We’re now at the spiky end of the season, where the sleepless nights and intense hunger pangs start to impinge on one’s ability to think straight. Or, to put it another way… PEOPLE ARE LOSING THEIR DAMN MINDS! Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many baffling decisions from numerous players across one episode. And I’m not even talking about Tony’s “spy nest” or the producers once again trying to kill the Edge of Extinction castaways with excessive endurance challenges. Those things look relatively sane compared to the moves made in this episode by players (winners!) who you would expect better from.
Let’s start at the end with that disorderly Tribal Council and the elimination of a bonafide Survivor great, Kim Spradlin. It’s been a tumultuous season for the One World champion, starting on the outs due to poker alliance paranoia before finding an idol and later friends on her post-swap tribe, and then misplaying that idol in a leap of faith that put her back on the outside. An entire ocean separates the playstyles of Kim’s two seasons. In One World, she was composed and measured, effortlessly charming among a cast comprising camera-mugging clowns and whiny man-children. She sauntered to victory, never once losing control of the game or her temper. This season, Kim has been duped and pushed aside, forcing her to transform into a scrappy and sometimes desperate risk-taker. But it’s a risk that ultimately undoes her game — a risk that should have never even crossed her mind.
Stepping down from an Immunity Challenge for peanut butter is essentially a Survivor pastime, immortalized when Heidi and Jenna voluntarily stripped naked for a scoop back in Season 6. Almost 20 years later and that sweet-and-salty spread is still tempting castaways into making bewildering choices. Now, I’m not out on the island; I haven’t been surviving off meager portions of rice for 30-something days. Maybe in that situation, Jeff’s overly seductive description of the food on offer would coax me to quit, if nothing else, to make Probst stop talking. But at the final eight in a game for $2 million? In a challenge that offers Immunity to both the last man and woman standing? That’s what makes Kim’s decision to step down so absurd to me. There is a one-in-three shot she walks away with the Immunity necklace, ensuring her not only personal security but safety in being able to maneuver and perhaps even control the next vote. She knows she is in danger and puts so much work in before the challenge rallying the troops to take a shot at Tony, and she puts that all at risk for a few cookies and a dollop of peanut butter that, let’s face it, has probably been baking in the Fijian sun all afternoon.
I don’t want to just pile on Kim, though, as Michele and Nick also take Jeff’s bait. Nick might be even worse, as it’s literally down to him or Tony, the man he spent all day saying needed to go next. I suppose Tony offers him a fire token, too, so Nick has an added benefit to dropping, but still… $2 million, people! These peanut butter fiends were vital cogs in the plan to blindside Tony, and not only does Nick hand his target Immunity, but all three remove any agency they might have had in the vote. With Tony now on the back-burner, the group defaults to the previous target, Jeremy. This, in itself, is an odd choice. Again, it’s like Kim and company lost their urgency and resorted to what they assumed would be an easy, consensus vote-off. Don’t get me wrong, Jeremy is a huge threat to win, but he’s low on numbers, and he’s not been winning challenges. Meanwhile, there are two flashing sirens in the form of Sarah and Tony, a pair of dastardly cops surveilling the island perimeter.
Despite being “infuriated” with Tony for leaving her out of his “grimy move” against Sophie last week, Sarah reconfirms that the Cops ‘R’ Us partnership is still solid. I mean, after she tears into him, of course. Jabbing her finger in his face, Sarah curses and yells, not too dissimilar from something you’d actually see on the show Cops. Tony pleads that he isn’t turning on her, even reprising some old Cagayan tricks, such as swearing on his family. “This time there are deep wounds,” says Tony, suddenly realizing that betrayals sting more in a game where real-life relationships exist. To earn back some trust, he winds up telling both Sarah and Ben that he has an idol. Then, in a moment of poetry bestowed by the Survivor gods, a bat passing overhead poops on Tony’s hand as he’s showing Ben the idol, as if to say, literally, Tony is batshit crazy. Is it the bat feces that inspires Tony to scale a tree and build a spy nest, in a sort of weird Batman origin story? Perhaps. Regardless, back to my original point, Sarah watches out for Tony as he peeks from his secret treehouse, proving she still has his back, even if she does worry that these old Tony habits are going to get him voted out.
“It’s obvious the cops are a problem,” says Kim, as if she’s watching the next installment of Making A Murderer. She knows that Cops ‘R’ Us needs splitting up, but once Tony wins Immunity, she reverts to Jeremy, rather than focusing on his partner in crime, Sarah. Yes, she does explain that she thinks she can salvage her relationship with Sarah, but couldn’t she do that with Jeremy instead? It’s not as if we’ve seen a particular closeness between Kim and Sarah, unless the edit isn’t telling us, which, judging by the secret scenes released on YouTube, could very well be the case. But even if Kim does have a bond with Sarah, she must know that blue blood is thicker than Fijian water? And having already thrown the feelers out there regarding breaking up the power duo, it makes little sense to back out now. It only takes one loose-lipped castaway, someone like say, oh, I dunno, Ben, to go and spill all the secrets.
Ben is another player guilty of nonsensical gameplay this episode. He begins by throwing a tantrum over the Sophie vote and sulking because he didn’t get Jeremy out last week. Ben takes this so personally that he refuses to even speak to Jeremy. Again, I’m not there among all the bitter feelings and paranoia, but for a man who said he wanted to improve his social game, Ben sure is giving us a pretty good 101 on how not to play Survivor. “He’s such a child,” says an incredulous Jeremy, who is given the silent treatment twice this week — also receiving Denise’s hand in his face as an abrupt ending to the Tribal whispering. Ben is giddy at the thought of voting out his sworn nemesis, but unintentionally sets a new plan in motion with his blabbering. He informs Tony that Kim was leading the charge to get him out, which, of course, Tony isn’t going to stand for. Ben desperately tries to stuff the words back in his mouth, just as he does when he discovers an idol in front of Tony and poorly attempts to hide it. “I stood right next to you,” says Tony as Ben literally drops to his knees and apologizes before lifting Tony into his arms like a newlywed and running through the jungle.
If one person is playing well right now, it’s Tony. I don’t know if he looks better because everyone else is fumbling around or if he’s playing such a strong game that he’s making the others look like amateurs. Whatever it is, Tony performs another masterclass before Tribal as he learns that Ben is telling the truth, helped in part by Nick’s Razzie-worthy attempt at lying. Tony knows he needs to save Jeremy and boot Kim, and so he goes to work, politicking, manipulating, even bargaining with his fire tokens where necessary. He somehow manages to get Ben and Jeremy to have a sitdown conversation where an effort is made to rebuild trust. Compare this to the tactics of Michele, who also wants to keep Jeremy, having had a tight bond with him since day one. But rather than pushing for a different target, like, Sarah, for example, Michele does something utterly perplexing. She hands Jeremy her 50/50 Coin. Bear in mind, Michele spent FOUR TOKENS for that advantage. And it’s not as if the power was expiring, it can still be used at the final seven. Does Michele feel that safe that she’d so willingly give up a 50/50 shot at guaranteeing a spot in the final six? Even if she was dead set on saving Jeremy, why not own the move and make it yours by performing the handoff at Tribal? I get she wanted to keep Jeremy without it coming back on her, but at this point in the game, you need to start taking ownership.
Instead, it’s Tony who claims all the credit, causing a storm of chaos at Tribal, flipping four votes from Jeremy to Kim (including Ben’s!) and convincing Jeremy to not play the dumb coin. On top of that, Tony shows his commitment to Sarah by offering to play his idol for her, though she correctly reads the situation and tells him it’s not necessary. “Tony’s a boss,” comments Rob from the jury bench. It’s hard to disagree. The llama whisperer just pulled off another expert blindside without any idols or advantages, despite tons of them floating around. In fact, right now, Tony is outplaying both the players and the advantages, effectively rendering them useless. You could argue he’s empowered by his Immunity wins, and that’s what’s giving him the confidence to play big, but Denise also had Immunity this episode, and she took the safe route and wound up in the minority.
It’s also possible that Tony is making himself into such a massive target that there is no way anyone will let him get a sniff of Final Tribal Council. But he’s made it this far, and if the others keep making decisions like in this episode, then forget a spy nest, Tony might be bagging himself a sweet nest egg at the end of the season.
A coconut marathon on the Edge for more fire tokens. Natalie is still a beast. Adam speaks for me when he says, “I’m so unfit.” And Rob has Survivor Stockholm Syndrome with the way he continues the challenge long after he’s lost. He’s like the reverse Sandra.
“In the real world, one of us would have been fired by now,” says Sarah describing the Cops ‘R’ Us dynamic.