[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, December 6 episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.]
There was something effectively cumulative about Wednesday’s Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, even if it was cumulative within what continues to be a so-so season with the finish line in sight.
All season long, my recaps have asked several consistent questions, the most consistent perhaps being: Why the heck would Person X have told Person Y their secret (or somebody else’s secret told to them in confidence) in that circumstance?
Going back to the Jessica/Cole showmance and Cole’s tendency to spill his guts even about other people’s strategy and hidden advantages, one of the things that has characterized this season’s castaways is a consistent belief that knowledge is power and sharing knowledge is the same as exercising or expanding power. I don’t think it’s necessarily an incorrect sentiment in all cases and heaven knows that trust in Survivor can often be tied to the sharing of information, but being aware of that and being aware of when and what to share are different things.
Normally I hate when Jeff Probst tries to graft a perceived narrative onto a Survivor episode after a Tribal Council unrelated to that narrative, but this week Probst got it right when he said, “Well, it was a tribal council in which everything was out in the open and and yet the one thing that had the most power was the only secret.”
So Ben has made mistakes in his social game and his strategic game and most of those mistakes have stemmed from his inability to keep his emotions concealed — he’s been a total tool the past couple Tribals as he’s exerted power and then been smug when things went his way — or secrets concealed, but the dude found a hidden immunity idol last week and kept his mouth shut.
That led to one of this season’s purest blindsides when, at the culmination of an acrimonious Tribal Council in which nearly everybody told nearly everybody else exactly what they were thinking of doing, sometimes in off-to-the-side whispers and sometimes in grand announcements, Ben pulled an idol and upset the coconut cart.
The victim of Ben’s climactic idol play was Lauren, who was sent home with that extra vote advantage left unused and with half of an immunity idol in her pocket. More accurately, she went home with a leather loop in her pocket and the pain of watching Doctor Mike throw the idol’s other half, a simple shell, in the fire in the latest in what seems to be a never-ending run of unpredictable Doctor Mike moves that, at least thus far, continue to simultaneously be unhinged and unmotivated by strategy, but also effective insofar as Doctor Mike remains in the game and an increasingly large number of players do not.
Nothing Doctor Mike can say will ever convince me that his idol play on himself two weeks ago was a good Survivor move.
I’m slightly, but only slightly, more willing to be charitable to Doctor Mike for his decision to incinerate the shell that completed Lauren’s immunity idol. It negated one of Lauren’s two advantages in the game and made it easier to vote her out, except for a pair of factors: If Lauren no longer had an immunity idol and she already promised to give away her extra vote, that meant that instead of having two advantages, she had no advantages and with no advantage, what reason would there be to vote Lauren out? And taking away Lauren’s advantages to vote her out works better if you vote her out, but instead everybody voted Ben out and Ben played his idol, so Lauren went home. So, in short, Doctor Mike made it easier to vote Lauren out, but decided he didn’t want her out and then she went out anyway, so do you give him credit for having succeeded? Or having failed? Or just for having produced a dramatic Tribal Council moment, which I guess is his only goal.
I can imagine Doctor Mike at Final Tribal talking to the jury and making the case, “I may not have steered the course of the game or done anything well, but I did a few things that were memorable.”
It was definitely a good tribal council, as Lauren blasted Ben for scheming behind her back and Ben blasting Lauren for scheming with the rest of his alliance at the well when he happened to be skulking in the background and Ryan whispering to Doctor Mike to keep the vote on Lauren and Devon walking over and telling people to vote for Ben because he kept calling people out and Chrissy repeatedly insisting she didn’t want to vote Ben out even thought they’d been having a rivalry in which each insisted that the other was taking the game too personally. With Chrissy as determined as she was to vote for Lauren and not Ben, the editors left us out of the loop on how every vote, including Chrissy’s, went against powerlessly against Ben other than Ben’s pre-announced deciding vote against Lauren.
Or, as Joe put it after witnessing Tribal from the jury seats, “They kept Ben around, that’s what happens.”
Yup. That’s what I said last week. Even if Ben’s recent behavior has squandered a lot of the sympathy he might previously have engendered, nobody’s beating him in a final three situation and every week they don’t vote him out is a mistake. So naturally they tried voting him out this week and naturally the frequent blabbermouth managed to keep one secret.
I do feel disappointed that Ben has lost the sympathy factor. It’s almost unfathomable to me that this was the loved ones visit week on Survivor and for the first time in four or five seasons, none of the visits made me cry and I’ve become a really soft touch when it comes to these things. The castaways all did their jobs. Other than Lauren, everybody cried when their parents or siblings or loved ones came out and I felt very little. I typed “Awww” when Devon greeted his mother and experienced some emotion when Ben greeted his wife and immediately asked about his children and he credited all of them with rescuing him when he had “one foot in the grave,” but no tears. The closest I came, truthfully, was when Doctor Mike apologized for the selfish decision to do Survivor and his wife said this was the only thing he’d ever done for himself in their years of marriage.
A couple of these loved ones pairings didn’t even move the needle for me and the actual reward challenge featuring the loved ones was completely bizarre. Initially I thought the challenge was that there was a bag with a white stone and a black stone and loved ones had to either guess or be psychic on which color stone the other had selected. But instead it was just a random draw on each side and the winner was Chrissy, for being lucky twice? Surely there was another, more elaborate, challenge designed and it got quashed due to weather or something? I just can’t believe that a reward challenge this important to the ebbs and flows of a standard Survivor season would be left to pure chance. And yet there they were. And Chrissy won and selected fellow outcasts Ryan and Doctor Mike, plus seemingly sway-able Ashley to join her. This was just straight-up bitterness and bad gameplay on Chrissy’s part, to punish Ben for betraying their early alliance, but also to leave three people in an alliance together alone together on a beach that almost certainly had a newly hidden idol buried somewhere. It was awful strategy by Chrissy and led to Lauren finding the loop and the clue to the seashell that Doctor Mike attempted to burn.
Let’s get to a few bottom lines before Doctor Mike does something else stupid.
Bottom Line, I. This was yet another bad episode for Chrissy, who started the season looking so clever and has become less and less impressive a player with each decision. You’re an actuary! You began the season talking about your elaborate plotting and strategic skills. Now stop doing things out of emotion and pique and stop taking umbrage at people for playing Survivor. Chrissy has made enough mistakes and been in the dark for enough of the second half of the season that I don’t think she could put together a winning argument that I would believe. And I still don’t understand what she was doing on the Heroes tribe.
Bottom Line, II. Did Lauren formally promise her extra vote to Chrissy? Is that enforceable? Can Chrissy go back to camp and dig up that extra piece of paper and play it at a future Tribal or is that advantage dead? And leaving aside Lauren giving half of the idol to Doctor Mike as a sign of loyalty, how did she do both that and leave the extra vote behind when going to a Tribal Council at which she knew she could possibly be a target? Even if she’d brought that extra vote with her, I doubt she’d have been smart enough to say, “I’m voting for Ben, but just in case he has an idol I’m going to put my bonus vote on Chrissy,” but at least that would have been possible? Lauren went with too much hardware. For sure. And she left as one of the only people who might have pushed Ben in a jury scenario.
Bottom Line, III. Ashley has now been tentative two straight weeks when she knew that she had to push for a vote against Ben in order to give herself a resumé more impressive than what winning a couple challenges will get you. Last week she couldn’t sway people at all. This week, Devon probably upstaged her in terms of pushing for a vote against Ben and then that vote backfired anyway. She got her second individual immunity win, but Devon probably deserves at least half-credit for it and I doubt anybody is going to give Ashley a million bucks for a few immunity wins.
Bottom Line, IV. If Keanu Devon is amazed by a Tribal Council vote and says neither “Whoa!” nor “Excellent!” why even have Keanu Devon there at all?
Bottom Line, V. I just loved the framing of the shot with Ben wandering up behind Ashley, Lauren and Devon talking about voting him out. It was all the fun of Tony’s spy shack without the need to build a spy shack.
Check out Josh Wigler’s interviews and come back next week for the season’s penultimate recap!