David playing his idol to save Jessica is obviously the Big Move™ everyone is talking about following the episode, and rightly so. [Ed. note: Please admire our self-restraint in not repeating that obvious pun there.] People generally don't play idols this early, and people generally don't play idols successfully. Of the 39 idol plays in Survivor history, only 15 have been successful: 11 blocked a majority vote, and four avoided a tie. Of those, just two were pre-merge: Tom Westman temporarily saving himself in Ep.4 of Heroes vs. Villains, and Parvati Shallow, two episodes later, saving herself with Russell's idol. Normally, idol plays are at least partially used to gain respect from the jury, except... there's no jury yet. The consensus opinion has generally been "that was a terrible move," but we're not so sure. Either way, what else can someone in a minority alliance on a huge tribe really do?
This is something we questioned just two seasons ago, and David's solution seems as good as any. If he didn't play his idol here, David faced a no-win situation. The alliance he'd tried to build just two days earlier by booting Paul had already long since collapsed. Lucy and Sunday went right back to Chris and Bret, giving them a solid four-person majority, especially if they targeted Jessica (while letting Ken and/or David tag along for that one boot). Had the majority's plan gone through, they would now be back in charge, a solid four, with no threat remaining from the three underdogs (Ken, David, and CeCe). Armed with the knowledge that Lucy and crew were targeting her, David and Ken tried to pull in Jessica, in the Quixotic hope that she might then pull Sunday along, for a simple 5-3 vote against Lucy. Obviously, that fell apart, and even if it hadn't, they realistically could only have forced a 4-4 tie. So to move forward, it was idol or bust.
There's a significant upside to an idol play here: Jessica seems grateful, and maybe now a David/Ken/Jessica/CeCe foursome could reasonably be expected to seize control over the new minority alliance of Chris, Bret, and Sunday (if not for the swap). Sure, maybe Ken will be disappointed not to have been included in the plan. But as long as David isn't barking orders now, Ken would probably roll with it. Yes, maybe David's personal safety is lower now (sans idol), and people don't trust him. But they didn't trust him anyway, and it seems reasonable that Jessica might now be more likely to work with him. It's not a perfect solution, but it's probably better than sitting on his hands for this vote, bidding goodbye to any chance of a majority, and just hoping that a swap or merge saves him.
Besides, while David wasn't playing to the actual jury with this move, he was playing to another, also important set of decision-makers: the audience. Maybe we're outliers, but we'd rather watch aggressive idol playing than passive idol-hoarding and praying. Well done, David.
One trick is to tell stories that don't go anywhere. Like the time I caught the ferry to Shelbyville...
That screaming you heard midway through the first half of the episode? That would be the disillusioned wails of early-season Survivor purists initially delighted at a rare actual survival scene, as the Millennials killed time in camp by rounding up a hunting posse to kill nearby, possibly drugged, local goats. Longtime fans often complain that camplife scenes such as this have been dropped from the show in favor of incessant strategy discussion and idol hunting. So when the camera cut away from the hunting party the second they left camp, to focus instead on Adam searching for the idol (...clue, which he found, then later the actual idol), there was no doubt much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.
As neutral observers who maybe secretly enjoy the idol-hunting scenes, we are amused by this elaborate trolling of the old-schoolers. The show even went the extra mile, teasing the scene up in last week's preview, and releasing it a day or two early online (cutting it off where Adam says "They can't be actually hunting, right?"). That this was also the actual end of the hunting scene is pretty much straight up Rickrolling by the editors and the CBS marketing team. Especially because Adam's quote leads directly into his idol search, the bane of Survivor purists. You can't bust heads like you used to, but you have your ways, editors.
Don't go anywhere, postscript - Oh (yes), the humanity
Despite this flagrant violation of old-school storytelling etiquette, the twist at the end of Adam's idol find was a stunning and touching reversal. Rather than trivially cutting Adam's celebration off at "This is what dreams are made of," the show allowed Adam to continue talking about why the idol meant so much to him: A connection to his ailing mom.
And purists be damned: That was a far more human, introspective, and worthwhile scene than following up with the Millennial hunting party on their fruitless goat search. Survivor has a long history with tears, and usually it's not without heavy prodding by production, such as flying in Loved Ones to inspire homesickness, or worse yet, denying a subset of those contestants the chance to see them. In contrast, this scene came unprompted from Adam, and was authentically emotional.
An underexplored trend in recent Survivor seasons is that a lot of the younger contestants grew up with the show as a family viewing experience. In some cases, maybe the contestants stopped watching after they left home, weren't huge fans themselves, but their parents were (and still are), and by participating in the show, the players are (re-) connecting with their family (for example, Joe Anglim wanting to reach the family visit for his dad). In other cases, such as Malcolm Freberg, or last season's winner, Michele Fitzgerald, or Adam this season, the young contestants are also superfans themselves, and playing the game is not only a huge deal personally in and of itself, but it also carries this added familial-bonding layer of emotional importance.
