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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Survivor: “Kind Of Like Cream Cheese” / “Still Holdin’ On”

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That felt mostly like a two-hour tease. A halfway entertaining tease, sure, but a tease nonetheless. I’m not sure of the scheduling issues that required CBS to schedule two episodes of Survivor back-to-back, but the relative lack of narrative drive in the episodes made it feel like the show was ripping off a Band-Aid of sorts; saying “yeah, we have to get through these to get to the good stuff.”

The first hour is an entirely straightforward, Jon-and-Jaclyn heavy hour where the drama was far more on whether or not Jaclyn would ever speak to Jon again rather than who was actually getting voted out. It’s abundantly clear in these two hours that Jon feels very comfortable in this game: Comfortable enough to relax a bit, comfortable enough to brush off game talk from his girlfriend and partner, and comfortable enough to not be all that concerned when she gets upset. As a viewer, it’s exactly what you dread about the Blood vs. Water concept, because it’s such a small, repetitive, boring fight that could easily be avoided by Jon treating Jaclyn like a partner rather than a minion, or Jaclyn being a bit less stubborn. It doesn’t help that the drama of the vote is practically nonexistent, so the saga of Jon and Jaclyn’s strife carries over into Tribal Council and is used as essentially a timewaster until Reed is voted out. The first hour is not great, is what I’m saying.

The second episode finally starts to pick up about halfway through, solely due to the power of Natalie. Remember that grudge Natalie had against Jon for blindsiding Jeremy? Well, it appears that grudge is still very much in place, and Natalie’s sole goal at this point (besides winning the game, of course) is to get Jon out for revenge. Revenge missions are usually a foolish endeavor because they are built far more on emotion than strategy, but this season could so use an injection of emotion that it isn’t even bothersome. From the second Natalie wins the reward challenge and takes Jon and Jaclyn in order to better ingratiate herself, it is on, and it is good. What looks like an easy boot for Keith or Alec turns into a very meticulous scheme by Natalie to blindside Jon before he can use his idol.

Although it can easily be argued that Natalie has more to lose than to gain in her alliance by getting Jon out (this is a revenge mission more than anything else, which is obviously clouding her judgment a bit) the way she goes about it—meticulously, quietly, and smartly—really makes me want it to work. Natalie has a great read on the relationships at camp and she uses that knowledge to her advantage, by going to Baylor about her plan and bypassing Missy altogether and then ensuring Baylor doesn’t tell her mom or Jaclyn. If this plan is going to work it has to be completely silent, and it is—right up until the entire plan blows up because Jon wins immunity. His win is what makes the episode seem like a tease, because Natalie’s plan looked like it was going to work, and this season could use another well-executed, strategic plan. Dramatically, however, Jon’s win was satisfying in its frustration; a very symbol that reality television narratives can turn on a dime, especially in a game like this.

Where things get baffling—and interesting—is when Natalie’s smart, meticulous plan starts to get messy. Jon’s immunity win is obviously frustrating for her, but instead of falling back on her heels and waiting for a later time to make her move, Natalie decides to go ahead and start her assault on Jon now, even if she can’t get him voted off. Her alliance’s plan is to split the vote between Keith and Alec in case one has an idol, with Keith going home because of his odd immunity challenge prowess. Natalie, however, would rather send Alec home and keep Keith in the game, in the hopes Keith will win some immunity challenges and allow her to vote Jon out. What makes this move tricky is that by doing it, Natalie is effectively revealing herself and in turn revealing that she’s not as solid of an alliance member as she’s been claiming, therefore ruining the surprise she needs in order to blindside Jon. On top of that, doing this means she no longer has a majority against Jon if she flips on her alliance. Even if she keeps Baylor, it’s still an even game, and an even game is a dangerous game if you’ve just flipped.

For as much as Natalie did in this episode to make herself look like a great strategist, in the end her quest for revenge might have gotten the best of her. That is, until the next time everything flips on its head again and she ends up in the clear. This does seem to be that kind of season, doesn’t it?


Stray observations:

  • OK, everyone, talk to me: Was what Natalie did as weird as I think it was, or was it a smart decision?
  • Missy and Jon’s shocked faces at Tribal might be worth Natalie’s move here.
  • Jeff is so over the tiresome negotiation tendencies of this cast that he literally shuts it down at the reward challenge and forces them to simply name a winner rather than going through the motions of the challenge. Hilarious.
  • It’s no wonder Jon is comfortable: Missy sent him (instead of her own daughter) to Exile to potentially retrieve an idol, which he does with ease.
  • I really wanted Jon to get blindsided, mostly because of Jaclyn’s hilarious implication that he gets blindsided a lot in his everyday life. I need more specifics on this.
  • Is #creamcheese the worst hashtag suggestion ever?
  • “All I can do is thank God right now.” Or, you know, Natalie, the person who told you to play your idol.
  • Natalie: “Who does this? Like basically sleeps in the same bed with the enemy and then votes him out?”