Sorry, Lisa. We know you're an actual fan of the show, and we're guessing you didn't ask CBS marketing to make you, your teenage self, Jeff Kent (who is properly referred to as "Jeff Kent!"), San Francisco Giant Jeff Kent!, and the three returnees the centerpiece and/or sole focus of every pre-season ad. But still, we have to object to this perpetual motion machine of CBS-instigated non-celebrity myopia.
It starts with the casting, in which CBS says: "Yay! We can have famous people on Survivor! Now people will finally watch it again!" This then moves along to the marketing phase: "Hey everyone! We have famous people on Survivor! Please return to watching it! We're begging you!" And then the final push - the editing: "Look! Famous people trying to pretend they're not famous! Oh no! Will anyone guess their secret?" When you have that much A-list material to work with, why bother with traditional Survivor fare, like showing their heretofore anonymous contestants interacting with each other, and forming alliances?
Luckily, the episode was extended to a spacious 90 minutes, allowing additional time to focus on other must-see TV: returning players, archival footage of the returning players getting taken out of the game by horrific injuries, people talking about the returning players, returning players interacting with famous people, and returning players looking for hidden immunity idols. You know, the only other things anyone who watches Survivor cares about. Although kudos to production for figuring out that people might be getting just a wee bit weary of the incessant drumbeat of "Look! Your favorite former players!! Back again!!!!" This time around, production has re-jiggered the formula to force even the most cold-hearted among us to root for their precious returnees.
Because, honestly, who could possibly object to a guy like Mike Skupin or Russell Swan, who suffered gruesome or frightening medical emergencies (respectively), getting a long-awaited chance to conquer their previous twist of fate, and finally complete the game that was yanked away from them the first time? And even though that's not quite the same for Jonathan Penner, his emotional response in his confessional about getting another chance perfectly set up an underdog edit as his tribe collectively (with narration by Famous Person Jeff Kent!, no less) decided to boot his third-timer butt as soon as an opportunity presents itself.
We get it, Survivor. We're all horrible, bitter, completely soulless people for wanting to see new contestants ("16 strangers") on Survivor, rather than seasoned veterans marching uncontested to the final tribal council, machetes flashing in the sun as they carve a glorious path through a somnambulent herd of feckless newbie lambs. (For instance: Did you know one of them is named Artis? Or Carter? Probably not.) Whatever, Survivor. You win. But we're still giving you a Trolly, anyway.
Since we sort of addressed the traditional ICU! subject matter above, we'll skip straight to perhaps one of the best scenes in recent Survivor history: as Matsing is solemnly discussing their challenge loss, and Zane's request to be voted out, Denise gets whacked in the face by some giant, flying bug. How has this not been a regular staple of this show until now?
Survivor routinely films in tropical locations, rich in insect life. We've seen occasional contestants unexpectedly interact with the local fauna during confessionals (Fabio, Kat). But surely there's more unaired footage of people getting hit in the face by bugs, right? And editing routinely splices in shots from other times/locations to improve the story, don't they? So why not, in future episodes, spice up a predictable Probst monologue with as many contestant-bug collisions as humanly possible? Why not, indeed?
Consider this gauntlet thrown, editors!
Angie took an interesting path to the Sitty award this week. It's one thing to be bad at something that's tested in a challenge. (In this case, puzzles, which are pretty much going to come up in every single one of these competition thingies, if you've watched even a single recent season, which, let's face it, nobody's accusing Angie of having done.) It's another to pre-emptively tamp down expectations: "Hey everyone! I suck at puzzles!", you know, just in case you blow the puzzle stage this one time.
But it's quite something else to not only do all this, demonstrate conclusively that indeed, you do suck at puzzles, then try to turn the situation around and wield it as a cudgel. Angie's taking the "I TOLD you I suck at puzzles, so really, our loss is ALL YOUR FAULT!" approach is a fascinating application of hyper-aggrieved victimhood. It's interesting... because it worked. Not a single vote was cast against Angie. Going forward, this looks like a great strategy for her to continue, because not only would it not be Survivor if there wasn't a puzzle stage (meaning it will repeatedly come in handy), but also we suspect there may well be one or two other areas in which Angie is... not an expert?
Yeah, we know. While the ends are the same (removing a target from your back, usually post-merge, by demonstrating challenge ineptitude), Angie's tactics were just so aggressive, they don't quite fit the spirit of the Sitty. But whatever, it's early. And chances are, there will be many more opportunities here.
There was actually a decent amount of commendable early-game strategy going on in this episode (none of which was displayed by Zane, or, lamentably, Russ Swan). Mike Skupin's newfound go-with-the-game approach, pretty much the polar opposite of his original run as an over-the-top leader/provider, was the most impressive showing by a returnee. Even if it was mostly just desperately trying to keep up with Hurricane RC and gushing in private to Lisa about his childhood crush for her. Malcolm and Denise both showed the strategic awareness that was obvious in their pre-game interviews. But perhaps most surprising were two people on the winning tribe: Dawson and (to a lesser extent) Jeff Kent. That's already about double the amount of strategically competent people in One World.
Dawson wins this week's Slitty not just for knowing who "Jeff, the Texas motocross cycle shop owner," actually is (spoiler: he's actually Jeff Kent!), but for having the foresight to not reveal right away that she knows - either to him or to her tribemates. Technically, it's probably a bit of an incomplete play, since we have yet to see the key situation in which Dawson unmasks him as "Jeff Kent!, Famous ex-MLB player." Saving this information for when the tribe would otherwise trust Jeff Kent! increases its potential value. All-around great thinking by Dawson.
Additionally (and further extending the parallel to Guatemala's Gary Hogeboom) Jeff Kent! himself proved to be more than just a garden-variety former athlete on a TV show. In leading a revolution against returning players, Penner in particular (See, CBS! This is what you get!), Jeff Kent! showed an impressive awareness of the how the recent mixed returnee/newbie seasons have turned out, one that we would hope most new contestants would have, even those whose surnames do not include an exclamation point. Not only awareness, but a plan to do something about it. And even if it means Penner's scalp in the process, we will happy swallow our guilty feelings about wounding the pride of a precious returnee, in the name of progress.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Zane Knight