We really fail to understand the amount of screen time wasted this season on the red herring storyline of Jeff Kent (ed. note: since he was voted out, we are hereby retiring his exclamation point, which coincidentally is what they do in professional sports when they retire a player's uniform number, hint hint) hiding his past as a Hall of Fame-bound MLB second baseman. On the plus side: yeah, it did give the editors a celebrity-related reason to show Dawson, whom they might otherwise have edited out entirely. But apart from that, there were exactly zero game-related reasons why it was even relevant.
Most glaringly, despite all expectations, Kent actually turned out to be a pretty decent Survivor player. He didn't need the "I'm an incognito celebrity!" obfuscation. He played hard in the challenges, and he had a decent sense of strategy and voting tactics (last two episodes notwithstanding). So why all the fuss with a subplot that went nowhere? Why not just show him playing the game more often? Or, you know, some of the other, invisible, people (such as the rest of Kalabaw) doing so?
Furthermore, we should probably give the editors a double Trolly here, for their continuing insistence that Kent's wanting a first-time player to win this season was somehow selfish and evil. This also seems to be the editors' primary line of attack on Pete, Abi, and Artis: these are grouchy, angry people... and they want to vote off the innocent returning players! The horror! (And to be clear, we say that even though we really like Penner and Skupin this season, and are happy they now appear to be doing well.)
The mixed returnee-newbie seasons have, with the sole exception of this season, been terribly unfair to the newbies. At least one returnee on a mixed season has always made the finals. It just makes sense for the first-time players to target them. And even though Swan and Penner (and to a lesser extent, Skupin) have had to earn their way forward against open hostility to returnees this season, now that Skupin and Penner appear to be loosely united, their prior experience will again give them a huge advantage going forward. Same as always.
So don't get cocky, Survivor. Everyone's loving this season so far, especially the last two episodes, but it's not because there are returnees mixed with the n00bs. This season is succeeding in spite of that. Isn't it enough we like what we see? We don't need the heavy-handed proselytizing along with it.
Since with nine people eliminated, we're now officially at the halfway point of the season, it's time to give an enthusiastic round of applause for a game element that's no longer there, but whose effects are still being felt, and spectacularly for the better: the three tribes initial format. The dynamics of the merged tribe over the past two episodes have been deliciously chaotic and unpredictable. It's just like the difference in predicting the effects of gravity on the orbits of two massive objects (which settles fairly easily into a simple binary system), versus a three-body system, which is far more chaotic. And here, there are even more variables, since Tandang was hardly a solid alliance going into the merge. (New motto: "The True Dork Times: Our analogies are as broadly accessible as possible.")
The gameplay has been weird and sometimes nutty (Tribal Council seemed to have a lot of unforced errors), but even though there are a few obvious strategic sheep still playing, this season's early post-merge has already been pretty explosive. The last few minutes of scrambling prior to this week's tribal council were like a misfired fireworks display, with everything going off at once, although there was still plenty of firepower left for an equally spectacular Tribal Council. Maybe it won't work every time, but if the alternative is seasons as glacially dull as Redemption Island or One World, the three tribes concept has definitely earned a callback for a second season.
Waving around his freshly exhumed idol at Tribal Council, then pointedly not playing it was a huge move on Malcolm's part. In announcing the idol, he managed to snuff out any smoldering plans for voting against him (which presumably he gauged before saying anything). In refusing to play it, he guaranteed he'll survive at least one more tribal council, assuming he doesn't win individual immunity. So for that, target nailed.
But in the longer term, was Malcolm's move a wise one? If it was, it's hard to spin it that way. Before Tribal, he made a big show in camp of bewildered outrage that Lisa would spread rumors he might have an idol. After all, Mastermind Pete looked into his soul, and saw it was naught but a baseless rumor! Then, mere hours later, Malcolm's brandishing an actual hidden idol prior to the vote. We're gonna go out on a limb here, and predict that will probably not sit well with those he had convinced the idol story was a lie.
Compounding this problem, in bluffing that he was going to play his idol, but then failing to actually do so, he also showed his tribemates that he's willing to play hard to stay alive. Most notably, he made the guy whose well-thought-out same-age alliance apparently inspired unquestioning belief (Pete) look like a fool. Thus crumbles Malcolm's facade that he's the clueless stud football player from the opposing team. And there are still nine people left.
So... good thing he has an idol to protect him, now that everyone knows they can't trust him, right? (Technically, Abi-Maria's me-too idol display/fake-out was also bold, but we fail to see any benefit in her making it, especially since Penner threw a vote her way in response.)
At multiple times during this episode, we found ourselves asking: Who is this Lisa person, and where has she been for the past seven episodes? First up, she was pointing out that the old "honor and integrity" mantra, favored by one Benjamin "Coach" Wade, will only take you so far in this game. Survivor blasphemy (albeit completely accurate) from the woman Malcolm called the "church lady"? What?
Then she was making a smart move in solidifying her spot as the "closest ally out here" of the obvious casualty of last episode's boot, Skupin. And a few moments later, there was this same Lisa person... running around, telling everyone about Malcolm's hidden idol. First Skupin, then Pete. Then conferring with Pete over Malcolm's reaction to the news, after Malcolm convinced Pete he didn't actually have one. It was an amusing exchange, because Lisa mostly just stared at Pete as he struggled to stammer out a claim that he hadn't really said anything to Malcolm about idols. Has Lisa been practicing Survivor out by the well, while nobody was looking?
It's less clear what benefits and detriments her talk at Tribal Council produced. She hinted broadly at Plan B, and since she's probably not talking about contraception, we assume that was a voting strategy, which may or may not be the one that actually took place. But she certainly gave the impression of trying to steer the vote in a particular direction. Less clear was which sub-group of the remaining players was in on which plan.
All in all, Lisa gave a solid performance, especially since she and Skupin technically just voted with their original Tandang tribemates, yet appear to be charting their own course. Just coincidental that Artis, Pete and Abi-Maria happened to be helping them take out a mutual threat in Jeff Kent, right? Penner and Skupin also get special mention in appearing to lay the foundation for a three-person alliance that includes Lisa. Maybe we're reading too much into next week's preview, but it was an apparent power shift, even though it has yet to show up in the votes... except to the extent that two of the people who thought they were in power instead received votes this week.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Jeff Kent