This. This episode. This is why Survivor is the greatest show on television and has been for coming up on 20 years. On the heels of an important conversation on race last week was an equally impactful dialogue this week about gender. We’ve been trying to tell Jeff for years that the show doesn’t need too many twists and gimmicks because its players will always deliver, and these big moments showcase exactly why. Give them the space, and they’ll fill it. It’s these raw, real, and emotional interactions between humans that built the foundation of this show, and if you weren’t left feeling a certain way after these last two episodes, then I don’t know what to tell you. I guess I’d tell you to just go rewatch the last few episodes of Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers and wank it to Ben playing all those idols and winning the fire-making challenge because you’ve clearly lost sight of what makes Survivor special.
Lauren, Tommy, and Dan didn’t expect to come back to camp without Jason, but having to face that reality, Tommy and Lauren especially puckered their lips for Lairo. Learning in exit press that the four Vokais went into tribal council planning to blindside Aaron, they couldn’t really be upset with him for not flipping on Lairo, but I think it was smart of them to pretend that they were so scorned by what happened — to pretend that they were genuine about working with at least Missy and Aaron. The other smart ploy was to pin the target on someone else in the minority, and that sitting duck was Dan.
Oops, I think that subtitle was supposed to go somewhere else.
I later laughed at Tommy checking out the chickens asking, “Which one’s Dan?” to determine which was next on the chopping block. Dan’s most memorable storyline has been, unfortunately, his touchy-feelyness which we got another glimpse of in the night. Lauren and Tommy jumped on the “dump Dan” bandwagon hoping to just survive one more vote until the merge. Missy, however, being the astute assassin that she is, saw right through them and knew that the better plan was to split up the potential power couple over the “irrelevant” Dan. Thus, she set her sights on Tommy which would still leave Lauren’s ability to bring in more Vokai women while forcing her to be closer to Missy in Tommy’s absence.
One other Vokai moment I’ll comment on before moving on to Lairo for the rest of the recap was the scene between Lauren and Tommy as they talked in the morning over what to do about their predicament. Tommy, visibly shaken and scared, took comfort from Lauren who reassured him that they’d persevere. Given the later talks of the episode, this was a neat role reversal as women are often painted to be the more emotional players (like it’s a bad thing ... ), where in this exchange, it was Lauren who had to talk Tommy down off the ledge and remind him they were still in the game.
I feel like we’ve seen more women cry than men on the show, yet I doubt the statistic stands that measurably more women have cried on Survivor than men, because what stone-cold sociopath wouldn’t break at some point during the entire game? Even when men have shown these emotions, they even less often do so publicly — one of the few times I can remember someone being consoled was when Coach broke down in front of Tyson after he took a beating at an early Villains tribal council (or when Rob collapsed and Probst rushed to his side). No jabs at him or teary-eyed Tommy here — nothing wrong with getting emotional when you’re under such high stress — again, I thought this Lauren-Tommy talk was simply a positive preview of the upcoming discussion of individuals being allowed to be who they are and not having to conform to society’s supposed gender norms (i.e. women cry, men no-cry).
DO YOU KNOW HOW TO FLINT?
There’s the correct subtitle spot.
Lairo lamented its own stormy night as Janet asked that question above that made laugh. Bro, do you even flint? Jamal, evidently, did not know how to flint and pushed Kellee away as she tried to help him start the tribe’s fire — fueling an unwanted fire between them. Later, Jamal argued with Noura over her rice portions, and while people being annoyed with Noura isn’t new, I felt this negative portrayal of Jamal was an odd juxtaposition to his edit last week. He started off rough with the Molly boot episode then found redemption with the idol find and powerful words last week, yet here Jamal was getting buried by the edit once more. It’s rare that Survivor strays from the black-and-white edit of players, so while Jamal didn’t come out looking great at the top of the hour, I’m glad the show’s telling a multi-dimensional story for a change.
With the latest aggravation, Noura pushed once again that it was time to rise up and stop cowering to Jamal, suggesting it was time to “play the woman card” which was swiftly squashed by Janet, who felt it was too early to make a move on Jamal when they had Detective Dean still snooping around the place. Soon, too, Janet would have other things to worry about.
Janet was “randomly” selected to be the next to visit the Island of the Idols where she’d find Boston Rob and a busted-up Sandra. Clearly, the construction of their shelter outside the snug was not easy work.
This week’s lesson was about calculated risk, Rob emphasizing that, “You don’t make moves without knowing why you’re making them.” This one seemed especially silly as Janet was given the chance to play a game to win the “advantage” of getting to leave a tribal council early — thus, not voting — at the risk of, get this, not voting. Being the wise woman that she is, Janet saw through this bullshit “test” and decided not to go for the game, which at first seemed to upset the almighty beast, Boston Rob.
But the dramatic drum beat was all a façade as Rob’s face showed a smile after Janet explained her (correct) rationale for not wanting to play the game. This made Janet the first to ever decline Rob and Sandra’s offer, receiving her much praise from the titular idols. The whole thing is contradictory to last week when they applauded Elaine’s boldness and now were commending Janet’s caution. Basically, whatever fucking narrative the show wants to spin is what makes air, much like the clip of Chris giving up his immunity to face Rick in fire — a brilliantly, bold strategy unlike the “dumbest move in Survivor history” of Erik giving away his immunity. I guess the game is all about results.
Sandra’s closing comment about how the winner will be a woman and Rob’s response of not betting against her because he was “born at night, but not last night” should also be a huge hint of this season’s ultimate results. The edit has been weighted with woman empowerment, and from the first few minutes of the premiere, Janet played a large role in that story. At this point, it’d be a little ridiculous to drop so many hints only to have them mean nothing (although that’s not out of the realm of possibility for Survivor), so I’m feeling confident now that no man will be emerging as the Sole Survivor at the end of this one, and of the women, I once thought Janet’s story was more of a supporting role, but with Sandra’s assessment, holy shit this woman might be the one. Pat, can you believe it?!
“We need an older winner,” Sandra said, and I couldn’t agree more. Not that age should be the judge of a Survivor’s strength, but more diverse demographics are simply better than familiar-looking faces. Survivor shouldn’t have “a type” — the idea of “it could be anyone” makes the show so much more exciting.
IMMUNITY – PUT THE THING IN
That’s it. That’s how close this challenge was.
The challenge, I thought, was pretty basic and boring because it combined the two things we’ve seen far too much of in this season’s challenges — basketball and puzzles. They literally just threw the two together and called it a day. At least the puzzle ended up being a photo-finish, and we got a great quote from temper-tantrum Tommy yelling, “Put the thing in!”
Thanks, Debbie. You always leave me satisfied.
Much like with the Molly vote, which ended up being a blindside, Jamal was overconfident here that Dean was done. Honestly, he should have been. Dean will be a totally rogue player at the merge with no allegiance to anyone, and already being “hard to read,” that will make him doubly dangerous. Another appropriate option would’ve been Noura for being such a loose cannon, but Jamal calmly stated he wasn’t going to vote emotionally that way and was feeling the safest he ever felt going into tribal council ... DUN DUN DUN (or Dean Dean Dean ... ).
Jack and Jamal told Dean that everyone was voting for Noura, after which Dean added that he’d owe them his ass in the game. However, that ass was about to belong to someone else. This is where Kellee came to play, setting off a major string of dominos for Dean and everyone else.
Kellee had an epiphany and found a way she could play the idol she so desperately didn’t want to let go to waste while coming out still squeaky clean. She realized that if she gave Dean her idol to play, he could stay and keep their mutual friend connection intact, and she could eliminate one of two threats to her — Jamal or Jack — in the process.
Never before had we seen this strategy executed to completion — I believe the one time it was attempted was when JT gave his idol to Russell, and we all know how that went down, so it’s never been attempted again. By giving Dean the idol, Kellee was essentially asking Dean also to never reveal where it came from — the bigger risk, in my opinion, over Dean deciding to use the idol against Kellee instead. This was one of the biggest, boldest Big Moves™ we have ever seen on the show, and while that’s quite an achievement to 39 seasons into a show, I ... just can’t see how this doesn’t come back to bite Kellee. If it doesn’t, she’s one lucky lady. She can still recover if it does, since who really cared about Jack? But, she’ll face a much tougher road to the end.
On that same topic of calculated risk, I think there was way too much here compared to reward. I don’t believe Jack or Jamal were detrimental enough to Kellee’s game to go for such a big save with Dean, and you can never trust someone 100% in this game, but that’s what Kellee requires from Dean now, 100% trust. If at any point he gets a bad feeling from Kellee — or just feels he has no other Hail Mary to make — Dean could blow up her game in an instant. Giving Dean an idol and telling him to vote out Jack while also convincing Noura to vote for Jack “in case of an idol” was just such masterful manipulation and truly innovative game play that I hope to all that is holy that this doesn’t blow up in Kellee’s face later. If she can reach the final three with this on her resume, then kudos to Kellee on being named Sole Survivor.
This will go down as one of the most iconic tribal councils ever, and the craziest thing about that is that it has no correlation with the two idols played — however, that helps.
Initially, lots of talk came out of Noura’s mouth about Dean not being someone she felt super comfortable with, and knowing his name had just been thrown out as the vote, Dean then threw Noura’s into the mix by exposing her earlier plan to vote out Jamal. Jamal then spoke out about not feeling confident — contrary to what he said earlier about feeling the safest he’d ever felt — and explained that it was because of the fear of a women’s alliance, sparking one of the most powerful conversations ever witnessed at tribal council in which all four women in attendance participated ... perfectly.
