These two episodes continue Ravu's long, painful slide to oblivion, but also feature the first departures from Moto, leaving the game temporarily tied up at 7-7. Although one of those sevens has every comfort known to man, while the other doesn't even have a well. But at least they have flint now. You can certainly guess what direction the season is going to take after this pair of episodes, but in theory, it's *possible* Ravu could do something amazing. Or maybe it would be possible if they weren't saddled with Rocky, the toxic, tightly wound hothead.
Ravu is well aware they're losing every time. They really don't need Rocky screaming at them after challenges or after Tribal to remind them of this fact. Or Rocky seething and/or throwing a fit any time something goes wrong during a challenge. Or Rocky getting naked during treemail. Or Rocky being "hilarious" and wearing Rita's swimsuit top with two coconut halves for boobs. Or ... you know, Rocky.
Rocky really doesn't serve any detectable purpose except conflict, and you have to wonder if every other Ravu went into their confessional interviews openly hoping to rid themselves of him, only to have a producer prod them, "Oh no, don't you want to keep the tribe strong?" So instead, we're all stuck with him for a few more episodes.
If Rocky's job is to match up against the bigger Moto guys, like Boo and Edgardo, well ... he's failed repeatedly at that. If he's supposed to be Ravu's motivational leader, then clearly that's not working. If his job is simply to be "a man," the men started off with a 10-9 advantage over the women this season, and after Gary's medevac, that's now down a 9-4 advantage. Ravu still has their full complement of five men, while Moto is now down one after Gary's medevac. Still, Ravu couldn't possibly shed any of their excess male-type players, right? So no, here he stays, dragging down his tribe and the season.
Episode 4 opens with Earl attempting a tribal peace-restoring tactic (something that also failed for Vecepia at Final Five in Marquesas): He wants an open discussion among the Ravus, because people are holding their complaints in, and not communicating with each other. He all but says "too much drama!" He does this as the Ravus have just returned to camp from a fractious Tribal Council where Mookie and Rocky both expressed how frustrated they were with Anthony.
This quickly devolves into Rocky complaining about how "whiny" and "too emotional" Anthony is, and how he's not like a real man. How Rocky feels like he has to hold his tongue around Anthony, "like I do around a broad." Nobody else is shown speaking during this open discussion, apart from Anthony apologizing for somehow holding Rocky back by existing.
The next day, immediately after Ravu loses the reward challenge, Rocky throws a massive fit, tossing rocks at the cave wall and yelling and screaming. (Including the episode title, "Let's Just Call Up Jeff on the Jeff Phone," in order to go straight to Tribal Council, since they're sure to also lose the immunity challenge. A chilling vision of Colton Cumbies to come.)
Nope, not emotional at all. Totally reasonable. Excellent casting. This Boston Rob reboot is going great.
What's a little misdiagnosis between friends?
In Episode 3, we visit Moto camp almost entirely as an opportunity to shame Dreamz, for the crime of expressing his delight at the comedic sight of Papa Smurf falling down on the slip-and-slide. Note: as with barriers at crotch level during blindfolded challenges, falling down is like 50%* of the reason they have the slip-and-slide in the first place. Nobody will ever slide the entire length of it, so at some point everyone has to get up and waddle along it like a penguin. It turns out this is amusing to watch, because people are not, in fact, penguins.
(*50% may be high, since a significant percentage also comes from the show's totally above-board interest in their more hard-bodied contestants stripping down and oiling themselves up.)
So anyway, Dreamz's glee is shown right before kindly old Papa Smurf/Gary reveals he's having breathing problems, maybe from a cracked rib. This diagnosis seems legit, because Harvard-educated smart guy Alex agrees with it. Technically he's a lawyer, not a physician, but ... you know, Harvard! Cassandra is beside herself in worry, tearfully relaying Gary's fear of impending death. (Note: we get another Cassandra clip from the same confessional in the next episode, as he's removed from the game. That's probably where the tears came from.) But just remember: that mean old Dreamz was laughing just a few minutes ago. He also laughed at poor, self-injured Boo!
After a visit from medical, Gary gets some pain relievers and goes on to win the IC for Moto the next day.
Fun fact: It wasn't a cracked rib after all, Gary was actually having an allergic reaction to his bug bites (probably from ants). This explains why the editors included the otherwise bizarre scene of Lisi and Stacy painting the Moto shelter floor blue to "Keep out the ants." It's unclear how having a blue floor in a shelter with no walls (not to mention cracks between the floor slats) would repel ants, nor is it obvious why Lisi would think this, and there was never any follow-up to see if it actually worked. Except, of course, Gary getting medevacced in the next episode. So ... signs point to no.
