This season's loved ones visit featured a *lot* of loved ones. All nineteen remaining contestants, including the ones stuck on Edge of Extinction, had at minimum one visitor, and in some cases four. All were able to spend time in their camps with family members. It brought multiple men to tears, and the people on the Edge (who are now the jury) were so touched by the gesture that they all gave Jeff Probst a giant group hug at the end of Tribal Council.
This choice was a welcome twist. It was heartwarming to see so many families, many of which have formed since these people first played. It was a true pause in the game. A brief glimpse at the reality that these are all people with real lives and families, several of which have formed via this game. You get a much more well-rounded picture of a Survivor contestant from seeing them interact with their kids than from when they awkwardly hug a sibling, then have to explain at length to Probst what having a brother or sister is all about.
Because this was so big, with so many loved ones, and took up so much time, this was a divisive move among fans. But come on everyone, this was a one-of-a-kind celebration. It's not like Survivor is going to do this every season. (This was a huge expenditure to pull off, and Survivor is nothing if not unenthusiastic about raising the cost of production.)
This, far more than a simple bottle of champagne on Day 1, was a true toast to these winners and their contributions to the show over the past 20 years. Let them have this, they've earned it.
Going forward, if we're never again going to have a loved ones visit where the loved ones actually participate int the challenge ("Come on, Reid! Dammit!"), this is the superior format for that visit. Just do it later in the season, so there are fewer players. SurvivorAU does it at the final three IC every time, and it's always great. Cagayan had four visitors for the final four IC. Why not park it there permanently, except on special occasions, like an all-winners season? This limits people's abilities to play to "just get to the family visit."
More importantly, while this visit did consume half the episode, this wasn't the episode's only problem with time management. The loved ones visit took up just over 21 minutes, leaving 23 minutes of the episode's 44-minute runtime for the remainder of the episode. That's exactly the same amount of time as there was for those remaining key elements — the immunity challenge, in-camp scrambling, and Tribal Council — as in the merge episode.
Perhaps because there was so little other downtime, the alliance reshuffling was apparently elided in several situations, and the best the editors could do was drop hints during the feast in camp. For instance, we saw Nick giving Sarah's son a high five (above). Also, Sarah noted that her son was "playing with the enemy" (who appeared to be Kim's kids). Wait, when did Kim become the enemy, and Nick become an ally? Just last week Sarah and Kim were on the same page in voting out Adam, as Kim voted with the majority in a 9-2-1, while Sarah (with Denise) voted against Nick, in case Adam had an idol.
To be fair, we did later see Sarah insist to Tony that she wanted Kim voted out (although the boot ended up being Tony's stated preference: his up-until-now ally, Tyson). But Sarah had just voted against Nick the day before the loved ones visit! Why is he now part of her and Tony's alliance? The only clue to that development was apparently the high five Nick gave Sarah's kid. Oh well. For a one-episode sacrifice, this was okay.
The things we do for love*.
(*No lordlings/future ravens were harmed in the filming of this episode.)
So what was the real problem, then? The advantages. And the whispering.
The problem with this episode's distribution of time was not so much that the loved ones took up so much time, it was that all having two advantages and an idol play at Tribal Council necessarily takes up a lot of time to churn through. Well, okay, that and (as discussed last week) Survivor's favorite time-wasting exercise, the whispering.
From the time people sat down until the first time Probst said "it's time to vote" (where Jeremy and Sarah started jockeying for position), 2 minutes and 20 seconds elapsed. In that time, what was discussed? Nick claimed his top allies (one of whom he voted out) were Yul and Wendell. Then the whispering kicked in, over which we had a couple of meta comments about the whispering, from Jeremy and Kim. None of the whispering was subtitled, so who knows if people were even strategizing? Maybe they were discussing what to have for dinner after they got back to camp: "Rice? Or perhaps maybe you'd prefer some rice?"
After that, we had to work through the cascade of advantages. First there was the standoff between Jeremy and Sarah about who would play their advantage first. This was fun, and it's good that it was included, but it also ate up some time. Then Jeremy left, at which point Sophie called her alliance over for a public huddle. Then Sarah played her steal-a-vote advantage. To this point, we still had seen very little of the usual Tribal discussion about the loved ones, or the immunity challenge, or who's feeling vulnerable, despite Probst's original claim that it had been very "lively". Then, with almost no time left in the episode, we cut straight to the vote, and THEN Kim plays her idol.
The end result: Tribal Council was cut down to its bare bones because you can't have Tribal Council without several minutes of unintelligible muttering, and also because the various mechanics for each advantage were cumbersome. Got it. Choices well made all around.
Going forward, maybe it wasn't production's best idea to have a brand-new advantage — the use of which will almost certainly trigger another time-crunching advantage play — expire with 10 players left, which just happened to be the same episode where they had scheduled a flotilla of visitors for their 19 remaining contestants. Why not with 11 left, forcing a possible rocks situation? Or just with 12 left? (This season, maybe these would be confusing, because they happened twice, thanks to EoE.) Or with 8 left?
Whatever the thinking was in piling up everything in this one episode, thank goodness they didn't cut the whispering down to just one minute. That would never do.
Oh well, maybe they'll map things out better in the next all-winners season.
Don't worry, it's designed to be like this
Let's go back to those loved ones for a second, now: There was a striking editing choice when the active players returned to camp, loved ones in tow.
As you might expect, this was a *large* herd of people. You'd be forgiven for not noticing a cut here and there. But those cuts, and the framing established when jumping to the next shot, seemed pretty intentional: there were two separate shots where a Survivor was centered in the front, leading a crowd of mostly loved ones: Ben, then Tony. Then a shot of Kim, mostly isolated, talking to her daughter. Then a shot of Tyson and Rachel with Bergen. Then back to Ben. Could that be our final three, plus this week's boot?
Those first three are increasingly the people it feels like this season-long fight might boil down to. (And Tyson could still make it back in to challenge those three. After all, he's done it once already.)
If those are our final three, who wins? It has to be either Tony or Kim, right? Outnumbered Kim, a phoenix rising to reach the finals, after having close to no allies the whole game? That would be a winner's story that's tough to beat.
For Tony, the case may have already been made. To whit: What if the Ep2 scene with Tony's ladder was not just a hilarious distraction, but also a metaphor for Tony's entire season?
Just as with his ladder, early on this season, Tony tried to use flimsy twine to strap together a ramshackle alliance of big names, first at Dakal with Tyson and Sandra, then in the early post-merge (the "lions"), but they kept falling out and/or breaking when anyone put weight on them: first Tyson, then Sandra. Despite that, Tony has kept ascending through the game.
Who were the people expressing doubt about Tony's ladder during the scene above? 1. Wendell (now gone); 2. Tyson (gone, back briefly, now gone again); and 3. Sophie (still here, but now a prominent target, after publicly organizing the huddle at Tribal Council following Jeremy's departure).
So now that Tony has climbed up, he can "simply pick the papayas off the tree, simply walk down the ladder, simply go to camp, chop it up, and simply eat it. Simple as that." Right?
Top that, Yul! (Yul is also now gone.)
Postscript: more foreshadowing?
One of the few camp scenes the edit had time for this week was Tony and Sarah butting heads over which person their alliance should target: Kim (Sarah's choice) or Tyson (Tony's pick). Given that the actual name their alliance decided on appeared to be Jeremy, it was an odd scene to include, if the intent was to explain the boot.
But there's probably more to it than that. Tony and Sarah are now playing their third season together, and they've had a more-or-less secret alliance since the first episode. In fact, their relaunching of the Cops-R-Us brand came immediately after Tony's ladder scene in Episode 2. In the next episode, Tony "helped" Sarah in her mission to recover the steal-a-vote advantage, by ... smearing ash from the firepit on her face. Their connection is a big, season-long story.
So while it's apparently okay that Nick mysteriously goes from target to ally, it would be a bit weird to see a Sarah-Tony split come from out of nowhere. Thus, while we didn't see them split apart this episode, the battle for dominance at the water well this episode may well have been intended as a more long-term foreshadowing of that alliance eventually falling apart.
Or maybe it was just there because Tony was in it. Who knows?
- Sophie: "The question is: When the smoke clears, who's going to be dead in the trenches?" Ah yes, using blood-soaked war imagery to describe the gameplay in confessional is apparently the Winners at War version of the SurvivorAU: All Stars contestants being required to say "this is All Stars" in every confessional.
- To celebrate Tony winning his first individual immunity challenge, there are finally leaderboards for career and single-season individual immunity wins here on this site. Sadly, Tony's one win is not enough to place him on either chart. But Rob, Kim, Tyson, Parvati, Sophie, Nick, and Jeremy are there!
- What happened with that split vote? As shown by Sophie's huddle (maybe), Michele was not a part of the five's discussions, and just happened to guess right that the target would be Tyson. If that's the case, the majority split their votes 4-2, which was a massive risk, because Sophie knew Kim had an idol. From the voting video, the three men all voted Tyson, as did one of Sarah's votes, while the two Denise voters were Sarah (again) and Sophie. The most likely scenario is that the intended split was the more logical 3-3, but someone went rogue. That seems most likely to be Sarah, since she split her two votes. Maybe she wanted to make sure she didn't "waste" the extra vote? Maybe Sarah wanted to "accidentally" take out Sophie in the same way Tyson booted himself in Heroes vs. Villains? (This absolutely would have happened if Kim had played her idol for, ironically, Tyson.)
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
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