Jeff Pitman's Survivor 31: Cambodia recaps
Despicable, but also delectable
By Jeff Pitman | Published: November 13, 2015
Survivor: Cambodia Episode 8 recap/ analysis

Despicable, but also delectable

In a season from which the first whiffs of a painfully dull Pagonging by a dominant brolliance seemed to be starting to waft, a hidden idol discovered way back in Episode 1 finally turned into something, and that something was glorious. A seemingly endless refrain of "Wentworth... will not count" reverberated through Tribal like the sweetest melody imaginable, finally capped by a sublime chord change: "Savage... Savage... eighth person voted out and the second member of our jury." Pure freaking bliss. (Even though we will admit we warmed to Savage after he defrosted in Ponderosa, and he totally cops to his double standard on scheming in his exit interviews.) Ah well, he made a good reality TV villain.

We also loved the editing of the episode, which had a joyous feel, while still preserving the surprise of Savage's boot. If you're wise to editing's favorite patterns, Savage's opening the episode with extended gloating about booting Kass probably tipped you off that he might be in trouble. As should the "Previously On..." segment's sudden reminder that Kelley had found an idol. (This was also well balanced by concern, since there was a lot of focus on Stephen, which thankfully didn't pay off.) But the editing also kept things light, such as giving a jacked-up-on-coffee Keith the freedom to wheel aimlessly around the beach in a tuk-tuk for a couple of minutes.

Best of all, Tribal Council and the lead-up to it were edited to perfection. Multiple targets were floated (Stephen, Savage, Ciera, Kelley), all of whom seemed plausible due to their visibility during the episode. During the voting, nobody's vote was shown, so which way the votes would fall remained unclear. Then there was the question of whether Kelley would play her idol, or not. Once she did, whether it worked was still unclear until Probst started the vote reveal. All done perfectly, preserving suspense until the very end. More, please.

Is Bayon no longer Bayon strong?

Bayon strong?

Naysayers will assert that now that Kelley has played her idol, there's really nothing stopping the remaining Bayon Bros (plus Tasha and Kimmi) from re-exerting their power in the next episode, and Pagonging Kelley and Ciera as payback. This is certainly a possibility. But part of us at least wants to believe that Savage might actually have been the glue holding the oversized Bayon alliance together.

Savage's rigid, Stannis Baratheon-esque enforcement of Bayon loyalty turned anyone who even contemplated dissent into a "diabolical" or "disgusting" schemer "with no morals". To be fair, Kimmi had the same reaction to Monica's vague hints that maybe the original Bayon Bros (Savage, Jeremy, Joe) weren't her ideal Final Three, but Savage is gone, and Jeremy has already admitted that maybe Joe's time is up, and Joe has expressed a desire to mix things up himself. Tasha may object to Bayon's dissolution herself, but at the very least, Jeremy and Stephen are now more free to make moves, as is Joe. Also, no matter how hilarious it would be if Kimmi teamed up with Tasha and the three Savage voters (Ciera, Kelley, and Abi) and formed a women's alliance, they are all now perfectly free to do so. As dull as predictable as the post-merge strategy has thus far been, could Game On finally be happening? Or is it just Malcolm and the Three Amigos taking down Phillip? Let's hope it's the former.

History unfolding before our very eyes


Kelley's idol play not only flipped the game on its head and vaulted her to the top of the Survivometer, it also set a number of records, as did the episode as a whole.

  • Votes voided: 9. Kelley's idol play canceled out a whopping nine votes, which was two more than Jenn Brown erased in the merge Tribal Council of Worlds Apart. By our count, in this single play, Kelley also has the most career votes voided. Two more than Russell Hantz managed over three seasons of non-stop idol brandishing.
  • Non-Vote-for-boot, career: 10. With five whiffs in her first season and five more (and counting) in Cambodia, Kelly Wiglesworth is now your all-time leader in not voting for the person booted, the first contestant ever to reach double digits. Thanks to Kelley's idol play, Wiglesworth broke her tie with Eddie Fox (who did this all in one season), and Ozzy Lusth (whose total includes being voted out three times, including once voluntarily).
  • A competitor(s) emerges: Don't look now, but right behind Wiglesworth is one Spencer Bledsoe (at 9 non-VFB) and his tuk-tukiness, Keith Nale (8 non-VFB).
  • Streak broken: Kelley's idol play also voided Stephen Fishbach's vote for her, snapping a two-season streak in which he had voted for the person booted every time he attended Tribal Council (13 straight ballots, to be exact). Natalie White and Russell Hantz had longer single-season streaks of 14 to start their Survivor careers (and Russell extended his to 17 in Heroes vs. Villains, before misfiring on the Coach boot), but Stephen's 13 is certainly near the very top. Clearly a major difference between Stephen's and Spencer's games.
  • Mean % win: Joey Amazing is, well... amazing. Over six career individual challenges, Joe Anglim now has five wins and one fourth-place finish. That gives him a 95% Mean Percent Finish in individual challenges, which is not just the highest career mark, but also the highest even from a single season (with at least two individual challenge appearances), including Colby in The Australian Outback (82%), Terry in Panama (81%) and Ozzy in Cook Islands (88%). Which we will eventually get around to documenting in a table somewhere.

The confounding conundrum of Ciera Eastin


Ciera talks a good game. And she does not lack for effort in trying to harangue people into action at Tribal Council (this is what Caleb Bankston did to save her pre-merge, and Hayden Moss did to convince her to draw rocks post-merge in Blood vs. Water). But for all the talk of playing, there was very little actual gameplay on Ciera's first-season CV. In Blood vs. Water, she was a pre-merge non-entity who came into her own post-merge, albeit largely as a number for Tyson's alliance. Her sole Big Move résumé entry was tricking Katie Collins into revealing that Katie hadn't, in fact, found a hidden idol. This was impressive, but relatively minor, unless you count casting a throwaway vote for her mom, or letting Hayden cajole her into drawing rocks, a move that ultimately cemented the returnee alliance's dominance, and put Ciera in fifth place, rather than fourth.

So it's understandable that, from the very start of Second Chance, Ciera has vowed to turn that talk into action and play hard. Yet, thanks to a string of tribal immunities, it wasn't until the final pre-merge episode that she finally had the opportunity to act. And in that Ep.6 vote, which was supposed to send Spencer home, but ended up ousting Woo, Ciera at last was able to make a Big Move. The problem for Ciera now is: that was the strategic equivalent of an obvious challenge beast winning the first two individual immunity challenges. Much as with Jeff Varner, Ciera's pent-up enthusiasm caused her to play too hard, too soon. And Bayon noticed.

They noticed because this was also the very first opportunity Ciera to prove that we Bayon Strong, and she failed. Sure, Woo was an original Ta Keo. But in booting Woo, she blindsided Savage, who was perhaps the fiercest Bayon loyalist to begin with, and who had just emerged unscathed from Angkor precisely because he and Tasha had formed an unbreakable Bayon core amidst the anarchy. Just one episode earlier, Stephen had worried that booting Monica might send the wrong message to their fellow Bayons come the merge. Ciera had no such compunctions, went right out and immediately blindsided Savage, and is still feeling the repercussions of the message that betrayal sent. None of her original Bayon tribemates now trust her, and the original Ta Keos are all but eliminated, which leaves Ciera precious few conspirators with whom to work.

So now Ciera is left to berate unnamed people (at length) at Tribal Council for not playing the game. It's true that in a nine-person alliance, four people must be on the bottom. The problem was, it wasn't clear who those four actually were, and Ciera didn't name any names. Importantly, all four on the bottom would have to jump together for their move to an existing three-person alliance to make sense. (Three might have worked, but it sets up a six-six tie.) Even if they did trust Ciera, that kind of mass exodus from a dominant alliance would be tough to pull off. But it gets worse when you consider who those four are: Spencer, Kelly, Kimmi, and Keith. Kimmi seems tight with Jeremy and Stephen, and voted out Monica for merely hinting that non-Bayon alliances might also be a good idea, so she seems highly unlikely to flip. Similarly, just two days earlier, Spencer was exulting in being part of a powerful swing-vote duo with Joe. Why abandon that now, to be on the bottom of an alliance with the people who flipped a coin and reluctantly chose to save you? Also: the other two are Kelly and Keith.