But hey, let's make Dreamz look like an uncaring heel, even if we know the narrative we're trotting out for the viewers at home (Gary's broken rib) is bogus!
(Counterpoint: there's some fantastic camera work here that tells the story accurately, like the shot above, framing a Cassandra-Gary chat with his bug bite-covered leg in the foreground.)
What's most bizarre about this Ep3 editing choice is that after all that narrative effort, they completely reverse course in the next episode. There, Dreamz is revealed to actually be close to Gary, and gets to talk about how he's worried about old Papa Smurf, especially because he and Cassandra are the only people who will deign to talk to him. Adding more evidence to the view that Dreamz is the tragic antihero of Fiji. It would be great if we'd actually seen some of this Dreamz-Gary relationship beyond them gathering coconuts together in Ep2, but oh well. Hopefully there's room for Dreamz-Cassandra in the next 10 episodes. (Don't hold your breath.)
For the Ep4 heel confessionals, we instead turn to Lisi, whose response to Gary's medevac is "Oh well, one less person" and relief that she doesn't have to "babysit" him any more. The back-and-forth of these storytelling decisions is almost whiplash-inducing. It's as if we're watching different shows from episode to episode. (If we're picking favorites, the Ep4 version was much better than Ep3.)
Mookie: hidden strategic mastermind?
In Episode 2, Mookie and Rocky were happily hanging out with Anthony in the outrigger, chuckling about voting Sylvia out. By the end of Episode 3, when they're actually preparing to do that, Mookie and Rocky are verbally attacking Anthony for his alleged defeatist attitude and/or poor challenge performance. How did this turn around so quickly?
For challenge performance, there's no getting around the fact that Anthony lost twice to Papa Smurf in head-to-head matchups in the two Ep3 challenges, which doesn't look great. But one was more or less a fluke (slip-and-slide/ shooting baskets, which Rocky also "failed"). Also, keep in mind that Earl's and Michelle's performances in both challenges were just as poor as Anthony's, with exactly the same excuses, but nobody yelled at them. Even the two doing the yelling weren't without sin: Rocky lost to Boo in the RC, then beat Liliana at speed-eating clams. Not really something to brag about. Mookie won both of his matches, but his worm-eating triumph was against Lisi, during which he taunted her, raising the ire of the Motos. While victorious, maybe he shouldn't be delivering lectures on athletic excellence.
It's hard to know for sure what the actual sequence of events was in the gross food challenge/ Ep3 IC, but as presented, it may further undermine Mookie's position. The IC only played to four points, which is an illogical endpoint for tribes of 8 and 9, so it's quite possible that some matchups were cut for time, and the version that was aired was incomplete. Still, as presented, it looked like Moto was initially playing pretty laissez-faire, and letting their less-challenge-dominating tribe members (Liliana, Lisi) compete. While they did erase a one-point deficit by putting in Dreamz, they switched back to Lisi after Dreamz tied it up. But when Mookie taunted Lisi, they exclusively went with their big guys — Alex, Edgardo, Gary — to crush Ravu after that. Had it gone another round, Boo was probably next. So you could perhaps argue that Mookie's unsportsmanlike conduct there single-handedly turned the tide of that challenge, and lost it for Ravu. But sure, blame Anthony for everything because he lost the game-point bout in a 4-2 loss.
As for *how* it happened, the driving force in that decoy vote/ potential idol dodge was the same one as the driver of the first two Ravu boots: Mookie. He kind of gets lost in the broader Horsemen alliance later in the season, but Mookie really looks like the guy who's running Ravu in the first three episodes. (No Tribal for them in Episode 4.) And you have to wonder how much of the later Rocky-Anthony infighting is coming from Rocky alone, and how much is because Mookie planted a Mookie seed in Rocky's head back in Episode 2, when Anthony vocally resisted going along with the Erica boot plan.
As with a lot of the editing for the non-finale characters in this season, it's hard to tell for sure, because we rarely see Mookie's overall strategic thinking. Instead, we get reactions to short-term events (Erica freaked out in the Ep2 IC, Anthony should have tried harder in the Ep3 IC), but never his long-term goals. Was he intentionally stripping away Rocky's allies to secure his loyalty, then use him as a vote shield? It sure looks like it, at least from a modern perspective. Did he target Anthony after Erica because Anthony opposed that move? Maybe!
