Jeff Pitman's S17: Gabon rewatch recaps
Doing their best, despite ...
By Jeff Pitman | Published: November 29, 2020
Survivor: Gabon rewatch Episodes 3-4

Doing their best, despite ...


The second pair of Gabon episodes ("She Obviously is Post-Op!" and "It Was Like Christmas Morning!") are a step up from the first two. Fang breaks away from its winless origins with back-to-back wins, then there's a tribe swap. People finally form working strategic alliances beyond just "keep the tribe strong" default voting, decisions are made, and the game moves forward, for good or bad.

Before the swap, we get to see a bit of strategy on Kota, even if it ends up being dumb strategy (keeping around the highly suspect Ace for tribe strength, right before a tribe swap). People also make strategic decisions after the swap, even if they're demonstrably the wrong ones (booting Jacquie over Kelly or Ace). There's an idol quest that suggests maybe Dan had actually found the first idol clue and had moved on to the second, but they edited it misleadingly, to make him look dumb. Sugar gets a camera crew all to herself for almost six days, which must be her dream come true. (Your mileage may vary.)

It's not the best stretch of Survivor ever, but people are actually aware of and playing the game now. Things are moving. For Gabon, it's solid stuff. Despite Randy hating each and every one of you.


Sugar's Exile odyssey commences

Sugar's Exile odyssey

With Sugar's laborious trek through the various clues in Episode 3, you can see why Survivor's trail-of-idol-clues format was popular with viewers. There's a little puzzle for the contestant to work out, leading to another puzzle, and it's sort of "fun" in a kid's birthday party treasure hunt kind of way.

There's no real reason why modern idols couldn't have a series of clues hidden in various places around camps, just as we saw with Tommy and Dean's search in the finale of Island of the Idols. That was sort of fun! It chews up a huge amount of screen time, sure, but it's probably time better spent than in forcing people to do a fire-making contest vs. Boston Rob, or sneak into the opposing camp late at night, or whatever. Seems like it's more that production is just too lazy to put in that amount of effort more than once a season, especially when it's easier just to stash an idol next to the path right where the person you want to find it is walking. Although maybe the positive reception to the hunt's resurrection in S39 will lead to a return of this format in the future. Let's hope.


Then again, this particular sequence *also* borders on unwatchable because Sugar decides to affect a Betty Boop impersonation throughout her time narrating it. We get it, she's an actor, and a "retro pin-up model," and she's expected to be "cutesy." But a little goes a long way, and this sequence has way more "Sugar" than, say, a spoonful.

Example: Sugar steps in ankle-deep water, then shrieks "Oh my god! That was so scary!" Or talks about being underestimated, then closes with a ditzy, bashful half-giggle for effect. Ugh. Just stop. It's insulting.

It's insulting to women, it's insulting to the audience, and most of all it's just embarrassing that after barely showing Paloma or Jacquie at all during their entire runs on the show, Survivor decides that *this*, a clearly manufactured "persona," is what they want to spend all their female character-development time on. This, the personification of the last, shallowest, panderingest verse of the Annie Edison Christmas song: "You smarty, me dumb! Help pwetty have fun! Boopy-doopy-doop-boop sex!"

(Then again, there's a pretty direct throughline from Sugar's acting here to Coach Wade the next season, to Russell Hantz the next, to Phillip Sheppard. Sigh. Solid choices for "reality TV" all around, Survivor.)


We do get an exasperated interlude (in the shot above), where Sugar is starting to get super-tired of reading clues that claim salvation awaits at the very next location, only for it to end up being yet another stupid clue. Same, Sugar! Same! We're as sick of watching you finding clues while mugging for your personal camera crew, as you are of finding them! Then, in the cruelest moment, the editors try to convince us there's a crocodile (an animal probably not even in the same country as Sugar, let alone the same area) lurking just below the water in the creek where Sugar grabs the actual idol, giving the audience brief hope that Sugar might be eaten.


Alas, no, she finds the idol, completely unscathed. Oh well.


