So here we are again. Two seasons after Cambodia (or just one, actually, by chronological order of being filmed), we have two tribes expanding to three again. Angkor reborn! And we all know how fun and exciting that turned out the first time.
We get the reason for trying something: One tribe is getting decimated, the other has a supermajority alliance, plus everyone wants the Millennials and Gen X people, who are OH SO VERY DIFFERENT, to finally mix with each other. (At least in some fashion more meaningful than a #SurvivorSummit.)
Fine. A temporary swap for two episodes, followed by another swap or a merge, seems reasonable. But why three tribes? Why not just do two two-tribe swaps, as in Gabon? Currently, almost half the remaining contestants (7/15) have attended just one solitary Tribal Council. And every future episode in which there are three tribes increases the chances that those people can skate through to the merge without having to vote anyone else out. That's great news if you're one of those people. For the audience? Kind of boring.
Also, we're now five episodes in, and there has only been one reward challenge. Having a perpetual string of one-challenge episodes increases the chances that someone could not only not have to attend Tribal Council, but also not compete in a challenge until the merge. One person sat out of the single challenge this episode, next week it will be three people. If the hapless orange tribe loses again, it'll be five the next week! This situation is entirely the result of having three tribes, because if they'd done a simple tribal shuffle with just Vanua and Takali here, only one person would sit out, and that wouldn't be until next week. (Ed. note: We waited long enough to post this that it's now obvious Ep6 has two challenges, which means six sit-outs just in the next episode, but at least everyone should have to compete at least once.)
On the other hand, the show did somewhat address the most glaring fault of the previous expansion swap iteration: while they still forced the new tribe to set up an entirely new camp -- which production has decided is must-see TV -- at least they gave them an extra person to help distribute that burden. Then promptly yanked that help away by offering no reward opportunity at the immunity challenge, which really would have helped the destitute Ikabulas out, given that their camp has zero amenities. Oh well, win some, lose some.
Well, okay... maybe that third strike was actually a foul ball?
Having said all that, the obfuscation used in setting up the swap was particularly well executed. Both tribes arrived at the site of an as-yet-unused two-tribe/-team challenge. There were two mats, orange and purple, no third one to give away the future green tribe. Probst was standing next to a reward table, with the buff trays underneath a cover, as if it were a reward. Furthermore, the numbers didn't seem to work for a straight swap into three tribes, since there were 16 people left, which would leave a remainder.
All of this made the swap into three tribes a surprise for the contestants, which is important in light of Stephen Fishbach's comments on KIA that the Cambodia cast was constantly planning ahead for swaps, and planning to throw challenges to protect their original Bayon members, if need be. (Even if they actually ended up throwing a challenge to boot an original Bayon, but who's counting?) While an expansion swap up to three tribes was probably discussed in camp, due to its use in Cambodia, the cast probably wasn't expecting it here. So that's good.
Another plus from production's perspective is that one more idol should now be hidden at the new Ikabula camp. Having already participated in the idol-searching fesitivities back at Camp Gen X, you would imagine Bret and Sunday probably spent some time looking over at the new Greendale campus. Since none of this was shown or even mentioned, a moot point so far, but at least it has potential.
Overall though, a pretty mixed bag. Meh. We will allow that maybe in a theme season with obvious original divisions (age here, or gender), a swap to three tribes limits simple post-swap divisions along original tribal lines. Or maybe we all just got lucky, and the one tribe in which someone (David) might act other than along original tribal lines went to Tribal. At the very least, Angkor II didn't lose. So maybe there's hope.
The new idol-hiding system: Already broken
Speaking of idols, the vaunted new concealment system is clearly completely broken. Having already found his idol, David had a massive advantage over his other tribemates in the titular idol quest. Unsurprisingly, he succeeded.
And lest Jeff Probst leap in with "You're just mad because the wrong person found it": of course not. David has already demonstrated that he's willing to do interesting things with idols, so if anything, he's the best possible Gen X person to find it, based on what we've seen so far. Even so, we'd much rather that everyone have had an equal shot at it.
You see, the show used to do this, just two seasons ago (or, again, one by order of filming). In Cambodia, production adjusted to the clear unfairness of familiarity with the system by ditching the hiding-at-challenges mechanism after Jeremy and Kelley found their idols. Imagine if you will, a less palatable outcome here. Say... Taylor finding the first Millennials idol, setting up the following sequence of events:
Taylor, Day 5: "Whoa, that shell has paint on it. Maybe it's someone's secret stash! Or maybe it has food? I'm hungry. There'll be snackin' in the shack tonight!"
[He breaks it open.]
"Augh, this is just some package. Immunity idol, blah blah. Well, I'll keep it, I guess."
Taylor at the Millennials' Tribal Council, Day 7: Wait a minute. If people vote out Figgy, I might not get to snuggle with her tonight. I can't let that happen, I won't let that happen, and I can't let that happen. She's hot. [He stands.] "Jeff, I'm playing this for Figs!"
[Mari is now voted out, 7-(0).]
Morning 8: The entire Millennials tribe, except Taylor, is out searching for idols.
Taylor, groggily: *Yawn* "Where did everybody go? Whoa, check it. That log has paint on it. Maybe this time it's someone's secret stash! Or food. I'm still hungry."
[He breaks it open.]
"Augh. Another idol. Dang."
Yeah. We'd all vastly prefer that to, say, Adam (or Zeke or Hannah or Michaela or Michelle or Jay or even Figgy) finding the second one. Or even Will, who was also apparently on that tribe.
