This episode was a chilling vision of what might have been. Had Yul not parlayed his idol into power at the merge, we would have had a massive stack of episodes like this, dominated by Adam's dim-witted yet smug lack of game awareness, coupled with Parvati's spontaneously stumbling into strategy. And a near-complete absence of Penner's insightful narration. Thankfully, we ended up with what we did.
The fairly graphic sequence in which Parvati chopped her own thumbnail with the machete, then had it sewn back up by medical, seemed a bit long and unnecessary. Usually, medical only appears when someone's getting pulled from the game (except when Stephenie had her dislocated shoulder popped back into place in Heroes vs. Villains... after it was yanked out by one Parvati Shallow). But it did go a long way towards serving two goals: showing how well Becky and Sundra got along with Parvati, and repurposing Parvati as an underdog. Which was probably necessary for her reward win to not seem completely unrootable. Also: See? She couldn't have helped out around camp before, because she would have severely injured herself!
Missed it by that much
Penner and his wife, Stacy, lost the reward challenge by mere seconds. In fact, at the moment Probst calls the win for Parvati, both pair's flags look to be fully upright. Clearly, Penner's absence during the reward and the return of the rewardees (and while they were bringing back the food) went a long way toward costing him his position in the game. But what if Probst had called it for Penner, instead, or if Stacy had thought to wring out her hair into the bucket a few minutes earlier? We would guess that Adam would have been exiled, instead, and probably have gone home. Penner would have had the common sense to bring back extra food, winning himself the same goodwill. Especially if Stacy had brought Becky and Sundra along on reward with them. Would that have been enough? Hard to say. But it seems likely. Becky and Sundra really seemed to dislike Penner, but sharing an out-of-game-context reward like the one in this episode seems like it could have swayed them substantially.
A nice twist
The decision to have Parvati's dad, Mike, pick the two sets of loved ones to join them on reward, rather than the standard, peril-laden position, in which loved ones RC winners have to make this tough, unpopular choice themselves, was a nice twist. And by "nice," we mean: it totally absolved Parvati of any repercussions resulting from not choosing someone to accompany her. How nice! Not only did she barely win, but she only had to annoy one person in the process! And she got to bring back the excess food! Every novel wrinkle is coming up Parvati. There's no way this could possibly have been the result of on-the-fly producer manipulation.
This episode featured the only time we've ever been shown Ozzy discussing strategy with anyone since the merge (apart from when Yul told him he had the idol). And even now, he was mostly just agreeing with Yul. Really weird, since he's much more of a (attempted, anyway) strategist in Micronesia, and the next episode's preview shows him plotting with Adam and Parvati. Probably a poor job by the editors of building up a plausible case that Ozzy could win, unless Ozzy really had no plans of his own until the next episode (besides winning challenges, obviously). Then again, we did get another example of Ozzy wanting to not feed the ex-Raro people, which he views as strategy. Maybe that really was the sum of it.
The not-so-overpowered idol
For all the alleged power Yul's hidden idol has, the combination of both having to go to Exile Island to find it, AND not being able to transfer it except in camp (i.e. not at Tribal Council) actually creates massive disincentives to ever use it to save someone else. Yul knows he only has one shot to play it. If he does play it, he probably won't be given the opportunity to look for it again. So it's highly unlikely he would use it, for example, to save Penner. Even though having Penner around (even against the wishes of the majority) would better serve his long-term interests than, say, having Ozzy or Adam around. In this sense, the current system in which every contestant has the opportunity to find idols seems vastly superior to the Cook Islands version.
Foreshadowing! Cruel, cruel foreshadowing
When the rewardees and Penner had left camp, Yul, Becky, and Ozzy were left wondering if this is what it might be like in the last couple of days in the game. Were we the only ones saying, "Yes, please, let's just skip ahead to that, shall we?"
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Jonathan Penner
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