This week's episode of Survivor 42 wasn't a bigger-than-the-game one like last week's, but it had some good moments nonetheless. There was, of course, a Big Move, as the contestants took advantage of production actually letting them all vote for a change. The parts preceding this were mostly fun, standard Survivor fare, albeit with one series milestone receiving a COVID-dodging tweak.
This episode saw the rise of a new challenge beast, the surprise return of regular old idols (yay!), the old challenge beast becoming the decoy boot, and lots of shivering and suffering, the latter of which must have warmed Jeff Probst's heart.
Omar pulled off a great episode title quote, with his Sandra-esque "Tell a good lie, not a stupid lie" line, but was it really that much of a lie? While Hai never used the word "puppet," he did say an episode or two ago that Mike would vote how he told him. (In confessional? I spent a while looking for the exact quote, but couldn't find it. Please drop it in the comments if you can find it.) The key for Omar is that this "lie" built off of Mike's clear discomfort with Hai forcing him to vote out Rocksroy at the previous Tribal, shortly after Mike had given Rocks his word that he wouldn't. Mike and Omar had discussed this right after it happened, but Omar waited a full 24 hours to bring this back up again. It was a patient, subtle move that required Omar to actually listen to what Mike was saying, then target that same discontent at a later time. Masterful.
It's also a great contrast between Omar's gameplay and Hai's. Hai was much more direct, much more publicly into being "the driver." He took an active role in assembling the majority alliance at the merge. He was the one lobbying Mike on the Rocksroy vote. Omar nudged him into pushing for a last-minute switch to Romeo one round earlier. Hai was too visibly in charge to stay in that position for very long. That's not how modern Survivor works. Being too obviously in charge shortly after the merge just gets you voted out. (Evvie Jagoda offered up Shan as a comparable player from their season on the live RHAP, and that's a really solid comparison.) Omar's approach is not really how modern Survivor works, either, though.
Omar has been great about covertly pulling strings, but unless he turns off his cloaking device at some point soon, he runs the risk of not receiving credit for his many moves. It doesn't do you any good if the jurors are still finding out what really happened when they watch it back on TV. It's possible this is all a moot point, and people figure out Omar is running the game, and take him out at F5, just like Ricard. But there's a really fine line between manipulating the game in secret and everybody else thinking someone else is running the game (then rewarding that person at the end, instead). See, for example, Stephen Fishbach in Tocantins. We grouse about people going on and on about their "résumé" on Survivor, but if jurors keep bringing it up, it'll keep being a thing they value.
Already this week, Jonathan was congratulating himself in confessional about taking out Hai, when Hai was coming for him ("What a move!"). Drea talked about how good a move it was for her and Lindsay, increasing the power of their amulets. Maryanne approached Lindsay about it, framing it as "tonight is the night we make our move." It's everyone's move when it works!
The good: Something of a loved ones visit
Back in the olden days, the show's budget wasn't really large enough to bring loved ones out on location, especially in some of the more exotic, far-flung locales in which Survivor used to film. So instead we had videos from home. (Usually followed by one surprise in-person visit, like Colby's mom in The Australian Outback. Except when it wasn't.)
With 41 and 42 being filmed under strict COVID restrictions, a loved ones visit simply wasn't feasible. In normal times, they have to fly more family members out to Fiji than actually appear, because they travel before the previous episode's boot is known. When there's a 2-week quarantine for travelers to Fiji, that means 16 of them (!) would have had to leave on Day 4 to be there for this episode. For just a few minutes of screen time, that doesn't make much sense. But videos are cheap and easy now! So this felt like a bit of a throwback, and was fun.
The surprise videos from home is also (somewhat surprisingly) a staple of post-COVID international Survivors of late. First to film was SurvivorSA: Immunity Island, which had a food reward with surprise videos from home as the prize for its Ep7 RC/IC (on Day 17, so it's off by one day). The rewardees agreed to keep quiet about their surprise, because it would be too painful for the non-winners to hear about ... did that happen in 42 as well? This episode filmed well before 42, but aired after 42 filmed, so it's probably just a coincidence.
Similarly, SurvivorAU: Blood v. Water (featuring Sandra Diaz-Twine!), which filmed a good five months after 42, but still aired before, also has surprise videos from home. That appeared as part of the Ep.17 RC prize package, which already included a car. (In the Australian Outback, no less! Full circle to Colby! Colby's mom did not make a return appearance.) The best part was that one of the videos included a message from an already-booted contestant, this being a Blood vs. Water season, and the surprise recognition by the other players was priceless.
Loved ones visits, even virtual ones such as these, are a useful reminder to the audience that these players — even the ones you dislike! — are all humans, they all have someone at home who misses them and cares about them. It also helps remind the players that as well, lest they sink into super-gamebotty mode. So it's good to see all these international Survivor versions came to the same conclusion: Keep the humanizing aspect of this staple, even if it's just on video. It's worth it.
(The opening part with the disembodied voices was weird, and perhaps an allusion to LOST, but was an amusing few-seconds-long mystery.)
Survivor 42 individual challenges: Boring, boring, and more boring
So far this season, every individual immunity challenge has been either standing in one place and balancing something, or stacking something and keeping that balanced. Nary a puzzle in sight. It's dull. It's repetitive. It's been the standard-issue Survivor individual challenge repertoire since around San Juan del Sur, and the exclusive kind of immunity challenge for most of the post-merge since around Edge of Extinction. (Not counting challenges in the finale, at least.) Worst of all, every immunity challenge has been directly imported from past seasons. So not only are the challenges all testing the same skill set as each other, they're not even new.
You know who would really deliver the breaking-through-the-screen enthusiasm Survivor wants if she won immunity? Maryanne. You know who's primarily being kept off the podium by the lack of puzzles? Also Maryanne. (Maybe Omar, too.)
The show's insistence that immunity winners have to be physically agile zen masters with high thresholds of pain tolerance means we're likely to see more Jonathan wins (or near-wins) in all the remaining immunity challenges, and have almost zero chance of Maryanne and Omar scoring a victory. That's really dumb, and it didn't use to be this way.
There used to be a gross food challenge every now and then. There used to be shuffleboard. There used to be slingshot challenges, or archery challenges. China had throwing stars! For its Ep12 IC, Gabon had a blindfolded puzzle, where contestants felt a mask, stumbled through a central obstacle, then tried to re-create that mask. Panama-Exile Island and Cagayan had counting items, running back to a table, then trying to use the totals to open a combo lock. Or "Vertigo," the bucket-filling/puzzle challenge Kass won at F4.
To be fair, there's usually more variety — bigger, more epic builds; different tasks — in the last two episodes, and especially the finale. But why wait until then? Why bore the audience for weeks on end? As the list above shows, there's a huge amount of variety just in Survivor's back catalog. If the challenge department has permanently disbanded its challenge creation team, at least mix in something that's not so samey-samey.
The one semi-active individual challenge we've had all season was the sad little "fun" RC we saw this week (about which Ryan also complained). It featured a cruel start in the water for no obvious reason (on a frigid day), a few seconds worth of obstacles, and a single sandbag toss. It lasted about two minutes, tops, but it was still more interesting than every individual IC we've seen!
Expiration dates, trinkets, and playing the game
As the clock ticks down on the game, there are just three weeks/episodes left, and a lot of the fabulous trinkets the show has distributed will soon start disappearing. So let's walk through the timing of their departures and some fantastical scenarios about how they might be used before then.
In next week's episode (Episode 11, Final 7), two big events happen: We're almost certainly seeing the Do or Die twist again, at the exact same spot we did in Survivor 41, whether we like it or not. If someone plays and wins again (as Deshawn did), the vote goes ahead as normal, and it's the last time anyone can use their Shot in the Dark. If someone loses at Do or Die and there's no vote ... well, so long, SITD! Tough luck for everyone that didn't use theirs yet.
At the next vote (Episode 12, Final 6), the amulets expire:
Key phrase for expiration (approximately the middle paragraph on the page): "The last time the amulet advantage can be used in any capacity is when there are six players left in the game."
If both Lindsay and Drea are still in the game at that point, it's a boring vote-steal advantage. To that end, it looks like Drea and Lindsay are forming an F4 pact with Omar and Mike in the preview (probably one of many for Omar). But if someone leaves via Do or Die, and that person is not Drea or Lindsay, then the vote-steal is the only possible use for the amulets. Meh.
Drea's Knowledge is Power advantage also expires here, and given that the only possible victims are Mike (her alleged ally) and Maryanne (her extra vote, since Drea doesn't know about the new idol), again: Meh.
Key phrase for expiration (partially cut off, bottom-right corner): "last time this advantage ... are six players ..."
The best-case scenario for KIP is that with six people left here, we see some massive power play from Drea, where she uses KIP to steal Maryanne's extra vote, and pairs it with her own extra vote, to have her own one-person, 3-vote power enclave. If she's working with Lindsay, she can also do the vote-steal thing with the amulets, to have 4 votes. That gives her and Lindsay 5 votes versus just 3 votes (since one was stolen) from the other four people, and they can vote out the person of their choosing. It's ridiculously, hilariously convoluted, and it might be worth it just to see one person cast four votes, fulfilling David but it doesn't really accomplish much since Mike still has an idol, and there's another vote after this one at which they'd be at a 3-2 disadvantage.
So a better plan is to work with Lindsay and Maryanne, take Mike's idol instead, and then you have three people, four votes (with the vote-steal), and two idols, vs. the other three sitting ducks who have just two votes between them. Then they can maybe save the extra votes for the next round?
At the next and final vote (Finale/Episode 13, Final 5), all the idols (Mike's and Maryanne's) expire, as they always do.
It's not at all clear when the extra votes (Drea, Maryanne) won from the shipwheel dilemma expire. It's probably also Final 5, but it could be earlier. Since we were never shown the rules sheet for these, it's hard to know for sure.
- The 'respect' snuff: Your average contestant's snuff shot is filmed from behind Jeff Probst, with the contestant facing the camera. Hai, in contrast, received the coveted Side Snuff of Respect (above). It's usually reserved for someone production really likes. (Or occasionally for people who are unclear on the concept, and turn and stalk away before the snuff is complete, or turn the other way and say goodbye too early. But mostly for respect!) Past recipients include David Wright in MvGX, Kellee Kim in Island of the Idols, and Parvati and Sandra in Winners at War.
- Last chance for the dad jokes: At Tribal Council, when Lindsay's talking about how "we're all sick" for playing such a physically grueling game, she says "We have really low lows" and the shot cuts to a headshot of Maryanne (who had a secret scene about breaking down from the elements ... this probably made more sense if that wasn't cut), and ... "crazy highs" [immediate cut to a headshot of Hai]. Really appreciate the editors getting their yuks in while they can here.
- Do or Die victim predicting: Unless production tweaked the odds of success in the contestants' favor (ha, not bloody likely), the 1-in-3 Do or Die twist is likely to take out whoever has the misfortune of being the first out of next week's immunity challenge. Given her quiet pre-merge edit and recent rise in prominence (not to mention the ultimate irony of her having won the two previous challenges), an obvious edit-based possible victim is Lindsay. Which would suck. Unless it's Maryanne, which would also be terrible, since she just talked about her idol find as a sign that she had done the morally correct thing playing her first one the previous night.
No matter who it is: this is an awful twist, in the most idiotic of spots in the game (final seven, one of the most crucial votes). Imagine having clawed your way up from the bottom, getting all the way to F7, putting together a game-changing plan to seize control of the game here ... only to have it immediately snuffed because one of your three allies (or you!) was out first in the IC, then guessed the wrong box. Stupid, stupid, stupid twist.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes