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

Survivor: “Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner” / “We’re Finally Playing Some Survivor”

These are the strings Max COULD pull.
Max Dawson

The problem with doing a two-hour block of Survivor like this is that, by the end, the two distinct episodes kind of mush together to create one big, jumbled thing, and it complete lessens the impact of anything that happens in the distinct hours. Depending on your thoughts about the individual hours themselves, which could be a blessing or a curse; for my money, the first hour was filled with enough unpleasantness that a week-long break would have been a blessing.

Let’s deal with that first episode, because it’s already trying to slide its way right out of my brain: This was the episode that casual misogyny built, courtesy of Blue Collar Rodney. Rodney seems to think women should be held to a higher standard in life than men (in what he never quite makes it clear, so I’m sure it has something to do with sex and not being a slutty slut who dares to like having it). Lindsey immediately takes very vocal offense to everything he’s saying, which is admirable because watching something like that go unchallenged is maddening, but terrible for her game. As maddening as it is, you almost never want to be the one challenging someone in a social game like this—letting Rodney spout off and dig his own hole to lie in would likely be much better gameplay. Instead, Lindsey (pretty excellently) calls Rodney out on his ridiculous hypocrisy, and then goes about the task of attempting to turn the rest of the tribe against him because of it.

Here’s where things get a little bit squirrely in the editing in order to set up the drama at Tribal Council. After Rodney blows it in the Immunity Challenge, Lindsey sees it as the perfect time to get people on her side to vote him out. It seems to be going well, with Dan looking like he might be on her side and the new alliance of Mike and Kelly also looking strong. It almost looks like the editors are setting up a comeuppance narrative, as Rodney gives confessionals about being the leader of the tribe that are swiftly intercut with him being increasingly more condescending and insulting toward Lindsey. It even continues in Tribal Council, when Rodney reiterates his thoughts about what women are supposed to do and Probst looks at him, agog at what he is hearing.

But in the end, it’s not a comeuppance narrative at all: Lindsey’s only ally turns out to be Sierra, while the rest of the tribe splits the vote between the two and on revote unanimously gets rid of Lindsey. It’s confusing because in order to keep the surprise the editing also had to hide the split vote, along with any sense of what Rodney’s alliance-mates thought about voting with him despite him being a sexist pig. At least in the process they totally alienated Sierra, which could never come back to haunt them, right?

Wrong. Episode two makes it clear very early on that the dumbest thing Blue Collar could have done was to treat Sierra this way, starting with Dan’s soliloquy about all of Sierra’s failings right when they got back from Tribal and ending just a few moments later when they show up for their Reward Challenge and Jeff tells them to drop their buffs. The best thing about this two-hour block was that it’s finally time to dissolve the silly “Collar” system and go on to play some Survivor free of these constraints (or, at least, with much fewer references to them). The problem is that when the new buffs are drawn, the tribe split itself ends up being horrific for the physical aspect of the game, with 90 percent of the strong males sorted together on one tribe, Escameca. So of course, the weaker Nagarote lost both the Reward and Immunity Challenges. The producers better have scrambled to adjust their challenges on the fly for future episodes, because otherwise this is going to be brutal for poor Nagarote.

Escameca’s dominance did give the episode plenty of time to spend at both camps in order for us to get a pretty good snapshot of where the new tribal dynamics stand for each tribe. If one thing works about airing these two episodes as a block, it’s that it gives the story of “Carolyn hates Max and Shirin” a bit more room to breathe in the first hour, before it blows up in hour two and becomes crucial to the structure. Carolyn’s extreme dislike of them does seem to come a bit out of nowhere tonight, with her calling Max a “cult leader” and noting that both Max and Shirin’s intense knowledge of the game makes them outsiders, but her desire to jump ship from White Collar immediately does make it a lot easier for the three No Collar remnants on Nagarote to play the game. Instead of trying to woo Kelly, all Jenn has to do is wait for Carolyn to approach her and tell her she’s in, and Kelly basically comes along for the ride. It’s the easiest strategy move ever, because there was really no strategy involved at all.


The strategy in Nagarote is sitting over in the Shirin/Max alliance, and they’re both way too convinced of their own game savvy to realize they’re being played. Their similarity in how they view the game causes them to completely miss that even though they both know all of the intricacies of gameplay, the one thing that’s easy to miss is how knowing your gameplay means nothing if you can’t play a social game. Max and Shirin constantly talk and strategize but with themselves, as the rest of their tribe goes off as a group and plots against them. It’s Survivor 101, which maybe is the name of the class Max taught about Survivor, but the teacher was not good at being the student when actually playing the game, and Max was blindsided and sent packing (pre-merge, which you can tell from his goodbye message stings).

As much as it was kind of fun to watch someone who is so certain of their gameplay get voted out, it still wasn’t quite a satisfying episode, and not nearly as satisfying as when Drew got his hilarious comeuppance last season. Part of that is because as much as Max is a physical presence with that distinctive beard, we never really got a sense of who he was or what kind of player he was. White Collar was simply too far in the background for most of the game. The question now is this: Why did Nagarote vote him off, and not Shirin? For challenge purposes, well, that decision seems like it might be the nail in that tribe’s already-constructed coffin.


Stray observations:

  • I can’t believe the producers wouldn’t at least somehow get Kelly a non-bloody buff to wear while finishing out the challenge. Ick.
  • Hali cut that chicken’s neck like a champ, but the real winner of No Collar’s chickens was Jenn, who got to use her disgust at her tribe slaughtering a chicken to go off and find the immunity idol.
  • “I may not be an angel, but when I settle down I want to find one.” The fact that Rodney says things like this with no sense of irony or indication any of it is anything less than The Way Things Should Be is fascinating. Horrifying and fascinating.
  • Dan deciding he knows how to talk to women better than Mike and then completely messing up when apologizing to Sierra is priceless stuff.
  • “My horses are much smarter than Rodney.” Barrel Racer Sierra, who is likely correct.
  • “Bring me your poor, your tired, your huddled Survivors. I want the broken people to come with me.” I can’t quite figure Tyler out.
  • “Escameca, this wasn’t even close. Blowout.” Like it’s Nagarote’s fault, Probst? Come on.