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

Survivor: “Not the Only Actor on this Island”

Illustration for article titled Survivor: “Not the Only Actor on this Island”

Some Survivor eliminations are tense, edge-of-your-seat affairs. Some are foregone conclusions. And some—like tonight’s—are so obfuscated in the editing process that any sort of narrative punch they might have just sort of vanishes with the snuffing of the torch, leaving the audience to offer a collective shrug in response.

This is unfortunate because the episode leading up to the elimination tonight was quite lively. The two tribes merge almost immediately in the episode, and the combining of the two tribes makes for a really busy hour full of scheming, planning, and relationship-building that mostly works. Of the two tribes, only Kalabaw goes into the merge with a loose plan: to add two Tandang members to their four-man alliance and give them a one-man advantage in the merged tribe.

At first glance, Skupin and RC seem like the obvious choice for Kalabaw to recruit, as the power players of Tandang have made it perfectly clear those are the two on the outside of the core alliance looking in, with no chance of gaining any ground. Penner almost accidentally stumbles into this information when approaching Skupin under the guise of them sticking together as the only two returning players left. When Skupin talks to RC it seems almost like a slam dunk of a plan, and Penner seems well in control.

What Penner doesn’t count on, though, is Jeff’s almost laser focus on making sure a returning player doesn’t win this game, especially Penner. Although he decided to keep Penner in the game last week in case he needed him in the future, Jeff is edited almost like a player obsessed in this episode, more concerned with lasting longer than the returning players than actually even winning the game. It’s this hesitation that leads him and Carter to form a new (and probably temporary) deal with Pete, Malcolm, and Artis to flush Penner’s idol.

Just when it seems things are stacked up against Penner, Jeff starts to waiver in a very similar fashion to how he did last week. When Skupin starts railing against the ill character of Pete, Artis, and Abi, Jeff sits down to discuss options with Carter—the fact that blank-faced Carter is the person he goes to with tough strategy issues might end up being the funniest running joke of the entire season—and is interrupted by Penner, it really does seem that Kalabaw will stick together at least until they can get the big guns of Tandang out like Pete. Penner is even confident enough in this new Kalabaw plus Skupin and RC alliance that the chances of him even using his idol seem slim, and the idea of Kalabaw taking out Pete starts to seem more likely.

But that’s not what happens at all. After a very anticlimactic immunity challenge where Carter and Denise get the idols (watching people hold on to stuff is decidedly uninteresting), the contestants go to Tribal while the audience remains in the dark about what the heck is actually going on in the merged tribe. Probst is clearly thrilled to finally get a crack at some of Tandang’s members for the first time, taking an opportunity to delve into the Abi/RC feud over the idol clue. The two women still have no idea that Pete started the whole thing, and Abi remains smug and sure that RC did it. I would like to think Abi will be humbled when she sees how easily she was played, but somehow I doubt that clarity will be achieved.


For the rest of Tribal, Probst takes the opportunity to out any potentially secret alliance and generally insert himself completely into the game, as he is wont to do. If Malcolm and Denise were hoping to be low profile, there will be no flying under the radar while Probst is around. He also takes the time to needle any insecurity Penner might be feeling about the vote and dwell on the potential existence of idols in the tribe. I mostly don’t mind the way Probst inserts himself into the game at Tribal, but he usually tends to do it in reaction to something a player has said or done. Here, it just seemed intrusive and out of the blue.

As for the vote, it’s revealed that Jeff’s desire to get out the returning players trumped any feeling that Penner could be useful to him down the line, as Penner’s idol is flushed and RC is voted out as the second-place vote getter. By him playing the idol, it’s obvious Penner was feeling some insecurity that wasn’t voiced in the edit, and until the votes were revealed in the credits I honestly was a bit lost as to how everything shook out. But seeing as the entire episode seemed like it was trying to build to a big, shocking elimination, to see RC quietly leave was a bit of a letdown.


The one thing this episode did do was flush Penner’s idol and let him know his alliance is basically gone, which should make for a very entertaining ride next week. I just wish the story editing tonight had been a bit clearer along the way. The only thing that's clear is that Jeff seems to be firmly in control of this game right now.

Stray observations:

  • The new tribe name is Dangrayne, which sounds like it should be a house name on Game Of Thrones.
  • Lisa accidentally finding Malcolm’s idol was a very serendipitous game moment for her. Now she has either a final three deal with Malcolm and Denise or a guaranteed leverage point with another alliance should Malcolm and Denise betray her in some way.
  • Did Abi really suggest to RC that she gather information from Kalabaw and bring it back to them? That’s quite arrogant of her.
  • Carter just stares into the camera when casting his vote like he’s getting his mug shot taken. He is almost performance art.
  • Malcolm, to Skupin regarding making it further than he did in Australia: “Dude, you barely made it this far. Look at you.”