The most surprising thing about last week’s surprisingly unsurprising episode is that it surprised me. Over and over again. It was a bizarre feeling, let me tell you.
Instead of watching original Malolos being showered with idols and advantages, we witnessed the perpetuation of a Pagonging… and yet, despite the end being inevitable, I found myself repeatedly tilting my head like a confused lab puppy. That happened? And that? What on earth is going on here?
If you’re at all interested in touring my baffled brain, join me, dear reader, as I try to make sense of all that bum-puzzled me.
1) Who knew… that production could still go old school?
I have to say, the producers are doing a beautiful job subverting our expectations this season. An Angela visibility spike? She’s going home! NOPE. Bradley makes arrogant comments about babysitting the opposition (and invokes the names of Survivor royalty in the process)? He’s done! NOPE. Stephanie talks about her kids and the million dollars in a confessional? Winner quote! NOPE.
I don’t know about you, but I loved the shape of this episode; watching three players fight for their lives is Survivor at its purest. No twist was forthcoming, and no relic would save the day. Someone’s dream was going to be shattered, and we were there to bear witness. It was agonizing. And beautiful.
It may be that the Pagonging forced the producers to be creative, but if we end up with episodes like this one, let the Pagonging proceed.
2) Who knew… that Ghost Island isn’t rigged?
I was as stunned as anyone when Stephanie got a “NO GAME FOR YOU” note in her urn. If ever there was a time when a player would benefit from an idol or advantage, this was it. Given that Stephanie left Ghost Island empty-handed, I am now fully on board with the idea that production took a “set it and forget it” approach to when games would take place.
In fact, if we look at the order of Ghost Island games so far, I think we can pick up on production’s pattern:
First Visit: Game… the Legacy Advantage needs to enter early.
Second Visit: No Game… but the Andrea Idol is in play.
Third Visit: No Game… but the James Idol has been placed under a tree.
Fourth Visit: Game… but Kellyn says no.
Fifth Visit: No Game… because GI is about to get really busy.
If we assume that they’re swapping into three tribes of five this Wednesday (I explained last week why I think that’ll happen), advantages like vote steals become pivotal… so I think we’re likely to see the next three visits play out like this:
Sixth Visit: Game
Seventh Visit: Game
Eighth Visit: No Game… because the Legacy Advantage will be in play.
3) Who knew… that Chris would become a complex character?
As Chris and Donathan were swapping stories, I couldn’t help but think about Jay and Adam in a hammock during Millennials vs. Gen X… and I’m pretty sure that’s what they wanted us to think. Does that mean that one of these two is winning? NOT A CHANCE IN A HELL FULL OF HANTZES.
Still, it was an emotional moment for a character archetype which doesn’t usually get scenes like these. Clearly, they don’t want us writing Chris off as a narcissistic douche. The question is, why?
Answer: Because they’re building him up to be Domenick’s foil character. If Chris is too relentlessly awful, we won’t think he can triumph over Dom, and, more importantly, we won’t want him to. Given that we’re getting a multi-episode build-up to the inevitable confrontation, the producers want the audience split about who will win, and who SHOULD win.
Before we embrace Chris as an endgamer, however, let’s look at the edit negativity he experienced this episode:
** Chris gave squatting advice to his tribemates when they were lifting the bags off the lever during the reward challenge. (Which, oddly enough, mirrors Domenick’s power snatch lesson in the premiere.)
** “I WANT THOSE PASTRIES!”
** We saw him call the chocolate one not once but twice.
** THAT RAP.
** And the most significant sin of all: He didn’t really listen to Donathan’s story… he just waited for an opportunity to bring up his own.
So cool your jets, people… Chris may, shockingly enough, be a three-dimensional human being, but he still isn’t going to win the game.
4) Who knew… that the Laurel/Donathan/Wendell/Domenick alliance was so important?
When your alliance—which has spent about 11.3 seconds on screen since the start of the season—is showcased in “Previously On,” odds are extremely high that it will be the defining alliance of the season.
5) Who knew… that Bradley isn’t a total dick?
I didn’t think the producers would do it… but they walked Bradley back a bit this week. Which is to say that he didn’t sneer the entire time when he was talking to Malolos. I think he might have even smiled—vaguely—in Michael’s direction.
6) Who knew… that Kellyn and Chelsea were working as a team?
When Chelsea approached Kellyn to explain that the vote was shifting, I actually said, “What the fuh--” and then caught myself because I watch with my wife and 11 year-old son. I was stunned. Chelsea was talking! She actually had a job (might as well use her skills, which, according to exit interviews, involves sitting around in the shelter and listening to other people)! And she was reporting to her boss!
