Galu, having lost the numbers advantage with Shambo and John Fincher's flips in Episode 10, accelerates on its highway to oblivion over the three boots of Episodes 11-12. The Galus sort of try to resist, but nothing comes of it. There are also brief glimmers of Mick and Jaison awakening within Foa Foa during this time, but that also goes nowhere. It's the first stretch where it's truly Russell and Russell alone running the show, and ... that's about all there is to say about it. See us here next time! Peace.
Well, okay, there are a few things going on. Mostly, it's a
growing realization that, with Natalie and Shambo locked in next
to him, Russell has a clear path to the victory, if he just
tones things down and coasts to the win. Being Russell, of
course, he blows it by bullying everyone within earshot, from
Jaison to Natalie to Monica. Oh well. The real take-home message
of this stretch is: Boring Pagongings are still boring
Pagongings when the underdogs pull it off. And that outcome has
become all but inescapable, in part due to the way this season
Russell finally takes control
Russell's first real post-merge strategic move in Samoa comes in Episode 11 (final nine), when he ignores Shambo's new crusade to vote out Dave (because the chicken dream told her to), and decides to take out John — all ostensibly because John knows he has the idol, which is because Russell told him he did. (In reality, all of Galu already knew he had the idol, John had just hoped there might be another one, and by the next episode, everyone knows Russell has it, so he just wears it at Tribal Council.) It's an odd choice because John represented a viable side option for Russell, but it's one that locks in a traditional, straightforward alliance-based game for Foa Foa.
John had been proposing a much more interesting set-up, one like the scheme Dave Genat and Mat Rogers briefly cooked up in SurvivorAU: All Stars — with John and Russell both nominally part of separate alliances, but both secretly working together to go to the end, conspiring to whittle down each other's numbers. Instead, Russell decided to go Foa Foa Strong (plus Shambo), and just Pagong the Galus, starting with the guy he perceived as the biggest threat. Then again, Russell would probably lose to John in a final 2/3, especially with a heavily Galu jury. So it's logical choice, but it's also very vanilla. But that's about as much as you can hope for in season 19.
Interestingly, this is where intra-Foa Foa pushback against Russell also starts to build, and if Jaison had just gone the modern route of taking advantage of his just-won immunity necklace to shake things up on an odd-numbered vote at F9, things might have gone differently. But alas, Jaison was also firmly committed to the Pagonging strategy (more on that below), and when he and Mick are finally starting to question Russell's long-term strategy in the next episode, it's one round too late. And then when it's Monica, it's two rounds too late.
Anyway, in Episode 11, Mick reports the John plan to Jaison shortly before Tribal, and Jaison is incredulous, because the Foa Foas had just spent two full days promising Shambo they would help her vote out Dave. Jaison rightly points out that, just one Tribal after finally getting Shambo to flip to their side, they're *already* taking her vote for granted, exactly the same way Galu did. Jaison worries that she'll flip back to Galu after this betrayal, resulting in a 4-4 tie again. (Jaison's instincts are solid, he just underestimates how well Shambo can hold onto a grudge, whereas Russell accurately assesses that he can burn her with impunity this once.) Jaison demonstrates again he has the empathy and social awareness necessary to be a solid player, he just didn't quite put it all together in time.
The Mick and Jaison dilemma: Screwed either way
Jaison and Mick are both shown exploring options outside of Foa Foa over these two episodes, as the available Galu alliance options steadily dwindle. Nothing comes of it, and they eventually stay loyal to their hard-won numbers. It seems frustrating, especially from a modern audience perspective, because there are so many potential other paths. But in the context of this particular season, those paths quickly turn out to be dead ends, and pretty much all eventually lead back to the same outcome: staying with Foa Foa.
Again, in Ep.11, Mick and Jaison briefly worry about Russell's burning Shambo's loyalty at F9 by not voting Dave. Jaison learns early in Ep.12 that Brett and Monica see Russell and perhaps Mick as like jury vote-getters if it's an all-Foa Foa finals. The Galus incorrectly view Mick as the yellow tribe leader, and correctly pick out Russell as the strategic decision-maker. (Russell does dictate both votes in Ep.12, although the Dave boot should be credited at least partially to Shambo.) Monica tries pushing the Foa Foas to target Shambo, and while Russell appears to consider this, it's with Mick and Jaison (one round later) that the seed of concern really takes root. Shambo is an obvious threat to both Jaison and Mick for a spot in the final three, and Russell is also dangerous.
The problem is, had Mick and Jaison realigned with, say, Brett and Monica at final 7, they'd be in just as bad a spot as they already were (unless it was a final two). That's because the post-merge emphasis on original tribal lines has only been amplified by the Pagonging of the purple tribe, so getting to the final three with a Galu would be a losing proposition. So while in a modern season, with Russell now openly seizing control and dictating votes, the obvious move would be to blindside him ASAP. But to do that they need Galu assistance, and *any* Galu who reached the final three against Mick and Jaison — maybe even Shambo! — would have a huge advantage with an almost exclusively Galu jury. Brett could be a unanimous winner. Monica would at least have Kelly and Laura's votes, possibly also Natalie, Erik, Brett, and John. There's really no path left, unless they can somehow get there with Natalie, but then they would have to leave her out of the plotting (and voting) because she's so close to Russell. So it's Foa Foa or bust.
Mick and Jaison are damned if they make a big move, even more damned if they don't. Dave Ball complained extensively in his exit interviews about Jaison's inability to pull the trigger on a countermove against Russell. But when Dave was in the game, that would have been suicidal for Jaison, with a Brett/Dave/Monica trio outnumbering Mick and Jaison in their putative alliance. This emphasis on original tribes was further exacerbated by the lack of swaps this season. In such an environment, the old-school tribal alliance format really smothers any and all attempted big moves and fluid gameplay. Of course, for some reason, Samoa thinks that's a plus.
One historical note: This was the first season to feature the sped-up double-boot episode in the post-merge, enabling the show to plow through obvious boots and fast-forward its way to the actual endgame. In retrospect, while it hurts a bit to lose a full episode for the final seven boot, there was really no other way this was going to shake out, so it's fine here.
The recap clipshow that didn't suck
In the intervening years since Samoa, Survivor has largely abandoned its then-traditional clipshow on Thanksgiving/Thanksgiving eve. The early ones were usually excruciating slow-walks through what you'd already seen, basically an hour-long version of the Probst "previously on" intro to the finale. Everyone hated them. Somewhere along the way, though, they tried luring more eyes by including new and/or interesting footage. I have no memory of having watched this season's one (creatively titled "The First 27 Days"). On rewatch, though, there's some great stuff in it.
First off, there's a really compelling Jaison mini-arc where he levels a threat against John ("I'm coming for you") after the Schmergen-brawl debacle for kneeing him in the chest, complains about a lifetime of watching other people get ahead by breaking rules, then follows that up with a deep discussion of his dad being forced off his land in Mississippi by the Klan, how his dad went all the way to earning a PhD from Stanford after that, and how he feels like he's letting his dad down by reacting the way he did to John, especially in the context of this game. Just fantastic stuff that's rarely seen on Survivor (and was obviously cut to make room for more Russell Hantz in the actual episodes, but ... at least it's here).
There's also some lighter stuff: The epic saga of Erik versus Daisy the escaped chicken. More scenes of fruitless chasing of course, but also an eventual trap using the fishing net, which — irony of ironies — ends up being successfully triggered by none other than Shambo, while Erik is away crabbing on Day 20. Erik is so giddy upon receiving the news that he even hugs Russell. Then Russell releases the chickens again in the middle of the night, a few hours later. Then Erik is blindsided the next day. Okay, maybe it was actually dark, not light.
