Jeff Pitman's Survivor 46 recaps
Artificial chaos
By Jeff Pitman | Published: April 29, 2024
Survivor 46 Episode 9 recap/ analysis

Artificial chaos

There's been a lot of talk about how the past three weeks (Episodes 7-9) of Survivor 46 have been a great stretch of episodes in spite of the unfortunate new era trappings. For me, however, this week felt like a letdown, in part because of the new era interfering in the game, and in part because while everyone else seems to think people leaving with idols in their pockets is iconic, the height of entertainment value, I'm more "meh": it's not that rare (24 times!), and it's mostly just disappointing, unless that person is a huge jerk. Hunter was not.

My main objection this week's episode, though, is not so much in the outcome, it's in the sloppy storytelling, which made what actually happened extremely difficult to follow. Having let a legitimately unhinged Tribal Council play out on-screen in Episode 8 - even if the theatrics didn't affect the vote - the show's editors decided to double down on that narrative for Episode 9, even though this week's Tribal was very different. (A cynic would say "no it wasn't, both votes were 100% pre-planned, despite the noise.") In the process, they buried some pretty impressive gameplay from Tiffany, and served up a streamlined, but dumbed-down narrative.

What the show seemed to be claiming happened was: (1) The vote was Hunter, until he was a big dummy and told everyone he had an idol, (2) then they split the vote between him and Q to dodge the idol, and (3) Hunter failed to play his idol because he misread the Q-Tiffany argument at Tribal.

Based on Hunter's exit interviews, what actually happened was: (1) Hunter, Q, Liz, and (in Hunter's mind, not in reality since we saw Charlie tell her the plan) Venus were on the bottom, and the others had arranged a vote split between Q and Hunter. (2) Kenzie told Hunter votes were coming his way right before Tribal, he told her he had an idol. (3) Right before Tribal, Hunter tried to rally the people on the outs to vote Ben, alongside him playing his idol, which would potentially save both Hunter and Q, and take out Ben. (4) Tiffany shocked everyone at Tribal by ripping into Q, so much so that Hunter thought there were enough votes on Q that he didn't need to play his idol, but Tiffany completely bluffed him in this regard, and voted for him, setting up the 4-4 tie.

(Note: Exit interviews are not canon, but there's support for this in the show. In the shot where Hunter is diagramming votes in the sand, Hunter - wearing his Tribal clothes and his backpack, so it's right before Tribal - has Charlie-Ben-Maria as a bloc, and they indeed all voted for him. This is also how he's dressed when he tells Q, and then Liz and Venus - again, literally minutes before leaving.)

Hunter, dressed for Tribal

This is a much more interesting story than what was presented, and really highlights how well Tiffany is playing. As Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt pointed out with David Bloomberg on "Why ___ Lost" this week, it's possible that Tiffany's move of telling everyone she was going to play her idol, then declining to do so, helped push Hunter's confidence over the edge here, in thinking he *also* didn't need to play his. The full context makes Hunter's miscalculation all the more dramatic and tragic, and shows that everyone is playing at a high level. Instead, we got "Hunter is an overconfident meathead." (Which, to be fair, is relatively accurate when it comes to masking his threat level in challenges, but was not really the story at Tribal.)

I get that, obviously, the show needs to maintain suspense as to the outcome. But they already had an outcome-determining variable in Hunter's idol, especially since they had him saying in confessional that he was going to play it! Why not show us (1) Tiffany and/or Kenzie planning the Tribal theatrics of going after Q, in response to learning Hunter has an idol, and (2) Hunter understanding the breakdown of the vote split, rather than vaguely implying he still thought the Tiffany blindside plan was in effect? (Especially when nobody voted for her?) I know, it's possible none of this footage exists. Maybe Tiffany came up her ploy at Tribal. But the full story is so much richer. Sigh.

The past two episodes also buried a key detail (which Hunter talked about on his RHAP exit interview) that could help explain both why Q asked to be voted out last week, and why Tiffany was so set on taking out Hunter: In last week's episode, when it became clear that the majority was going to vote out Tevin, and Hunter had pulled a group together to try to move the vote elsewhere, Hunter got pulled to go give a confessional. While he was gone, Q told Tiffany that Hunter was coming after her, and that Hunter was the one who had told Charlie and Maria about Tiffany's idol. That may help explain why Q felt bad enough about this to ask to be voted out: He and Hunter had been connected since the pre-game, since they're both from Mississippi (never really brought up on the show, but the kind of connection that might feel like it goes beyond general in-game scrambling). It's possible that on the ride over to Tribal, Q saw that all his last-second anti-Hunter scrambling was going to come out (it did), and permanently damage his own credibility (it also did), at which point Q had an attack of conscience, and tried to rectify the situation. The show's explanation for all of Q's mid-Ep8-Tribal antics: Q was "just trying to create chaos." Again, pretty watered-down, when if we'd seen Q's full set of actions, it would have made a lot more sense.

Timing is everything

Timing is everything

One storyline that was well-presented was the contrasting outcomes of Tiffany and Hunter revealing to everyone they had idols. The implicit lesson here was that the timing of that mattered, a lot. Tiffany's idol was of course long-known to Kenzie and Q, but had only last episode been revealed to Charlie and Maria (by this week's episode, presumably, everyone knew). After the IC, we had a full scheming and plotting segment where Kenzie proposed blindsiding Tiffany to Hunter, Charlie, and Maria (who had already proposed this once), Charlie went to get a feel for where Tiffany's head is at "to keep her comfortable," and Tiff tells Charlie and Maria that she's going to play her idol that night, to remove the target. This immediately puts the brakes on Kenzie's plan, because it needs to be a clean blindside.

This worked out for Tiffany for two reasons: (1) She was a "stretch" target - one that most people weren't targeting, and the plan was only going to work because "everyone is distracted by voting for Q and Hunter." So with the other five votes split between those two targets, a small number of schemers (four) on a nine-person tribe could pull that off. More importantly, (2) There was enough time left before Tribal for everyone to regroup and plan something else.

Contrast this to Hunter's reveal: By his own accounts (and the episode backs this up), that happened right before Tribal. People had been thinking all day (or since the IC, at least) of getting him out, or at least one of him or Q. As Q told Hunter, they were "Target 1 and Target 2," they just didn't know in which order. Hunter also did not intend for word to spread about his idol - he dropped this to the people he was trying to rally the vote with, right before they left for Tribal.

The problem was, Hunter correctly read that there was a vote split against him and Q, but he needed a fourth vote, in case the split was 4-2, rather than 3-3. (For example: If he plays his idol and is safe, but only two votes were for him, Q heads to the jury, 4-3 over Ben.) He indeed had Q and Liz with him, but he was forced to include Venus, who he saw as also on the bottom. But in her view, she was already locked in as a solid member of the split vote plan. She immediately went and told Ben about Hunter's idol.

It's not clear if it was Venus or Kenzie (or both!) who tipped off Tiffany, since they're both in the woods talking to Tiffany about Hunter's idol, and Tiffany says "If we need to get up and talk at Tribal," they will. Did she come up with airing her grievances with Q as a smokescreen at that point, before Tribal? On the way to Tribal? At Tribal? Hunter made a big but relatively thoughtful strategic swing, in trying to spring all this right before Tribal, so that it couldn't get messed up. The problem was (as Liz said, "I wish you'd told me about this earlier") that instead of people having time to re-plot and work around Hunter's idol, as they had with Tiffany's, they just stuck to their plan, and locked in the vote split.

One of the lessons of the late pre-New Era game (especially Winners at War) was that if you want a blindside, you can't put it in place too far in advance, because then it can leak and get thwarted (except for Wardog's early-morning hit on Wentworth in Edge of Extinction). Clearly, that lesson requires some amendments.

Those would be: (1) If you're trying to pull off a blindside while you're an actual target, and you have an idol, you just need to play your idol. You can figure out next steps later, but play it so that you have that chance. (2) Tiffany showed her idol to Charlie, which built trust and made her threat of playing it more palpable. Hunter showed his idol to nobody, and several people (including Tiffany) responded with, "I think he's bluffing," and decided to vote for him anyway. As Q would say, "big mistake." Prove you have an idol if you're telling someone, especially on short notice.

One more amendment: As noted by Josh and Bryan of FuturePastSurvivor, this was also a golden opportunity for Hunter to leverage the power of the Shot in the Dark as a read-enhancing tactic. He tells nobody about his idol, plays his Shot in the Dark, and looks around to see how everyone reacts when he takes up his scroll. If they're smirking and/or snickering silently to themselves, no need to play his idol. If they're shocked/pissed, and he's not safe, he needs to play his idol. (Based on Hunter's exits, part of his goal was protecting Q as well, and he only had two people with him against a six-person majority - so even a 3-3 split would prevail if he didn't vote, due to the SitD play - so it's not a perfect fit, but better to save himself and lose Q than to be out himself, right?)

Thanks for (almost) nothing, Probst!

Thanks for (almost) nothing!

Jeff Probst got a lot of cheers from the contestants when he (1) revealed he had a shallow bowl of popcorn at Tribal, and (2) offered it to the starving contestants. Such benevolence! Generosity! He's the host that really cares!

Well, thanks for (almost) nothing, Probst! This followed the episode where the merge tribe didn't get rice, because production is holding the post-merge rice hostage for dramatic effect. We've been worried about Liz all season, because she's allergic to almost everything available on the island (papaya, coconut), except rice. As Liz blurted out when he started handing the dish around, she hadn't eaten in 72 hours.

So what did Liz get out of this very public display of absolute-minimum-level concern from the host? With 9 players and a very small bowl, it looked like people maybe got 2-3 pieces of popcorn each. From some light googling, a bag of popcorn contains about 100 calories, spread across ~300 kernels. So if they were lucky, each contestant received about: 1 calorie.

What the hell, guys?

It's bizarre that Probst comes out of this looking like a kindly elderly gentleman giving alms to the starving, when he's directly responsible for their empty bellies in the first place. All because of some macho need to make the new era "hard," even though (again) all the available evidence suggests it just shuts people down, reduces energy levels, and we get less creative gameplay.

In related news, fans and Survivor alumni received a very similar tiny morsel from Jeff Probst this weekend, as he announced (at an Emmy's "For Your Consideration" event in L.A.) that yes, officially, Survivor 50 will have returning players. For anyone who has played since S34: Game Changers, this was like manna from heaven, because the show has very publicly pooh-poohed the idea of bringing *any* of them back any time soon. But it was also a fait accompli at this point, everyone knew at least that season would have returnees, but many were hoping 49 would, too. What is a surprise is that if they're making this big of a hoopla about 50 having returnees, it seems likely that 49 will not, otherwise that would also have been announced. Even though everyone was hoping for a new era All-Stars for 49, followed by a Legends season for 50.

Also, in keeping with the two-pieces-of-popcorn theme, no announcement was made about themes or format. If 50 is indeed the first returnee season since Winners at War, it's probably all new era returnees, which is rough news for the people who played for the first time in 35-39, who may be out of luck. There were a lot of memorable players in that stretch, but if the choice is maybe 4-6 of them plus 12-14 new era players, it's probably best to just go all-new-era, since they would otherwise be picked off.

Then again, maybe it is just Legends, and no (or maybe one or two) new era players will be back for 50. Regardless, *every* former Survivor player - all 700 living ones of them (including the 48 cast, who haven't left yet, soon to be joined by the 47 cast, currently filming, and probably the 49-ers) - spent Sunday furiously pre-gaming as if their lives depended on it. Even though there's a really good chance nobody from pre-41 season is eligible. All because Probst announced a tiny tidbit of information that everyone probably already suspected anyway.

Again, thanks for the two pieces of popcorn, Probst!

Comparative history

Comparative history

In tweeting about the Survivor 50 announcement, I mentioned that we're likely to be stuck with the already-stale new era format for the next three seasons, to which one particularly enthusiastic tweeter responded, "There are somewhere between 30-35 seasons with 2 tribes, but 3 tribes is stale after 5 seasons?? Every season has its pros and cons and I’m sure Jeff is aware that the game needs to be adjusted...."


From seasons 11-16, we had: 18 players, 2 returnees, 2 tribes; 16 players, 4 tribes; 20 players, 4 tribes; 19 players, 2 tribes picked on Day 3; 16 players, 2 tribes; and 20 players, 10 returnees, 2 tribes. From seasons 41-46, we've had: six straight seasons of 18 newbie players, 3 tribes.

Over the same Guatemala to Micronesia span, we had seasons in: Guatemala, Pearl Islands (Panama), Cook Islands, Fiji, China, and Micronesia (Palau). Guatemala and China featured some of the most spectacular locations ever (Maya pyramids, a reward at the Great Wall of China). We had challenges that incorporated the lore and/or history of the location, especially in Guatemala, Fiji, and China. We had the meke! Over the past six seasons? The same three beaches in Fiji, no reward trips, and a homogenized set of cookie-cutter "obstacle/physical, obstacle/skill, puzzle/skill" challenges. Well, okay, that's an undersell: sometimes the obstacles include mud, which is allegedly very important for entertainment value.

Over those six 'teens seasons, we saw the introduction of: (1) returning player captains, (2) the pre-vote idol, which then became the super idol, and two seasons later completed its evolution to the modern idol (a four-season span, total), (3) voluntarily sitting out of an IC for food, (4) Exile Island, (5) the 3-2-1 vote, (6) splitting a vote to thwart an idol (Cao-Boi's "plan voodoo"). Over the past six seasons? 26 days, no loved ones, no reunion, people losing votes right and left, merge-atory, forced sit-outs for rice, and the abysmal but at least hastily abandoned hourglass and Do-or-Die twists. Plus a whole heap of rock draws. (Forced firemaking at F4 and split-tribals at F12/11/10 also need to go, but preceded the new era.) True, we have also seen the birth of the relatively ineffective but otherwise benign Shot in the Dark, but is there even one other aspect of the new era that is worth keeping?

So no, the problem with the new era is not three tribes. It's a lot more than that, but most importantly: Despite the word "new" in the name, virtually nothing changes from season to season. Okay, sure, the mechanism of the beware idols does, but it pretty much has to. Look back at how varied and daring seasons 11-16 were. All that experimentation, all those iconic moments. Where did all that creativity go?

Shorter takes

Shorter takes

Another new era monstrosity: This episode's immunity challenge uses a format that was born in the new era (the challenge where Gabler bored everyone to death in 43), and has unfortunately stuck around since then: a multi-stage elimination challenge where the first two stages are in teams (pairs in 43-44), then the final stage is individual, for immunity. It's as if production said after 42: "Okay, we're getting rid of the hourglass twist, but we need something *almost* as shitty."

Individual immunity should be just that: Individual. Having your ability to save yourself be dependent on someone else completing a task that they may suck at (or be pretending to fumble, as Q suggested) is just unfair. If we're doing the three-tier puzzle that Michele Fitzgerald famously won and kicked over, it's not legal for someone else to go and knock over one of their competitor's puzzle, is it? So while Q's suggestion to Charlie to tank his team so that Hunter was vulnerable was 100% smart strategy, the players shouldn't be in the position to do that in the first place. And the bigger the teams get that precede the individual stage, the more likely it will be that someone eventually does this.

And really, what's the point? All of these Frankenstein challenges have ended in elements that were originally full individual challenges. They could have just started on the final stage, and it would be a "classic" challenge. There's absolutely no need for it. Let everyone compete. For all Probst's Claire-induced raging about people sitting out pre-merge challenges, why is he so hell-bent on having people on the bench in the post-merge? It's not entertaining to watch someone who's vulnerable have no shot at immunity, because they're forced to sit out.

If the show must have a hybrid team/individual challenge format, just make it for reward, like the Fiji car challenge. Everyone loved how that turned out, right?

Speaking of challenges: With this week's team part of the IC included (as a team RC), Hunter exits the game unbeaten in team/tribal challenges. His team won 8 out of 9 challenges, and finished second in the one they didn't win. That's a half-win better than the previous best single-season performances: Joe Anglim in S38: Edge of Extinction and Reed Kelly in San Juan del Sur both won 8 out of 9 challenges (and lost the ninth). Obviously: This puts a massive target on your back in the post-merge, nobody should try to top this.

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