Monday, November 30, 2015

Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance, Episodes 10 & 11: Playing the Game Isn't Winning the Game

In the past, a Survivor double episode meant there was a boring, predictable throwaway episode the producers were happy to bury in a bloated two-for-one show.  Not this time.  Instead, the pre-Thanksgiving two-hour extravaganza was one long goodbye to super strategist, former bridesmaid and famed "know-it-all" Stephen Fishbach.  It took two votes over two tribal councils but Ahab was finally sunk by the great white whale he had been obsessively chasing for weeks.

I asked last week the following questions concerning Fishbach's decision to join with the three amigas rather than sticking with his existing alliance: "Did he make the right choice?  That is the million dollar question that we are still weeks away from having answered.  Was siding with (as Kimmi christened them) the three witches the right move or one that will lead to his demise?"  It took just one week to have our answer.  Making "the big move" was what Fishbach thought he needed not just for his safety but, more importantly to him, for his résumé at the final tribal council.  He knew what it was like to go to the end and not have a compelling case to make to the jury.  He was not going to make that mistake again.

So Fishbach made a new mistake.  He trusted in someone who was not loyal like eventual Tocatins winner J.T. and that person turned on him the first (and second) chance he got.  Fishbach looked ahead through the prism of what was best for his game, ignoring that others were not there to play for him to win.  He failed to put himself in the shoes of the other players and especially missed that one of the people in whom he placed his trust was almost as big a Survivor nerd and almost as much a serious strategist as he is. His mistake was in mis-identifying who was his biggest threat in the game.  Hint: it wasn't Joe.  Spencer Bledsoe, RHAP's own Mr. Survivor, gave Stephen Fishbach his own blindside and a final opportunity to quote Shakespeare.  Et tu, Brute?

In some ways, one could say that Fishbach's loyalty was his downfall both times.  He failed to cut J.T. in Tocatins, sticking with his Butch and Sundance/Oscar and Felix/Harold and Kumar pairing to the bitter end.  Unfortunately, the jury thought their pairing was more Batman and Robin and the caped crusader walked away with the million dollar prize, the designated sidekick left with just a bitter taste in his mouth.  This time, he brought a third member into the dynamic duo bromance that he had with Jeremy, ignoring that there are famous dynamic duos, not dynamic trios.

It's Troy and Abed, not Troy, Abed and Jeff
Having one ride-or-die — especially when that one is loyal family man, firefighter and all-around good guy Jeremy Collins — is good planning.  Having two — especially when that other one is sneaky, conniving, flipflopping Spencer Bledsoe — is just plain dumb.   Spencer has loyalty to one person — Spencer.  He will do and say anything to guarantee himself one more day.  You can trust only that he will do whatever it takes to keep him in the game; you can't trust that he cares who he is there with.

But before that now clearly inevitable outcome, things seemed to be looking good for the duo of Stephen and Jeremy.  Going into Episode 10, they had built a voting bloc that joined with the three amigas — Kelley, Ciera and Abi-Maria — to chip away at Golden Boy Joe's ally Kelly Wiglesworth.  Jeremy and Stephen had kept their allies in the dark as they broke ranks — a la Tony Vlachos — to go vote with the three girls, but had worked to patch up any emotional wounds.  More importantly, they had the power.  Jeremy had not one but two hidden immunity idols and Stephen had an advantage that gave him a two-vote turnaround at tribal council.

The episode opens with Jeremy and Stephen going back to the shelter after voting off Wiglesworth and they start work on patching things up with their alliance.  Tasha takes a "one free blindside" approach which she tells us means that her allies can burn her once by keeping their plan private, but they best not try it again.  Elsewhere, Joe is showing a rare glimpse at another side to the smiling, mellow yoga god.  He's sitting by himself, still smiling, but beneath the veneer he is seething.  The CBS censors are pulled into action to bleep out Joe's curse-laden denunciation against those who dared vote off his closest ally and we all discover for the first time that Joe is not always the even-tempered, laid back bro'.  Mad Joe is scary.

The next day, the rain has come.  We're not talking Seattle mist or a late spring sprinkle.  This is beneath Niagara Falls pummeling, post-game Gatorade drenching, El Niño dumping, skies open up and send down 40 days and 40 nights worth in one fell swoop rain.  Never have ten people been wetter longer — not the extras filming the end of Titanic, not Bachelor contestants in a hot tub, not whoever was unfortunate enough to visit Cherrapunji in July 1861.  No, these are the wettest people currently on the planet.  If tough times reveal character, then Keith has enough character to go around.  While everyone else curses the weather gods and suffers, loudly, he's at peace.  It's only rain.  He can put up with two more weeks of misery for one million dollars.  heh-heh-heh.

This is not fun, but winning $1M sure is.  Golly!
The first reward challenge — won, naturally, by the team that had Joe on it — gave the drenched castaways a little time to dry off and feast.  And form a plan on who to target next.  A couple episodes ago, Fishbach decried that losing out on a reward challenge is not about losing out on a reward — it's more about losing the chance to bond and strategize.  He was right.  Ciera once again (because she is always on Joe's team and so always gets the reward) started working the group.  Two nights earlier, she had joined with Fishbach and Jeremy to target Wiglesworth, yet today she had zero problem suggesting to those she just voted against that they unite and target those she had just voted with.

Think of the chutzpah that took.  Some of you sitting here just voted against me.  Some of you are allied with Stephen and Jeremy.  But I'm going to throw out Stephen's name and see what happens.  And what happened?  Spencer jumped on her suggestion with the same enthusiasm I show if someone asks "who wants ice cream?"  Spencer knows that right now he is in no one's final two plans.  All around him he sees tight alliances — Stephen and Jeremy, Jeremy and Tasha, Stephen and Kimmi; he needs to chip away at those as quickly as he can.  But even more threatening to him is having a strategic player like Fishbach in the game out-witting him. That makes Stephen his number one target. 

While half the tribe plotted against Stephen, the five remaining castaways huddled in the leaky, rickety shelter agreed that Joe was the logical next target.  If he ever loses an immunity challenge (which was as likely as Keith not ending a confessional with a creepy-sounding heh-heh), Joe has to be taken out.  He wins everything, he's liked by the jury and manages to never have a bad hair day  — the guy has to go.

Stephen cannot believe his luck.  After waiting an eternity to get the rest of the survivors on board with Mission: Get Joe Out, finally, at long last, they're all in accord.  Finally, at long last, the Golden Boy is Public Enemy Number One.  Stephen knows better, but he can't stop himself from saying finally, at long last, he's about to finally capture Moby Dick.  "We're all on the same page." Fishbach can barely stifle a smile.  "It's time; he's had his story," he says of Joe.  Then he gives the confession that he knew he shouldn't give but he could not help himself from giving.  "I think I"m in a really great position right now."  Fishbach knows better.  "Never say that, because that's the death knell.  That's when you go home." Still, he really is in a great position.

I will not give the ironic "death knell" quote. Oh, damnit!
So unrelenting, so emotionally crushing is the torrential downpour that has been plaguing the castaways for days that Jeff Probst has an offer before they compete in the next immunity challenge.  If half of the tribe agrees to forgo playing for individual immunity, the entire camp will get a Extreme Makeover: Waterproof Edition of their shelter.  This offer put the castaways to the test.  If you were concerned about your own safety at the next tribal council  — and unless you're new to the game, you always should be  — were you willing to risk being voted off for the promise of comfort.  Conversely, do you want yours to be the vote that kept the rest of the tribe from having what they wanted?  Do you put your needs above the greater good?

