After two episodes, the narrative structure of Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers appears to be taking shape, as the editorial focus has started to coalesce around a few key players. For all the time constraint-related deficiencies in the first episode, the second seemed to revel in the expanded expository space, giving almost everyone some time in the spotlight, unless they were Healers tribe women not named Jessica.
So in what direction(s) are the signposts for this season pointing? Already, after just two episodes, some of the contestants seem to be pulling ahead of the others in their apparent importance to the season. Three of them, in fact, seem to be early contenders for the fabled Winner's Edit™ laurels, with perhaps one other close to the podium. With that in mind, it feels like we're way overdue for some over-extrapolation based on limited sample sizes. Hooray!
Contender #1 - Chrissy
The True Dork Times writers' consensus top pick heading into the season, Chrissy emerged from a potentially problematic premiere not only intact, but now with a valuable (newly fake, still quasi-Super) immunity idol. This episode wasted no time in reassuring us that she intends to put it to good use at some point in the future. Even if that doesn't result in a full-season win, it should least produce entertaining TV, so that's a welcome development. Furthermore, the editors also saw fit to include an Everyone Wants to Align with Chrissy montage, similar to Jeremy's (albeit in San Juan del Sur, not Cambodia), as she interviewed potential power duo partners (not JP, unsure about Ashley, not unreliable Alan) before finally finding the right fit with Ben. As Catherine Lucas pointed out at the RHAP blogs, it's not unlike the early-season path Tina Wesson took a mere 33 seasons ago. And we all know how that turned out. (Probably. Feel free to look it up if you must.)
Contender #2 - Ryan
Ryan has also increasingly looked like a potential winner. While he and Devon are ostensibly a power couple (and Devon is no know-nothing recruit), almost all of the strategy talk has come from Ryan's perspective. It's Ryan who's consulting with Ali about the boot. It's Ryan who pulls Devon in to talk about the idol in the premiere. It's Ryan with whom Devon is most pleased to be talking strategy in camp. Ryan also had a confessional at the start of the IC, in which he hoped to learn more about the fate of the idol he sent to Chrissy. That's a great sign that both of them will eventually meet up, be it at a swap or a merge. From Simone's exit interviews, in-camp Ryan is also a consummate jokester, keeping his tribe entertained, which would give him a potent blend of strategic acumen masked by humor, similar to the combination that Tyson rode to victory in Blood vs. Water. Or that Rob Cesternino almost did in The Amazon. It's unclear whether Ryan or Ali is actually calling the shots in Hustlers camp, but Ryan has certainly made a case that he plans to be doing so.
Contender #3 - Ali
While Ryan has the down-the-line potential connection to Chrissy, which was mentioned in this episode, Ali has actual, current connections to almost everyone on the Hustlers tribe. Lauren wants to work with her, Ryan considers seriously her suggestion to keep the more controllable Simone over unpredictable Patrick. Patrick, obviously, has a tight connection with her. Only Devon was not shown directly interacting with her. She's still walking a bit of a tightrope over Patrick, though. While she didn't seem to directly go to bat for him this episode, she may be forced to shed him as a number should the Hustlers lose another immunity challenge. If she can pull that off without burning any bridges (or better yet, save him without expending social capital to do so), she might truly be the ultimate power broker in that tribe.
Contender #4 - Ben
Perhaps slightly less prominently, at least as a narrative focus in this episode, the other potential winner contender would be Ben. Ben continues to come across as the calm, centered voice of reason at the occasionally chaotic Heroes camp. He's the one shown reassuring Ashley that he believes she's not hiding idols with JP. He's the one describing his tribe as full of cracks, then plotting a course to rise above the fray. After his initial ally, Alan, made a first-episode spectacle of himself, Ben opts for the more stealthy, intelligent partnership with Chrissy. Ben doesn't have the additional (gift idol) connection Chrissy has with Ryan, but if that pair joins forces with the Ryan-Devon pair at the swap or merge, maybe we'll finally have the cross-tribal alliance Tocantins promised, and then who knows where that could lead?
The other big three: A triangular shootout on the Healers
Despite their challenge dominance (or perhaps because of it), the yellow tribe (Healers) has begun taking on a worrisome, Tandang-esque air, as cracks appear to be developing, especially between the three men. Each of them has some winner potential (due to outsized editorial attention), but as time passes, they're also all making targets of each other. And with no Tribal Council on the horizon as an outlet to defuse that tension, the eventual explosion could wreak havoc on the tribe's collective chances. While the men have been the focus, the three Healers women have largely been ignored, unless they interact with one of the guys (Jessica was shown only to talk about Cole). Of the three, there's something of an order to their chances:
Sub-contender #1 - Mike
Surprisingly, Mike has thus far been the challenge savior for the Healers. His steady hands on the table maze, and his swift thinking on the crossroads puzzle have now twice catapulted the Healers from a last-place position in the physical portion of an immunity challenge to a first-place finish. He seems to get along well enough with most of his tribemates in the limited camp scenes we've been shown, but his primary intra-tribal interaction thus far has been as Joe's #1 target. For his part, Mike also wants to target Joe, in retaliation for Joe's Episode 1 idol strong-arm tactics. That was reinforced this week, at least until Cole stepped into Joe's target sights.
Sub-contender #2 - Joe
Joe's had a lot of screen time and now has an idol, but he's also clearly taken on the mantle of the Healers' villain. With limited results at this point, it remains to be seen whether he'll be an overplaying, self-destructive villain like Russell Hantz, or a measured, effective villain, like Sarah Lacina or Tony Vlachos. Either way, he now has a hidden immunity idol with which to create some chaos. Unfortunately, he's also decided to target both Cole and Mike. You can only vote out one guy at a time, Joe! Although, sure, you could vote out one then idol the other, we suppose. At this point in Cagayan, things looked similarly unlikely for Tony. So Joe's not out of contention yet.
Sub-contender #3 - Cole
Cole has been a workhorse in challenges, a provider in camp, and has displayed an aptitude for the game, such as by destroying the idol clue after Joe found the idol. And yet, all those positives could be swiftly washed away by his being distracted by "super cute" Jessica. On a season in which Alan made such a fuss about JP and Ashley's imaginary power coupling, it's hard to imagine this showmance is going to turn out any better than Figtayls did (ship name Jessicole? Colica?). Even worse, Joe now wants to cover his own idol-finding tracks by removing the evidence Cole is shown blowing Joe's cover on the idol front in this week's preview, raising the possibility of a blindside.
The wild banshee in the room
As time moves on, the show's refusal to acknowledge Ali and Patrick's pre-existing relationship has become more and more frustrating. This week, that pre-game acquaintance was at least part of the calculus in deciding Simone's fate, and it still hasn't been mentioned on the show. Simone had Lauren on board in booting Patrick. She almost had Ryan convinced. Ali at least considered the option, then decided against it. That the show declines to fully explain the reasons why (presumably because doing so would make the game seem unfair, which it clearly is) is confounding. With each passing week, this is starting to verge on negligence, or at least a cover-up. What did Survivor know, and when did they know it?
It's inconceivable that this didn't come up during casting. Ali and Patrick both graduated from Auburn in the same year. That's some of the most basic biographical info, which is near the top of the front page on the application. They had to at least have been a teensy bit curious about that. But assuming they somehow managed to overlook this obvious potential connection and didn't pursue the matter further, it came up again pre-game. Ali openly fretted about knowing Patrick during her pre-game interviews with Josh Wigler. So without a doubt, the show knew about this before the game started.
Thus the more important question is: Why didn't they do something about it? Why is it okay for two people on a six-person tribe to be one person away from a majority before the game even begins, especially on a season where those initial tribes are likely to last four full episodes? Sure, Patrick doesn't really fit on the other two tribes, but why not at least shuffle Ali onto a different tribe? Does Desi really need to be a Healer? Couldn't she be considered a Hustler, due to her pageant background (considering that's the standard excuse for casting someone with a Miss USA background)? Doen't Ali also act as something of a Healer by addressing her YouTuber boss's ever-changing needs? Obviously, they can't change the theme the day before filming begins, but even in the unlikely event that the Ali-Patrick connection was discovered on Day Zero, it seems like production's Hustle level here was fairly low. To then continue to pretend, months later, that this oversight doesn't even exist, even though it's starting to affect the outcome of the game? That's just maddening. Moreso than being stuck on a tribe with Patrick, even.
As a side note, we question the decision to keep Patrick based solely on his physical game. (Stephen Fishbach's argument for keeping Patrick simply because he stands out does make sense, though.) Ryan said "If we vote out Pat, we'll probably lose every single time." This is funny, because the Hustlers have almost done that already, having lost two out of three times, and only barely finishing second the third time. To wit, here's a run-down of Patrick's challenge prowess thus far:
It's true that his bulk probably helped with some of the heavy lifting in the Ep1 IC, and that Simone certainly didn't do anything to suggest she might be a challenge asset. Even so, while Simone may not have solved the puzzle, at least she stepped up to try. Yes, Patrick is tall and has muscles, but so far, he hasn't done much with them.
