Taken as a whole, this episode was one of the best Survivor has done, ever. It had everything: contestant fake-outs by production, a massive and unexpected power shift, actual drama involving the loved ones, and the person eliminated was the (only) one who relaxed, and forgot to play to win. It was everything Survivor wants to be, and has recently failed to do, at least since Heroes vs. Villains. Still, we feel the need to use this space to complain about something, so here goes: we find few things as fingernails-on-the-chalkboard grating as the time-honored Survivor tradition of reassuring someone (usually while lying about something: see also Hantz, Russell) by swearing on a family member's name.
Here, Twila attempted to deceive Leann and Ami by swearing on her son, James, whom they'd just seen Twila hugging and crying over. Which, we guess, would be sort of powerful if we had any clue what "swearing on" someone actually means. What exactly are the consequences of lying while swearing on someone's name? Nobody ever really makes this clear. Why not just say "May God strike me down right here"? (Seriously! And, note to future contestants: Survivor loves nothing better than showing people talking about God.)
It's trite, it makes no sense, and to hear Leann tell it, it wasn't even all that effective. For the sanity of your viewers, Survivor, please just stop. You're a Troll, swearing on people's names, and now you have an award to prove it.
The "Loved Ones"/family visit played a huge role in this episode. From the faux long-distance video chat at the RC (in the dark days before MacBooks had built-in iSight cameras), to Eliza's mom, Susan, actually getting to stay in camp, to again faking out the contestants by bringing the loved ones all back to play alongside them in the IC, they were integral. Not only that, but seeing Twila and her son allowed Twila to do the aforementioned "swearing on" him to Leann and Ami, and who knows, maybe the extended presence of Eliza's mom in camp was enough to re-humanize Eliza to Scout and Twila, and allow them to make a last-ditch alliance together.
Simply put, Survivor went all-out with the loved ones, and it worked. It's somewhat remarkable that it did work, since a lot of the short-term drama revolved around the contestants being duped. Were they really fooled by the video chats? Watching at home, it was pretty clear that, while they were making an attempt to alter the backgrounds for each person, two of them were almost identical (vertical line behind Twila's son, James, and Scout's partner, Annie). Still, Eliza looked dutifully shocked that her mom was actually there, on site.
Everything else, however, was a home run. Eliza's mom (Susan Orlins) taking trinkets back with her, while literally giving Eliza the shirt off her back, was touching. Best of all was Chris's desperate (and, at the time, true) admission to his fiancee, Laurie, that he was going home that night if they lost the IC. Their tearful, fatalistic post-challenge hug after Ami's win was reality gold. (Especially in light of Chris's post-game admission that upon getting home, he told Laurie he did indeed get voted out that night. That's hardcore game playing.)
So yeah, it's a bit odd that we're giving the loved ones an ICU! award, since they were so heavily featured. But when it's done as well as this, it's something we'd like to see more often in future seasons.
We were tempted to give Leann a "reverse Sitty" for intentionally performing poorly in the IC, only to promptly be booted hours later. But that seemed a bit cruel, even for us.
So we'll instead look to the RC, which was the only challenge this episode in which contestants competed solely under their own power. That's right, the past-challenges trivia test which was... sitting down on a bench and writing stuff. Not our favorite challenge, mainly because it was hard for the audience to play along at home (because, for example, the editing gave us no idea how many times each person fell off the balance beam in "By The Numbers" in Ep2). So yeah, not just because we'd already forgotten about Dolly.
Despite the non-athletic nature of the challenge, Eliza demonstrated her superior memory, shutting out Julie in the final round (listing objects uncovered in the Ep4 RC, "Remembrance"). It's also noteworthy as Eliza's first individual challenge win, and an important reminder that even as of today, fifteen seasons later, her record from this season remains one of the top 25 challenge performances overall. Yes, even with the asterisk of being able to compete against Scout.
This is such an important episode for how the game eventually shakes out (and a great strategic episode overall), it's actually far more complicated to assign one person the credit than it seems on the surface. Really, it was collective great thinking by all four people who voted in the majority at tribal council (Chris, Eliza, Scout and Twila). But with an eye to who gained the most from this move, the nod has to go to Chris.
As the editors chose to present the story, Chris seemed to initiate the action in this episode, as he "narced out" Scout and Twila after the previous tribal council. This further drove a wedge between the perceived leaders, Leann and Ami, against Twila and Scout, who had approached Chris and Chad in the previous episode. But as Chris freely admitted after losing the IC, it wasn't him that initiated taking control of the game, it was the women... specifically Twila, who told him exactly what to do (after talking with Scout?). But it required Chris getting Eliza on board, who, like Chris, really had no reason to trust Scout. Chris deserves credit for having the social skills to be able to convince Eliza to join the new voting bloc.
But taking it even a step further back, it was neither Scout nor Twila who initiated the talk of the Yasur women booting Eliza instead of Chris, but Leann (who probably wouldn't consider this as getting credit, since she ended up being the person booted). Had it been Scout or Twila that had broached the idea of ditching Eliza first, they probably would have been shut down in favor of keeping the women's alliance intact. Again, Chris's skill in being on good terms with everyone there put him in the position of seeming to "deserve" staying longer than Eliza.
From a longer-term perspective, the fact that Scout and Twila openly lied to Ami and Leann about voting against Eliza also works out in Chris's favor: he should get very little perceived blame for this blindside and power shift, because he had no alliance with Ami or Leann, and was just trying to save himself. Twila (and to a lesser extent, the freshly demoted, hackles-raised Scout), in contrast, betrayed their friends. Once again, Chris didn't do this, but he gets the benefits. All from a tiny snowball of discord he started rolling downhill at the very start of the episode. Sometimes things just work out.