Episodes 11 and 12 are pleasant enough, but don't have much going for them strategy-wise. Alex and Mookie pull out most of the stops over these two episodes, trying to turn things around, but find close to zero traction among the opposing alliance of the "Syndicate" six. It's as if there's a solid wall separating them from the endgame, as seen in the fantastic shot above. (Yes, it's actually a column, not a wall, but don't let the perfect be the enemy of the really good here.)
It's weird, because on the surface, the majority is a pretty loose coalition. Yau-Man doesn't have close connections to anyone except Earl (he's friendly with Cassandra, but mostly spends his time by the fire). Same for Stacy, who despite being in an alliance with Alex and Edgardo pre-swap, completely abandoned them at the merge, and now is mostly just hanging out with Cassandra because they're the only two women left. Boo has pledged his fealty to Earl until final five. Dreamz is of course Dreamz, but even he's starting to get tired of trying to play both sides. So really, the only solid opposition is Earl and Cassandra, who are tight with each other, and more or less get along with the rest of their group. Somehow this group of outcasts and misfits has become impenetrable. You ... well, you kind of love to see it. Huge credit to Earl for holding them all together for so long. But it's also pretty boring if you're hoping for Big Moves. (To be fair, those do finally happen in Episode 13.)
So while Alex and Mookie do their best to try to stir things up, nothing works. It's important to note here that from Boo's clue in Episode 11, the idol is somewhere near camp, perhaps not even buried. Nobody thinks to just go out and look for it, because there's no reason to believe it's not buried. (Earl eventually finds it at the base of a tree in Episode 13.)
For all the complaints about too many idols in the modern game, having the option to find another one is probably preferable to the strong-arm tactics Mookie and Alex try to deploy instead in Episode 11, and that may be part of production's impetus in reducing the idol-finding complexity. Yau-Man deals with the confrontation as well as can be expected, and the majority's sanctimonious "OmG tHeY lOoKed in HiS bAg!" collective response is a bit much. But the threatening manner in which Mookie and Alex try to browbeat Yau-Man in private also looks bad. Alex's more soft-power persuasion tactics in Episode 12 are better received, and logical, but fall on just as deaf ears as the previous attempts.
Maybe a couple of oft-arrogant knobs like Alex and Mookie aren't the ideal avatars for "see, this is why having more idols is good," but at least having unrestricted access to idols in camp is an improvement over the situation as the Bula Bula tribe knows it here. The majority alliance — and more accurately the men in the majority — have all the access to idol clues completely locked down. Yau-Man and Boo are likely to win most challenges, and can send one of their own (or Earl) to Exile. If, say, Cassandra or Stacy or Dreamz wanted to pull off a big move with the aid of an idol, they would also be SOL here. It's crazy Dreamz didn't tell Alex and/or Mookie that the idol was readily available near camp, but here we are.
Especially with modern hindsight, Earl's insistence on not splitting the vote in these two episodes is also pretty curious, in light of the possibility that another idol is out there, just waiting to be found. Again, everyone's nonchalance here is excusable, because every prior idol had been buried and required multiple clues to find (except Judd/Gary's one in Guatemala). Still, Earl's insistence that his alliance plops all six votes on Alex, after he'd had six full days to scour the camp area for the rehidden idol, seems spectacularly reckless. Earl was even gone at Exile for two of those days, and had no way to monitor what Alex was doing!
The funniest part of the Episode 11 muddy ball-launching challenge was of course Cassandra putting Earl in a choke hold, and later intentionally tripping Alex. Meanwhile Probst just shrugs and says it's up to the contestants to decide how physical they want to get. It's comical, because it's so asymmetric.
This is something Bob-Dawg complained about after the game with respect to the pillow-dragging challenge from Panama - Exile Island (as seen in the late, great "Who you running from, Ruth Marie?" thread at Sucks, which sadly appears to have disappeared): The show goads the contestants into escalating these physical altercations, but it's ultimately stupid, because you have these big, brawny guys who know damn well if they do anything in response to acts like these, they'll look like a huge bully, so they have to dial back their effort to 50% or so to avoid hurting someone. And it's hard for them to know where that cutoff lies. Not to mention that it seems pretty dumb to encourage people to be as violent as they like, especially when it's for (checks notes) a shower and a meal.
There need to be clear rules of engagement over this kind of interaction, and for it to be fair, the default should be minimal contact, like flag football (especially in light of Boo probably tearing his ACL, due to the questionable decision to have people making split-second direction changes on an intentionally muddy course). A big guy like Earl could easily have slammed Cassandra into the mud if he *wanted* to, but he knows he can't possibly do that, especially not in a social game, especially not to an ally, even though it's fine for her to do it to him if she can manage it. Same as if it had been Earl vs. a man who's smaller, like Yau-Man. This isn't MMA, and the host shouldn't have "Yeah, whatever"-ed Earl's concerns. Thankfully, Survivor has mostly moved away from this sort of challenge in recent years, but it took them a while.
The missing Tribal hike
One of the traditional shots of Survivor is the tribe hiking away from camp to attend Tribal Council. It's a fraud, of course. Sure, early on in the show's history (Borneo at least, probably also The Australian Outback) the contestants actually did hike all the way to Tribal. But in seasons like the recent ones filmed in Fiji, where camps and challenges and Tribal are all on different islands, that's impossible. So it's a staged, for-the-cameras hiking shot, usually done at sundown. And that's fine! There have been some really pretty shots done this way, and as the light wanes, it's a symbolic way of reminding us that someone's game is about to come to an end.
