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Survivor: Edge of Extinction’s double episode delivers 20x the entertainment

Survivor: Edge of Extinction’s double episode delivers 20x the entertainment
The absurdly successful Kama tribe celebrates a win during last week's episode of Survivor, perhaps excited that their season will finally get interesting soon. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

I was wondering if the two-hour, two-episode Survivor: Edge of Extinction was just going to burn through two more easy votes, getting us to the merge faster.

But no! These two hours themselves delivered so much action, excitement, and momentum: Lesu wins an immunity challenge, or at least comes in second place! A returnee gets voted out! The people on Extinction have the potential to affect the game, and get hints and advantages for their return! A two-tribe Tribal Council, with the possibility of a rock draw!

And, as if that wasn’t enough: Julia finally had a confessional! (It only took five episodes.)

This looks to continue next week, as the preview for next week and a mid-credits scene showed us that:

  1. The merge is ahead next week, and
  2. so is the opportunity for the Extinction crew to get back into the game. “It’s time…get on the boat,” read a note they received, and we saw them walking in to the challenge arena after the merge.

It’s really been a slog to get to this point, but some of it is finally paying off. I’m still not sure that I like the Extinction twist, but I am increasingly fond of watching Extinction Island. So let’s start there.

A ‘dysfunctional family’ on Extinction

Survivor: Edge of Extinction,
Keith silhouetted on Extinction during the start of a Survivor double episode (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment )

The double episode started with a stunning shot of yellow and purple sky at the Edge of Extinction, with the ripped sail flapping in the wind. Even when Survivor isn’t delivering a strategically interesting game or creatively inspired twists, its on-location production values are always top-notch, and it’s a joy to watch.

That includes the choice this season to film the voted-out players on Extinction in extreme close-up when they’re talking in confessional interviews, which helps make us feel as trapped as they must.

There’s a large group of people there now, since every single player turned left. (Of course they did! When Wendy read the sign, she said, simply, pfff, which is the correct response to this twist.)

She joined what Aubry, Extinction’s other newest resident, called “the most dysfunctional family I’ve ever met.” Aubry also said, “It is a disaster here,” and it is. The boredom combined with the lack of resources and knowledge have them sniping at each other.

For me, Extinction has become more interesting with more people there—and now, a returnee. Also, the producers have given them things to do, like puzzle maps!

The first map was a Mad magazine fold in (whoever created that is my new Survivor crew hero) and the second required them to line up holes on the map to find something that was submerged in shallow water.

The newly folded maps pointed them to certain places on the island. How fun! They eventually found:

  • challenge practice equipment, which Chris literally shoved Keith out of the way to get.
  • an extra vote, to be gifted to someone in the game, which Rick found and gifted to Aubry, who was promptly voted out without using it or her hidden immunity idol, and I’d assume her extra vote is as dead as her idol is.
  • a strange advantage in the challenge, which Keith got thanks to Reem pointing it out to him.

Keith—Keith!—ran off without them to try to find whatever the first map was leading to. But he was too slow and Chris physically pushed him out of the way, finding some bamboo sticks that were actually for practicing the challenge that will presumably let one or more of them back into the game.

I had issues with the tribe voting out Keith second, especially because they labeled him a challenge liability, and it has become crystal clear that his entire tribe consists of challenge liabilities, every damn one of them.

But oh, is he annoying and a complete non-starter of a player. He did have one good idea: to take off and try to find the advantage on his own, instead of waiting for the others. Who knows what it could have been? But even after the mystery map’s puzzle was solved for him, he couldn’t even follow it—even though it had a giant arrow pointing at a distinctive tree. So, although he took off far ahead, everyone else caught up.

As to the advantage he did receive, Keith said, “I found this,” after not finding it. “Thank you, Jesus,” he said after Reem pointed him to the advantage. I’m ready for Keith to lift that sail and for Enya’s “Sail Away” to accompany his exit from the game.

And I can’t even with Wendy being voted out and then declaring her interest in a cheeseburger after all of her grandstanding about the chickens, and I say that as someone who’s been a vegetarian for 16 years.

There was so much Extinction activity that we didn’t even see the new arrivals arrive. It actually seemed like more activity than at the other three tribe camps. So let’s talk about them.

A returnee exits, finally

Aubry Bracco, Survivor: Edge of Extinction episode 3 immunity challenge
Aubry Bracco searched for and found her first hidden immunity idol before reaching for a key during the Survivor: Edge of Extinction episode 3 immunity challenge.(Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

I love Aubry as a player and a cast member, I just wish she had not been cast on this season, but instead have been brought back to play against her equals. (Ditto for the other three.)

Because this season seems structured to give a returnee a win, especially with Extinction and the chance to win their way back into the game, it’s harder for me to care about their success in the game—or about their loneliness (Joe) and disappointment (Aubry).

It’s like putting Serena Williams in a tennis match against The Real Housewives of New York City, letting her serve, and starting at 30-love. Or having Michael Phelps racing against a college swim team and giving him a half a lap head start.

These Survivors have lived on these very beaches, and competed in these same challenges, and know the producers, and have lots of practice concentrating while Jeff Probst is barking explanatory text at them.

So while I was glad to see all three tribes thinking actively about voting out their returnees, I was expecting them to be red herrings, as they have been all season.

Instead, when Lesu managed to win a challenge—okay, come in second place, but still—and Manu finally had to go to Tribal Council, Aubry was the unanimous vote. (Well, if there can be unanimous votes on Survivor.)

It’s impressive that the tribe decided to vote out Aubry first, but of course the producers’ new twist ensures that Aubry and everyone else will stay on screen all season long.

The tragic/hilarious/amazing part was that Aubry had an idol—and an extra vote from Rick. The vote wouldn’t have helped her, but that idol, yeah, that would have been good to play. Aubry called this “JT style embarrassment.” SHADE.

What happens to idols and advantages when a Survivor goes to the Edge of Extinction?

Before Tribal, Aubry told the camera, “Maybe I have to have a little faith that maybe just a little bitty thing can go right.”

Cue Ron Howard, narrator: It didn’t.

The second Tribal Council: two become one

In between all this excitement, there were two reward challenges, and two super-shitty rewards: PB&J and coffee. What happened to the reward budget on this show?

During reward challenge #1, the tribes had to pick one of their members up so that person could untie something, and Lesu kept dropping people, which is an excellent metaphor for that tribe.

There were four challenges this episode, and Kama won every single one of them, because of Joe, or at least that’s what the editing suggests. And he does do many of the tasks in these multi-stage challenges.

During the second immunity challenge, Lauren said Joe is “so annoying.” I agree. I mean, yeah, he’s amazing, even without that mustache, but on Survivor, flawlessness is boring.

Survivor Joe fake idol
Joe Anglim crafted a convincing fake idol on Survivor Worlds Apart. (Screen capture by CBS)

It seemed like Joe’s tribe, including even Joe, thought he’d be an immediate target if they were to lose: “We’re all love and sunshine, and sprinkles and rainbows on Kama strong, but it’s pretty obvious that I’m a target,” he said, also calling himself a “challenge beast.” No arguments there.

The best part, though, was Ron talking about why he’d try to save Joe, because of how bad at everything the rest of the tribe was. Cue a montage of every other tribe member attempting and failing at things. That was a delightful edit.

I hate to interrupt this celebration of a terrific episode, but once Kama won again and the other two tribes went to a joint Tribal Council, why the fuck were Wendy and Lauren the targets?

Also, why the fuck can’t anyone spell “Lauren”?

Everyone suspects the merge is coming. They admit Wardog is not just useless (“I’ve never fished before in my life,” he says, as an excuse to not bother to even try) but also constantly scheming and unpredictable. There are two returnees who can be targeted, and they also know that another returnee has already been voted out. And these two tribes of four each decided to target someone on the opposite tribe, so why not target that tribe’s biggest threats, strategically and otherwise?

I don’t understand.

It was a fascinating twist to throw two four-person tribes into Tribal Council together, knowing that a tie vote results in a re-vote, and another tie results in drawing rocks and sending someone out of the game at random.

It was also fascinating how many people were willing to draw rocks—and how some of them said they were willing but told us that, no, they’d flip: Lauren wouldn’t save Wardog, and vice-versa, and Victoria wouldn’t draw rocks for anyone.

Also fascinating: both Kelley Wentworth and Lauren had hidden immunity idols, with Wentworth’s being fresh and new thanks to an amazing idol hunt. (Wardog was off by himself, looking, so David, Lauren, and Wentworth went looking for him. She said, it “shouldn’t be this hard,” and then looked up and saw an idol. That was ridiculously serendipitous. Also that she was able to get it without Wardog noticing was impressive.)

Yet neither Wentworth nor Lauren played their idols, even though Lauren knew she was a potential target.

I’m not quite sure about the individual game play nor the strategic choices we’ve been seeing, but it’s time for the game to become individual, and for these players to really step up and play—and prove that these two hours of Survivor: Edge of Extinction were not a fluke.

But if they were, maybe Jeff Probst can just send this season to Extinction for a second chance.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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