If there has ever been a Survivor season where the second half of the game was so diametrically different from the first, I certainly cannot recall it. What started out as a vaguely dissatisfying game focused on insane personalities has slowly morphed into a fully entertaining game focused on insane strategy, with Malcolm as the pony-tailed ringleader of the insanity. Don’t worry; he seems as surprised about this development as we are.
I do a lot of grousing about hidden immunity idols and how the show has ruined them by making them far too easy to find, but I must admit they’ve made the game quite exciting these past two weeks. Without Reynold’s idol last week, Andrea never would have gotten spooked about the possibility of her going home and Michael might still be in the game. (Also, we wouldn’t have had the glorious moment of Malcolm asking for Reynold’s idol in the middle of Tribal.) And without hidden immunity idols this week, the entire tenor of the game would be different.
The idols—both earned and hidden—really are key here because without them, Stealth ‘R Us has an easy seven to three advantage to coast to the end of the game. They know it, Malcolm and his bro alliance of Reynold and Eddie know it, and no one pretends any differently. The idea of one of Malcolm’s trio going home is such a foregone conclusion that the majority of the first half of the episode is focused on how the game is slowly crushing Dawn’s spirit. Dawn’s breakdown is punctuated by pure paranoia, as she’s sure Andrea’s relationship with Eddie and Malcolm means she is turning on Stealth, and planning to take Dawn out first with her new alliance of hot bros. Phillip and Cochran listen but can barely refrain from shaking their heads, assuring her Andrea isn’t flipping and Dawn is safe. Phillip even calls Dawn a lunatic, and when Phillip is questioning your sanity and it makes sense, things have gone horribly wrong for you.
In the meantime, Stealth ‘R Us comes up with a plan: Reynold is the target, with them throwing votes Malcolm’s way to flush out the idol. Cochran is pretty confident things are going to go their way, which is how you know everything is about to go to hell instead. That’s precisely what happens when Reynold wins an immunity challenge absolutely stacked in his favor, a difficult water challenge requiring stamina and general athletic ability. The only way it could be more favored for Reynold to win would be if he had to throw things at other things at the end.
That’s not the end for Stealth, though. The new plan is to split the votes between Malcolm and Eddie with Malcolm going home, or at least that’s the plan until everyone goes idol hunting and Malcolm finds one right in front of Andrea and Dawn. Yet that’s not enough to change the plan: Stealth still plans on splitting the vote, just with Eddie going home this time.
But Malcolm knows something Stealth doesn’t: He has another hidden immunity idol. In a magnificent display of showmanship, Malcolm and his alliance keep this information to themselves until they get to Tribal, when Malcolm reveals his new idol, immediately followed by the one he previously had, gifting it to Eddie like he’s giving him the gold medal at the Survivor Olympics. Which, let’s face it, he basically is. From there, Tribal completely devolves into madness: Malcolm continues his gloating with Probst while the entirety of the Stealth alliance completely checks out, whispering amongst themselves about who they are going to vote out.
This is when Malcolm makes it easy on them—maybe too easy. While Brenda is whispering Andrea’s name to Dawn and Andrea is sitting there miserably with her head in her hands, Malcolm loudly announces his alliance is voting for Phillip. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do but also gives Stealth an out: No matter what they do, they know three votes are going to someone in their alliance they maybe don’t like all that much anyway. Malcolm’s reasoning is that Phillip runs the game like they’re in boot camp, and he’s there to have fun, which Phillip takes offense to, but you can tell Phillip pretty much knows he’s cooked.
When the vote comes in, Malcolm and Eddie play their idols (Malcolm far more reluctantly than Eddie; you can tell he would love to get away with keeping one), and the voting comes in exactly as if there were no idols at all: Stealth splits their vote between Eddie and Malcolm, and Phillip goes home with three votes from the bros. This leaves Jeff asking the question of the game: Sure, they squeaked through tonight, but did Malcolm and his alliance change the game enough to survive next week? With the way this game changes on a dime, I wouldn’t put it past them to figure out a way to maneuver a better position for themselves now that Phillip is gone.
No matter what happens next week, the past few episodes of Survivor have been the show at its absolute finest, showing why after 26 seasons, it’s still one of the most satisfying reality shows on television. But I still want them to hide those immunity idols just a little bit better.
- Dawn had a near nervous breakdown because she lost her fake teeth—an “I’m going to pull myself from the game” breakdown—until Brenda dives in the water and finds them. The entire sequence is strange and vain and just plain weird. They’re just your bottom teeth, Dawn! No one can see them anyway!
- Phillip jumping in the pool and creating a Pig-Pen-like cloud of mud in the water was absolutely disgusting. Manners, Phillip.
- Reynold: “I think it’s sacrilegious not to participate in an immunity challenge, especially if you have lions and gorillas tattooed on your body. Come on, man.”
- Malcolm: “Phillip is the fun sponge; he sucks it all out of the group.”
- Cochran: “Whatever happens tonight, this is why I’ve freaking loved Survivor now for 13 years.”