The groundwork Ciera laid with Joe or with Stephen could still pay off eventually. Neither seems particularly married to staying Bayon Strong (although it seems unlikely that they'd flip together). But it will take time, and work, and an opportunity that actually makes sense for Joe or Stephen to seize. They're not going to flip just because Ciera wants them to. In a lot of ways, Ciera's approach is not that different from Savage's: Where Savage was mad at people for thinking of playing for themselves and potentially leaving his alliance, Ciera is mad at people for thinking of playing for themselves and not joining her alliance. Neither seems like a plausible path to winning, Big Moves or not.

Challenge depreciation thread


Thanks to Dalton Ross, we now know that Jeff Probst loves his out-of-context inappropriate comments about balls and poles so much that he apparently has them scripted beforehand (or maybe just freeballs it, but either way, it's planned), so maybe that's why there have been two straight immunity challenges where the entire challenge was balancing balls on a plate.

Even so: enough, Survivor. Whatever happened to endurance? Or puzzles? Or even the dreaded untying things, or stacking cards? Or basically anything that isn't balancing balls on plates? Early post-merge challenges should be about the desire to keep competing, or perseverance, not just freakish ability to remain completely motionless. At least mix it up a bit. Please.

Vapid fire


  • As was pointed out to us on twitter, this episode may have topped the all-time record for blurred birds. Savage flipped off his despicable, lacking-in-morals immunity challenge plate/ropes/ball when they betrayed him. Then new juror Kass extended her middle finger in the direction of everyone still playing. Then Savage made a parting gesture at Abi after she helpfully noted he'd fulfilled his goal of reaching the jury. Our unscientific survey (a vague recollection of past seasons) pegs the previous phallic symbolism total at two, when a newly topless Sugar threw double birds at Sandra in the opening RC of Heroes vs. Villains. But it seems likely that someone like Fairplay probably had a few that we've forgotten. Has anyone done more definitive research on this important question?
  • Spanky Joe
  • Wiglesworth's paddling challenge in Borneo was nothing like this Reward Challenge (hers was rescuing tribemates from the water). In contrast, Ciera blew the closing puzzle (with former Second Chance-er Vytas, even... a two-fer!) in the Blood vs. Water version of this very challenge, which was even called "Boats, Brains & Brawn," yet she didn't even merit a mention in the weekly "Contestant X might get redemption" time-wasting exercise. If you can't make your parallels less strained, especially when you have an easy lay-up like this one, give it a rest, Probst.
  • Does Joe dance around, slapping his teammates on the butt before every team challenge? No wonder Stephen wants him out.
  • The purple team, stacked with physical players like Tasha, Jeremy, and Savage, gives the task of retrieving the first giant crate to... Abi? Were they trying to throw the challenge just to see if Stephen would cry again, or what?
  • Tuk-Tuk cafe
  • We always love the little details in the fake businesses created for reward food: here, the Tuk-Tuk Cafe, complete with uniforms, a logo, napkins with the logo printed on them, and a giant painting of a tuk-tuk (sadly lacking Keith driving it).
  • Keith is, as he's noted, freshly retired from fire captaining. We recognize that Louisiana is not awash in sandy beaches like Cambodia's. But still: he's retired. Move to Florida! What's stopping Keith from bringing Tuk Tuk Nale to the Gold Coast? With a surcharge for non-spitting service? With maybe a spare Christy brother or two? Dare to dream, Keith. Dare to dream.
  • Savage has now pledged to never write Spencer's or Joe's names down. On his kids' lives and stuff. This is serious. Very serious. We can't wait to see what happens if they're in the final three with Stephen.
  • Plotting
  • Joe's "casual" plotting needs work: "This is, like... kind of a sick vote, but... there's like this, kind of, cool thing that we could do, 'cuz...." Yes, yes. Get on with it, man! We only have ten hours left to kill before Tribal!
  • Joe's boot-target-concealing denials are, however, total perfection as is. Wentworth: "It's me, right?" Joe: "Uh... I don't know yet." Nailed it!
  • Ciera, Ciera, Ciera. If you're going to call people out at Tribal for being on the bottom and not "running the game," just use their names, because there's a good chance they may be asleep. Wiglesworth uses Tribal to practice her meditation, and may not even have been aware that there is a game to be running. Keith was probably daydreaming about tuk-tuks. As should we all.

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