One of the lasting stories that came out of this season, of course, was Jeff Probst's, um, "alliance" with Julie. And the early episodes made that difficult to fathom, since Julie was pretty much unseen until around the time of the tribal shuffle. But oh, has her screen time risen over the past few episodes, even if much of it has been blurred. So for attracting the undivided attention of a certain host in doing so, Julie wins this week's Trolly award.
Speculation at the time the show aired was that Julie's portfolio of exposed assets was what garnered Probst's attention. Yet this episode reminded us that the true way to Jeff Probst's heart is through... a "Jeff" (Probst) heart. Done in body paint, near the heart (well, the part of the chest that her bikini top isn't covering, anyway), on a woman who hasn't bathed in 21 days.
Oh, sure. He blew it off at the time. "I can't help you any!" And maybe he was a little suspicious that she'd been cuddling up with Sarge by the fire, or doing the "tan that ass!" routine, again with Sarge (and Twila!). But Jeff Probst is a consummate professional, and he has hosting duties to attend to, someone to vote out, ceremonies to master, and... wait, is that my name in that body-painted heart?
So uh, hey... let's ask Julie a few more questions this tribal. And for all the tribals to come, especially the secret ones, at my place, after the game ends?
Part of the delight of these earlier seasons was the glee production appeared to take in faking out the contestants. (Today, to get the same reactions, they have to somehow excavate contestants who've never seen the show, or resort to ridiculous abominations, such as Redemption Island.) At first it was minor changes: the first swap in Africa, the fake merge in Thailand. Then larger, often ill-advised ones: the godforsaken Outcasts twist in Pearl Islands, three tribes and a (at the time) whopping 18 contestants in All-Stars. Pretty much exactly the same as a bunch of coke addicts, desperately trying to recapture the ecstasy of that first high. Except that this season, they dialed it back a bit.
One of the changes resulting from the larger number of contestants was that it necessarily threw off the rigidity of the original cycle of one tribal council, one person booted, every three days. In All-Stars, there was a one-day cycle (when Kathy was voted off) and a couple of two-day ones. Vanuatu was the first post-All-Stars season, and Probst appeared to be taking particular delight in telling the immunity winners "You're guaranteed safe out here for at least one more day." Post-Thailand, the merge had also become a new toy production used to mess with contestants' heads. Up until then, the merge had generally come right after the 6th person had been voted out, or circa day 19 (with Thailand's and All-Stars' coming circa day 25, instead). So when the tribes arrived at this episode's RC (on day 19), Probst seemed to be twisting the knife a bit when he chirpily announced the challenge would be for two tribes. Ha ha, suckers! Of course, they ended up merging prior to the IC the very next day, but for that one moment, he got in a good dig! Victory!
Even so, since we're talking merges, we must toss out a belated quibble with the buff colors (red, yellow... orange) this season. Yes, you subtitled it "Islands of Fire," but that doesn't mean the tribes have to all be fire colors! Oh well, at least the merged tribe's buffs weren't as unimaginative as now-standard black. And we'll allow that the flag was decent, and the eventual name was something more creative than "Lopasur" or "Yapevi." Or "Scout's tribe."
The immediate post-merge is, traditionally, where the Beasties begin to fall (except in more-recent seasons, where it's pretty much as soon as possible). And Rory (yes, Rory!) proved this rule with an impressive, yet just-short performance in the first post-merge challenge. Sarge, of course, was quite a bit better than everyone else, but since he was immune, he wasn't part of the discussion.
Even so, Twila and Julie's completely spontaneous decision to pin their sudden distaste for Rory on his challenge performance was amusing, for a number of first reasons. For one, despite his non-threatening appearance, they had a point: he almost single-handedly won the last tribal IC (slingshots), and bellowed loudly in victory (breaking the idol in the process). And he finished second in this episode's IC. So he really had nobody to blame but himself for the impression that he was some sort of immunity threat. But more amusing was that Ami, who was Chris and Chad's preferred vote target, did almost exactly as well as Rory in the final round of the IC. Yet none of the guys brought that up as a counter-argument.
Never mind that all the women loved Ami, while the guys (particularly Sarge) were at best tolerating Rory's various eccentricities, making Rory a relatively easy person to pick off at a later time. All in all, a near-complete strategic fumble by the ex-Lopevi, although it's quite possible that Julie and Twila's minds were already set on Rory when they talked with the guys, and no amount of discussion could have diverted them.
Alas, poor Rory. We also knew him as "Royry." And "a grown-ass man."
He didn't really do anything spectacularly strategic in this episode, but we're handing Chris the Slitty this week for what was essentially an hourlong showcase of editing hints at Chris's [Spoiler alert!] future mastery.
It started in the "Previously on... Survivor" segment opening the show. One of the treasured editing shorthand symbols for "being in charge of the game" is showing someone chopping things with a machete. There was Chris, not once, but twice chopping with a machete (with a drumbeat soundtrack, no less). Sure, Rory was also shown wielding a machete over at Yasur, but, well... only one of them made it through the episode, and this is a long-term foreshadowing bit.
But perhaps the most glaring "Hey! Look at Chris!" inclusion was the immediately pre-merge flipbook of Chris's many, many final two agreements on Lopevi (Chad, Julie, Sarge). To be fair, some of them were more "Should we watch each other's backs after we merge?" But even so, Chris was not even mentioned as a target in this episode, so it served no immediate narrative purpose. And with the luxury of perfect hindsight, that's something to which we should be paying attention, right?