Few things made me simultaneously cringe and laugh more than Probst describing the potential reward at the challenge. If y’all have a minute, please rewatch Jeff saying “margaritas.” It lives up to the hype, and really improves the quality of the episode as a whole, in my opinion.
Should’ve Gone for Broke
Personally, Libby illustrates something of a common trend among contemporary female players, at least in my opinion: she just wanted to blend in. With exceptions like Chrissy, Lauren, Sarah, and Debbie (of relevant female players who’ve played in the three seasons prior), most woman seem to at least be edited as hanging out of the fray until the game’s in its last leg (such as Hannah finally deciding to target someone—Sunday—in MvGX). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, by any means, but when her sole focus was staying anonymous after having her name thrown out at two consecutive Tribals, you’ve got to try something else, homie. Additionally, while I get this logic in having the bigger, alpha-male-esque people tear each other apart right at the Merge time, I do believe this makes for less compelling female characters as a whole. Libby flashed a good game in deceiving Morgan but chose to let that aggressive charm fall by the wayside. I know people like Michaela are hard to find, but at least those women make for some interesting dynamics, the sort who do not go gently into that good night. Libby was the refugee or runaway archetype, the person who, for all of their hard work to become just another face in the crowd, tragically sticks out like a sore thumb, leading to their usual expulsion from the group, state, city, or kingdom. Sorry, Libby. I think you were probably better than the edit made you seem, but you should’ve tried a little harder to convince Malolo to stick together. Speaking of…
Laurel and Donathan
Winning vs Getting to the End
Laurel and Donathan’s choice to not boot Wendell, while making for worse TV, was not necessarily a horrendous or flippant move. I believe both of them thought long and hard, weighing the pros and cons of what it would mean to boot Wendell. For the sake of argument, let’s say Laurel, Donathan, Libby, Michael, and Jenna all banded together and cut Wendell at this Tribal. Let’s even give this five the benefit of the doubt, saying they could rope Sea Bass into their plans for the next vote (using some of that Jenna-charm that undoubtedly led to the two dating in real life), and take out another Naviti with a 6 – 5 split the next vote… now what? The Malolo core is not Donathan and Laurel, but Michael, Libby, and Jenna plus a wayward bro named Sebastian. Sticking to this six almost certainly dooms Laurel and Donathan to fifth- and sixth-place finishes, because it’d be hard to imagine the others not seeing them as having Naviti connections to back up their game-changing move of getting rid of Wendell. Furthermore, if Laurel and Donathan chose to try and rally Naviti at ten, blindsiding Michael, say, I have to think they’d be seen as too unpredictable to both sides in the long-run. This group seems quite content to have sweeping, landslide votes that everyone can at least kind of agree on. Laurel and Donathan, after what would be effectively betraying everyone in the game, would absolutely fit this model.
No, Laurel and Donathan didn’t make the flashy move, but they did make one that helps their overall longevity. Based on the stupid amount of information Wendell and Dom have shared with them (mainly Laurel) about their idols, Laurel and Donathan have to feel like those men trust the shit out them. What’s more, as noted in this episode, Dom and Wendell can act as good shields for them as both appear more threatening than either of them. This is absolutely the safer choice, the one that likely helps both of them into the endgame, and even to the FTC. After all, it is quite obviously impossible to win the game if you’re not in the end to plead your case, and as Libby was trying to do, Laurel and Donathan are doing a fine job of hiding in plain sight. That being said, getting there with nothing to argue on behalf of won’t win you the game, either. So, as many great Survivor minds have philosophized and argued about for nearly twenty years now: is it better to play to make it to the end, or better to play to win and gamble making it to the end in the first place? Laurel and Donathan chose the former, and something tells me, it’s not going to lead to a million-dollar check, just a potential shot to argue for one. That being said, I can’t really fault their choice. Seeing a clear pathway to the end is a tantalizing prospect to just give up.
Where the Fuck Have You Been All Season?
Dearest readers, I cannot remember someone seeming so different so quickly this late into a season. I mentioned last week in my Power Rankings that everyone had underestimated Angela, and boy oh boy, did she show that this week. She’s looking to take out people left, right, and center, and while her looking at dead bodies tossed everywhere in her wake was a bit creepy, damn if I wasn’t into it. Let me be clear, I don’t think Angela is great at this game—at least, one good episode doesn’t make me think that—but if the edit is to be believed, she spearheaded the plan to oust Michael. Now, should that have been on everyone’s minds in the first place? Absolutely, and it probably was. Therefore, I have a hard time showering Angela with unbridled praise, but the fact of the matter is she did receive credit even if the plan didn’t come to perfect fruition. Think of Debbie in Game Changers, you know, that time she got credit for Ozzy’s boot? I have a hard time believing Culpepper’s posse didn’t all want Ozzy out at that point, but the edit gave Debbie the credit. That, at least in my opinion, appears to be what editing did for Angela this episode, or at least tried to.
Angela, much to Libby’s antithesis (and Laurel and Donathan’s), isn’t trying to blend in anymore like she did in the first portion of this game. She’s playing hard, fast, and loud, and while I’d be shocked if her explosive arc lasted more than two or three more episodes at this point, I’m stoked to see there’s some fight in a woman most people wrote off coming into the season. Go, Angela, go!
Also, final comment here, she annihilated that food challenge—a great one at that. While I give props to Michael for finishing the challenge (and getting a little more free food in the process), Angela showed some grit there. I don’t know if she’ll ever win another II, but well earned, my friend. Very well earned, especially, as Sea Bass hilariously had to remind us, because she’s a woman who beat him. Small moments of sexism like that only solidify my certainty that good Sebastian does not Fabio this thing to victory. Stupid Sea Bass; Awesome Angela.
