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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Survivor: “Head Of The Snake”

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It’s dangerous to have all the power in Survivor. When you have the power, all eyes are on you. When you’re like Sarah is in this episode—caught as the swing vote between two equal tribes—everyone knows you have the power, when you’re going to wield it, and they can easily come for you. The trick when you have the power is to respect that power while still respecting everyone around you, so they don’t wise up and realize that hey, maybe they have a little bit of power after all. Maybe they don’t have to be the helpless pawn in your plan. And maybe, just maybe, they can put you in your place.

Sarah doesn’t learn that lesson, or maybe doesn’t even realize there’s a lesson there to learn, and that’s why she ends up getting voted out when she ostensibly has the power to control the entire game. As soon as the merge happens, Sarah realizes she’s the swing vote between the two merging five-man alliances, with her ties to the former Brawn players who are coming over from Solana. Instead of calmly hearing out both sides and making a decision on what she wants to do, though, Sarah reaches for more. It’s hard to fault her for wanting to assert herself in the game; she’s a cop, after all, someone who is used to being in control. At first, her desire to maintain some control is admirable: When Tony approaches her with his deal and wants her to “swear on her badge” right then and there, she demurs, asking for time to consider his offer. It’s only when she goes back to her Aparri tribemates Kass and Jeremiah to get a read on whom they want to vote out when Sarah’s unstoppable force meets Kass’ immovable object, and everything goes to hell.

Up to this point, Kass has been a bit of a tough read. She’s mostly been drawn as droll and self-deprecating, but this episode reveals what just might be her defining trait: She most definitely thinks she’s the smartest person in the room. And if someone tries to test this supremacy? She knocks them down. Sarah’s disdain at the idea of voting out Jefra or Trish in place of an alpha male-type like Tony, LJ, or Woo rubs Kass completely the wrong way, especially when Sarah becomes more and more adamant they vote the way she wants and implies she’ll flip. The whole thing turns into a tug-of-war between Sarah and Kass, devolving to the point where Sarah calls Kass a bully and Kass can’t see anything beyond her hatred of Sarah. So when Trish gives Kass a lifeline and tells her they’re planning to vote out Sarah, asking her to come along, Kass snatches the opportunity to do what you can tell she’s wanted to do the entire episode: put Sarah in her place. Let Sarah know she’s not as powerful, or important, or smart as Kass is. It’s brutally sneaky and kind of wonderful, and absolutely none of it had to happen.

Sarah makes a lot of mistakes here. She plays her “swing vote” status completely out in the open. She fights for a vote she really doesn’t need to fight for and alienates her allies in the process. And, worst of all, she just fails to read the room at every opportunity. She gets so blinded by her power that she neglects to see how easy it would be for someone else to snatch that power away from her, and that’s exactly what ends up happening. It is the best kind of Survivor blindside, the kind that comes with a healthy dose of hubris.

But the thing that makes this episode absolutely tops is the insane Tribal Council leading up to the vote. It starts out with the basic “laying the groundwork” questions and quickly turns into a madhouse, all due to Tony. Who else would brag openly about having an idol? Who else would then show it, and call it a “community idol” and say he’ll use it on anyone else in his tribe? Who else would stir the pot like this just to see what the hell happens? Tony is a lot of things, but boring is never one of them. This immediately starts an open scramble within the former Aparri alliance to change their vote to “the other one” (the “current one” presumably being Tony), all while Jeff looks on with the biggest shit-eating grin. Spencer even openly says “All right, we’re voting for the other one.” Madness! Pure, entertaining-as-hell madness. But things only truly get to “classic episode of Survivor” stage after the vote, when Tony pulls out his idol and plays it for LJ. Then LJ pulls out his idol and plays it for Tony. Then the votes are revealed and the idols didn’t even matter, because the votes are between Jefra and Sarah. It’s intoxicating insanity, in a way only Survivor can be. Sarah goes from completely calm and certain one minute to getting her torch snuffed the next. It’s a glorious thing.

In the end, who gets the credit for this huge move? In my mind it has to be Trish, who convinces everyone she can get Kass if they vote for Sarah. Who bides her time and approaches Kass at the very right moment, after the feud has been simmering all day long. And who, from the vote, changed the entire fate of the game for her alliance. Damn, Trish. Who knew you had it in you?


Stray observations:

  • One thing I love about Sarah’s voting strategy was how completely wrong she was about it. Both Tony and LJ had idols; two people she swears couldn’t possibly have idols. Hilarious.
  • Woo was wearing barefoot shoes, so I am assuming the producers gave everyone the option to wear shoes or not? Looks like that decision worked out well for him.
  • The immunity idol necklace is especially nice this season.
  • An idol with “different powers” is hidden near the new Solarrian camp. Any speculation on these powers?
  • In related news, “Solarrian” is a dumb tribe name.
  • “The best laid plans often end up sprawled out on a murder scene floor.” Kass has secrets, y’all.
  • “Kass. Zero chance of winning the game.” “We’ve got a long way to go.”