The next episode, when Sugar goes back to Exile after languishing unpicked in the next episode's tribe swap, the one-apple "temptation" has been replaced by an entire Whole Foods fruit section. Sugar of course has already found the idol, and chooses comfort. What a remarkable coincidence that production chose this opportunity to ratchet up the comfort reward! Who could have predicted that Sugar would choose comfort this time around?


To be fair to Sugar, her self-reflection about dealing with the loss of her dad is touching, and it does get worse for her over the next few episodes, as she's continually banished to Exile. She's already had an adequate opportunity to "find herself" now. She really doesn't need additional trips. Had Sugar been given the opportunity to play the actual game, and not just spend most of it in isolation at Exile, she might have been able to make some connections and avoid being a zero-vote finalist.


This is one of the worst aspects of Exile Island when it's the repository for either idols or clues — it's pointless when someone's already found the idol, yet there's a massive incentive to restrict access by sending the same person (or small number of people), over and over again. Whatever the original logic in sending Sugar, she's now the designated Exile person. It happens every time, it's unfair, it's not particularly interesting to watch, and it's a perfect reason never to bring Exile Island back again.

(Note: Survivor of course brings the same tiresome twist — with a minor tweak — back the next season, in Tocantins. Because they smarty, we dumb.)


For all the complaining we did about the lack of transparency from the show about how people were selected to visit Island of the Idols, at least it wasn't this. (Again, the best solution is to have no "island" getaways at all, and just give everyone the same access to idols and advantages, not this location-restricted garbage, or gifts from people already voted out.)


Math isn't that hard, in context

Math puzzle
Combo lock


While the math word puzzle in the Ep3 IC is wordy and seems a little confusing, it's actually deceptively simple. To be fair to Bob and Ken, it was Day 9, so they hadn't been eating or sleeping well for over a week, and they were forced to decipher this puzzle under extreme time pressure, with everyone yelling at them. (Such as Marcus screaming: "Pull the damn handle, Bob!") But again, the puzzle itself is much easier than it seems: If you just focus in on the part of the clue that says the last number is one less than its only neighbor, then look at the actual numbers on the combination lock, pretty much the only number on that right-hand dial where the second digit is one less than the first is the correct answer, 65.


After locking in those two final digits, the number of possible combinations is vanishingly small - just one. You only have four digits left (1, 2, 4, 7). Since the outside two digits have to add up to the same as the middle two, the first digit can't be 7 (no combination of 4/2/1 adds up to 12) or 2 (can't make 4/1/7 add up to 7), so it can only be 1 or 4.


If it's 4, that means the middle two have to be 2 and 7 (4 + 5 = 2 + 7). But that leaves only 1 for the second digit, and the second minus the third equals 5, which is impossible. So the digit in the leftmost slot has to be 1.


That means the middle two have to add up to six (1 + 5), so they're either 24 or 42, with 7 in the second slot. And since 5 equals the second digit (7) minus the third, that middle pair has to be 24 (because 7 - 2 = 5). So the only possible combo is 17-24-65.


Survivor could have made this a lot harder by including other red-herring options (21, 76, 54) on that third dial. Why they didn't is unclear. But it does speed the challenge up a lot, so maybe that's why.


Whoa, TMI!

Whoa, TMI!


This tribe swap mechanism was an interesting one, and one that hasn't been repeated. It wouldn't really work if the contestants expected it, because they could plan ahead and tank on particular votes, to mislead the other tribe. But it's been long enough since Gabon aired that it might be worth a shot again. What's fascinating about it is how misled the original Fang members were by Jacquie's fifth-place ranking (and by last-place Kelly's story).


At least as shown in the edit, Jacquie and Ace weren't particularly close. Jacquie was an Onion, Ace was someone they had considered booting in Episode 3, before settling on Paloma instead. But Kelly told Fang that Ace and Jacquie were tight, and dead-last-ranked Kelly was pretty clearly a Fang outcast, so naturally Crystal, Ken, and GC believed Kelly's story over what Jacquie said. The only problem was, obviously, it was wrong. (From Kelly's perspective it may have felt true, since only she and Paloma had voted against Ace.)