The idol power couple - in defense of Cole
Several pundits (Rob Cesternino on KIA, Rob and Stephen on the RHAP recap podcast) have objected to Cole helping Joe interpret the idol clue, then retrieve the idol. This sounds like results-oriented thinking. Consider the alternatives: If Cole hadn't helped Joe, Joe would suspect Cole already had the idol, and it would incumbent on Cole to find the clue on his own, and then the idol itself, all before being voted out. As it played out, however, Cole quickly found himself digging with Joe in the exact spot where the idol was hidden, and they each had a 50-50 shot at finding it. Joe just happened to find it first. Again, consider the alternative: If Cole had found it, he'd probably be the target of a Joe blindside (but would at least have the idol). Instead, Joe found it, and now Cole is... the potential target of a Joe blindside. There's really no optimal play here. Cole had his best shot at success with the path he chose, he just ended up on the wrong end of a 50% chance.
Furthermore, historically, it doesn't seem as though joint idol finds have worked out all that terribly, have they? Think about it, how have other "shared" or jointly discovered idols worked out? Here's a non-exhaustive* list. Times in which the idol resulted in one of the finders/people with knowledge of the idol getting blindsided by their collaborator(s) in bold:
(*as many as we could be bothered to think through without coffee)
By our count, that's just four instances of joint idols leading to betrayal, out of 18 total chances, and one of those was a bit of a stretch (Erik in Caramoan). So the vast majority of the time, joint idol discovery/ knowledge has led to people working together, not targeting each other. As audience members, we're privy to Joe's being paranoid that Cole knows he has the idol, so we judge Cole's decision more harshly. But from Cole's perspective, there was no reason to think it was a terrible play.
But enough list-making and counting. Let's get to the vidcaps! (You'll be sorry, actually.)
I don't like the sound of that title. This isn't going to be non-stop poop jokes is it?
I selected this throne to do my *confessional* business, not other that other, second kind.
Seriously, bro. I know the ocean. There's a better way.
Ahhhhh, finally the payoff for the title. What a relief!
No, I'm just *talking* about it. This is not a re-enactment. That would be gross.
Fine. Let's move on. New topic: Why does this tribe always wear their buffs upside-down?
Huh? Upside-Down? Is this a subliminal Stranger Things 2 ad, or something?
Don't be silly! October 27th on Netflix.
Huh? Upside-Down? Is this a stealth Stranger Things 2 ad, or something?
You *could* put your legs through the raft holes. But it also makes a nice side-by-side aqua latrine.
Side-by-side latrine? That's super cute!
Didn't you say you had moved on? What are you, Bruce, or something?
I'm not looking for idols. I'm digging a nice, normal, non-aqua latrine.
Look, it even comes with reading material! Ahhhh.
Butts are for pooping, Joe
Um, I think that might be a little too close to the well.
Wait, did they actually bury the idol in the old spy bunker?
Nobody suspects a thing, Joe
Sigh, now I have to interview applicants for a new position that opened up in the Mom Squad
I could be a mom and things like that, you know
People won't suspect I'm a mom, because of the beard. Plus I've been on a squad before.
She said she'd get back to me. I'll just taking it one day at a time, and things like that
Hey, you know, does this help? I just caught a giant sea cricket and things like that.
Wait! Me too! I got the crab out of my pants!
If I know one thing, it's how to fit in on a Mom Squad
No. No you don't. At all.
Moms are always cackling like Woody Woodpecker, right?
Okay, we've exhausted the Mom Squad potential. Back to aqua dumps?
Please, no. Can't you see I'm busy?
Fine, new topic then, please. What is it?
How about a shout-out to production for using risers for the pre-challenge lineup?
Right? Now people like Simone and Ryan look extra tiny! Hooray!
Aw, you ruined it.
Look, there are bowl-like things in the water, and we're not making a single aqua dump joke. Happy?
Devon dives to the aquadumping ground for puzzle pieces? Yeah... no, that doesn't work.
You're gonna have to dig deep, and come up with some other joke
Where are we supposed to go for joke topics? This is confusing.
Doesn't matter! Heroes are done with these jokes and things like that!
Healers are too! Whoo!
Not until Cole finishes taking a... oh, never mind
Sign points to Palau. Don't Ulong for better jokes?
Yes. Yes, we do.
Well, good news, Patrick! You've been hired for that spot in the Mom Squad.
Yes, I knew I had the right look for that.
He's been hired for what, now? Does that mean he's leaving?
Um, no. Sadly one of you must leave.
Psst, Patrick. It's the one whose name is written over to the right.
Hooray, then. At least there will be no more poop jokes.
Really, no more poop jokes.
Ahhh, that's a relief.
Other HvHvH Episode 2 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Simone Nguyen