In the two episodes since the premiere, we've seen two unanimous votes, two challenges, and one idol find. And precious little else. Each tribe has one loudmouth/malcontent, but that only sustains audience interest for so long, and everyone else seems to be contentedly gathering wood and/or fetching water. That's perhaps why a common fan refrain throughout this early part of Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers has been that this season is boring. It seems a bit early to be making that call, but a case could be made that the action has been limited. Part of that problem? Three tribes.
We're still generally in favor of three tribes, because it does seem to make the post-merge gameplay more fluid (someone like this author should probably study that some day). Even so, it's not without its pre-merge flaws. Here is a short list of what those are, and how they could be improved.
1. Under-challenged, under-rewarded
With brand-new contestants, production faces a constant push-and-pull in early episodes, having to decide between generating action via challenges versus spending time in camp, and getting to know the new players. In the last two episodes, there has been just one challenge per hour. That provides more room for character development, and in its favor, it feels like we're now pretty well acquainted with all of the Heroes and Hustlers. Even if the show seems to insist we don't need to know about Desi or Roark at all. (They're on the Healers tribe, if the names seem unfamiliar.)
With three tribes, a lot of that character time is then taken up by conflict that doesn't necessarily pay off in this timeframe, because two of the tribes have absolutely nothing to do except plot needlessly. In a perfect season, the tribes are evenly balanced, and the show can rotate focus to each episode's losing tribe, as they have to make a boot decision. For Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers, the Hustlers entered the game seemingly dramatically overmatched on paper, and proceeded to prove those predictions exactly correct, finishing last in three of four challenges, and finishing second only because the Heroes' winning ball popped in and out of its table maze hole in the first IC. So we've seen a lot of non-Hustlers infighting and strategizing that has thus far failed to pay off.
There's a good chance that at least some of these divisions have been established in order to explain events that happen later in the game. With that said, though, it still seems as though some of the time we've spent in camp has been... poorly managed. The last two challenges have been joint reward/immunity challenges, and because (1) you almost always go to the losing tribe's camp between the IC and Tribal, and (2) rewards no longer contain idol clues, we've been deprived of any footage of victorious tribes enjoying their rewards. Couldn't we have sacrificed maybe one iteration of Joe futilely planning to vote out Mike, and seen a reward instead? For example, in this episode the Heroes finally toppled the Healers' first-place-finishing challenge juggernaut, hauled their chickens back to camp (unseen), and now... hey, a swap! So in place of celebrating Heroes, here's a callback to JP catching a lobster, except now JP is catching a smallish fish that Ashley swears is a decent size. Whoo, excitement!
2. Simple, unanimous votes
Lack of vote drama is probably the biggest casualty of three tribes. At their largest, they can only have six people. That means there are very few combinations of numbers leading to a majority vote, and thus minimal chance of any split vote shenanigans or strategic maneuvering. Theoretically, you could pull off a 3-2-1 vote at your tribe's very first Tribal Council visit, but that will probably never happen, because for a group of newbies, everyone prefers the predictability and comfort of a simple majority vote for their first Tribal. After that vote, there's even less room to maneuver. This was glaringly obvious when Patrick approached Lauren without having previously thought up a fake vote story. When Lauren asked him for whom he was voting, a flustered Patrick mumbled "I don't know." Patrick definitely couldn't vote for "I don't know," and when the only other three options were all people he clearly liked (Ali, Ryan, Devon), "I don't know" was obviously "Lauren." Also, the focus on power couples has been relevant, because on a six-person tribe, a duo is just one vote away from at worst a tie, and a solid majority after that first, easy, 5-1 vote has taken place.
Cole tried to talk vote splits and blindsides over on the Healers tribe, but as always, they were unable to attend Tribal Council. So the three votes thus far have all been 5-1 or 4-1. While that's perhaps a welcome change from the utter chaos of the Final 6 advantagegeddon in Game Changers, the dearth of any drama other than "which target did the majority pick?" is probably partly to blame for the early ennui. Yes, the single-use Super Idol in Ep1 was a good idea in theory, but it wasn't played because it didn't need to be, and there hasn't been another opportunity. And nobody on the Hustlers tribe ever found an idol. Indeed, if Lauren is to be believed, she never even looked! (Again, a casualty of small tribes. Everyone knows where everyone else is.)
So a swap could bring about a welcome change here. Except that it looks pretty likely that it will be three new tribes of five. So, even less maneuvering. Yay? Let's hope a swap down to two bigger tribes will follow rapidly. Or a merge at 13.
3. Clueless idle time
In the first eight days, only ONE person has found the idol clue. Just one. At this rate, the only reason to hope any of the other two idols available will be found is that with the swap coming, at least there's a chance Joe and Cole will end up at one of the other two camps, where the clue and idol are just sitting there, waiting to be discovered. (Or if they can't find that camp's clue, they might as well just dig in the same spot as at Healers camp.) Clearly, the new clues-carved-into-a-tree-trunk system has been a bit of a dud.
It's always good for Survivor to try new idol-hiding mechanisms, to keep contestants on their toes, and forestall the bad old days when a show-savvy contestant like Carolyn can just check all the likely trees on Day 1, pocket the tribe's one and only idol, and not need to play it for another 30 days or so. But with the season now one-fifth over, this season's system clearly needs tweaking. The hiding of the idols themselves is great, in that they're buried, and not just placed in an odd-looking tree. But it's clear that the clue distribution system needs a bit of work. Adding clues back to the rewards, as it was in Cagayan, would be a great way to do so. Go ahead and combine it with the tree clue, if one tribe (*cough* Hustlers) is so terrible that they're unlikely to ever win a challenge and are repeatedly attending Tribal.
In defense of the banshee
Patrick was... not a great Survivor strategist. But as a TV character, he was a brief but vibrant element in the HHH storyline. While it's important to have a critical mass of players who are competent and game-aware, so that the end-game doesn't end up with just one person coasting to the million, Patrick was a vivid demonstration that it's also fun to have a few good-natured, entertaining people around who perhaps think they are great players, but don't necessarily have the chops to pull it off. Patrick wasn't exactly cannon fodder. On another season, he might have been picked off around the merge. But for someone whose torch flames out early, it's far better to have a well-meaning, excitable, but otherwise pleasant goofball like Patrick than a divisive, negative, polarizing character like, say, John Rocker, who's just there to generate conflict and antagonism.
Furthermore, if you watch his "Patrick The Day After" video at CBS All Access, it's clear Patrick was thrilled to be playing the game, and appreciated his opportunity to do so. He may not be a superfan, but he's at least a fan. There's also a glimpse of Patrick's fatal Survivor flaw: Instead of Resting Bitch Face, Patrick is afflicted with Resting Smirk Face. As Patrick describes the events of the game in hindsight, even the painful ones like being blindsided and having his torch snuffed, he sports a constant, toothsome grin. He clearly can't control it. This is what so irked Lauren during his attempt to check in with her before Tribal Council. While we're happy the Hustlers kept Lauren over him, we're still happy Patrick had three episodes to make an impact.
The swap ahead - what to expect
In the preview for the swap, there was a montage of six headshots, comprising the main pair from each original tribe that editing has taken the time to establish over the first three episodes: Jessica/Cole, Ryan/Devon, and Chrissy/Ben. So there's a pretty good chance that at least one, if not all three of those pairs will be split up by the swap. Just when everything seemed to be going so well for them!
Conversely, there are also now a few antagonistic pairs: Alan vs. Ashley and/or Alan vs. JP, but also Joe vs. Mike, Joe vs. Desi/Roark, Joe vs. Cole. These conflicts have most likely been established because we're about to see one of these pairs end up on the same tribe post-swap, and the drama will be centered around which side will be able to recruit their new tribemates to settling their particular score. The Alan/Ashley/JP fight is an interesting one, because Alan was clearly correct that Ashley/JP have become a power couple, even if it wasn't entirely true when he first accused them. Still, the show has seemed to side with Ashley's lament that it's so unfair, so there's a decent chance one of Ashley or JP will soon be taking out Alan. Similarly, Joe's single-minded vendetta against Mike seems like it will likely pay off fairly soon, but probably not in the manner Joe intends.
