Thursday, October 29, 2015

Survivor Cambodia: Second Chances, Episode 6 - A Little Pathos, A Little Chaos

What can you say about an episode of a reality TV show book-ended with real life drama, pathos and hopefulness?  Probably that this was Survivor's finest hour, an episode that both celebrated and transcended the show's format and had enough impactful narrative to give David Foster Wallace a run for his money.

We started ominously with Jeff Probst making an unplanned midnight visit to the Ta Keo tribe to deliver some unsettling news to Terry Deitz.  To this point in the show, Terry had been one of the happiest returnees, blissfully unaware that he was on the bottom of his tribe, smiling from ear-to-ear as he told us in his confessionals that he was sitting on top of the world.  His confidence was not totally misplaced as his new tribe was strong and drama-free and unlikely to take a trip to tribal council any time soon.  Still, the number of times that we were shown Terry's upbeat proclamations meant that at some point the hammer was going to fall.  But this was not what anyone could have expected.

Jeff told him that his son was in the hospital and that he needed to go home.  Half-awake and in shock, Terry gathered his belongings and said his goodbyes as his tribemates and the viewers were left in the dark about what the emergency was.  Many longtime Survivor fans thought back to Jenna Morasca leaving Survivor All Stars to be with her mother who was dying from cancer and those of us who did not follow Terry on social media were concerned about what this all meant.  The news hit his tribemates hard and later when the three tribes reunited and Jeff told the other two what had happened, the game stopped for a moment as each person dealt with their own fears of losing a loved one, especially a child.

But the game goes on and it was handled so beautifully that it didn't seem awkward or tacky.  Jeff gave everyone time to process their feelings and then it was time to put that aside while the game continued and things were shaken up again.   With Terry gone there were an even number of players - an opportune time for another tribe scramble.  The three tribes became two again as we bid a not-too-fond farewell to the hated Angkor tribe and their hellish home.  The new Ta Keo had Woo, Abi-Maria and Andrew from the old Angkor as well as Ciera, Kass, Spencer and Wiglesworth.  Bayon had Tasha, Stephen, Jeremy, Wentworth, Kimmi, Keith and Joe.

They competed in a reward challenge and the most notable thing to come from the slip and slide/ring toss was Stephen's timidity and hesitance and Jeremy's coaching him to believe in himself.  Well, that's not actually true.  The most notable thing to come from the challenge were the many GIFs of toned Survivors oiling themselves up like this one:

Yes I spent an hour looking for a GIF of Joe lubing himself up. It was research.  For the blog.   I did it for you, my faithful readers.  I'm sorry I let you down.  Here's this:

bom chicka wah wah
So Ta Keo won a feast which actually comes in to play later during the immunity challenge.  But right after the reward challenge win, sitting pretty with his model wife back home and his perfect teeth, Andrew Savage gives us a lesson in hubris.  "I couldn't have been happier," he says of his new tribe.  "We're rock solid," he says of his old Angkor teammates Abi-Maria and Woo.  "That's the most perfect equation you can imagine. I'm not going anywhere."  The Survivor gods collectively did a spit take and said to each other, "Oh no he didn't."  You don't say something like that without expecting that someone is going to stir the pot and mess with all your perfect plans.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Spencer whose confessionals consist of varying degrees of the sky is falling.  He knows he's in major trouble at Ta Keo and only a miracle of biblical proportions will save him from being the next one voted out.  He not only is in the minority, but his arch nemesis Chaos Kass is in the majority and she's been waiting for this chance to show Spencer that the word "bygones" is not in her vocabulary since they were tribemates on Cagayan.  He's doomed.

Despite knowing he has zero chance of getting Kass on his side, Spencer tries to have a normal, civil conversation with her.  I can imagine the Winklevoss twins would have an easier time chatting up Zuckerberg than he had asking Kass about her tribe.  But Spencer is a smart gameplayer and knows that he has to at least try and pretend that he's not a little mouse and she's not a giant ravenous cat whose just playing with him before he's her next meal.

Time to pause and rewind.  Did Andrew Savage, he of the model wife, perfect teeth, perfect children, and high-paying Yahoo job, just say that having cold fried chicken in a shelter with six other people who haven't showered in two weeks was a highlight of his life?  I guess hunger and too much sun can do tricks with your mind.  While he's rhapsodizing about how great his life is on Survivor post-second tribe swap, he tells us about his fondness for Spencer.  He loves the kid - if he had a son he'd want him to be like Spencer.  Only, you know, better looking, like his model wife.  He thinks so highly of Spencer that as he plans his blindside he's going to try and feel bad about it.  Or at least pay lip service to feeling bad about it which is totally the same thing.

one big happy family
Savage devises this brilliant plan.  Instead of just telling Spencer, there's five of us and two of you so buh-bye, he instead is going to tell Spencer that he's abandoning his old tribe and going to vote with Spencer and get rid of - hmm, let's say, you Ciera.  You're cool with that, right?  Yeah, we'll make this convoluted play where he thinks he's safe even though we have the votes and don't need to blindside him and he knows he's at the bottom and is expecting it's either him or Kelly Wiglesworth.  This is genius, right?  Ciera, you like this plan, right?

Uh, hold the phone.  Ciera may be young, may be small, but she's no dummy.  She knows she's playing Survivor and she knows what it means when someone says your name.  If they can throw your name around so cavalierly you are not at the top of their alliance.  Savage overplayed his hand.  He told Kass that he, Abi-Maria and Woo were inseparable.  INSEPARABLE.  Why you'd want to tell someone that you have a solid three is beyond me.  Of course, why Kass admitted she was tight with Ciera was also pretty dumb.  You don't want anyone to know who you're tight with.  You say, I can get her vote, or I think I can count on her for this vote, you don't say, we're tight.  And you absolutely don't use words like inseparable.

As soon as she heard her name being mentioned, Ciera's Spidey senses were on full alert.  Ciera recognizes it as one of the key hints to tell you where you stand on Survivor.  One well known test is to see who is sleeping next to who, another is watch who goes off by themselves away from camp.  If you pay attention, there are many clues to who is working together.  But another major clue about who is considered expendable is who is the decoy name being bandied about and Ciera was NOT amused hers was that name.

Over on the Bayon beach, Wentworth can do simple math and therefore realizes that she is the lone former Ta Keo member on this tribe, one of only four of the original ten left in the game.  The numbers are not with her.  But Joe likes her and wants to help her figure a way to stick around.  She has one other thing in her favor, the immunity necklace she found early in the game.  But while she is worrying about how not to be the next person to go, Stephen has an idea about who he's like to see go next --  Golden boy Joe.  He recognizes, as anyone with even one of their five senses working, that Joe is the ultimate threat.  Everyone loves him, he's great at everything, and there's that otherwordly glow that emanates off of him while birds swirl around him chirping happy songs.  If you look up "threat" in the Survivor dictionary, there's Joe smiling back at you beatifically.

Stephen wants to get rid of the threat sooner rather than never, but Jeremy is not on board with this plan.  For one, Joe is a perfect meat shield for Jeremy and no one will see him as a threat so long as Joe is around to fling his luxurious locks around.  And, two, Jeremy and Joe are in a five-person alliance that may or may not still be good but was pretty tight at the time and all five members are still around.  Stephen thinks getting Joe out next is the obvious right move and if he's half the know-it-all that we think he is, he should be able to get Jeremy on board with this.  Stephen knows he's good at exactly one thing -- thinking about the game of Sruvivor.  If he can't be successful at this one god-given talent, does his life have meaning anymore?  Does anyone or anything?  It leads Stephen to an emotional breakdown that was as sweet as it was sad.

Please God don't let this be Tocatins all over again.
Part of Stephen's problem is that he's seeing this moment in the game not just as a player but also as a fan and as a Surivor expert.  He sees how targeting Joe is "the move" and how it would make great TV.  He also sees how it would resolve his second chance arc as this time around he could take out his biggest threat and not take the golden boy to the end.  But Stephen the know-it-all also knows that being successful on Survivor requires adaptability and if he can't get this plan to work today there may be other ways to get to the same ultimate goal.  As long as he keeps thinking and keeps scheming there's still a chance for him to rewrite his story.  I hope all the "Stephen can't cut a coconut, Stephen can't chop a tree branch, Stephen hits the other team's targets, Stephen can't toss a ring" moments are all leading to an epic redemptive end for his story.

But whether Stephen gets his way or not will have to wait another week as his tribe won the Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern eating contest.  It was Ta Keo who lost when Chaos Kass was not able to choke down the tasty balut and her tribe was sent to tribal council.   Some have speculated that Ta Keo, after feasting on their reward challenge, found it harder to eat the disgusting things put in front of them than the hungrier Bayon tribe.  Whatever the reason, neither Kass nor Ciera could win their rounds and so Stephen and the rest of his tribe get to put off for a few days figuring out what their next move is.

Kass was not at all troubled that she might be a target after losing the challenge.  In fact, she was ready for the Jeff Probst prophecy from Survivor Cagayan to come true once again, as she quoted him: "Spencer Bledsoe.   Zero percent chance of winning this game."   Woo was feeling great about his position in the tribe and was solid with the plan to get rid of Spencer.  Spencer was also feeling pretty good because even though he knew he was technically at the bottom, he'd been waiting to play the game with Savage.  "He's a really good guy.  Someone I can trust." Spencer tells us this, not at all aware of the giant knife poise right between his shoulder blades, held with two hands by his new best friend Savage.  Not all of those people were going to feel as good after tribal council.

Savage planned to vote out his new best friend Spencer, the boy he loves like a son, in what he called "one of the most devastating unexpected blindsides in survivor history."  For the record, and to repeat, there was no reason for this to be a blindside. Spencer was in the minority and they could have walked up to him, sat him down, and explained how the vote was going to go and there was nothing he could have done about it.  It was only because Savage wanted this big shocking moment that what happened next happened

Ciera pulled aside her ally Kass and the Brazilian fire-cracker Abi-Maria and questioned Savage's master plan.  Where does he get off coming in here and bringing up my name as a decoy?  Who does he think he is that he can tell us what to do?  Ciera noticed that he was more loyal to Woo, from the old Ta Keo tribe, than he was to his original Bayon tribemates.  Why wasn't Woo the decoy name, why Ciera?

Well, hearing Woo's name gave Abi-Maria the chance she's been waiting for and even if Survivor wouldn't show it to us, I think this is how it went down.  Kass and Ciera:  Maybe we should target Savage, he's getting a bit big for his britches (they're moms, yes that's how they talk). Abi-Maria:  I can't stand Woo.  Did you know he wrote my name down?  Twice?  He is dead to me.  I don't trust him.  Kass and Ciera:  Hmmmm, yeah.  But what about Savage?  Or Spencer?  Do you think we should go after him?  Abi-Maria: I agree.  We have to vote out Woo.  I hate Woo.  He voted against me.  Twice.  Who does he think he is?  Why does he get a nickname that sounds like you're cheering for him?  I'm not cheering for him.  I won't be cheering until I see Jeff snuff out his torch?  Jeff...I miss Varner.  It's all Woo's fault my Varner isn't here.  Let's vote out Woo.

Abi-Maria: Woo, woo, woo.  Woo.
So operation blindside the blindsider goes into effect.  But it requires Kass and Spencer to talk.  To each other.  Like normal people.  It is extremely uncomfortable for both of them and kudos to them for putting aside their mutual distrust and animosity to actually take the time to listen to what each other has to say.  Walking along the beach, Kass starts testing the waters with Spencer to see where his head is at.  He tells her that he feels good about Savage.  Now, the old Kass might have said, "Yeah, he's the best.  He just loves you like a son.  Stick with him!"  And her dream of watching Spencer walk out of tribal council before her would have been a done deal.  But instead, she told Spencer the truth about his new daddy, who was more Darth Vader than Mrs. Doubtfire.

After getting over his shock and disappointment, Spencer regrouped quickly enough to realize that his only chance was to side with Kass, Abi-Maria and Ciera in blindsiding Woo.  "I guess I'm bunking with the devil tonight," he says after realizing that his friends are really his enemies and his enemies are now his friends.  Tough game, this Survivor.  When all your eggs are in a basket named Chaos Kass you know you might be in trouble.

Kass could not believe her luck.  Here she was in the driver's seat.  There were three people voting for Spencer, three voting for Woo.  All she had to do was agree to vote out Spencer and that thorn in her side would finally be removed.  But she could also stick with Ciera and vote out Woo, solidifying their alliance and bringing in Abi-Maria and Spencer.  After five weeks of seeing the defanged Kass, the calm, happy, lovable Kass, was she ready to unleash the Chaos we all loved...or loved to hate?

Are you a good witch or a bad witch? 
Jeff asks at tribal council how the second chance idea is working for the people sitting there.  Savage said he's using his second chance to work on building deep personal relationships.   But that's not true.  His focus is more on making "the big move" than on doing what is best for his game.  Nine of his original tribemates are still in the game, his five person alliance is still in the game.  He is sitting on top of the world.  But by throwing Ciera's name out, he alerted her to her tenuous position with her original tribe.  And by targeting Spencer, who would have followed him around like a puppy, instead of Wentworth who doesn't seem to be playing the game, he missed a chance to keep someone around with whom he could build a personal relationship.

No, Savage hadn't learned anything.  Did Spencer?  He's been saying for weeks that this time out he's going to try and connect with people.  That almost hurt him as he put his trust in Savage who did not have his best interest at heart.  But he was open to talking with Kass and receptive to what she told him despite it being contrary to what he believed to be true.  That's some growth and Spencer's story -- and whether he can bridge that interpersonal gap -- is not over yet.  The guy has dodged three bullets so far in just six episodes.  How many lives does he have?

