Episode 11 of Survivor 42 had some of the season's most aggressive gameplay, a blizzard of overlapping moves and potential moves, and one of the most joyous, boisterous, fun-filled exits the game has ever seen. The show has the cast and entirely to cast to thank for this, because it almost didn't happen, as the producers insisted on repeating a ridiculously ill-advised twist at one of the most critical strategic points in the game.
That would be the Do or Die twist. It has failed twice now to achieve its completely insane objective of removing a player from the game without a vote, and both times the game has benefited from that failure. It was an extremely dumb idea that almost wiped out one of the most exciting series of strategic plays of the season. (Not to mention also nearly removing one of the best all-around players, in Lindsay.)
While the boneheaded decision to try Do or Die again this season was ultimately that of the host and showrunner, Jeff Probst, Probst did have one really great moment this episode, right at the end, as he praised (in real time) the positive, collegial atmosphere the cast has brought to this season. They're all playing hard, but they're also all keeping "it's just a game" at the forefront of their thinking. Probst was 100% right in saying that as a viewer, that's a delight to watch, and is the ideal way to play. Maybe the shorter season has helped in that regard? (Maybe, heretically, the contestants have collectively realized that production is the true enemy, with crap twists like Do or Die constantly being foisted on them?)
Before we get to the discussing why that's bad, one more thing that deserves praise: The edit has been really well balanced this season. The only blemish is Lindsay's pre-merge purpling, but for the past few episodes, at least, we have a decent read on what each player is thinking. Not only that, but we're heading into the final two episodes with at least three, possibly four viable winner candidates, in Mike, Omar, Lindsay, and maybe Maryanne. Jonathan is probably out of the running now, as is Romeo. But having four possible winners is a pretty impressive narrative accomplishment.
In casting, overall gameplay, and the storytelling/editing, this season has been a top-tier one.While the contestants have admirably worked around the various obstacles so far, there's one more major one looming. This has been a great season. If the producers could just get out of the way once in a while and let the players play the damn game, it would be almost perfect.
Survivor 42: Good season, absolute dumbest production decisions
If I have one, fervent wish for Survivor 43 and 44, it's this: No more twists that require/encourage Jeff Probst to mug for the camera and explain the twist at length to the audience before he springs it on the contestants.
Here's a good rule of thumb: If the host has to take a minute or two to explain the twist, it's probably not a good twist.
Here's an even better rule of thumb: If your twist is an elimination that could potentially take the place a vote, especially a critical, odd-numbered, late-game vote, it's definitely not a good twist.
Here's another rule of thumb, even for twists where your excuse is: "Well, we didn't have time to evaluate it before we shot the next season": If someone who is starving and sleep-deprived points out the obvious flaws in your (already attempted once!) twist instantaneously, maybe you should listen to them. Seconds after hearing about this twist, Omar said: "You have seven people here who have been making plans for the last few days, but none of it may matter."
This is reality TV. It's not live-streamed. There was no complicated set-building required for Do or Die. There was a full, seven-person immunity challenge set up already, though. Nobody in the audience would have been any the wiser if they had ditched the twist right there, after Omar's objections, had the players march out and file back in again, then started everything up fresh again as if it was a straight-up, normal immunity challenge.
When you think about it, it's even worse than that. Production (of course) was well aware what was going on in the game at that time. The contestants had a full day in camp with nothing to do the day before this IC, time in which multiple big schemes got underway.
Let's go back to the moments before the Ep11 IC, and examine the state of the game, as it was known to the field producers on the beach, who were talking to the castaways:
- There was a plot by Lindsay and Drea to take out Jonathan. They had Romeo and Maryanne on board. Worst-case scenario, they would use Drea's extra vote to pull it off.
- Mike had floated a plan to use Romeo as the decoy boot in an attempt to blindside Drea and her arsenal of advantages. He had explicitly told Omar that this was the actual plan, not the Romeo thing.
- Lindsay had also made note in confessional that if she took out Drea, her amulet would turn into an idol.
All three of these things happened the day before the IC. From both Hai's and Drea's exit interviews, they had a fairly tight three with Omar. So Omar was always going to warn Drea about Mike's plans, which then gives her an excuse to deploy her Knowledge is Power against him. So that was almost certainly going to happen, no matter what.
That then triggers all the additional machinations: Omar tipping off Mike and holding his idol, Lindsay and Omar deciding which of the two to blindside (with Lindsay well aware that a Drea boot earns her an idol).
So all of the twisting and turning was more or less in motion before the immunity challenge (the ones with bullet points were, concretely. The others were likely to follow.) Production saw it all happening, had a full challenge for seven people ready to go, and still greenlit the Do or Die twist.
They didn't have to. They could easily have said, "Wow, there's a lot going on at this Final 7 vote, which is always an important one. Let's let this play out." Even if the inevitable happens, and Jonathan scuttles one of the plans by winning immunity, there's still the Mike-vs-Drea showdown looming, with each of them holding production-supplied tools (Mike's idol, Drea's extra vote and KIP advantage) to elevate the action. There was absolutely no downside to just shelving Do or Die and letting the game roll under its own power.
But they didn't. They thought it was more important to risk blowing up all that delicious scheming and plotting for a stupid game of chance.
That's a sign of (1) a complete and utter inability to read the state of the game, (2) extreme arrogance, thinking that their own, very brilliant twist ideas are better than whatever plans the people actually playing the game might come up with, (3) catastrophic indifference to the entertainment value of the product they're making, or (4) all of the above. Did not one person really think, "Hmm, maybe it's not the best idea to cancel this vote," or was there simply nobody brave enough to speak up?
Over these last two seasons, the Survivor gods (who are not gods of math, apparently) saw fit to save both DoD victims (Deshawn and Lindsay), despite neither of them taking the optimal approach (switching) to the Monty Hall problem. Twice! And in the process, the Survivor gods saved production as well. Survivor's producers just hit the jackpot twice despite their own idiocy. At one-in-nine overall odds! They probably didn't even realize it. How much more flagrant mismanagement can this show withstand?
Dear CBS: Yes, The White Lotus is keeping him plenty busy, but please offer the showrunner job to Mike White. Or at the very least, hire him as a senior twist/creative consultant — someone who comes in, hears a 30-minute pitch on the twists, says, "No, that's stupid," and saves the show from its own bad gut decisions.
Even a distracted Mike White has to be better than whatever is going on here.
As we were reminded a couple of times this episode, Drea (or Lindsay) leaving the game in Episode 11 meant that the last amulet holder standing (Lindsay) is now the proud owner of an immunity idol.
Lindsay was the most hesitant to join in the amulet-grab in the middle of the Ep1 RC, but she emerges at the end as the lucky idol-holder. Looking back at the rules above, how it will work was actually spelled out fairly definitively back in the premiere. Two key lines stand out:
(1) "The last time the amulet advantage can be used in any capacity is when there are six players left in the game" — That should mean Lindsay's new idol must be played next episode, at Final Six. That's (surprisingly) good game design, because it at least prevents an Advantagegeddon II at F5, with three idols and immunity necklace but just five people (leaving one person out by default).
Then there's this: (2) "If you are the sole remaining holder of an amulet, consider it an idol full power. You can play it anytime before the votes are read."
This rule implies that Lindsay's idol is now already active, with Drea and Hai having left the game. Not only that, but it can stay secret. She doesn't need to do anything to activate it publicly before the vote, unlike the other two options (extra vote/steal-a-vote) would have.
So, tl;dr — Lindsay now has a secret idol, but it expires next episode, at Final Six.
Options for Omar
There was a great discussion between Shannon Guss and (SurvivorAU: Blood v Water alum; Sandra Diaz-Twine protégée) Nina Twine about the relative merits of Omar's various potential plays on RHAP's Survivor Global this week, especially comparing them to recent moves in Australian Survivor. The question is: Omar had a lot of potential moves he could make here, but do any of them actually leave him in a better position?
Omar's three main options he listed were as follows:
(1) Allow Drea to steal Mike's idol, then vote Mike out. This doesn't directly hurt Omar, because it takes out a big jury threat in Mike, but it does indirectly hurt Omar, because it's a big, flashy move for Drea, who is already a jury threat. (The David Wright rule: If everyone is saying she's the biggest threat, as they did this episode, then she's the biggest threat.)
(2) Tell Mike about Knowledge is Power, hold his idol for safekeeping, then vote Drea out. This is what Omar actually did, obviously. He does this to "keep Mike happy; he's an ally, he's a vote (on the jury, eventually)." This is an important, because Mike is gradually becoming a key influencer. He made clear he wanted Hai out, Hai was voted out. He wanted to blindside Drea, Drea was blindsided. Everyone now sees Romeo as an immobile lump on the log next to the fire. Mike has had a lot of buy-in from those around him. By handling Drea's idol this way, Omar gets some agency in the move, and theoretically also improves his standing with Mike. It's active, even if it's hidden from the jury. But it's something he can tout at the end. The downside is, he betrayed Drea, and from her exit interviews, it sounds like she views this as a move that crossed some boundaries, because she viewed her connection to Omar as deeper than just gameplay.
(3) Option three was holding Mike's idol, then double-crossing him and voting him out (a.k.a. Sam's big move from SurvivorAU: Blood v. Water). Omar didn't do this ... yet. It's still possible he could do it next episode. It's the most cutthroat option available, and (based on the reaction of the Australian casuals/non-fans on the AU: BvW cast), it may unfortunately be a corner that Omar has found himself backed into.
The main problem here is that Advantagegeddon II could very well happen at the next Tribal Council, Final six. Just like Cirie in the original Advantagegeddon in Game Changers, Omar is playing a solid social/strategic game, but has little chance of winning immunity — thanks again for the lack of challenge variety, John Kirhoffer! — and has no idols or advantages, while almost everyone else does. Except, of course, for the idol he "borrowed" from Mike.
As we went through above, Lindsay now has a secret idol, one that she has to play next round, or it expires. Maryanne also has a secret idol, and if Lindsay plays hers, that will likely trigger Maryanne to play hers, to avoid being the backup target. That will in turn nudge Mike (if Omar gives it back) to play his. When you add in regular immunity (probably Jonathan), that leaves just Omar and Romeo eligible to be voted against, and who's going to vote against Romeo at this point?
So if Omar does give Mike his idol back, he's setting himself up to be voted out. That's really dangerous. But if he doesn't give it back, Mike will (probably) be out, and will be incredibly pissed, and will likely rant and rave on the jury about how Omar screwed him over. That's really dangerous, too. (As Shannon and Nina discussed: Remember Mike's barely-contained seething when it briefly appeared that Daniel had "lost" his idol?)
There are a couple of potential failsafes for Omar here, though. One is that there are still four original Taku in the game, and he could quite accurately point out to them that if all four stick together until final four, a Taku is guaranteed to win. They have a good shot at doing that, because Lindsay and Jonathan are the overwhelming favorites in challenges. If Taku holds strong, that helps diffuse juror anger. They can just tell the jury they were doing it all for their team, and the jury has to vote for one of them! You (the jury) were the dummies who left four of us in until final six!
The other potential out here is if Lindsay wins immunity. She could then play her idol for Omar, which should raise her profile (and lower Omar's) in the eyes of the jury. It also keeps the Taku Strong option open. They then vote out Mike or Romeo, probably flush all the idols in the process, and the game rolls on. Simple! (Unless Jonathan screws it up by winning.)
Whatever happens, there's a good chance that despite Omar's masterful management of his threat level throughout the game, the sheer volume of active idols and advantages could spell the end of his season. It's an obvious flaw in the game design, one that's very visibly been hanging since Game Changers, almost five years ago.
But hey, they've been so busy filming 41, and before that the year-long COVID break, and before that 39-40, and 37-38, and 35-36, that gosh, they just haven't had a chance to re-evaluate it yet, not in any of those half-year or year-plus gaps! They'll get to it one day! Maybe!
- Oh, really? Jeff Probst never seems to understand how his own twists actually work. Last season, he was touting Do or Die as some big indicator of status in the game, as if people will only sit out if they feel safe. This time, as he's introducing Do or Die prior to the immunity challenge, he says: "...it's a dangerous one. But if you think you're on the bottom, it could help." In what way does Do or Die *help* someone on the bottom? Winning immunity helps someone on the bottom. Being forced to pick a box that might mean your immediate elimination from the game does not. Both seasons this has been tried, the people actually on the bottom understood this instantly, and wisely sat out of the challenge. Maybe Do or Die "helps" in the sense that some other unlucky chump could be kicked out of the game by the box-picking, instead of a bottom-dweller? Nobody was fooled by this, Mr. Probst. Please let's not do this again.
- Jonathan's quest update: From the very beginning, we've been hearing about Jonathan's dream of breaking the immunity win record. (It was actually to win every immunity, and in that sense, he's clearly fallen short already.) But he does still have a chance of tying the single-season immunity record. He merely has to win every remaining IC, to go from two wins to the record five. No pressure!
- Schrödinger's Shot in the Dark: Shot in the Dark could still be alive, or it could be dead. Unlike last season (to be fair, there was *lot* of other stuff going on this time), there was no announcement that the Shot in the Dark had expired at this week's Tribal. It expired at this point (Final 7) in 41. Were the rules changed and just not announced, or was the announcement edited out so as not to distract from the action? Regardless, it went out (maybe) with a whimper, not a bang.
- Drea's one-note edit: While the overall editing of the season has been great, Drea's characterization in particular left something to be desired. In Drea's exit interviews, she swears the "fun Drea" we saw as she was heading up to get her torch snuffed was there the whole game, we just didn't see it in the edit. All we saw was Serious Drea, the Competitor. (We also never got the backstory on "hurdling half-blind," for that matter). We saw her when she found a new idol or advantage, but almost never for strategy talk. It was so bad that when she said (at the split Tribal in Ep9) that all her allies were on the other team, the audience's response was "allieS? All we know about is Rocksroy." It turns out she had a tight three with Omar and Hai, which was never shown. (Hai said the same thing in his exits.) Yeah yeah, you can't show everything. But it sure feels like we missed out on a *lot* with Drea.
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