Survivor: “Operation Thunder Dome”
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Survivor: “Operation Thunder Dome”

Hey, now that felt like an actual episode of Survivor! You know, one with scheming, tough challenges and very little concern that we’re witnessing a psychotic episode! After the reign of terror that was Brandon Hantz’s second Survivor crash-and-burn, it was nice to simply experience the show for what it was meant to be, instead of the cuckoo’s nest it was in danger of becoming.

It is not just the audience that breathed a sigh of relief at Brandon’s ouster last week; it’s immediately obvious from the lightness of the Favorites tribe just how relieved they are Brandon is finally gone. After a quick rehash of all the Hantz horrors—during which a suddenly chatty Corinne amusingly compares Brandon to Mel Gibson—they find out their relief is short-lived, with a tribal shakeup on the horizon.

The switch is done randomly, with players choosing an egg and smashing it to reveal the color of their new tribe, but what the producers likely hoped would bring more parity to the game through randomization ends up completely stacking all the young, athletic players on one team. The disparity is so obvious that Corinne—relegated to the lesser Bikal tribe, along with Phillip, Dawn, Cochrane, Julia, Michael, and Matt—has a hard time not simply throwing herself to the ground and having a good cry over her misfortune. Gota—now young, strong, and alpha-male-heavy with Malcolm, Reynold, Eddie, Erik, Andrea, Brenda, and Sherri—is clearly loving their obvious physical advantage as well.

But it’s not just the physical advantage making Gota happy. Reynold is pleased to have a chance to make new alliances in the game, immediately starting in on how Sherri ostracized him and trying to turn everyone against her. Erik (who gets a talking head segment for what feels like the first time all season) wisely distrusts everything about Reynold and his used car salesman vibe. For her part, Sherri is doing the exact same thing to Reynold, telling Brenda and Andrea all about his past with the idol and stressing he needs to go first. The Favorites already have a number advantage on the tribe, so that plus the dissent between the leftover Fans in Gota is giving them quite the advantage, if they all stick together.

Even though Brandon is gone, things still manage to be a little cuckoo, so long as Phillip is around. Bikal spends much less time rejoicing over their inherent awesomeness than Gota, but there’s no less scheming. Without Brandon taking up valuable screen time with his crazy, Corinne jumps off the screen as the big personality she’s apparently been this whole time. The Favorites have a number advantage on Bikal as well, but the cracks in their alliance are far easier to see. All of this is due to Phillip’s difficult personality and absolute need to control everything around him or at least feel like he’s in control even when people are laughing at him behind his back. Although they’re working with each other right now, Corinne and Phillip are two freight trains headed straight for each other; that much is made completely clear.

So much is made of the physical disparity between the new Gota and Bikal that I almost thought the editors were setting the audience up for a major fake-out with the immunity challenge, and it was going to be, like, basket weaving or something, but when the players stroll up to a game course involving giant boxes and a big puzzle, it’s pretty clear right away Bikal is toast. Gota doesn’t disappoint, absolutely dominating every aspect of the challenge and finishing its puzzle before Bikal even gets one piece. Um, maybe we can do that basket weaving one next week, to even things out a bit?

It’s after the challenge where things go a bit wonky to me, especially where the story editing was concerned. The majority of the time is spent on Phillip’s bossiness, which asserts itself most strongly when he sidles up to Matt and Matthew and tells him he’s voting “the girl” and basically orders them to do the same. Because apparently Julia isn’t worthy of even having a name, I guess? He continues to simply call her “the girl” for the rest of the episode, and therefore, I continue to want to take my girl fist and shove it down his condescending throat.

Things look like they’re going Julia all the way, however, until Cochrane brings up splitting the obvious pair of Matt and Michael. The way this was edited was the classic “throw a random person in so the vote is maybe in doubt” fashion, and I was absolutely certain Julia was going home. Right up until Matt is the one voted out, that is. I can accept the producers wanted to undercut a potentially strong alliance right away, but it feels like there was more to this vote than was shown. Julia was obviously not in on it, since she voted Dawn. Michael and Matt were both fooled. If the Favorites were just going to stick together like glue, why vote off a stronger player who can help you in challenges? You’d still have a numbers advantage.

Please, someone who’s better at strategy, explain this one to me. Because I’m at a loss.

Stray observations:

  • Corinne, I really feel like you shouldn’t be allowed to call someone who is basically a stranger to you “your gay.” It’s weird.
  • Corinne also makes a point to call Julia “boring” and insult her nasally voice. This is essentially my first experience with Corinne, and I must say I am not a fan so far.
  • “She’s a smart girl, but I’m an accomplished liar when it comes to women, so maybe I pulled it off.” Oh, Malcolm. Cut it out.
  • Jeff, always the charmer: “Bikal appears to be on some sort of medication, they’re moving so slow!”
  • Corinne: “On a scale of one to being on an airplane next to a baby annoying, he is being on an airplane next to a baby annoying and that baby has diarrhea.” 

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