This was an interesting episode in several ways, and a frustrating one in a few more. Great challenges, tempered with odd production decisions, the pointless, lingering stain of Exile Island (which may have cost Ozzy the game), and some incredible jury management by Yul, despite no visible attempt by anyone else to do anything, the last episode's preview hype to the contrary notwithstanding. But it also presents an interesting contrast between the eventual top two, one that Yul and Becky both recognize. Ozzy is an amazing competitive powerhouse in the challenges, blowing away his opponents with ease. This allows him to, as Yul puts it, play "a straight-up game," which could endear him to jurors. In contrast, Yul is forced to work his social/strategic magic to win over jurors, whether returning hats, or making boot targets feel grateful to be going home next time, instead of immediately.
Three reward winners, including the actual one, who really wasn't
The "reward" challenge here was the best and worst of both worlds. An amazing, hilarious challenge, simple in concept, that both was fun to watch and gave great post-challenge visuals. Also a challenge that raised the question: Is there anything Ozzy can't win? (Besides Survivor, of course.) And yet, production still managed to cripple the post-challenge reward structure with odd choices.
First, unlike most individual reward challenges, Ozzy was not allowed to choose his reward companion(s). Here, Ozzy was robbed of the chance to take, say, Adam and Parvati, and try to forge a counteralliance with them. Worse yet, his "reward" included the requirement to exile someone, forcing him to punish Adam, who just missed the reward. So basically, the top three finishers all got the reward, but only the guy who did twice as well as everyone else had anything negative to accompany it. Had he had the traditional set-up, would Ozzy have exiled Yul and rewarded the Raros? Probably not. But he might. And since Ozzy lost because Adam voted for Yul, he might have a legitimate gripe that this one decision, largely out of his hands, was what cost him the game.
Ozzy, the non-strategist
Last week's preview made it seem as if Parvati and Adam would be hatching a counter-alliance with Ozzy. In reality, it amounted to Ozzy taking a nap in the shelter with Adam and Parvati present, and announcing "I don't know yet" when asked who he'd be voting for. Even if he (wisely, at this point) stuck with the Aitu Four and didn't allow the two remaining Raros to crack the alliance, he seemed aware that they had potential currency as jury votes, but still didn't make any discernible attempt to curry their favor. Frustrating, only because it makes Yul's eventual win seem tainted, since Yul is doing almost everything perfectly, but only barely ends up beating Ozzy. The power of the "straight-up game"?
Yul, the perennial challenge also-ran
The two main reasons Yul's performance doesn't get a high ranking by SurvAv for this season, relative to other winners, are (1) his four votes against at the merge, which admittedly was actually a bullet-dodging triumph, and (2) his low total in challenge wins. The second point, on re-watch, may be a little more galling, since he's actually been quite good in the last two immunity challenges, and was decent in this week's RC, but was easily outpaced by Ozzy. Ozzy's wins were certainly a part of Yul's game - by having a loyal ally who won challenges when it was critical for Raros to lose (here, and at the final five and/or final four, next episode), Yul was able to calmly eliminate the Raros in the most logical order. But at least so far on rewatch, Yul could have pulled the IC wins off himself, and ditched Ozzy, and ended up with one of the more dominant season performances. Viewed another way, Ozzy's challenge dominance, especially in this episode, has been pretty spectacular.
Parvati, the late-breaking social gamer
For the first eleven episodes, Parvati's influence on the game was virtually undetectable. She gave a confessional early on in Raro about ensnaring the guys in her web, but the only one she was shown snuggling up to was Nate, and then he and Parvati frequently voted for different people. She didn't even really appear to be playing the game until Day 29 or so, the day of the auction. Since that time, her chief accomplishment was getting Penner voted out before her. Of course, in doing so, and in pursuing an alliance with Ozzy, she attracted Yul's attention as a dangerous competitor, and was promptly voted out. Does two-plus episodes of mostly unsuccessful gameplay equal an invite to another season? Not for most people, but luckily with Parvati, it worked out. The gamer she became over the past two episodes actually succeeded in Micronesia, thanks to James's more-willing embrace of her advances. Maybe she was actually giving coquettish "I've got these boys wrapped around my finger" confessionals throughout this season, and they were just edited out. If so, we're grateful we were spared.
Yul, the jury management specialist (mostly)
A good portion of the latter half of the episode was simply a showcase of Yul's efforts at jury management: keeping the jurors and potential jurors happy with him. Perhaps the best was his approach in talking to Adam: essentially saying that both Raros were out of options, that Parvati was a bigger threat, and that he was happy to bring Adam along for one more Tribal Council, "if you want to keep going." Making it seem like Adam had an active role in choosing his fate gave Adam at least a small incentive to behave, and stay the course. Importantly, Yul presented it as a reward, and not a threat. Indeed, Adam's contrition after Yul called him out on saying "too much" to Ozzy, which left Adam fretting that he might be going that night, revealed just how desperately Adam was trying to stay in Yul's good graces. Perhaps a bit less impressive was that Yul gave roughly the same argument to Parvati. It's a bit hard to believe he got away with it, since it would be odd if she and Adam didn't compare notes, although if they did, it wasn't shown.
The only real misstep was Yul's statement at Tribal Council about returning Penner's hat. The version he gave in confessional, that returning something of sentimental value to Penner seemed like the least he could do, and that he hoped someone would do that for him, was vastly superior to his meandering Tribal double-talk about it serving both strategic and general friendliness purposes. Fittingly, Penner scowled in disbelief/confusion at that one. All in all, though, since no other person seemed to even be trying to make friends with the jury, Yul's efforts were worthy of the attention they received.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Parvati Shallow
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