Kudos to Kellyn for conveying—both verbally and with her body language—that she wasn’t in charge. But you just know she’s the one calling the shots. Even when Bradley thinks he’s shaping strategy, he’s doing what Kellyn tells him to do.
7) Who knew… that Donathan was going to be this boring?
I had high hopes for Donathan coming into the season… and all those hopes have long since been dashed. At this point, it’s clear that he’s an important pawn for Laurel (and through her, for Wendell and Domenick), but won’t be a significant player in his own right. As I worried before the season began, he’s too nice: he’s going to feel really bad about every backstab and betrayal, he’s going to give a number of, “I feel just awful, I don’t know what I’m going to do” confessionals, and he’ll drive the other players (and viewers) nuts with just how noncommittal he will be. He’s this season’s leading contender to utter the immortal words, “I won’t decide until Tribal.” ARRRRGGGHHHH. I HATE that.
8) Who knew… that Desiree knows what she’s doing?
** Two weeks ago, she suggested that the Naviti Five should vote out Brendan rather than Michael… and Brendan goes home.
** At that Tribal, Bradley was in the spotlight as the leader… Kellyn was right there with him… while Chelsea and Sebastian were identified as the players on the bottom. Right in the middle, safe and sound? Des.
** Last week, she emphasized that Stephanie was “strategic as s***”... and Stephanie goes home.
** She digs around in game bags, and it’s not seen as a negative.
It’s a shame we’re not seeing more of Des’ moves, because it would appear that she’s got game.
Time for some other stuff…
9) Dom vs. Chris
Some thoughts about this brewing battle:
** I can’t shake the feeling that this is being built up to be even bigger than it really is because it distracts from the Pagonging.
** We’ve had a lot of hints about who is on what side:
Chris: Angela… Sebastian (that’s why we got the walk in the woods in the premiere)... Jenna (because she’s being paired with Sebastian now).
Dom: Wendell… probably Laurel and Donathan (although his scene with Chris is there to plant doubt… he may be the swing vote at the merge).
** We’re starting to get small stories around the other pawns (thus the recent Chelsea and Desiree confessionals).
** Even if Chris and Dom end up on the same swapped tribe, Dom has an idol to get him through at least one round.
** The most likely timing for this battle: immediately after the merge.
** Brace yourself for another Pagonging in the aftermath of this battle… the footsoldiers will fall.
10) One of these things is not like the others
Stephanie: “I’ve loved this show forever and I’ve applied time and time again and I just knew it would happen for me someday.”
Michael: “I cheered for Hatch while I was in the womb.”
Jenna: “I’m glad I live in Venice Beach, which is near SEG.”
Stephanie: “I got Jacob to tell me everything and then I voted him out.”
Michael: “I convinced all of you that the James Idol could protect two of us.”
Jenna: “I am on this season.”
Stephanie: “I have a lot of game left in me and I’m super strategic and my speech at Final Tribal Council will focus on how I’m a single mom with two kids but you still shouldn’t vote me out.”
Michael: “I’ll be loyal, but even if you think I’m just saying that, I’m also really strong, at least physically because I just cried a few minutes ago in a confessional. I’m also hot, if that helps.”
Jenna: “I offer my weasel hair, and you can help me recover from Resting Bitch Face. Did you know that the only cure for RBF is MORE PAGONGING?”
11) The Little Things
** Perception matters: The way that the members of Malolo 2.0 talked about Jenna, there’s no way she can win the game. Same goes for Chelsea, who keeps getting shredded in exit interviews.
** Another note about Chelsea: This is going to sound harsh, but look in her eyes when she talks. She seems… emotionless. Cold. Distant. It’s unnerving.
** With the season finale announced for May 23rd, we’re going to need a double-boot episode. My guess: after Chris loses to Dom, two out of these three will leave in a single night: Angela, Chelsea, Desiree.
** Henceforth, the alliance of Chris, Angela, Sebastian, Cheslea, and Desiree will be called, “Invisalign.”
** There should be two idols out there to be found next episode: A replanted one on Malolo and a new one on the third beach. That’s a lot of potential fireworks over the next few episodes (especially when you add them to the advantages which will begin to flow from Ghost Island).
** Speaking of Ghost Island, I agree with our benevolent overlord Jeff Pitman: if we swap into three tribes, two players will go to Ghost Island (one player sent from each of the two losing tribes from the reward challenge). Going one step further, I’m assuming that the design of the game will create additional pressure to play (e.g. if you won’t wager your vote, but the other player will, the other player automatically gets the advantage).