Woo's second chance was to learn to be more cutthroat and to realize he is playing a game.  His real goal should have been to not be caught on camera looking dumbfounded too many times.  Kass' second chance is learning to balance her chaotic tendencies with a more calm, sober approach to the game.  To not overplay, but not to be complacent either.  To strike the right balance.  Ciera's second chance is to be the strong gameplayer she knows she can be and not be pushed around.  And uncharacteristically lowkey Abi-Maria's second chance is to sometimes get her way without having a huge explosion, but quietly and behind the scenes.

Spencer had a great moment as he cast his vote, whispering, "My fate tonight lies in the hands of Chaos Kass.  God help me." This was a perfect Survivor moment - as one player's fate was wholly dependent on their sworn enemy saving them.  It was really doubtful up until the final moment as, strategically, it was probably just as valid a decision to keep Woo and vote out Spencer.  With Spencer around you have one of the smartest players out there and in the event of a merge, there is a chance he can team with Fishbach and create a Super Nerd alliance.  With Woo around you have an easily manipulated, easily predictable player who is an easy target because of his physical attributes.

Well that was unexpected
Maybe that's why Savage was so sure Spencer was going.  Savage's confidence that his plan was good and his alliance was tight was overcome, however, by Kass' decision that now was the right time to unleash her alter ego.  And so she went through with the plan to blindside Savage by taking out his lieutenant, Woo.  With that move she solidified her relationship with Ciera, but probably did not accomplish much more than that.  There will always be distrust between Kass and Spencer and I don't see them braiding each other hair in the near future.  Savage now has a new enemy in Kass, someone who may not have been on anyone's radar otherwise.

Still, for pure entertainment sake, it was great having Chaos back in the game.

Much better than that was the post show update on Terry's son, Danny.  You can read and watch all about his medical issues, the surgery (and hospital) that saved his life and how he's doing today.  Grab a tissue or two.

Terry on Survivor Talk with Dalton Ross
Interview with Reality TV World.
Interview with Hollywood Life.
Interview with Josh Wigler/Parade.
Interview with RHAP.
Interview with Gordon Holmes/Xfinity

More updates on Danny:

Video on Danny's treatment at Boston Children's Hospital:

You can also catch up on what Woo has to say about his time on Survivor Second Chance.
Woo the day after:

Woo post-show Interviews:
With Carter Matt
With Rob has a Podcast
With SheKnows

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Survivor Cambodia: Second Chances, Episode 5 - Next Time Clam Up

"I think there's nothing wrong with going to tribal council."

Violating the cardinal rule of Survivor, Monica Padilla gave us the soundbite of doom, the one quotable quote that will haunt you as you try to figure out where it all went wrong.  Although it's not going to take a graduate of a "Rank Not Published" law school (sorry Monica, but the Thomas Jefferson School of Law?  Really?) to tell you that Monica made two major blunders that led to her demise.  One, you don't fight over petty things.  And yes whether to eat all the clams you can find or save them for later is at best a petty argument, at worst it's dumb to even consider NOT eating everything you can lay your hands on in a game where you need strength and stamina.  Two, when you are not the target of the vote, especially early in the game, your only response is YES.  Not, well that's one choice, but what about looking behind door number two?  You agree to anyone who isn't you and live to see another day.

Who's happy as a clam, now?
Let's be honest here, Monica was no one's first choice for a second chance.  She would have garnered no votes on had the rules not required voting for ten girls and ten guys.  But she is pretty and young and looked enough like Monica Culpepper to confuse the latter's fans into a vote, so she took the spot that all us longtime Survivor fans thought should have gone to Theresa "T-Bird" Cooper.  I don't really remember her from her first season, Survivor Samoa (aka the Russell Hantz Show), and she was making as big an impact this time around trying to compete for airtime against the bigger personalities of Jeremy Collins, Spencer Bledsoe and this season's hapless GIF fodder, Stephen Fishbach.

It was like playing Where's Waldo trying to find Monica the first four episodes and she was considered one of those under the radar players who would slide through late into the game.  She started out in the Bayon tribe and thanks to the luck of the draw she made it to day 14 never having to light her symbolic torch and sit around the tribal council fire pit.  When the tribes shuffled, she was still sitting pretty, in a four-person alliance with Fishbach, Jeremy, and Kimmi Kappenberg, with former Ta Keo members Spencer and Kelly Wiglesworth in the minority.  All she had to do was nod her head and vote with the other three.   Sure there was more danger in keeping Spencer - he's a savvy player and he and Fishbach have a lot in common.  But Kelly has ties to some of the old time players and she's someone who can slip by unnoticed after a merge.  Since neither was an obviously bad play, why make a push to choose one over the other.

Monica had said before going into the game that she was going to play hard, "This time I am going ALL in, and holding NOTHING back."  And so with the decision to remain Bayon strong made, she decided to go to Kimmi -- the volatile, heart-on-her-sleeve firecracker that we all loved or loved to hate -- with a plan.  Ignoring the fact that she and Kimmi had clashed about the clams and that it's hard to build trust with someone who you've been butting heads with, she decided to implement her pregame strategy and swing for the fences.  Let's work on forming a girls' alliance and vote out Spencer rather than Kelly, she told Kimmi.  And then it all went south for her.

It was great seeing Jeff Varner this episode, if only in the "previously on" segment where his enthusiasm for life and love of the game radiated off the screen. His absence was spoken of like a death, with Andrew Savage telling Abi-Maria Gomes that Jeff was "in a better place."  I don't think he actually meant heaven -- more likely the Park Hyatt or the Borei Angkor Resort and Spa which have beds and showers and wifi and no drama.  But if we can say that Jeff did "die" in the game, his spirit left his body and entered former Outback tribemate Kimmi.  Hearing Monica talk about an all girls' alliance, Kimmi took that piece of information and ran to her old Bayon allies with a warning "there's a snake in the grass."

Nearly fifteen years since her first time on Survivor, Kimmi has learned to take a deep breath and practice her patience and not fly off the handle at the slightest provocation.  So when Monica challenged her about the clams, she just went off to talk to the camera and vent to us about how Monica was on her very last nerve and she would be wagging her finger a la Alicia if she wasn't trying to play a better, less emotional game this time out.   Instead of getting into a fight with Monica, Kimmi jumped on this opportunity to find a permanent solution to her Monica problem.

But first, elsewhere, on Angkor, Woo Hwang was grateful to Abi-Maria for voting to keep him even though her vote did not at all matter and she was deluding herself into thinking that the other three couldn't have done whatever they wanted without her.  Later, Savage and Tasha Fox congratulated themselves on surviving being in the minority being lucky enough to have ended up on a tribe with the most dysfunctional, uncooperative foursome since The Replacements.  Woo and Abi-Maria buried the hatchet, but she made sure to mark where it was interred so that in the event he ever votes for her again, she can dig it up and plunge it into his back on her way out.  

