reality TV reviews and news

On Survivor, ‘absolute chaos,’ absolutely dumb-dumb

Ben Driebergen listens to Ashley Nolan, Devon Pinto and Lauren Rimmer discuss voting him out during Survivor 35's 12th episode. (Image by CBS)

If future generations of television scholars need evidence about why Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers has been forgotten, they need look no further than episode 12’s reward challenge, which someone came up with on their way to class because they forgot to do their homework.

I can think of many Survivor challenges that were brilliantly conceived, constructed, and executed. I can think of a few challenges that didn’t work; I can think of some that I’m tired of seeing.

But I can’t think of a worse challenge than this in 17 years of watching Survivor.

There was a strong start: The production flew eight people—including Joe’s sister, who he got to see at Ponderosa—around the world to Fiji to not just be the reward, but to participate in the challenge.

My favorite loved ones visit episodes are those in which family members actually get to do something other than stand around and try to figure out ways to respond to Jeff Probt’s well-meaning but pathologically sexist commentary, which tonight included these lines:

Back to the challenge, which lasted longer than Probst’s lamentations about daughter hugs. When Probst said the remaining seven contestants would be paired with their family members to compete, I was there for it.

And then they drew rocks. I mean, marbles.

The drawing of rocks on Survivor can be exciting. Just one year ago there was an exceptional episode that ended with that very thing.

But how did multiple talented people think that would make for an actual challenge? It’s also exciting to see Probst retrieve pieces of paper with names written on them out of a container, but that’s not a challenge—at least not until next week’s episode.

Why leave the reward up to chance? Probst tried to frame it as a test to see which of the pairs were in sync with each other, but that’s bunk.

It was a coin flip without the tension and drama of a coin flip.

The dumb-dumbs have a live Tribal Council

Chrissy won the game of marbles, and used it to punish Ben for his vote last week by not choosing him, or Lauren, or Devon. Instead, she chose Ryan and Dr. Mike, and Ashley.

Back at camp, Lauren, Devon, and Ben hunted for an idol, and Ben ran right past a clue, which Lauren found. But it wasn’t an actual idol, just half an idol plus a clue about where part of an idol would be hidden, because someone also forget to put together the immunity idols in addition to forgetting to design a reward challenge.

That piece of an idol was a shell, and how exactly Lauren was supposed to know that shell from a real shell was never explained. Meanwhile, Ben made a realistic-looking fake immunity idol out of shells.

Arts and crafts with shells: Survivor 35!

Meanwhile, the alliance started talking about turning on its biggest internal threat: Ben. So they did what sneaky alliances do and had a conversation about voting off one of their members in a public place while he stood right behind them.

That foreshadowed what happened at Tribal Council, which was basically an information purge, with everyone revealing everyone else’s secrets, including their own. The conversation at the well, Lauren’s extra vote advantage, Ben’s fake idol that he planned to use against Chrissy—it all came out.

The most brazen and baffling reveal came from Mike, who produced the half-an-idol/shell—which Lauren gave him as a misguided sign of trust—and then threw it into the fire.

“This is the real idol, and I’ve wanted to do this for like 15 years. It will never be played,” he said. (He waited 15 years to have a one in seven chance at $1 million only to discard a real shot at immunity?)

While I find that particular action to be as pointless as a pencil used to write out all the dumb things that have happened this season, it was amusing as a meta-middle finger to the production’s idol vending machine and Probst’s love of twists.

But it’s also a great metaphor for how everyone is playing this season: throwing a way opportunities.

Shortly after, Tribal Council turned into one where people stand up and whisper, as they tried to decide whether to vote out Ben or Lauren.

Having a Tribal Council that showed any signs of life was wonderful; the result was not.

Somehow, those who wanted to vote out Ben convinced those who wanted to vote out Lauren, and every single person cast a vote for Ben. Except Ben, of course, and since they missed the fact that he had a real immunity idol in addition to the fake one, Ben became immune and cast the one vote that counted.

To recap inside this recap: Lauren, one of the few worthy players left, who had an extra vote advantage and an immunity idol, gave up half that idol to someone who burned it, and then was voted out by a single vote. Yet she still maintains her status in my mind as one of the better players this season simply because she blamed her “dumb-dumb self” for her exit.

That was some self-awareness Survivor 35 desperately needs. As for the rest of the season, throw it into the fire.