We've all heard the protestations that this isn't about Russell: Jeff Probst swears he'd cast Brandon again, even if his last name wasn't Hantz. Brandon keeps saying he wants to make a name for himself, independent of his uncle's notoriety. Stacey says "You can't judge a book by its cover." (Here, we think she may have meant she initially judged Brandon as "just some loco teenager," before seeing his Hantz tattoos and amending that judgment to a "loco teenager with the most offensive tattoos possible on his cover, but hey, it's not for me to judge." Or something like that.)
And yet... despite the fact that this is NOT ABOUT RUSSELL, WE SWEAR!, the words "Russell" and "uncle" somehow came up around 13 times in the first 20 minutes of this episode. (Keeping in mind that this count excludes the recap, intro, and duel, the last of which featured the extended trance version of Semhar's dancefloor hit "Poem I'm saying just to postpone getting eliminated, while praying for a rain delay, and/or to maximize my remaining screentime.")
We're sure all the mentions of "Russell" and "uncle" were just a crazy coincidence. Much as they were in the last episode (and, from the looks of the preview, the next episode). Also, it's just sheer luck that the one guy Brandon chose to disclose his secret identity to initially (Coach) is the guy most likely to get 50% of the confessionals, based on past performances. Although what the big "I'm Russell Hantz's nephew" reveal scene really needed was Francesca to pop up in confessional and chuckle "Who. Cares?" If you can bring Russell back in a season he's not actually in, this seems like the least you could do to compensate.
And let us be perfectly clear: We think it's a great use of valuable screen time to show us Brandon's "Hantz" tattoos for the 5423rd time (this episode). We're sculpting a 3D replica of the twisty one on his back out of mashed potatoes, and we really hate pausing and rewinding (we don't like getting our remote all potato-y, thanks), so the more times it's shown, the better.
We originally were thinking we'd put Papa Bear here, since he was largely ignored for the first two-thirds of what turned out to be his boot episode. But then he spontaneously decided to (1) charge around at top speed in his underwear, (2) make a fake idol, and (3) shove said fake idol into his underwear and parade around camp. Nobody could have predicted these actions would attract interest from the camera crew, but attract they did. (Step 4: Profit!) So in essence, Papa Bear took himself out of the running here. Sorry. Just be grateful we made it through three episodes without making a porridge joke, okay?
As it turns out, however, there were also people not named Ozzy, Coach, NotRussell and Papa Bear in this episode as well. You had to look carefully to see them, since most weren't allowed to say anything. Note to the wise: frame advance may be your best bet. Sophie and Mikayla at least got confessionals squeezed in (you'll never guessed who they talked about), but Edna, Rick, and Albert were all or mostly unheard from. Rick's silence is understandable: his Sears contract allows him to speak only if he's making fun of Coach ("The dragon slayer? Ha ha!"), and editing is already looking for fresh blood, sorry.
But what about poor Edna? She was (briefly) Coach's only friend, and she now sports the finest in fashion-forward headwear. Surely she merits an occasional peep, right? Or Albert, who... is that guy who said something interesting at the last tribal council. Maybe if he wore a bra, he could attract Brandon's wrath, and thus a camera or two? We're just brainstorming here. Oh, who are we kidding? If you're going on Survivor, you obviously need to get yourself adopted by a Hantz family member frst. Come on, everyone knows that.
This just shouldn't happen: Coach actually performed really well in a challenge. To be fair, this is also a challenge (the grappling hooks part, anyway) in which he performed well in Tocantins, so perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising. But not only was it shocking to see Coach blazing through a challenge section, he then listened carefully to his tribemates, and even acted accordingly, as he (and Edna) got the puzzle completed. We repeat: Coach won on a puzzle, AND he listened to his tribemates in doing so. As Coach himself said (about he who must not be named), "My jaw... literally drops!"
What's next? You'll expect us to witness Ozzy using a hidden idol correctly? We'll believe that when we see it. But speaking of Ozzy, it was nice of him to point out that Dawn did well in the IC. True, he may only have noticed because she was doing the same part of the challenge he was, and doing it much better than he did. But still, he noticed, right?
Maybe it's because he doesn't come across as sneaky, calculating, or particularly game-aware, but Keith has quietly worked his way into a seeming position of power on Savaii. Last week he was chuckling at letting Jim think that Jim created the 5-person majority alliance. This week, he's slyly sharing (with Whitney) Ozzy's unsolicited info that Ozzy found the hidden idol. So while Keith is firmly entrenched in the "3+2," he's also making prelimary attempts to set the other four people in this alliance against each other.
True, this could all fall apart fairly quickly. Whitney could tell someone else about Ozzy's idol (and that Keith told her about it), exposing Keith and removing Keith's leverage. Other people may notice that Ozzy thinks of Keith as a "bro," and get jealous. Although the fact that Jim didn't know about Ozzy's idol at tribal council suggests the idol secret's safe so far.
Then again (a tea leaf-reading honorable mention for next week's episode?), the preview of Ep4 showed Cochran and Jim appearing to make an anti-Ozzy pact, so maybe this is a fleeting moment of Keith's power. Such is its nature. To Cochran's credit, it makes sense to make a move with 7 left (and not 8): while Jim knew he was at the bottom of Ozzy's alliance, there was no advantage to abandoning Ozzy's five (along with some other unnamed person) just to be at the bottom of Cochran-Dawn-Papa Bear's alliance. Whereas if Jim and player-to-be-named-later join Cochran and Dawn to make it 4-3, the new arrivals are on even footing with the two previous outcasts. In theory, anyway. We stratheads were promised jetpacks this time around, Survivor. Please don't David Murphy us again.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Semhar Tadesse