Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Survivor: "My Brother's Keeper"

Illustration for article titled Survivor: "My Brother's Keeper"

Every season, Big Brother does a live double elimination episode that is looked forward to with a sense of fervor by the show’s biggest fans (myself included). By condensing an entire week of nonsense into one quick episode—complete with live scheming and scrambling—these double elimination episodes are exciting in a way Big Brother, with its thrice-weekly scheduling and emphasis on minutiae, rarely gets to be.

Turns out the double elimination doesn’t work nearly as well in the Survivor format. It almost seems like squeezing two eliminations into one episode here was done out of pure narrative necessity rather than any attempt to create an especially exciting episode. After Aras’ very exciting blindside, the show was presented with two fairly straightforward eliminations, so why not just cram them in here and get them over with?

The episode actually starts on a promising note, showing everyone returning from Tribal Council with Vytas giving respectfully disdainful congratulations on blindsiding his brother right before Tina goes on a diatribe about being betrayed. What makes it great is that while Tina is trying to play the noble martyr card, Tyson challenges her at every turn and throws Aras’ supposedly shaky loyalty right back in her face. I don’t know where this Tyson was last time he played, but I’m glad he decided to come out and join the game this time around. He is quickly becoming the highlight of this whole season.

But then the first immunity challenge starts almost immediately and the episode becomes far too much about challenges and Tribal Council than what is the most exciting thing about the game: strategy and scrambling back at camp. It doesn’t help that both immunity challenges—first a classic gross food eating challenge, and second the tried-and-true “stack stuff on other stuff” challenge—are fairly boring endeavors to watch. Jeff Probst manages to milk some decent moments out of Gervase’s notorious grub fail from season one (which is especially fun when the thing he has to eat to win turns out to be grubs, and he fails yet again) but watching people eat gross things is initially hilarious, then disgusting, then honestly just kind of repetitive and banal by the end.

Although Vytas and Tina’s trips to Redemption Island were fairly rote, considering Aras’ elimination last week, this episode did do a very good job of establishing the dynamics of Tyson’s alliance, something the show can use to its benefit in the weeks to come. What’s abundantly clear is that Monica is kind of a paranoid pain in the ass, and her paranoia and resulting over-scheming is going to be her downfall. It all comes to a head when Vytas takes shots at both Monica and Brad during Tribal Council and Monica takes it upon herself to switch her promised vote from Katie to Vytas. This wouldn’t be so terrible if she didn’t gloat about it back at camp, alerting her entire alliance to the fact that she is willing to deviate from their agreed-upon plans just because her feelings get hurt.

Monica’s place at the bottom of her alliance is reiterated right before the second Tribal Council, when everyone is questioning who to split Tina’s vote with just in case she found an idol, and the only person everyone can think of is Monica (and even Monica agrees, which makes her paranoia fairly justifiable).  The question is going to be when someone else realizes they’re on the bottom of the alliance, too—the alliance Tyson is so obviously leading and trying so hard to make it look like he’s not—and bands together with Monica to take out Tyson and Gervase. Survivor is working hard this season at playing the long game with their story arcs, so this feels like yet another possibility they are laying the groundwork for in episodes to come.


So yes, this was not the most exciting Survivor episode of all time, but there were certainly a few small pleasures to be had. If this show does one thing in the future differently, I hope it abandons doing these double elimination episodes. The beauty of this game is watching the strategy at camp and the little moments of personality that burst through when the strategy is at a lull, and packing multiple challenges and Tribal Councils in an episode takes a lot of this intrigue and personality away. Don’t squander your personality and intrigue, Survivor!

Stray observations:

  • Katie won immunity! See, she is doing something in this game! Maybe!
  • Vytas might be one of the most entertaining players at Tribal Council I’ve ever seen. He is certainly not afraid to talk and not afraid to do some very manipulative persuading, which makes it completely fun to watch.
  • Vytas and Aras’ relationship dynamics were on full display at Redemption Island, and they weren’t necessarily pretty. There’s a lot of outside-the-game baggage hanging around, there.
  • I admit, I laughed a bit at the #whoshungry hashtag suggestion.
  • Tyson: “They’re just like gummy worms, except for grosser.”