The question was answered about as one would suspect following the previous tribal vote.  Joe was worried enough about his safety not to give up his chance for immunity.  Only Keith also voted to play for immunity; the other eight were either so comfortable with their position in the game or so uncomfortable with the monsoon-like conditions that they were willing to sit out the challenge.   In fairness, they knew in advance what the challenge would be and could probably figure out that their chance of beating Joe in a balance challenge was about equal to the chance of them drying off during the next rainstorm.

It was about as surprising as Stephen getting another crying confessional that Joe beat Keith, 25 years older and 3 inches shorter than him.  So Stephen's hope of finally, at long last, seeing Joe get his torch snuffed out was delayed for at least three more days.  But Stephen doesn't panic, he has an easy target in Ciera.  She was the target going into the last tribal council and would have been evicted had he not sided with her to blindside Kelly.  Ciera is playing hard, too hard, and is dangerous to keep around.  Poor Stephen doesn't know the half of it — while he assumes she is the next likely boot, Ciera has already put into motion a blindside of him.

Stephen is not alone in wanting to vote out Ciera. Tasha sees the danger that Ciera poses.  She calls her the Godfather and she's right to some extent — Ciera puts out a name and everyone immediately jumps on it.  But Ciera is not some great puppet-master; she just happened to pick the right name this time.  Not only is Stephen a strategic threat, not only is he the only person remaining to have made a final tribal council, but he has the unknown advantage that has everyone curious and nearly everyone worried.

As disappointed as everyone is that Joe has immunity, they are deliriously happy with their new shelter.  Still, it's clear that one of the eight who gave up their chance to play for immunity will be voted out tonight.  It's between Ciera and Stephen.  Joe — who has been Fishbach's target since Day One — can articulate good reasons for voting against each of them.  Not as confused is Spencer.  Despite Jeremy making a strong case why Stephen should stay, Spencer is 100000% (or more) committed to getting rid of Fishbach NOW.  Despite the fact that Ciera is a schemer, despite the fact that she is more closely allied with Wentworth and Abi-Maria, despite the fact that Stephen considers him an ally and confides in him, Spencer views Stephen as the bigger threat to his game.  As Kelley Wentworth said last week that there could only be one Kelly on the island, Spencer believes there can only be one brainy/nerdy survivor strategist on the island.

Fishbach has got to go, I'm Mr. Survivor.
So convinced that he is safe, Stephen does not even consider using his advantage to guarantee his extra votes.  This even though he tells Jeff that "there are so many clusters of power" that he claims he does not know how the vote is going to go.  But having been privy to the discussions to get rid of Fishbach, Jeremy does have an inkling how the vote is going to go.  And it's not good.  When asked if it's exciting that the voting is up in the air, Ciera tells Jeff that it is exciting to see how the votes go.  And she was right.  The votes went fine for her.  But, unfortunately for Ciera's story, there was more to it than just the votes.  And when Jeff asks, as he always does, if anyone has the hidden immunity idol, Jeremy tells him, "Yeah, Jeff."  And we go to commercial.

When we return, Jeremy stands, walks over to Jeff and hands him the immunity idol that he says he will be playing on the person "who [I] can [] trust more going forward.  Fishbach."  And with that, five votes for Fishbach do not count, and with just three votes against her (cast by Jeremy, Stephen and Kimmi) it is Ciera who is voted out of Survivor Second Chance.  For the record, there is no way Ciera would have won the immunity challenge against Joe, so there is no way this can be considered a "million dollar mistake" on her part.  If anything, she played a great game, played hard and smart, and was just outplayed when Jeremy had such an abundance of idols he could offer up one to his closest ally.

My plan, my brilliant plan!  
Coming back to camp after the vote, especially where you were the one who was supposed to go, must be a surreal experience.  Heart-pounding fear mixed with tentative relief followed up by deep concern over the future.  But the first feeling Stephen felt must have been gratitude.  Stephen must feel at that moment that he owes Jeremy a kidney or his first born or half the million dollar prize money for saving him from being blindsided and he makes sure that Jeremy knows that he appreciates what he did and will do whatever he can to make it up to him.  The next morning, Stephen comes face to face with the fact that the "know it all" knew nothing last night.  Survivor's answer to Jon Snow was completely blindsided and unprepared and for the first time in his Survivor life he had no clue what was going on.

From this low point, Fishbach went into the next reward challenge — the Survivor Folklore challenge, famous for Rudy's multiple "I don't know" responses — with his first chance to actually win.  With balance and strength not a factor, Joe was for once not the odd's on favorite.  While Stephen did it fact narrowly beat out Spencer to win this challenge (mirroring how he narrowly beat Spencer diving for the advantage last week), Kelley Wentworth turned out to be the big winner.  Hidden among the answers was a clue to the hidden immunity idol and Kelley was the one to find it.  The next day, while Fishbach was on his reward (which he used as a chance to rebuild his relationship with Tasha and thank Jeremy for his loyalty) Kelley used her time to find the idol.  And to improve her position in the game,  With the help of Abi-Maria.

Early this season, much was said about Abi-Maria Gomes.  She was an unpredictable spit-fire, she was the one person you should never cross, she was crazy, she was wild.  But Abi-Maria is two other things — smart and dangerous.  While Stephen was away from the camp, she took advantage of his poor decision to take Jeremy and Tasha and leave the rest of the camp behind.  The six people back at the shelter consisted of exactly one Fishbach ally and five others who, in a tribe of nine, constituted a voting majority.  Abi-Maria asked the million dollar question.  What does it mean for Stephen to have taken Jeremy and Tasha on the reward?  The answer was obvious — they're in a tight alliance, and the rest are on the outside.  Now, no one wants to be on the outside.  Worse, no one wants to be on the other side from someone who has a mysterious advantage.

Joe is in Abi-Maria's sights.  Duck, Joe!
Once Kimmi (Stephen's lone remaining ally) wandered away from camp, the other five got down to business.  We tried to get him out two days ago, what has changed?  And so the idea of once again targeting Fishbach was floated out there.  Abi-Maria had one request.  Why not let her win the next challenge, because if Fishbach played his advantage she was worried that she would go.   Golden Boy Joe was not on board with that idea, and his, "Um, No" was the second crack in his perfect armor this episode (following him losing his cool at the beginning).  The producers are finally showing a different side to Joe — an arrogant, prickly side that we had never seen before.  And Abi-Maria had a new target.  You don't say, "Um, no" to Abi-Maria, especially in an exasperated "what the hell are you thinking, girl" way.  Joe made an enemy.

About Fishbach's decision to (a) win the reward challenge and (b) pick Jeremy and Tasha to spend it with.  Would this episode had played out any differently had Stephen not won the reward challenge?  Had Spencer won, who would he have taken?  What could those left behind have done to turn that against him?  Probably nothing because, even having voted against Stephen the episode before for some reason Stephen still did not believe Spencer was against him.   Spencer was not his target.  But perhaps with Stephen at camp, the decision to once again target him would not have been so automatic.  Hindsight isn't always 20-20 but even as a fuzzy picture it's easy to wonder whether it was worth the momentary respite from suffering to leave six people alone to plot against you.

For some reason, Stephen remained unconcerned about his place in the tribe.  He thought that patching things up with Tasha was all he needed to get his ship righted.  He believed he had a solid alliance voting bloc with Jeremy, Tasha, Spencer, and Kimmi and that those four could move from one side to another to target whoever they wanted.  They would regroup with their old alliance and target one of the remaining "three witches."  Easy peasy.  And the minute Joe miraculously, unexpectedly, shockingly did not win an immunity challenge (losing to Spencer by a toe), Stephen thought it would be a no-brainer.  Everyone — including those on the jury — would vote against Joe.  Even Joe planned to vote out Joe once he went to tribal without an immunity necklace around his neck.

But despite this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to slay the golden boy, Kelley and Spencer were firm  — Stephen had to go.  Now, it's cute how Joe believes that his safety in the game would at all be due to his sterling social game.  If by sterling social game he means being lucky that Spencer has a hard-on for Fishbach, that Spencer is salivating at the opportunity to vote out the know-it-all, that Spencer cannot imagine a more glorious moment in life than seeing Fishbach's torch finally being snuffed out, then, yes, Joe, you're not just a challenge beast.

Fishbach is just as desperate, if not more so, to see Joe finally walk out of tribal council, vanquished.  He has dreamed of this moment since he saw Joe as one of the 32 names vying to return to Survivor Second Chance and his every waking moment as well has been devoted to plotting Joe's demise.  He tells Abi-Maria that Joe is the target and the paranoid Brazilian is not totally convinced and thinks that maybe Stephen is playing her.  Separately, Kelley and Spencer assure her that Fishbach is the target and she is not totally convinced and thinks that they are playing her.  Basically, Abi-Maria has no idea that there are two plans and neither involves her going out this week.

I am totally with you guys....
So confident is Stephen in the numbers, in the tribe's united desire to get rid of Joe, and in his alliance voting bloc that he and Jeremy take Spencer aside and Fishbach tells Spencer about the advantage, how he plans to use the advantage, his social security number, his credit card number, and all his passwords.  Spencer should get a special Emmy for his performance as he completely convinces Jeremy and Stephen that he is with them.

At tribal council, the jury is shocked to see that the immunity necklace is around Spencer's neck.  Joe is vulnerable for the first time this game.  But what everyone can see on his face is that Joe is not the least bit worried.  He hasn't been scurrying around since the immunity challenge, he hasn't broken a sweat.  Because of this, Stephen and to a lesser extent Jeremy believe that there is a decent chance that he has a hidden immunity idol.  They don't realize that Joe's chill is a combination of having expected to be voted out only to learn that he was not the target and is completely safe.  So they went into tribal with a plan to split the vote between Joe and She-Devil Abi-Maria and they think they easily have the numbers to make this happen.

Abi-Maria sees and hears Joe's confidence and says the vote will be a sign of trust.  But how does trust play in a game that is now supposedly all about voting blocs?  Stephen has been touting this evolution in the game, but is the evolution real?  Or is this still a game about alliances and trust?

Before the vote, Stephen announces his plan to use his advantage.  He will take Joe's vote and cast it himself.  Not only can he finally vote out Adonis, he can do it with his own vote.  The few people Stephen did not tell in advance are shocked by the advantage, but they "stick to the plan" and cast their votes for Stephen.  Stephen and his alliance voting bloc, worried that the calm, cool and collected (or "collective" as Survivor: Worlds Apart Rodney would say) Joe has a hidden immunity idol, split their votes between him and Abi-Maria.  This leaves Stephen, in one of the more unfortunate moments for him this season, giving his "goodbye" message to Joe as he seals his own fate by sending his second vote over to Abi-Maria.

As the votes are read, the only reaction comes from Stephen as you see him going from mild confused bemusement — a "that was unexpected" grin — to growing awareness that his plan had backfired spectacularly.  Remember a few episodes ago, when we all ridiculed Savage and his allies for not splitting the vote when they targeted Wentworth?  Well, Fishbach did not want to suffer the same fate so he made sure to split the vote and that decision worked out as well for him as the decision not to worked for Savage.  It just goes to show that there are no easy answers in Survivor and those who think they know it all still have something to learn.

So that's what this looks like close up.
It's a little frustrating seeing the people who were playing hard like Ciera and Stephen go out while those who don't seem to be making moves like Keith and Kimmi are still hanging around.  But there is no "right" way to play Survivor, no way that is more deserving of praise than others.  Ciera was done in by an idol, plain and simple.  She had successfully moved herself from the bottom to the top and her downfall was that Jeremy felt such strong loyalty to his ally.  Stephen was felled by a combination of misplaced loyalty and the inability to read people.  So focused was he on not making the same mistake he made the first time out that he didn't play the game that was in front of him.  He thought people saw what he saw and wanted what he wanted.  But while he saw Joe as the number one threat, he didn't realize that to others, the nerdy guy with the glasses was the biggest threat.

Want more from our dearly departed?  Now that the Thanksgiving holiday has passed, some of the interviews are now up and more are coming.

Exit interviews:
Ciera and Stephen with RHAP
Ciera and Stephen on Survivor Talk
Ciera with RealityTVWorld
Stephen with Hollywood Life
Stephen with SheKnows
Stephen with Gordon Holmes

Stephen's People Blog

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance, Episode 9 Recap: Evolution of the Voting Bloc Heads

"Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble." — Stephen Fishbach
"Double, Double, Toil and Trouble, Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble." — Shakespeare

It's hard enough remembering Shakespearean quotes, even short ones, years out of college.  Even more so when you are sleep- and food-deprived and still trying to provide an entertaining sound clip.  So we'll cut Yale graduate Stephen Fishbach some slack for misquoting the Witches' Chant from MacBeth.  He got the gist of the scene and its meaning, of the witches' prophecy of doom for the future King of Scotland whose lust of power eventually leads to his demise.  He knows that you can let the witches' words lift you to heights of greatness or plunge you into madness and he knows how tragically this all ended for King Duncan's murderer.  And so he weighs every decision carefully.

Did he make the right choice?  That is the million dollar question that we are still weeks away from having answered.  Was siding with (as Kimmi christened them) the three witches the right move or one that will lead to his demise?

Something wicked this way comes?
Is Stephen not a MacBethian character in this season's play?  Is he not plagued by his desire for power, for the prophecy that he is the "knowingest know-it-all" to come true, for him to take his rightful place atop the throne, his enemies vanquished beneath his feet?  Has any other Survivor this season put so much pressure on themselves to win?  Stephen has created his own Shakespearean tragedy narrative—as his single-minded focus on slaying the demons of his past and rising to glory this time out has consumed his every moment.

So how did the three—Wentworth, Ciera and Abi-Maria—manage to pull the JSS (not Just Survive Somehow, for you TWD fans, but Jeremy, Stephen and Spencer) threesome over?  Returning from tribal council, Kimmi warned Joe that one of the three girls had to be their target next because they don't want them getting close to Jeremy or Tasha.  She calls them the witches coven and Stephen grabs on the allusion.  But there was no witchcraft behind their success, just smart gameplay on Wentworth's part (in not telling anyone she had the idol) and dumb gameplay on the other side (Joe and others letting them know who was the target last week).

After Savage's exit (Yippee, Woo Hoo, Yay, Yahoo, Yes!), there are eleven players left and the numbers, based on the traditional notion of tribal alliance, would say they were split up 8-to-3.  But as we were told about a thousand times last night, the game of Survivor has evolved and what we're seeing this season is not an alliance-based strategy, but a bloc-voting strategy.  Every tribal council, a new voting bloc will be formed to target someone. While this approach is more entertaining for fans—honestly, nothing is more boring than a Pagonging—is it better strategy than riding with your alliance?  The easy vote would be to target one of the three, but is it also the right move?  That ultimately is the question this season will answer.

Before we get to the decision who to target, the Survivors are hit with a case of idol fever.  Knowing that the hidden immunity idol Wentworth just used to save herself and vote out Savage (Yippee, Woo Hoo, Yay, Yahoo, Yes!) is back in play.  Joe, who is himself an unhidden immunity idol, able to provide protection seemingly every tribal council, exhausts himself looking for the idol for a whole thirty minutes. Apparently the time you spend on looking for the idol is completely dependent on how likely you are to win the next eight challenges.   Kudos to Abi-Maria for interrupting Joe's idol hunt (especially as he was tantalizingly close to where it was hidden) and reporting back to Wentworth that Joe must not be feeling too secure in his alliance.

Yeah, Jeff, we get it.  We suck.  Thanks.

At the Reward Challenge, Jeff Probst came up with new ways to describe one team's poor performance, using phrases that haven't been used since retellings of the Hindenberg, Chernobyl and Season 21's Medallion of Power.  I'm starting to get the sense that the challenges are solely for Probst's amusement as he builds a reel of him shouting the most overwrought hyperbolic comments about epic Survivor "disasters."  In fairness, his comments were not unwarranted this time out as firemen Keith and Jeremy and the rest of the team (Kimmi, Wentworth and Wiglesworth) did look more confused than a toddler with a Rubik's Cube as they could not figure out how to place the nine poles in ascending order.  Even with Jeff shouting out hints about how the poles and the holes were different sizes and you would know you were on the right track if they started resembling steps and, oh look, the other tribe has already done it so just look over at there's if you don't know what you're looking for.  On the sidelines, benched Abi-Maria wondered to herself if that tribe was happy they didn't pick her after all.

So Joe, Tasha, Stephen, Spencer and Ciera enjoyed the reward—showers, massages and Spa food—while the rest settled for boiled snails with a hint of crab meat.  Ciera makes the most of her time with the members of the dominant alliance to talk game.  And she comes out blazing, identifying Jeremy as their biggest threat to win the game.  It's an astute observation—Jeremy has it all.  He's universally loved, he's a strategic player, he's a social player, he is the one most likely to take it all.  Stephen doesn't disagree with her in theory—to win this game you can't think in terms of alliances anymore and your ally today can be the one who stands in the way of your $1M payday tomorrow.  Tasha deftly moves the conversation away from Jeremy to another person who may be a threat to win if they make it to the end—the first ever runner-up, Borneo's own Kelley Wiglesworth.  What a great story it would be if the person to have lost the very first Survivor by just one vote—cast by her former friend—were to win the very first Survivor Second Chance.  Something to think about.

Jeremy was feeling pretty down.  One of his closest allies was voted out the night before, today he lost the reward challenge.  It was just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Jeremy.  Until he decided to wander away from camp while half the camp was on the reward and the other half was commiserating.  He went to where Joe had been looking for the hidden immunity idol when Abi-Maria had interrupted him.  He dug around in a similar area to where he had first found a clue to an idol earlier in the game and lo and behold a small package buried in the tree helped turned his frown upside down.

It's just as good the second time
Fulfilling the prophecy of Val Collins in San Juan del Sur (who falsely claimed to have two idols as a way to save herself), Jeremy was on his way to having the magical force of two idols for real.  All he'd have to do was sneak out of the shelter during the night, walk through the dark down an unmarked path and go to the light.  Somehow, his trusting and/or oblivious castaways did not think to follow him or question why it took him so long (and why he needed a camera person) to relieve himself.  And thus it came to be that Jeremy found himself with the only two idols currently in play with no target on his back.  With no Jon and Jaclyn to mess up his plans this time out, Jeremy is sitting in a really good position.

While Jeremy basks in the glow of his idol cup running over, his closest ally Stephen continues to obsess about playing a better game this time out.  He is afraid of not making a "big move" and afraid of just letting the large alliance cruise along until it's too late to throw some of the bigger threats off the boat.  He's been single-minded in his obsession to get Joe out and for once, he expands his list of targets beyond just that name.  He sees Wiglesworth as potentially just as big a threat and also recognizes that she is a number for Joe.  For both those reasons, she is now on his radar. But Stephen is likely wary of discussing targeting someone technically in their alliance as the last time he tried that he was shot down.

He goes first to the three—Ciera, Wentworth and Abi-Maria—and hears what he wants to hear.  As Ciera put it, they are so desperate that they are willing to write down whatever name he tells them.  He can call the shot.  And Ciera doesn't have to work too hard to convince him as her main claim to fame is voting out her mother to save her own skin.  Writing out someone who didn't carry her, give birth to her and nurture her for years would be a piece of cake.

Say any name, Stephen, and we'll say yes.
Stephen floats the name Wiglesworth and immediately the women jump on it.  Abi-Maria tells us (and a Survivor nation reacts with shock and disbelief) that the heretofore unseen Wiglesworth (yikes, the spell check replacement was "Worthless," not cool) has relationships with everyone, she talks (we had zero proof of that up to this point) to everyone and everyone likes her.  Who we all thought of as the invisible Kelly Wiglesworth was apparently working her quiet magic building relationships with everyone except for the producers and camera people.  The three "witches" as they've been dubbed are more than happy to entertain any name that isn't one of them and they can only sit back and hope that Stephen can really make this happen.

At the immunity challenge the inevitable was delayed for a new twist as Jeff introduced an advantage in the game that any of the castaways could go for if they were willing to give up their chance to come in second to Joe.  How do you not take this chance?  Still, only the two most strategic players—Stephen and Spencer—went for the advantage, jumping off of the Snoopy dog house-esque roof and swimming towards a Gymboree colored buoy.  And we all saw a minor miracle as Stephen Fishbach won a physical competition.  What did he win?  Well, let Stephen tell you himself.  "This is a game changer."

He has the right to steal someone's vote (and, yes, they will fly Carson Daly out to Cambodia to yell "It's a steal!' to make it official) and cast his own vote in their place.  If you do the math, it's not a two vote advantage like Dan Foley had in Worlds Apart.  It's actually a three vote advantage.  It may be hyperbole (and wishful thinking) on Stephen's part to call it a "game winning advantage" and it all may be calling too much attention to himself that the Survivor gods can't ignore, but it's hard to deny that it has big potential.

Still, had Stephen been voted out tonight, we would all have had a field day with all the unfortunate quotes he gave this episode about not needing immunity tonight and not having to use his new advantage tonight, how he was in an insanely good position unless he screws it up, and how he was going to fix things with his just his wits and hustle.  But instead, Stephen looked like a savant as he correctly assessed his status, correctly calculated the voting blocs and correctly predicted the outcome.  Also not eating from the hubric humble pie is Jeremy who said "the person that I still trust the most is Stephen" and yet he too was not blindsided tonight.

Didn't we do this before?  And before before?
Abi-Maria gave us some possible foreshadowing as she said "Nobody can win from Joe.  He's going to be winning ever immunity forever."  That is certainly looking to be true as there so far doesn't seem to be anything that Joe isn't great at.  A quick shout out to Abi-Maria for at least giving him some challenge and winning the "best of the rest" weekly contest.  But he is now 3-for-3 in balance-related challenges, so unless the next challenge is who can dry their hair the straightest, it looks like Joe will be around to haunt Stephen like the ghost of JT past for weeks to come.

The alliance of eight focused their sights on Wentworth.  But they were not going to make the same mistake they made last time and so the plan was to split the vote between her and Ciera, with the five guys voting out Wentworth.  This was the easy move, it would get rid of a physical and social threat in Wentworth, would weaken the minority alliance, and would keep the eight strong.  But Stephen decided that to win Survivor this time out he'd have to have some "big moves" on his résumé.  Without being able to target Joe, again, Stephen turned his attention to who he perceived to be his next biggest threat.  And it was not the KW that Kimmi, Keith, Joe or Tasha wanted to see voted out.

He pulled together Jeremy and Spencer and discussed why voting out Wiglesworth might be in their best interest.  I can't say that I agree, but what I can see is that it might have been in Stephen's best interest.  He was not that close to Wiglesworth and he saw her as closely aligned with his arch nemesis Joe.  He is in a relatively good position with the three ladies and he does not believe they would turn on him and target him any time soon.  He also saw Tony Vlachos implement this strategy successfully in Cagayan (not coincidentally aided by Spencer).  He has built up such trust with Jeremy that he not only gets Jeremy's agreement, he gets Jeremy to use his own arguments later at tribal council as he embraces the new school evolutionary bloc theory™.  Spencer sees no down side either as he has nothing going with the four (KKJT) that are going to be upset by this vote.

They did weigh whether it was worth siding with the three they don't trust and making the four in their alliance angry, but in the end they decided it was worth the risk.  They aren't forming a new alliance, after all, just a new voting bloc that expires at the end of tribal council.  And so JSS went to tribal council with a plan to blindside on of their allies to better their chances of making it to the end.  Although it appeared that the real plan was to see how many times the words "bloc" and "evolution" could be said before the vote.

It was a dark and stormy night.
And then the skies opened up and a torrential downpour soaked the Survivors to the bone as they shivered their way through Jeff's probing questions.   The two members of the jury came in and Kass was her classy self, flipping off the tribe again, while Savage upped his douchebag look by donning a hipster beanie and shaking some all is cool hand gesture to the tribe.  As far as Jeff's questioning, of most note was when he asked for a show of hands who felt at risk, Wiglesworth's was not one of the hands that nervously shot up.  In fact, she said (in one of the few soundbites from her all season) that she was fairly confident that things would go according to plan tonight.  Unfortunately, she was right.  She just had the wrong plan in mind.

So after making them sit in the cold and the rain and the thunder and the lightning, Jeff finally let them go and vote.  And then the four not in the know, as well as the target herself, all discovered what this talk about evolution and voting blocs meant for them.  Kelly Wiglesworth, original Survivor runner up, would be the third member of the Second Chance jury.

This is the most Wiglesworth said all season.
Was there anything Kelly could have done to save herself?  We weren't shown much of her game, so it's hard to say.  She was certainly a threat going in as the thought was that the reverence towards the original Survivor and her place in the history of the show would cause people to want to see her win.  From what some others said, she was well-liked and had built relationships with everyone.  But if that were really true, wouldn't she still be there?  I think that she suffered from her association with Joe and became "the next best thing" after three attempts to take down Joe failed.  Not to rehash last week, but had her tribe split the vote and taken care of Wentworth, she'd probably have been safe as there wouldn't have been the numbers for a big move yet.  Instead, she became the runner up trophy that Stephen coveted when he again lost out on taking the top prize of Golden Boy Joe.

Kelly the next day:
click here

Kelly at Ponderosa:
click here

More on Kelly:
On Survivor Talk with Dalton Ross
With Josh Wigler/Parade
With RealityTVWorld

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance, Episode 8 Recap - How 3 is greater than 9

“There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent.” - Lao Tzu

"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." - Proverbs 16:18

#FYAS - Eliza Orlins

The reign of terror has ended.  Andrew Savage, the most smug, supercilious, pompous player to ever play Survivor, was served a big spoonful of comeuppance at tonight's epic, one-for-the-ages tribal council.  As screams of joy spread across the Survivor nation, and Twitter flooded with #fyas and #fuas, Savage took the short but sweet walk of shame to his best bud Jeff Probst and watched his "life in this game" snuffed out once more.  Abi-Maria Gomes gave him a fitting send off, turning his own words on him, and he gave the CBS censors another opportunity to blur some digits as his second chance came to an end.

And for once a divided nation came together, huddled around our 65" Ultra HD TV sets, and celebrated.

Too much?  Most of us coming into Survivor: Second Chance had a relatively neutral view of Andrew Savage.  We remembered how the outcast twist his season -- which for the first time allowed eliminated contestants back into the game -- messed with his game and thought that he was somewhat deserving of a second chance for that reason alone.  We didn't even mind that he spent some cold hard cash campaigning to get voted back on this season and took it as a sign that this was important enough for him to buy the ads.  But almost immediately upon setting foot in Cambodia, Savage went from the guy with the hard-luck story to the macho alpha male asserting his power and attacking those he felt were beneath him.

On just the second episode, Savage went after Stephen Fishbach saying, "Fishbach is kinda lacking in some of the things that really mean everything to me and my tribe.  Morals, values, loyalty, dignity, courage."  This was not something he said to another tribemate for a strategic purpose, it was an uncalled for personal attack, directed to us the viewers at home, to question and disparage Stephen's very humanness.  Savage is a lawyer, he knows what words mean and how to use them to do damage.  He intentionally maligned a fellow castmate just to taint the viewer's opinion of him and raise questions about his integrity.  I didn't know it at the time, but that outburst gave rise to the eff you Andrew Savage hashtags that were in abundance last night.  Again last night Savage went on the attack against Stephen, calling him disgusting for trying to play the game and target the number one threat in the game, Joe.  Disgusting?  No, trying to get rid of a threat is not disgusting.  Verbally attacking someone for playing the game, that's disgusting.

So that's where my glee in his downfall comes from.   And if Twitter, Reddit and Survivor Sucks are any barometer, I'm not alone.  But let's go back to the beginning and see how we got here.

The episode starts with Savage and Jeremy talking about voting out Chaos Kass the night before. "Brilliant plan executed to perfection," Savage calls it.  He was sitting pretty and feeling good.  His plans were coming together and he had the numbers on his side.  He told us, as he had told his fellow tribemates, that his first goal was to make the jury.  With that taken care of, his plan was to "stay the course" and pick off the three women in the minority and keep playing old-school Survivor.

"Things could not be any more perfect.  Nothing can go wrong."
Jeremy listened and agreed, the women, especially Ciera, were gunning for him, Savage and Joe.  Jeremy is playing a really good game so far.  He doesn't give too much; he listens more than he volunteers.  And he is well aware that he is a threat, but that Joe is a bigger threat so as long as Joe is around, Jeremy looks less threatening.  So when he leaves Savage to go talk with Stephen, he gets a little frustrated in Stephen's obsession on getting Joe out.  Jeremy is in a very interesting place here, between the alpha and beta, straddling the fence between the guy who wants to keep bros before hos and the guy who wants one of the bros gone stat, before he wins it all.

Also playing a good game is Stephen.  He has enough self-awareness to realize that his obsession with getting out Joe is Moby Dick-ian in its intensity and that he risks Ahab's fate if he doesn't let up in his single-minded efforts.  Still, he continues to raise Joe as a threat which does alert them to look for a chance to vote him out should he ever lose an immunity challenge.  Hey, stop laughing.  He can't win them all.  I mean, just how many balance a ball on a disc games can they come up with?  Eight, nine more tops.

There is definitely a risk to continually bringing up an alliance member as the next to be voted out.  If he's willing to cut Joe, why won't he do the same to us.  But this is where Stephen is playing smart.  First, he listens to his alliance members and doesn't try to run them over.  When Jeremy says it's too soon, he doesn't push back and come off looking like an unreliable wild card that is too dangerous to keep around.  Second, Stephen reaches out to and tries to build alliances with people outside of the main power group.  You never want to take those in the minority for granted and you don't want them to think they don't have a chance to sway you.  Stay open, stay connected.

You want Joe out?   OMG, I want Joe out!
Ciera is not taking being at the bottom lying down and she and Stephen have a good talk about the majority alliance having to fracture at some point and they bond over their mutual desire to target Joe Perfect ASAP.  This is textbook Survivor.  You don't let a little thing like an apparent 9-3 numbers disadvantage slow you down, you get out there and try to stir things up, look for cracks and exploit the hell out of them if you can.  It's what Tasha and Savage did so successfully after the tribe reshuffle when they found themselves down 4-to-2.  But as good as Ciera's plan is, she's going to need some divine intervention to keep herself or her two allies out of trouble.

Before the opening credits run, Fishbach gives us some foreshadowing to consider, telling us, "It's time to go for someone who's a real threat to win this game" as we get shots of Joe, Savage and Jeremy, the "bros" currently running the sho'.

The reward challenge had two teams paddling to collect puzzle blocks that were then to be arranged so that no color repeated on any one side.  After the school yard pick, Joe ended up on a team of two men and four women and only he could get away with patting each on their behind before the challenge started.  If Keith had tried that, he'd be on a sexual predator list now.  Oh, it's good to be the golden boy.  Despite having more muscle on their team, it was Joe's team that made it back to the beach first and despite having the collective brain power of Savage, Spencer and Stephen, it was Joe's team that solved the puzzle first.  And thus it was Joe's team that went off to indulge themselves in bagels, iced coffee and cookies.

When I win, I'm gonna buy me one of these "to-tos."
Usually I don't talk much about the reward challenges, but watching Keith commandeer one of the tuk tuks, take it out for a spin, and then drive his teammates around for a victory lap or two was a real highlight.  The guy is just so adorable.  He isn't playing old school or new school, this is Keith school.  He is having the time of his life, playing hard, partying hard, and enjoying every moment of his second chance.  And Ciera understands what an opportunity she was given by getting to go on a reward and takes the chance to talk game, "drop some seeds and build some relationships."  They are the strategic yin and yang of this season and it was fun seeing both of them get the most out of the reward.

"The scheming, lying, deceit.  It's disgusting." - Andrew Savage

Stephen talks to his allies, going to Jeremy, Spencer and Tasha, and suggests blindsiding Joe at the next tribal if something supernatural and impossible happens and he doesn't win immunity.  Savage observes one of these talks and makes his second disparaging comment against Stephen this season.  Conveniently, Savage ignores or forgets -- or hopes we ignore and forget -- that he did the same thing to Spencer just a couple episodes ago.  He schemed against him, lied to his face, carried out his deceitful plan to vote out the great kid he loves like a son.  When he tries to do it, it's okay.  When Fishbach tries, it's disgusting??  I fear someone like Savage -- a bad guy who thinks he's a saint -- much more than the Russell Hantz's of the world, who at least are honest about themselves.

Those of us who've watched Survivor knew once Stephen approached Jeremy, Spencer and Tasha this episode and got them even partially on board with targeting Joe that Joe was a mortal lock to win the immunity challenge.  There is no reason to show this much pre-challenge strategizing unless it's about to blow up in someone's face big time.  So with his plan to vote out Joe starting to come together, it was no shock at all that the next immunity challenge was a virtual carbon copy (um, to those of you under 50, that was a process for making direct copies of documents by placing carbon paper between the original and the under-copy) of last week's immunity challenge which Joe also won.

Didn't we just do this?
Kudos to Keith for making it a real nailbiter and showing amazing concentration, balance and drive as he gave Joe a real run for his money.  But, as I typed last week and smartly saved to be reinserted in every subsequent post, "Joe wins!"  That may not have been a surprise, but the fact that Stephen was not the first person out and out-performed his "one second" record from last week deserves some applause.  Jeremy fared only slightly better than when he first played this challenge, dropping out fourth after three nearly immediate drops by Kelley, Ciera and Kelly.  If you had suspected that Jeff Probst particularly enjoys providing play by play during "ball" challenges and if you noticed that some of his commentary was particularly tongue-in-cheek, check out his confirming that this is not by chance in his interview with Dalton Ross.

Going back to camp after the immunity challenge, it's scramble time.  Fishbach's target has the immunity necklace again so he's off the table.  But there is some talk about blindsiding Stephen.  Savage came up with the plan, gave it to Joe and Joe took it to Ciera, Wentworth and Wiglesworth.  Like Stephen, Joe is playing smart and looking for allies on both sides of the divide.  Of course Wentworth was on board with his plan as she knows she is on the bottom and the most likely target.  Ciera also agrees, implementing a slightly tweaked version of the Sandra Diaz-Twine strategy of anyone but me, telling Wentworth, "At this point I'm good with anybody as longs as it's not me or you."  And Wiglesworth says she's fine with it too.  All three women do an excellent job of the "just say yes" strategy and for now it looks like Stephen's fish will be fried.

But wait.  Savage tries to pull in Jeremy and Tasha in his plan to target Stephen.  What Savage doesn't realize is that Jeremy is close to Fishbach and planning on JT'ing him (taking him to the end and then getting all the jury votes leaving Stephen a crying mess).  So Jeremy deftly directs the conversation away from Stephen and back to one of the three women in the minority alliance.  Spencer weighs in as well that Stephen is a known threat and won't get his way without their help, so why not keep him around for the numbers and get the outsiders eliminated first.  What is not clear is whether Spencer, like Jeremy, feels that he has a good relationship with Stephen and wants to keep him around for when it is time to make a big move.  But what is clear is that Savage's distrust and dislike of Stephen is not persuading anyone.  His singular focus on Stephen is not that different than Stephen's focus on Joe and what's great about this for the rest of the group is by keeping Stephen and Savage around and fighting, no one is targeting them.

Savage took not getting his way about as well as an arrogant, snobby, self-centered, narcissist would.  He looked into the camera and said  "As a lawyer I pleaded my case.  I’m kinda used to getting what I want and I didn’t."  But inside he had to be seething that his minions refused to do his bidding.  There he was, holding court on his royal hammock, as his subjects came, kissed his ring, and had their precious moment with the king -- only to tell him that they saw his point and all but they refused to carry out the execution.  Stephen was not getting blindsided today.

Do you believe in miracles?
Wisely, the rest of the group steers the attention back on the three amigas - Wentworth, Ciera and Abi-Maria.  The only question is which one to target.  Last tribal, they split the vote between Ciera and Kass in case someone had an idol.  With no idol played, and their belief that there are no idols to be found, they felt safe in not splitting the votes this time.  The three, told of their fate by Joe, decide to vote together and hope for the best.  Maybe a miracle will happen.  For the first time, we hear Savage's name bandied about and my heart swells.  Up to this point, I thought this was Fishbach's swan song episode.  All roads were leading to him being kicked out of the game while the great white whale continued to swim free.  But why would the producers give us this little nugget of the women dropping Savage's name if it were Stephen who was going to be their target?

At tribal, after first member of the jury, Chaos Kass comes in and salutes her fellow players, the conversation picks up where it left off last time.  Are people playing the game?  Both Ciera and Wentworth call out their fellow castaways on letting a group of four run the show.  Then Ciera shows the downside of a public school education when she identifies the four as Savage, Jeremy, Tasha, and Stephen or Joe.  Jeremy quickly points out that five is greater than four which is hard to argue with, but not hard to argue with is that there is a core group who is dictating tonight's vote.  Savage couches that group as one that talks frequently and has mutual respect.  And the way he spits out that word -- respect -- is his way of signifying that those on the outside are not deserving of respect.  Which brings us the first of many priceless Ciera reactions.

Ciera has absolutely perfected the under-appreciated art of the eye roll. She can do them in sync, she can do them independently, to the left, to the right, up into her head and all around.  This is an act worthy of The X Factor.  Set it to music and you have some serious entertainment value there.  The girl is talented.  And she does it in between making some very strong arguments about why half of the tribe is made up of sheep that better wake up before they're led to slaughter. Ciera makes many great points - if there is a tight four and you're not in it, you're at the bottom.  If you're playing for eighth, seventh, sixth or fifth, great.  But if you want to win, you can't let a solid group of four make it to the end.  Where she's wrong is that there isn't a solid group of four - there is a group of five but within that group three of them are targeting each other.  So even those not in the top group could use the distrust between Stephen, Joe and Savage for their benefit.  They might lay low while Ciera, Wentworth and Abi-Maria are sent home, but then there is still time to form new alliances to target come in the top group. Unfortunately, I think only Spencer is capable of that type of strategic planning.  I think Wiglesworth, Keith and Kimmi are just implementing the "if it's not me, I'm fine with it" plan.

Wentworth and Ciera fought as hard as they could, short of outing those who had come to them to break with the alliance.  When asked why she wouldn't name names, Wentworth said, "what if I'm here tomorrow and have to work with them?"  That my friends is a million dollar question and one not enough Survivors ask themselves.  This is someone who is thinking long term and is not going to be rigid in his gameplay, someone who recognizes an enemy today can be an ally tomorrow.  If you have a tomorrow.  Which at this point does not look good for her.

Before we go to the vote, I've given Joe a lot of flack for being nothing but eye candy this season.  But today he stepped up his game with two good observations at tribal council - one about perception being reality and two about the game looking like a chess match with indistinguishable pieces.  If Joe has his Adonis-like good looks and can be insightful, what chance do the rest of us have to compete?   Stephen is right, he really is the biggest threat in the game.

All the talk of solid sub-alliances and playing for the win and making a big move ultimately fall on deaf ears as one by one the nine in the majority walk up and write down Wentworth's name.  We don't know why she was chosen over Ciera or why they didn't split the vote 5-4 or whether Wentworth was alerted that she was the prime target.  But then before the votes were read, Jeff made his standard, "If anyone has a hidden immunity idol and you want to play it" speech and everything changed.  The heavens opened and angels began to sing the sweetest song ever heard.  Time stood still, all senses became more attuned, and the universe was at peace.  Kelley Wentworth -- who barely had a chance to play her first time on Survivor and vowed to play hard this time out -- reached in and pulled out the immunity necklace she had found on Day One.

How do you like me know?

As everyone (but Savage) sat there, mouths agape, shocked and even a little amused by this stunning turn of events, Ciera offered that this was her favorite moment.  Now, we the viewers didn't know how the votes would fall but the reaction on the faces of the tribe promised that this would be a game changer.  And it was as one after another, nine times in all -- a Survivor record -- Jeff stated that a vote for Wentworth "will not count."  It wasn't until the first non-Wentworth vote that we learned who the three had settled on to give what they may have thought were throwaway votes.

When Jeff said his name, this is what I heard:

This is what I saw:

This is how it made me feel:

The reaction of the remaining eleven survivors ran the gamut from zero (Wiglesworth) to eleven (Wentworth-Ciera-Abi-Maria) with Spencer showing much more excitement than he probably intended to.  Even Tasha and Jeremy couldn't stifle a smile as the perfectly orchestrated assassination played out in real time.  As much as we watching at home (and I mean all of us, except for Savage's model wife and family) all loved watching one of the great immunity idol plays in Survivor history, those who lived through it also seemed sincerely stunned by what they just witnessed and couldn't help but appreciate its magnitude.  When Jeff mentioned that tonight someone had made a big move, Keith gestured towards Wentworth, the queen of the night.

But Savage didn't seem to be having as much fun as the rest of the tribe and did not seem to appreciate Abi-Maria's parting words -- "At least you made it to the jury."  He flipped her the bird and Abi-Maria quickly smiled and said, "Right back at you."  And our Brazilian firecracker is back!

Here's what Savage had to say the next day:

And even more Savage:
On Survivor Talk with Dalton Ross
With Josh Wigler for RHAP
With Gordon Holmes on Xfinity.
With Reality TV World.
With Hollywood Life.
With Examiner.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance, Episode 7 Recap - Kass is Out-Foxed

Going into Day 17, Kass has an epiphany.  "One of the great things about second chances is, there are so many layers of relationships.  Even though you say you're going to start fresh out here..." and then she trails off.  Are there fresh starts, or is your second chance just another opportunity to make the same mistakes but in a different locale and with different people?  By the end of the hour, we'll have that answer, at least for that California lawyer.

Up until last week's episode, Kass McQuillen's second chance story was about becoming "Calm Kass," -- being a vulnerable, friendly people person who makes birthday necklaces and shows human emotions.  But she was only able to fight her true nature for so long and last week she unleashed the beast.  Rather than staying strong with her old Bayon tribe who wanted to target Spencer, she broke ranks and voted out Andrew Savage's faithful servant Woo Hwang.  I wrote last week that I wasn't sure this was her best strategic move as it only put a target on someone who up to that point had become a nonentity in the game.

But maybe that's what ultimately motivated the turn around.  Better to be memorable than a forgettable bit player in someone else's story.  Better to go out in a blaze of glory than just fade away.  Kass could do the math and she saw that once the merge happened, she was in trouble.  She was at the bottom of the old Bayon alliance.  She wasn't going to let anyone else set the agenda, if she was going out it would be on her terms.  Fighting and scrambling and trying to create havoc.  It didn't work, but considering most of us had Kass as the predicted first book, making it to the jury is not too shabby.

Don't buy a used car or an alliance from this guy,
Early in the episode - pre-merge - Savage was alone on the beach and steaming.  "They're incredible liars.  I thought I could read people but those people are professionals.  I'm not going to go down workout a fight.  BLEEP them.  Pieces of BLEEP."  And then the Lorne Malvo of Fargo Season 1 scary smile.  The I could kill you with my bare hands but I won't, at least not with the cameras rolling, smile.  Like Usain Bolt and William Wordsworth, Andrew Savage is taking nominative determinism to a new height.  You know, you're named "Bolt" so you run fast, "Wordsworth" you become a writer?  Well Savage feels some real pull to live up to his surname.

Has anyone felt as good about themselves as Andrew Savage?  You know his wife was a model, right?  So he tells us that he'll try his best to fake being a wimpy, under the radar, non-leader - which is the complete antithesis of the heroic warrior he really is.  He'll lower himself and act like a regular human if that's what it takes to get him to the merge.  Because he has to get to that merge.  But have no fear, Jeff Probst's BFF.  The Survivor gods, or the producers, or someone who's looking out for you but I'm not naming names will fix this right up.  You need a merge, you got one.

And so for the first time in the 15 year history of Survivor, the first time in 31 seasons, an unprecedented, unheard of, never before seen (have I stressed this point enough?) 13 person merge is ordered from on high.  Hurrah, Savage is saved.   O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Now you know I'm not at all the suspicious type, but did you notice how hastily thrown together the notes each tribe received were.  And how everyone who spoke about the note said it couldn't possibly be a merge because it was way too early and it's never ever ever been done before not with so many people.  Heck a tribal council with thirteen torches would be a fire hazard.

This is my "I totally trust" you face.
But first, Savage and Spencer Bledsoe hammer out their differences - their differences being Savage lying to Spencer's face and pretending to be his friend while planning on blindsiding him and Spencer not falling victim thanks to Kass.  Spencer gets Savage to agree and shake on never writing his name down again.  And we know what Savage thinks of liars  -- bleep them, pieces of bleep -- so we know he's not going to go back on this promise.   Smart of Spencer to say bygones to Savage and think about continuing to try and build relationships.  He continues to get one of the best edits this season.

Okay, I promise, last bitch about Savage for this post.  But him saying how he's suffered out here this season?  Two days after one of his tribemates is evacuated because of a medical emergency involving his teenage son.  Shut up Savage.

Going into the merge Stephen Fishbach, Jeremy Collins, Tasha Fox, Andrew Savage, and Kelly Wiglesworth are together as a solid five.  They only need to bring in two more for a majority.  Kass, Ciera Eastin, Abi-Maria Gomes are together and will never join with them.  They need to bring in four more.  Kimmi Kappenberg, Keith Nale, Kelley Wentworth and Joe Anglim are up for grabs, with Kimmi and Keith most likely going with the Jeremy group.  Spencer wants to connect with Kelley and Joe and find the best group for them to join with.  If I had a stick and some sand I'd draw you a picture so we could discuss it in #joelanguage.

A rain storm leaves all the tribe huddled together in the shelter unable to strategize.  So Fishbach decides to share a poem.  It's "God Grandeur" by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

I'm not much for poetry, but it seems appropriate for a second chance themed show as it speaks of destruction and renewal, how man can try and tear down but nature will win out.  How there is renewal and rebirth.   Revival.  Literally a new life.  And that's what all the second chance tribe is looking for.

Stephen's poem made me feel all warm inside until I remembered Cagayan.
Former Cagayan tribemates Kass and Tasha are talking about what the merge means for them, and neither trusts the other.  Tasha claims she throws out some bait to Kass -- saying that she doesn't believe they are Bayon strong anymore -- to see what Kass does with the intel.

Kass tries to use the information against Tasha and her plan completely backfires.  One, Tasha is in the majority alliance and her friends do not believe she would have said anything against their alliance.  Two, Kass has a reputation which precedes her and it's not for being trustworthy.  Three, Kass pissed off Savage and he will use his leadership powers to get his bros united against their common enemy.  Four, some of the fence sitters are afraid of rattling the alpha-males and even more wary of siding with a famed backstabber.  Five, as I said when previewing this season, who wants to keep someone around who gave herself the nickname CHAOS??  It's not as hard a decision as the producers made it out to be.

Indeed, when the merged tribe came in for their first individual immunity challenge (which, unlike past seasons, did not have two idols, one for a female and one for a male winner), almost the first word uttered was "chaos."  Ciera mentioned that's what was going on around the tribe as everyone was running around camp drawing lines.  The problem with this is that every time someone utters the word "chaos" we're all reminded of how Kass was disloyal to her original tribe and embraced her villain edit as the bringer of pandemonium.  By comparison, Tasha has a reputation as a god-fearing, flower headband wearing, perfect teeth baring hero.  Which side would you join?

The first challenge was one previously played in Cagayan which Tasha had won, beating out Spencer.  It's a balance upon balance challenge that is actually pretty fun to watch, especially as people try every position to keep their ball on the circle because who wants their ball to fall off? Would history repeat itself with a Tasha win or would Spencer take his second chance and win this time out?

Get used to it.
Neither.  Joe wins!  I'm going to take the opportunity to copy that so that I can easily paste in into each of the next episode recaps.  To save time, I should also input "Stephen drops out first" as a shortcut keystroke.  What is more predictable this season -- Stephen embarrassing himself in a competition or golden boy Joe dominating?  I know!  Maybe how boring Joe's confessionals are.  When God was handing out personality he looked at Joe's Adonis-like form and said, that's good enough.  Let's give personality to those truly in need.

Back at camp, the fun starts.  Savage complains that he wanted the win so he could show all the young whippersnappers what a strong, virile man he still is even at his advanced age.  Savage is locked in a Cialis commercial and trying to get his, um, mojo front and center.  He's not happy being perceived as any less alpha than the other macho men on the tribe.   As the menfolk would say, it really grinds his gears.

Okay, since I went back on my promise not to rag on Savage any more this post, I will give him props for this:  When he went to the well with his alliance and they were discussing who would be their first target, he threw out the name Ciera.  But when he got pushback from his alliance, he did not stubbornly dig in his heels.  He switched gears and agreed with them to target her ally Kass.  That's exactly the right thing to do.  You make your pitch but if you get resistance and the other name is also good for you, just go along!

Also smart was how Spencer handled this.  He goes and talks with Jeremy (with whom he'd been building a relationship) about who they want to target. He follows rule number one, and does not give out a name first.  When Jeremy says "Kass" he immediately goes along.  As he tells us in one of his always entertaining confessionals, with the tide pulling you in one direction you'd have to be a fool to swim in the other.  And the benefit of Kass as a target, over Ciera, is that she is a toxic force that even non-gamers like Keith would be happy to get rid of just for the sake of peace.  The best target is one that others can feel good about voting out for any number of reasons.

With a personality and reputation as a chaotic pot-stirrer, you either have to be successful in convincing people why they should join you or you are an easy target.  Unfortunately for Kass, she lacks the power of persuasion.  When she talks, people don't think, "interesting point."  They think, "she's up to something."  And she is.  Plus, she makes it tense around the shelter and no one knows what she's up to but they know whatever it is, it's not good.  She is the quintessential easy first post-merge target.

Now, of course, what makes her the easy target doesn't necessarily make her the right one.  With the bro-lliance of Andrew, Jeremy, Stephen being strong, I'm surprised that some players - Kimmi, Kelly, Keith - aren't worried about being on the bottom.  Wentworth, Spencer and Joe also had to decide where they fit in, should they side with Kass, Abi-Maria and Ciera or go with the majority.  And of course you're trying to figure this all out with little sleep, little food, and very little time to think.

CBS had to spring for a new super wide angle camera to include everyone from the new Orkun tribe in this picture.  Notice how they are seated according to importance in case we couldn't follow the narrative tonight.  See how they give us Ciera, Kass and Tasha in the middle, center, with the "swing votes" (but not really) Joe and Spencer behind then also in the center.  You all on the ends, you don't even have to be there.  So Jeff starts asking question and if you're playing the "Chaos" drinking game (accepting variations on the word) you're not sloshed right now and may have missed this great reaction to Tasha hearing Kass say that she's NOT playing the Chaos game (check out the awesome GIF here):

I'm surprised Tasha's head didn't snap off.  Kass cannot have it both ways, you can't build yourself an image and play it up for two seasons and then feign ignorance.  If anything dug her grave it was trying to backtrack on what her game plan was. Embrace it, maybe try to sell it one last time, but don't pee on the rest of the tribe's collective heads and tell them that it's raining.  They're not buying it.

Joe is honest about what is driving his vote.  "Everyone is afraid to jump on one side of the fence or the other.  The easiest vote is these three right here."  Ciera takes umbrage at his statement.  "It should not be easy.  Go for the jugular.  I don't want to play with people who are scared.  I don't want to play with people who don't want to win."  I don't know what message she was trying to convey or who she was trying to sway considering her ultimate vote, but her argument was sound.  Don't make an easy vote, make the right vote. The problem was, neither she nor Kass was able to convince their fellow tribemates that voting out Tasha was the right vote.

Stephen made an interesting observation that this was a strange post-merge tribal with the three at risk being non-physical threats.  He also could have noted that they were also all originally part of the dominating Bayon tribe.  The logical first post merge boot would be either a physical threat - a Jeremy or a Savage - or someone from the old Ta Keo tribe like Abi-Maria or Spencer.  But the vote went down to going with the flow and voting out one of the Bayon turncoats.

In the end, it was Kass who garnered the most votes, with Ciera casting an unexpected vote (a message perhaps) against Savage.  But the message from tonight was that this doesn't speak to any solid alliances so much as a voting bloc of convenience.  Using the Sandra Diaz Twine "anyone but me" winning All-Star approach, the castaways are looking for easy, joint decisions so long as they're not the one at risk. Of course, this approach can only last so long.  We no longer have any chaos to shake things up, but we have some good strategists who are laying in wait, prepared to strike when the time is right.

I hope they don't wait too much longer.

EDIT: One note I forgot.  How hard is it to spell KASS???  It rhymes with mass, lass, pass, and sass and if you were going to make a mistake I could see Cass, as in Mama Cass Elliott.  But spelling it KAS can only be to tweak her.  Remember, not only was Tasha on Kass' previous season, but she was on the brains tribe, so there's no reason for her to pretend to be incapable of spelling a simple four letter name.  Maybe if they changed the rules that only properly spelled names counted, Francesca would have won her two seasons?

Here's Kass, aka Queen of Ponderosa, the next day:

Want more Chaos?
Kass on Survivor Talk.
Kass on RHAP.
Kass with Gordon Holmes/Xfinity.
Kass with Reality TV World.
Kass on SheKnows.
Kass on Examiner.
Kass on Gold Derby podcast.
Follow Kass on Twitter