Joe was knocked out, figuratively and literally, in this week's episode, almost exclusively because he's a dominant challenge performer (to be fair, perhaps the most dominant, ever). This was a reputation he had coming into this season, and he was completely incapable of shaking it, even after not winning four challenges in a row. Perhaps he didn't do himself any favors by never losing a challenge (except the #OilUpJoe one, which wasn't even his fault) until Ep.11. In the wake of his boot, the fan base seems to have split down the middle into outraged Joe supporters (mostly casual fans) and over-it non-Joe fans (most of the online fanbase). Both sides can agree that Joe was deeply invested in competing, and clearly broken up over his boot in his Ponderosa video. So it's unfortunate that his passion and effort, especially when it seemed like his social/strategic game had improved, did not translate into anything more substantial than a few more immunity necklaces.
The crazier thing is: as much of a challenge threat as Joe was, this cast still has at least three more (possibly four) historically great challenge competitors, any one of which can now immediately leap in and beast their own way to the finals. Tasha had three individual IC wins in Cagayan. Spencer has four, lifetime. Keith has five. Five! (Joe only managed seven.) And there was no individual challenge track record for Kelley Wentworth coming into this season, and she just snagged two wins herself this episode.
Still, was Joe really playing an improved game this time around, as he seemed fond of alleging in his own confessionals? As far as we can tell, the only improvement was in how long his post-merge immunity win streak lasted (which would be one episode longer). He made it slightly further in season 31 than in season 30 purely under his own power, which we suppose is sort of impressive. As with Ozzy's near-gaming of Redemption Island in South Pacific, it would have been an interesting quandary if Joe had made it all the way to the finals, having had immunity the entire way. Not so much playing Survivor, as "challenge-ing" it. Would he deserve the win, if he was never able to be voted out? What if he'd never voted anyone out himself? These are questions that will probably remain unanswerable, although it's really Joe's only plausible path to the end if/when he plays again, unless he takes a Wiglesworth-esque break. Either way, we suspect we'll eventually get another shot at finding out.
More statistical outliers
This season is stacked with people doing things that have never been done before, setting both single-season and career records (which is notable since these are only second-time players). Here are but a few:
Who is playing the best game this season, and who could win?
With only two episodes left (!), someone is going to have to win this thing. One of the great strengths of this season is that, with seven people left, there are as many as four who can make compelling arguments that they deserve to win. All have been fairly prominent characters this season as well, so while the editors have favored a couple, none of the four are completely off the table. Just by sheer chance, at least one of them will probably reach the finals, right? (We know, there's a slight chance they're the next four boots, but the edit argues otherwise.) Below, we'll try to gauge their relative chances of winning:
- Kelley Wentworth: Kelley can craft a compelling come-from-behind story as a member of the ill-fated original Ta Keo tribe, from which only four people made the merge (at 13!). She's made big moves, playing a key role in Wiglesworth's boot and in Stephen's. She still has an idol she can play, if needed. And she just won two challenges, which makes her the active leader in individual challenge wins this season. She's been on the wrong side of the vote the fewest times of anyone left (just twice). All in all, she has a solid case for having played the best game. Her biggest problem? A vague (mis-) perception that she's been a passenger, rather than a driver. Other contestants have described her as Ciera's lieutenant, or as taking cues from Joe. That seems completely unfair based on what the audience has been shown, but if the jurors think that, it's an impression she'll have to dispel. Secondarily, her edit has been less robust than Jeremy's or Spencer's, which is worrisome. Kelley has arguably played one of the best overall games this season. Her performance is all the more impressive because of her limited experience: she'd only played 13.5 days and attended two Tribal Councils before this season. Will it earn her the million? We shall see.
- Jeremy Collins: Jeremy seems like the frontrunner, simply because the editors have taken great pains to make him the hero of this season, with repeated mentions of his heart-tugging preoccupation with Val's still top-secret pregnancy and the impending birth of his son. All the while, Jeremy has been calm and thoughtful throughout the game, albeit from a more solid position of power than has Kelley (or Spencer). At least until very recently. He made a big move of his own in temporarily saving Stephen, his closest ally, and like Kelley, still has another idol to work with. His greatest hurdle is that he's currently down in the numbers, and needs something to break his way. Maybe that idol will come in handy sooner, rather than later. Should he fight his way to the finals from here, Jeremy will probably have the best case. Importantly, nobody seems to dislike Jeremy, and many of the people already on the jury really seem to like him (particularly Savage and Stephen). His edit suggests we are meant to be rooting for him. If so, we're perfectly fine with that. He's played a solid, rational, proactive game from Day 1 to Day 32, and there's no reason to believe that's about to change.
- Spencer Bledsoe: Despite a massive presence in the edit, especially pre-merge, Spencer's game really only started with Stephen's boot. Spencer and Shirin were briefly in charge on original Ta Keo, then everything completely fell apart. Spencer drifted along out of power, saved by swaps galore, then was rescued by Kass, of all people, then by the merge. Still... that edit, though. With their constant reminders that Spencer is a changed, Not-So-Young-Anymore Lad who experiences genuine emotions, the editors have been practically screaming that we need to pay attention to Spencer. That attention is finally beginning to seem earned. He racked up eight votes against him pre-merge, but since Woo's ouster, has never been a target. That's a sign he's doing something right. Blindsiding Stephen is clearly a big move on Spencer's résumé, and he was on board with Joe's boot, even if it wasn't his idea. Still, if Stephen ends up with a choice between Jeremy (who saved him) and Spencer (who betrayed him), his jury vote seems obvious. With an older-skewing jury, that could be a common problem for Spencer, unless he manages to take down one or all of Jeremy, Kelley, and Tasha before then.
- Tasha Fox: Of the top four contenders, Tasha's story has been the most ignored post-merge. But she was a key player pre-merge, as she and Savage flipped an outsized majority at Angkor. Since then, she has drifted in and out of post-merge power, but was more or less the swing voter here. As she mentioned, she also has options: Will she stay with the women's alliance, where she's at the bottom of a four, or with Jeremy and Spencer, where she's a peer among three? Seems like an obvious choice. If you graphed the ratio of screen presence to gameplay, Spencer would lead, followed by Jeremy, then some mix of Kelley and Tasha. We suspect that Tasha (and sadly, probably Kelley) don't win because of that. But that doesn't mean they haven't played great games overall. It's a luxury of riches this season having this many solid players left this late. We'll take it.
- And the rest...: Kimmi and Keith certainly have selling points. Kimmi kneecapped Monica for daring to even think of an (eventual) women's alliance, then, seven episodes later, formed a women's alliance of her own. She even got to talk about playing her own game, and making moves, then disappeared from the episode again before the opening credits. Sigh. As for Keith, he has Keithed his way to the final seven, while all but twice not voting for the person booted, as Keith does. Yet he's the player with the most lifetime individual challenge wins among the group remaining, and he could well Mike Holloway his way to the finals. Still, he's had about as much airtime this season as JT, so it's hard to imagine he'll end up winning.
And then there's Abi: Abi has a 0.0% chance of winning this game, and she has since BraceletGate on Day 1. Sorry.
Other Second Chance Episode 12 recaps & commentary
Exit interviews - Joe Anglim
Podcasts - Episode 12