** The more I think about it, the more I’d like to see two Ghost Island exiles compete in a challenge to get an advantage. It’s like Redemption Island, only without the whole, “I actually already lost,” element.
** Question: If a player goes to Ghost Island, loses the game, returns before the immunity challenge, and then his or her tribe wins that immunity challenge… have they in effect wagered and lost a vote at an unspecified future Tribal Council? The wording on the note is unclear: At one point it says, “Your Next Vote,” but at the end, it says, “you will not vote at the next tribal council” (emphasis mine). I’m assuming that you won’t be able to vote the next time you attend Tribal (it seems only fair), but do we know that for sure?
** Given his edit, a fitting end to Bradley’s story: He goes to Ghost Island, refuses to play because he thinks he has the numbers, and his hubris gets him voted out.
** I agree with everyone who is saying that Stephanie got screwed by the swap… and yet, there’s a lesson here: Win the early challenges so that you’re the one doing the Pagonging. (Although here, too, Stephanie experiences bad luck: Malolo was significantly weaker than Naviti, both physically and with the puzzles.)
** Stephanie and Brendan can take some solace in the fact that the Survivor returnee cupboard is pretty bare in their casting categories… one of the reasons why they might have gotten such positive edits is that they’re being built up for a return.
12) The Little Things Part II
** In a season where so many players are silent, Sebastian keeps getting ridiculous content… I fear he might last until the Final 7.
** A reality about Reality TV: We’re so used to idols and advantages ending up in the hands of the players who need them that when it doesn’t happen, we’re blindsided.
** I wonder if production approached the season this way: “We have a Pagonging in the beginning, so let’s take these early boots, build them up and tear them down… all along the way, we’ll tease the merge battle between Chris and Dom… then, once that’s over, we have a major lull, but we’ll get through that with some cool idols and advantages and a double-boot episode… and then we’ll have an epic endgame!”
** I just can’t see a 7-7 swap (with the last player going to Ghost Island)... the odds are far too high that the Pagonging would continue.
** As Stephanie’s situation made apparent, a poorly-timed visit to Ghost Island can really hurt your game. This is especially true right after a swap (possibly into tiny tribes); by the time you get back to camp, you might be dead in the water. There’s so much luck involved here: the swap itself (are you with people you trust? Do you have the numbers? Do you have challenge strength?)... drawing a rock to get sent to Ghost Island… the uncertainty around getting a game… maybe losing the game… there’s just way too much here that a player cannot even begin to control. Survivor isn’t fair, and it never has been… but there are different degrees of unfairness, and the design here seems particularly harsh.
Let’s just say this up front: Given that we don’t yet know what the swap will look like -- the size of the tribes or who ends up with whom -- predicting anything that will happen is even more of a fool’s errand than predictions usually are.
So I’m just going to go with the idea that the Pagonging will continue. Let’s take a look, then, at the candidates, from least to most likely boot:
Laurel: We didn’t get narrative emphasis on her potential alliance with Dom and Wendell only to see her leave now. Safe.
Michael: We got a LOT of unneeded footage of Michael last episode, including him talking (to the other players and in a confessional) about his failed move at Tribal. That’s long-range content that hints at a post-merge push. Plus, challenge strength be valued after a swap into a small tribe. He’s not going anywhere.
Jenna: She’s seen as harmless, and now she’s got Seb by her side. She’s making the merge.
Donathan: He SHOULD be in trouble because he appears to be a challenge liability, but his emotional content suggests he’s our journey character, which means he could make it all the way to the finale.
Libby: We’ve only seen her when we NEEDED to (when she betrayed Morgan)... otherwise, she’s been invisible. She could go at any time.
James: He disappeared after the Morgan boot episode… and really, despite his chiseled physique, he’s been pretty awful in challenges. He’s in a lot of trouble if he ends up down in numbers after the swap.
And then there’s the wild card in all of this: Bradley. As I wrote last week, his negative edit has been so relentless that it’s pretty much impossible to sustain long-term. Yes, this past episode was a little better, but his long-term prospects aren’t good. Can I see him making the merge? Sure. But I certainly wouldn’t bet on it.
So that’s a lot of blathering, Baker. Just answer the question! Who’s going home?
Gaaaaaa. This is impossible. How about this: Operating on the assumption that we’re merging at 13 (because of the Legacy Advantage), we’ve got two boots to go...
… and those spots will be inhabited by two of these three players: James, Libby, and Bradley.
Andy Baker is a long-time, but definitely not long-winded, Survivor blogger.
Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius