Let's be clear here: There was no Russell Hantz-style Trollery whatsoever in this episode. In fact, it was refreshing to look back and see how evenly edited the show used to be, and how the contestants used to be average, normal people. The pace and the theme were also quite different from recent (post-Samoa) seasons. The opening, with the cast being rowed ashore by Vanuatu natives, followed by the titular spears, then a lengthy traditional welcome ceremony, has not been repeated since. And it was nice to see the show actually presenting the native culture of the location, bloody pig butchering and all. Of course, that's a little more difficult when the culture you're presenting is "South Pacific" or "One World."
The other major departure from recent seasons, perhaps brought about by the nocturnal hike to camp, was that for most of the first day, the bulk of the confessionals had a "collective experience" feel. Most of the opening ceremony comments were about how the entire cast or the women's tribe (Yasur) felt as a group. The comments during the hike were also about how each tribe was doing. At least to our ears, this led to a closer bond with the viewer - you were part of whatever group was being talked about. In today's show, it's usually "I really hate that guy," which does little but identify someone you probably also dislike.
With all that said, someone still needs a prize, and this week, we're handing it to Chris, whose outstanding confidence in confessonials and at tribal council (coupled with his less-than-stellar balance beam performance) made quite an impression. "Women, they're thick as thieves.... Men, I can manipulate." "You don't outbalance 'em." "I'm not vulnerable at all." Chris seemed to consciously be channeling S1 Richard Hatch a bit. It wasn't Trolling, and it actually worked. Still, for lack of a better recipient, Chris is our first honoree.
Compared to recent seasons, this episode was a marvel of even-handed editing. By our count, every single contestant had at least one confessional. Despite nobody monopolizing the confessionals, however, one minor editing oversight was a relative lack of (quality) screentime for the booted contestant, Brook. Although that should be qualified as an extremely minor complaint.
Brook's boot was not only surprising because Chris had struggled so mightily in the immunity challenge, but also because we really hadn't been shown much of Brook's strategy. Among the younger guys, John "J.P." Palyok seemed to get the most confessional time, whereas Brook had just four, several of which were fairly generic (Rory annoys people, Chad is missing his lower leg). It's not nothing, but most of what was shown was not talking about the game. Which is somewhat ironic, since (as we vaguely recall) one of the older men's complaints about Brook was that he talked too much (and he was a huge Survivor fan). Ah well, we can't have everything.
One thing we didn't notice missing was the modern, antagonistic Jeff Probst, however. Probst was certainly there, guiding the tribes through the opening ceremony, giving play-by-play in the challenge "get moving... dig through!", and he even remembered Yasur's tribe name during the challenge (more than once, even). He also seemed much more supportive than modern-day Jeff Probst, telling Chris he "certainly gave it [his] all" after the IC. And at tribal council, he managed to draw opinions about Yasur out of the guys without badgering anyone. If anyone knows the undisclosed location where this Jeff Probst has been sequestered, please drop CBS a message.
One of the reasons Gordon Holmes picked this season for re-watch at this point was to compare and contrast with the just-seen One World season, which also featured a men-vs-women initial tribal split. And as Gordon pointed out in his recap, the same forces acting against the buff, young guys in One World were also in play here: Brook was seen as dispensable, because the challenges didn't really require brute strength, and besides, there were plenty of other buff, young guys to go around.
So it perhaps wasn't Brady's best move to not only retrieve the lucky spiritual stone from the greased pole, but also be one of the first guys through multiple stages of the first challenge. Maybe he'll wise up, and sandbag it a bit in future episodes. To compound his problems, however, he didn't even vote with his alleged alliancemates, as he made a stray vote against Rory instead of voting for Chris. On the plus side, at least he didn't spend the entire episode prattling on about being a federal agent.
It was a tough call here, but the opening Slitty has to go to Sarge, for pointing out to Chris that the older guys desperately needed to stick together and take out the younger guys, or risk being eliminated themselves. We suspect a number of the older guys were probably involved and/or thinking along the same lines, but that's what was shown.
In addition to that, Sarge had another, more subtle strategic play earlier, in which he finessed a discussion with John K, Brady and Brook about the boot target. The younger guys were going on and on about booting "the weakest link," and while Sarge gave them a non-commital answer on-screen, in his confessional he gave the impression that he'd agreed to boot "the weakest link," without telling them he wasn't talking about Chris. This semantic play is a nice touch, something that seems to be less common these days. Collectively, a solid Slitty win for Sarge.