Survivor: Caramoan, Episode 11: Of Men and Mustaches

One of the many benefits to the structure of Survivor is that as soon as things start to look predictable — when one alliance outnumbers the other, when someone loafs around excessively or goes out of his way to act obnoxiously — the whole tribe seems to hear a subconscious buzzer signaling Big Move Time. Big Move Time occurs after the post-merge group has been whittled down to a handful of starving, paranoid, raw-nerved people; it’s a period during which each of the remaining contestants has an idea of how they think they’ll appear to have performed during the game, and how they have to tweak or edit that image in order to progress and eventually appeal to the jury. Dawn has been holding back tears, mostly futilely, for 30-plus days. Now her face is an almost constant grimace — I think she’s trying to appear stoic. She’s chewing the inside of her cheeks off in every challenge trying to prove her physical prowess. Cochran, high off the fumes of a combination of luck and strategy that led to a mini-streak as the “challenge monster,” has turned into something that “would scare [his] mother if she saw [him].” People be power-hungry. People be island-crazy. Each of them knows that they’re an important character in the narrative of Caramoan, because at this point every individual’s plot trajectory contributes in a large way to the outcome of the finale (though Brenda, basically a ghost, is notable mostly as a pawn). Big Move Time separates the stars from the costars, the leaders from the followers. Big Move Time has arrived. It’s a blindside, bitches.

It’s night 30, dark and Malcolmless. Reynold, lonely but optimistic in what has now become his Two Amigos alliance, is confident that he can win five immunity challenges in a row, which I guess is his only hope since he’s been pretty terrible at bothering with a social strategy thus far. Eddie’s aware that their situation is dire, so he’s playing himself the “you never know” song on repeat. Cochran, no longer the “little Harvard nerd” who feared shirtlessness and a litany of other things during his first season, has now turned his focus to siphoning the power from the remaining favorites to pull ahead “without remorse.” In the morning, tree mail calls the tribe to an immunity challenge during which everybody has to balance on narrow footholds on pyramids in the water, periodically stepping up to a higher foothold until they’re perched on the very top. The reward, besides immunity, is the always coveted “INFORMATION” that usually means a clue disclosing the location of the hidden idol (in this case, it’s a repeat of the one Malcolm received before he peaced out). Balancing challenges like this one always seem unfairly weighed in favor of anybody with small feet, but I suppose you could argue that there are a lot of variables (blisters? Sneezing? A bug in the eye?) that could cause the outcome to deviate. It’s very windy and the footholds look pretty uncomfortable, so when Probst offers anyone willing to take themselves out of the challenge a plate of doughnuts and “ice-cold” milk, I can see how a person might be tempted. It was sort of weird, however, that that person was Eddie, considering that he’s basically got one foot in the grave at this point.

Eddie asks what flavor doughnuts we’re talkin’ about here, to which Jeff just responds, “fresh.” Erik suggests that he and Eddie jump ship together and hit the sugar glaze, and off they go, leaving Reynold behind to try to keep his big paws planted on that teensy wooden ledge. After 15 minutes, the remaining tribe members move up a foothold or withdraw for three hot dogs and a soft drink. Boom, Cochran’s out of there (he blames his “bursting thighs”), and now he has to get the ceremonial mini-lecture from Probst: None of his buddies gave him any sign of approval, he just gave up immunity for a cylinder of pureed pig’s feet and shoelaces, I hope it was worth it, etc. If Cochran’s so concerned about how his mother would judge him, I suppose it’s nice of Jeff to step into that role and guilt him to death as he tries to enjoy his quitter’s feast.

Another 15 minutes pass and the remaining castaways (Dawn, Sherri, Andrea, Brenda, and Reynold) are asked to move up to the next position with a strange disembodied command from Probst to use neither their hands nor their butts. How exactly a person can choose to use his or her butt to stand on a platform is confusing, and when Sherri and Dawn (“Son of a — ”) go splashing into the waters of defeat, I have no choice but to blame their poor butt-disengagement skills. Reynold looks like he’s using some pretty fly MMA moves to stay on his pyramid, but after a few impressive saves, he’s also out of the challenge, leaving only Andrea, frozen with her hands positioned like she’s holding two impractical clutch purses, and Brenda. They discuss making a deal but decide they’d both rather stick it out, though they do agree to share the clue regardless of whose feet prove smaller. After three hours (!) they decide to make history by upping the stakes and implementing their own rule, to each lift one foot off the platform. Brenda falls soon after, so Andrea gets immunity and a round of applause from her cohorts.

Obviously, Andrea immediately regrets her promise to share the clue with Brenda, who has now emerged as her biggest competition (there’s only room for one slight lady with good core muscles at this late hour). She shares the details of the hidden idol’s clue with her whole alliance, and off they go to dig in the tree roots en masse. Erik finds it and then, doomed by his chronic niceness (presumably a trait that serves him well dipping cones), hands it off to Andrea. Cochran — and the world — are appalled, because considering how Erik exited during his last season, he should have learned to be way more Gollum in his approach. I should also mention that I think it’s strange that Erik uncovered the idol so quickly when Malcolm couldn’t find it after hours of frantic digging — could it have been reburied in a more obvious place? Is that something that happens, some kind of producer magic that keeps the ball rolling? Or was Malcolm in the wrong spot all along?

Andrea is now totally drunk off idols and finally released from the grip of the paranoia that’s plagued her throughout the game. Powered by adrenaline, she starts buzzing around, trying to figure out who to blindside and eventually settling on Brenda. This decision is met with some emotional oh-my-goshing from Dawn and a Cochran camera-aside musing about how this is the beginning of the end for the alliance of six and the dawn of people chasing their own self-interested motivations. Very interesting, professor; would you like to elaborate at tribal council? “It’s about making a move a second before a move is about to be made against you — it takes a lot of self-awareness.” Dawn tells Jeff that she now realizes that the lack of trust between the members of Enil Edam stems from everyone now realizing that they themselves are untrustworthy, which Probst calls “one of the most honest things anybody’s ever said at tribal.” This is not true, but way to insert some faux-drama. Eddie and Reynold try to sell themselves as “great instrument[s]” in case any of the remaining members of Stealth want to turn on the others, but nobody bites, and Reynold is snuffed (Brenda shows her vote with a dig at Reynold’s lack of humility, because someone had to go there). He takes it well, bidding adios to his former amigo Eddie and immediately departing to work on creating and styling an incredible mustache to debut at the next tribal council.

Cochran doles out kisses to his buddies back at camp while a bearcat watches, both of them smug that “the gunslingers [have taken] out another victim.” Andrea is not so chill, because she’s still got a blindside in her and she needs to scratch the itch. She pitches to Cochran that they should hit Dawn or Brenda, but that doesn’t sit well with the Challenge Monster because Dawn is his closest ally. When naive Dawn and Brenda start jawing with Cochran about reasons for making the obvious move (killing the Eddie threat), Cochran spills the beans that both of their names have been floated by Andrea. Brenda immediately goes into anti-Andrea mode, and Cochran reasons that if Andrea doesn’t play the idol that Erik generously and dumbly bestowed upon her, she’s probably toast.

Of course, that depends on her not winning the next immunity challenge, which involves pushing a buoy through a series of obstacles to a post and retrieving a key. Once the players get their keys, they unlock chests to gather ladder rungs, assembling them into a ladder, naturally, and then finally climbing it to raise their flags and win immunity. Erik and Brenda pull ahead, but Erik flies through his ladder assembly and raises his flag first. Issuing a creepy sigh when the necklace hits his skin, he tells Jeff he’s “way too scared” to ever think about giving this immunity away as he did before he was axed last time. Back at camp, he pats himself on the back for his win (“I killed it”) and then stands on the beach in the rain, holding a pot and looking up at the sky like he’s just been beamed down there from the moon. I don’t know what this shot meant, but I’d guess that it’s foreshadowing the repercussions of Erik’s body weight being now made up of mostly hair.

Andrea is still talking about eliminating Brenda as though she was never interrupted by the challenge. She picks up right where she left off, campaigning hard with everyone from Dawn and Cochran to Eddie and prematurely mourning how the surprise is going to sting for Brenda. Cochran, worried that Andrea is going to replace him with Eddie in the alliance, serves up a plan to split the votes in a bid to get rid of Andrea. He hits up Erik, who agrees, but then Andrea approaches Erik and offers to take him with her to the final three. That’s a pretty sweet deal for Erik, but he still has to decide which plan suits him better. (Look to the sky, young man! Ask the rain!)

Sherri leads the pack back to tribal council, puffing up her cheeks with air that I bet she immediately and dramatically discharged upon viewing jury member Reynold’s new mustache. This is a mustache that most men can only hope to grow. He describes it as French painter meets ’70s porno, but it’s much greater than the sum of its parts and plays off of his nasolabial folds in a very pleasing way. Malcolm’s blow-dried hair is completely upstaged. Anyhoo, Probst opens up the discussion by asking Eddie if he thinks an unpredictable move is going to take place. Eddie suggests that it’s a nice evening for a blindside, which opens up the floor for everyone else to admit that they know that they’re being plied with empty final-three promises because they’re doling out the same. Andrea tells Jeff that she has the hidden immunity idol and plans to use it if she feels paranoid. Let’s pause for a second here to acknowledge that it would be smart to assume that if you’re aching to execute a blindside, everyone else probably has the same idea, and that’s reason enough to be nervous — not to mention that a blindside only works if the target is completely secure and clueless. Lady, lady. It’s way too late to not play a non-secret idol if you have one. This is rookie behavior! A snake stares directly into your soul as the tribe members write their votes. Brenda, feeling chatty this episode, calls Andrea a “sneaky, sneaky little girl” when she writes down her name.

Before the votes are read, Dawn engages in her zillionth facial struggle this episode, and I wish so badly that someone could sneak her an Ativan. After Andrea’s name is read for the second time, it hits her that she’s in trouble and she exclaims “WHAT!” When the ax falls, she’s laughing and saying “Oh, you guys, that was good!” but her Grinchy smile (: > ) says she’s about 24 hours from falling through a trapdoor into bleak, subterranean tantrum town. She says she’ll keep her necklace as a reminder not to trust people ever again. Hopefully she’ll be bringing some much-needed bitchface to the jury, which as of right now is looking pretty hard-up for the grudges we crave and require to live. Now that Eddie has no Reynold to guide him, he’s likely to chug along for a bit while Stealth rids itself of a couple of its own members before being banished to the Ponderosa glamour-man resort; I don’t expect him to come up with the kinds of moves that would save him on his own, so his only hope is for someone to identify him as the perfect person to bring to the end because he’s stuck his foot in his mouth too many times to win jury votes and probably couldn’t defend himself under questioning. Sherri’s faded into the background a bit over the past few episodes (at least compared with her screen time during the Shamar era), but there’s no question that she has a much better winner’s edit than Brenda — as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know how Brenda could manage to win after the way she’s been presented (more accurately, the way she’s not been presented) this far.

Cochran and Dawn shared a previous season, so their threat level is substantial — they’re more of a power couple than Andrea and Eddie ever were — and though I’d love to see them both in the finals, I have the feeling we’re going to be bidding one of them adieu sometime in the near future. As for Erik, everything really depends on his ability to dominate in challenges and finally, FINALLY!, make some decisive alliance maneuvers. And he has to stay alive, so let’s hope he gets to dig into some butter croissants with his dad or whoever else shows up to inspire his angular face to morph into a terrifying, weeping death mask in the upcoming episode. Don’t cry too much, my scraggly floater. Bodily fluids are all you have now.

Next time! Cochran is in trouble (nooo!), the surprise visit from family members that ushers in legions of monologues about “life outside the game” and “I never realized just how much blah blah things” and “just to touch, to talk to my family means more than all of the Sprint smartphones could ever illustrate, though they are very cool smartphones with many features I admire,” and Erik scales a tree while bleating for food.

Filed Under: CBS, Jeff Probst, Reality Television, Recaps, Survivor

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Tess Lynch is a contributing writer to Grantland.

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