Survivor/CBS

Survivor: Second Chance is in the zone. The season so far hasn’t been full of knockout episodes, but there’s a pleasant consistency to this season that is almost comforting to see as a viewer. Most of this consistency comes from the fact that this is an extremely solid cast of returnees, who all seem to have come on the show with a narrative set for themselves and are all readily willing to vocalize and assess that narrative in each and every confessional. This is giving the season a strong backbone that—even though it’s as produced as any other Survivor season “twist”—feels far more organic to who these players actually are and their place in the game.

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One of the ways these strong narratives are helping the show is that because everyone has such a self-defined arc they’re shooting for, there’s a built-in place to go with these during every episode. The biggest example of this is probably Spencer, who came to this game determined to shed all of the mistakes of his past game and embrace a different way to play Survivor. Watching him work out his journey during his confessionals can be overbearingly analytical, but it’s also fascinating to see someone so clearly self-aware and determined to change on a reality show. Here, he works to embrace the more rugged parts of the Survivor lifestyle by going fishing with Jeremy, then later goes against all of his instincts when it comes to strategy and acts calm in the face of potentially being in danger, instead of frantically scrambling. That he’s successful in both endeavors makes for a Spencer-heavy episode, and his continued heavy edit seems like a sign he will be in the game for a long time.

A person basically doing the opposite of Spencer is Abi-Maria, who talks a lot about wanting to change but being totally incapable of actually changing. The big, cringe-worthy Abi moment of the episode comes when Woo breaks down while telling the story of how his mother almost died before receiving a lifesaving heart transplant. Incredibly, Abi gets annoyed by Woo’s story, convinced he told it just to gain sympathy and she immediately tries to undercut him by mentioning how she had at least two other relatives who had it much, much worse than Woo’s mother. Oh, and also she has another person’s tendon in her body, or something, which is totally comparable on the human misery scale. It’s a nasty bit of business, and Tasha’s whole role in this episode is essentially to echo all the thoughts of the audience during her confessional, stating just how horrible it is to be forced to be around Abi all the time.

After a few weeks of Angkor completely tanking, they get a reprieve this week when they win the Immunity Challenge (with the help of an assist of a wrong goal from Stephen). This sends Bayon to Tribal Council for the first time all season, which in turn marks the audience’s first time really getting a sense of what is happening at the tribe. From the moment when Monica got a pretty prominent placement in the episode it was fairly clear she was at least going to be in the elimination conversation, and her conflict with Kimmi that started the episode pretty much cemented it. One of the most underrated Survivor skills is the ability to read a room, socially, and Monica essentially read every room with Kimmi wrong here. She got in a disagreement with her about how many clams to eat, which only served to put Kimmi on edge around her. Then, once they lost immunity she went to Kimmi looking to change the vote from Kelly Wigglesworth to Spencer in order to later ditch the Bayon alliance and form the mythical Survivor all-girl alliance.

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In both of these situations, Monica tries to sway Kimmi from a place of comfort to a place of struggle, and both times Kimmi is not having it. What Monica doesn’t realize is that the alliance-switching conversation completely sets Kimmi against her, with Kimmi then going to Stephen and Jeremy with the plan to blindside Monica at Tribal Council. As much as the show normally tries to make the vote a surprise, the focus on Monica throughout the episode and the fairly uneventful Tribal make it pretty obvious to the audience that Monica is heading home. What makes it great, though, is that Monica clearly has no idea at all, and her complete shock at the end is highly entertaining to see. This episode is a strong example of the fact that concise editing that shows the path of the voting strategy sometimes makes for a better story than a surprise. Especially if the people onscreen are surprised enough on their own.

Stray observations:

  • Ta Keo’s Joe, Keith, Ciera, Kass, and Kelley have formed an alliance without fellow tribemate Terry. Interestingly, