Survivor was peanut butter-licking good, blindside and all

That was a flawless episode of Survivor, and here’s why: for the first time all season, I felt like I was watching something new and surprising. Yes, there have been several surprising moments so far, and yes, it followed the same template as usual, but there was no repetition.

Malcolm exited saying, “I need a drink,” and he deserves one on behalf of all Survivor fans, for both eliminating Phillip from the game and the episodes and for injecting some life into a season that was hacked to pieces for its first half.

There’s a compelling case to be made for Malcolm overplaying his hand, literally, the last two weeks; instead of blindsiding everyone at Tribal Council, he could have tried to build a new coalition using the idols as leverage. But honestly, I don’t care; the past two Tribal Councils were pretty epic.

They also inspired the Lego musical version of Malcolm and Reynold’s courtship, which is reason enough to canonize Malcolm. (If you can’t stop singing the song, “Hold Up, Bro” is now a downloadable MP3.)

The $480 idol Malcolm bought but couldn’t find ultimately didn’t matter, he admitted in his humble final words, saying he felt safe enough to not play it even if he had it. He got cocky, and there’s that same cockiness growing in Cochran, though because he started as such a significant underdog it’s less noticeable, but I wonder if it’ll surface and hurt him.

Some are questioning Eddie’s decision to vote for Malcolm on the revote, but that made sense to me: With Malcolm and Reynold unable to vote, Eddie’s only real option was to vote for Malcolm along with the alliance, because that gives him at least the possibility of a tiny bit of leverage, whereas voting for Andrea would have had no impact in the vote or in his game.

Everything that led up to the tie vote Tribal Council was equally strong. The Survivor auction is always a great challenge, and this was no exception, though there was a hint of cruelty just because everyone was pretty broken down by this point in the game, perhaps in part due to the mental torture they were put through by certain casting decisions.

Brenda, starving and broken down from all her time being ignored by the cameras, bought a covered item for $300, and of course it turned out to be pig brains. Late in the auction, Probst offered letters from family members for $20, meaning all those who’d spent their money on food, edible or not, were screwed. There were more Let’s Make a Deal moments than usual, which led Cochran to reference The Monty Hall Problem, though since Probst didn’t uncover one of the three options before offering the option to swap, it wasn’t really the same thing.

Fascinatingly, the tribe let Malcolm buy information–a clue–for $480, even though someone could have outbid him. It was worth the money just for the entertainment value of Andrea guarding him while he tried to look for it. “Is this a stand-off?” she asked.

The auction ended on a bizarrely fun high note, with the tribe sharing peanut butter and permitted by a benevolent Jeff Probst to take it with them, as long as it was on their bodies. I think every challenge should end with both tribes allowed to smear food on their bodies for consumption later.

Though I loved the episode from start to finish, there’s room to question the producers’ choices, like the sound effects added during the auction when they ate or sucked peanut butter off fingers, but especially the challenge advantage, which, as usual, all but guaranteed a win.

The challenge itself was a really strong endurance challenge–though, is having to hold part of one’s original body weight really that fair?–but the outcome wasn’t a surprise considering Cochran’s advantage. It’s so much easier to hold on to a knot than just a piece of rope.

But since Cochran’s win didn’t really matter–Eddie winning wouldn’t have changed anything–that fell to the side and my focus instead was on things like the fascinating conversation the dominant alliance had about the benefit of splitting the vote versus voting for one person.

Once again there was the sense that anything could happen, and that’s how Survivor should be.

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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.