At the end of last week's episode, it was open question whether Survivor cared in the slightest about how its audience perceived the horrific sequence of events it had just presented. Nearly every audience Lisa Simpson seemed to be asking "Maybe there is no moral?" To which Jeff Probst seemed to be shrugging "Exactly! It was just a bunch of stuff that happened!"
Well... this episode set that to rest. Thankfully.
From the start, the editing seemed to be going out of its way to establish "yes, we're aware that what you saw last week was just as awful as you thought." Perhaps the first sign was hammering on a mustache-twirlingly dark soundtrack flourish over Dan's in-confessional retraction of his just-made apology to Shirin. Sure, it was a trick of editing, overdubbing to editorialize on two spliced-together scenes that were filmed days apart. But it was still welcome.
More impressively, some of Survivor's return to order happened in real time, particularly at Tribal Council. Last time, Jeff Probst seemed to leave Shirin hanging out to dry as she wept about how deeply Will's personal attacks had cut, and further allowed Will to talk over her as she tried to describe her personal history with domestic violence. This time, Probst seized control and consciously attempted to make amends from the very start, offering words of support, attempting to pry an apology out of Will, and all but laughing off Dan's attempt to grandstand his way into equal time. While it's hard to believe last week's Probst had no idea of what had transpired in camp prior to Tribal, or misunderstood Will's pre-immunity challenge promise to re-enact the nastiness, it's possible Probst was blindsided by the actual outbursts at Tribal Council, and needed the extra time to formulate a response. "Bring the Popcorn" was no "Rice Wars"-level miracle of on-the-spot conflict mediation, that's for sure. Maybe Jeff Probst the executive producer/showrunner holds back the otherwise flawless instincts of Jeff Probst the host? Maybe Redemption Island-era Jeff Probst just went with his gut, and didn't overthink it?
Whatever the case, even if it was a couple of days late, the effort made here at setting things right was laudable.
Today's active lifestyles
Shirin's scrambling was an impressive display of what may be a new angle in Survivor gameplay: active goating. Normally, a goat is an oblivious, unpopular, possibly delusional but ultimately harmless player who's dragged along to the end by someone else. Shirin flipped that scenario on its head, and was attempting to cultivate a consensus opinion that she had no chance at winning. An attempt which, if successful, would have led to both short-term and long-term safety. Never mind that the entire jury to that point probably actually would have voted for her, had it become an option.
Most importantly, it -- almost -- seemed to be working. Shirin had multiple possible buyers for her sales pitch that instead of being voted out, she should be taken to the end because "nobody is going to vote for me." Never mind the juror's actual opinions, people really seemed to think this was true. Dan said it in confessional, and Sierra stated it as a fact to Rodney, and he made no effort to dispute it. So the potential was there. The only thing that seemed to worry Rodney was that Shirin clearly had a mind for the game, and could pull off moves outside of his control. Active goating could save your life one day. But not, apparently, if you're an intelligent superfan.
Sigh. So close.
We're just a minor threat
Even though he didn't ultimately choose to save Shirin, Mike's idol-brandishing move did work to some extent, in shaking up the members of the Strong Six sufficiently that two votes for Dan fell into the voting urn. Had Mike gone the full Malcolm, and allowed Shirin to wear and play his idol, their fates probably would have been similar to the Three Amigos' after that triple-immunity Tribal: one of the two would just be voted out at the next Tribal Council, probably Mike himself if he doesn't win immunity.
Playing it this way instead gave Mike at least the chance of fracturing the opposing alliance. As Shirin said in her final words, "tonight might have been kind of a wake-up call for Dan," which may lead him to reconsider his position within that alliance. That's the best possible outcome for Mike, especially since Dan has his Second Vote advantage. To be sure, we can't quite declare victory yet, since we don't know if the side effect of peeling Dan away from Rodney will actually take place. And it's disappointing Shirin won't be around to stir things up next time. Even so, still an impressive tactical use of an idol threat by Mike.
Can *anyone* actually win this?
