Jeff Pitman's Survivor 46 recaps
Doomed if you do, doomed if you don't
By Jeff Pitman | Published: March 16, 2024
Survivor 46 Episode 3 recap/ analysis

Doomed if you do, doomed if you don't

Episode 3 of Survivor 46 had all the flaws of the New Era on full display: An already-depleted tribe that keeps losing, a terrified player on that tribe who was outside the numbers from the beginning, then had his vote taken away. Fans complain the season is boring, slow, and overly focused on one tribe, but the fault is not in the cast, it's in the game design, which has produced the same result of an always-losing starting tribe for two straight seasons.

There's no reason that Yanu still doesn't have fire yet on Day 7, except that the producers decided that the IC-losing tribe also losing their flint would be a fun, more "dangerous" twist. There's no reason nobody has any rice, except that the producers thought that 26 days of starvation would make the game seem more like a "monster." There's no reason that we've now had six consecutive seasons that start with tiny tribes of six, a size that leaves precious little space to maneuver for people who don't immediately click with their tribe, except that someone in charge thought this (again) makes the game harder, because "there's nowhere to hide."

So it's no wonder that Bhanu, who was on the outs in Yanu from Day 1, is crying. Like everyone else on that tribe, he's had no fire since the game started. Their shelter sucks, and it's rained a lot (the other two tribes just won tarps). They have no food except coconuts, and even if they could catch fish (no gear), they couldn't cook it (no fire). The future looks pretty grim. Then Yanu - the most physically depleted tribe, just as in Survivor 14: Fiji - unsurprisingly loses immunity again. Who's the #1 target? Bhanu. But at least he has 1-in-6 odds of beating the vote with his Shot in the Dark. Then he's forced to go on a journey. He draws the blue rock, meaning he has to perform the task and risk his vote. He fails, meaning he now has no vote, can't play his Shot, and is utterly screwed. (While he's saved by Randen's medevac - not really something to celebrate! - he's still screwed and voteless if Yanu loses again in Episode 4, and if there's no swap, they probably will.)

I've seen a lot of people complaining that Bhanu cries too much. What is he supposed to do? He's literally at the mercy of the other Yanus. With no vote, he has zero agency in the game, and not even a theoretical chance of regaining it. His only hope at Yanu is finding an idol, and that's already been found. (A swap might help, though.) Bhanu's response is a reasonable one to being both miserable and hopeless. Is that his fault? The fault of casting? I can think of a lot of other people who aren't wearing buffs - people who made decisions that predictably led to this set of circumstances - who bear a lot more of the blame here.

Doomed if you do, doomed if you don't

The other major complaint about the season is that the other two tribes are "boring."" Again, thanks to the production-engineered outcome of Yanu always losing, what are they supposed to do? They have no ability to play the game either, not until a swap or the merge. One guy was so bored, he made a bed frame. Two other guys had a Taylor Swift vs. Metallica song-naming contest. As Ben himself said, if he did this in real life, people would tell him to shut up, but within the grim confines of the Siga camp, it's must-see entertainment. (These scenes were fine, though, and there have been some really good secret scenes that show more camp life, but we can't see those, because we had to make room for people finding boxes they can't open, instead.)

Based on the 45 schedule, we're now just two episodes away from the merge (-atory), and only four of the remaining 15 contestants have ever attended Tribal Council. Put another way, the game is 1/4 over, and 11 people have yet to play it. This is not the fault of the casting department. It's also not the fault of the cast - to a person, they've all been chomping at the bit to play the game since before it started. So it must be someone else's fault. I don't know about you, but I don't like the looks of that sketchy-looking older guy who always carries a knife ... who's also Bhanu's guru!

Hope springs eternal, though. Several featured shots in a new TV ad look like they're evidence of a swap next episode. That would be the same exact timing as the swap in Survivor 45 - Day 8, first day of Episode 4 - so it makes sense. And as Damnbueno has pointed out, the paperwork for the beware idols includes (partially visible) instructions for if the box-finder is moved to a new camp - which is important, because they can no longer go back to the location where they found the box for further instructions on opening it. (Do they take the box with them? We shall see.)

But it didn't have to happen this way. The dumb "sorry for you" routine with taking the IC-losing tribe's flint helped get us here, just as "haves vs. have nots" did in Fiji. If Probst's contract dictates that he has to have a new catchphrase after each IC, give him something else to say. Maybe he can extemporize on his love of broccoli. I don't care, just let all the tribes make fire. The IC-losing tribe already has to vote someone out from a tiny tribe. They don't need to be punished twice.

Is it fair to compare?

Is it fair to compare?

