“This is cool. It’s really cool!” the person voted out second of Survivor 45 said after Jeff Probst snuffed their torch.
And you know what, it was! I mean both the episode and their exit.
Once again, every player had at least one confessional, and they were all also featured in the main titles! I didn’t even mind the odd remixed beginning to “Ancient Voices,” that’s how happy I was to have it—and dramatic slow-motion footage of all the players—back again. And it followed the return of the “previously on” recap.
The time we spent with each tribe, learning about their dynamics, was remarkable, and this was another great 90 minutes of Survivor. At times, I could sense where a 60-minute episode would have cut away—from a scene, an interview—to save time.
I’m glad it didn’t cut away, and glad we didn’t lose perhaps inconsequential but playful moments such as Dee’s large big toe, or Brando’s Buff bikini bonding with his tribe.
It’s been a rough two episodes for Brandon, and I imagine Brandon exiting Survivor 45 will be a relief to those who were not fond of someone so openly and vulnerably laying bare their own neuroses and fear.
But I admire the shit out of Brandon.
Yes, he sucked in the challenges, and with puzzles, and from the scenes we were presented, didn’t seem all that interested in camp life. For tribe health, Lulu absolutely made the right call losing him and keeping Emily.
Brandon didn’t just miss a small detail in his journey challenge, he choked in that immunity challenge, appearing to barely help Sabiyah at all with the puzzle.
Part of why I love Survivor is to see how different people deal with the game and its accompanying experience, and that means sometimes people who fail. We most often see failed social or strategic games, but Brandon wasn’t failing there; he had the trust and respect of his tribemates. He just couldn’t make himself valuable to a tiny tribe.
The fact that Brandon was able to maintain not just awe as a fan of Survivor, but persevere with enthusiasm despite his literal flops? That’s impressive.
I also appreciate the courage it takes for him to live so vulnerably and openly in front of cameras and an Internet ready to pounce on the slightest hint of weakness (not that I’ve ever done that, eek). I wish I’d been that self-aware in my mid-20s, able to recognize anxiety when it showed up and took over. (I’m still not great at it in my mid-40s!)
Despite the internal and external obstacles, Brandon didn’t give up, on himself or the game.
Plus, I’d so much rather watch a Brandon Donlon than a Brandon Hantz.
“I am so anxious, Jeff. I am wildly anxious,” Brandon said moments before he was voted out. “My whole five days here have been ruled by my anxiety and my neuroses and worry. But being on the beach with these guys and with these buffs? It’s incredible, man. These are the most-fun five days I’ve ever had.”
Jeff Probst was there to translate. “Survivor is always a unique experience for every single person who plays,” he said. Thanks for that insight, Narrator McExposition. It’s so good you’re here.
It was also good that Brandon was there—for him, sure, and also to illustrate that this game that we’ve all watched for 23 years is not a breeze for everyone.
The other major character who had focus was Emily, who softened as a villain, though thankfully a new one may have emerged with Drew. More on him in a moment.
After spending the first three days calling out the only two Black players on her tribe for excluding her,
“I have a ton of respect for her decision” Sean, no flint, fire, machete, pot,
“It sounds like I’m attacking you guys,” Emily told her tribe. “It’s been hard for me to make inroads with people.” Then she accused them of gaslighting her, which is not a great way to make friends.
“You’re so adamant about being somebody who’s not liked,” Sabiyah told her. Sabiyah told us Emily is “not as aware of herself” told us: “she doesn’t really mesh well with the group” “obviously, she’s bad news”
The other players went searching for Emily while she searched for idols, and she hilariously declined the offer to partner up with Sabiyah, so they just kept following her.
“I think the tribe already has a bad taste in their mouth about me,” she explained.
Right as Sabiyah was saying, “it has to be somewhere we’ve looked,” Brandon found the Beware Advantage in a tree. But he did something that I cannot remember seeing yet: he refused it.
“I don’t want to open it,” he said to Sabiyah, and explained to us: “my vote is integral.” I think this is an incredibly rational decision, especially now that players know opening it will 1) lose them their vote and 2) not make it easy to get the vote back. Remember the whole stupid phrases debacle?
