It’s fitting that Tony used the word “fantasy” as that’s been the word of the week for me as I’ve spent all my waking non-work, non-Survivor quarantine hours playing the new Final Fantasy VII Remake game. With that plug out of the way, I have to say that I also enjoyed this episode — maybe more appropriately, I enjoyed what could have been this episode. The loved ones visit was spectacular, especially so on the Edge of Extinction, and the vote was emotionally intense.
Unfortunately, what pulled us out of the dreamy fantasy and back into the depressing reality was the fact that the episode was simply too short. What I saw was great — it was just that I was hungry for more. If CBS was ever to give Survivor a special two-hour episode — and no, not just two episodes back-to-back – this one was it. Survivor was doing something historic in its historic season, and while I understand at least a little of how networks operate (i.e. the audience can’t just tweet at execs), not doing more for this episode was both a disservice to the show and to its two-decades-long loyal fans.
HERE COME THE KIDS
This loved ones visit sounds like it’s stricken the Survivor community in a polarizing way — I’ve seen love and I’ve seen hate for this episode. Shockingly, I mostly felt the love. While I’ve known that the Survivors were getting more than just one loved one on this season, seeing it happen felt like something special. As winners of the game, I think they deserved this unique no-strings-attached reward.
While the winners some of us grew up with are mostly on the Edge, seeing a lot of the winners’ families touched on how long this show has been a part of our own family. There were eight kids that came out to see their mom or dad that weren’t even born yet the first time they played. Tyson and Kim weren’t even wed, Tony only had a newborn, Jeremy’s wife Val was due any day when he won, and Sarah was close to the same at the Cagayan finale. Mostly recent winners remain in the game, but this puts into perspective how really “recent” many of them are/aren’t – these are Survivor stars we’ve known for years and I think it was great seeing them shine with who lights up their lives every day.
Tyson and Tony in particular hit hard because they’re always the ones making us laugh, so to see them in tears and on their knees at the sight of their children was powerful. I felt a little bad that those without kids, or the only single person, Michele, just got one loved one. It would have been a nice gesture to bring out their parents or anyone else special in their lives just to even the numbers a little, but overall, the moment still landed for me. While the break was long, it was still a break from the game and a refreshing reminder that these people are more than just characters on our TVs — they’re moms, dads, partners, sisters, and more. We say we crave for more human moments among all the heavy strategy, and isn’t that exactly what this episode delivered? Aside from Jeff’s awkward Q&A, the family stuff felt old school to me because we got to really learn who these people were rather than just seeing what moves they were making in the game.
I don’t even like kids, and I was completely moved by most of the first half of the evening. I mean, Tyson’s daughter making sand soup in her full-body buff dress was absolutely adorable.
It really is no surprise that Tyson’s kid was my favorite.
LOSERS DESERVE LOVE TOO
... too harsh?
The first family reveal was phenomenal, but the second one for the Edgers was even more extraordinary — it’s amazing how much more we get out of a scene when there’s less of Jeff. Personally, I’d say to scrap the loved ones reward challenge for the rest of the series’ life and bring in a surprise boat every time because this was epic.
First, Rob and Ethan expected the boat to mean something bad, as it usually does, and then after Natalie exclaimed that their families were on board, we saw Amber sprint like we’ve never seen before and Danni break down on the beach at the sight of her son. With the precedent of family visits being that only those still in the game get love, this was surprising to us, the Survivors, and especially Adam who thought that by getting voted out the very night before, he had ruined his dad’s chance to fly out to Fiji again and be there with Adam and the spirit of his mom, Susie.
I could have spent the entire night at the Koru camp or on the Edge with all the loved ones there — that’s what was the highlight of the night for me. For anyone saying these segments were “too long” or that the second half of the episode was “too short” — I’ll only agree with the latter and argue that the former was also “too short.” More time allowed for both could’ve led to so much more of a real Survivor event and also more cute, cuddly kisses from one of the show’s most iconic femme fatale villains:
That’s another baby born years after mom (and dad!) played Survivor — again highlighting just how many years of our own we’ve invested in its history.
I’d only complain more about the visits if the loved ones at the main camp were cut even shorter or if the Edge visit was left to being released as a secret scene after the show. The Survivors this season are obviously some of its best, but I’ll always choose watching them as people over watching them play. Even the music had me reminded me of the old days when that was 90% of what the show was about (did anyone else catch the old Rites of Passage track playing?)
I think it’s fine for fans to have evolved as well and wish this episode would’ve done less with family and more with the pre-tribal council fireworks, but I’m content with the love getting at least as much attention as it did. Deep down, I bet a lot of us needed that more than we know during these times in the world.
IMMUNITY – TOPSY TURVY
Onto other historic moments on Survivor — no, Debbie still has yet to conquer the balance beam, but TONY VLACHOS WON HIS FIRST INDIVIDUAL IMMUNITY CHALLENGE ON SURVIVOR. The irony of Tony winning this challenge that’s all about staying slow and steady was not lost on any of us given that he is the wildest winner we’ve ever had.
Tony’s made it 10 episodes without a vote and now finally has an immunity win (nobody told him that what he was wearing was a necklace instead of a vest, but it’s his first time, so go easy). The only immunity I expected Tony to possess would’ve been in the form of an idol, and I sure as shit wouldn’t have guessed him to make it this far without ever being a real target. We’re a month out from the finale now, and more and more, it looks like we’re readying ourselves to witness Tony’s biggest “mumment” of his Survivor career — winning Winners at War.
FAST AND SLOPPY
We roughly got five and a half minutes of a narrative trying to explain why this episode ended the way it did — talk about fast and sloppy.
Again, I don’t wish away the family visit — I think the editors did what they could with 44 minutes of air, but this segment especially spoke to how awful of a decision it was to force this much into just one regular hour of television.
For the second week in a row, we had about half the tribe mentioned as targets and little explanation as to why. Jeremy wanted to break up Sarah and Sophie, Sarah wanted Kim, Tony wanted Tyson, and we didn’t hear a peep out of Nick, Michele, and Denise about who they wanted. Tony has been talking for weeks now about the lions sticking together, and suddenly by letting Nick live another day, Tony was seemingly working with the hyenas? Everyone left played their way to get here, but when you look at Sophie, Sarah, Nick, and Ben vs. Kim, Tyson, and Jeremy which group looks the more intimidating lions to you?
I think the Cops ‘R’ Us alliance obviously played the biggest role in how this all went down, and we did hear Tony mention Tyson as a target, but there was no explanation was to why that was — we could piece together why Tyson was considered a threat, but we shouldn’t have to do that. If Sarah, Sophie, and Ben are together because of their time at Yara, why is Tony thinking that’s a safe final four for him, and how the hell did Nick sneak his way into that group? Is that what he did — just appear out of nowhere and that was that?
Kim, Jeremy, and Denise being together makes sense because of their Dakal history, but Tyson going to them is a little unclear — is it because he and Jeremy are both “lions,” or was the Poker Alliance actually the real deal? Also, why do they count Michele as one of their numbers? Because of Jeremy? We’re stuck seeing days of strategy presented in a few minutes, and there’s just simply no way to make any sense of that. Let alone the messy web of prior relationships, these are some of the game’s best players, so the strategy this season is some of the most complex ever — getting just a few minutes each week is a terrible injustice to all the impressive games that I’m sure are being played.
When it’s just a bunch of names being thrown around without being explained, that’s just not fun. I think Jeff thinks it is — he thinks we love the chaos and uncertainty. I do, but only when I can wrap my head around it. If it’s just guesswork and reading between some already blurred lines, I’m not a fan. I don’t need the story spoon-fed to me, but I do need a story of some kind. What ended up being this one was, what, Tony saying Tyson’s name once? Do better, Survivor.
Maybe I’m asking to have my cake and eat it too — show the strategy but also give us enough non-strategic content to make the characters more compelling. Somehow, that formula worked for many, many years, but somewhere along the way the show lost it and thought all we care about are “live” tribal councils and blindsides so big they don’t make sense.
Isn’t Survivor CBS’s highest rated show in the ratings that matter most? ABC gives two hours Monday and Tuesday nights to the garbage bin they pretty up as The Bachelor, and NBC has 18 hours of The Voice every week — why can’t Survivor get that treatment? Hell, I’d take 90 minutes as a compromise. Unlike those other shows, Survivor has stood its ground for 40 seasons over 20 years — I just wish its network had given it the royal treatment it deserved as that statue of television success. Let’s face it — the only reason SEAL Team gets any viewers is because Survivor fans are too busy texting or tweeting to turn off their TVs at 9/8c.
It took all of 3 seconds for tribal council talk to turn to whispering, so I guess that’s just the new norm. Tribal council is a lot of fluff anyway, but at least it can still provide some classic one-liners or heated moments — when it’s nothing but whispers, un-subtitled, we literally get nothing. Who the hell thought that makes good TV?
I did enjoy the small stand-off between Jeremy and Sarah — again, something good actually happened when they weren’t all whispering. Jeremy played his “I’mma head out” power which prompted Sarah to use her steal-a-vote. At that point, Sophie, showing once again that she’s a mob boss, just up and suggested that her group of people step away from the rest and go make a decision about what to do. Poor Tyson, Kim, Denise, and Michele saw the battle lines drawn clear as day, and with Sarah’s steal-a-vote, there was literally no way for them to win this one.
Except, there actually was. I’m not sure who fucked up the math, but Sarah, Sophie, Tony, Nick, and Ben splitting their votes 4-2 was some seriously stupid strategery for Survivor winners. I tried to make sense or find an answer in something we weren’t shown, but I still cannot. After stealing Denise’s vote, to guarantee an idol couldn’t hurt them, what I’ll call Team Sophie should’ve split their votes 3-3. That way, if Tyson and Denise were the targets, an idol on either would result in a tie vote which could then easily be broken. Instead, splitting 4-2 would’ve allowed an idol to be played on the “4” which would have left the minority 3 to dictate whose torch got snuffed.
We now know that Michele actually voted for Tyson — oh, so maybe she was actually with Sophie’s gang? Thus, they had to only worry about Tyson and Kim’s votes, so a 5-2-2 split is fine — EXCEPT, if they knew/felt confident that Michele was voting with them, why did Sarah use the steal-a-vote at all? The math doesn’t add up. If Sarah thought they had Michele, then there wasn’t a need to play the advantage, and if she had any doubt about Michele, then a 3-3 split was the only optimal strategy to make Michele’s flip or no-flip irrelevant. Was Michele in on the Tyson vote, or was it just a shot in the dark, and did Sophie (who held on to her idol) get extremely lucky that Kim played the idol for Denise instead of Tyson and that Michele didn’t write down Sophie’s name?
THESE ARE THE KIND OF THINGS WE NEED ANSWERED IN AN EPISODE. AAAAAAGGGGGHHHH!
That’s what I think of that. Tyson’s torch getting snuffed again was too tragic, so I didn’t screenshot it this second time. As frustrating of a “farewell” this was for Tyson, I suppose it made sense for his story to come ~full circle~ here in the family visit episode given the way Tyson was introduced this season. Tyson has no fire tokens, but he’s got about another 10 days to find just one and buy another jar of peanut butter, so at this point, I’m expecting Tyson to be the next Ozzy and come back again only to have his torch snuffed a third time in one season. I love you, man, but you’re fucking killing me.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR...
Jeremy, Kim, Denise, and Michele being on the bottom with no more advantages at their disposal (I guess you could count Michele’s 50-50 coin, but she’s in the least amount of danger of the four) is abysmal. The one light that may be left is that next week we could be getting the return of OG Tony — the crazy many running through the jungle looking to stuff things into his bag of tricks. I still don’t grasp why Tony would think the group he was with this week is the one that’s going to get him to the end, but maybe next week we’ll get some more insight. OG Tony was a flipper, so if he flips and sets up a final five instead consisting of himself and the four currently on the bottom, that’s a Winners at War fantasy I want fulfilled.
P.S. THE BENCH IS BACK!!!
Tony – A lot went well for Tony this week including an immunity win and a big “mumment” with his family. No one’s talking about Tony as a target and he’s now in the driver’s seat — while he looks like he’s riding with Cops ‘R’ Us, he still has some small lion bond with Jeremy and with that tie leading to working with Kim and the Queenslayer, I’ve got some hope Tony pounces on the last of the hyenas, but who really knows. Regardless of which way he goes, I think Tony’s set up incredibly well, and if he sticks with the same Top 5 as he did this week, the only other person I could see winning besides himself would be Sophie, and either of those two I could get behind winning. Tony because he’s Tony and Sophie so I could say that I suffered an ass-stomping in Settlers of Catan by a two-time Survivor winner.
Sarah – The other half of Cops ‘R’ Us, Sarah also played a strong game this week as she has all season. Between her wanting Kim and Tony wanting Tyson, we see which cop got their way, but realistically, Sarah doesn’t have to call every shot to have a chance at winning — in fact, it’s better for her if Tony does instead so he remains a bigger threat. Sarah has played extremely well just like she did when she won, but I think her issue here is allying with stronger opponents than Brad Culpepper and Troyzan. I definitely don’t see Sarah winning over Tony and I think Sophie would sell a better case than Sarah, so Sarah needs to find a way to get to the final three with Ben and Nick. Nick would have no shot, and while Ben has a good story and is a very likable guy, Sarah will have played a way better game than Ben. However, with this being the only final three within her current alliance that Sarah can win against, that means Sophie or Tony is just a fire-making challenge away from making Sarah a losing finalist. Maybe Sarah vs. Sophie would be a closely contended fight, but if Tony has only one challenge win left in him, and it’s making fire at final four, then game over baby. It’s #TeamTV’s to lose.
Kim – Kim just can’t catch a fucking break. She also had me terribly nervous that she was going to play her idol for Tyson or Denise and then she’d be the one who ended up with all the votes. After Sandra’s move earlier this season, I couldn’t take another queen making such a sad mistake. Watching Kim play with her back against the wall remains fascinating – I fear next week, her long fight could finally come to an end, but if so, then I’m glad the last two weeks she’s been able to shine with her record-breaking immunity win, bold idol play, and heartwarming visit with her husband and babies. No matter what happens, Kim will always be a legend, so she deserves to go off into her Survivor sunset with that iconic walk (shuffle?) of hers we now know and love.
That’s how I walk through the grocery store now so no one gets too close to me.
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser