This one was a bit uneven. A solid, nail-biter duel (two puzzles!) that led to a disappointing, purely luck-based immunity challenge. Some more great strategic thinking, padded out with obvious, time-killing filler (and yet, no room for an intro). As a whole, it worked, though. We regret nothing.
Too Many Lauras
In two seasons, Laura Morett has now attended Tribal Council five times. Two of those times, she was voted out. Two of the other three times, she was wearing an immunity necklace. (She also received a third of the votes at the Morning 1 impromptu Tribal Council, which we're not counting above, and there, Laura Boneham was voted out.) Clearly, the name Laura is hazardous. Maybe she should changing hers to Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate.
Best lines of the week
We can't decide. We were initially drawn to Brad's attempt to smooth things over with John and Candice upon arriving at Redemption Island, by means of delivering a jaw-clenchingly sincere: "I apologize for whatever." But then Laura Boneham opened a can of Unnecessary Strategy and started spraying her tribemates with it, in gleeful recognition that "This game is fun!" and sealed the deal on her scramblicious sales pitch that Monica and Laura M. were plotting against Kat with a knowing, world-weary, "Oh, women!" Definitely a tie. We're absolutely willing to go to rocks for this.
It took us a while to realize this, but: You may recall that much of the first couple of episodes featured a lot of Monica's fretting about how Colton had betrayed her and voted her out in Episode 4 of One World, and wondering whether she really trust him now? So how fitting is it that this time around, Colton's fiancé, Caleb, betrayed Monica's husband, Brad, and voted him out in Episode 4 of Blood vs. Water? The next thing you know, Caleb will be demanding Tadhana give up their hard-won immunity to vote out Bill.
Expectations vs. execution
With a title like "The Dead Can Still Talk," we were naively hoping for some more fireworks at Redemption Island. Even though we knew Brad would not be there in the audience to take the verbal blows. Sometimes we just like to dream, even when we know CBS is trying to trick us. Is that so wrong? Okay, well maybe our dreams were stoked not only the title, but also the press release, which stated, first in all-caps headline form, then again in the body: "One castaway sacrifices their own life in the game for a loved one." Um... was this referring to... Rupert, maybe? Brad turning down Monica's almost-whispered half-offer to swap out with him? Did they really turn THAT into an all-caps headline? Brad wasn't really sacrificing his own life in the game, he was encouraging Monica to hold on to hers. Oh, CBS.
Nearly every word that came out of Vytas's mouth this week seems destined for enshrinement in a textbook about how to play Survivor. Not since Kim Spradlin has a first-time contestant seemed so wise to the inner workings of the social game, and unflappable and serene while surveying a constantly shifting strategic landscape. (Okay, Denise also came close, but did she survey that landscape while in a handstand position from on top of a giant mountain?)
Vytas's misgivings about Caleb after his somewhat loose-cannon performance at the previous Tribal Council seemed spot on, as did his attempts to (re-?) gain Caleb's confidence. Even if those attempts did seem to consist mostly of Vytas talking about his various rashes.
Expectations vs. execution, revisited
As with the general overselling of the episode, this week's immunity challenge ultimately ended up being unsatisfying, but it took us a while to realize why. Yes, the enormous dual waterslide was pretty and impressive to behold, and who doesn't love a waterslide? But such a gigantic build raised expectations that there would be something just a tad more epic at the bottom of the slide than a simple ring toss. This is really just the slip-and-slide challenge from Fiji and Heroes vs. Villains, with the One World wrinkle of a ring toss at the end, instead of shooting balls in hoops. Yet those versions all seemed more fun.
Maybe the former version succeeded due to the contestants dousing themselves in oil? The goofiness of them waddling along the slippery surface to take their shots? The Gabon version of the water slide had the contestants racing to retrieve tiles, which were then used to solve a math puzzle, which then opened a combination lock. The complexity of this ending seemed to fit the size of the start better, and the water slide was a better match for the racing aspect of the first leg. The expectations matched the execution more completely. Maybe it's that this seemed to finally bring to life (as Andy Baker recalled) Rob Cesternino's dream of a "flip a coin and get back to camp" challenge, which miraculously ended up being just lacking in any requirement of skill whatsoever that Tadhana could win it. Or maybe we're just overthinking everything, as we are wont to do.
Twists galore - the gift that keeps on giving
Despite the initial fan backlash to the layers upon layers of twists this season (much of that complaining coming from... uh... us), what's been most compelling about this season is watching the smart players try to predict and navigate the complex consequences of each vote. Aras's plan to convert Monica to an alliance asset by dispatching Laura M. to take Brad out at Redemption Island was: 1. brilliant (although it echoed Tina's concerns in a prior confessional, so it may not entirely have been Aras's plan); 2. something the show has not seen before, and 3. profoundly more complicated than the "let's get rid of the annoying old guy" discussions of early seasons. Similarly, Vytas's earlier proposal to weaken Galang by baiting Tyson to switch out for Rachel at Redemption Island was an entirely new tactic. Everyone is wondering when they or their tribemates will reunite with their loved ones, and whether that will strengthen or strain their alliances. Five episodes in, the potential for completely off-the-cuff, novel Survivor gameplay is still ripe, and that's an amazing thing to say for a show in its 27th season.
Opening the returnees' first Tribal Council with comments from Gervase and Tina about how much the game has changed since they were (first) on was a really nice touch. For a long time, Survivor was loath to make any internal references to the TV show itself, particularly to past contestants or seasons. Then the pendulum swung in the other direction, and the editors seemed to be going out of their way to bedazzle every episode they could with as many references to Boston Rob or Russell Hantz as humanly possible, even if it meant resorting to having Probst deliver them in his opening "Previously on... Survivor" monologue. But here, Probst made a Tribal Council choice that acknowledged the show's long history, and one that served as a subtle nod of gratitude to longtime viewers. Gervase was last on Survivor twenty-six seasons ago; Tina nineteen. What they said wasn't tremendously different from Mike Skupin's "the game moves so fast now" Day 1 observations in Philippines. Still, taking the time to seek out their views lent a tone of respect and gravitas to what would otherwise might just have been a fairly routine 7-1 vote.
I'm still alive! And not that fake 'alive' stuff at Redemption Island, either!
For the record: we're disappointed 'Festering' wasn't the episode title
We're waiting the Lego musical version of this
Tribal Council was CRAZY. And I should know, I was on Big Brother.
Episode 4 is never kind to the Culpeppers
I will ALWAYS wave my white flag in your face!
This should be fun
Good thing we got a few minutes of sleep in, because it's unlikely Brad will stop talking until the duel
I'm making friends, getting people to like me
Ha ha! Good one, Laura!
Gervase: Dude, are we on again this week? Tyson: I don't see the #coconutbandits hashtag, do you? Gervase: Dang.
Laura B has tried SO hard to fit in that her buff has magically changed colors, back to the Tadhana one she wore before the first RC/IC
Galang sees Tadhana arrive at the duel, part 1: Tina, Kat, Laura B say, 'Oh Monica, we're so sorry.'
Galang sees Tadhana arrive at the duel, part 2: Laura M says, 'Woo! Fist pump! Yeah!'
Pre-duel Probst lecture
Do you want me to switch with you, Brad? (Please say no. Please say no. Please say no.)
Shush. I got this, Monica
Galang observes the pre-duel speechifying
Candice, I can't help but notice you haven't played the actual game at all yet this season
Yeah, thanks for that Morning 1 twist, Jeff. Good times.
One of these Survivors is more ready than the others for 'Go!'
Probst: 'Candice can't be beaten at Redemption Island this season!' Well... except that did John did that last week.
The duel kept skipping ahead in time on this part. Guess we got the abridged version. [Ed. note: We are very sorry.]
We would just like to point out that Brad is getting puzzle help from Kat
John is on his way to a second straight win
Technically, this duel was #watervswater, but how many people are using that hashtag, anyway?