Going into the final three episodes, we now have a paucity of potential winners. Barring a mass quit, we can safely assume both Dan and Will have no chance at the million, although both make likely finals goats. Sierra has been shown almost exclusively as the person who might be receptive to forming a new alliance with one or more underdogs, but never does. We never hear her thoughts on these pitches, and then they fall apart. (Note that one of Jenn or Hali said in an exit interview that Sierra turned down their offer by telling them she felt she had a better chance to win if she went to the finals with Rodney/Will/Dan than she did with the No Collars, which shows Sierra is actually playing quite rationally, it's just been completely hidden.) Not exactly a winner's edit.
Then there's Carolyn, who seemed highly plausible as the future victor back in Episode 1, but has been all but unheard-from since, except to reinforce Dan's "final six or bust, flippers never win" message, or express her annoyance with Shirin. Which is an odd fate for someone whose Episode 1 story involved forming a Final Two alliance with Shirin. Did you know Carolyn found Masaya's hidden idol in the premiere? Unless we missed something, it hasn't been mentioned since. Considering how close to the end Carolyn is, how well she appears to know the game, how good her chances should be at winning immunity and/or using her idol, and how she has a seemingly rock-solid ally in Tyler still in the game, it's absolutely bizarre that the editing has all but forgotten about her. So it seems unlikely she'll be winning this season.
That leaves Mike, Rodney, and Tyler. One of them has to win, right?
Of the three, Mike has received the most narrative investment in his journey. After some early stumbles on the Blue Collar tribe, he seemed to finally have the game firmly in hand after finding the idol a few episodes back. Then a couple of missteps last episode (overplaying then backing away on his power move to get the advantage at the auction; misplaying his attempt to expose Rodney's core alliance of four) have reversed his fortunes, knocking him all the way down to a hopelessly outnumbered outcast. With four boots remaining, Mike is now the ultimate underdog. Nonetheless, he's an underdog with both a hidden idol and the highest probability of winning individual immunity. Furthermore, he has four all-but-certain votes on the jury, out of four possible thus far. He's either your winner, or he's the tragic figure that almost reaches the finals, but falls just short.
Rodney has been full of surprises this season, showing both an astute awareness of the need for numbers, and an impressive ability to recruit and retain those allies. In fact, at the merge, he seemed to spend all of ten seconds going up to Will and Carolyn, saying "Let's form an alliance," to which they responded "Okay," and it was done. Rodney's been regaled with congratulatory hashtags from the very beginning, and as he keeps reminding us, is currently in control of the Strong Six alliance. He's been presented very similarly to the way Tony was, and Tyson was. Given the overwhelming odds facing Mike, Rodney must be the actual winner, right? Maybe.
The one glaring caveat in Rodney's edit is that no narrative effort has been put into elucidating Rodney's plans after the final six (apart from voting out the remaining two Blue Collars). Rodney himself glossed over that this episode with "I'll work my magic." His core four will have two ex-White Collar people, one of whom has a hidden idol he doesn't know about (Carolyn, in case you forgot, we can see how you might), the other of whom is the second-most-likely player to win individual immunity (Tyler). Speaking of Tyler, his winner hurdle is the same as Rodney's: While he certainly been shown as an attentive, knowledgeable player, we haven't heard what Tyler's long-term plans are, either, apart from sitting tight and waiting patiently until the final six. Maybe Tyler and Carolyn are each planning a Malcolm-and-Denise-style endgame where either one takes Rodney and Will to the end, but not their original tribemate. Maybe they have a Final Two pact. Who knows? We haven't been privy to any endgame discussion from any of these people.
The only person for which that narrative choice makes sense is Mike, because he doesn't have any remaining allies. His only option is to win every immunity, play his idol when he doesn't, and work hard until the end. It seems improbable. But if Probst is *so* delighted about this season after the fact, there has to be a non-zero chance of that actually happening, right?
Then again, maybe the editors are just saving all the endgame plotting for the finale. Maybe there is no plotting, and it's all just a bunch of stuff that happened.
Worlds Apart Episode 11 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Shirin Oskooi
Podcasts - Episode 11