Jeff Pitman's Survivor: Blood vs. Water recaps

This was a problematic Survivor episode. On the surface, it should have been BIG: A larger-than-life, four-time player leaves the game as the first person eliminated, after volunteering to take his wife's place on Redemption Island. A near-universally reviled (except by Probst, apparently) two-time player decides four days is far, far too long to go without causing a scene. A first-time player gets a clue to the item the show considers the most exciting thing in the world: a hidden idol.


Yet together, it all felt strangely flat. Rupert and his wife Laura barely reacted to his elimination. Everyone on Galang saw through Colton's attempted pot-stirring immediately, and he merely pouted after being all but assured of getting booted at Galang's first opportunity. John hemmed and hawed about whether to share his clue, then put in what appeared to be a flaccid, 10-second attempt to find the idol. And despite all the alleged excitement idols create at Tribal Council, the women of Tadhana engineered a pointless surprise split vote, one that failed to thwart an idol that was never played. It was a series of enthusiastically raised expectations, all of which ultimately ended in dramatic fizzles.



Silencing the pirate's roar


Rupert's early elimination was one for which pre-season spoilers abounded, and also an event that was both foreshadowed (Rupert, upon swapping out for Laura, assured Probst that he would win every duel and come back to the game, to which Laura's reaction shot was a sad, silent shaking of her head, "no") and obfuscated (the whole sequence with Rupert refusing to work at RI, in order to do better in duels) fairly well by the editing.


Why, then, did it seem so anticlimactic? Most of the problem was the duel itself: as soon as Rupert's stack tipped over, he was all but assured of losing. Candice seemed to coast to the win after establishing an early lead, just as Kim did in One World. Once Rupert's poorly thought-through off-center stack toppled, Marissa merely needed to not screw up to avoid elimination. And she took her time and did so. Rupert and Laura had quite a while during the remainder of the duel to come to terms with his impending loss, which seemed to be met with a collective shrug.


"Operation Balance Build" is a challenge that seems interesting at first, because of the odd equipment. But it rewards a tortoise-and-the-hare approach, especially in this setting of multiple winners and a single loser. And that does not lead to compelling TV. On the plus side, Rupert got to be a hero, without really playing Survivor, and the show got to see a twist put into action. So... mission accomplished? (We should note that despite the lack of dramatic momentum, there was some cool cinematography here: a shot of Marissa staying alive, with Tadhana in the background; having Gervase and Laura B. seated next to each other, allowing a single shot of the opposing reactions to Marissa beating Rupert, and so on.)



Silencing the bully's whine


After about 15 seconds of commisseration with Laura B. about her husband's elimination, the show then took an extended detour into Trolly territory. Colton decided amongst himself that four days was far too long to play nice, and set about telling every person on his tribe that one or more other people on the tribe were gunning for them. One lie he told Tina was so ludicrous (claiming Gervase wanted to take out Aras, which goes against a secret pre-game alliance Aras mentioned in his preseason interviews, one that Tina was probably also privy to) that it was amazing Tina refrained from laughing in his face. Then Colton proceeded to badger Kat, until the entire tribe had to get together to restore the harmony. Had Galang voted Colton out on Morning 1, and Caleb swapped out for him, sending Colton to mix with the newbies on Tadhana, maybe this narrative would have had legs. But instead, Colton was attempting to divide and conquer a tribe of seasoned veterans, including two extremely savvy former winners. Hey, at least he got some camera time, right?


Nice effort, guys

When participating is sitting out


Kat "officially" sat out of the Reward/Immunity challenge. But another six people (Tina, Colton, Laura B; Rachel, Ciera, Caleb) did absolutely nothing except cheer on their respective skee-ball rollers. This is stupid, and it's ludicrous that Survivor can't come up with a challenge design that includes actual roles for at least eight people, especially when they have only ONE tribal challenge to make every three days.


Challenges do two things: allow a person or tribe to win exciting prizes, and create intra-tribal tension when someone screws up. That tension can lead to someone becoming a target when it's time to vote, perhaps even someone in the dominant alliance. Having nearly half the tribe get a pass on the challenge is an incredible waste of an opportunity. Yeah, maybe the vote strategy is complicated enough already this season, but that's not a reason to avoid stirring things up. Furthermore, the main problem here was a return to carnival games as the final challenge equalizer. Why not a puzzle that requires four people to complete? Rolling people in barrels was fairly interesting, but watching two guys slowly roll balls into tiny holes is painfully dull. Survivor can do better.



Show, don't tell


There was almost no discussion at Tribal Council this episode, apart from a grasping-at-straws attempt to make the vote interesting by explaining that Rachel was being targeted to try to induce Tyson to take her place at Redemption Island. Talking this idea through introduces it, we suppose, but it lacked any immediate payoff, and failed the "show, don't tell" mantra of movies and TV. The sad thing is, this (1) was indeed an exciting new "layer" to voting strategy, one that amply demonstrating Vytas's strategic chops, and (2) also had the potential to ignite an alliance-fracturing revolt, since John seemed quite opposed to the end result of Tyson heading to RI, where he could eliminate Candice. But storyline (1) fell flat, as the end result of the vote was that the Five Guys voted off another one of the women, just as they had in the previous episode. An event made even less interesting by Brad's continuing refrain that the Tadhana women are all pretty much interchangeable, so it didn't really matter which one they boot.


Similarly, there were a lot of things John could have done about storyline (2) that he didn't. He could simply have said, "Hey look, dummies, weakening and/or baiting Tyson is hilarious and all, but I don't want him beating Candice. She could really help us at the merge if she comes back. It's not like the people on the other tribe like her." Or he could have made more than a cursory attempt to look for the idol. Or he could have worked with Katie, Ciera and Rachel to force a tie, and target one of the Five Guys. It's not like the Tadhana's men's perceived strength has won them any challenges. Any number of things. But instead, he folded and went with the Five Guys. Meh.

Survivor: Blood vs. Water Ep.2 image gallery

Recaps and commentary


Exit interviews: Rupert Boneham

  • Rob Cesternino at RobHasAPodcast: "Interview With the First Player Eliminated from Survivor 27"
  • Gordon Holmes at "Survivor Castaway Rupert: 'I Would Do the Same Thing Every Time'"