This was, particularly in the post-IC scrambling period, a great episode of Survivor. And Penner nicely encapsulates the meat of why, in the desperate maneuvering that comes after two straight twists knock some of the best strategic minds off balance, Survivor continues to work: "There are two ways to play the game: 'I like you, so I'm not going to vote for you,' or 'I'm sorry I like you, but I've gotta vote for you, because I want to go further.' We have two different philosophies, and it's a war!"
The central drama in the episode is Yul and Penner's two-pronged attempt to persuade Cao Boi and Flica to vote with them, against Cecilia (instead of Becky). It's a hilarious sequence, in which classic Myers-Briggs Thinking (T) people try to use logic to sway classic Feeling (F) people to their side, with mixed results. Some people complain that Survivor focuses too much on in-camp strategy, but it's the strategy that brings this fundamental clash of outlooks into focus.
Cao Boi and Flica both talk excessively about their "vibe" with the other people. They're delighted with the switch down to two tribes, because now they're finally around people they feel comfortable with (each other and Ozzy, mostly). Flica complains about just wanting to play, not wanting to think, not wanting to be "fake." Cao Boi laments all the thinking and scheming he's seeing. Meanwhile, Yul, Becky, and Penner initially look to be in solid strategic shape, until the IC-winning NuRaro tribe whisks Candice, whom they'd been counting on as a solid vote, to Exile Island, preventing her from attending Tribal Council. On a now eight-person tribe, the Yul-Becky-Penner group suddenly needs two more votes to stay afloat. Enter their former tribemates Cao Boi and Flica, and their feelings.
In the end, Yul is successful in explaining the need for numbers to Cao Boi, who in turn brings in Flica (as far as we can tell from the edit). But the battle of philosophies is fun to watch, especially Penner's lengthy attempt to compare the game to something Flica might grasp... like a chess match! The awkward arranged marriage of Penner's articulate persuasion with Flica's non-commital grunts, punctuated by Penner's final, desperate nod, as if to say, "Please, just say pretend this is sinking in, and say yes, so we can get back to not talking to each other," is one of the episode's highlights.
End of an error: While the ethnically divided, four-tribe experiment was not without its merits, it thankfully went away in this episode, at seemingly just the right time. Four tribes is one too many. (Note to future contestants: If you find a twist particularly annoying, start throwing challenges to exploit it, and production will end it, post-haste.) Having the schoolyard pick to form the new tribes, and forcing representation from each of the four original tribes, also was a clever way to integrate. People generally ended up with other people they wanted to, creating new pan-ethnic alliances. The bulk disparity between the men of NuAitu and NuRaro is interesting, as is the formation of a potential strategic superpower with the combo of Yul and Penner (and, as we note below, Becky).
Hidden Becky: Becky received precious little visibility in this season, but the initial alliance-making in the post-switch Aitu proves that she was far more strategically active than the edit otherwise showed. With Yul firmly in her alliance, she approached Candice, then Penner, to form a solid four. Becky did this. Not Yul, not Penner. Most frustratingly, while she was doing all this, the camera focused almost exclusively on Candice, who was just receiving and agreeing to this arrangement. Becky's prize for this? She gets to be the target of the opposing alliance, for being too sneaky. Her overall lack of edit still sucks, but at least this brief glimpse showed something more than just cheering Yul on.
No repercussions for Ozzy's thrown challenge: The switch mechanics were complicated, but had Hiki lost and booted Nate in Ep2, Ozzy and JP still would have been split up at the switch. Brad picked JP first, Penner picked Ozzy with his second selection. It seems highly unlikely Billy would have been picked before either of them, so there's no plausible scenario in which Ozzy and JP could have ended up together (which would have given Ozzy a strong ally). From Ozzy's perspective, that's the only way throwing the challenge could have hurt. Had Billy and Cecilia both ended up on NuAitu with Ozzy, there's still no guarantee they'd stick together, especially if Candice is in the other alliance.
Finally, a decent use for Exile Island: Even though the idol has already been found, the decision to have the winning tribe exile someone, forcing them to miss Tribal Council, was a welcome change. Besides the obvious protecting that Candice being voted off, it also forced Yul, Becky, and Penner to scramble, to come up with additional votes for their alliance. Admittedly, this same twist happened the previous season, in Panama-Exile Island, but it was still unexpected here, in part because the four-tribe format had reversed expectations, since the IC-losing tribe had picked the first two people for exile. A drama-producing change, which also seems like a more fair use of Exile than as exclusively a hiding place for idols.
Queen Parvati, revisited: This episode is apparently where every young female Survivor contestant decides "I want to play like Parvati!" Surrounded by buff dudes in the post-switch Raro, Parvati announces in confessional that the A-level flirting is about to start. "It's what I do best!" (Apparently intended in its original, Tiggerific, context.) Yup, that means: "That's a lot of meat. I'll bet you could eat that whole thing yourself" is what Parvati does best. No seeing through that! Admittedly, her targets seem quite eager to have their "blood" sucked, but really, this "strategy" has always seemed as empty as the sentiment behind it. The real tragedy of this episode is that we don't see her trying to flirt with Brad or JP.
Yul's "fight" tactic in the IC: It didn't work, although Yul deserves credit for trying something new and different. It might have helped if Ozzy had deigned to join in, instead of hanging Cao Boi out to, well, get soaked. But the real problem with Yul's idea is that in preparing to get tackled, he lowered his upper body into a hand-to-hand combat stance, and with it, 30 lbs of sandbags came that much closer to the water. Cao Boi did go down first, but in effect, Yul's posture of choice probably gave the other tribe an assist. Don't try this at home.
Flica's dwindling flame: Even though we're firmly in the strategy/playing the game hard camp, we try not to begrudge people playing Survivor "for the experience." But if you agree to play a game that (as you ought to be aware) involves voting people out every 1-3 days, we'd appreciate it if you don't express your joy at the experience as "I don't want to get voted off! Oh no! What do you do? I don't know what to do!" or "I don't know... uh!... It's so hard! I'm like, ahhhh!"
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Cecilia Mansilla
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