These two hours of Survivor: Cambodia were among the best so far this season, and this season is rapidly starting to look like one of the best ever. Just look at the sheer number of major events packed into these two hours: blindside departures of two major characters, a new twist on opting out of a challenge, a successful idol play, a new idol clue discovered, a new idol found, the end of Joe's immunity streak, and a major betrayal/alliance re-shuffling. Beyond that, both episodes were filled with drama, occasional humor, and extreme conditions. Each episode would have been compelling and dense as a stand-alone hour. Packing it all together was almost a deluge too strong to withstand. Truly, a fantastic pair of episodes of Survivor.
But why here, why now? We can't begin to fathom why CBS did this: effectively burning off the crux of the season on a night where overall TV viewership was, as had to be expected, significantly down due to the Thanksgiving holiday. The result? These two episodes were the lowest-rated Survivor episodes, ever. Well done, CBS programmers. If we didn't have unending faith in the lack of foresight and creative thinking at CBS, we might suspect they were trying to have Survivor fail.
The doubling up of episodes was necessitated by CBS's recent insistence (from Cagayan on) that each Survivor season now air over a mere 13-week period, instead of the 14+ weeks it previously occupied. No explanation has ever been given for this, as far as we know, but it's apparently the new normal. Fine. But further handicapping the ratings by putting that double episode here, of all places, makes even less sense. (The only direct comparison is San Juan del Sur, which placed its double episode a week later.) This compressing of Survivor's airing schedule is worrisome on its own, making us question whether the show is a step away from direct-to-streaming status. But forcing this yoke on these two particular episodes? Inexplicable. The disparity between episode excellence and the lack of network support is astounding, confounding, and incredibly disappointing.
Through at least two iterations now, the Extra Vote alleged "advantage" has been anything but. Both times, they made the bearer (Dan Foley in Worlds Apart, Stephen here) a blindside target for the other players, all because they publicly received an underpowered secret item that at best served as an incremental voting edge. As Tribal Council gameplay items go, it's the Medallion of Power. Maybe Stephen could have gained more leverage by trying to pass it off as an idol/clue or something, but in the end, an extra vote is just not that powerful. Especially when "winning" that extra vote occurs in front of the entire cast, and instills fear in each and every one of them that they need to vote you out, immediately. (Except probably for Keith. Keith DGAF.)
Still, despite the weakness of the twist, production further hindered Stephen via its placement. Stephen received his "advantage" earlier than in its previous incarnation. Dan purchased his at the Worlds Apart auction, with 9 players left. Stephen swam for his with 11 left, and risked immunity to do so. Dan departed four Tribals later, Stephen three (and it would have been just two, if not for Jeremy's idol play). We're not sure the "advantage" will ever work as a useful twist, but if Survivor really wants to use it, they should introduce it later in the game, perhaps Final 8 or later. Either that, or find a way for contestants to acquire it in secret.
Golden Boy no more?
Joey Amazing proved to be suddenly mortal in the second episode, finishing eighth in the reward challenge, and second in the IC. Over both hours, however, his glowing edit really started to slip. He was shown as "pissed" and dropping blurred profanities in response to Wiglesworth's boot, he tossed multiple women around like rag dolls in the "Basket Brawl" RC, and he lost two individual challenges. Furthermore, Keith finally got to speak (multiple times, even!) about wanting Joe out, and Abi made faces and cursed after Joe chose to compete in the first IC, and later called him "sketchy." This course correction, combined with his finally losing immunity, made it seem quite likely that Joe's time might really be up.
And yet... these people are so dumb! For weeks they complained that all-around challenge hound Joe was winning immunity after immunity (four in a row from the merge). And yet when Spencer narrowly edged Joe to seize the immunity necklace for himself, that same Spencer successfully shifted the conversation away from "let's boot Joe, this might be our only chance" to the highly logical "let's get Stephen, he finished eighth." We weren't shown anything in these episodes to support this, but this can't be accidental, right? We wonder if it's less that Spencer specifically wanted Stephen out (although clearly he was eager to boot him), and more that Spencer is keeping Joe around as a shield, the same way Tony kept a certain young immunity-prone lad around in Cagayan. Saving Joe here seems like a direct parallel to when Jeremy talked Savage out of targeting Stephen. Given the sheer number of people complaining about Joe's immunity streak, preserving Joe seems in nobody's best interest except Joe's (obviously) and possibly Spencer's. Well played, Spencer. Unless Joe wins out from here on.
Either way, it's also a neat coda to Stephen's season-long fretting about not being able to convince his tribemates to target the guy who wins all the challenges when the time is right. As we've been reminded, in Tocantins that resulted in Stephen being shut out by J.T. in the jury vote. Here, Stephen was indeed unable to swing the numbers, and was sent packing instead of the golden boy. You were right to worry, Stephen.
Still, if Survivor has taught us anything, it's that when the editors make a big deal out of a rivalry (Josh-Jeremy, for example), they often leave the game one after the other. Sorry, ladies (and Spencer): Captain Ahab may have been dragged under, but the white whale's days really are (probably) numbered.
Challenge appreciation thread
Having taken production to task last week over chosing to film at the peak of the rainy season, we really appreciated the first immunity challenge's opt-out dilemma. Giving the waterlogged castaways respite from the relentless rain was simply a humane thing to do. Making that gift dependent on self-sacrifice, however, was an intriguing new wrinkle to the usual immediate gratification lure of dropping out for food. Having the watch-or-compete decision be far more socially palatable clearly made a big difference, with a full eight people chosing to sit, and the resulting (tepid) backlash against Joe and Keith for (selfishly?) competing provided a surprising bonus. Never mind that a fair number of people probably opted out simply because the challenge was yet another bullshit balancing balls/endurance challenge that they had zero chance of winning. Still, it's the thought that counts.
Even better was the following "Folklore" challenge. On the one hand, an individual reward challenge is a rare and beautiful thing. On the other hand, it just kept getting better: it was great to see a pure memory challenge, and even moreso, absolutely magnificent that, in a season of "classic" challenges, the definition of classic extended further back than One World. Plus the additional flourishes: hiding the idol clue randomly in one of the correct answer medallions was clever, as was Stephen's (intentional?) decoy move of removing an incorrect urn lid while Abi was mulling her answer options. Also, an amazing coincidence that a Stephen-Spencer battle ended yet again with Stephen narrowly edging Spencer by a split second.
Vapid Fire, quotes edition
Other Second Chance Episodes 10-11 recaps & commentary
Exit interviews - Ciera Eastin
Exit interviews - Stephen Fishbach
Podcasts - Episodes 10-11