For whatever reason, this sequence has been AWOL for most of this season. In Episode 11, they decided to force everyone to haul the outrigger into the surf, to pretend they had paddled all the way to Tribal, which seemed ... a bit much. (Moreso when it was repeated in Probst's "Previously on ..." segment the next episode.) But in Episode 12, the hiking-from-camp shot finally made its glorious (?) return.
Obviously, it's ephemera. It's incidental. It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But still: it's nice to have an old friend back, even if you hadn't really realized it was missing.
The loved ones reward that wasn't
Episode 12's reward challenge (the biting hunks of pork off the bone challenge) was called "Hungry for Love," which seems weird since there was no mention of loved ones made during the challenge itself, and the reward winners (all three of them, ugh) don't even find out about their letters from home until midway through their river rafting trip the next day. Well, that's in part because right when this was filming (late November to early December, 2006), Fiji was undergoing a military coup (led by the guy who's still the current Prime Minister and President of Fiji, with whom Survivor apparently has a great relationship), and production understandably didn't feel it was safe to be bringing in random family members.
So Boo, Yau-Man, and Dreamz received letters from home instead of a visit. But this raises a bunch of questions, among them: They had *that* challenge scheduled as the loved ones challenge? Imagine Probst's narration: "Hi, friend or family member! Welcome to the (fake?) village where we held the meke contest! Now take a seat and watch your half-starved loved one gnaw some animal flesh using just their teeth! Win or lose, you may soon be able to hug them while they're covered in pork juices and/or shards of swine flesh! (On top of their normal unbathed odors!)"
A second question: Did the lack of loved ones also rob us of a decision? The raft probably wouldn't have fit three additional people, so maybe they went with an automatic top three winning reward format to fill the boat equitably, or something. Still, how much would have changed strategically if Boo had been the sole winner, then had to personally deprive people like Earl and Cassandra of the chance to spend time with their loved ones? Could Boo have become a more plausible boot target (before the IC at least)?
Fun fact: The river rafting trip goes through the same box canyon used for the whitewater rafting leg in the just-aired (2020) Eco-Challenge Fiji: World's Toughest Race, which featured Survivor's Ryan Opray and Mikayla Wingle (not shown) and SurvivorAU's Mark Wales and Samantha Gash (also not shown). Since we didn't actually see them, we'll just have to imagine they all noted various spots along the way as "Look, that's where Boo talked too much!"
- Yau-Man, the latter-day Kathy: It's striking how similarly Yau-Man's game in Fiji and Kathy's game in Marquesas played out. Both are close to the eldest player on their season, both are hard-working, competent in the outdoors, and surprisingly capable in challenges. But they're also basically lone wolves throughout the game, and as such, never really had a realistic chance of winning. Sure, if they had snuck through to the finals, they were well-respected and would probably have received a number of votes. But their games were pretty immunity-dependent in getting to the Final Two/Three.
Kathy never really had a close ally in Marquesas, unless you count Zoe, but rather maintained connections to various more-tight pairs (Paschal and Neleh, Sean and Vee). Yau-Man similarly has a working relationship with Earl (who's clearly more tight with Cassandra), but has very little else going on alliance-wise. This approach is tailor-made for the modern Age of Idols, but even then it's still pretty limiting. Despite these flaws, both make it all the way to the very last boot of the season, only to fall short right at the finish line. Then both come back for underwhelming (semi-) All-Star seasons shortly thereafter, then drop off the face of Survivor completely. Both deserve better than such a disposable career arc, but it's hard to overlook that their social game shortcomings probably limited their longevity.
- Mmmaybe on more Mookie: There were several times this season when Mookie pulled off some surprising moves, and seemed to intuitively grasp the game a lot better than many of the other recruits. And then there have been times like the Episode 11 RC, where you see Mookie getting irate at Yau-Man for not sling-shotting the ball directly at him. Mookie still manages to make three catches (to Dreamz's four), and Alex steals one after Yau-Man follows orders and fires one right to where Mookie wants it. Mookie still tantrums it up, of course. A very strong Rocky-berating-Anthony vibe there. No wonder Mookie and Rocky got along so well.
Still, Mookie faced more adversity than most. He attended Tribal in 10 of the 11 episodes he appeared in. The one time he escaped going, his tribe still lost the immunity challenge. He won just one of the 18 challenges he participated in (1/15 in team challenges, 0/3 in individual), despite being about Ravu's only consistent point-scorer in head-to-head matchups. Strategically, Mookie played hard and had some good ideas, and the go-for-broke approach he and Alex displayed when their heads were on the chopping block was admirable. All in all, Mookie would fit in pretty well on a modern season, but there are a fair number of times where he comes off as a bit of an arrogant, entitled dick. A lot of that is probably his youth (he was 25, still barely out of college). Maybe he's matured into more of an Andrew Savage type since then. He at least has the potential to be a male Asian-American villain, which is pretty rare on the show. (Alex also came across as a thoughtful, hard-playing gamer, and if not for his well-publicized arrest while the show was airing, might have been asked back at some point.)
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