It took a special effort by the editorial staff of Survivor to displace Coach from his rightful place as Lord of the Trolls in this episode. But pull it off they did, for both good and bad. First the bad: the duel might have actually been compelling drama (as Cochran's was), if only they hadn't teased this episode last week by all but announcing that Ozzy would lose. Because as anyone who's ever watched Survivor knows, if the previous episode's sneak peek claims something, it almost certainly does not come to pass. So while the entire Upolu tribe was sitting there, mouths agape, going, "Holy crap, Edna could win this!", the TV viewing audience was instead sitting there going, "Pssh. Yeah, no way."
Which is sad, especially since the EW deleted scene is a pre-duel Edna confessional, in which she says something to the effect of: "You know what? Cochran almost won that last duel. I might actually have a chance to beat Ozzy." Had the editors just played it straight, and let Edna raise the hopes of the audience (instead of the previews), it would have been a near-perfect episode. But that would require the editors to break their pledge never to show Edna's confessionals except when she's voted against, so obviously it was not to be.
In contrast, the handling of the rest of the episode was textbook red herring... Red Herring... RED HERRING... twist, and it worked. And it's what earns the editors this week's Trolly. From Probst's opening recap on, the episode was set up as The Fall of Albert (oh, and Brandon's there, too, but don't mind him). Seemingly out of nowhere, after being ignored for most of the season (except for strategic comic relief) Albert suddenly had all the confessionals. Despite the fact that all his plans thus far have fizzled out on the launch pad, he and Brandon were going to take down Sophie. Uh oh. And later... oh no! Now everyone's mad at Albert, AND Brandon won immunity!
Okay, let's spend the rest of episode beating up on Albert and his selfish, selfish gameplay, for having the audacity to want to win. Oh look, now hapless Albert is going to mend fences... with Brandon?! Why would any sane person do that? That's a terrible idea! He'll blab any plan you try to plot with him! He'll give you his immunity necklace!
Wait, he'll... what? What?
That was some Grade A obfuscation right there. And from the instant Brandon brought up his bizarre necklace-transfer scheme, you knew for sure that's what would actually happen. (Since Brandon's primary purpose narratively has been Survivor's in-house spoiler, telling Cochran and Edna they were 7th and 6th respectively in the Upolu 6, and so on. Spoiling Survivor: It's a proud Hantz family tradition.) The space between Brandon saying it and actually doing it at Tribal Council was blissfully short, leaving plenty of time to soak up the full weight of what just happened. But the editors pulled the narrative trick off by drawing attention to themselves, by drawing false attention to Albert: Hey, look at us! We're beating you over the head with Albert going home tonight! It's like Roger got sent home in Amazon! We're totally being straight with you this time! Won't you pick up on our subtle hints?
Sigh. Apparently the touching, take-home message of this holiday special is: Sometimes Trolls can do nice things.
We think @lex_ariff may have said it best on twitter: "Rick's line of the week: *whistles*." Yeah, he got to argue with Albert about being targeted in the Dawn/Whitney double-boot episode, and may have said something elsewhere, but he had no confessionals again, despite being the guy selected to enjoy the reward with Brandon. Come on, even Dawn (who we're recommending for your Fan Favorite votes) had more to say, and she's on the jury!
His longest on-screen time was when Sophie (who we're also recommending for your Fan Favorite votes) and Coach asked if he was up for targeting Brandon at the next vote, to which he agreed, adding that they knew, of course, that his word was good. Coach gave him a "well, duh!" look, while the audience responded with: "No! How the heck would we know that? Those are the first ones we've heard you say!" Have we mentioned that Rick was America's Choice, as the winner of the Sears contest, and as such, we kind of expected to... you know, see him? It's bad enough that they changed his name to "Cowboy" mid-show. Is he in the Witness Protection Program, or something?
We've kind of tried to ignore the duels on Redemption Island this season because (1) they're usually watered-down version of real challenges, (2) Redemption Island itself is an abomination, and (3) if we just pretend it's not there, it'll be gone as soon as the season's over. But in all fairness, the post-merge duels have all been either full-fledged challenges from seasons past, or (this one) a new creation that's as complicated as a full challenge. That doesn't address points 2 or 3, but at least it's a start.
Even more surprising: despite the fact that this one was two consecutive puzzles, Ozzy continues to win. Although this might be a good time to point out that the last person to have an impressive winning streak at Redemption Island, Christine, failed in the final duel that would have brought her back into the game. And that everything that Coach has commanded in this game (Upolu boots, Cochran's flip, post-merge boots) has come to pass, and he just told Brandon to win at Redemption. And that sending Brandon to Redemption to take out Ozzy was Sophie's idea, and her plans have tended to work, unlike Albert's.
But fear not, Ozzy. Your plan A and plan B are winning the duel. And even if, like Cochran at the flip, you don't have a plan for what happens after that, there's no chance anything could possibly go wrong with the first part about the duel, right? Well, just in case, take this Beasty award. It's no Survivor Hall of Fame plaque, admittedly. And you can't smoke it. We're not really sure what it's good for, honestly. Won't you please take it, though?
It's true, God already earned a Slitty back in Survivor: Redemption Island, for His previous (excellent, of course) work in getting Matt Elrod to, uh, pull an Elrod at the merge. So that makes God the first player to earn Slittys in back-to-back seasons. Well done, God! We see big things for you if you can keep this up.
This time around, God's mastery (Mastery?) of all things strategic came as He instructed Brandon to give up the immunity necklace. Even though He (although not he, as in Brandon) knew full well that Brandon was going to get booted for doing so, as His vessel and prophet, Coach, had foretold it in the previous episode. But what really earned God the Slitty here is that even though God sort of stabbed Brandon in the back (again, through the actions of his vessel, Coach), Brandon is still totally planning to vote for God to take the million at the end. Those are some pretty impressive skills there, God.
But truly, God's finest work came towards the end, when Coach decided he needed to pray for guidance as to whom he should vote for at Tribal Council. Miraculously, there were camera crews right there, filming him, when Coach felt this Huge Batch o' Praying coming on. We know, we know. The Lord works in mysterious ways. We're just going to throw out there that maybe God told those camera crews that Coach had a big Moment about to happen, which would later Explain The Entire Episode, and that they'd better hurry over to his undisclosed location to film it. Really, it's the only logical explanation. But the key thing is: We sure are glad the cameras just happened to be there to capture Coach's faceplanted prostration. It's a Christmas miracle! Made even more miraculous because it happened in early July!
Well played, God. Well played. After seeing the way the past two seasons have shaken out, we've had a vision. A prophecy, you might say: God's in a really good position to have many more Slittys in seasons to come.
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