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?
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.
I'm gonna tell you the same thing I did at the end of the last episode: This sucks
A doctor, a college student, and a pirate sat down at a bar. Sorry, there is no punchline. Only sadness. And anger.
I did NOT come all the way out here to go two episodes without making stereotypically swishy gestures
What did you guys do to shrink Tina to hobbit size? You monsters!
Nobody's buying it, Colton
Not only did I play in the NFL, I basically taught these guys everything they know about fishing. I'm basically like that Jesus guy.
I'm concerned that some of the five guys may figure out I'm not one of them. Maybe even Brad.
Dead woman standing
How dare Rachel strategize with John? We should totally sabotage that, so that the Five Guys can more easily pick us off.
John gets to read the first duel treemail. Spoiler alert: His wife is participating in it.
Relax, John. I've got this.
I would like to thank Gervase's big mouth, and the jackasses on my former tribe. Without them, I wouldn't be here today.
I'll keep rubbing. Count on that.
And like that, Candice has pretty much won already
(Mostly) interested parties
Take that, Tadhana: Marissa stays alive.
3... 2... 1... Rupert is eliminated, despite having zero votes against him.
Yay! / Sob!
Honey, I can't help but notice you didn't wear your tie-dye today. Sad roar.
I regret nothing!
Probst: I'd love to snuff that guy's torch
Another cool shot, with Rupert's stack waving in the foreground
Yeah, I got an idol clue. Things are looking up. Or down. Or in trees. To be honest, I haven't read it.
Vytas tosses out a piece of brilliant strategy to four guys who view it with a mix of suspicion and confusion
Hayden is not convinced, Tyson seems like a bro
Brad just wants to put a lid on this silly talk of the women having value, even if it's just as bait
By the fresh water? Oh man, I was just there. That's like tens of feet away. I'll look tomorrow.
Good news! At some point in the future, I may look for the idol!
Meanwhile, let's take a moment to recognize Laura's loss. Okay, that's over with.
Kat is thrilled to playing with Colton again. But to be fair, who wouldn't be?
Arguing over semantics is always entertaining
To put Colton at ease, Tyson impersonates a sweater around Aras's neck
This is my only confessional this episode. It's not one of my better ones. Sorry, guys.
Has Colton changed? I'd like to drag this question out for as many episodes as I can. Ask me again next episode.
Another cool visual, probably intended as a metaphor for Monica's rebirth in this season, but more fitting for Colton, since what emerged from this was still a snake
This alliance seems to have three guys. (Plus two others, not shown.)
Three is greater than two, but here they are, anyway
Tadhana, ready to get In the Barrel
Probst takes back the idol. Shouldn't he have an assistant to do that, at this point?
You guys are never gonna guess what's under this blanket. Surprise! It's slightly more fishing gear than you already have! Woo!
That IS great news, Probst
RC/IC starting line
Yay, two dizzy contestants! Slightly more entertaining than one!
Katie retrieves a bag
More bag retrieval. Very little dizzy stumbling.
We like to pick challenges you can play at your local Chuck E. Cheese
Woo! This challenge is (*yawn*) intense!
Nothing more exciting to watch than a 40-year-old man rolling balls up and down a ramp
Kat is sitting out? What a slacker.
More cheering from the 'participants'
This doesn't get old, apparently.
We are totally gonna vote out Marissa for this. Wait.... Dammit.
Galang wins, etc.
Kat is super-excited about the slightly expanded selection of fishing gear Galang now owns.
Why are you including me in the 'one you will be voted out tonight' montage? Rude.
The traditional post-IC roid rage display. High-larious.
I hope the guys don't stick to the pattern of booting a woman who did well in the first half of the challenge
Send to Tyson to RI? Really? Well... okay, I guess.
Vytas's beard allows editing to paste in confessionals from future episodes with limited detectable continuity problems
They're using ME as the mark? Rude.
So the idol pretty much has to be in this root that John stumbled over while not really looking, right?
Hayden gets a confessional. Or a 'confessional.'
Nothing suspicious to see here, move along
Tadhana spontaneously marches out of camp in an orderly fashion, as reality contestants do
Oh, right, they had to go to this place
Post-snuff (feel free to flip back and forth)
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews: Rupert Boneham