Survivor’s pointless tribe swap keeps alleged favorites in control

It’s hard to shake the unmitigated disaster that was last week’s episode of Survivor, never mind this insistence on clinging to things that have become just so damn tired–ENOUGH PHILLIP.

Without the stink of last week’s episode hovering over it like a dense fog, this week’s Survivor would have been one of those typical pre-merge, solid episodes, except for a swap that all but guarantees the direction the rest of the season will take. Amazingly, after the split, we seem to be back to a dominant and a distaster tribe, but now the alleged favorites control both.

I trust that the tribe shake-up was actually random, but boy, was kind of amazing how unbalanced it was–and how that, regardless of how it happened, it now guarantees that the favorites will dominate the game and perhaps even completely wipe out the fans.

Asked if he was “as nervous and giddy as the contestants before a tribe reshuffle” (oh no), Jeff Probst acknowledges “that we’d have uneven numbers of fans and favorites” after the switch but insists they wanted “a shake up in the game that leaves us with two evenly matched tribes and many broken alliances.”

But what they must be smart enough to know was that there was no possibility of breaking the alliances that matter right now: original tribe alliances, and the way the swap turned out meant those would stay intact.

Going into the switch, the favorites were up 8 to 6. I’m not sure whether the eggs were distributed equally or randomly; the footage doesn’t make it clear. At first I thought Probst gave each old tribe an equal number of eggs, which of course meant the favorites would dominate each tribe 4 to 3, and would be even more producer-controlling nonsense.

If they were distributed randomly, that’s some amazing luck for the favorites, because now they’re in a position to continue to dominate regardless of what happens in challenges. The favorites are smart enough to stick together, even if that means retaining Phillip and forcing us to suffer through another six or seven hours of his explanation of his pretend alliance and nicknames.

Speaking of Phillip, the highlight of the episode might have–incredibly–been Corinne, who was on fire with her commentary: it was funny but not as cruel as she has been in the past, from her gay love for Michael (“I always like to play with a gay”) to wanting to get rid of Julia because “she’s really boring” to comparing Phillip to Mel Gibson and saying, “He needs a warm glass of shut the hell up.” Love.

Anyway, the randomness ended up giving Probst the opposite of what he says he wanted, since the tribes are not evenly matched at all. The orange tribe has all the physical people and the other tribe looks like it would crumble like a dry cupcake thrown into a jet engine.

And that’s what happened during the immunity challenge. Having Phillip go out three times in a row to push crates was absurd, and they were crushed by the other tribe in what was a relatively simple challenge. The most notable part was Probst’s unfortunate challenge observation that “Bakal appears to be on some sort of medication they’re moving so slow.” Too soon.

The episode ended with a viewer blindside, though, one that makes some sense in retrospect; that an alleged fan would exit first was no surprise, and not just because they were outnumbered. They’re just bad players who couldn’t get the game to switch in their favor it they had a giant switch labeled “Flip Me to Take Control of the Game.”

Ultimately, the returnees move was smart: recruiting the fans to vote for their second choice (Julia, who I don’t recall having ever seen until this episode, and judging by the way she was insultingly calling her “the girl,” she may have just parachuted in), having the fans tell the favorites’ target who to vote for, and thus conceal the favorites’ actual target, Matt, until the very end.

That Dawn and Cochran’s argument to vote out Matt–he was tight with another player and idol-less–prevailed, meaning there is some sanity in the disastribe, but I’m not sure any of that matters. Now we’re in for a stretch of Pagonging the fans regardless of which tribe wins immunity, unless someone decides to try something bold.

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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.