This was an important Survivor episode, both as the season-long narrative moved various pieces forward, and in the scenes that it chose to include. Scenes that a lesser show might have skipped, or worse, overly hyped. It worked as both an episode of Survivor, and as a larger argument for the value of reality television. It probably won't win any awards come Emmy time, because this is Season 35 of Survivor, and there are probably stars that need recognition for their dancing, or something. But it ought to at least be considered.
The pop show: what Survivor does best
Ben's brief segment in the pre-credits opening, which gave the episode its title ("The Past Will Eat You Alive"), was the best part of this episode. In it, Marine veteran Ben reacted instinctively to the popping noise made by a piece of bamboo in the fire, and removed himself from camp to go decompress in the water. As a scene, it didn't really have much to do with the rest of the episode. It didn't have any impact on the next challenge, nor on anyone finding idols, nor on the vote at Tribal Council. We don't know yet if it has any relevance to the story of the winner, or to the season as a whole. But it was one of the most important things Survivor does—showing real people going through real struggles—and it was perhaps the highlight of the season so far.
And it's something that we worry Survivor could lose, as its casting teeters back towards increased homogenization, filling its roster with more and more young, pretty people with little life experience beyond college (or high school, in some cases). We don't see many Wisconsin truck drivers any more, nor Virginia goat farmers. So we should—and do—relish the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of this still relatively young Marine veteran from Idaho, as he interrupts his game to face down his ever-present memories, and remind himself that he's there for his wife and for his kids, and ultimately concludes with a life-affirming "You have to look forward to the future, because... the future will save you." That's the kind of wisdom that's unlikely to spring forth (at least in any meaningful way) from the pool of model/actors congregating in Venice Beach on any given October weekday.
It's also a valuable insight into a world that scripted TV and movies generally do not show with respect to the military, despite almost two decades of continuous deployment in the Middle East and South Asia. In most of our entertainment, service members are usually depicted as either invincible warriors vanquishing anonymous foes on the battlefield, or stoic pillars of strength after they've transitioned to civilian life. There is rarely any fragility. As American civilians, we routinely make collective acts of honoring the troops' service, put a flag out on a holiday, then go back to our daily lives, our job done. As Ben said, we don't really understand. And we can't. Not really. But this gets us a little closer. With little TV news coverage, we don't really get exposed to what actually goes on over in war zones, nor do we discuss what happens when the troops return home. Sure, we'll donate to wounded warriors charities, or take time to remember lives lost, or maybe read a news story about PTSD. But unless it's someone you personally know, it's all so abstract, like reading about some disease with a foreign-sounding name like "West Nile Virus." You may know what it does, or even how it works, but it's not the same as seeing it first-hand, experiencing it. That's what Survivor allowed us to witness here.
It works here because as viewers, we're invested in Ben Driebergen, a real person on this show we watch, and it matters when he's experiencing a PTSD trigger and dealing with the consequences, unexpectedly, right in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable day in camp on a reality-competition show midway through its 35th season. It's a reminder that, while the show is itself a game, an artificial construct, these are real people participating in it, whose real lives can intersect with the game in ways we and they may not expect. Because we've come to know Ben in the context of the show as a charming, all-around strong, tough guy, a literal Hero, his struggle seems more accessible, more personal than it might be if he was some newly introduced person in a news story. Ben is someone we recognize, speaking directly to us about his vulnerability, on national TV, talking about the stress of having a job where every day, people are trying to kill you, or where you might see your friends injured or killed. Thousands of our veterans face similar challenges to the one Ben experienced. Ben gave us all a clear demonstration of what that's like. It's something that's more visceral, more real, than it could ever be on a scripted show. That's the value of reality TV, and what was so special about this segment.
So thank you to Survivor for casting Ben in the first place, and thank you to Ben for opening up about this on national TV, and for showing everyone, veterans and civilians alike, that it can get better. Maybe not all the time, but better enough that it's still possible to push on and make a better life for his family and himself. Ben may modestly decline to call himself a hero for "just doing my job" in Iraq, but he's absolutely a hero for showing this part of his life to us now.
The mom show: Chrissy runs things
In her pre-season interviews, Chrissy maintained that she was going to play a non-villainous game, which seemed to fit with her placement on the Heroes tribe. We're glad that didn't actually happen. To be fair, her manipulations this episode were mostly half-truths, not outright lies. Roark did talk about an all-women's alliance... after Chrissy suggested it. JP did want to target Roark (as Chrissy told Ryan)... after Chrissy passed along the women's alliance story. It's a bit odd that Ryan didn't fact-check directly with Roark (at least we weren't shown that he did). But as presented, Chrissy put on an impressive performance in her series of power plays to collect the votes she needed.
From Roark's exit interviews, it appears maybe Ryan had already flipped, since he was already sleeping on the Chrissy/JP side of the fire, instead of the Ali/Roark one. Maybe this was all just for show. But either way, it's a good sign for Chrissy's longevity that the editors elected to present this particular version of the truth. We're hopeful that Chrissy can break through the stereotypical expectation that moms on Survivor can't be both friendly and strategic. And that Chrissy can crack the over-40 age barrier. It should be fun to watch, either way. Well, okay, if she gets zero votes in the Final Three, it won't be that fun. But for now, we're hopeful.
