of this show, the host, editors, and producers would prefer that you watch, then politely keep your enthusiasm to yourself. This may be one of the greatest combinations of game/reality competition/burgeoning cults that has ever been created (and one that has made Jeff Probst, Mark Burnett, and Les Moonves fabulously wealthy), but for God's sake, please don't tell anyone about it. That is the absolute worst. Have some dignity, you pathetic, worthless peons who keep us swimming in caviar and chauffered limousines and ghost writers for our series of children's books.
And in the name of all that is good and holy, don't touch us. We might catch your nerd cooties. *Shudder*.
Worlds Apart Episode 8 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Hali Ford
Podcasts - Episode 8