The problem here is too much information (and also too little). They saw Kelly was ranked 8th, which was accurate. But Jacquie's 5th-place ranking was not because she was in a top 5 alliance with the four Kota men (Marcus, Ace, Bob, Charlie). It was because she was good in challenges, and had a number of close allies (Marcus, Charlie, and Corinne) whose votes raised her ranking. Jacquie's and Corinne's mean rankings were probably pretty similar. There was likely a huge drop between Corinne and Sugar, and then Sugar and Kelly were probably reasonably similarly ranked. But because of the ordinal ranks, there's a different implication than what the actual numbers would have shown.


Because of the rankings, Fang thinks they have all the information they need, but they actually don't. Numbers can be misleading sometimes! It's a good lesson to take into the real world.


That's not the end of it, though: Jacquie ends up getting doubly screwed by this twist. First the ranking system makes her appear tighter with Ace than she actually is. Then when the core Fang trio (Ken, Crystal, GC) realizes whoever they boot will be replaced by Sugar, who's *definitely* tight with Ace, they're unable to justify keeping Jacquie over Kelly. They're happy to keep Ace around for challenge strength, but they can't risk him having two close allies, especially when Matty's own allegiance is suspect. So Kota-outcast Kelly, even though she contributes little in challenges, makes more sense to keep around, as a hedge against Ace gaining power. Jacquie made a good case for herself, but she can't overcome this. Sometimes you're just swap-screwed.


The obvious solution here was one Fang refused to consider, and ironically, it's the same one Kota refused to consider the previous Tribal Council: If you don't trust Ace, and you're worried about him gaining power, just boot him. In retrospect, Kota made the wrong choice in Episode 3, because they really didn't need to keep Ace when there was a swap in the next episode. Then in Episode 4, Fang also made the wrong choice because keeping Ace around didn't win them any challenges, anyway.


In terms of overall challenge contributions, the difference between Ace and Jacquie probably isn't that big. But a fit, tall man is never even considered as an option when you're trying to "keep the tribe strong." Yet the closer you get to the merge, the more they should be. They're already at Day 12, and have had one swap. If they just need someone big, they already have Crystal, who had already dominated Ace in one challenge.

It's really not that complicated a move to make. It's just never done, mainly because of gender bias.


Shorter takes

Shorter takes


- An odd half-Tribal: Kota's first trip to Tribal Council is notable in all the things it doesn't have — namely, a third of its tribe members. There's no wide shot of the entire tribe sitting down, just a few 3-person group shots and isolated talking heads. Bob, the eventual winner, is not heard from at his first Tribal. Similarly, go-to Kota narrator Charlie is only seen (silent, in the background) when Paloma's torch is snuffed. True to form for her edit, Jacquie is also invisible. It's like the editors thought we would be confused by so many people, and tried to keep it down to a tribe of just Marcus, Paloma, Sugar, and Ace, and occasionally Corinne and Kelly. Why do that?


- Change that title, CBS: Episode 3's title quote "She Obviously Is Post-Op!" is pretty atrocious. It's not even present in the episode itself, but there it still sits as the title, in all its ugliness. From some light googling, it appears the actual quote was cut before the episode originally aired, for obvious reasons. Someone (it's unclear who) probably thought it would be a sick burn to object to Crystal's size and strength (which helped Fang win its first challenge in the Ep3 RC) by implying she's a trans woman. She's obviously not. And using that as an epithet is pretty much the same as Stephenie derisively calling Bobby Jon "gay" in Guatemala. (Who could have imagined she'd end up a Trump voter after that?)

This is the same show that somehow won itself a GLAAD award for outing an actual trans player another 17 seasons later. Perhaps the show should try to live up to the positive feedback they received for that sketchy decision and do some actual good by dumping the title quote entirely. Here are some possible substitutes:

- Crystal's "We had to ... fight like warriors ... but it was worth it" (after winning the RC), or

- Crystal's "You need to get to know them a little better" (after Probst asks Fang if they'll miss him during Tribal tonight), or even ...

- Ace's ridiculous "It was a strategic withdrawal" (making excuses for losing the RC).

It's not that hard. But it's long past time.



Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff 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