In fan rankings of Survivor seasons, Palau often slots in as one of the top overall seasons. The fans doing those rankings obviously don't remember Episodes 7 and 8, a.k.a. the death rattle of Ulong. These episodes are, to put it mildly, sloooooowww and extremely thin.
It's two hours of just sitting at a picnic table, tapping your fingers impatiently (as Tom literally does), while Ulong teeters on the edge of extinction. There is literally no strategy to be found. Koror has a power structure that can't be toppled, and they don't vote in either episode. There's so little going on, they have to resort to repeating the same segment, where various people fret about Gregg and Jenn's relationship.
But don't worry, it's not any better on the other tribe. Ulong just keeps losing, and only appears to leave their cave to either talk about losing, or continue losing. There are only so many times you can listen to Stephenie and Bobby Jon comment on how weird it is to have so few people left, how they're sick of losing, and how they didn't expect this to happen. Again, there's no strategy. How could there be? There's not even a vote in Episode 8!
To be fair, the scenery is nice, and the challenges look pretty. But if Ulong is proof of anything, it's that good looks aren't enough to sustain you. All is not lost, however: After eight long episodes, the pre-jury phase mercifully ends. Hallelujah.
(In unrelated good news for you, dear reader, this will undoubtedly be the shortest recap ever, because what the hell am I supposed to write about?)
Tom kills a shark that is also Ulong
Probably the main reason so much time — two segments in two episodes — is spent on Tom killing a shark is for the symbolism. It's subtle, but the animal on the Ulong tribe's flag is ... a shark! (See the top image above. In a sad development, Koror's appears to be a ray of some kind, and not a horde of rats.)
Obviously the reality of Ulong's demise is more complicated than that. Koror finishing off Ulong is clearly a team effort. Tom doesn't even appear in any of the last three immunity challenges that hammer the nails into Ulong's coffin. But Tom is the winner of the season and the leader of Koror, so we'll allow it.
There's also a fun bit of foreshadowing the way the shark kill is presented. It starts out as a hero segment for Ian, as he dives and brings back an enormous giant clam, upon whose meat Koror happily feasts. Ian gets a self-satisfied confessional, talking about how great it feels to be the provider.
Koror sets the bloody (?) shell from the clam at the water's edge while they gorge on clam, and that attracts sharks, just as the snake carcasses had a few episodes earlier. Ian and Gregg try to attack the sharks with sticks (with nails poking out of them) to no avail. Tom then steps in with the machete, and manages to land a lucky strike right in the gill slits (as he later explains to Rob and T-Bird on Talking with T-Bird [thanks to Alex Keisler for the tip]), which nearly cleaves the shark's head from its body. Ian and Gregg step in to finish it off, but clearly, the victory belongs to Tom.
As Koror then feasts on shark steaks, Ian then follows up with a chagrined confessional (filmed at the same time as his earlier, happier one) about how just as it looks like he's stepping up his game, Tom comes in and one-ups him. A neat little forecast of the finale.
(Then in the next episode, Tom kills a shower. Not sure what the symbolism is there.)
- The lamest firemaking ever: It's bad enough that Probst describes the Stephenie-vs-Bobby Jon tiebreaker at Tribal Council in Episode 8 as "an individual immunity challenge." (Clearly, it is not. Stephenie does not receive a necklace.) What's worse? It barely even qualifies as a firemaking tiebreaker! Stephenie and Bobby Jon are each given 25 matches (!) and are asked not to burn through a string, but to simply ignite an oil-drenched torch placed inches above their station. The entire thing lasts roughly 15 seconds. Bobby Jon appears to light his about 2 seconds after Stephenie does. As terrible as forced Final Four firemaking is, at least it's not this. (On the plus side, maybe things in Survivor *can* improve over time? Who knew!)
- Weekly check-in with Tom: During the reward challenge in Episode 7, Tom gets an extended confessional about how frustrating it is for him to sit there in camp and quietly observe as Gregg, Katie, and Caryn build Koror's SOS signal. As a viewer, you think, "Oh, that's nice, Tom really wants to compete." The problem is, he (and Ian!) then promptly sits out of the immunity challenge as well, giving him a three-challenge sitout streak. Obviously, this is just editing reminding us that Tom is the main character, and that we haven't heard from him yet this episode ... not an actual key piece of narrative. Which is fine, he is the main character. But also a reminder that there's not a lot going on at Koror.
- Oh, geez: Bobby Jon and Stephenie had to know Ulong was done for the second Probst revealed that the final stage of the Ep8 IC, after two grueling trips each into the ocean, would be not just a jigsaw puzzle, not just a jigsaw puzzle followed by a word search, but a jigsaw puzzle followed by a word search followed by unscrambling a three-word phrase. ("Victory at sea" ... not to nitpick, but they actually had that, it was the on-land part that tripped them up.) To be fair, there was probably no point at which Ulong would have been the favorite on that series of mental tasks, but why was something this complex saved for when just two people were left?
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