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.

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