During the more than 30 minutes of Survivor 45 spent on the return of the auction after 15 seasons, I thought: Survivor hasn’t been this fun for so long.
The “new era”—and I use the scare quotes because it’s not all that new, just doubling-down on the direction Survivor had been going—has brought moments of levity and laughter before. Nothing, though, has offered such a sustained, joyful diversion from the game.
To get that from a classic challenge that made its first appearance in season two proves that many of those original elements and ideas still work.
Next, let’s do actual rewards (not the freakin’ sanctuary) and challenges (not an obstacle course or hold-a-thing).
The actual game play in Survivor 45 episode eight was less fun. We opened with talk of a women’s alliance—they outnumber the men six to four—turned into voting off a woman who was punished for being followed around by a man everyone is annoyed by.
The reality, though, is that there’s no actual women’s alliance. Instead, there’s still original Reba (Austin, Dee, Drew, Julie) versus original Belo (Bruce, Katurah, Kellie, Kendra, Jake), with Emily as a swing vote. More on that in a moment. First: the auction!
The auction returns, with new twists
The auction’s return was revealed to the players in a surprising way: a boat arrived carrying several crew members, who unloaded a two-tier table onto the beach.
That table had bowls affixed to it, and a silent crew member placed name tags on them before handing over a note that said, “Who’s ready for a blast from the past. The Survivor auction…”
That sentence was interrupted by screaming, and I’m sure I would have joined had I not known this was coming, both from last week’s preview and other pre-season coverage.
Before the auction, the players had to search for cash to spend. For 10 players, there were 40 bamboo tubes hidden throughout the jungle, each with a different amount of cash. (When did the crew hide all that money?)
Everyone took off running, except Bruce, who decided his “senior intuition” would help him. It didn’t. He continually missed money, even when the camera was pointing right at it.
As Bruce lumbered by, demonstrating his work ethic, others would dart in and grab what he just missed. In the best moment of this very fun sequence, Bruce was complaining about that and walked right by money in a tree. Drew stepped into frame, grabbed it, and gave a silent Jim Halpert look to the camera.
Most players ended up with a few hundred dollars, while Bruce had just $80, and Austin $700 and Dee $800.
I love the variability of cash, and that there’s both luck and effort involved.
Once they arrived at the auction itself, they learned it was was entirely food, no advantages, which is exactly the change it needed—and we sure don’t need more advantages in the game.
Also, the producers made another great change by randomizing the number of items that’d be up for bid. Only five were guaranteed; Probst drew a number (from six to 15) and kept it hidden from the players. That indicated how many items there would be, and gave Jeff Probst the chance to keep faking them out.
I could have done without the fake chewing noises—especially Austin’s squishy bite into the fish eye—and the final change: the lost vote.
I don’t mind the producers adding an element of risk, though the auction already has built-in, albeit low-key, risk with its zonks. (I did like that there was just one zonk.)
But taking away a vote? That’s too much, especially for something that has a lot of randomness involved: the amount of money, the number of items. This should be a reward challenge, not a Big Brother punishment.
That aside, when Probst said, “Come on in and let’s have some fun,” he was not kidding. It was a euphoric time, from Emily’s happy dance at not being zonked to the players’ reaction to Austin eating a large snapper eyeball.
Here’s how it played out:
- Kendra paid $360 for pretzels and beer
- Kellie paid $500 for fries, ketchup, and watery cola
- Emily paid $440 for a mystery item: wine and a charcuterie board, which caused her to dance with joy. “This is real Emily, when she’s well-fed,” she said.
- Dee: $900 for a chocolate milkshake
- Katurah: $480 for a mystery item—or the option to trade. She stuck with the original: giant fish eyes
- Austin: $100 for the fish eyes “it’s like sashimi,” he said
- Drew paid $520 for the option Katurah didn’t choose, which was a bowl of candy
- Austin paid $600 for a slice of pepperoni pizza
- Julie paid $420 for mouthwash and a toothbrush
- Jake paid $340 for a chocolate cake to share with two people that they had to eat with their hands. He chose Julie and Bruce (!)
- Kellie paid $200, for a margarita, PB&J, and potato chips. Both she and Emily predicted it: “I could use a margarita,” Kellie said, and Emily said: “It’s a 100 percent chance it’s a margarita.”
At the end, Bruce never spent his $80, and ended up having the most money, meaning he lost his vote. Though I don’t love the twist, it was a delicious conclusion to Bruce’s boneheadedness.
Altogether, the auction’s return was a smashing success: solid entertainment and actual rewards for the many of the players.
An idea from 2000 (when Survivor Australia filmed) still works well, and I hope Survivor will keep reaching back to its extensive history for inspiration.
A less-interesting challenge
The reward challenge, if the auction counts as a challenge, was far better television than the immunity challenge.
Immunity, alas, was yet another stand and hold a thing. They had to hold one-third of their pre-game body weight with a rope. At least it was truly individual—no teams, no temporary tribes.
Because everything must be overcomplicated, Probst offered a large bag of rice if four people dropped out. Dee and Emily agreed—and then Probst pulled out a large knife, stabbed the bag dramatically, and rice started pouring out. That’s one way to speed up the deliberations. Drew dropped, followed by Katurah.
The only part of this that I really minded was the promo for applying to Survivor that came during the commercial break, in which Jeff Probst said, “We’ve had an auction and a rice negotiation in two days.” Let’s not equate these two things; one is not the other!
As the players held ropes, Narrator McExposition said, “It’s as heavy as it can get, and it’s heavy.”
It’s also as boring as it can get. Shouting at them doesn’t make it any more interesting, either. I wish someone at CBS would give Survivor a note about how boring these stand-and-hold challenges are when they happen again and again, challenge after challenge, season after season.
Julie and Bruce were the final two, and Bruce won, erasing the possibility he’d go home after losing his vote. Cut to Katurah saying, “Oh my god.” Indeed.
As much as I like Bruce as a low-key villain, I am getting a little weary of the talk about taking out Bruce without anything happening. Of course, his immunity win thwarted a possible vote against him, but I’m not convinced they’ll actually do that.
Do they have no intent of doing that, and the producers are just asking them to talk through hypotheticals to create that tension? It seems increasingly likely Bruce will just hang around being annoying until the final three, where he’ll get zero votes but get paid for being so annoying.
Kendra said that the 6-4 women-men split “could be our opportunity for the six badass women to start taking out some guys. She imagined they were talking about this very thing, and the editing cut to someone saying “tell me about tacos” and then men talking about tacos.
Julie said “I’d really like to start picking them off” and Emily said this is “conceptually great,” but both are aligned with Drew and Austin.
Jake told us he was frustrated by the “following the herd” mentality, though he also acknowledged, “I’m kinda sucking at Survivor right now. Hopefully I stop sucking.” Alas, he seemed to be the obvious target after Bruce, though.
There was some moderate worry among this group that Jake would find an idol, even with Katurah babysitting him. Then Drew said, “What if we avoid the Jake question altogether?” He suggested Kellie.
At Tribal Council, Jake seemed forlorn, as if he was definitely being voted out. He fumbled his way through answers that didn’t make sense, and then asked Probst, “Do you mind if I make a pitch?”
He couldn’t really make one, at least not then, though he eventually said: “If it’s united, like eight votes on me, someone’s making the wrong move.” He also said, “I feel like people are lying to me.”
And in the best moment, he said, “if I pull out my i—if I pull out…. If I pull out an idol tonight, or I decide to play a shot in the dark, you’re gone.” Was that a slip or a clever move?
Jake did not have an idol, so he played his shot in the dark. While handing it to Probst, he said, “Can we have Kaleb blow on it or something first?”
Jake also asked, “Does lightning strike twice?” No, it does not; he was not safe.
But it did not matter, as most votes were not on him, but on Kellie. “What the hell, guys?” Kellie said. The hell is that Austin, Dee, Drew, Emily, and Julie are a solid alliance, and Katurah, Kendra, and Kellie are not part of it.
Did they actually vote her out because of her relationship with Bruce? I hope not, because that’d be shitty.
Speaking of shitty: during the next episode, three people lose their votes, apparently? Ugh. I will try to bask in the glow of the auction until then.