It was Buoy Week on Survivor 42, and buoy, was it ever exciting. Buoys in the reward challenge. Buoys in the immunity challenge. The prospect of an all-boys alliance in the "Next time on Survivor" trailer. And of course, a majority alliance just bobbing along, picking off the people on the outs, while scooping up additional powers.
There was a reward challenge where it looked like Omar was going to pull off a miraculous five-straight-shots win, only for it to stall out at four shots, as superhuman Jonathan once again single-handedly pulled his team from the bottom to the top, blazing past Omar with five straight shots himself. (Sigh.)
There was an immunity challenge where it looked like superhuman chaos generator Tori might be on the block, only for her to pull out a second straight immunity win. There were two separate instances of Jeff Probst talking directly to the camera, celebrating how "we already did these exact same twists last season, but this time, we're making an imperceptible change!"
That's not to say there weren't also some worthwhile moments to be had. The opening post-Tribal sequence was interesting, where the show explored the various reactions the people left out of the merge vote had to being excluded.
Chanelle expressed her frustration to Hai (who came up with a plausible "it was last-minute, we were on the beach" alibi), but acknowledged her own shortcomings in confessional. Romeo mostly got upset that Drea had abandoned him, a story that would play out throughout the episode. Maryanne understandably felt ostracized by her own tribe, despite Lindsay's reassurances (a position Maryanne cleverly weaponizes later in the episode).
And Rocksroy ... well, there was a shot where Maryanne referred to the "cool kids," and he was in it.
Mike and Omar
There was also a wonderful scene where Omar was praying as Mike looked on, and Mike talked about having a deep, hour-long conversation with him about his religion, and discovering that they "ain't that different."
Omar responded with his own confessional about how genuine and open Mike is, and how he could see them becoming long-term allies. Just a heart-warming scene from start to finish, and a step forward for the show in not other-ing its Muslim contestants.
The show may have been aiming for this kind of feeling in Palau, but it came off exactly the opposite. Ibrehem was shown praying alone early in the morning, and talked about how his faith gave him strength, but it came right after a post-Tribal scene where redneck James was still mad at Ibrehem because Ibrehem's inability to dive and retrieve a bottle had lost their tribe the reward challenge. A Bobby Jon confessional saying James was making a big deal out of nothing bridged the two scenes. In Palau, Ibrehem's religion was shown as isolating, making/ keeping him separate from the tribe (beyond already being the only person of color left on it after Jolanda's Ep1 boot).
Survivor is at its best when it demonstrates its core principle of people from different backgrounds, from all walks of life, working together for a common goal (before stabbing each other in the back, of course). This scene with Mike and Omar explicitly connected them, and focused on their building from their commonality. Mike also talked about being older, which on other seasons tends to set people apart, but Mike's genuine interest in other people helped remove that barrier, also nice to see.
(Of course, Mike's inability to forgive Chanelle for voting
for him also was shown as the primary reason for her boot at
the end of the episode, which wasn't great, but we're trying
to say something positive about this episode, and this was a
really good example of nice people being nice to each other,
so can you just let us have this one moment of joy before the
darkness sets in again, please and thank you.)
Dear Jeff Probst: Please audition for Shark Tank on your own time
There was a lot to like in Survivor 41: A strong cast, aggressive gameplay, some smart contestants working around some truly ridiculous twists. So it may surprise you that Jeff Probst apparently thought one of the absolute highlights was his completely non-spontaneous, pre-planned negotiation with the merge tribe to have four people sit out of a challenge in exchange for rice.
You remember that, right? One of the top two, maybe three fan-favorite moments of the season! As you of course recall, one person, and ... two others, and probably Ricard (?) sat out! Definitely a Mt. Rushmore, iconic Survivor moment there. We all love watching people sit on the bench rather than compete in challenges, and this one had four. Four!
And boy, what a fun-filled, exciting way for production to trick us into not noticing they went back on their "no food given" rule in Episode 8! They sure pulled one over on us, with their super-sneaky sleight of hand!
So, anyway: Here we are again, doing a shot-for-shot remake of that indelible memory.
Let's see how this glorious re-enactment played out:
Just saying, for that massive alleged payoff, they could have aired the intro approximately 7-8 times, back-to-back, in place of this!
Dear Survivor: Please don't do this again. It's not interesting. Maryanne's confessional — which was great — is the peak return you're ever going to get from this. Just take that as a "W" and move on. (Also, you passed up a golden opportunity to bring in Angelina as a guest negotiator, but oh well, there is no next time.)
Also, please: Just let the contestants have rice. As SurvivorNZ: Thailand winner Lisa Holmes said on RHAP, it makes for better contestant performance. With just a minimal amount of calories, they're still hungry and off-balance, but they're more willing and able to look for idols, to go off and plot with someone, or even to catch fish if that's your definition of exciting contestant behavior. When they're starving, we're close to the point in the season where they start just laying around the camp, half-dead. (See for example the last few episodes of Survivor: Marquesas.) Nobody wants to watch that.
And if you just give them rice to start with, as you almost always used to, you don't have to waste time on this tedious, host-self-fellating bullshit.
All rocks, all the time (chance over strategy)
The first team challenge after a tight, even, three-tribe (official) merge is the perfect place to expose the hidden alliance structures by having a schoolyard pick for teams. Especially when one person will have to remain teamless.
So what does Survivor 42 do? Everyone draws a rock, for the second reward challenge in a row. Who needs strategy and observation skills, when you can have random chance instead?
(Stay tuned three episodes from now, when someone who finished last in a challenge has to pick one of three boxes just to stay in the game. Survivor: It's a social/strategic experiment!)
The problem with the recent large-merge seasons is that generally, as we're already seeing here, one large alliance takes charge at the merge, then spends a few episodes picking off the easy-target outliers without breaking a sweat. That makes for a fairly dull early post-merge. Idols were once a way to thwart that, but now they're so hard to find/activate that they're hoarded indefinitely, and are not generally available to the people on the bottom. Gone are the days when Malcolm would announce, "I need one more idol," and lo, one would appear on a nearby tree branch.
Probably to address the Pagonging problem, Survivor has come up with increasingly convoluted machinations to break up large majorities, like last week's half-the-tribe-randomly-immune twist, or next week's two random teams of five going to Tribal separately. (This was done at Final 10 in seasons 36, 39, 41, and now 42. Probably also 43 and 44 if you're waiting to go play one of those.)
Why go to all that trouble when a simple schoolyard pick could have shown publicly that certain people were on the bottom, and needed to scramble? And gave them clues as to whom they might scramble with?
(Apologies to those who saw the "All rocks" headline above and thought we were going to spend a whole section on Rocksroy. We can't talk that much about someone the show doesn't, unfortunately.)
- Everything is beware nowadays: Probst makes a big deal about Drea's RC sit-out bench advantage being a "beware" advantage this time, because "if you don't do what it tells you to do, there is a penalty." Drea followed the instructions to the letter, and in return, got an armful of paint for her efforts. (Note above that there actually was a real, unaired penalty: Drea would have lost her vote if she didn't grab it by sundown.) Oh well, it was funny, and Survivor just can't get enough of fake blood, apparently. Still, it seems a little excessive to punish the finder whether or not they participate. Xander was right to leave it there.
- Just when you thought it was safe: ... back into the game comes "Knowledge is Power." Last season, it was given out at the final visit to Dilemma Island (Shan gave Liana the green light to get it). This season, we all thought we'd dodged a bullet when Lydia and Rocksroy — a.k.a. the unsung saviors of the season — wisely both played it safe on their final visit, keeping KIP in advantage purgatory forever. Forever! Right? Right? But nope, back it comes. Dammit. (Note: So far, there has not been one twist or game mechanic from 41 where production thought: "Eh, we don't need to try that again." Every idea is a perfect diamond!)
- Please pay attention to the host's not very subtle cues: At Tribal, Probst asks Romeo a question about alliances, phrasing it in the form of a road trip analogy. Romeo answers the question matter-of-factly, and does not mention road trips. Next question from Probst, "So Chanelle, if you go with this road trip analogy ...." And thus starts fifty-nine consecutive minutes of car metaphors, all of which made the edit. Note to future contestants: Just do what the host tells you at Tribal. It's stupid, sure. But he's going to just keep asking you anyway, so please shut him up as quickly as possible. Thank you. You might even get a title quote out of it!
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