Survivor 43 returned to the "classic" Survivor episode structure with Episode 4, rolling out a reward challenge, immunity challenge, and Tribal Council, with nary a "journey" or advantage or beads in sight. And they tossed in a camp raid, for good measure! It was a brief but welcome return to the twist-free era, and the few wrinkles still extant (three tribes) actually paid off in new and interesting ways.
As with Survivors 41 and 42, don't get used to it. The structure of those seasons, especially that of 42, was to balance out a twist-heavy episode with one immediately following that was largely twist-free and character-focused. Right on cue, next week we're back to the journeys again, Baka appears to "miraculously" discover their Beware idol right before it expires (for the third season in a row, weird how that works), and the following week *could* be the merge (or a double boot, then the merge). So let's just appreciate this episode for what it was, the calm before the storm.
Except, of course, for poor Lindsay, whose fate in the game was stormed by the calm.
The three-tribe raid
Survivor has never done a camp raid in a three-tribe format before. They did it in Cagayan, but that was after the swap down to two tribes. Having one winner and two potential raidees created a lot of new interesting wrinkles to the format.
- Probst dismissed the two losing tribes from the RC before Vesi tribe had to make a decision. This left both losing tribes worried they would be raided.
- This allowed for two new fun scenes: (1) Vesi back at their camp, enjoying their reward, and plotting the best strategy for which tribe to raid, weighing pissing the players off vs. getting the most return for their effort vs. weakening their opponent. And (2) we got to visit both losing tribes, who were worrying about being raided. A simple mechanism to show all three tribes, and reveal their strategic thinking. Nicely done.
- The paranoid losing tribes each waiting to see if the boat showed up (with Cody) at their camp was also a lot of fun, and a bit of a callback to the waiting-for-the-decision tensions for the old SOS and camp construction challenges (which have thankfully been retired, because they're too prone to [at least the appearance of] production favoritism).
The actual raid was also fun, mainly because it was Cody,
exuberantly being himself out from under the thumb of the fun
police back at Vesi camp (Dwight and Noelle, mostly). Much
like Tony in Cagayan, Cody pulled some tricks out of
bag Hawaiian shirt sleeves, and came
away with a decent haul for Vesi. (Although the taro root is
completely inedible without fire, unlike the raw fish they
"It's our first Tribal. People don't know what they're doing"
James's wisdom here is something that often gets lost, even among Survivor superfans. A lot of Survivor is hard, and it takes actually doing it to get good at it.
Which is not to say Lindsay's paranoia was unfounded ... in fact from her exit interviews (see for example, her one with Dalton Ross), it's clear James and Karla could have easily done some small things to allay her concerns. She wasn't the target (at first), Geo was, but Geo told her immediately after the IC that Ryan had told him Lindsay was the target. That set everything in motion.
When Lindsay mentioned this to Karla and James, they simply shut down her concerns, rather than offering support, or mentioning she was the decoy name, or anything. When Lindsay brought up a vote split (because the tribe had thought Geo had an idol), Karla shut down that discussion as well — for reasons obvious to the audience, but an eyebrow-raising move from Lindsay's perspective at the time. Everyone involved did something a little bit wrong. But going back to James's quote: That's understandable, none of them have done this before.
First votes by a tribe of new players are always somewhat messy. Nobody really comes into the game with the experience of lying to people they've recently met — people who have been depending on each other for survival for at least three days, no less— or knowing for sure when they're being lied to. Even when they're safely in the numbers, the process has to be unsettling, unnerving. Especially when you hear your name has come up! Everyone has to be at least a little worried that if they're reading the situation wrong, it may be them leaving the game, not someone else.
Going through this process definitely has a learning curve. And as the discussion at Tribal Council reaffirmed, trust in Survivor can really only come from having voted, and having voted as you told people you were going to. Results, not promises. This week's results revealed a lot about the Coco tribe.
Through the first three episodes, we were told all three women on Coco had a women's alliance (a claim you should never take at face value on Survivor), and that James was loosely affiliated with that group. (Lindsay reports that James had F2 deals individually with each of those women.) We were also shown that Ryan and Geo were close. Geo and Karla also had a bond over their similar backgrounds as queer Latinos/Chicanos that was highlighted in the premiere.
What we saw in the actual voting this week is something different, though. Karla and James are clearly the driving strategic force in the tribe, and their (late?) decision controlled the vote. Their silent eyebrow raising to each other right as Coco left camp sealed Lindsay's fate.
It could get more complicated moving forward. Ryan reiterated his number one was Geo, and listed James as another ally, but Ryan and Geo ended up voting differently. Apparently Karla (or James?) tipped Ryan off to the actual vote, but did not include Geo. How Ryan reacts to the others leaving Geo out of the loop may determine how united Coco can be in the future. But at minimum, the Karla-James-Cassidy triangle seems solid.
- Did they even read the treemail? Coco brought their immunity idol to the reward challenge, they were *that* desperate to give it up.
- I only eat it deep-fried, thank you very much: "I'm not eating raw fish, Cody!" - Noelle, from New Hampshire. Ah, good old New Hampshire. The Arkansas of New England.
- "Lindsay takes a fall!": Subtle in-episode foreshadowing is always fun, and it was a nice editing touch to show — for no obvious reason — Lindsay falling down after dragging the puzzle bag under the net in the IC, complete with Probst play-by-play.
- "Shut upl!": Poor Mike Gabler took an absolute beating from the editors in this episode. Starts off as the out-of-touch guy who wakes people up in the middle of the night trying to smother them with palm fronds, to the guy who won't listen to Elie's fire-making suggestions, to another round of "Come on, Gabler" as he lagged in the IC, then finally topped off by the bit at the top, with Owen shushing him as he yelled "That's it! That's it!" a bit too loud during the square puzzle, alerting the other tribes that Baka was on to something. Stop! He's already dead!
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