Woo shared a sweet story with his tribe about his mother overcoming a serious heart problem (which required a freaking organ transplant) and Abi-Maria rolled her eyes and said that she sometimes has trouble with hair extensions and press-on nails which is totally the same thing.  I complained last week that Tasha did not deserve a Fishy for capitalizing on the self-destructive mess that was the Ta Keo-four, but she deserves one this week for nodding and smiling at every insane thing that comes out of Abi-Maria's mouth and not grabbing her by the shoulders and screaming, "Can you even hear yourself?"

Where's Terry.  Oh, right. 
While the Angkor tribe tried to keep its fractured group united, over on Ta Keo it's a lovefest.  Joe has figured out a way not to appear a threat despite being the result of a mad scientists's efforts to mix the DNA of Ozzy and Malcolm into one super Survivor player and Keith Nale has learned how to give an entire confessional without expectorating.  Terry Deitz is openly defying the Survivor gods by again proclaiming as loudly as he can that he's in a great place on a great tribe that will never lose.  For some reason, this hubris is not being punished and they do indeed continue to win and flourish.  While Terry is out of earshot, the other five proclaim their allegiance to one another and solidify their plan to vote him out should they ever lose.  But with Joe Perfect on their team, how could that possibly happen?

There were two challenges this episode and surprisingly, Angkor lost neither of them. So we have at least another week of Abi-Maria to look forward to and by look forward I mean watch her between the fingers covering our face as if she were the star of a slasher movie.  It's going to be bloody and you don't want to look but you can't help yourself.  No, instead we had Ta Keo lose both challenges, only once thanks to Stephen scoring a point for one of the other tribes.  Monica was to blame for the immunity challenge lost as she found a way to be "upside down" while rolling in an open ended barrel.  The mind boggles.

With Monica scrambling, Stephen and Jeremy had to decide whether to stick with their original Bayon tribe or vote the first member of that ten-person tribe out of the game.  They worried what signal that would send but also worried what keeping Monica and her strategizing mind around would mean for their future.  But what they didn't do is tip their hand -- Spencer and Kelly both went into tribal council thinking it was between the two of them.  And as blindsided as Monica was by being voted out, they were just as surprised to still be there at the end.

I thought at first the editors didn't like Monica and spliced in shots of her smirking throughout tribal council as she waited for Kelly to be sent home, but even in this wide shot you can see she really was pretty smug thinking the Bayon four were sticking together.  But just as quickly as her torch was lit, it was snuffed out.  Another victim of playing too hard too early, Monica was forgotten before she was gone and now will be both gone and forgotten.

Interested in Monica's side of her second chance story?

Also check out:
Monica's interview with Josh Wigler for Parade.
Monica's interview with Rob Has a Podcast.
Monica's Survivor Talk interview with Dalton Ross.
Monica's interview with Gordon Holmes for Xfinity.
Monica's interview with Reality TV World.
Monica's interview with Hollywood Life.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Survivor Cambodia: Second Chances, Episode 4 - The Jeff Varner Show is Canceled

If you're a parent, and your child is not a budding Meryl Streep, you'll understand where I'm going with this.  You know what it's like to watch a school play and your kid is the third tree on the right and no matter what is going on center stage all you can do is watch your kid?  Lawrence Olivier could have risen from the dead, taken the stage, and started the soliloquy from Act III, Scene I of Hamlet, and your eyes would still be fixed on your darling child as you watch, with bated breath, hoping they'll keep their "branches" up and be the best tree they can be.

That's what it's been like being a Jeff Varner fan this year on Survivor.

He was one of only two players that I HAD to see come back (the other being Shane Powers and damn the voters for denying me that!) and with my other favorite not making the cut, I was all Jeff Varner all the time.  Any scene that did not involve him gave me time to run to the kitchen for a snack or to check my phone to see if my sister-in-law had taken her turn on Words With Friends.

Going into this episode, I had no idea who else is in the cast or what else they've been doing.  I didn't know - or care - what other alliances there are, who was in power, who was at risk, and what types relationships have been developing.  All I knew is that there's trouble on Angkor and my little tree was in danger.  This is a long way of saying that the bright side of my favorite player Jeff Varner being booted out relatively early is that I can now sit back and enjoy the rest of the season.  I've already moved past all the stages of grieving as I was preparing for this worst of all possible outcomes ever since that fateful tribe swap.  Jeff Varner was too much for the show to handle - too entertaining, too big a personality, too compelling of a second chance story - he eclipsed all the other returning players.  With his chapter ending we can now focus on the rest of the story.  There are still sixteen returnees each with a dynamic, compelling comeback story and I am now free to enjoy watching all these stories play out.

Look, other castaways to root for!
It's easy to see where Jeff Varner's game went south.  When the tribes reshuffled he was in the technical majority but his four-person group from Ta Keo had never been close and had no loyalty to one another.  Abi-Maria had been openly at odds with Peih-Gee - the bracelet bandit - and Woo who had cast a vote against her, so she was not about to run into their arms when the tribes reshuffled.  Jeff Varner did nothing to help build a solid four against the two when, after losing the first immunity challenge on Angkor, he visibly signaled a message to some of his former Ta Keo tribemates.  That move told Abi-Maria that Jeff was still loyal to members of the old tribe that she did not like and who she felt had betrayed her.  And it told her that she did not have safety in numbers if she stayed with her old tribe - she would remain at the bottom of the totem pole.  The promises that Tasha made her and her own refusal to put aside personal animosity for the benefit of the Ta Keo tribe were a lethal combination.

With Abi-Maria not loyal to the four, that created a 3-3 split on Angkor.  No one, least of all Varner who had been a victim of a tie vote his first chance in the Australian Outback, wanted to pull rocks, so someone had to move to create a majority.  Abi-Maria would. not. move.  She found love and acceptance and rainbows and unicorns with Tasha and Savage and she would never align herself with Woo or Peih-Gee.  Much attention, kudos and Fishys, are going to Tasha and Savage, but in all fairness, it took a toothpick to crack open the fissure that existed between the four Ta Keo members. Keith would have figured it out.

Don't mess with this one.
Let's go back before the torch snuffing.  We had a reward challenge that had me a little flummoxed as each tribe was able to choose one person to run through the ocean and back and on two of the tribes they didn't choose the youngest, most physically fit tribemate.  Savage ran instead of Woo and Deitz ran instead of Joe Perfect which surprised me on both counts.  Jeremy ran for his tribe which was also a bit of a head-scratcher as the last time he played Survivor one of his major mistakes was putting himself front and center.  In the end, Savage used his knowledge of how fulcrums work, won the challenge and the Angkor tribe feasted.  Deitz came in second and Jeremy ended up over shooting his target and his tribe went back to their plush, palatial beach with no extra food but apparently not a target for his losing performance.

In fact, Jeremy and Stephen have a nice rapport going on, built on one-sided trust and no loyalty.  Stephen thinks they are working together to find the hidden immunity idol, Jeremy knows he already has it tucked away in one of his many convenient pockets, but he lets Stephen think their best buds 4-ever and totes going to find this idol together and then sing Kumbaya.  Speaking of best buds, Chaos Kass is making friendship bracelets for her BFF Kelley Wentworth and it's like for reelz too cute OMG they'll be braiding each other's hair in no time.  Except, for all of Kass' promise that she's turned over a new leaf, her reputation precedes her and even while giving a birthday gift she seems underhanded and devious.

The immunity challenge is a favorite of sadists as blind-folded guinea pigs are sent out to run around a wide expanse with huge puzzle pieces being swung like weapons.  Let's stop to note that at one point the blinded Joe Perfect was sprinting - sprinting - carrying a giant puzzle piece, totally unconcerned with, say, tripping, falling, running into anything, having something run into you, or any peril at all.   Meanwhile, Probst was able to drop a few sexually provocative lines in there with the winner this week being, "big and long" in reference to the piece that Deitz was carrying.

It's about this long
Angkor was in the lead thanks to Varner's successful calling (and the fact that none of them had Keith's spontaneous deafness during the challenge) but once it became time to assemble the large puzzle pieces, Angkor fell apart.  It was like watching a ship slowly sink, as each of them just stopped what they were doing, and stood impassively as the race came down to the other two teams.  They just simply ran out of gas.  Now, if one were the suspicious type, you might think that Tasha and Savage didn't care - they knew they weren't going if their tribe lost.  But the look on Savage's face tells a tale of complete exhaustion and depletion, so it is possible they had nothing more to give.

Once it was clear that Angkor had booked a return engagement to tribal council, it was equally clear that Jeff Varner had run out of lives.  It's simple math problem.  Unless Abi-Maria left Tasha and Savage, it was either Woo or Varner going.  3>2 however you slice it.  The fact that so much time was spent on whether it was Woo or Varner was major misdirection.  Once it was obvious that the old Ta Keo three could not come together and vote out the old Bayon, whoever Tasha and Savage wanted gone was gone.  They didn't need Abi-Maria's permission or her blessing or her vote.  But they were clever in making her think she was important to the decision - important to them.  Rather than imposing their will, Tasha and Savage have led Abi-Maria into believing that they value her opinion and care about her.  And as we have seen, Abi-Maria needs that reassurance.

While the Tasha/Savage alliance is again getting all the credit, do not lose sight of the fact that Abi-Maria was able to show some signs of change.  Rather than maintain her anger at Woo for voting against her - twice - she ultimately voted with him against Varner.  She showed herself to be a team player and do what was best for the tribe and the new alliance by voting out the physically weaker player.  Pretty impressive for an unpredictable hot head.

It was sad to see Jeff Varner go.  He's been a confessional dream since his first season and has only improved with age.  He was the bright shining star of this season but like all supernovas, he could not burn bright forever.  We will miss his love of life and love for the game, we'll miss watching him savor his midlife quest, but now we can focus on the rest of the cast as the light can now shine on them.

Still, is it too early to think about Jeff Varner on Survivor 33 - Third Time's the Charm?

Until then, here's some great post-show Jeff video:

Some great audio:

And even more:

Jeff Varner on Rob Has a Website.

Jeff Varner interview with Josh Wigler/Parade.

Jeff Varner interview with Gordon Holmes/Xfinity.

Jeff Varner interview with Reality TV World.

Jeff Varner interview with ET Canada.

Jeff Varner on Survivor Fans Podcast.

Follow Jeff on Twitter.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance Episode 3: The Fox Calls Out the Rat

Previously on:

We hear from Ciera Eastin, who has been nearly invisible thus far, telling us she wants to play fearlessly.  I guess we'll put a pin in that, because we're not going to see much of you - fearless or timid - the rest of this episode.  Beautiful perfect Joe Anglim, like Cyndi Lauper's girls, just wants to have fun.  Spencer Bledsoe is going to grab his third chance and be a better person and actually try to engage his fellow tribemates on what he assumes is a human level.  And we get another replay of the battle of the hyphenates as Abi-Maria Gomes and Peih-Gee Law's fight is shown again lest anyone forget that one of them is a hotheaded unpredictable Brazilian.  You know, just in case that might be relevant in, say, 46 minutes.

While Spencer is thanking his team for a second opportunity for a second chance and promising that the future will bring better things, someone, and I can't tell who, adds "Things can change overnight."  Spoiler!  Yes, the next morning brings the change that they never saw coming but we were shown at the end of last week.  Those of you thinking you're sitting pretty and those of you who were getting ready to pack your bags, cool your jets.  Because it's time for the first twist of the season.  But first, we get the obligatory "I'm on top of the is good" pre-tribe shakeup confessional, from Terry Dietz who has never watched Survivor before and doesn't know not to give soundbites like that.

The two tribes head to meet with Jeff Probst, probably thinking they're there for a reward challenge, and after Jeff interviews representatives from both sides, and gets them to admit that they could not be happier with their tribes, they're loving life right now, and it's smooth sailing, he gives them the old "drop your buffs" and the two tribes are split into three.  Two of the tribes will go back to the shelters and food and supplies, and one tribe will get royally screwed becoming the red-headed stepchild of tribes, with no shelter, no food, and a lousy stretch of real estate that (according to this deleted scene) is uphill in every direction.

The eighteen players were split up in such a way that each new tribe had a 4-2 breakdown between old tribemates and new, seemingly giving those in the majority a leg up.  The new Bayon had four from the original tribe - Monica Padilla, Jeremy Collins, Stephen and Kimmi Kappenberg - and two from Ta Keo were added - Kelly Wiglesworth and Spencer.  The new Ta Keo tribe also had four from the old Bayon - Keith Nale, Joe, Kass McQuillem and Ciera - plus two from the old Ta Keo - Kelley Wentworth and Terry Dietz.  Finally, the new Angkor tribe had four from Ta Keo - Jeff Varner, Abi-Maria, Woo Hwang and Peih-Gee - plus Andrew and Tasha.  

The tribe swap seemed to help some who were on the bottom of their tribe, most notably Spencer and Stephen, and looked like doom to some who had been sitting pretty on their tribe - Kelley and "life is good" Terry as well as Andrew and Tasha.  This was not lost on Probst who directed his question at the clearly upset Savage who acknowledged that he was in serious trouble and facing two days of unbelievably hard work ahead of them.  This was not an overstatement.  While the other tribes luxuriate on their hammocks, the new Angkor tribe gets to start from scratch, trying to put together something to protect them from the impending storm.

The new Ta Keo tribe could not be happier with themselves.  They have the most physically fit tribe and even Terry is not worried, figuring with a line up like that, they'll never lose. He has no clue that his former teammate is doing everything in her power to get him to be the target should they ever lose.   Kelley didn't get to play much her first season, it's fun getting to see her have a chance now to build bonds and develop strategy.  Over on Bayon, we get a Monica confessional!  Yep, she did not miss her flight, she's really there!  Stephen is thrilled to be out of Camp Macho and feels much better being in a tribe where his machete fails will not spell immediate ruin.  Meanwhile, Spencer is trying this new thing he heard about - it's called bonding.  You share information about yourself with another human and learn something about them.  He's a little awkward as a toddler taking its first step, but he gets the hang of it.

Both Andrew and Tasha are smart perceptive professionals, he's a lawyer, she's an accountant.   Andrew's second chance story is how a new twist upset his plans and caused his downfall, Tasha's story is how she was always in the minority and had to win to stay alive.  They were not going to lay down and die just because history seemed to be repeating themselves.  But the numbers were not in their favor.  First chance he got, Woo pulled together the old Ta Keo four and begs them to be smart and stay together.  Seems simple enough if the master strategist Woo can think of it.  Four beats two, all you have to do is vote together.  What could go wrong?

The rain came and Angkor was not ready for it.  But rather than the adversity bringing the tribe closer together, they manage to fracture even more.  Peih-Gee asks Abi-Maria how she is managing to stay dry through the onslaught.  If you were looking for an example of passive aggressive, that was it.  Peih-Gee wasn't asking a serious question, she was trying to draw attention to the fact that in her mind, Abi-Maria had the best spot in their hastily-thrown together shelter and she wanted to switch places.  There has already been enough tension between the two of them for a whole season of a daytime soap opera, but even in what should have been a bonding moment, Peih-Gee manages to drive another wedge between them.

Even wet and hungry, Andrew and Tasha are going to see what is going on around them and try to use it for their advantage.  And, sure enough, they see there is not a strong four, but two women who can't get along and two guys hoping the two girls can keep it together for a few days.  Tasha in particular notices the strain between the two women and she goes to work on Abi-Maria, promising her allegiance and a deep run.  The two go on to talk to each of the four individually and see where the cracks are and how they can exploit them.

Over on Bayon, Stephen is now solidifying his alliance with his former tribemates, out from under the testosterone-filled thumb of Andrew, and discusses finding the idol as a group activity to bond them closer together.  Jeremy, who actually wants to win, decides to approach looking for the idol as a solitary endeavor, one designed not to build trust and loyalty, but to save him when he needs it.  After telling us that he's looked everywhere and there is no idol to be found, he then decides to redouble his efforts and not give up.  His persistence is rewarded - not with the idol, but with the clue that tells him where salvation can be found.  He decides to keep this information from his alliance as he learned from his first time on Survivor that your only true alliance is with yourself.  And your wife, until she's voted out real early after pretending she has the idol.

The immunity challenge is a redux from Brains, Beauty and Brawn and conveniently the three former castmates from that season are each on separate tribes this time, so one (Spoiler - Tasha!) will have lost this challenge twice after today!  The challenge itself is not remarkable, the only interesting part coming when Jeremy separates from his tribe to go to where the idol is hidden and successfully pockets it with no one the wiser.  But what happens after Angkor loses is when things get interesting.  Jeff Varner, who heretofore was looking pretty good in the majority alliance, mouths something to Kelly, his old tribemate.

It looks like he's signaling to her "Kimmi, Monica" - possibly suggesting that Kelly should try and ally with them.  But his subtle attempt to send a message backfires like an improperly wired ignition or a damaged catalytic converter.  Tasha sees what Jeff is up to and immediately jumps in front of him and calls him out.  "Hey, we got a rat."  Everyone turns to Kelly and she says, whoa there, it's not me this time.  Back off Sue Hawk.  Nope, the rat is Jeff Varner.  Tasha busted Jeff, catching him with his Survivor pants crumbled down around his ankles.  Oh Jeff, Jeff, Jeff.  I won't ask what you were thinking.  Thinking had nothing to do with this.  Kelly was in no danger, her tribe wasn't going to vote out someone tonight.  YOU were in no danger, you had the majority alliance.  But by reaching out to someone on a different tribe he put an enormous, neon target on his back that said "Traitor, vote me out."

Andrew and Tasha had been looking for a crack in the old Ta Keo alliance and Jeff Varner gave them the Grand Canyon of cracks.  But he didn't stop there.  He then states in front of everyone that he made a deal with Andrew and was shocked that Andrew turned around and made a deal with Peih-Gee.  This causes Woo, sweet, innocent, puppy dog Woo, to say, in the voice usually reserved for the phrase, What do you mean there's no Santa?, "Are we still in an alliance?"  WHOOPS.  Take your foot out of your mouth Jeff and try to convince Woo that the four is still solid despite the fact that you just admitted to making a deal with Savage.  Good luck with that.

So Jeff knows his game is sunk.  He's a dead man walking.  When Abi-Maria calls you unpredictable, it's time to hand in your buff, snuff out your torch and do the walk of shame.  He's dug his own grave and he's sleeping in it as his tribemates plan for a quick and painless execution.  Abi-Maria goes over to Peih-Gee and Woo to lock down their votes against Varner.  But rather than instituting the "yes" strategy, Peih-Gee fights back.  She asks Abi-Maria why there is tension between them, why does she feels she's at the bottom, why is she so quick to abandon her old tribemates.  Well, Peih-Gee, Abi thinks you stole her bag and lied about it and she knows you and Woo have voted against her.  So there's that.

Peih-Gee scrambles and goes to Andrew and Tasha to say she's now 100% completely on board with getting out Abi-Maria.  They tell Abi-Maria.  So now, instead of all five agreeing to get rid of Varner, it's down to Abi-Maria versus Peih-Gee.  Yes, Varner, the Governor has granted the stay of execution.  Varner, who had already put all his eggs in Abi-Maria's basket when he voted out Shirin last time, agrees to vote with her to get rid of Peih-Gee, understanding that God or Buddha or the island spirits have just given him a second second chance and he better not mess it up.  "Yes, dear," is the only thing that should come out of his mouth right now.

Angkor goes to tribal council with Andrew and Tasha being the swing votes and their only decision is to side with the fiery unpredictable one or the passive-aggressive indecisive one.  The end up voting to keep Abi-Maria which not only keeps them around for another three days, but puts a target on Woo by not letting him know how the vote was going down so he could be on the wrong side of history.  Because if you don't think Abi-Maria is keeping score and has not moved Woo to the top of her enemies' list, you don't know her.  Peih-Gee is the third person voted out of Survivor Cambodia, the only representative of Survivor: China following up here 5th place finish there with a disappointing 18th place.

So what did Peih-Gee do wrong?  She did not play a great personal game and she did not adapt.  When you have someone as hot-tempered as Abi-Maria, you do not get on her bad side.  You flatter her, you placate her, you embrace her, and you don't let her out of your sight so she can plot against you.  But the bottom line was she did not create any solid alliances there and no one had her back and however the tribes shook up, she was in trouble.  She was expendable which early on is enough to get you voted out.  As she admits in her post-eviction confessional, she wasn't really ready for the "new survivor" way of playing by building relationships, adapting and scheming.  Does make one wonder what she thought she was getting into.

Did Jeff Varner royally screw himself over and is he only granted three additional days because Peih-Gee imploded? Not so, at least according to Peih-Gee's post eviction interviews here and here.  She tells us that Varner had told his alliance in advance that he was going to try and send info to their former allies, specifically letting Kelly know who was on the outs in their new tribe.  That plan of course blew up in his face when Tasha saw it and then that's when things went south with everyone hurling accusations at everyone else on the mat.

She also told us that, rather than sleeping while his future at Angkor went up in smoke, Jeff was up and scrambling to save his ass.  He was the one who told Peih-Gee that Abi-Maria had brought her name up and was targeting her, which led Peih-Gee to target Abi-Maria and get Jeff's name of of everyone's lips.  Finally, Jeff, who had lost his first time on Survivor due to a tie vote, had sworn he'd rather switch than fight and if there was a chance that rocks would be drawn, he would do everything to keep that from happening.  With three solid votes - and once Abi-Maria makes up her mind there's no going back - he had no choice but to make it four.

So while Tasha and Andrew get credit for saving themselves, moving from the bottom of the heap to the top, honorable mention goes to Jeff Varner for having an even more roller-coastery ride this episode and somehow finishing at the apex.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Survivor: Cambodia, Ep. 2 - People Aren't Chess Pieces After All

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. - George Santayana 

The twenty castaways voted back to get a second chance at the title of Sole Survivor were well aware of the mistakes they made the first time out. As anyone whose mistake cost them a million dollars, it is not likely they will forget it. As many have already told us in their original campaigns and later in their pre-show interviews, they have been haunted by the errors of their first time out since their dreams went up in smoke.  They returned older and wiser and determined to get it right this time. 

But, with apologies to Mr. Santayana, remembering the past does not make you immune from making the exact same mistake over again.  Nor does it keep you from making new ones that parallel mistakes you were a party to.  And so it was that superfan/super-strategists like Shirin Oskool and Spencer Bledsoe found themselves traveling down a well-worn path that led them to trouble their last time on Survivor. 

We've got it locked down, what could possibly go wrong?
Shirin's first time out, she came to Survivor as the wide-eyed Survivor fanatic who was in disbelief that she was in a tribe, wearing a buff, talking to Jeff Probst, carrying a torch, reading tree mail.   Her unbridled enthusiasm and desire to drink in the experience with gusto brought her closer to fellow ΓΌber fan Max Dawson and farther away from every other person on her tribe.  So this season, she joins up with fellow superfan Spencer.  But they did not isolate themselves. They approached others - Kelley Wentworth, Jeff Varner, Abi-Maria Gomes - about voting together.  She created a "new school" alliance and targeted one of the old school players and successfully orchestrated his departure.  Three days in, things were looking up for Shirin.

Spencer's first time out, he was a young, cocky superfan, ready to steamroll over the competition with his smarts.  He was in the majority alliance for the first boot and by day 6, when they had a return trip to tribal council, he was feeling pretty confident about his position in the game and how it would all play out.  He was a chess master, after all, and he saw many moves down the line.  Except, he did not see that one of his pieces - Kass McQuillen - had a mind of her own and was not going to play the game the way he wanted.  She flipped the vote and he went from in the driver's seat to alone on the side of the road. So this time out, he found a like-minded ally, someone equally if not more smart, and worked together to build trust and a rock steady alliance,   Three days in, things were looking good for Spencer.

All Shirin needed to do - as she told us in the season premier - was lock down the alliance.  But, she failed to realize that an alliance is a living thing and it needs to be tended to.  All Spencer needed to do was not be complacent, to remember that an ally today can be a Chaos-Kass-like enemy tomorrow.  But while Survivor is a numbers game and the two did a good job to get the numbers on their side, Survivor is also a people game and one of the people in their majority alliance was the hot-headed, unpredictable Abi-Maria.

Abi-Maria's second-chance story this season is whether she can tame her inner beast and get along with her fellow castaways or whether her Brazilian temper will get the better of her.  She very quickly showed that she is not capable of following the "live and let live" mantra that most successful Survivors (not Natalie, though) abide by.  She was upset at Peih-Gee Law for taking her bag and she was going to continue to be upset no matter what was going on.  Abi-Maria, want some mango?  That bitch stole my bag.  Abi-Maria, want to go get tree mail?  How dare that bitch steal my bag.  She would not let it go.

So Peih-Gee did what anyone would do, she confided in one of her allies, Shirin, about how Abi-Maria was getting on her last nerve and that as god is her witness she would not rest until that Brazilian firecracker was snuffed out.  Only problem was, she had this heart-to-heart with Shirin within Abi-Maria's earshot.  Now, the normal thing would be for Abi-Maria to get mad at Peih-Gee since that's been her default thus far this season.  But Abi-Maria was more upset with Shirin, who she considered a friend, than the person she'd already considered her mortal enemy.

Shirin then doubled-down on the insult by going back to the shelter and engaging the remaining members of the Ta Keo tribe in schoolyard laughing at Abi-Maria.  Not behind her back, mind you.  But just a few yards away.  Shirin, who had been an outcast her season, been under verbal attack by two of her fellow tribemates, and who had been brought to tears by their verbal attacks and ostracizing her, she was in the middle of a group who were laughing and ridiculing an outcast.

Even villains have feelings

Alone, crying on the beach, it wasn't one of her allies that came to comfort Abi-Maria.   It was Terry Deitz.  Terry, in his first season, was not the touchy-feely, build good relationships, make friends with everyone kind of player.  Terry was a comp beast and nothing more.  But Terry has taken the concept of the second chance to heart and become a better version of himself.  Seeing someone in obvious distress, he came and comforted her.  And not merely as strategy.  He apparently spent hours with Abi-Maria, the only person to show genuine concern over her feelings.  Shirin, who had (under much different circumstances) likewise found herself alone in her season, was comforted back then also by the alpha-male no one expected to have a soft side.  Shirin missed the chance to show Abi-Maria the same compassion and, to be cold and calculated about it, failed to shore up her alliance by reaching out to her.

