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

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