Without these festering rivalries, a swap this early—with 15 people left—would likely spell doom for the players who might seem like traditional early boots: A slight, schemy-looking player like Ryan, an older woman like Lauren (who's only 35) or Chrissy, a slight, schemy-looking older man like Mike. But at least at this point, all seem somewhat protected by the edit (except maybe Mike, who has been completely MIA for the past two episodes). Meanwhile, a reckoning of some kind is coming (eventually), as the Episode 5 title is "The Past Will Eat You Alive."
Fine. Let's get to the vidcaps!
You guys, imagine how much fun Fashion Hour will be once Patrick is gone!
Seriously, he always bogarts all the best ensembles
I keep telling everyone I've been a designer for 25 years. Nobody listens.
Meanwhile, the Cochran of the Heroes tribe was left alone with a machete
You should see what I do with avocadoes!
Since it's fashion week, how do you guys like my Julie McGee Special Edition half-buff?
Come on, JP. It's not polite to poke your tribemate with a spear, no matter what they do to avocadoes.
Is there anything JP can't do? I mean besides play Survivor, obv.
Oh dear, the idol is talking to Joe again
Is that the same boat where the idol is hidden? Oh wait...
Yeah, everyone *does* love that St. Louis University-branded gin, CBS. Good product placement
If we come up with a couple name like Romber, maybe we'll be on TAR after they vote us out here
She suggested Jessicole <3 <3 <3
That doesn't really roll off the tongue like "Jessicole." Just saying.
Don't mind me, just checkin' for crabs. They're everywhere.
I really was checking for crabs. Honest.
Ali: People are concerned you're actually checking for idols. Patrick: Are idols a kind of crab? If so, yes.
The Healers play MadLibs. Mike suggests "foreskin." Nobody laughs.
No wonder we're not getting any screen time. You guys have to bleep everything!
Sure, give me a minute
Hey Roark, keep it on the DL, but Jessica and I have picked "Colessica" as our couple name.
That is *NOT* the name we discussed!
I realize you guys haven't shown me until now, but this *IS* Survivor, right?
Hey... Desi, isn't it? You're also part of out focus group. "Colessica" totally works, right?
That's not foreshadowing! That would be sigil. Er, silly.
Are you talking about us? We have a Bolton
No, no, of course not. I did hear someone has a "Jessicole" though, right?
We do! We *DOOOOOOOO*! <3 <3
Still upset at his mistreatment of avocadoes, JP captures Alan in a giant net.
Heroes are known for petty vandalism, so Ben destroys an artful arrangement of blocks
Patrick does the same, because... Hustle something something
A Roark arises betwixt Jessicole
Continue Hustling or whatever, Patrick! Or maybe let someone else Hustle.
As penance for their vandalism, the Heroes must erect a giant phallus
Having sat the urologist out for this, the Healers find their phallus small and somewhat flaccid
That's enough, Pitman! *I* make the challenge-related blue commentary, okay?
Apparently, we are not allowed to say. But again, you declined to consult the urologist.
Oh dear. Now the entire tribe has come between Jessicole.
Man, we really could have used those chicken feathers for Fashion Hour
Again, I offered my runway expertise, but no takers. Ingrates.
This is our Seawater and Sand Collection. It's pretty avant-garde.
Wait, Simone's old pants are already passé? Why didn't anyone tell me?
This is our Well Water and Foliage Collection!
The bushes are a bit cumbersome, but, you know... haute couture *shrug*
Important news: Seawater is out this evening, and fire is in. Sand is still okay.
Also, redheads are out. Sorry. We don't want to be too matchy-matchy with our red theme.
Patrick: Ha ha, sucks to be you, redheads!
One minute you're in, the next you're out. Auf Wiedersehen!
Other HvHvH Episode 3 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Patrick Bolton