Survivor settles into its slump but duel, idol drama keeps things moving

With he-who-shall-not-be-named finally gone from Survivor, the show settled into its usual pre-merge slump. Oh, there were some great moments, but the tribe that lost, Zapatera, already has its next two boots lined up, and it was so obvious that either Krista or Stephanie would be heading to Redemption Island that Jeff Probst kicked off the vote by basically announcing it was time to see which one was headed home.

It was Krista, who complained that, “since Russell has left, there has been zero talk of strategy” and she tried to insist that the rest of her tribe was “just not playing the game.” Krista is wrong — their game right now is to get rid of her and Stephanie — but she was right that they will eventually turn on each other, and if she was a good strategist rather than a complainer who aligned herself with a shrieking tribemate. She could have tried to play her tribemates against each other to deflect attention from herself. But no.

Compare her game to the rather complicated one Rob Mariano is playing. His tribe won the challenge–the familiar but fun blindfolded maze, which wasn’t as dramatic as some blindfolded challenges–and in their reward of coffee and donuts, he and Grant discovered a clue to the hidden immunity idol. Now, Rob already has the idol, and Grant is his buddy. Rob managed to sneak the coffee away with Grant’s help, which Rob compared to “a well-choreographed football play.”

But Rob then did something brilliant: He swapped the clue with the first one he received. Perhaps the best part of this was when he ordered the camera operator to follow him fast: “we gotta move,” he said. This is where Rob’s experience is very clear: Rob has an ally who he’s keeping close to him by sharing the idol clue, but he’s also making sure he retains the upper-hand in the relationship. Rob wrote this off as a game (“it’s fun for me; I have to entertain myself out here somehow”), but it’s really just good strategy.

Rob also knows what a gift he has in Phillip, who tried to cuddle up next to Rob in the shelter. Rob asked him if he was wearing his underwear, and Phillip said, “I have my underwear on, but that doesn’t stop me.” Then he slapped Rob’s ass. Rob tolerated this because, as he said, Phillip is “completely off his rocker walking around in his pink panties” but “it takes all the heat off me … maybe he needs to stay.”

The slow pace of the episode was notable with the inclusion of a lot of camp life time, including an extended sequence showing Ometepe women washing their bikini-clad bodies under a waterfall. At least all that delivered one hilarious moment: Andrea talking to Phillip about trust. She asked if he’d ever tried to throw her under the bus, and he replied, “Never.” She asked, “Never?” And he replied, “Never.” That conversation has has been hilariously extended.

At the duel challenge, Matt won again, and, it seemed, relatively easily. In both challenges last night, the puzzles gave away some of the deceptive editing. When Matt confronted Rob (more on that in a moment), his re-constructed cube was nearly complete, but then it was back in shambles seconds later. In the immunity challenge, when Rob noticed that he’d lost a puzzle piece, his puzzle was all but done–he was probably just missing that one letter. Then seconds later it was back in pieces, to make it seem like the other tribe had a chance. This editing changes nothing, of course, but it is interesting to watch how they construct the most engaging narrative possible.

During the duel, Matt addressed Rob, who was watching from the bleachers. “You rascal, voted me out for no reason,” he said. Jeff Probst, smelling a confrontation, went for it: “Why’d you vote him out, Rob?” Rob expertly smacked Probst down, saying, “Doesn’t take one person to vote him out, Jeff, you know that.” After the challenge, Krista and Stephanie basically made a play to join the other tribe; Stephanie said, “I think yellow might look good on me.” If only Stephanie realized she has to make it to the merge before she can flip, she’d focus on her game in the actual tribe.

As Julie said, “They’re just pawns in this big game. They can’t do any damage to us.” Jeff Probst tried to get us to think otherwise, asking, after Krista left, “What kind of damage did she do to the alliances in this tribe?” But the answer is none, and I suspect it’s going to be a few weeks before we see major strategy resurface.

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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.