Survivor 32 recaps

Tribal shenanigans


As entertaining as that Tribal Council was, it still only starting to sink in that at the end of it, we lost one of the most original, intriguing new female players in a long time. While it's unlikely that Debbie would have won this season, her presence in the game was still consistently interesting. She was a big character, yes, but more than that, she was also playing hard. She will be missed, although at least she'll be in the Ponderosa videos. Even if her exit interviews aren't overflowing in literal truth.


But let's not bury the lede: That was a fantastically fun Tribal Council. It was similar in a lot of ways to the Jeff Kent boot in Philippines, one of the finest non-All-Star Tribals in recent memory. The Kent boot was preceded by frantic in-camp scrambling, then was thrown into further turmoil when Malcolm announced he had an idol (and then didn't play it). This Tribal hit almost all those same notes, although it differed in one key aspect: here, the turmoil was almost entirely in the eye of the beholder. In fact, both main groups seemed to be playing to scripts, and played them perfectly. The villain trio of Scot, Jason, and Tai flaunted their super-idoled powers with gusto, making clear they had two idols, that either, both, or neither might be played before the vote, and that if they felt like it, they'd play it as a super idol. But Aubry & Cydney's alliance knew this was likely to be coming, and had already planned to avoid voting for those three. For all the theatrics of the idol flourish, it had no real effect on the game, except that it gave the impression that something crazy was about to happen, and set the entire gathering into frantic whispering.


And then poor Debbie was blindsided, as planned. But the editing still made this exciting: in showing the immediate, private reactions to the grandstanding (and not letting the audience know what was being said, as they otherwise sometimes do), the editors created doubt that the plans they'd shown were actually going through, which was a brilliant twist for the audience. What were they saying? Were the women readjusting, and targeting Scot instead? It looked like that might be true... and then it wasn't. But until the votes were read, it was completely opaque, and that was fun.


The Cydney fakeout

Not telling


One quibble we had with the story as told: while nobody (except Scot and Jason) apparently knew about Tai's idol, Cydney has known perfectly well, since the second it was found, that Jason had one. So the whole Tai + Jason, "hey, guess what, we have two idols!" performance wasn't quite as believable as it could have been. And the show hasn't bothered to explain why Cydney has been so tight-lipped about this fairly major game element, apart from vague disinterest in telling Debbie things. But still, what possible benefit did Cydney receive from not telling Debbie that Jason has an idol? This is mystifying. Had Debbie had that information, she probably wouldn't have been pushing for Scot's boot, and wouldn't have laid that plan out in front of Julia.


Wankers, winners, and Wanner

Tribal council


Was Debbie right after all? If the women had stuck to the plan of splitting the votes between Scot and Tai, Debbie would have come out far better off than she did. The problem is: there was absolutely no logical reason for Cydney to go along with that plan, because she knew (1) Jason had an idol, and (2) Cydney had to have guessed Scot and Jason might be gunning for her, since had just undercut their authority at the previous Tribal Council, and didn't win immunity this week. So, assuming everyone stuck to Debbie's plan, here are the possible outcomes:


  • Straight vote split, regular idols: Brains vote Scot (3), rest vote Tai (3), Tai/Scot/Jason vote Cydney (3). Tai plays his idol, Jason plays his for Scot, Cydney goes home, 3-0-0. Good outcome for Debbie, terrible for Cydney, who at least knew Jason/Scot had an idol, for sure.


  • Straight vote split, superidol: Unclear when superidol has to be combined (presumably after first vote?), but assuming it can be passed off after the two halves are combined, let's assume the majority dumps all their revotes on Scot, then Tai passes him the superidol, and Cydney still goes home.


  • Straight vote split, but Julia flips: Brains vote Scot again (3), Michele, Cydney vote Tai (2), Tai/Scot/Jason/Julia all vote Cydney (4). Cydney goes home again,*and* everyone keeps their idols.


  • No vote split, regular idols or superidols: Majority all votes Scot (6), guys vote Cydney (3). Any idol play at all (and Cydney knew they had at least one) sends Cydney home.


  • Three-way split, no idols necessary: This was Debbie's actual plan, according to her exit interviews. Which makes absolutely no sense, because putting two votes each on Jason, Scot, and Tai means the men's three votes automatically boot whichever person they vote against (probably Cydney).


So basically, Debbie is completely safe in any vote-splitting scenario, whereas Cydney becomes the third member of the jury. Small wonder that Cydney might not want to go along with that. Several people (Stephen Fishbach at Know-It-Alls, Pat Ferrucci in this week's Well, in theory...) have said that Cydney and Aubry's move was bad strategy. And it certainly didn't put them in a great position: They lost a loyal anti-Scot/Jason vote, and they're even more dependent on Julia, who could easily flip back with her Reward Challenge team on the next vote. Despite all that, this was certainly Cydney's best move out of a limited set of options (it's a bit more murky for Aubry), especially when they were forced to work with Julia, due to her winning immunity. True, taking out Nick last episode might have put them in this position in the first place, but now at least Cydney lives to fight another day. Sorry, Debbie.


Tai's surprising villainy

Tai turns to the Dark Side


It was bizarre to see lovable Tai actively sabotaging the camp in this episode, even if he clearly felt uncomfortable with his decision to do so. But think about all the ways in which Tai became Evil Tai in this episode:


  • In the opening minutes, Jason asked who voted against him, in response to which Tai shrugged and lied that he voted for Debbie. Since nothing more came of it, Jason apparently bought that (apparently because Nick wasn't there to contradict him?).
  • Tai later dumped out the water onto the fire, in the middle of the night.
  • The next morning, Tai acted surprised that the fire had no embers, and Joe immediately blamed Scot for extinguishing it.
  • Later, of course, he colluded with Scot and Jason in their idol-flaunting demonstration at Tribal.


All in all, a highly underhanded week for Tai, who despite his self-doubt at his ability to tell lies, apparently got away with all of it, simply because nobody suspects he would do any of these things. In a lot of ways, he's in similar territory to how Debbie was perceived early on in the Brains tribe. Liz and Peter saw her as kooky but completely non-threatening. Tai has essentially the same position on Dara. That harmless old guy with the chicken? What could he possibly do to mess up our games? And with that in mind, Tai may currently be the most dangerous player in the game, should he choose to be.


Challenge pros

Immunity challenge


This week's immunity challenge was a brand-new one, and it was hilarious and heartbreaking and all-around great to watch. (We don't doubt that it was probably incredibly frustrating to actually compete in, but the contestants' loss is our gain.) Very few challenges offer this many opportunities for lead changes, and it was edge-of-the-seat exciting to watch as contestant after contestant either tripped, knocking their entire set of blocks down after coming within a step or two of winning, or watched in agony as their shot at winning collapsed, as their line of dominoes failed to complete falling. We don't even mind that this one was impossible to score for the non-winning contestants. More like this, please.


Challenge spur-of-the-moment pros

Reward challenge


We're not usually fans of arbitrarily forcing someone to sit out of post-merge team challenges. Honestly, there was no good reason why the reward challenge couldn't have been done in three teams of three. It's not like they didn't have practice building three sets of challenge equipment. But the show found a way to spin this forced 4-vs-4 challenge into a good guys (or women) vs. pariahs thing, which turned out to be much more compelling than randomly-selected teams. Suddenly, there were actual stakes to who got the otherwise forgettable food reward. So kudos to production for seeing the potential in setting that up. Even if it goes against Probst's oft-repeated claims to have no idea what's going in camp.


Storm's a-coming? No, not that one

We hate to bring this up after such a fun episode, but... based on the season preview that aired at the end of the Cambodia reunion, there's still at least one more medevac coming. Hopefully not next week, because it would really suck the wind out of this season's sails if one of Scot, Jason, or Tai just gets pulled at this point (especially the latter two, and even moreso if they took an idol with them). Either way, for a season widely (mis-?) perceived as a misfire before it aired, we've had nine great episodes, at least. If it all falls apart from here on out, at least the first two-thirds were good, which is more than can be said for a lot of seasons.


Land of the takes that are at best lukewarm



  • I can't stand it, I know you planned it. While Scot and Jason were probably disappointed with how the episode showed the women largely shrugging off their #sabotage efforts, we'll bet they're even more bummed that nobody was willing to pay for licensing the Beastie Boys song.


  • One-star service. In addition to barely acknowledging Kaoh Rong pre-season and forcing the cast to wait an entire year before their episodes aired, Survivor also isn't interested in taking these contestants on any expensive rewards. "We already blew our entire budget on the season with the actual stars, guys. Or at least we plan to, as soon as America chooses them in a couple of months. Also, no seconds on the ice cream."


  • It makes sense, though. At this point in filming, the Second Chance cast still (could have) included Brad Culpepper. If Survivor didn't have the resources to give him the red carpet treatment, then all would have been lost!


  • Spoiler alert: Next week's reward will be a plastic sleeve of mostly intact saltine crackers, flung from Probst's car as he drives past the camp on his way to the production hotel.


  • Recycled tantrum department: Scot and Jason mimicked Russell Hantz in burying the tools, then Scot mimicked J'Tia (who was mimicking Caramoan Brandon Hantz) in dumping valuable consumables onto the fire. Not shown: Debbie retaliating by burying Scot's shorts (which explains why he's now wearing Nick's swim trunks), which Julie Wolfe did to Phillip in Redemption Island. What previously aired bad behavior will these people remember next week? Burning socks? We can hardly wait!

Bonus lukewarm takes department: The Ep9 vidcap gallery

Kaoh Rong Episode 9 recaps and commentary


Exit interviews: Debbie Wanner

  • Gordon Holmes at (4/14/16): "Debbie - '(Aubry) Was Hyper, Paranoid, and Neurotic'"
  • Josh Wigler at (4/14/16): "Debbie Wanner Fires Away at the Remaining Players"
  • Andrea Boehlke & Rob Cesternino at PeopleNOW (4/14/16): "Does Debbie Wanner Think 'Geek Goddess' Aubry Made a Good Move in Voting Her Out?"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (4/19/16): "Exit Interview | Latest Player Out" (coming Tuesday)


Episode 9 Podcasts