This was a fun episode, especially for a transitional one -- an episode that mostly just marked time between the odd-numbered boot last week, where Kass flipped, and the odd-numbered boot next week, where it's possible we may see another strategic rearrangement. It also seemed to be an episode that was trying to make hints about who might actually end up winning this thing, who may contend, and who has no chance. So just this once, we'll convert our recap into more of a fortune-telling operation, to the extent we've read the tea leaves correctly.
This season has done a fine job of placing Spencer's many (pyrrhic?) victories this episode within the larger context of his otherwise frustrating lot in the game. Both in this episode and in the season as a whole, Spencer has been making strategically sound decisions and moves, only to have his plans foiled by events (mostly Kass-related) outside his control. To be sure, he's made mistakes along the way, among them: arguing dismissively with Kass, having public item-flinging tantrums when things haven't gone his way, and leaving the idol clue unattended for no good reason.
Within the confines of this episode, things were mostly looking up for Spencer: he won a group reward, he found an idol clue, he found the hidden idol AND managed to do sowithout everyone else noticing, then he won individual immunity. In contrast, he's been playing from the bottom since the premiere: he was on the outs in Luzon after Garrett's boot, almost got booted instead of J'Tia, got swapped to a tribe that still lost 3 out of 4 challenges, then promptly had his majority alliance blown up at the merge by Kass's flip. This context is important. Spencer was rootable in this episode because he's been an underdog.
So it's incredibly tempting to read editing intent into the Jeff Probst comments that were included during his face-off with Tasha in this week's immunity challenge:
- "Spencer. Awkward-looking, but very strong."
- "Spencer has looked pained the entire challenge. Get it back in control, Spencer."
- "Spencer, struggling to hang on. Keep fighting through it!"
- "Spencer, really fighting to stay in this."
- "Spencer... wins...."
Was Spencer's struggle and ultimate victory here intended to be seen as a microcosm of the entire season? If he ends up winning, despite now being down 6-3 in numbers, it could be. Maybe it's merely a coincidence, but it sure seemed like more than that.
For all the scorn Survivor pundits been heaping on her gameplay, Kass both has voted out more people this season than anyone else (Kass now leads with five, passing Tasha's four), and has yet to receive a single vote against herself. In a lot of ways, Kass's problem may be the same as Tony's seemed to be in the first few episodes: She's largely playing alone (Tony has since expanded his social connections). In making spur-of-the-moment decisions, sometimes at Tribal, Kass is making enemies left and right, but the making friends part, by necessity, has to come later. This is the reverse of the normal order of doing things, and a concern for her long-term prospects.
Kass probably won't win, based on the utter lack of respect Spencer showed her, especially alongside Sarah and Morgan's shared antipathy for her in Morgan's Ponderosa video. As Kass said herself, there's enough time left for people to get over their anger. But once that anger fades, she still has to work to replace that with respect. Her calm synopsis of the previous Tribal's shenanigans (taking out a threat, while by coincidence two people burned their idols) shows she's capable of doing that. She's not playing as poorly as everyone seems to think.
That idol clue was totally unfair to... what? Bait and switch? Eh, nevermind
Okay, clearly the episode title, merge treemail, and last week's preview were all strongly hinting that this episode would involve people looking for the fabled Superpowered Idol Tyler Perry Didn't Create But Everyone Is Giving Him Credit For Because He's Somewhat Famous (or the SITPDCBEIGHCFBHSF, for short). So when it appeared that Spencer had found the clue in his almost-unused Outback napkin, there was a brief period when we thought it was pretty unfair that only one person would have access to this game-changing, all-powerful item. As it turned out, it was just a
fucking stick regular idol, not the super one. So... never mind. Those usually grow on trees, anyway.
Even so, Jeff Probst (being Jeff Probst) defended this distribution method in his interview with Dalton Ross at EW as being fair because it was "random." We can't let that misguided logic stand, uncontested. "Random" is not the same as "fair." If this had been the way clues to the superidol were distributed, it wouldn't be the least bit fair. Had Spencer had pockets (or had Woo not had #NinjaStealthMode), the other nine people would not have been given a chance to look for that idol. Not to mention that Jefra, Morgan, and Jeremiah (and to a lesser degree Spencer) were only at the faux-Outback in the first place, and potentially picking up that fateful napkin, because LJ is really good at puzzles. They did nothing special to earn their access, certainly no more than Tasha or Trish or Tony did. If you're going to hand out an item that can all but guarantee free passage to the final four/three, at least give everyone a shot at finding it. A chance apart from the side effects of boneheaded clue custody, anyway.
Screentime cometh before a fall?
The optimistic view of Woo's central role in this episode would be that his stalking Spencer and then racing away, clue in hand, was so important to the narrative (it probably was, since nothing at all happened the next day, apparently, but they still could have let someone else tell the story), and his description of this encounter so entertaining (it actually was), that the editors couldn't continue to ignore him.
The pessimist's view of Woo's sudden emergence as a character and "a big fan of Survivor" is that he's the next to go, and the editors are just laying the groundwork for us to be sad about it. Which we will be, because Survivor really does need more videogame references. Still, "boo-hoo" is better than "Woo? Who?", right?
Tony finally gets credit for a boot
In their first two Tribal Councils they attended, Tony and Trish had different ideas about which way they wanted the boot to go. The first time, Tony wanted LJ gone, while Trish preferred (and was shown organizing) the Cliff boot. At the merge, Tony thought he could get Sarah to flip, and discounted Trish's ability to turn Kass, but the latter was what actually happened. Even Lindsey's quit could ostensibly be seen as a scalp claimed by Trish. This turn of events seemed pretty weird, because up until then, we'd seen Tony playing as hard as was humanly possible - building spyshacks, creating fairy tales that Cliff wanted Sarah out, and so on, without the opportunity to actually put anything into action at Tribal Council.
Finally in this episode, though, Tony proposed voting for Morgan, instead of Trish's preferred target, Tasha. And it worked! Tony was shown organizing Morgan's ouster, and down she went, in a 6-4 vote. Tony's idol-dodging logic in targeting Morgan was solid (especially since Spencer actually did have an idol he could have played), and all was right with the world. But for those of you keeping score at home, it's still: Trish 2 (or maybe 3), Tony 1.
Wait, is Trish the power player, after all?
As Spencer is shown approaching Kass to see if she'll flip back to them, he says (in an overdubbed confessional) "I am safe, because I won immunity, but I know the idol could help [swing someone]." As he says this, the camera cuts to a bizarre shot of Trish, staring off into the distance. Why insert a random shot of Trish into this sequence, when all the shots before and after are of Spencer, Kass, or Spencer and Kass together? Could Trish be the next flipper, next week? Could she find a (super-powered) idol of her own? Could she be planning to take out one of Spencer or Kass? The editors had to put that shot in for some reason, right?
Next time on...
While we usually avoid commenting on the previews here, it's important to note that Jeremiah and Jefra are so central to this season's action that the show forgot to include them in the rapid-fire flip-through headshot montage that accompanies "with nine people left." Paradoxically, this also means they're each most likely safe next week. Unless they weren't featured because they're replicants, of course.
So there you have it. We've now discussed everyone left, except LJ and Tasha, neither of whom appeared in this episode. Either of whom could conceivably also be the winner, or at least could have been, until this episode ignored them. Unless we're misreading our portents, which wouldn't be all that surprising.
Oh, we also forgot to mention Morgan. Whoops. Whoa, look at that, we're out of time. See you next week.
Recaps and commentary
Exit Interviews - Morgan McLeod