Side note: While watching the episode, we were disappointed that the now-fake Super Idol didn't come up as a point of discussion, we realize now that it wouldn't have been a good idea at this particular point. Chrissy had JP with her 100%. She was working on securing Ryan's vote. Obviously, she couldn't have used the idol on Ryan, since he gave it to her in the first place, and knows perfectly well that it was a one-night-only idol. So her only options were Ali or Roark, one of whom she was targeting, while the other had voted with Ryan at every Tribal until this one. The pre-merge, especially post-swap pre-merge, is the time to build trust, not a time for deceptive idol shenanigans. Since Episode 2 included Chrissy talking about the idol's future utility, we're happy to be patient, and wait for a bigger post-merge play.
Hey, that's my new torch! ... Awww
Since it's been several days since we last published an irrelevant table, here's this week's! Roark lasted until Episode 5 without attending Tribal Council, then was voted out at her first Tribal (on Day 14). That's pretty late for a booted-at-first-Tribal appearance, but it's far from the latest. That honor (?) would belong to one Nick Maiorano, former RHAP blogger and current Josh Wigler faux-feuder. But in looking over the list of the top 10 latest First Tribal bootees, it's interesting that all but one (Willard, who also served as the Palau immunity idol) came from three-tribe seasons. As you can see, this is another one of the consistent glitches in the three-tribe format, and it's one we've mentioned before. Luckily for you, Triple Tribe True Believers, nobody reads this.
But wait, there's more to not read! In addition to Roark's debut at #5, there are three more people this season who could potentially wind up on this list: Cole, Jessica, and Mike are all still Tribal Council virgins. Mike (and sort of Jessica, but not really) now has an idol, so he's fairly unlikely to end up on this list by being voted out at his first Tribal. But Cole certainly seems like a potential contender, especially with the merge seemingly looming. A boot in the next episode would vault him directly into third place. And who knows? Maybe he could even challenge Nick for his title.
|Rank||Contestant||Season||Day||Post- swap?||Post- merge?|
|1||Nick Maiorano||Kaoh Rong||22||Yes||Yes|
|5||Anna Khait||Kaoh Rong||14||Yes||No|
|5||Roark Luskin||Heroes v Healers v Hustlers||14||Yes||No|
Notes: *Hatch was voted out in the same episode that Saboga was dissolved and its members re-assigned to the other two tribes, which is sort of like a swap. Same situation for Dawson (except in that case it was Matsing's dissolution) in Philippines.
Fine, fine. Less table, more vidcap gallery.
You guys, Tribal was scary, but I have a tale of a monster much more... monstrous
It's the Cole Who ate the Whole Thing
It's true... he ate... my hands. I swear!
Old Ben has seen things. Things that Cole ate.
This one time... he ate an entire bag of chips. And one of the chips was probably an idol.
Look out! He's coming!
OMG! Cole ate himself!
Oh wait, he's just on the other tribe. Whoops. Never mind! Although watch out, Lauren.
Oh great, now they've tied up his future snacks? Who approved this?
Not sure what's going on here. Distracting everyone with giant gumballs, while Cole has his fill?
The blue team is clustered together. That's not the most effective predator avoidance strategy, guys.
And poor Ryan. Will he ever get the giant gumball in his mouth? Stay tuned.
Apparently he did, and now JP has to administer the Heimlich maneuver.
Odd that Cole is putting the gumballs on a giant Pixie Stick, but these kids with their crazy fusion cuisine.
Wow, Cole has gotta be disappointed he's not on this tribe now.
It was nice! Everyone actually got a serving, unlike back at Healers camp.
Meanwhile: I'm just relieved that JP is a trained first responder
Wow, Ryan, you had a lot more stuff in there than I was expecting, and things like that!
That was weird. We knew the machete was missing. But to think Ryan *ate* it?
We made it back to camp, but now Cole is eating all our utensils
To be fair, wooden spoons are an excellent source of fiber
It's gotten so bad, we've taken to burying our food by the well. But then sometimes we lose it.
The search for the cache of coconuts begins
Ooh, is that a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup?
Awww. Just a useless immunity idol.
Finish your Mason jar first, Cole.
Cole: Hey Probst, can I have one of those extra crates over there to snack on while you talk?
Back off, everyone. Cole has already called dibs on the boat.
You guys, if we don't get these soggy bags of rice to shore, Cole will devour them
Go on, JP! Take the ball, leave the rice as an offering to the Devourer.
Yeah, sure! Don't worry, Cole hasn't eaten that yet. He's still working on the rice.
Cole, on his way to gobble up the Swiss cheese-like red thing.
Wait... Cole, we love you. But this has to stop.
You're done with the Cole eating thing? That's a relief. Can we finally get to my boot episode?
Not so fast. I have other plans! Culinary plans!
Actually, Ryan's unquenchable hunger is just the diversion I need
Here's the thing, Roark: We have to get rid of Ryan. The machete's gone missing again.
Again? Ugh... fine, I'll Heimlich him one more time.
Just FYI, you might want to avoid hugs from JP for the next hour or so
Chrissy said I'll be eating my own alliance options. No way! No cannibalism for me!
Two hours later, Ryan regrets having that second machete
Since we're all here, can we get rid of Roark? She said she wasn't into this eating-based theme.
Probst: Yeah, sure, whatever. Ryan: If you're done with that, can I eat it?
No, Jeff. I think I'll pass on your torch-shaped cake pop. Give it to Ryan.
Other HvHvH Episode 5 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Roark Luskin