Allowing Adam to explore this shared love of the show at the end of his idol find, and open up about his mother's cancer diagnosis, was one of those rare moments when the show transcended its normal boundaries and was actually reality TV. Yes, it broke the fourth wall and shattered the illusion of 20 people playing a game on a remote island for a million dollars. But it also reminded us that these contestants are real people with real emotions and lives outside this game, not just typecast caricatures cavorting for our amusement. For us, this moment was up there as one of post-HvV Survivor's best, along with the fall of Matsing (Philippines, Ep.4) and Stephen Fishbach's tearful exploration in Cambodia of the crushing toll that expectations and second-guessing exact on the psyche of former contestants who failed to win the million in their first run.
This, not ham-fisted recitation of banal generational stereotypes, is what Survivor does best.
Inside the numbers: CeCe's chance at history
Don't look now, but in just three Tribal Councils, CeCe has racked up seven votes against. That's... a lot! This means she only needs four more votes against to crack the single-season VAP leaderboard, and 13 more for all-time title honors. As is often the case, she seems inoffensive enough, but as the sole person of color remaining on her tribe (and as a woman), her prospects of receiving future votes seem fairly high, at least until the merge. So while she hasn't had much screen time, at least she has this to look forward to, we guess.
Although if the swap puts her in a situation that's less "keep the tribe strong! *grunt*... high-school football! *roarrrr*" and more, you know, actually playing Survivor, we won't complain.
Okay, that's enough of that. On to the vidcaps!
I'm so mad Paul was booted I'm heading off to form a tribe of one. I'd still beat them in challenges, probably.
Well, nobody is talking about the three votes against CeCe. That's a relief.
Help, my face has frozen in this position. Can someone alert Medical?
Good news, Sunday! Lucy has willed you her Legacy Disadvantage as the Gen X woman who is seen but not heard!
My first confessional! It turns out I'm a dietitian.
As a cop, I knew that
The Millennials, unwilling to wait for the game to play out, search for easy opponents at Final Tribal
Are they gone? Good, let's spend the rest of our tribe's camp time on idol hunting.
Oh, it actually says "Shell-tered." Subtle.
*Groan*. A challenge, already?
Getting your first look at the new Gen X tribe. Some old person voted out last night.
HA HA!!! Whoever it was, they were probably smelly.
Come on, Zeke. Not ALL their guys are HUGE.
Perhaps it's better that we don't ask where those fingers are
Interesting strategy of Jessica stretching Lucy's arm out
Dude, Zeke, check this out. I'll bet Probst himself wrote this one.
Really disappointed this did not get a hashtag. #Wow
I took my top off and I didn't even get chocolate and peanut butter? This show is much harder nowadays.
This seems a little small to be holding an idol, but I feel obligated to have a wrong guess to pad out the B-roll
Nine-plus people searching for 10 days didn't notice *this*?
Adam, still stuck on movie charades, pantomimes Alien. Forgetting that Hannah already did.
I just want to tell you both: Good luck. We're all counting on you.
I'm wearing an immunity idol! On Survivor! Maybe I can get Probst to autograph it?
*Sniff* Um, wow, strange outbreak of uh... allergies in the vidcap gallery captioning booth. *Cough*
Speaking of idols... I still have one! Don't forget!
If I see you talking to anyone else, I'll get upset. But *obviously* I'm not ordering you to do anything.
Bluntness seems an awful lot like orders when it's attached to a threat. Just saying.
Gen X: Well, time to lose. David: I don't care, I have an idol! Lucy: I don't care, I already told them what to do!
Millennials: Ugh, this looks hard. Adam: I don't care, I have an idol! Michelle: Psh, puzzles? Heh.
You know, Chris... we have swimsuits now.
Why are we hauling up our heaviest and strongest guy?
How much has Figgy been eating?
Michelle grabs the Cook Islands bag. Decent choice.
Ken grabs the Heroes vs. Villains bag. Better choice.
No Michaela, not Nicaragua!
David, fond of idol-wielding bald guys, selects Cagayan
Smartest? On this show? Unlikely.
Fem Mission? Oooookay.
Literally two words away, for how long?
It seemed like forever.
Leapin' Zekes! They did it!
Finally, I shall wreak my furious vengeance on Jessica
Chris: [Weird, I have the strangest sense someone is talking to me. Probably just gas.]
Is this my last confessional, already? Did I top Hope's total?
Seriously, though. It's been two days now. I really think Medical should take a look at this.
No, I was telling them you need Medical. Your face is frozen in a surprised expression. Like this. It's a little scary.
I think it's more like this, more in the forehead.
You know, Jeff. You could have just come to our camp, like you did in the first two episodes.
I mean, it's great I'm getting to talk and all, but Jessica needs help
Here you go, my good man. A little something for you. Could you hail an ambulance for us, perchance?
This is just a f***ing shell. On a necklace. Not legal tender, buddy.
Fine, we'll get Medical to come check you out, Jessica.
But first, the puzzle promised flame loss, so I'm contractually obligated, blah blah..
I kind of feel bad for taking offense at the one sentence Lucy said.
Okay, *now* we can bring in Medical. Once you leave.
No problem. Let's hope this is all magically fixed next week.
Millennials vs. Gen X Episode 4 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews: Lucy Huang
Episode 4 Podcasts