Perhaps it's with the added perspective of knowing the two people who end up getting voted for at the final Tribal Council, but this episode really seemed to set in stark contrast the wildly divergent approaches of the two "heroes" of the season, Yul and Ozzy. (Penner arguably ranks as a supporting hero, but his story here is mostly "I get back to camp from Exile Island, and those crazy kids still don't want to do anything," more of a side note.) While Yul and Ozzy start off similarly enough in this episode, as providers for their tribes (Yul catches two chickens, Ozzy spears a number of fish), their paths diverge from there. Ozzy takes a dark turn as an in-episode villain, butting heads with Cristina the Cop (who insists on calling him "Oscar") and poor, lovestruck Billy. Yul, in contrast, brings victory to his tribe in the challenge, gets targeted for exile by the evil, IC-throwing Aitus (even if it is Billy who announces it), then is rewarded handsomely as his intellect and determination lead him directly to the hidden idol on Exile Island.
Ozzy's heel turn is a bit odd, because his edit in the first episode was overwhelmingly positive, and it will become positive once again later in the season. But here, it's pretty clear someone in editorial took a dim view of Aitu's throwing the challenge. That, even though the first episode's editing made clear that Billy really was contributing very little in camp, and was far more focused on voting people off. (Recall his ironic pre-first-IC quote "...if we lose, it's not the end of the world, it's the beginning of the game.") Ozzy's insistence on the tribe doing things his way is a part of his personality that emerges at various times throughout his three appearances, particularly in his most recent one, South Pacific, and it's his Survivor Achilles heel. But this episode (and his time on Redemption Island in SP) also makes clear that a lot of times, whether it's in the challenges or in the actual survival around camp, Ozzy does know what he's doing. It's an interesting, nuanced portrait of a guy who, yes, is a bit arrogant, but realistically, also is demonstrably capable at the things he claims "specific knowledge" about. Apart from the social game, obviously.
In contrast, Yul is presented as all but a superhero. He's trapping two chickens in one box (which, we are happy to pretend, could be the same two chickens Flica allowed to escape from the Raro camp). He's forming long-term connections with his "little sister," Becky. He's winning challenges, and finding all-powerful hidden idols. There are no discernible flaws with Yul, unless you count that, after a mere two challenges, he already stands out to Aitu as a threat to beat them in challenges. Even so, everyone in his tribe seems to love him, and thus the editing allays our fears that this may come back to haunt him. Plus, he has an idol in his pocket! So with the good and bad guys out of the way, let's get to the good and bad of the episode.
- Food, glorious food! Call us soft, but it was far more pleasurable to watch the contestants using their own ingenuity to devise ways to capture wild chickens, or successfully collecting fish and crabs, than seeing them laying on the ground, starving, hallucinating that the unobtainable coconuts above them are laughing at them. It's unclear why Survivor hasn't been back to the Cook Islands, but at least with respect to the actual survival part of the show, it seems like a location that would make a welcome return destination.
- Hard-to-find idols. Not only were there multiple spots that Yul marked as fitting the location described by the clue, but the actual hole he dug when he did find the idol was gigantic. So this took longer than a few minutes. Now, we'll readily admit we do prefer some parts of the current system: mainly that the idols are freely accessible to any contestant that chooses to look for them. When this idol was found after only two people had access to it. That seems a bit unfair. Even so, it's far more of an accomplishment, and definitely more interesting to watch, when a contestant has to correctly interpret clues to find the idol, as opposed to just wandering through the jungle and seeing it sticking out of a tree at roughly eye level. Isn't it? Is it too much to ask that hidden idols actually be hidden, like this one? Sure, it requires successful idol-finders to at least be moderately intelligent, but is that really such an elitist request?
- Throwing challenges is not always bad. This is a bit of a pet peeve, mainly because Jeff Probst began harping on this during Redemption Island, after Zapatera smartly did it to rid themselves of Russell Hantz, who was useless in challenges and a cancer in camp. Probst maintains that it's never a good idea to throw challenges. Never mind that just ten seasons prior to Cook Islands, the saintly Ethan Zohn did it, to boot Silas Gaither. And Ethan went on to win. Now, Ozzy may not be as ideal a counterexample as Ethan, but he came within one tiny vote of winning this season. Sure, they made him out to be a bit of a dick in his attitude toward Billy, but Billy clearly had no allegiance to anyone else on his tribe, and a switch is coming right in the next episode. Ozzy made the right call here. It worked. Throwing challenges is not, in and of itself, a bad strategic move.
- Billy's crush. Alas, poor Billy. To this day, this cringe-inducing moment is tough to watch, because you feel for the guy. Down on his luck, just having watched his tribe intentionally flub a challenge in order to ditch him, desperate for even the slightest ray of hope, and then this happens. This is why you don't talk to the other tribe(s) at challenges! Outside of the game, Billy seems to have been a good sport about this moment, so it almost feels okay to laugh about it. Even so, though... wow. What's funniest about this is that Parvati, who in the next episode begins to establish herself as the queen of flirting, was right there, too, and seemed to be participating in the misinterpreted "We love you" feel-goodery. But Billy only had eyes for Candice. Candice! We assume that's why she was a Hero seven seasons later.
- Odd idol rules. People (rightly) complain about Yul's ability to play this idol after the votes are read, but another odd rule that we'd forgotten about was that he was still able to play it "when there are four Survivors remaining in the game" (meaning it's a free ticket to the final three, if he hasn't already played it). Wow. Also, buried among the idol rules (at right) are some other, equally strange ones: If Yul wanted to transfer the idol to someone else, he had to do it before they left for Tribal Council. It could not be transferred at Tribal Council itself. This actually makes some sense in the context of an idol that can be used after the votes are read, but in light of "Hold Up, Bro" and Caramoan's triple-immunity stunt, we're thankful that this rule fell by the wayside after the idol's power was weakened. Also, the rules Yul reads here clearly state that the idol can't be stolen, for those who have wondered about that.
- Great moments in continuity. After the votes have been read at Tribal Council, Billy stands up, kisses Cristina, gathers his items, and starts walking over to Probst for his snuffing. This is followed by a reaction shot of his only friend, Cristina, looking over at him. Except that, still in the frame, there is Billy's unmistakable shirt, sitting right next to her (clearly from some prior time during the same Tribal Council). Nice going, editors! Actually, most of the blame rests with wardrobe, for putting Billy in that shirt in the first place. But still.