Addition to the final comment, as someone who’s spent the entirety of his adult life living either in Washington state or going to the folks’ place for the summer/holidays to Denver, Colorado, I think it’s tremendous Probst can make jokes about Sebastian always being high in a challenge, but makes no obvious sexual innuendos when Angela is deepthroating slugs. I’m not complaining here, let alone on 4/20, but it’s a strange discrepancy. Oh well, again, Angela murdered this challenge.
Side note to the final comment (this is it, for real), if you’d told me, even going into the Merge, that Kellyn and Angela would be the first two people to wear the necklace, I’d never have believed that, especially since Kellyn won a non-puzzle challenge. Bravo!
Yes, Another Section Just About Him
Dom, for all of his early mistakes in calling out Chris, in starting off as socially screwed, in making a fake idol to show in place of his real idol, has really calmed down and become a sensible player. While he wasn’t nearly the focal point of this episode that he has been in many past, I’d like to briefly call attention to the confessional in which he said he was going to try and step out of the spotlight insofar as picking who’d go was concerned. At this point, where there are still eleven people in the game, Dom can sit back and try and blend in. He’s already got some boots he can hang his hat on to give him a fine baseline for a résumé, and the more attention he calls to himself at this point will likely only haunt him down the stretch. Again, hiding in plain sight isn’t a bad strategy, just ask Sandra Diaz-Twine. But knowing when to do so after making a few moves versus playing that way the whole game… that’s what separates fine from good, good from great, and great from legendary. Now, which of these categories will Dom fall into? Only time will tell.
A Closing Thought, Dearest Readers
A Call Against Youth
Putting aside Michael and to a lesser extent Laurel, I’d like to make a pitch against production’s decision to have one of the youngest casts in recent memory, if not in the show’s whole tenure. Coming into this season, there were six people older than thirty, and only two of those were older than forty. That being said, in my personal opinion, Brendan, Steph, Wendell, Dom, Kellyn, and (as of this last episode) Angela have been some of the more intriguing players this season. Furthermore, the three most power players currently are all in this group: Wendell, Dom, and Kellyn. Again, aside from the likes of Michael and Laurel, what are the other, more-youthful cast members doing? Donathan seems mostly content to live in Laurel’s shadow; Jenna, Chelsea, and Sebastian haven’t done much of anything that we’ve seen; Desiree seems so close to being impactful, yet has just followed Kellyn’s lead; and Libby, this week, did nothing to try and shake up the game. Even Laurel, for as much as I like her and see a player in her, hasn’t truly done much of anything to affect this season’s trajectory.
Now, I understand age does not always equal wisdom and strategic chops—Joe Del Campo and much of the MvGX cast reminded us of that—but to completely eradicate a balanced age difference seems a drastic step. Again, going to back to MvGX, while many of the older tribe floundered, we got a great player in David as well as others who (while not impactful as David) all showed various strengths in Ken, Bret, and even Jess and Chris. Having the difference between generations, I think, is key to Survivor. Beating a bunch of twenty-year-old bros and sorority-esque ladies is chill and all, but I don’t think it speaks as much to the whole “social experiment” aspect of Survivor if age groups aren’t fairly represented (the same, of course, needs to be said for racial minority groups on the show, as well).
I know Pitman wrote his article before HvHvH about how forty is probably too old to win Survivor, just looking at it statistically. Yes, the numbers don’t lie in this regard, but if the show continues to cast like they did this season, a forty-year-old winner will not just become improbable, but impossible. I’m still holding out hope that someone will break Bob Crowley’s record for the oldest winner ever, because that idea sounds interesting to me as a viewer. Diversity is interesting. If Survivor won’t consistently do this with race, it could at least keep age from falling by the wayside, too. So, in short, cast fewer Jennas and Sebastians. I want more Lauren Rimmers, David Wrights, and Chrissy Hofbecks. Hell, where are our Rudys and Yau-mans these days? That’s what I thought. Thank you.
Alright, friends. That’s all for this week, and I just realized, much to my shock, that my draft team was not the first one eliminated! To my greater shock, Ben, whose team I thought was surely destined to be one of the top contenders this season, is the first team eliminated (sorry, man). Shock again, was I, that Team Ghost is still unscathed as is Pitman’s! Wow, he’s going to win again…
Anyway. Boot thoughts… this week could be a little tougher, I think, as while I respect Michael not assuming he’ll get another shot, I don’t think he’s quite done with this one (though he’s close). Other than that, the preview shows Des getting substantially more content as she tried to rally something, so I’ll group her, Angela, Jenna, and, I guess, Seb as people who could potentially fall (Michael, too, is obviously in this group). Still, Naviti seems pretty in control, and even if Des tries to go against the grain, I think she’d be targeted over the likes of Angela and Seb… so if not them and if not Michael, Des or Jenna? Des might try to stir the pot some (hopefully, anyway…), and Jenna has an obvious strong connection to Seb and at least a marginal one to Michael. I think Team Ghost loses it’s first member this week—bye, Jenna. Yay, Malolo Pagonging 2.0…
Dan Otsuki has been watching Survivor religiously since season two, and is a recent graduate of the University of Puget Sound, where he double majored in English and Religious Studies. He's also applied to play on the show every time he's been able to do so.
Follow him on twitter: @DanOtsuki