In the interests of finding time to write a bit this season, I’m going to aim for a short ticket – four points a week, on whatever I’m finding the most interesting. So here goes my thoughts on the premiere:
David Wright had the best week
I had completely written David off as having any chance to find himself in the majority on Manu. I thought that they’d see him as far too dispensable to be worth keeping around. And yet, we had three pretty critical scenes of David on the show this week.
Scene 1: David apparently running the day 1 survival activities, as people went to him for advice about how best to do things. While this is probably understandable given his experience, he still appeared to take to it with leadership and humility, a killer combo. He somehow came across as unthreatening and, dare I say it, safe. I think this set the table for the rest of what he was able to do.
Scene 2: David owning the challenge. David was the first across the balance beam when his tribe was struggling, and then he was in command on the puzzle section. If David’s biggest weakness coming in was ‘why would we keep this guy, he won’t even help us win challenges’ — in a single hour he may have surpassed Kelley as being the more critical returnee to keep for challenges. What’s more, they’ve seen the tribe swim, and he wasn’t the one nearly drowning, so even if he isn’t the best swimmer out there, he’s probably not going to be first in the firing line after a swimming challenge. Add that Reem purportedly went after David with a ‘challenge liability’ tag at tribal which he appeared able to brush off with ease by essentially saying ‘I’m not’, and it shows that somehow, David has turned what could have been his greatest weakness into a (temporary, at least) strength.
Scene 3: David and the Wardog go off to discuss with Wendy the plan to vote out Reem. In this moment it seemed fairly clear that these two were the primary forces controlling the way the vote went. If they did want to swing it to Wendy, they probably could have. What’s more, I believe the Wardog is the type of player (like a Tony), who might have instinctually torn up the plan and switched the vote out to Wendy, and others would have followed. David seems to me likely to have been the cooler head. Which is wise, because I’m not sure why people wouldn’t want around Wendy who was so loyal she refused to write her ally’s name down. That’s an attitude I could work with (that’s fine Wendy — we’ll vote out your ally, and you don’t have to get any blood on your hands. Want to be my ally next?)
Anyway, this is all to say that I think David is in control of the Manu tribe right now, but isn’t perceived as being in control – in fact, Kelley, Lauren and the Wardog are all likely to be perceived in that way before him. I still fear that everything could turn around on David in an instant. Scene 4 — the ‘next week on’ where David is potentially targeting Kelly, scared the heck out of me, and I hope that whatever is going on isn’t jeopardizing David at all. But without a doubt, for me, David’s stock rose the most in the first episode out of everyone out there.
(A close second — Ron Clark, who had a great day over at Kama beach, but it’s hard to know exactly where he’s going to stand in tribe dynamics yet, and how he’ll use his advantage, so it’s probably these things that determine just how good his week was).
Ryan should have drafted the Wardog
Look, I don’t know why Ryan didn’t draft the Wardog in the first place. He’s so on-brand for Ryan’s previous lineups. It’s almost like Ryan wants to get rid of that headdress with picks like Keith on the board.
In this week, the Wardog delivered on his pregame promises. He kept himself restrained, he didn’t (as far as we could tell) take any heat for going out and looking for idols or being too intense, and he got himself solidly into a majority alliance. He’s definitely in a better spot to win that Ryan’s third pick Keith — who could have difficulty even seeing out the next week. Sure, Keith swung himself into the majority, but as the last man in and with a glaringly obvious challenge weakness, he could well be in trouble, especially if Wendy remains as likeable as she has so far.
However, I still don’t think the Wardog is actually going to win. For most of the other players, Reem was seen as a challenge liability (and also, just as someone who didn’t have the social awareness to tell she was left out of the group). For the Wardog, she was the lady who moved his clothes. I think this goes to show that the Wardog is still the player who could get hung up on something and vote someone out for the wrong reasons. Besides that, I think having a ‘personal’ reason such as that become so public is a bad look and can make you a target — it can give the impression that the Wardog is inflexible and would want to push for vengeance on whoever is annoying him, even if it’s not in his best interests. Funnily enough, in the scene I mentioned earlier, we saw the Wardog being flexible, considering voting Wendy out. But I’m not sure he’s going to come across that way to everyone — especially to some of the other women in his tribe.
