I used to fear missing an episode of Survivor. After Survivor 44’s dumb tribe swap, though, I wasn’t all that invested in what twists were coming next.
So when a few days of vacation and travel kept me away from a TV last Wednesday, I wasn’t too worried about missing Survivor 44 episode 5.
But I was glad I watched it, as it turned out to be a surprisingly lovely episode. I mean, despite having a ball maze, a medical exit, several hundred idols, and yet another fucking journey.
Without a Tribal Council, more time was spent on interaction between the players, which is something that gets lost in the downpour of idols.
And last week’s episode turned out to effectively be the first half of a two-part episode, with the strategy from the pre-merge carrying over into the newly combined tribe.
Some of the character development was, alas, people like Danny and Josh just talking about their lives. But there was considerable time we spent with others, like Matt and Frannie flirting, or Carson and Kane nerding out, or Yam Yam and Josh fighting and then bonding.
Sarah’s exit the previous episode meant Tika became the first queer tribe in Survivor’s history.
Of course, there are just three people on that tribe! Still, two gay men and one pansexual woman is something unimaginable from early seasons, where at most there might be one gay man and one lesbian on a season with 20 people.
Despite their shared identity, they’re still in a game.
Yam Yam and Josh don’t trust each other, which led to some fascinating moments, like them being open about how much they distrust each other, and then turning around and bonding by sharing coming out stories.
Josh made a fake immunity idol and showed it to Yam Yam, who said “these are the beads from Tree Mail, Josh,” and then Yam Yam broke down laughing later about how the idol fell apart when he held it.
Tika was saved, at least temporarily, from voting off one of their own by Matthew’s medical exit (evacuation doesn’t quite seem like the right word here, since he apparently left voluntarily, though we never actually saw that moment).
Matthew’s departure was awkwardly set up with Probst telling Matthew, after the challenge, to have medical check his arm. Medical checks in privately with every player at challenges, so this was obviously a set-up.
That gave way to Narrator McExposition kneeling with extreme concerned face next to Matthew and prompting Doc Hollywood to narrate Matthew’s pain, although at least this time he wasn’t doing that over a limp body.
“You got injured playing the game,” Narrator McExposition told Matthew, even though that is 100 percent not true. Heck, even the episode showed us that wasn’t true: Matthew got injured unnecessarily and stupidly climbing a jagged rock while camera operators filmed with drones overhead.
Journeyers Brandon, Danny, and Carolyn weren’t switched to other tribes wearing cloaks of invisibility; instead, they went to The Sanctuary, where a sign informed them “there is no game to play” and “no vote to risk,” just a decision about whether or not they’d lie to their fellow players about what happened.
What happened was Danny and Brandon making plans for the merge and ignoring Carolyn. “The conversation just becomes those two,” Carolyn said.
That produced my favorite bit of Carolyn physical comedy so far. As Danny and Brandon discussed being big strong men, she told them, “I’m glad you guys worked it out,” and bit into an orange.
“I hope you make it through the night,” Brandon said as Danny put a hand on her shoulder. That’s when Carolyn just let the orange fall out of her mouth as she did a near-look to camera.
“They don’t even care; it’s like I didn’t even matter,” she told us.
Also during last week’s episode, we heard from the other two players who switched tribes: Carson (“they don’t see me as this strategic mastermind”) and Jamie (“I have so much more information than anyone playing this game”), who both think their new tribes are now in their control.
But I think Carolyn is the one who’s in the best position. While Jeff Probst insists that Survivor does not craft a winner’s edit, it seems to me like Carolyn may just be getting one.
Survivor is going out of its way to illustrate to us what she’s doing, how underestimated she is; how threatened she is in the game; and, in tonight’s episode, the editing’s attempt to illustrate how she struggles to connect in big groups.
What exactly was about to happen with those three was interrupted by Probst kneeling and prompting even more exposition, before revealing that there’d be no Tribal Council, and then spending several more minutes narrating the fact that nothing was going to happen so what could that possibly mean.
And it was permanently interrupted by tonight’s episode, which brought the pretend merge. “I’m frustrated, I’m annoyed, I’m pissed off,” Carolyn said. Me too!
She was referring to not being able to vote out Josh, but she’d soon have some help in doing that.
Survivor 44’s faux merge arrives
The tribes joined up together—one might say “merged,” but one would be wrong—and immediately started comparing notes on advantages and idols. I honestly have no idea how they keep track out there without access to paper or a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. I watch while taking notes on my laptop and I cannot keep track.
The pretend merge is something Survivor decided is necessary because staying in the game until the merge was not enough evidence that a player had earned the privilege.
Yet the new merge is the old merge just without a merge feast or buffs. Basically, it’s a glorified reward/immunity challenge, as the winning team gets food and immunity and the losing team gets screwed.
Anyway, when Narrator McExposition started talking about “earning” it, I felt some bile crawling up my esophagus. We’ve heard this so much, and it’s still not interesting or new or worth all of the time spent explaining it.
After the randomly selected teams pushed giant balls around, the purple team of Brandon, Carolyn, Carson, Frannie, Jamie, and Matt fell behind.
However, they caught up doing the tree puzzle that we’ve seen many times before, and that Carson had practiced “probably a thousand times” after 3D printing it in his house. Props to him for such preparation that’s really paid off.
How great is it that Survivor’s reliance on puzzles is now being rendered ineffective by practice and privilege? How fun is it to watch people do the same puzzles again and again?
That left Danny, Heidi (who?!), Kane, Lauren, Josh, and Yam Yam as possible votes, and that brought us back to where we started last week: the Yam Yam vs. Josh conflict.
Carolyn was baffled by her team’s insistence that Josh might have an idol, even after she explained what happened. But with members of Josh’s old tribe still wanting to get him out, the team seemed to decide on Josh with Kane as a backup.
There was a lot of pre-Tribal talk, so much so that the editors showed us that even the players were confused.
At one point, Josh told Yam Yam the should work together to vote for Kane so it wouldn’t be the two of them against each other. Yam Yam asked Josh for the idol that made him laugh, and Josh’s “girl, no” was hilarious.
While Kane received a vote (from Carolyn!), clearly everyone decided that it was Josh with Yam Yam as the backup, with most of the votes going to Josh and sending him home.
Then Jeff Probt told the tribe that had just lived and voted together that they’d merged.
Next week’s preview showed Probst saying, “You will have no say in who goes home,” which is likely a consequence for one person rather than everyone, and sounds like the return of Exile Island. But it’s Survivor 2.0, so who knows what old things they’ll call new again?