As entertaining as that Tribal Council was, it still only starting to sink in that at the end of it, we lost one of the most original, intriguing new female players in a long time. While it's unlikely that Debbie would have won this season, her presence in the game was still consistently interesting. She was a big character, yes, but more than that, she was also playing hard. She will be missed, although at least she'll be in the Ponderosa videos. Even if her exit interviews aren't overflowing in literal truth.
But let's not bury the lede: That was a fantastically fun Tribal Council. It was similar in a lot of ways to the Jeff Kent boot in Philippines, one of the finest non-All-Star Tribals in recent memory. The Kent boot was preceded by frantic in-camp scrambling, then was thrown into further turmoil when Malcolm announced he had an idol (and then didn't play it). This Tribal hit almost all those same notes, although it differed in one key aspect: here, the turmoil was almost entirely in the eye of the beholder. In fact, both main groups seemed to be playing to scripts, and played them perfectly. The villain trio of Scot, Jason, and Tai flaunted their super-idoled powers with gusto, making clear they had two idols, that either, both, or neither might be played before the vote, and that if they felt like it, they'd play it as a super idol. But Aubry & Cydney's alliance knew this was likely to be coming, and had already planned to avoid voting for those three. For all the theatrics of the idol flourish, it had no real effect on the game, except that it gave the impression that something crazy was about to happen, and set the entire gathering into frantic whispering.
And then poor Debbie was blindsided, as planned. But the editing still made this exciting: in showing the immediate, private reactions to the grandstanding (and not letting the audience know what was being said, as they otherwise sometimes do), the editors created doubt that the plans they'd shown were actually going through, which was a brilliant twist for the audience. What were they saying? Were the women readjusting, and targeting Scot instead? It looked like that might be true... and then it wasn't. But until the votes were read, it was completely opaque, and that was fun.
The Cydney fakeout
One quibble we had with the story as told: while nobody (except Scot and Jason) apparently knew about Tai's idol, Cydney has known perfectly well, since the second it was found, that Jason had one. So the whole Tai + Jason, "hey, guess what, we have two idols!" performance wasn't quite as believable as it could have been. And the show hasn't bothered to explain why Cydney has been so tight-lipped about this fairly major game element, apart from vague disinterest in telling Debbie things. But still, what possible benefit did Cydney receive from not telling Debbie that Jason has an idol? This is mystifying. Had Debbie had that information, she probably wouldn't have been pushing for Scot's boot, and wouldn't have laid that plan out in front of Julia.
Wankers, winners, and Wanner
Was Debbie right after all? If the women had stuck to the plan of splitting the votes between Scot and Tai, Debbie would have come out far better off than she did. The problem is: there was absolutely no logical reason for Cydney to go along with that plan, because she knew (1) Jason had an idol, and (2) Cydney had to have guessed Scot and Jason might be gunning for her, since had just undercut their authority at the previous Tribal Council, and didn't win immunity this week. So, assuming everyone stuck to Debbie's plan, here are the possible outcomes:
So basically, Debbie is completely safe in any vote-splitting scenario, whereas Cydney becomes the third member of the jury. Small wonder that Cydney might not want to go along with that. Several people (Stephen Fishbach at Know-It-Alls, Pat Ferrucci in this week's Well, in theory...) have said that Cydney and Aubry's move was bad strategy. And it certainly didn't put them in a great position: They lost a loyal anti-Scot/Jason vote, and they're even more dependent on Julia, who could easily flip back with her Reward Challenge team on the next vote. Despite all that, this was certainly Cydney's best move out of a limited set of options (it's a bit more murky for Aubry), especially when they were forced to work with Julia, due to her winning immunity. True, taking out Nick last episode might have put them in this position in the first place, but now at least Cydney lives to fight another day. Sorry, Debbie.
Tai's surprising villainy
It was bizarre to see lovable Tai actively sabotaging the camp in this episode, even if he clearly felt uncomfortable with his decision to do so. But think about all the ways in which Tai became Evil Tai in this episode:
All in all, a highly underhanded week for Tai, who despite his self-doubt at his ability to tell lies, apparently got away with all of it, simply because nobody suspects he would do any of these things. In a lot of ways, he's in similar territory to how Debbie was perceived early on in the Brains tribe. Liz and Peter saw her as kooky but completely non-threatening. Tai has essentially the same position on Dara. That harmless old guy with the chicken? What could he possibly do to mess up our games? And with that in mind, Tai may currently be the most dangerous player in the game, should he choose to be.
This week's immunity challenge was a brand-new one, and it was hilarious and heartbreaking and all-around great to watch. (We don't doubt that it was probably incredibly frustrating to actually compete in, but the contestants' loss is our gain.) Very few challenges offer this many opportunities for lead changes, and it was edge-of-the-seat exciting to watch as contestant after contestant either tripped, knocking their entire set of blocks down after coming within a step or two of winning, or watched in agony as their shot at winning collapsed, as their line of dominoes failed to complete falling. We don't even mind that this one was impossible to score for the non-winning contestants. More like this, please.
Challenge spur-of-the-moment pros
We're not usually fans of arbitrarily forcing someone to sit out of post-merge team challenges. Honestly, there was no good reason why the reward challenge couldn't have been done in three teams of three. It's not like they didn't have practice building three sets of challenge equipment. But the show found a way to spin this forced 4-vs-4 challenge into a good guys (or women) vs. pariahs thing, which turned out to be much more compelling than randomly-selected teams. Suddenly, there were actual stakes to who got the otherwise forgettable food reward. So kudos to production for seeing the potential in setting that up. Even if it goes against Probst's oft-repeated claims to have no idea what's going in camp.
Storm's a-coming? No, not that one
We hate to bring this up after such a fun episode, but... based on the season preview that aired at the end of the Cambodia reunion, there's still at least one more medevac coming. Hopefully not next week, because it would really suck the wind out of this season's sails if one of Scot, Jason, or Tai just gets pulled at this point (especially the latter two, and even moreso if they took an idol with them). Either way, for a season widely (mis-?) perceived as a misfire before it aired, we've had nine great episodes, at least. If it all falls apart from here on out, at least the first two-thirds were good, which is more than can be said for a lot of seasons.
Land of the takes that are at best lukewarm
Bonus lukewarm takes department: The Ep9 vidcap gallery
Oh, are you crowdsourcing this? I'll bet the audience has some interesting suggestions of where you can put those.
Debbie tries to repair the damage done by Scot's rash decision to crowdsource something
Going forward, the role of Debbie will now be played by Mark the chicken
Mmm, Lucky Camp takeout. Except it was delivered, not taken out, and at a camp that wasn't actually lucky for Caleb or Neal.
Don't worry, it's not Probst and Dr. Rupert. Not this week, anyway.
Cydney is so opposed to trusting Julia that she won't even floss in Julia's general direction
Tai finally succumbs to the evil instructions that taunt him from the bottom of the screen
And they're off to the races! Except Joe.
Oh, f...antastic! I get to keep playing!
Hooray, so does Debbie! The journey is the reward.
Jason, your stacking enjoyment will continue!
The journey is the reward, Debbie. I thought we covered that already.
And you're our youngest immunity winner, ever! Why are you glaring at me like that? Oh, that's right, you're '22.' Okay, nothing to see here, then.
Anybody want to juggle?
Hold up, Julia. There's only one chicken, we can't juggle that.
Let's boot Debbie. I can only take so much juggling.
If I say no will it make me younger?
It did! It did! But I'm only 12 days younger. And Peter's still here. Dammit.
From mansplaining to manspreading: Nick Maiorano's road to the jury
Fine, I guess you guys don't like juggling. How about I teach you all to play air piano?
It's like this EVERY DAY, Jeff
If I give you this idol, can you let Debbie teach Neal and Nick how to yodel?
Thanks a lot, Tai
Here's another one! Please! We'll do anything!
Like knock down Alecia? Yeah, they probably would.
Signs point to yes.
But who will dig up Scot's shorts now? Will a feather from his ancestor magically lead him to them?
Oh well. Not my problem any more.
Kaoh Rong Episode 9 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews: Debbie Wanner
Episode 9 Podcasts