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A tribe is pushed to its limits on a satisfying Survivor

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There’s something about a tribe’s total devastation that makes for the most satisfying Survivor episodes. Whether it’s the schadenfreude of watching people suffer from the comfort of your couch, or the emotional connection to the tribe’s obvious underdog narrative, watching a tribe go down in flames is far more fun than it has any right to be. This is a good thing for this episode, because Angkor is most certainly a tribe in the process of going down in flames.


What’s great about Angkor’s story in this episode is that it hits all of the beats of a successful tragic arc: The tribe starts defeated, having gone to Tribal and voted out one of their own, only to return to a depressing, ill-equipped camp. They are tired, sad, and most of all, starving, until Jeff Probst presents them with their potential salvation: A Reward Challenge that will give them a feast if they win. Survivor turns a straightforward Reward Challenge into a chance for a blatant hero narrative, however, by making it essentially an individual challenge between Andrew, Jeremy, and Terry. Andrew’s performance in the challenge—coming from behind to win the whole thing in a display of pure will—makes it look as if Angkor is on their way to turning things around, but Survivor viewers know better than to trust this sort of edit.

It’s fairly clear Angkor is headed for a fall once they are shown so happy and grateful back at their camp, enjoying their feast and smiling about how the food means they’re definitely not going to lose another Immunity Challenge. This might be true, if the Immunity Challenge they’re faced with wasn’t one of the most physically taxing ones they’ve done yet. It’s the traditional blindfolded caller challenge, this time complicated by the blindfolded players having to retrieve 16 huge, heavy puzzle pieces to put together. Even though Kass struggles to lead her Ta Keo team, it’s pretty clear Angkor simply doesn’t have the gas to compete in this challenge, or the puzzle smarts. When they lose it’s like someone puts a pin in their emotional balloon, with Andrew even breaking down because of how hard this Survivor experience is compared to the last time he played. It would probably be easier to feel something for him if he hadn’t referred to Angkor’s camp as a “ghetto” at the beginning of the episode.

Once it is known Angkor is going to Tribal Council, then begins the portion of the episode that will be completely dominated by Abi until either her tribe wins immunity or she is voted out of the game. From the beginning of the episode, the editing makes it very clear that Tasha still doesn’t trust Jeff and wants him to go home. Abi’s final words to Woo in the previous episode about him voting for her twice turn out to be the entire key to the conflict in this episode, however, because Abi wants Woo gone and she’s not very receptive to hearing anyone else’s opinion about the matter. The conversation that best captures the entire essence of Abi is one between her and Tasha, where Tasha lays out all of her logical reasons why Woo is the smarter vote to stay and Abi simply keeps interrupting her talking about how Woo voted her out and Jeff likes her. It is a fascinatingly amusing and immensely frustrating train wreck.

What takes the episode from pretty decent to great is Tribal Council, which turns into essentially a debate between Woo and Jeff about who would be the better person to stay in the game. Jeff starts the campaigning process, very plainly pitching Tasha, Andrew, and Abi all of the reasons he is a loyal person and should stay in the game. He also starts a loyalty war with Woo, by rubbing it in to Abi that Woo is most certainly not loyal, considering he voted against her twice. Then it becomes Woo’s turn to pitch his loyalty to their new tribe and alliance, with both Jeff and Abi poking holes in Woo’s argument along the way. Until the end, it’s not entirely clear who will stay and who will go, but Angkor ultimately decides to keep Woo, whether it be for help in the challenges or out of their distrust for Jeff in the game. No matter the reason, the humorously tragic story of Angkor—topped with a lively, game Tribal Council—makes for a highly entertaining episode in what is shaping up to be a very solid season so far.


Stray observations:

  • Probst could not have scripted that Reward Challenge better himself. Andrew and Terry going down to the wire in a physical challenge? He’s dreamt about this for years.
  • Meanwhile, on Bayon: Now that he has his idol, Jeremy is keeping up his idol search ruse with Stephen, planning to use Stephen as an ally/shield in case people come after him. Spencer recognizes he is on the bottom of the tribe with Kelly and starts to throw Kelly under the bus by pointing out the connections to people on other tribes.
  • And in my favorite subplot, on Ta Keo: Kass is working on fixing her mistakes from the last game and wants to be a better social player. She did this by reading How To Win Friends And Influence People, which if true is absolutely my favorite thing about this season so far. The sequence culminates with a great moment where Kelley thinks Kass is being shady, and Kass is just making Kelley a birthday present necklace. It’s pretty great. Am I Team Kass all of a sudden?
  • Tasha hates that Peih-Gee went home, but that’s what happens when you are forced to align with the devil, Tasha. I do like that she and Savage are both very aware of the danger of Abi’s unpredictability.

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