Sabiyah, however, was eager, and opened it. Her clue led to the tribe’s map, which pointed to a tree. She and Brandon went there, and she climbed up on his back. “I have scoliosis, so don’t do a little dance up there,” he said.
Unable to find the actual idol, she told Sean and Caleb, so now the whole tribe except Emily knew. “That will cement our alliance going forward,” Sabiyah said.
Speaking of alliances: Kaleb told us that “the problem with Emily is she has a big mouth, and can’t get out of her own way” and said that while “people are hating on her,” “maybe I can nurse her back to health … as a stronger, better player.”
Major props to him for seeing Emily as an opportunity, not a liability.
Emily told us that she’s realizing “people are not stocks,” like the money she works with every day, noting that “you can’t brute force things in life.” She said she was “learning to be more calm, learning to be less aggressive,” though noted “it’s hard for a tiger to change its stripes.”
But she tried. We saw a montage of some awkward, some successful attempts at bonding with the other players. Emily also told us, “I’ve always been this anxious, nervous pessimist” and she doesn’t “know when to stop.”
Did she change completely? Probably not! Who could change in a day? But in terms of a social game, it was a remarkably fast 180, and it at least did enough for her tribe to keep her over someone they trusted more.
At other camps, we saw some similar dynamics. At blue/Belo, Bruce continues to try to project himself as one thing and not exactly win over everyone.
“We call him Uncle Bruce because he’s taking care of us,” Jake said. “Bruce is hilarious.” It’s not clear if everyone else feels this way, but Katurah made it clear how irritating Bruce is. “Every five minutes, Bruce is explaining to you something, telling you how to do something,” she said. “The whole tribe, they’re hungry for him.”
She was annoyed at everything from his name-dropping from his five minutes of fame on his first Survivor appearance to the way “he’s a threat, and he’s trying to play it down—and nobody sees it! I’m like, what the hell?”
Meanwhile, Kellie, Brando, Jake, and Bruce aligned, and Kellie was said something interesting about working with the guys: “I hate this, but there is an element of strength in challenges,” she said. I think that’s one example of the kind of structural problem that leads women to be voted out first. The challenges are always the same obstacle courses where physical strength is useful, and winning those means both safety in the game and resources. But that’s design by the producers, not inevitable.
At the red/Reba tribe, Julie said she’s “taken on the role of mama” (alas), and has aligned with Dee, Austin, and Drew.
Drew has become a bit of megalomaniac: “I do envision when my realm will stretch to the whole beach,” he said, saying he would “bring this kingdom into fruition.” Calm down.
Also at the red tribe, Austin used his key to decode the message on the flag: “Dig in the fallen palm tree X,” but we didn’t see him actually did, so he still has no vote.
A boat showed up to interrupt all this delightful camp life and character development with some Producer Fun. As much as I hate the freakin’ journey, at least this one had a mini-challenge, instead of just a game of chance.
Brandon, Bruce, and Drew went; Katurah was “pissed” Bruce went, because she told us, “he doesn’t need access to anything.”
At this point, everyone knows the journey will possibly yield a lost vote and/or an advantage, but we haven’t really heard tribes discuss this as part of their deliberations about who should go. Maybe they do and it’s just not included?
Upon arrival, the three journeymen first stood around and chatted; Bruce didn’t share much, and Brandon shared everything, or at least about how annoying Emily is. Then they split up for the challenge.
This was really another Brandon moment. He told us that, “after nearly passing away on the barge on day one … this could be an absolute game-changer for me.” Cut to him tripping and falling on rocks. Mean, editors, mean!
The players had the chance to risk their vote at the next Tribal Council for an advantage. If they accepted, they had three minutes to match tiles and then solve a combination lock.
Bruce declined. But Drew and Brandon accepted. Brandon said, “I am at a challenge where I don’t have to move, or lift anything, or swim,” and he went for it. “I am absolutely going to play. … This is my shot to win something”
Brandon’s anxious narration was fantastic. “I’ve been waiting a long time to do this—” he said before pulling out the lock from the combination, and then finished “—and you’re still going to wait” when it didn’t unlock.
“Oh my god, this is embarrassing,” he said. “How is this happening? This is a comedy of errors.”
