One week after an extended premiere that used its extra time to re-introduce its returning characters and comprehensively explore their motivations for and worries about playing against an elite field of fellow winners, Survivor: Winners at War's second week took a huge step backwards out of the gate, spending almost the entire first half of the episode on twists and trinkets. There were brief oases of character development, but they were scattered sparsely amid a vast desert of idol hunts, advantage searches, and twist exposition. The focus returned to the players in the second half, thankfully, but it's a worrisome development for a season that already appeared top-heavy in unnecessary twists.
The one segment of sheer, unadulterated joy was the construction and deployment of Tony's ladder. This scene was released as an online sneak peek (and partially appeared in the trailer last week) before the episode aired. It was still the highlight of the episode. There was a *lot* of other stuff going on, what with two-part idols being found and negotiated over in each camp, and advantages appearing out of nowhere and being sold. The post-IC plotting took up the second half of the episode, which made sense. But with the exception of the ladder scene, almost all of the first half was peripheral twist-related stuff: Showing Amber on EoE, showing Rob getting his fire tokens, Denise finding an idol with Ben, then splitting it with Adam, Kim finding an idol, then splitting it with Sophie, Amber and Natalie hunting for a new advantage on EoE, Natalie finding it, Jeremy buying it. It was a lot, it was very time-intensive to explain it all, and the track record for the split idols doesn't inspire much confidence that those will eventually pay off. Sophie all but promised that Kim's wouldn't, at least.
So why do it? Why waste all that time on stuff that may or may not ever be important, and rob us of who knows how many other ladder scenes? Apart from the idol find and Tony's vertical escapade (also a very-brief look at Yul's functional but far less death-inviting bamboo fruit-picker invention ), we didn't see Dakal at all this episode, which is a huge loss. They're clearly the fun tribe!
(Except when Adam is trying to put his torch in a hole at Tribal Council, of course.)
This is why forcing even more of the action onto Edge of Extinction is frustrating. Especially when the entire advantage hunt (1) failed, and (2) wasn't even necessary. Sure, the diversion of the clue's "just look at the first letter in each line, you dopes!" puzzle was fun, and it's nice that Amber and Natalie had something to do, but the advantage was "hidden" somewhere where it was 100% guaranteed to be found: the water well. At least one person is absolutely going to get water there at least once a day, if not more frequently, right? There was no way that advantage was going undiscovered on Day 5.
With that certainty, the episode's advantage find/sale also revealed a bit of the rigged mechanics of fire token "economy." Let's say you're voted out, and you give one (or more) fire tokens to an ally as you head for the boat. If you find the EoE advantage before the next challenge — as this one was guaranteed to be — that ally is then assured of having at least one fire token when you need to sell it ... which just so happens to be the same person you're most likely to offer it to. So either Rob or Jeremy was always going to receive this particular advantage, and each had the means to "pay" for it. Handy!
Sure, most episodes won't have *three* idol- and/or advantage finds to slog through. But they'll each have a fire token delivery, and all signs point to an Edge of Extinction advantage treasure hunt, and subsequent advantage "sale" occurring every week. If we have to cram a reward challenge in, too, will we even see one of the tribes if they're not involved in any of these transactions? It's a worry.
So ... more ladder scenes, please? What's the point of bringing back a cast of our beloved winners if we don't even get to see them?
Rehashed — er, "classic" — challenges
This week's sole challenge was a solid choice, one that hasn't been too overused. Highlights included Rob's control-freak tendencies, and the Tony-led effort to get into Sele's heads by cheering, both of which made the Sele collapse amusing to watch.
Even so, the prospect of an entire season of rehashed challenges might not be as exciting as the show seems to think it is, depending on how far back the show is willing to go in the challenge catalog. Thus far, we've seen one from Blood vs. Water (with a swapped-out final element from Game Changers) and one from Cagayan/Cambodia, both of which are from the latter third of the seasons covered by the winners. This does not inspire confidence that the challenges will indeed be "classic," at least not when we have players present who are representing seasons 2, 3, and 4.
If the challenges are all recent, despite a cast that's not, that would be a huge missed opportunity. Africa, the season Ethan won, has some fairly epic and rarely-seen challenges: rolling boulders, moving an entire house, herding goats, flaming archery, even a word search! Wouldn't something that hasn't been seen in almost two decades feel more fun and refreshing than something that's already been done twice (or more) in the last 5-7 years? If not Africa, then how about one season more recent: Who wouldn't want to see Boston Rob trying to gulp down fafaru again?
Chances are, though, since we're in the same location the show has used since Millennials vs. Gen X, and they have a graveyard of already-made challenge elements just sitting there, waiting to be used again, there will be a lot of the standard seen-in-Fiji stuff from the past seven seasons (much of which has already been repeated). For the sake of the longtime fans, let's hope the challenge palette is a little more adventurous.
Tony risked certain death climbing a flimsy concoction of string and bamboo for us! The least you can do in return is make him eat fermented fish!
The move that must not be named
From the comfort of the couch, there was one extremely obvious move that everyone on Sele should have been considering, but nobody ever said out loud: Vote out Boston Rob. (Why was *Parvati* Adam's go-to plan B, beyond the fact that Danni had already suggested it? That move makes very little sense.) How did this not come up? Were they all still scarred from Rob's intimidation of Ben and Danni on Day 2, after Danni mentioned Rob as a possible target?
For almost everyone not named Boston Rob, it's a good move. Yes, he helped people over the roller barrel two challenges ago, but this week's challenge loss was almost entirely his fault! "Keep the tribe strong" would require removing him for that, no? The "paranoia" Ben was struggling to describe at Tribal Council is 100% Mariano-generated, that's how he operates! Fear keeps people loyal. That's straight outta The Godfathah. Case in point: His demand that everyone empty their bags at Tribal Council, with which, for unknown reasons, everyone complied! (And he still missed Denise's idol in the process.)
For the new schoolers, a key facet here is that Rob is also the glue keeping the old schoolers together, and perhaps even the reason Danni was left out. He's closer to Ethan and Parvati because he's played a season with each of them (All-Stars with Ethan, Heroes vs. VIllains with Parvati). So the former three are a natural group, but none had any prior connection to Danni. Danni also got herself into hot water with Rob in the first episode, although they were theoretically back in an alliance together.
Get rid of Rob, though, and you break open the strategy tribe-wide, and create something more fluid and voting bloc-ish. Ethan becomes a free agent who can work with Adam or Ben or whomever. Parvati ... well, it's not that great a move for Parvati. Still, this should all be obvious to everyone on that beach.
The Sele non-Robs can be forgiven for not realizing that Rob is also extremely dangerous as the most likely beneficiary of largesse from EoE (perhaps after Jeremy), thanks to Amber being there. At the moment, Jeremy is the only person who might realize that, and telling this to someone else would require Jeremy to reveal his own advantage. That would be a huge risk for him, and he's already on the bottom. But the more control of the tribe Rob assumes, the greater the possibility that might feel like a worthwhile risk for Jeremy to take.
We'll see where this goes. The most likely scenario here is that targeting Rob really was talked about, but it just wasn't shown. This group is too smart and too aware of his record not to at least consider it. Some may have thought it was too risky with a razor-thin 5:4 new school/old school power margin. In that context, it made sense that everyone decided to just go along with the easy vote on Danni, since it weakened Rob's position to 5-3, and perhaps created the illusion of cohesion and unity. Also, the worst-case scenario would be taking a shot at Rob and not completing the job, so an easy, "appeasing" vote (as Michele put it) helps improve the numbers, and avoid facing the wrath of a wounded-but-still-present Robfather.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes
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