Underplaying vs. overplaying
This episode's Tribal Council set up a neat contrast between underplaying and overplaying. On one side, you had Tai, who had an array of powerful game twists at his disposal, but... eventually... decided not to use any of them, and stick with a simple majority vote. On the other side, there was the active gameplay of Julia, whose tactic of (semi-) openly courting both sides finally came to end. Not overplaying, exactly, but playing with a level of aggressive ferocity that ended up making her a target. Even so, maybe we're just exceptionally gullible, but we were caught off guard by how balanced this fight appeared to be, and completely bought the episode's narrative that Julia and Jason might pull off a surprising blindside of Tai, or that Tai might play his idol in self-defense. Neither happened, leading us to ask ourselves: How did we get so dumb?
Well, there are three main parts to a good Survivor fake boot storyline:
Going into the episode, it seemed fairly obvious that this week's boot would be either Julia or Jason (the two shown plotting, out of context, to murder one Mark the Chicken in the post-Ep10 preview). That the show's braintrust managed to muddy the waters enough to create this much doubt about that is a credit to their expertise. Sure, maybe it helped that Tai is a rootable underdog. Or that they dangled the carrot of #MarkTheChicken's demise in front of us all week. Maybe the editors were overplaying their hand a bit this week, creating an almost-blindside that was never really all that likely to happen. Regardless, it was fun, and if that's overplaying, we'll take it.
Julia's impressive run
As we pointed out last week, had Tai listened to Julia's prompting, then gotten nervous and played his idol before the votes were read in Episode 10 (the Scot boot), Julia's plan to idol out Cydney would have gone through, albeit taking out Aubry instead. This could have happened, and was at least as interesting as Boston Rob's failed plan in HvsV to split the vote and boot Parvati (thwarted by Tyson's changed vote). Yet it was not really even mentioned on the show, and for evidence of it, we have to comb through Julia's exit interviews. But it's there. While she certainly wasn't doing much to conceal her aggressive gamplay, let's at least acknowledge the important half of that: She was playing aggressively. As a longtime fan of the show, she drew upon her knowledge of the game, and turned her shot at the million into something memorable. She was strategically flexible, kept lines of communication open with almost everyone, perfomed well in challenges, made repeated credible attempts to seize control of the game, and served as an interesting foil to Aubry's (and occasionally Cydney's) planning.
That's an impressive achievement on its own, and we wish to celebrate that first, without diminishing it by adding "for someone so young." Survivor needs active players like Julia, and the more the better. But we also take issue with some post-boot press that has also muddied Julia's other achievement: that she did all this while being the youngest Survivor player, ever. So she set a bunch of records: She's, again, the youngest player ever, as the only person ever to play before turning 19; she is the youngest woman; and she's also the youngest individual immunity challenge winner.
It's also something of an achievement for the show, in that their head-scratchingly misguided eight-year-long mission to shoehorn teenagers into the show finally paid off. To be fair, it hasn't been entirely unsuccessful: Frosti, Spencer Duhm, and Baylor all had interesting moments, and Natalie Tenerelli at least made the finals. In contrast, though, there was also Purple Kelly's almost-invisible quit, and even worse, Brandon Hantz's disastrous second appearance in Caramoan, which he never should have been asked to make. As poorly conceived as it may have been to roll the dice again with more under-21 players a mere 1.5 years later, we're glad Survivor finally found what they were looking for in Julia. So now that they've bagged that unicorn, maybe the show can focus more on just casting people, regardless of age, who are actually there to play the game, as Julia was? We can hope. Until then, let's just remember Julia's solid gameplay for what it was, rather than diminishing it with youth-related qualifiers.
Edit reading, premiere-rewatch edition
The first episode of the season is our introduction to this cast of new people. The story of the winner begins here (as do a lot of the early-season arcs of the pre-merge bootees). As such, prime screen real estate within the opening sequence can be important editing shorthand. This isn't A Song of Ice and Fire, where each book's Prologue has some previously anonymous redshirt who dies in the final paragraph. This is Survivor, and initial visibility matters (except in The Australian Outback).With this in mind, we rewatched the opening sequence from Episode 1. Here's what we (re-) saw, with the remaining players in bold:
Okay, fine. It's not at all clear what we're supposed to make of that. Maybe it's just a random hodge-podge of semi-interesting shots for the sake of shots. Maybe we've been asleep for the whole season, and Joe's isolation at the end of the confessional string is a sign he's the last player standing! But it looks like: a whole lotta Jason, some Michele in key spots, and slightly less Aubry, Tai, Joe, and Cydney. On first pass, we'd guess either Jason or Michele is your winner, based on prominence of placement (particularly during Probst's "in the end... million-dollar prize" bit).
On further reflection, though, Aubry did make the cut into the first group of headshots, the rest of whom were the first boot, the first medevac, and the first juror (although he's also the second medevac). Unless Aubry leaves via medevac herself, the "first place finisher" is a logical other "first" to include in that group. There are still two more episodes to go before the finale. Maybe a Michele win will start to make more sense in that time, but at the moment, we're struggling to see how Aubry could lose this, assuming she makes it to the finals.
Building off of Rob Cesternino & Tyson Apostol's dream season of Joe vs. Joe (Joey Amazing vs. FBI Joe [What, no Medevac Joe Dowdle? He was your Forza tribemate, Tyson! Shame!]) let's take a closer look at Joe Del Campo's performance thus far. While his Purple (not in a Prince way, that's for sure) showing is at least partially due to editing choices, there is one clear way in which Joe is a historic Survivor player, purely through his own performance: Mean % Finish (MPF) in challenges. (For the uninitiated, that's average placement in a challenge, where 100% is finishing first every time, and 50% would be finishing exactly in the middle each time.)
Tyson's instincts are, as always, impeccable: Joe Del Campo is pretty much the polar opposite of Joe Anglim. While Manbun Joe has the highest lifetime MPF, at 84%, and the highest single-season performance at 92.5%, everyone's favorite retired FBI agent (assuming Brady Finta hasn't retired yet) has a MPF of just 28%. We don't yet have complete records for the entire run of the show, but with half of them scored, it's the lowest ever for anyone who's appeared in five or more individual challenges. (If the cutoff is four challenges, the only scores lower are Cambodia Ciera Eastin at 21% and Bruce Kanegai at 20%, and their numbers were hurt when they each sat out a challenge.)
This idea is totally not out of gas yet.
Land of the takes that are at best lukewarm:
Kaoh Rong Episode 11 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews: Julia Sokolowski
Episode 11 Podcasts