Once again, we're giving Brandon an award here that he certainly earned, hogging close to half the airtime in the episode, although he seems like a nice enough kid, and was (as far as we can tell) genuinely doing his generally crazy things, like telling Edna she's not really in his alliance, or apologizing to everyone associated with the show, or breaking down in tribal council. That is, it didn't look like it was all a stunt to get attention (as opposed to, say, Sugar's tears in Gabon, which always dried to leave a salty ring of inauthenticity).
Which leaves us again with some soul searching: Is it right to criticize a teenager's performance, when he really ought not to have been there in the first place? Meh, probably not, but we just can't help ourselves. In going out of his way to not be Russell Hantz, Brandon Hantz is hilariously becoming exactly like... Russell Hantz. Russell caused dissension and mistrust in his tribe, telling stories and bullying those who didn't agree with him. Brandon's doing the exact same thing, by hiding stories, then apologizing to everyone. Russell was a loose cannon, who could fire on you at will if you crossed paths with him (see? We put our tired cliches to strained use), by refusing to buy into his lies. Brandon is more of a land mine, capable of blowing up his entire alliance just because he feels the pressure of having previously told a lie. But a missing limb is still a missing limb.
Add it all together, and Russell's utter lack of social gameplay made him an attractive goat to drag along to the final tribal council. Brandon's outbursts, tears and apologies may well have the same effect. His one attempt at strategy (booting Mikayla because... nobody's sure why) backfired horribly, resulting in exactly zero votes for his intended target. Still, you kind of feel for the guy, so instead of spiteful votes against Russell, future Brandon jurors could well toss him a few merciful pity votes (the kind that almost earned Chase Rice a win in Nicaragua). Could the nephew outsurvive the uncle? Maybe. And if he does, you know what that means: Demons galore for all future Survivor contestants. Now we feel less bad about the Trolly.
You might think a guy with a giant mustache, someone who's wearing an even larger cowboy hat, no less, could find his way in front of a camera every now and then. Especially since Sears paid CBS money (we presume) to find him and put him on the show. We think his name is Rickon, or something like that. He was last seen in Episode 1, mocking Coach for calling himself a "dragonslayer." Which, coincidentally, was the key tag line in his audition video as well. Hard to tell if he's being hidden because Coach is not doing his dragonslayer schtick this time around, and Rick only has that one line, or because Sears no longer appears to be a sponsor.
But there was an amusing exchange at Tribal Council, when Probst asked Rick his least favorite Albert attribute. This was a tough question, because (1) Rick is only allowed to talk about Coach, and (2) nobody has heard from Albert recently, either. Fittingly, Rick's immediate response was dead silence. (To be fair, almost the entire episode was Brandon apologizing about things, so there was only a minute or two of dead air to fill, most of which Probst happily planted his flag in.)
That's pretty much all we got from Keith and Whitney this week as well. One of them might have said "swimsuit," or something similar. Keith got to scare small children with his heavly scalloped tongue in the IC. And Whitney got to splash him, while he protested. All in all, an eventful week. We're not really sure who this Whitney person is, but on the plus side, we also haven't been forced to listen to her music on the show, so it's a net wash.
The "Shoulder the Load" challenge, previously used in S2: The Australian Outback, S7: Pearl Islands, and S18: Tocantins, is a surprisingly infrequently re-used Survivor staple. Simple yet intense, with some strategy in the distribution of the sandbags between the various poles, and with an inherent division of labor (three people holding the weight, four merely loading it on) that can lead to friction after a loss. This time, as in Tocantins, it came down to a battle of two women: the previously-on-the-outs Dawn, and the currently-and-still-afterwards-on-the-outs Stacey. (Brandon and Jim actually put in impressive performances before that, although Albert and Keith dropped out fairly quickly.)
Dawn, performing well in her second straight challenge, needed to demonstrate that she wasn't weak, which she did (again). Does perfoming well in this challenge endear you to your tribemates? Obviously not, since Stacey, despite outlasting two male tribemates, was summarily booted post-challenge. So... Dawn is probably still not safe, although to be fair, Upolu still has two fairly strong women in Mikayla and Sophie, whereas Savaii is down to naught but their waifish model stocks if Dawn leaves. Then again, Ozzy has never been known to let actual performance or forward-thinking logic to interfere with a preconceived boot plan, so we're guessing the plan will still be to keep the younger ladies around. But for Dawn's sake, we hope not.
Once again, this is a tough category. Over on Savaii, Jim and Cochran were hatching a foolproof plan that was a mere two votes (or one vote, if they'd just thought about it before booting Papa Bear) short of actually working, while the rest of tribe relaxed in conspicuous condemnation of strategy. Then again, they were all safe this week, so this was essentially an episode-padding segment. Although, yes, it would surprise a lot of people if Jim and Cochran were able to boot Elyse 3-4. (Hard to imagine a 3-2-2 vote split when Ozzy has the idol.)
The strategic situation was not significantly more sensible on Upolo, however. Pretty much the entire tribe -- or as we like to call them, Team Keep Hope Alive (because they seem to substitute "hope" whenever anything requiring actual decision-making or effort would suffice... not for any other reason, certainly) -- was once again whining about Brandon's horrifically erratic gameplay, but doing absolutely nothing about it. And we even got a Jim lecture about the dangers of "variables" (vs. constants) to underline this! Although "we" did not include Upolu, obviously.
We know, we know. Everyone saw Phillip loudly goat his way into the final three last season, and all of Brandon's Upolu tribemates are probably (to a person) secretly suspecting that Brandon is hiding gorilla and lion tattoos under his underwear. And yet, in every confessional, they still feel the need to voice their worries about him... even though when it comes time to vote, his name is strangely absent from any and all pieces of parchment. Come on, Phillip racked up seventeen votes against him. Surely Brandon can at least get a throwaway vote from the bootee, right? If you don't know what he's going to say next, why are you waiting around to find out?
But no. Not so far, anyway. Is it the tears? As Homer Simpson said, "Ah, sweet pity! Where would my love life be without you?" Maybe (which, if intentional, would easily merit Brandon a Slitty sweep for the rest of the season). Still, all of the Upolus who are allowed to speak (Coach, Mikayla, Sophie, Edna, even Christine) are privately expressing doubts, but failing to act on them. So we're giving Sophie a half-hearted salute here, for at least voicing those doubts most coherently, despite her continued reluctance to actually act on them. True, the confessional in which she did so was conveniently split up between this week's episode and last week's, so it was probably entirely out of context, but... at least she was allowed to elbow Brandon and Coach off-screen for a minute, right?
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews: Mark Anthony "Papa Bear" Caruso