Expanding tribes, disappearing edits
One pleasant aspect of swaps is that the changes of scenery produced by the swap usually lead to a slight narrative refreshment for some of the players. (This time it was mostly the men, but perhaps that's because they're pretty much the only people left.) For example, the two guys who had previously been the Gen X tribe's surly, dour anti-Davids, Bret and Chris, were revealed to be much more affable and positive, whether by supporting and praising Michaela, or by bonding with Zeke and re-connecting with David (mostly out of necessity, but still). Who knew?
The new purple tribe received the royal treatment: Every member of Takali had at least one confessional, even if the multiple ones from Taylor were all about his absolute befuddlement at having to pretend not to be "canoodling" with Figgy. Jay, Michaela, and Michelle continued to get screen time, giving meaningful confessionals about the game. But with three tribes, spending more time with some also meant saying goodbye to previous marginal characters: So long, Hannah. Good hunting, Will. (Was that last week, already? Time flies.) Take the day off, Sunday.
We're now more than a third of the way through this season. The editors have already struggled to bother carving out a place in the storyline for three of the five people already voted out (Rachel, Lucy, and CeCe). If it's this difficult to consistently portray 15 people in an hour-long TV show, why start with 20?
Improv Nite at the Tribal Council Set
While it was disappointing to see CeCe blindsided without ever receiving more than a fleeting narrative investment in her character (same as with Lucy last week), the Tribal Council acting by everyone else that masked the blindside was impeccable. Michelle had fairly cogent, cutting comments about David, and David openly worried that Chris is too tight with Zeke, to David's own detriment. So maybe it was less acting, and more what these people will probably be saying about each other the next time they head back to Tribal Council. Which, assuming another ring toss or sandbag throwing challenge instead of a puzzle, could easily be next episode. Still, for a bunch of newbies, a great show of pretending the 3-2 Gen X majority was coasting to a Millennial (or Millennium, depending on who's talking) easy boot.
Okay, that's enough of that. On to the vidcaps!
Look guys, I know you're mad, but please stop calling me Stewie. That name is owned by FOX.
Dear America: I got the Legacy Advantage AND a hug from Ken. Do I even need anything more?
Hmm, probably not. But a million bucks would still be nice.
Dear America: I got a fist bump from Chris, then bumped off the show. Do I even need anything more?
Of course I do, you idiot! Who writes this?
Don't look at me! I'm a TV writer, not a TV recap caption writer. Those people are the worst.
The "CS" stands for CBS Standards and Practices, proving this is completely fair and above-board. Er, -log.
Uh, Sunday? I need to take an aqua-dump... on land. A little privacy?
Where have you been? Those hours apart were sheer torture!
So I've called you all here for a surprise. Survivor Summit II!
Ah, just kidding. You guys have to live witht the old people. Sorry.
Yes, David. It's an expansion draft. You have been picked by the Marlins! (You'll love David Samson.)
Hello, future mom and dad who'll try to keep Figtayls apart.
Why did I have to take my buff off to film this?
Whoa, you changed the color of my name? How?
Green tribe: Michaela, Jay, and... who are those people?
Zeke says this looks like a strong tribe. Okay.
Michaela and Jay pick up two more stray people unseen since Ep2 or so.
We get all these anonymous people but no shelter and no supplies? Not cool, Probst.
Adam: Hooray, I'm still with Figgy and Taylor.
You guys, I have the same color buff as before. I really didn't need to take it off for this interview.
I'm Bret, you may remember me from... I got nothin'.
Well, it's a good thing we practiced looking for idols already
Can I trade the two old people for fishing gear?
Thank you for not separating me from my fishing gear
Uh, bro? That's your shorts. They're on fire.
This sweatshirt of Lucy's is sure to bring me screentime.
I'm gonna be stuck with those two all the way to the merge, aren't I?
Can I be the Yul to your Ozzy? I have an idol!
Brandon Quinton and Scout will be so excited!
I finally have a buff that matches my shirt. It's like you planned this!
**Two weeks earlier**... weird
Seriously, can I put my buff on to talk about Chris?
Look for idols? Perform poorly in challenges?
Fun times at Angkor?! What?!
Michaela shall save all of you. It is known.
Michaela! If I hug you can I be in this episode?
Good news, guys! The ex-NBA player we had slotted in for this season bailed at the last minute.
Say hello to my little friend
It's so cute! We totally want the small one.
Can we just give up now?
Three hours later...
Follow the bouncing ball!
Eh, it was more of a fumble and roll
Michaela sportsing better than Ken
Ken finishes sportsing
No discernible sportsing from this group
This team would lose even in Survivor: Brooklyn
Oh well, tough luck for Michelle. Maybe we would have won if she hadn't given up.
Arr, we be losin'. Shiver me timbers.
Vote for CeCe? Yeah, whatevs.
David Saves Christmas! Coming soon, only on CBS All Access: David Goes to Camp.
Ooh, let's make Michelle walk way out in front like she's the one going home.
There are only two Millennials here, Jeff. We're totally, totally screwed. *Wink*
Yup! No further discussion needed! *Wink*
Gulp!!! *Wink* *Wink*
You guys, that's not how you spell "Michelle"
Oh well, at least she received the rare side-snuff
Millennials vs. Gen X Episode 5 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews: CeCe Taylor
Episode 5 Podcasts