Down was up and up was down in this week's Survivor, as a seemingly safe player was felled by a previously undisclosed infection, formerly invisible players emerged from nowhere to take control of the game, and other seeming favorites crashed and burned like an infected mango tree scrape. And in between, all the talk was of bulges and balls. Until Mt. St. Neal erupted, and in doing so took down one of the better all-around players this season. In the end, Neal was done in by the bulge below his knee, despite all the initial attention paid to the one in his cargo shorts pocket.
As with the San Juan del Sur merge, this was a disappointing end to an episode that had otherwise seemed well on its way to delivering an exciting, game-changing vote. Jeremy Collins narrowly escaped from that never-held SJdS merge vote, then came back to win two seasons later. Let's hope Neal gets that chance as well. As Max Dawson pointed out on twitter, when CBS reality-competition "family jewel" Caleb passed out and was choppered away, Survivor fell over itself to reassure fans that Caleb would be back on the show as soon as humanly possible. Neal received no such on-screen support, despite the fact that Neal was clearly there for the love of the game, while Caleb seemed to mostly be there for love of being on TV. Neal also seemed to have a far more solid chance to actually win the game, whereas Caleb's maximal ceiling is probably The Australian Outback-version Colby Donaldson. But hey, only one person can win per season, so why bother messing that up by casting more than one?
Down is up (...is down?): Nick
Out of the vast purple nowhere, who should pop up and star in this episode but widely predicted merge boot Nick? You may remember him from his previous cameo appearances as the off-putting guy who would probably get voted out first in Beauty (before Caleb's collapse and the subsequent swap), and from last week's double role as the object of Debbie's affection, and the "I know, bro." Amazingly, however, this week someone who much more closely resembled the former RHAP blogger finally showed up and began playing. Instead of a clueless egomaniac, this week's Nick was a subtle, observant, finger-on-the-pulse-of-the-game egomaniac, which was a delightful improvement. Then he went and topped himself by winning immunity! Win-win!
Well, almost. As well-positioned and properly playing as Nick appeared to be this week, there's one constant in Survivor when it comes to overconfidence: Comeuppance, usually of the swift variety. Despite his tri-skull necklace, Nick still managed to fall short, as Neal's medevac prevented Nick from bringing his Beauty+Brawn Aubry-ousting coalition to actual voting fruition. There are now two problems for Nick: (1) The Beauties have now leapt into the lead of the post-merge numbers (4-3-3), and appear far more threatening than the Brains, especially that tall, smart, athletic guy who just (foolishly) won the very first individual immunity. Furthermore, (2) the next three days could well see Aubry further upending her impending doom by either finding an idol or winning immunity herself. Instead of a Greek god, maybe Nick is just Pyrrhus.
Down is up: Aubry
Just last week, we saw Aubry's last-minute decision to vote for Peter as the right move, but one made in the least effective way possible. And the opening minutes of this episode bore that view out: Scot ranted and raged about how Aubry and Joe were unreliable allies, and were absolutely the next to go. Following the immunity challenge, it appeared that threat was about to become reality. At least until pirate Probst showed up in his boat, to plunder both Neal and Tribal Council in one swift marauding.
Maybe, however, we should have seen this coming: this is the same Aubry who had that spectacular first episode, going all the way from panicky near-mediquit to immunity challenge beast in under 90 minutes. Clearly this week Aubry's Survivor rollercoaster ride had not made its final, anticlimactic turn toward the disembarking area. As the episode closed, Aubry officially became your new Underdog of the Season, as the story of Neal's medevac was told almost entirely from the perspective of how it endangered Aubry's game. She even got to wear the #Survivor hashtag as a nametag. Is the Willamette Valley her final destination?
Up is down: Scot and Jason
After driving the action in both post-swap Gondol votes, Scot's game seemed to misfire this episode. While booting Aubry was initially presented as Scot's idea, by the end of the episode, Nick had more or less vultured the credit for it. Similarly, before the swap, Jason was playing an aggressive, successful game, albeit one with the subtlety of kicking in doors. But as the merge unfolded, Jason and Scot both seemed to be turning into Nick's pawns. At the very least: having Nick describe them as oversharing idiots who'd indulged in too much rum? Probably not their best look. Yes, it was one episode. But it's difficult to imagine either Jason or Scot ending up the winner after this.
Up is down: Debbie
The honeymoon is over, apparently. Like Scot, Debbie had a surprisingly strong pre-merge run, then ran into a complete reversal here at the merge. When even happy-go-lucky Tai seems uncomfortable with your aggressive advances, there's a problem. There still seems to be potential for the all-women's alliance the show has been teasing for weeks (Debbie, Michele, and Aubry were shown together this week, Debbie had previously approached Cydney with the same idea). But that brief glimmer where big-time character Debbie suddenly became big-time player Debbie seems to have passed. But at least we still have the character. And that's... okay.
Stat corner: Record-breaking Tribal-lessness
Nick and Michele both avoided going to Tribal Council again this episode, meaning they've now played 19 days (and counting) without ever lighting a torch. We went back and checked, and as far as we can tell, that ties the record. Chances are, that will end next episode on either Day 21 or 22, unless there's another medevac. But for the moment, Nick and Michele are tied with the entire Tandang tribe from Philippines, plus Joe Anglim and Keith Nale just last season. Nick and Michele will break this record on the first day of the next episode, and can extend it from there. Which means they'll have spent more than half the game not, you know, actually playing the game.
Which brings us to not-discernibly-down is not-discernibly-up: Michele. Michele has risen in screen time since the swap, despite not being part of any boot story. Which is a good sign for her longevity, we guess. Dom and Colin have already annointed her as this season's Guaranteed Winner based on this edit. What we've seen of her has been mostly positive, but like Nick, she's still just a theoretical player until she actually starts voting people out. At the least, she seems unlikely to be on the boot shortlist any time soon.
Land of the takes that are at best lukewarm
Bonus lukewarm takes department: The Ep7 vidcap gallery
Don't eat my leg, chicken! I could get an infection!
First appearance of Mt. St. Neal, shrouded in smoke, near the bulging pocket
"You have died of dysentery." Too soon?
Hold on guys, blue is really not my color...
Ah, that's better.
Hey, you guys! We brought you a hashtag!
I made the merge! The last three ex-pro athletes were all gone by Episode 6!
Hey Scot, is this a good time to mention I'm probably covered in staph bacteria?
Hmm, is *this* a good time to bring up the rampant staph infections? Nah.
Eh, wine will cure that right up
Whoa! *I'm* in this episode? Is this like an April Fools joke or something?
Yeah, yeah. Villains always say that.
Yeah, yeah. Everyone on the planet always says that, Debbie.
Ivy League vocab high five!
An infection? Me too!
Three wooden people died to make this necklace. They will be missed.
Hey Debbie, you're a waitress, right? This should be right up your alley!
Sigh. That's gonna come out of my tip.
Extra balls for the next round, tastefully placed at crotch height.
Don't mind me! Just leaning in to get a better look at your balls!
Hooray, the guy everyone needed for the numbers is still safe.
Well, at least they tried.
Another 8-0-0 shutout? Wow!
Do I really have to keep holding this tree up? It's kind of heavy.
I dunno, what do you want to do? No, you go first!
You're trying to turn that into a showmance, Pitman? Really?
You are a master of understated wit, Dr. Rupert
Okay, Jeff, I guess you can watch the prostate exam. But please, lay off the play-by-play.
Seriously, Probst, keep it down. We're eating here.
Good news: I'll be wiping my knee on every surface at Ponderosa. Sleep tight, guys!
My closest ally left with an idol in his family jewels, and all I got was this lousy hashtag.
Kaoh Rong Episode 7 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews: Neal Gottlieb
Episode 7 Podcasts