We kind of wish Candice had called Probst a rat here (Morning 1 was all his idea, Candice!)
Post-duel final words
A final Cody hug
So long, buff from a tribe that I was part of just long enough to get a buff!
That smelly lady in the bikini just said 'Bye, Jeff' to me. She seems familiar, but I can't place her. Is she crew, or something? Just smile politely, Jeff. Time to earn that Emmy.
Sigh. Here's your clue again, Monica. Don't waste it this time.
There are millions of kids in developing countries that will go to bed tonight without hidden idol clues, Monica. Won't somebody think about the children?
Burning idol clues? Again? You people are crazy! And I should know, I was on Big Brother.
Kat: Hey you guys, look! I can fit my whole hand in my mouth! You think they'll finally show me? Wait, don't pan away!
Monica discusses seeing Brad at Redemption Island
Tina is unsure whether Monica is an ally or a threat, in the context of her tight bond with Brad
Day 11: Hayden converts his tank top to a bra. What further terrors has removing Brad's testosterone from Tadhana wrought?
Katie discusses her beginning stages of leprosy (h/t @SurvivorPenner)
Picking off shed toenails >>> plucking armpit hairs
Vytas is now concerned about Caleb's ability to flip in an instant. And not in a cool, yoga-type way.
Either the camera crew was going for some Richard Hatch analogy with Caleb, or they just chose the most flattering angle possible
Survivor is great because it can bring together two guys who wouldn't hang out in real life, and have them talk about their various rashes
The best part of this faux Russell Hantz throne shot is that the producer then told Caleb to say 'Big Kahunas'
Just your standard half-starved, handstand-on-top-of-a-cliff reality show shot
Tadhana thinks they can win this next challenge. They are all totally high.
Pre-challenge meet-and-greet with Probst
Tadhana is thrilled at the sight of More Fishing Gear. Who wouldn't be?
All the Lauras are sitting out, Jeff (plus Monica)
Come on, we just saw you volunteer
After further budget cuts, next season's version of this challenge will be staged at the playground inside the McDonald's down the street. Put your shoes in the bin before sliding.
This hasn't happened since we were at that playground 25 years ago
Vytas scores for Tadhana!
Tina scores for Galang, extending Ciera's streak of losing to moms
Final matchup: Ex-first-season Survivor vs. first ex-Big Brother
Wow, there's something you don't see every day
Knowing that Lauras frequently get voted out, Laura B ponders changing her name to Rupert Boneham
Let the scrambling begin
What? Even I saw through that
Seriously, even I saw through that.
Poor Laura B. As alone as the 'More Fishing Gear' after every challenge.
Tyson can handle this vote with one arm tied in front of his back
Oh, sweet hammock. You'll never let me down.
Locking things down
Having just locked things down, Aras has decided that maybe the easy vote isn't the best vote
All the Lauras, in varying degrees of focus
Seriously, guys. We have a spare Laura. We might as well use one on this vote.
Galang attends their first Tribal Council that's actually at Tribal Council
The Galangs, Ep5 Tribal
This game has changed, Jeff. Doctors don't vote against folks alphabetically any more. Crazy!
The game has changed, Jeff. The woman with the football player husband hasn't even hosted The View, let alone leave it for Fox News. Crazy!
Hey, it could happen, Tina
Can we all just agree that we've all felt the sting of Probst snuffing our torch, except for that B named Laura? Right, Aras?
Laura B, do you BELONG here? Seriously, I'm thinking I might need to call security
THIS WAS YOUR IDEA, PROBST! Well, and Lynne Spillman's
With Halloween approaching, we can think of no costume more frightening than 'Jeff Probst impersonating Rupert'
I'm scared, Jeff. Can we get on with voting out Laura? The other one, I mean.
Upside of too many Lauras: The obfuscation just writes itself
Uh, you guys? B is the letter with the two half-circles, not the mountain-looking one
Oh my God! They killed Kat! You bastards!
You guys won't have Laura to kick around any more! Oh wait... yes, you will.
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Candice Cody