It's also possible we see no overarching strategy talk from Mookie because he didn't give the producers any to use. Maybe all of this was unintentional, and we're just projecting modern gameplay patterns onto situations where they didn't really apply. But there's at least a chance that Mookie was a hidden strategic villain here, and if you're digging for more second-chance returnees who could perform surprisingly well, Mookie might not be a bad choice.
Great moments in strategic gameplay
When Moto first returns to camp after abdicating their Ep4 IC immunity, Dreamz — in a neat parallel to Earl at the top of the episode — tries to launch an open discussion, this one about the boot decision, so that they don't all turn into snakes yet. (Again, as we saw previously with Earl, Dreamz doesn't want to live with a bunch of snakes.)
This brings us to an all-time classic Dreamz line, as he opens the open discussion by announcing his own preferences for keeping the tribe strong: "There's two people we can afford to lose, and, I ain't pointing no fingers ... [he turns and points at Lisi] ... it's Cassandra and Lisi."
Soon, we get Cassandra's big game move: Thanks to Dreamz's open-forum comments, Cassandra realizes she's on the hot seat, and she approaches Liliana, who's also outside the core five alliance, in private. Liliana tells Cassandra she's a great person, but she feels it's best (for Liliana) to stick with the numbers and vote for Cassandra. Cassandra smiles meekly, says "Okay," and goes about her business. Later, we get a Cassandra confessional assuring us she's still hanging in there. Mission accomplished!
The majority of five (Alex, Boo, Edgardo, Lisi, and Stacy) then confers to decide who they're actually booting. Lisi and Stacy insist the boot has to be Liliana, because they fear she'll use her feminine wiles to infiltrate their alliance, or maybe the Ravus. Possibly Jeff Probst, even, because who knows? (He was dating Vanuatu's Julie Berry at the time.)
Alex is dumbfounded by the illogic of this choice, noting that they need to win challenges because it'll be tied 7-7, and Liliana is as strong as some of the guys in challenges. In contrast, he points out, "Cassandra sucks at everything."
Alex is, of course, overruled. Weird that a Moto does not go on to win this season.
- Fakin' it: Well after the show ended, Mookie revealed that, rather than the pair of glasses Michelle was messing with (as shown), Ravu's glorious Day 7 self-made fire was actually started with a lighter. From someone with production who took pity on them after the camera crew wandered off. So, uh ... cool story, Survivor. But you know what? Good for whoever did that. A dumb, borderline dangerous twist (partially) undone by someone having a conscience. What a concept! And it's good their "self-made fire" was still rewarded with a flint from Probst before the Ep3 RC, so that they could actually start one on their own in the future. This doesn't completely make up for the lack of a water well, but it's a step in the right direction.
- You will root for Ravu, and you will like it: There's probably a logical/strategic reason why Moto chose to take more fishing gear after winning the Ep3 RC. Maybe they wanted to ensure Ravu never received fishing gear themselves. But we don't see anyone from Moto discussing it. Maybe they were all auditioning for this season's Ozzy/Poseidon underwater footage, and were tired of having to share their old gear nine ways. It doesn't really matter, because we're not supposed to care what Moto thinks. We're supposed to root for the underdog Ravus, who as soon as they wake up from dehydration-induced naps, are scrapping to merely survive. It's fine, they do come out on top in the end, and but sometimes it would be nice to have a touch of balance.
- Diverse cast appreciation: As much of a Survivor natural as Earl appears to be this season, imagine if he'd instead played on a season where the casting followed Survivor's The Amazon-era racial quotas. If it were just Earl on a Tambaqui tribe full of white guys, is he as comfortable and in his element as he is here, or does he immediately stick out and get targeted? Most likely, he would have calmly bridged the Roger/Butch vs. young guys divide, much as Alex Bell and Dave Johnson did, and would have been fine long-term, but who knows? Maybe he's out early like Dan Lue, just for being different. After all, we know Earl can meke, but can he balance beam? That question remains murky after the Ep4 reward challenge ("By the Numbers"). Regardless, it's great that Survivor took the time to fully develop its three Black male contestants this season. They're each distinct, well-rounded characters, who take highly divergent paths through the game. Again, it would be great if they'd also spent a little more time on the women, but at least they did this part of it well.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes