Every season of Survivor — like any reality show/contest that starts with a cast so big you can’t distinguish between some of them until they’re tossed a minor plot line on the same day they’re eliminated — improves with time. This was the episode where you finally could remember which one was Tarzan (the elder) and which one was Troyzan (the younger). Whether or not it matters is still kind of fuzzy. This was also the episode during which the women redeemed themselves, even though they initially suffered from The Bad Cold (a tropical storm, no tarp, huddled miserable people in wet thigh-high American Apparel socks) and The Prune Hands of Death, neither of which is as bad as the single serious leg injury or infected spider bite that pops up on day 32 of each season, but both of which are dramatically played out on screen. Take a look at these hands! These hands were born under prunes.
The women’s shelter is still in a sad state, and they can’t keep a fire going, so this episode found them creeping over to the men’s side again to beg for embers. The ember-grubbing is pretty pathetic — they’re like the “Bitties in the BK Lounge.” With warm hands and cold, calculating brains with photographic memory capability, the women proceeded to murder the men in a reward challenge, a memorization game. It took Kat seven tries and lots of brain cramps to beat Troyzan, but the women made a clean sweep and won fishing gear and a canoe. Unfortunately, driven by chilblains and a lack of pride, they went back to Manono after the challenge to warm up once more, begging and scrounging for fire, sweet fire. The men, understandably bitter about their loss, argued that they should receive rights to the boat. The women retreated without promising anything and ate tiny tropical fish skewered on twigs near their damp, tarpless shanty.
In the immunity challenge, Sabrina got the women off to a bad start by not yelling loudly enough (or perhaps just yelling badly) to guide them quickly through a blindfolded obstacle course, but then turned things around by solving the final puzzle portion of the challenge in around 10 seconds, whupping Manono’s Bill. As with all blindfolded challenges, I cringed as people tried to clobber over fences and generally looked like ancient, thin zombies trying to get back into their graves. I get vertigo by proxy. By the way, I like Bill, because his grating enthusiasm and valley dude manner at least make him distinguishable from the other tall and muscular dudes, whom I keep mistaking for Control Freak Matt. Unfortunately, Bill annoys all-powerful Colton,who loses points with me this episode for being Republican, calling Bill “ghetto trash,” and suggesting that Bill should commit suicide while picking at his cuticles (or maybe he gains points with me for all of those things; with Survivor it’s hard to tell — a good villain is better than a quiet accountant who silently wastes away and sweeps the sand all day). Colton has lived a thousand lives and runs like a basilisk lizard, zooming by with his arms glued to his sides like a serious, but non-streamlined, competitor. If Colton makes it to the end, I think the jury will hang him from his neon polo, and if there’s anything to love about Survivor, it’s the inquisition that comes with the finale: so much bossy yelling! No, you can’t talk! Yes-or-no answers! The power dynamic of one person having to sit through a series of character assassinations while his or her accuser gets to stand up, surrounded by fire!
Colton rallied his Misfit Alliance into a too-obvious huddle before tribal, arranging to send home Bill (Colton’s choice) or Matt (the “head of the snake” — angry eyebrows, set jaw, leader of the tall muscular dudes). Matt saunters over long enough to become paranoid, trying to pick off Troyzan for a last-ditch scramble (a pitch involving roosters, chickens, turkeys — these people are starving already), which doesn’t work. At tribal council, Colton announces that he has the idol and plans to play it, but doesn’t because he’s wily like that. Bill nearly explodes from the excitement of his FIRST! TRIBAL! COUNCIL! EVER! — “I’m so jacked!” he cries — so you can only imagine what happens to his jubilant bro’s soul when Jeff hits Colton with a Reverse-Double-Duh Dare. When Colton explained how much more comfortable he was over at Salani with the women — “Duh,” because all of his friends are girls, but he still wouldn’t dip into the gross liberal waters of social welfare long enough to lend them an ember once in a while — Jeff questioned his logic and told him that he was actually expressing a “reverse-duh-double dare” and placing a target on his back. This time, however, it was Matt who was sent home, a blow to the abs of the muscular dude alliance.
The questions linger like flies over the split coconut of social game play: Will Tarzan, whose mouth seems to work faster than his brain, reveal too much of the inner workings of the Misfit Alliance to keep it airtight? Will Colton’s idol get flushed — because it should get flushed? Will the men have to hide their fire from the Poor Pitiful Pearls of Salani, or build some kind of barricade of fire ants to keep them away? Will Kat get confused and wander off into the sea to try to find embers, eventually dying of Prune Hands? Nobody knows, except Jeff Probst, who always seems to manage to have read the last page and stuffed the knowledge into his dimples with extra flints and picnic baskets of sandwiches.