Tie vote leads to Laura being voted out during an episode that was “good shit,” as Erik said

At the end of last night’s Survivor Samoa episode, jury member Erik excitedly whispered, “Man, this is good shit.” He was thrilled that Galu was getting its comeuppance, but he could have also been talking about the whole episode. There was a lot of great stuff, like a tie vote, Natalie dangling by her legs during the reward challenge, and Russell finding a third hidden immunity idol (though this time with a video clue, at least, although he still found it despite being chased). It was the kind of episode that proved Survivor is still going strong 19 seasons later.

That was almost derailed by a nearly half-episode advertisement for Sprint and the Palm Pre, which was unnecessarily long and awkward just when Jeff Probst announced that the winning tribe would take a phone along with them to take photos on their reward and make memories. But it didn’t stop there. Probst didn’t’ do well with ad copy that clearly wasn’t written in his voice, and Survivor didn’t do well extending the product placement, which went so far as to have contestants talking about it (triple ugh) and name-drop features while getting the hidden immunity idol clues off the phone. I’m all for shows making money and even placing products or logos, but it has to be organic and not pull us out of the moment. A prize can be organic, but an extended commercial is not.

Anyway, at Tribal Council, Russell again had an immunity idol but didn’t play it, because he wasn’t Galu’s target: Natalie was. With Shambo switching sides, there was a tie vote between Laura and Natalie. With the threat of a random elimination from drawing rocks, John decided to change his vote during the re-vote and thus save himself, unwilling to gamble on the rock draw like Dave and the other members of Galu were. That sent Laura home, much to the delight of Shambo and, of course Russell.

Laura has long been a target–of Russell, Shambo, and even John–and I talked with her about that a few minutes ago. Laura said that Russell’s problem with her went back to their initial interaction, when she told him “don’t threaten me. He knew that he couldn’t control me, and he can’t have that.” Laura said that “at that point, I wasn’t nervous” because Galu had numbers.

Of course, Galu screwed itself by turning on its own, and Laura told me that while “I regret voting him out because I like Erik as a person,” she said she doesn’t regret the vote because “I was on [Erik and John's] chopping list.” She said she was thinking, “I have five, six people running after me to get me. I just pick up a weapon and fire.” Of course, she said, “in hindsight, looking back, we should have kept Erik.”

As to her conflict with Shambo, which has led to criticism of Laura’s behavior, Laura said she can only “assume what it was” that Shambo didn’t like about her. “If I would have to guess why, she wanted to be the strong girl on the tribe, she wanted to be the go-to girl on the tribe,” Laura told me. But instead, Galu often chose Laura to do physical tasks in challenges or asked her for advice, and combined with Shambo’s immediate exclusion of herself, led to that conflict.

Laura said that “it’s frustrating to watch it and kind of get cast as the mean one,” and challenged anyone to “show one thing that I did that was mean to her. If CBS had footage of me being mean to her, they would show it,” Laura said. Instead, Laura said that it was Shambo who “would constantly come after me,” and our perception of Laura’s meanness “is only what Shambo said. Just because it was her perception” doesn’t make it true.

However, Laura told me, “I did call her Gilligan in my confessional, I totally own that,” and separated that from the things Shambo said about Laura to others in the game, rather than in confessionals. Still, Laura added, “I did apologize to her after the show, and I took somebody with me. I said, ‘If there was something that I did that hurt your feelings and made you feel no apart from the group, I sincerely apologize.’ I don’t know how it was received; I haven’t talked to her since.”

Laura–who told me pre-game that she wouldn’t do anything to “mar my character or mar Christ’s character”–said that her portrayal has been “really hard” and that it surprised her, because “my fear was going to be that I [came off as] cutthroat, competitive. I won’t let my kids win checkers or Hi Ho! Cherry-O. Mean-spirited, that’s the last thing that I am.”

Laura told me that they were aware that the tie-breaker would be a rock-draw up until the finals (presumably the final four, but unclear) and said that “we were all prepared” to draw stones. The vote-for-John plan was their attempt at changing that, and Laura said that her tribemates were “willing to put their game on the line for me.” John, of course, did not, which Laura said was “the perfect situation for him” and “excuse” to get rid of her, because “I knew he was coming after me,” she said. While she’s “disappointed,” “I totally can’t blame him for it,” Laura said, even though it “put the rest of my tribe in danger.”

What it did was make Galu irrelevant as a tribe, and make the Foa Foa alliance dominant, assuming it holds together. Or we could be finally into individual game territory, where splinter alliances matter more than original-tribe loyalty or disloyalty.

It’ll be two weeks until we find out what happens next: Thanksgiving’s episode is a clip show, and the break is great, but the clip shows pretty much never are.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.