Drew won; Brandon did not, having missed a single tile. He did not, as he’d joked earlier, get on a boat and go back to New Jersey.
Drew won safety without power—excuse me, “Saftey Without Power,” according to the subtitles. (I shouldn’t make fun of typos, considering my endless propensity for them, but I also do not have multi-billion dollar corporation’s resources behind me.)
Saftey Without Power means Drew can leave Tribal Council, saving himself and not casting a vote, up until the 10-player point in the game.
Brandon told everyone what happened; Drew did too, and showed them his advantage. That led Austin to tell Drew about his Beware Advantage. “I want a JT to my Stephen,” Drew told Austin, which I guess is a flattering way of saying I want someone to unanimously beat me at the end of this game. Also, Drew, you’re no Stephen Fishbach!
The immunity challenge was a water obstacle course and puzzle, though in a major twist, Jeff Probst said this was a “brand-new Survivor puzzle,” which he explained, helpfully, means that “nobody knows this one.” Wait, explain that to me again?
In another change, the sit-out rules have changed, now that there’s not two challenges in each episode. Players cannot sit out back-to-back challenges, as before, but now that doesn’t reset after a Tribal Council. With one-challenge episodes and a post-Tribal reset, that meant the same person could keep sitting out immunity challenges, but not anymore.
The winning tribes won immunity and fishing gear; Probst said, “the last tribe to finish, otherwise known as the losers”—and I swore Jeff was going to finish that sentence with “otherwise known as Lulu.”
Actually, Lulu did pretty good at first. Emily was the first across the floating, three-tier balance beam, but it was Reba that got to the puzzle first. Below was far behind both tribes, and Kendra’s fall on that beam—ouch!
For the second episode in a row, a challenge proceeded while someone was slumped over on the ground. Was she exhausted from the swim, in pain, or out of it?
Ultimately, Lulu lost their lead and fell behind, so Probst started mocking them about planning their Tribal Council eviction. “Put it in a deep freeze for Lulu,” he said before either of the other tribes finished. Reba won, Belo came in a close second, and Lulu’s puzzle remained incomplete.
Lulu’s weakness was not a surprise, but would the elimination be? Did Emily rehabilitate herself enough? Did Brandon fail enough on puzzles to earn a vote home?
Kaleb made a sports metaphor and then put Lulu’s situation in terms we can all understand: “We suck.”
“I think we know that it’s between us,” Emily told Brandon in front of the tribe.
Both Sabiyah and Brandon lack votes, meaning just Sean, Kaleb, and Emily control the vote—not that Emily knew that. It’s really nuts that, in episode two, one-third of a tribe cannot vote. Maybe come up with a new punishment, Probst?
Anyway, Sabiyah, Sean, and Kaleb went back to the tree to get Sabiyah’s vote back—well, and the idol. She finally spotted the coconut in a non-coconut tree.
The idol, though, was in a candle, and she had to melt it to actually take possession and regain her vote. But they don’t have fire. Clever, clever, Jeff Probst!
Could Sabiyah toss it in the Tribal Council fire? Melt it in the sun or with Brandon’s glasses? Rip it apart? I think it has to be melted, at least according to the clue. And she did not have a vote at Tribal.
As an attempt to earn trust, Emily gave Sabiyah and Sean her Shot in the Dark, indicating she would not play it.
The decision came down to these two issues:
- Sean: “Brandon’s a liability … how are we ever going to win?”
- Sabiyah: “I know that I can trust Brandon to the end.” She told Kaleb and Sean: “I don’t trust Emily.”
At Tribal Council, Jeff Probst shared about when he didn’t make the basketball team in junior high, so he became the water boy, and tried to declare Brandon was the tribe’s water boy.
Tangent: I was actually in the cinematic masterpiece The Waterboy, as an extra who sat in a stadium for hours next to a cardboard cutout of a person, as it partially filmed at the school where I went to college, and that was so long ago they created crowds with cardboard, not computers. Watch for me as an orange blur.
It turns out Lulu doesn’t need water, and voted Brandon out unanimously—and truly unanimously, since he could not cast a vote. While I’d have liked to see him redeem himself, this was the right call, especially at this stage in the game.