Gender bias has become an increasingly talked-about topic on Survivor in the past few seasons and it’s not a coincidence that it’s been the same conversation of society outside the game. That’s Survivor: a “microcosm of America” as Karishma described. It has been and always will be, and that’s what has made these two decades of Survivor’s run so incredible because while it is reflective of real American culture, it also has this huge freaking twist of having to vote people out of it. The players recreate society as they know it on a small scale and then boot people from it. Watching how they choose who those people are is what makes the show unlike any other.
Jamal didn’t mean to exactly say “the women will work together because they’re women” but I’m absolutely glad he inspired conversation of gender bias in Survivor because it’s so relevant and long overdue on-air. Kellee nailed it — we never hear fear of a “men’s alliance” but almost every season there’s uneasiness of when women work together, yet we’ve only seen a women’s alliance successfully work out twice — once with the Black Widow Brigade in Fans vs. Favorites and again in One World where the genders were literally split by default.
When women play the game aggressively, they get called either Parvati 2.0 (who gets voted out) or a bitch who then can’t win, and when they don’t play aggressively, they get labeled a goat so they also can’t win. What the fuck are they supposed to do, then? We also see inherent bias against them for being “weak” or “emotional,” and oh, if you’re a mom, well then just give up before the game gets going. There are so many more obstacles women face than men in Survivor, especially early in the game, and with the show being reflective of the world like it is, that sadly isn’t a surprise.
This talk evolved beyond just the context of Survivor as each woman shared her own personal experience with and feelings toward women's empowerment, Janet having a particular powerful speech having lived the most years of it and coming to learn that strong women are supported by both strong men and other strong women, a strong statement itself, saying we’re strongest when we surround ourselves with other strong, supportive individuals.
I feel bad for any Survivor fan who wasn’t moved by this tribal council or that didn’t get it because it was honestly one of the most inspiring and culturally relevant the show has ever seen. Some may look back and go, “well, Lairo did have a women’s alliance at one point, so Jamal was right and this whole thing was nonsense” but that’s far from the takeaway. That’s the stigma, women working together because they’re women. We saw far from the total amount of footage from the formation of that Lairo alliance, and I highly doubt the very first idea that popped into their minds was “I see other women — we should work together because we are women,” being closed off to any other opportunity.
No, they learned about each other, found out they gelled, and then it was by those circumstances that the women were working together. To Kellee’s point — how long did it last? I mean, my god, when did we let Rupert logic become gospel? “Men are getting voted out, so there must be a women’s alliance.” Oh, please.
After this brilliant, beautiful dialogue, we still had a vote to get to, and one that was full of surprises itself. Dean played Kellee’s idol as his own, and with a wise defensive move, Jamal played his, but on — of all people — Noura??? That baffled me, and I thought, “Oh my god, Jamal is going to go because he played his idol on Noura and not himself ... you can’t script this.” I still can’t comprehend what Jamal was thinking. Dean was safe, so Jamal wanted to make Noura safe, but then who was Jamal planning to get rid of in her place? I would have assumed Noura to be the next most expendable after Dean, but what Jamal ultimately got was the loss of his #1 ally, Jack.
Jack has to be the most under-edited boot thus far, and he may stay that way the rest of the season, also being buried in this monumental episode that was hardly about his boot at all. Jack was initially paired with a “king” and a “queen” so I suppose it was his fate to never be anything more than the “jack.” He was young, fun, and happy-go-lucky, but that’s all I really got from him. I think he had potential to be a bigger character in another cast, but this one was just so strong that the deck was stacked against poor Jack. Congrats on jury!
Side-note: Rob and Sandra are totally getting jury votes. Why else would production extend what would’ve been a standard 10-person jury to include a pre-merger? The only explanation is that Rob and Sandra will be jurors, and they can’t have 12 jurors with the potential 4-4-4 deadlock, so 13 it is. In the good old days, reaching the jury stage meant something. Now we’re just one step closer to everyone being on the jury. I mean, surely it’s going to happen on 40 ....
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
The merge ... I don’t know, man, I’ve got nothing. I don’t think anyone is safe. We’ve got physical threats, strategic threats, social threats, mixes of two or all three, and even people that no one takes seriously like Karishma or Dan are people that could be viewed as the expendable, agreeable first merge boot that tends to get sacrificed in these large merge tribes. Two back-to-back episodes next week is going to be wild, and I don’t think I can even begin to predict what’ll happen. Just don’t let it be Noura.
Kellee – Kellee and Janet were so far above and beyond as the stars of this week. I’ve talked about Kellee’s move being potentially too big, but I was so impressed she had it in her to go for it, and on top of that, we had her break the glass ceiling of tribal council to start one of the biggest “real talks” ever on the show. If a woman’s winning, I think someone like Missy is going to end up too big of a threat, Janet will be more of the heroic inspiration than the winner, and a big character like Karishma has already faced too heavy of criticism — I think Kellee’s the queen candidate. She’s been a consistently-shown player with great insight and with her portrayal at this tribal council, the show’s given her lots of fans — her visit to Island of the Idols gave her a breakout episode, but this one blew that out of the water. Right now, I think the crown is Kellee’s for the taking.
Janet – I never would’ve guessed Janet would be the first woman who went topless this season, but talk about woman empowerment – that’s power right there. Given the long history of women, especially older women, on Survivor, not a soul had seriously high hopes for Janet — maybe an ironic or “against all odds” winner pick here and there, but I’d love to see someone’s pre-season write-up of why Janet would be the Sole Survivor written with 100% sincerity. I doubt many would’ve believed it, but here we stand with Janet after watching her break so many molds and barriers, showing what it is to not just be a strong woman but a strong individual inside and outside of the game. Her story is inspiring, and not only that, she’s actually one of the best players of the season. No one wants her out, she’s at the core of several connected people, and now she’s reached the merge where she should remain an unseen threat for who knows how long. I actually see a way for Janet to win, and while I’m rooting for a lot of people left, I think I’m rooting for her the most (well, okay, maybe after Noura) for the simple fact that if she wins, she’ll have blasted through Survivor’s own glass ceiling like a rocket. COME ON, GOD. COME ON, JANET!
GOODBYE TO ONE OF THE GREATEST
If you weren’t moved by tribal council, then you 1000% were at least moved by this post-show memorial or else you just literally do not have a soul.
Rudy Boesch is not only a Survivor icon but an American icon, and I’d be doing a disservice to his memory by not saying a few words about his lasting legacy. Rudy’s death is heartbreaking, but the timing of it before this particular episode and his connection to it is, to me, among the things in life that make you feel like there’s some greater force in the universe than any of us are aware.
All this talk of breaking the mold and seeing through stereotypes — Rudy is bar-none the epitome of that. Almost 20 years ago on the island of Borneo, the 72-year-old ex-Navy SEAL was marooned on an island with 15 strangers who led drastically different lives than he did and held opposing beliefs that he didn’t agree with, yet Rudy accepted them all as equals and was determined to find his people among them.
One of the most beautiful relationships Survivor has ever seen was also one of its first, between Rudy and Richard Hatch. I wonder if these two were actually cast specifically to have a lot conflict with one another given Rich’s sexuality and lifestyle opposed to Rudy’s — I believe I’ve read Mark Burnett admitting to Rich being their obvious first boot — and I almost hope that’s true as to make their unexpected story even more incredible. I was too aloof as an 8-year-old at the time to understand it entirely, but I’m sure people thought they’d butt heads, and I’m sure Rich too worried a little about what Rudy’s reaction would be when he found out Rich was gay.
When Rich came out to Rudy, Rudy admitted he didn’t agree with Rich, but he wasn’t going to let that take away from any of the value Rich had to offer as a tribemate and an alliance member, also leading to one of the most funniest lines of the show when he admitted he liked Richard a lot, but “not in a homosexual way, that’s for sure.” Three years later, Rudy was plopped in Panama with the big bearded hippie in the tie-dye shirt, and he had the same, honest reaction: “I want to work with this guy.” Rudy Boesch saw through every single stereotype society had placed on these two individuals, labels and images that were not in line with his own lifestyle, yet he wanted to form a connection with them simply because of the impression they made on him as human beings. Rudy is famous for telling it like it was as much as seeing people for who they were.
It’s really as simple as that, putting stereotypes and preconceived notions about people aside and giving yourself the chance to learn about them as humans, seeing what each unique person brings into your life. That falls so much in line with what we witnessed at tribal council this week, and imagining Rudy involved in a conversation like that, it’s clear as day to picture him in support of saying to hell with someone’s gender, race, orientation, or “I dunno” what else and instead letting their actions speak for their character.
I’ve mentioned this in weeks before: the foundation of the show is built on human relationships, and Rudy is nothing short of a legend — perhaps the biggest legend — in regards to that. Rudy possessed the gift to see people in their purest form and appreciate them for it, regardless of whatever disagreements he may have had toward some of their choices in life. If this world was a little more like Rudy Boesch, it’d be a brighter place, but it’s a brighter place still having him lived in it for almost 92 years.
Thank you, Rudy, for personally changing my life forever by making Survivor the experience that it was and thus what it was allowed to become and bring into my world. Without Rudy, the OG fan favorite millions of people tuned in to see each week, I don’t know if we’d have a show today. Many say, myself included, that the show wouldn’t have continued had it not been for the impact of Richard Hatch, but equally in part for its success was the man that stood right next to him for 38 days, the ultimate supporter – the Survivor, the man, the icon, the great hero, Rudy Boesch.
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser