Survivor resets, replacing its bad ideas with a great spit-covered challenge, rooster madness

In the first 20 minutes of its fifth episode, Survivor Nicaragua recovered. It dumped its two failed twists, the tribe split by age and the Medallion of Power, which of course The was an obvious but failed attempt to even things up. Even better, its most annoying contestants were muted this week, and we finally had an episode with two challenges, one of which was fucking awesome.

Jeff Probst announced the tribe shake-up with great fanfare, saying, “younger tribe, no more: you are now La Flor.” Uh, Jeff, they were La Flor all season, you just didn’t bother to call them that. After being randomly selected as tribe leaders, in name only, Brenda and Holly each selected a few people from the other tribe, thus mixing them up. I liked Gabon’s change-up when they had to rank each other first, but this worked okay, too.

Thanks to the preview, we knew the change-up was coming, which means the editors had a field day with foreshadowing, particularly with Marty. After thinking he was in control of the game, Marty was in for a big fall, and said things such as, “it would take something EXTRAordinary, completely whacked out to disturb my plans now.” Oh, Marty. And he hasn’t stopped his cockiness, which will probably get him voted out soon. He confessed that he had the idol to his new tribe, and Brenda said, “He has a lot of balls. That is the dumbest thing he could have done.”

The first challenge was the giant Plinko-like game that we saw photos of over the summer, and thanks to Marty’s screw-ups, La Flor lost. But they were pretty evenly matched, although it helped that this challenge was basically not physical. In fact, it would have been a better choice for a fogies versus fetus challenge than some of the ones we saw.

And the immunity challenge! Wow. Challenge producer John Kirhoffer and his team deserve an Emmy for this one, and it makes up for crap like bowling. The challenge was a multi-part competition that didn’t require strength but did require strategy, and was visually compelling and difficult. As a bonus, it was also disgusting, since the goal was to spit water into a bowl/funnel to fill a tube, which then dumped out a spit-covered ball into the hands of a waiting tribemate.

Best of all, though, was the wheel that three tribe members were strapped to, getting their heads submerged as they were spun by three other tribe members. It was even potentially deadly: at the end, when they didn’t need to spin their wheels any more, both tribes nearly left one person to drown under water as they watched the final part play out. I’m sure medical and challenge crew members were either screaming at them or ready to spring into action (especially when one tribe member suddenly said “12 o’clock”–which I’d guess was something they were told repeatedly during the challenge walk-through: never stop your wheel unless someone is at the very top).

Although they lost immunity, Espada won three chickens at the reward challenge, and for some reason, decided to eat one before Tribal Council, because that’s really when you need your strength. Tyrone thought they should leave them to lay eggs, and everyone else disagreed. But: they had a freaking rooster! I can’t believe that not a single person a) noticed they had a rooster, or b) suggested they kill the rooster, which is useless since it can’t lay eggs. Let’s assume they haven’t seen all the other seasons of the show where a tribe killed the rooster first. Does no one know anything about poultry? Or sex? (Between this and Sunday’s Amazing Race stupidity, I’m starting to fear for our society.) Benry grabbed a chicken and did something awful to it that just left scattered feathers, and Tyrone stood back until it was time to eat, of course.

Tyrone went home not for that, really, but because it was part of his overall, rather amateur mistake: He stood out. Essentially, the tribes were brand new, and the people who go home pre-merge are always the ones who stand out: for being demonstratively weak or strong, or for trying to control others. This is why I liked Jill’s strategy of just letting Marty do what he wanted and thus take the heat, even though that earned her no respect from Jeff Probst, on account of her vagina and all.

On his old tribe, Tyrone stayed just far enough back that he wasn’t invisible but he wasn’t annoying, either. Jimmy Johnson, Jimmy T, and Marty tried to lead the tribe and stood out, and we know what happened to two-thirds of them. Here, his insecurity or something led him to try to control the new people, and you know those kids: they hate to be told what to do. (Speaking of that, Holly was thrilled with the switch because, she said, “I feel like I related to the kids well.” It’s just like you’re one of them, calling them kinds and constantly reminding them how much they’re like your actual offspring.)

Tyrone stood out so much that his tribe was willing to keep obnoxious NaOnka, who all but asked to be voted out, and was on the verge of quitting the entire episode because of the cold rain. “I know we could go so far, But I’m so scared. I’m just breaking,” she said. “I didn’t think it was going to be it was this hard.” This led to an oddly touching moment as Chase comforted her and told her a story about a time when, after his father died, he momentarily saw a rainbow in the back of his truck. Later, at Tribal Council, NaOnka said this was a better experience than her divorce, because she had friends on her tribe, which baffled Jeff Probst–and us, since NaOnka has been doing nothing except hating people all season.

Tribal also had some funny moments thanks to Benry, who emerged from hiding behind other contestants to play dumb–or just reveal that he is dumb. Probst asked him about NaOnka after she talked about wanting to leave, and Benry’s reply to Probst’s question was, “What do you mean, exactly?” Probst was baffled–but Benry didn’t reply. At least, he didn’t until he voted, when he voted for Tyrone and said, “It’s time to dethrone the king of Espada. Benry’s here, baby!” And with that he knocked over one of the props on the voting confessional. “My bad,” he said. It was a good, lighthearted end to this season’s best episode so far.

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.