A lot of people (including, somewhat regrettably, me) have noted that the first few episodes of Survivor 46 have felt pretty bland in comparison to the dynamic, chaotic SurvivorAU: Titans v Rebels, which is entering its final week (of three episodes) tomorrow. This comparison is a little unfair, for several reasons: (1) Titans v Rebels is an all-time great season from any franchise, and it's one that's almost complete. In contrast, 46 is on Day 7, they haven't even hit the swap yet. It's like comparing the first 50 pages of whatever book you're reading to your all-time favorite novel. Is the in-progress one going to stack up? Probably not.

(2) A huge part of the appeal of AU: Titans v Rebels is the cast, with a final five that's stacked with huge characters and aggressive gameplayers who have alternately butted heads with each other and/or surprisingly worked together all season, driving the action. One of them (Feras Basal) is an all-around superstar who's energetic, charismatic, capable, hard-playing, a guy who just pops off the screen. He's the Australian version of Tony Vlachos, an absolute unicorn, the kind of player you see maybe once every 20 seasons. And his competitors at the end (especially Kirby, but also the recently under-edited Mark and Caroline) have shone as well. Does 46 have someone like Feras? It's hard to say, because we've really only seen Yanu play, and they've only had two votes, both of which were simple majority ones. Nobody has had to shake anything up yet, and they can't really, because of the tiny tribe size. In contrast, we've seen the full range of the AU: TvR gameplay, including how everyone deals with the many twists and turns of the game. It's certainly possible there will be iconic gameplay moments in Survivor 46, but it's impossible to know that just yet.

A more fair comparison would be week 1 of AU: Titans v Rebels (Episodes 1-3) vs. what we've seen of 46 so far (also Episodes 1-3). Because the Australian game has two gigantic, 12-person starting tribes, we were able to see not one, but two massive power shifts in those first three votes, where alliances of superfan-led misfits overthrew two cocky alliances of physical players (who were generally less game-aware). That can't happen in 46, because just about everyone is well versed in the game, and also because there are too few people for this to happen. You could maybe claim that's what happened with Jelinsky, but that was more that he repeatedly shot himself in the foot, rather than that Bhanu/Jess rose up and engineered his exit.

The key difference here is: Bigger tribes create more opportunities for temporary coalitions of subgroups. On small tribes, a subgroup is one or two people, max. There are only so many ways you can divide six people. Your majority is either 4-2 or 5-1 (or in a rare event, 3-2-1 or 3-2-[0]). US Survivor's insistence on always starting with three small tribes of six is limiting gameplay opportunities. True, 45 did surprise us with the Sabiyah boot, but that's the exception, not the rule. The winnowing of Tika in 44 - where Sarah Wade's fate was obvious the second Tika lost again after Carson had sided with Yam Yam and Carolyn on the Helen boot - is far more likely every time. When you're the 1 in a 3-1 split, there's very little you can do.

Having said that, there's nothing inherently better or worse about big tribes vs. small tribes at the start. Three tribes in Philippines felt revolutionary, because we had just come out of 11 straight seasons of only two starting tribes (Fiji through One World). It was a big change, and it still felt fresh three seasons later when it popped up again in Cagayan. The problem here is: now it's always the same. Survivor used to be about switching things up every season, with different-sized casts, tribes, locations, different timing and mechanics on swaps and merges, and more. Now we're in the "new era," where almost nothing changes. Two big starting tribes would be a refreshing reset for the new era game.

The whole point of the new era changes in the first place was to keep the contestants off balance. But now players enter the game with 100% certainty that they will start off with exactly five tribemates, that there will be Sweat vs. Savvy in Ep1, that there will be a journey on Day 2, that there will be a ridiculous "earn the merge" thing in Episodes 6-7, that there will be a split Tribal at Final 11 or Final 10, that there will be forced sit-outs to earn rice around the same time, and so on. What's "off balance" about that? And if it's predictable for the players, it's 10x more boring for the audience, especially when a lot of these twists were poorly received in the first place, and now we're on the sixth iteration of them. All we're asking for is occasional change!

Shorter takes

Shorter takes

The tyranny of forced risk: As Bhanu stated, he didn't want to risk his vote, because his only hope at Tribal was playing his Shot in the Dark. He also hadn't volunteered to go on the journey, he was chosen. It's not particularly fair that he or Ben didn't really have a choice of whether they would risk their vote or not. That was decided by the rock draw. Also, maybe Liz really wanted to risk hers! Replacing contestant choice with rock draws is just Do or Die all over again, except with slightly lower stakes. It's not fun, Survivor. Please stop it.

Upon further review: Last time, I said that I liked that the beware idol finders were guaranteed to at least have a shot at finding the full idol as soon as their tribe lost an immunity challenge. I still stand by that, but as we've seen since then, the purgatory of the people stuck at the box stage is less fun. Randen never had the chance to get an idol. Jem may not, either. Is she supposed to take the box with her if she swaps? (It's hard to know, they were given instructions for moving camp, but we weren't shown what they are.)

Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff 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