This episode really contains the core strategic move of the season (with perhaps a runner-up nod to the schoolyard pick-based switch back in Episode 3). From here on, everything pretty much plays out as a satisfying, if somewhat predictable, scrappy-underdogs-against-the-bad-guys narrative. But on re-watching, it's amazing to see how lucky Survivor was in being able to tell that story, because any number of things, just in this episode, could have swung the balance of power, and the season, and even Survivor history, in wildly different directions. These include:
No mutiny, no Ozzy?
Candice made the mutiny happen. Penner clearly only joined her in a split-second decision to follow his "closest" ally, and had she not mutinied, there's almost no incentive for Penner to do so. With no takers on the mutiny, Ozzy would probably have been the next boot for Aitu (okay, maybe Penner). From a production standpoint, the mutiny shook up the already calcifying alliances on each tribe, both of which were getting locked in for a seemingly imminent merge and standard post-merge Pagonging, with the Raro side of the merge still likely to pick up Penner and Candice. Without this switch, Ozzy was probably doomed, merge or no merge. While Ozzy had already demonstrated his challenge prowess and survival skills, his social game has thus far been non-existent, and had he been booted here, pre-merge, he might have been a tough sell as a game-changing player who merited a return invitation. No "just a f***ing stick" moment in Micronesia, no Amanda/Parvati's alliance dominating Micronesia, no post-merge South Pacific duel run. (We could also argue that with this move, Candice also earned her Heroes vs. Villains invitation, albeit to the wrong tribe.)
Mass mutiny, mass chaos?
The extreme other end of the mutiny spectrum would be if all of Aitu had followed Candice off the mat, forcing a de facto merge. (This would have been pretty hilarious, since it's not clear production would have had individual challenges ready to go in time.) Although, in all likelihood, had the merge happened here, either via traditional means or mass-mutiny, it would have also been a disaster for the Aitu four. Candice would have jumped to the Raro side, just as she did in the most public fashion possible in this episode, and Yul, Ozzy, and Penner would have been the immediate targets (even with his overpowered idol, Yul would not have had much bargaining capacity if Raro had supermajority numbers). That Candice stepped off the mat here should have signaled the remaining Aitus that exactly this future lay in store for them in a merge situation, which probably prevented a mutiny en masse (although, for the life of us, we really don't understand Penner's motivation in going back to Adam's tribe).
Scenario three: The Aitu Three?
The other major shift that could have happened here is that, after the mutiny and power shift had taken place as it did, what if Aitu had lost the immunity challenge, and been forced to vote someone out? The groundwork had already been to vote Ozzy out next without the mutiny, but would that calculus have held in a three-vs-eight scenario going into the next episode's pair of challenges? Or would Yul have wagered (probably correctly) that production was most likely to merge them, to avoid a repeat of Koror's having to sit out more than half its tribe at later tribal challenges in Palau? If so, Ozzy was the smart target here, before he got a chance to win individual immunity. Again, almost every alternative scenario here ends up with Ozzy and/or Yul being taken out in the next episode or two, had events not unfolded in exactly the way they did. That they instead lasted to the end, and split the jury votes so closely, is about as ideal an ending as SEG could have envisioned (apart from maybe a 3-3-3 tie for Yul, Ozzy, and Becky).
The power of four
While Aitu certainly appears in danger of dissolution here, in fact, the way this episode played out amply demonstrates why they're slight favorites to go all the way. First, the extreme emotions expressed after the reward challenge (Ozzy's gentlemanly sneering at Penner, the gleeful exiling of Candice) and at the reward itself, cemented a bond between the four that, probably until Candice stepped off the mat, had not really existed beforehand. Ozzy had been their probable next boot, and now, all of a sudden: "Our tiny tribe beat those evil Raros who betrayed us, and here are some pictures of baby Ozzy and Sundra's son, and some comfy robes, and ohmygodyouguyswe'refamilynow." Because this alliance will be forced, for their own survival, to stick together through to the merge and beyond, until they hopefully can get the numbers in their favor at final seven, they are now strengthened by this experience. In addition to the bonding under extreme pressure, Aitu's numerical disparity actually puts Raro at a disadvantage in challenges, because they're now forced to sit out their best challenge competitors in at least one of the two challenges, whereas Aitu gets to put Ozzy and Yul in every time. Just as Foa Foa would later show in Samoa, four versus eight (or three versus six in Tocantins) actually puts a lot of power in the hands of the minority.
Keeping the contestants off-balance vs. production interference
Whenever a game-changing twist like this happens, it always begs the question of how much of it was pre-planned, and how much was thrown in by the producers to save a particular contestant or alliance. Here, no doubt the mutiny offer had been planned in advance (otherwise the puzzle at the end of the immunity challenge makes no sense), but the timing was probably at production discretion. Clearly, they had footage in hand of Penner and Candice plotting to jump to Raro when the merge everyone was expecting to happen took place. So production probably said: why not let them do it now, and give the remaining Aitus a chance to whittle the Raro numbers down by tribal immunity before the actual merge? It was reasonable for the cast to expect a merge here, since in traditional 16-person seasons, the first six boots/18 days were pre-merge, then at day 19, the two tribes became one, and the game turned individual. This episode started on day 19. The difference here was that this was the first season in which there were more than 17 contestants remaining after day 3. So production had plausible deniability with the excuse of needing to purge more contestants before a merge. But it sure looked like they were saying "Not so fast, guys."
The challenge appreciation section
How cool were the two challenges in this episode? Neither has ever been attempted again, although it seems as if the reward challenge, with minor tweaks (one person per barrel, clip the barrel in to the underwater rope so that it doesn't float away during the lagoon traverse), could easily be done again. Having two people in the barrel, getting their heads clonked together with each bump and/or rotation, seems unnecessarily cruel and potentially injury-inviting. But letting one lucky person ride inside the swirling cylinder ought to be workable. The immunity challenge was particularly complicated , and thanks to Yul's gaming of the targeting system, probably won't be attempted again. But the show gets points for having a nautical-themed challenge in a nautical-themed season, if only for the opportunity to ask: "Why is that idiot Parvati standing up to paddle a boat?" Not to mention double points for having a mutiny-themed "puzzle" to tie in with the twist and episode title. (Honestly, though, did they really need the "clue"? There is no other possible one-word combination of the letters B-O-U-N-T-Y.)
Jury? Here? WTF?
One of the biggest fanbase controversies about this season's structure, at least at the time it aired, was that Brad (and the next two boots) became a juror before the merge happened. He was never a tribemate of Sundra or Ozzy, and thanks to the increasingly pointless Exile Island twist (as he noted), he was only able to talk to Candice for a few hours before she voted him out. Neither of the next two jurors was ever on a tribe with Ozzy, either. True, they'll get some idea of who these people are by observing them at future Tribal Councils, but one-way, silent observation seems like a poor substitute for actual social interaction. It's hard for a finalist to know how to answer a juror's question without ever having talked to that person before. And it's also difficult for jurors to ask meaningful questions of players they've never met. It would have been more fair to the finalists to go with a six-person, merge-restricted jury. Unless this was done to ensure that Penner got to make a jury speech. If so, we'll accept it.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Brad Virata
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