Survivor: "Opening Pandora's Box"
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Survivor: "Opening Pandora's Box"

Survivor has become a show obsessed with recognizable faces, peppering almost every season’s cast with some combination of returning beloved players, returning hated players, actors, and sports personalities. Blood Vs. Water feels like the most extreme possible distillation of this trend, featuring a kitchen sink collection of returning beloved players, returning hated players, returning players no one even remembers, returning players’ loved ones, sports personalities, and even the winner of a different CBS reality show. It’s way too much, but has still managed to defy all logic by not completely sucking so far.

Survivor did make one grievous mistake in this otherwise pleasant season: bringing back Colton Cumbie. Colton was a lightning rod for controversy and drama in his appearance on One World, turning the game upside down and decimating his tribe (all while spouting racist, hateful garbage) before unceremoniously leaving with a suspected bout of appendicitis that turned out to be an infection of some sort. Colton returned this season—alongside fiancé and seemingly nice guy Caleb—talking all about how he wanted to prove he wasn’t the person everyone hated just a few short seasons ago.

The problem with that is he’s not a new person at all. After less than a week in the game, Colton evolved from contrite to bored to antagonistic to defeated to whimpering quitter, leaving the game in a teary huff after hearing a few people get antagonistic at a Redemption Island challenge he wasn’t even involved in, yelling at each other for things that didn’t even concern him. Colton’s sudden declaration that he wanted to quit was a blessing for those of us who find his “game play through chaos” style repugnant and hard to watch—and I’m including myself and his tribemates as a part of this group—but an absolute curse for Survivor’s credibility. Who in the world thought people wanted to see Colton again? Were a few potentially juicy promos worth the indignity of what he brings to the game?

I say no. The only truly good thing about having Colton on this season of Survivor was watching Jeff Probst absolutely eviscerate him when he left, calling Colton out for quitting the first time around by faking his medical issue and astutely diagnosing him with the inability to adapt and endure when things aren’t going his way. Probst’s obvious favoritism for athletic alpha males is obnoxious, but he remains a defender of this game, and to watch him rip apart someone who plays such a cowardly, ugly one is a fine thing to spend a few minutes of your day on. And to the producers? You're the ones who should really be ashamed.

Now that Colton is gone it feels like we can have an actual game again, which is a relief because there are actually quite a few interesting game things happening here. Candice is busy absolutely killing at Redemption Island (sending Rachel home this week), and I continue to enjoy how the Redemption Island twist is affecting the game differently than it has in the past, due to the presence of loved ones. Now Redemption isn’t a wholly useless waste of time every week, as it serves to expose the ingrained alliances between loved ones and causes a lot more cross-strategy thinking between the members of the opposing tribes. When Tyson and Brad started fighting and Brad’s “secret” agenda of being team leader was exposed? That’s the kind of thing that rarely happened when Redemption Island was just a meeting of two mostly unrelated tribes, and it’s a load of fun to watch.

What’s interesting is how Redemption is also ultimately deciding strategy within tribes, too. When Tadhana loses the Immunity Challenge yet again, it seems obvious that yet another female is about to get sent packing. The presence of Redemption Island strikes again, however, as Brad realizes that if Candice keeps wining and returns to the game, she is going to join forces with John and Brad is going to lose his power over John’s vote. This, coupled with the fact that John has both clues to the immunity idol and Brad is pretty sure John hasn’t retrieved it yet, cause Brad to decide this is the perfect time to blindside John and send him to join Candice at Redemption.

As much as Brad as a personality bugs, this is admittedly a very exciting move at this point in the game, even if it has likely tipped everyone else off to the control Brad is wielding over the tribe. Even Hayden—practically removed from any strategic talk or game-focused confessionals up to this point—notices that Brad is running things, and seems more than amenable to the idea of getting rid of him sooner rather than later. It’s a lively strategy session that heads into a fairly tame Tribal, until the blindside happens and John is sent to Redemption Island with a shell-shocked look on his face.

So yeah, having Colton on this season was the pits, but bright side is he’s gone, and the rest of this cast is turning out to be a hell of a good time.

Stray observations:

  • Seriously, see you never, Colton. Caleb likely has a much better shot of winning without you there anyway.
  • Aras and Vytas’ long-time sibling rivalry still feels very raw and compelling. Aras and Vytas for final two! I want to see brother vs. brother campaigning at the final jury questioning.
  • John. Why didn’t you go find the immunity idol? Come on, John. Candice is going to be disappointed in you, John.
  • The person probably least happy to see John at Redemption Island is Marissa. She’s got her work cut out for her, which is a bummer because she is fun.
  • Marissa: “Fuck you, Brad Culpepper.”
  • “If you have to do this, just do this. You know me; I don’t care.” I think I now understand Colton and Caleb’s relationship dynamic. 
Filed Under: TV, Survivor

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