The jury’s still out. But through one episode, he’s certainly Team Extinction’s best bet at taking us all down — and that chance only increased in that episode.
Editing for Extinction?
Apparently, out in the wild internet, the popular belief is that Kelley got a ‘villain edit’ this week. I don’t see anything vaguely resembling that (worst case, Kelley was somewhat invisible). But it’s interesting to examine why that is. And I think it has far more to do with the edit of Reem, Wendy and Keith than of Kelley.
(Before I make the rest of the point, I couldn’t help but notice the kind of anti-symmetry for Kelley between her opening challenge in Cambodia, where you virtually ignored watching the challenge in favour of the drama of whether she could get an immunity idol unseen, vs here where she fell and cut her head open, and was painted as a challenge liability as a result. They couldn’t have felt more opposite to me.)
Anyway, back on track. Reem got a remarkably sympathetic edit for a first boot. We saw the majority come together while she was bonding with Wendy and Keith over teaching Keith how to swim. They showed no strategic talk between them (whether it happened or not), and the moment was played by the edit as the majority unfairly suggesting they were strategic. It didn’t matter what they were doing down there, it’s smart to take a 6 on 3 moment and put together a majority alliance, and generally speaking the edit may well have ignored Reem’s side of the story and simply enabled her to look aloof and like she was separating herself.
This was a theme that continued. We saw her caring about Wendy and being patient and tolerant of her Tourette’s Syndrome idiosyncrasies, something we saw from no one else (yet). We saw her genuine intent to dry clothes, rather than only seeing the others' side of the story. We saw her desire not to be drawn into being a mother figure but bonding with Keith on that level anyway. By the time Tribal Council came around, the edit felt like it was drawing us in to be on the side of the losing faction — something that is very uncommon when they are going to lose up front.
I’m not sure we would have seen this side of Reem, and been asked to root for her, if not for the fact she is now our ‘hero’ on extinction. Her journey, regardless of how it ends, is going to be key to selling us, the audience, on the extinction island twist that the show is asking us to invest in. I also can’t imagine many people better suiting this role than Reem — she has toughness and grit, and appears made to be able to survive it, while she also has a chip on her shoulder that it would be great to see thrown back in to the game at the merge. Add in the fact that we feel like her boot was just a little unfair, and she’s a very rootable figure.
Add in Wendy’s heartfelt story, and Keith’s attempts to learn how to swim and willingness to pick up the game and just do what he had to do quickly, and the show heavily invested in us rooting for the underdogs early. And I have to say it worked for me. I didn’t buy that the majority were villains — but I did buy that there were two sides to the story. Whether Extinction is in the game or not, I actually think it’s a style of editing that has merit in and of itself. It’s ok for the show to ask us to root for a group of people who get wiped out — after all, remember Pagong? Remember Ulong? It’s an interesting point of difference, and if it’s a sign of how Extinction island will affect the editing game, I’m looking forward to seeing what’s coming next.
As I suspected, Kama won the first challenge and look like the better team. Manu weren’t far behind, but it was a challenge where it was hard to completely blowout the other team. I could see the gap only getting bigger in future challenges. The key is this — Joe was so good at everything that Manu would have had to be virtually perfect to beat the Kama tribe. And this seems like an omen of what’s to come.
I’m not saying Manu can’t win a challenge. But I wouldn’t bet on it. And like Cirie in Game Changers, Aubry might need this to hold for her to have a chance to stay in the game.
While we haven’t met so many of this tribe yet, we did see enough of the four men — Joe, Ron, Eric and Gavin — to suggest to me that the five women on that tribe might be best to wise up and put together a women’s alliance now. And it wouldn’t necessarily surprise me to see exactly that coming down the line. That’s a bunch of strong-willed women that I’m so ready to watch play. I hope we see more of them next week. But I’m not going to count on it seeing them much at all as a tribe — I just expect them to eat, be merry, win challenges and be the latest in a line of tribes that producers the winner despite getting minimal pre-swap air time.
All right, that will do it for this week. Please comment and tweet out at me about what you thought about this week. Thanks for reading, and hopefully I’ll catch you again next week!
By day, Ben Martell is a public commercial lawyer from New Zealand.
By night, he moonlights as a self-described Survivor 'expert'.
By day or night, find him on twitter at: @golden8284