Where Episode 2 of Survivor 42 luxuriated in abundant space to explore its contestants and their relationships with each other, Episode 3 was the opposite: All twists, all the time. If there was a Bechdel Test-like gauge for Survivor scenes where someone is not finding or talking about a twist or advantage, this one would score a solid zero.
Opening scene: Taku members talking about how Maryanne told them she has an extra vote. Next scene: Maryanne finds Taku's Beware Idol (thus promptly losing her regular vote, extra vote, and Shot in the Dark). Next scene: Daniel hilariously borrows Mike's Beware Idol in order to read the rules more carefully, then somehow misplaces it (and the rules, which it turned out were in his underwear). Next scene: Immunity Challenge, which ends in the dumb twist we just praised Survivor (last week) for ditching: The two-person trip to Dilemma Island, here with Omar and Chanelle re-enacting the Deshawn-Evvie excursion from last season. Next scene: That twist. Next scene: Vati scrambling (in Chanelle's absence) because the majority knows Mike has lost his vote, and everyone fretting that Chanelle isn't there to talk to. Next scene: Chanelle returns, tells Daniel she may also have lost her vote. Then on to Tribal, where all these twists start piling up, ending in an unprecedented 2-2 deadlocked tie (with two people not voting), followed by a 1-1 revote, and eventually, Jenny's exit after Daniel abandons his vote for Lydia, to avoid drawing rocks.
There were no time whatsoever spent with the five contestants on Ika. No checking in with Taku after Jonathan's IC heroics or Omar's island voyage. (To be fair, these would be unusual after the IC, but that happened before the halfway point in the episode.) Just twist, twist, twisting away.
Having said that, this episode still had some great moments, not because of the twists themselves, but rather from the unfolding spectacle of how the contestants tried (and largely failed) to deal with them.
Daniel's slapstick idol-losing shenanigans were at least something we have never seen before, and the simmering tension between Daniel's good-natured (-appearing) attempts to help and Mike's barely-contained seething at Daniel's peskiness/incompetence made for high dramedy, amplified all the more because Daniel was not actually trying to help Mike, but belatedly discovering that his plot to screw Mike over (probably) wouldn't actually work.
Adding to the chaos, Chanelle somehow managed to be the first person to misplay the increasingly grating "Risk your vote"/"Protect your vote" dilemma. Editing choices in this sequence were eyebrow-raising, with almost the entire Omar/Chanelle conversation cut out, in favor of a painfully detailed re-reading of the rules by each of them. To be fair, this was probably done because Chanelle mis-chose, and since nobody had ever lost their vote before, production felt the need to remind the audience how that came about. At least we got each of their reasoning for their choices. Omar took the logical approach (as did Deshawn and Liana before him) of "Well, she's going to Tribal in a few hours and can't risk her vote, and she told me she couldn't risk her vote, so I'll risk mine." Chanelle somehow forgot that Mike couldn't vote (?), or misread Omar's general niceness as "That guy would never risk his vote." Whatever the case, a bad read, and one that did not go unnoticed when she was revealed to be voteless at Tribal.
Similarly, Tribal Council was interesting mainly because it was a trainwreck, with people (mostly Daniel) making poor decisions, and the 4-2 majority somehow seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. It was all backwards, poorly played, and a complete shitshow, but somehow the underdogs emerged victorious. Yay?
It's hard to know whether to cheer or boo, though, because, as we complained last season, almost all of these twists were still about preventing people from playing Survivor, rather than encouraging it. The key story beats — Maryanne lost her vote, Mike has lost his vote, Chanelle has lost her vote — all stem from the producers springing traps on the contestants. The "action" of the episode was almost all of these otherwise smart, well-informed, enthusiastic, game-aware players struggling to get out of those traps and failing. Again, where old US Survivor (and current Survivor SA) was all about giving the most aggressive players new tricks and tools with which to accelerate the strategy, this current version is mostly just hamstringing players at random. It's Squid Game with slightly less death.
It's interesting, at least once ... but is it fun?
Is Survivor's "new era" one where it reimagines itself as a grimdark fantasy? One where everyone from heroes to villains suffers a series of horrific losses — limbs, wealth, status, the respect of their peers — through conflict and/or magical elements (twists) beyond their control? A show where it's less an uplifting tale about one person winning a million dollars, and more just a dispiriting orgy of sadism, a gritty confirmation of the utter hopelessness of the human condition, reveling in 17 or so people's (figurative, so far) disembowelments and immolations?
After noting the care and energy that went into shooting and presenting high-definition slow-mo sequences of people almost drowning in the challenge this week, it's really hard to say.
Compare and contrast: The Beware Idol rules (41 vs. 42)
(Above: Maryanne holding the Survivor 42 Beware Idol rules)
Apart from the obvious changes to the secret phrases, there is just one difference in the rules between the Survivor 42 Beware idols and the rules from Survivor 41.
That difference? Just a single three-word phrase at the end of the final sentence (never mentioned on-screen in 41, but relevant here to Daniel's interpretation of the 42 version, which he had thought might render Mike's idol useless).
(Above: Xander holding the Survivor 41 Beware Idol rules)
Here's the final sentence: "If all three shared idols are not found by merge, the vote penalty ends and your idol ..."
That's a pretty big change! In Survivor 41, Naseer's surprise phrase recitation at the Ep5 IC (the day before the "merge") rescued Xander and Shan from the grim prospect of having gone through all that no-vote trouble, only to end up with a dead idol the next day. That could still happen in Survivor 42, but there's now a reward if this season's Naseer (who would be someone on Ika) doesn't magically appear: Mike's and Maryanne's idols become active, anyway.
What's not clear: Would Daniel's Ep2 plot to render Mike's idol useless by convincing him never to say the secret phrase have worked? This episode, after re-checking the paperwork, Daniel decided that no, it wouldn't have. But was his amended conclusion the correct one?
Again, there is no change anywhere else in the rest of the wording. The two parchments are identical (except for the phrases) up until that final sentence. There is nothing in there stating that saying the stupid phrase is totally at the discretion of the idol finder. It clearly says "You must say a secret phrase in front of the other players." That's preceded by "In order for your idol to have power, the other two idols must be found. Here's how you will know" (saying the phrase).
That reads as: Your idol is not "found" if you don't say the phrase. But also, only idols that have been "found" gain power at the merge.
The whole point of the phrase is to make the idol (semi-) public. The post-41 tweak making "found" idols active post-merge is most likely to thwart what Ua was "doing" (or at least Genie thought they were doing): Leaving the idol unopened until/unless the others have been found. For instance, had Ua actually left the idol there, and only Xander and Naseer had said their phrases at Ep5, Xander and Naseer receive no reward whatsoever for taking their risks (while being punished with no votes in the pre-merge), whereas Ua played it safe and faced no consequences at all, apart from knowing that Xander and Naseer had now-dead idols. Despite appearances, production wants risk-taking. They want the dumb phrases recited. They don't want 18 scared players thinking, "Oh no, it says 'Beware.' Better not open that!"
Anyway, as Ryan Kaiser pointed out, it's still really confusing, based on the way the show has treated Mike's idol-related silence. It certainly looks like Mike was supposed to say the phrase, was talked into not doing so by Daniel, and then production just looked the other way. "Must" seems pretty definitive. It's not "may" or "should." It's clearly not "You can do this shiz if you feel like it. You know, whatevs." But there is also no specified the penalty for not saying the phrase.
So ... production disappeared in a puff of logic, or something?
Post-Tribal Vati autopsy
Things were going so well for Vati when they were a happy trio of couples! But now, far more than with the other two tribes, after everything that happened this week, Vati appears to be in absolute tatters after their first vote.
Here's a rough run-through of who still has power, who doesn't, and how they can move forward. We're still two boots/episodes away from the merge, and if 41 is any guide, it's unlikely a swap will miraculously save anyone:
- Hai: Hai probably came out of this in the strongest position. He stood by his ally, Lydia, and was straight-up and unwavering in doing so. Who wouldn't want to work with Hai? His actions directly impacted Mike most of all, but Mike probably respects the steadfast resolve Hai showed, so there may be a chance they could work together in the future. Daniel wants to work with Hai and Lydia. Chanelle probably does too. A huge win.
- Lydia: Went from the bottom and the likely first boot to part of the new likely majority. Which is good, because she won them the Ep2 IC, and as she said at Tribal, she had been honest with Daniel and Chanelle, only for everyone to repay that by trying to vote her out. She and Hai are now the power couple at the center of the tribe.
- Chanelle: There's a steep drop-off between Hai/Lydia and the rest of the tribe. Whichever person they pick to stick with steps up in rank, obviously. For Chanelle, hiding her "no vote" and claiming she chose "protect" burnt a lot of trust. If Chanelle can set aside her feelings on Daniel, and not make targeting him her new mission, maybe there's a chance she can recover her game still. Chanelle has a vote again going forward, she just needs to use it wisely. That social game will actually be tested.
- Mike: Of the three, Mike is probably the one Hai and Lydia should most want to work with. Daniel and Chanelle will probably snipe at each other, and Mike doesn't have much patience for either of them, so he'd be open to whichever boot option Hai and Lydia put forward. Plus Mike will probably feel more comfortable with the Hai/Lydia duo, who at least were honest and consistent about their plans. The problem? Mike has no vote, so he's an ally without much utility. But he could have his vote back (plus an idol) any day now, and with the loss of Jenny, he'll be extra motivated to active that idol and resurrect his voting power. If he doesn't, his fate is 100% tied to Vati avoiding Tribal, which is far from guaranteed when Daniel has one working shoulder, and Vati can only sit one person out of future challenges.
- Daniel: Daniel's stock absolutely cratered in this episode, and then he kept digging. He made clear at the start of negotiations he didn't want to go to rocks, so immediately ceded the high ground to Hai. (Phrasing it as "Before we start, can we all agree we don't want to go to rocks?" would have been better.) Ultimately, Daniel burned his ally Mike the most with his decision to flip (well, and Jenny, obviously), AND tried to blame Chanelle for it. It's hard to imagine Mike still working with him, but Daniel knows Mike's secret, which could be valuable.
- Borrowing from the greats: It hasn't been mentioned (yet) in the show itself, but from Jenny's RHAP exit interview, it appears Daniel has adopted SurvivorNZ: Thailand winner Lisa Stanger's brilliant strategy for downplaying a perceived "superfan" threat level by leaning into it as harmlessly as possible: Jenny mentioned Daniel had been talking about his "bucket list" (tick!). Coupled with his S27: Blood vs. Water Tyson Apostol shoulder injury, Daniel's game has stashed away some key pieces of victorious threat de-escalation tactics. Let's hope he stores them somewhere safer than his underwear.
- Speaking of borrowing from the greats:
In the glory days of Survivor Sucks, the best thread right now
would be "Other things found in Daniel's underwear." If only
the hourglass could actually turn back time.
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