This was a solid episode, featuring a day-long torrential downpour, eventually eclipsed by idol finds and the feel-good comeback win by the Brains tribe. Followed by a listless, fairly disappointing Tribal Council by the underwhelming strategical people on the Beauty tribe. Overall, though, pretty good.
Rain - too much?: Lindsey possibly wanting to quit is a black mark on SEG, not because they cast someone who contemplated voluntarily leaving the game, but because they CHOSE to film during monsoon season. Probst addressed this in his EW Q&A, saying that production loves rain, because it makes the contestants cranky, providing a free source of extra drama. That's all well and good, but did he not see the previous episode, in which cranky drama pervaded the last half-hour, without even a drop of rain? Where was the increased drama this episode? Right, just Lindsey pulling off a toenail and thinking maybe she made a mistake in signing up for Survivor. Well done.
In contrast to Lindsey's complaints, Brawn also had Woo hopping around in glee, yelling "This is what Survivor is all about, baby!" As great as that clip was, he's wrong, of course... but also right. Survivor isn't about making it through a horrendous rainstorm. If you want to watch or experience extreme survival, try Naked and Afraid instead. It's not even about competing in grueling competitions after enduring trying outdoor conditions. For that, try Eco-Challenge. Instead, Survivor is about the social and strategic games, voting people off, then getting them to vote for you at the end. Yes, those other things are important, but they're not the point. Ironically, though, Woo is also exactly right: Someone like Woo, who's relentlessly delighted just to be there, even in the middle of a punishing typhoon, is likely to outlast someone who's constantly complaining. Not only that, but he's far more fun to watch on TV. Woo!
- LJ's idol find was quite impressive, revealing he has studied the show enough to both expect idols and know their likely hiding places. But even so... for all the intrigue of underwater idols, this batch was far too easy to find. We get it: production makes idols easy to find so they'll be found and get played. But so far, we've blown time at all three camps on finding idols, and zero have been played. Even though at every Tribal so far, someone present has found an idol. First David, and now Brice have had time in their boot episodes taken away to make room for all this. We're still waiting for the payoff.
- Tony's finding and hiding the clue - great, smart move by Tony, but what the hell is wrong with the rest of his tribe? Admittedly, people like Woo, Cliff and Lindsey seem at best unfamiliar with how Survivor works. But what are the likes of Sarah and Trish doing? Apart from napping in the shelter/hammock?
- Side note: Now that we've righteously bemoaned the time wasted on idols and clues, where is the Brains tribe's clue, which should have been in their tarp? Why weren't we shown it? Did they not get one, because production didn't want to re-hide an idol, in case someone stumbled across the one Garrett left behind? Did they not find the clue? Or was it just not shown? On a tribe of smart people, shouldn't one of them at least be wondering why they didn't get a clue?
Gone into hiding at an undisclosed location: After tremendous fanfare, including a personal #spyshack hashtag, and promises that Tony would tell Trish what it's all about, this week the espionage shelter-driven narrative soared to a spectacular climax, which was: Nothing. Nary a mention, even. Clearly, the editors were a tad distracted by Tony's coming up with an alliance nickname that ended in "-R-Us," and probably were still hung over from their other celebrations of this remarkable achievement (giving it its own #copsrus hashtag AND the episode title). Also, there was talk of idol clues to be showcased, and a collapsing hammock. We understand. There was NO ROOM.
This is where, in recent seasons, we've started to get separate reward and immunity challenges. The single challenge here was probably necessitated by the short (two-day) episode. We'll happily give an RC away for more exploration of the social dynamics in the various camps (and the pricless practice footage of Luzon and their water tossing). We're well aware a good half of that will then be squandered to instead show people talking about idols or clues. But hey, we'll take what we can get.
As for the challenge itself, the bucket-/water-tossing has been done before, and was... amusing, if only because the Brains tribe, despite their extensive practice of exactly this component of the challenge, was so terrible at it. But the final stage, the vertical rotating maze, was the highlight. Probst misrepresented this as a "brains" endeavour, but the maze was fairly simple, and it was far more about having a headstart and controlling the ropes properly. Whatever. Beauty failed spectacularly, despite a huge initial lead, for unknown reasons. Because it wasn't a puzzle, maybe? Oh wait - they were apparently trying to do it backwards (h/t @Kirblar024). Fine, maybe it did take brains.
- Alexis - The only discernible non-LJ brain left on Beauty. The vote split discussion was terrifying to watch, but Alexis was the only one familiar with the revote rules, and set the entire thing up. Unfairly, Alexis seems to be on top of the strategy, but has been edited out, while Jeremiah and Morgan pretty clearly have little idea what's going on, but are free to expound (inaccurately) in confessional about how they're controlling the game. Probably a misstep that she never talked strategy with Brice, but overall, it's frustrating she's being hidden. Going forward, that doesn't bode well for her, since LJ just took out the only other credible strategist, and is otherwise surrounded by sheep.
- LJ - He did just about everything right this episode, except the vertical maze. He (as he pointed out in confessional) kept his mouth shut as Princess Jefra sat around, complaining that nobody had patched the shelter to her specifications yet. He used his tribe's sodden misery as cover to go looking for the idol, and accurately deduced that Morgan's rocky location when they arrived in camp on Day 1 was probably where an idol clue had told her to look. Then he made the right call in not telling anyone he had it, even to the extent of agreeing to take the wrong half in a completely unnecessary vote split. (Not to mention one that had a seemingly high probability of collapsing, due to Jefra and Jeremiah's tenuous grasps on how this would all work.) He correctly targeted the only plausible strategic threat outside his alliance, and everything worked out great.
- Tasha - She is now in charge at Luzon, and the ease with which she lied to Spencer about her intentions at the previous Tribal Council ("I was totally voting for J'Tia until Garrett put his foot in his mouth!") was almost scary. On the downside, Kass seemed at best unsure of where she stood with Tasha, and having seen the exchange with Spencer, Tasha's assurances that Kass was safe probably rang a little hollow. Was it a bad thing when she hinted to Spencer that he's on the bottom, and should practice for the IC? Probably, since Spencer and Kass are unlikely to meekly accept their positions in the hierarchy. But for now, the focus on the challenge paid off, and it was a good choice to let Kass and Spencer, the two with the most to lose at another Tribal, do the final maze stage in the RC/IC. They get the opportunity to save themselves, and nobody has to worry that J'Tia might be throwing it. Builds group confidence and it worked out nicely. A few warning signs that Tasha + J'Tia might be the new Sherri + Shamar, but clearly still playing to win.
- Tony - He's the breakout character of the season, even if he's wandering down somewhat previously worn paths. Like Woo, Tony has Survivor both exactly right and completely wrong. He's overplaying Sarah, giving her multiple reasons not to trust him (especially if, heaven forfend, she should compare notes with Cliff or Lindsey). But he can still save himself, at least once, with his idol, and it defies comprehension that nobody else on his tribe has even thought to look for clues. Sadly, though, he's in extreme danger of falling into the Curse of the Russell Hantz Legacy. In focusing on the idol (and the #spyshack) so much, so early, he seems to have set himself apart from his tribe, such that he has no real allies to speak of, except (as he said) his idol. Building ties to your tribemates not only saves you at Tribal Council, it'll also come in quite handy when you need jury votes, whereas a single hidden idol gets you out of one vote. It's basic, but it's something Russell never figured out. Hopefully Tony will, in time.
- Sarah - Wow. She fell for Tony's lie about Cliff and Lindsey, apparently believed him solely because he's a fellow cop... and then she fell on her ass. Literally. Hard to imagine a worse edit for someone who had such a great episode last week.
- Brice - after a strong showing in Eps. 1-2, he seemed to decide a three-person alliance was good enough on a six-person tribe, and stopped there. He seemed not to even bother talking to anyone but Morgan and Jeremiah (Morgan was dispatched to talk to Jefra). He didn't seem to have much of a handle on how solidly Jeremiah was buying into their alliance plans. Then he admitted at Tribal he never talked strategy with Alexis. Why? It takes two to not talk strategy, Brice! And what's worse, Brice, who was soundbite gold in his brief time on the show, wasn't even given a confessional until after Solana lost the challenge, two-thirds of the way through the episode. So much potential, so little apparent effort, by both Brice and the editors.
- Jefra, on the other hand... sigh. We thought her similarity to Chelsea Meissner in her pre-game interviews (and her heavy-rotation preseason ads) might make her a potential winner candidate. Unfortunately, the Chelsea analogy was accurate for the wrong reason: just like Chelsea, she completely disintegrated at the first sign of rain. Not only that, she had a dim view of how voting works, and even less of a clue about how her complaining during the storm was viewed by her tribe.
Final question: Who tells someone "I hope you fall on your ass," then shrieks with delight when that person actually does? Forget the Survivor environment, where you're supposed to be trying not to make enemies. Why would anyone do that, ever?