Survivor: “Persona Non Grata”
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Survivor: “Persona Non Grata”

That was half a compellingly downtrodden episode of Survivor and half a ridiculous nightmare. Due to CBS’ incessant promotion of Brandon’s big meltdown we all knew the ridiculous nightmare was coming; it was just a question as to exactly how everything would go down. The answer? As uncomfortably and awkwardly as possible.

Before Brandon fulfills his ultimate destiny of going insane on national television (again), however, there’s a pretty good episode that sneaks in here. There’s always something fascinating that happens when one tribe is in the midst of an epic losing streak, and the Fans are certainly there tonight. The best thing is how they come back from voting out Laura absolutely on a high, convinced they did the best thing for their tribe and the momentum will finally shift their way—other than Sherri, who is visibly unhappy about voting out her friend. Their hopes are shattered quickly at the Reward Challenge when the Favorites defeat them in a hard-fought challenge based mostly on brute strength, which was one of their main reasons for getting rid of Laura’s dead weight.

It’s only then that everything falls apart. Sherri is angry all their posturing about voting an alliance member out to make the tribe physically stronger ended up being for nothing. The entire tribe is in scramble mode for the idol, desperately looking in trees like lost squirrels. (In the perfect little bit of Survivor irony, Reynold finds the idol again, just as easily as he did the first time.) Then the rain begins, and it’s the rain that really begins their death march. Survivor is Survivor, but Survivor in a 48-hour rainstorm is a whole different beast, enough to completely demoralize even the hardiest of players. It’s to the point where they trudge up to the Immunity Challenge like they’re going to their inevitable execution.

What the Fans don’t know is just how dire things have gotten over at the Favorites camp. To them, the Favorites have been living the life of luxury, enjoying rich food rewards every few days and feeding each other grapes while giggling at their enemies’ misfortunes and frolicking in the surf. Instead, it’s been more of a battle to keep Brandon on the right side of the sane/crazy line he walks within his mind at any moment. Brandon’s internal struggles are the prominent storyline here—struggles which defined his last appearance on the show as well, and probably should have been an indicator not to bring him back—and those struggles completely relate to how he feels he will be perceived by the audience. Brandon hates how Phillip is “running” the game, especially when Phillip takes credit for things Brandon feels he contributed himself.

Instead of just sucking it up and accepting that he has to deal with Phillip’s quirks in order to get further in the game, Brandon internalizes everything, and that’s where the episode starts to go off the rails. First, Brandon wants to go home because he misses his family and needs to provide for them. Then Brandon realizes the best way to provide for them is to, you know, win this game show he is there playing. Then Brandon decides being disrespected by Phillip isn’t worth a million dollars. Finally, Brandon goes crazy and becomes “the author of his own fate,” ruining the tribe’s entire food supply in order to make it easy for them to vote him out of the game. It’s ridiculous, nonsensical, unbalanced, and just plain scary, and honestly it is exactly what CBS deserves for allowing someone so fragile to be put into this pressure-cooker situation again.

It gets so bad that the Favorites decide they want to forfeit the challenge and simply vote Brandon off, which is where things get even more unpleasant. When Corinne announces the tribe’s decision, the Immunity Challenge turns into an impromptu Tribal Council with Jeff simultaneously egging Brandon on and talking him off the ledge when things get scary. Brandon rants to Phillip about how much he hates him, and then ends his time on the island by insisting he didn’t get played like he did the last time. No, he removed himself from this game before he could get played. Brandon’s unbridled rage and unhinged threats make the whole situation a scary one, and even Jeff seems a bit rattled as he talks Brandon off the ledge. He finally wraps things up by calling for an audible vote right there, and Brandon is sent home.

Honestly, this is exactly what I expected to happen when I heard Brandon was being cast in this season, only I expected it to come sooner. It was a horrible idea to bring someone so unstable back on the show—especially someone who suffered in his personal life because of things that happened in his first appearance—and nothing about his exit was narratively or emotionally satisfying. Not only that, but his casting put the Favorites at a disadvantage. This wasn’t something they chose to do, not really. It was something they had to do for their own safety. As Dawn said, this move was what was best for Brandon, not for the tribe.

Having to forcibly vote out one of your own to save them from hurting themselves or others just simply isn’t Survivor, at least any way fans want it to be. Brandon may be pleased by the way he exited, but I have a feeling he’s the only one.

Stray observations:

  • Jeff’s back rubs can soothe even the most beastly soul, it seems. Maybe he can market this skill now that his talk show is canceled. Jeff Probst: Massage Negotiator.
  • I still can’t decide whether Reynold is good at the game in a likeable way or not. Eddie remains terrible, at least.
  • Say what you will about Phillip, but he is absolutely kicking ass in challenges this season. I’m impressed.
  • “Kunta Kinte!” “Phillip, hollering some kind of war cry!” That happened.
  • Michael: “We’re failing on all levels of Survivor.”
  • Brandon: “I’m the author of my fate! Now vote me out, bitch!” 
Filed Under: TV, Survivor

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