And there's some more complex stuff: a whole lot of Shambo. At early Galu, she demands to make fire with the new flint and fails, while Dave knows what he's doing and makes it quickly (while Shambo calls him a moron in confessional), then Shambo being treated condescendingly by the Galu men after the merge (which to his credit, Dave tries to soften, while acknowledging her complaints), and finally a scene with Shambo breaking down talking about her late sister with Laura, and Laura (who is sunbathing) showing the absolute bare minimum empathy ("Well, they're better off") and trying to change the subject by complaining about the sun going behind a cloud. Of course, Shambo describes this later as "Laura invaded this private moment I was having on the beach" (Laura was lying on the sand next to her before, during, and after this moment. There was no invasion.) There's clearly an extensive both-sides argument to be made about Shambo's conflicts with Galu.
If there's one criticism of this recap episode, it's the uneven treatment of the eventual final three. Russell of course is the star, and the recap uncritically repeats all his pointless shenanigans (canteen dumping, etc.), gives him multiple platforms to proclaim he's a genius while everyone else is dumb (notably including a pre-game confessional, in which he couldn't possibly know that, even if it were true), and basically amplify the case that only Russell deserves to win. Natalie, meanwhile, gets a wishy-washy confessional talking about happily riding Russell's coattails, even if it ends up hurting her in the Final Two (she and Russell both seem to think it's an F2), and then the editors take a giant dump on Mick, making him seem unfocused, weak, and gullible. (He's clearly in over his head and makes multiple tentative missteps because he doesn't know the game, but he's also had some thoughtful confessionals along the way.)
- Screwed by the auction... twice! John paid $200 at the auction for a clue to the hidden immunity idol. That would be the same immunity idol Russell found the previous episode. In a modern season, there would actually be a new idol to find, but not here! Not when Russell Hantz, the Only Person Who Has Ever Found An Idol In Survivor History (except Erik who doesn't count) is playing! (Galu exit interviews made clear that everyone was pretty sure Russell had found it, since he stopped looking.) Maybe that suspicion depressed the bidding? On the one hand, wow, what a gamble that everyone just assumed production wouldn't hide another one. On the other hand, wow, what a shitty move by production asking people to pass up food for something only production knew for sure was useless.
But then John bids his remaining $300 for a piece of apple pie, and Probst gives him a choice — keep the pie for himself, or get four pieces of pie to give away to others, none for himself. (Note that there are nine people left.) No matter what option he chooses, John is depriving at least five people of pie. How is that fair? At least the Randy cookie thing in Gabon actually let him give something to everyone. Naturally, this is followed by a confessional from dumb-dumb Russell, who gives the confused takeaway production hopes the audience does: "John should have given everyone pie. Just shows how stingy he is." Giving everyone pie wasn't an option!
- Taking one for the team: Jaison came into the game in swimming shape: He's a big guy to start with, but he came in loaded with upper-body bulk and very little body fat. It's the kind of physique Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day and works out full-time to maintain. More than anyone else, Jaison would be expected to suffer from the lack of food, because his body is burning pure muscle. Add to that: He and Mick are the only people who have never won a reward challenge (beyond the opening RC for flint). During the auction, we hear Jaison explaining that he felt the need to secure the IC advantage for Foa Foa, then he requests a rules check from Probst, asking how maximal bids work. Jaison then jumps from John's $300 bid directly to the full $500. And you can feel his suffering coming through the screen seconds later when Mick promptly uses the same tactic to secure a cheeseburger and fries (with beer) for himself. (Note: Jaison will finally get to eat after the very last reward challenge, on Day 34.)
- A swirling temporal vortex: Not that it really matters to anyone except for the calendar, but Episode 12's timestamps are a mess. Episode 11 ended on Day 30 with John's boot. By the time the first (F8) immunity challenge rolls around the next episode, the show's timestamps swear we've moved on to Day 32. But after Jaison wins, Dave is booted, and everyone wakes up the next morning, it's ... Day 32 again. At least Probst verbally announces that it's Day 33 at the next IC. At least we have that! Speaking of calendars: Shambo's vote for Monica said "Monn: Happy 26th" indicating it was Monica's birthday, possibly that night? Or maybe the next day? It should have been the next day (July 14th), according to her bio, unless the calendar is off by a day. Also, this is noted mathematician Shambo we're fretting about here, and there's no mention of it in any of Monica's exit interviews.
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