Seeing the fracture in the alliance, Jeff Varner saw an opportunity.  Jeff Varner has been playing the game of his life so far and one hopes that he's not going to be like a 60's era rock star who burns brightly but for only a brief time.  Because right now he is on fire. After joining the "new schoolers" in voting out Vytas, he went back to his original "old schoolers" alliance and explained how what he did was great for them.  It was a wake up call and got their heads in the game.  And then he sold them sand and ocean water for a tidy profit.  Jeff Varner is so smooth he can talk a Kardashian out of eyeliner and with his cute accent and affability, he can convince you of about anything.  Heck, he convinced us that Abi-Maria was turning him on!

So he had already been working with Terry, Woo Hwang and Kelly Wiglesworth not to panic and to look for opportunities to get back in the majority.  Then Abi-Maria falls in their lap.  Terry took Jeff Varner's words to heart and started thinking about how they could use Abi-Maria's disconnection from her alliance for themselves.  If the main theme of the episode was not learning from the past, the Terry was an example of someone who is using his second chance to right some wrongs of his old game play.  If he ignored the social aspect last time, he's going to be more aware of the interpersonal dynamics this time and try and build relationships that can carry him far.

But let's not underestimate Jeff Varner's brilliance in making sure that the door Terry opened the night before was flung wide open the next morning.  He talks to Abi-Maria about her conversation with Jeff.  Look at his word choice:  "You and Terry have a good talk?  Isn't he a nice man?  I'm thinking about aligning with him."   That is a mini-master class on how you reel someone in.   Don't be aggressive, make it think it's their idea.  Look how he strings along questions for her, the first two designed to get a yes, so that when he makes the third statement, she's ready to agree with that one too. 

With Abi-Maria officially turning her back on Shirin, that gives the old-schoolers five votes.  They can take out whoever they want from the other side, but the attention focuses on the masterminds/ringleaders - Shirin and Spencer.  The over-playing superfans are in the crosshairs.  This is where Jeff Varner (and yes I will nearly always refer to him by his full name because he deserves the special treatment) takes a risk that pays off.  Rather than blind-siding Spencer and Shirin's allies, he brings them in on the plan.  

His conversation with Kelley is not aggressive or abrasive, the "we have the numbers" approach.  No, he goes at it diplomatically.   Get her to admit the tribe is in trouble, get her to see how large and strong the group could be and how there are just two on the outside causing all the problems.  Who wants to be on the outside?  Not Kelley.  And not Kelly Wentworth or Peih-Gee either.  Once he had the five, it was not too hard getting the others wanting to be in the majority and not put targets on their backs.  Really well done. 

I know I gave Tony $1M, but how gullible do you think I am?
What could have been a problem, proved not to be.  Abi-Maria could not wait to let Shirin know she was on the outs and revealed the plan ahead of time.  But neither Shirin nor Spencer could not use this advance knowledge to turn things around.  They had alienated their alliance and had failed to form a bond with those on the other side.  They tried to work on getting Woo, not the most savvy player Survivor has ever seen, possibly the only person who would lose tic-tac-toe, over on their side.  But even Woo saw through their last minute scrambling.  They never talked to him until their asses were on the line, how could he trust anything they said now.

Going to tribal council, there was nothing either could do other than make the strongest case for why they should be the one to stay over the other.  Shirin was faced with being seen as a hypocrite - whether that was a fair assessment or not - for forgetting what it's like to be ostracized and made fun of and forgetting how much someone alone needs a friend.  Spencer saw his episode one words come back to bite him and had to figuratively get on his knees and beg for forgiveness.  He did forget that these are people and not pieces on a chess board to move around and if given a second chance he would try and fix that. In the end, whether it was his plea or whether Shirin seemed like a bigger threat, he was given his "three more days" and Shirin Oskool was sent home.*

We spent very little time this episode at the other camp and what little time we had was almost as ugly.  Andrew Savage revealed some deep-seated animosity towards Stephen Fishbach that to me crossed the line and had me wonder if there was more to it.  I won't pull the anti-Semitic card (though as a Jew I may be more sensitive to it and see it lurking behind certain attitudes) but I can't deny that was my first reaction when Savage so sanctimoniously attacked Fishbach's character as a human being. 

Here's what happened.  Savage had just performed the ultimate humble brag as he told the story of how he met his supermodel wife and teared up during the retelling of what he thought was a terribly moving story about two extremely good looking people meeting over a bunch of Playboy magazines
.  Jeremy Collins, whose former teammate and forever wife Val is pregnant, got a little choked up himself and so went off to collect himself.

Anytime someone leaves the camp, suspicions immediately arise that the person is looking for the hidden immunity idol.  Stephen himself went off looking for it last episode and many of his tribemates noticed his absence and speculated as to what he was doing.  And so, when those at camp noticed that Jeremy was missing, Stephen used the opportunity to deflect attention from his own idol-seeking escapades and asked if they thought he might be looking for the idol.  That led Savage to say this about Stephen:  "The thing about Stephen. His first reaction is, Jeremy is looking for an idol.  As opposed to Jeremy has a wonderful wife and kids, maybe my story affected him and he needed some private time."  Okay, good, fair enough.  Savage was perceptive and that was what was going on with Jeremy.  But Savage wasn't done with his analysis of Stephen.

He then adds:  "[That] just tells me that Fishbach is playing the game 24/7.  All he cares about is that idol and it's all about the game.  No emotion."  Again, not too bad.  He's identifying what the other camp noticed about Shirin and Spencer.  There are people who are in full-blown game mode and there are others who are there to form bonds and share in the experience.  Had he dropped it here, there'd be no problem.  But then he says:  "Fishbach is kinda lacking in some of the things that really mean everything to me and my tribe.  Morals, values, loyalty, dignity, courage."

This is my sanctimonious face
HUH???  How do we get from being suspicious when someone wanders off from camp to lacking morals, values, loyalty, DIGNITY AND COURAGE??  If this were day 37, I'd cut him some slack.  But he's still relatively well-fed and in his right mind and his statement could not have been more condescending and smug had he channeled Donald Trump.  There must be something else going on with Savage that we don't yet know about because you don't attack someone's basic humanness on national TV for no reason.

If Jeff Varner is the old schooler who we all love and are rooting for - and of course he is - and if Abi-Maria is now defanged - have the Survivor given us the designated villain in Savage?  Especially in an episode where Kass of all people shows herself to be an old softy, with a heart and feelings and everything, just like a real person, we now have our official bad guy.  And to use his words against him, I hope his time here is going to be limited.  So he can run back to his supermodel wife, of course. 

Unfortunately for Shirin, her second chance came and went too soon.  She learned that it's hard to change who you are and it's also hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes.  Instead of coming in with strategies and plans and alliances, she should have focused on building - and as importantly maintaining - relationships.  Spencer now has that chance and, as the upcoming scene showed us, he'll also get the chance for a fresh start with a new tribe.  Heck, he may even get put on the same tribe as Fishbach and they can strategize together to their heart's content.  

*In post-eviction interviews Shirin said that she tried to flip the vote and target Jeff Varner which made his decision to go after her rather than Spencer very easy.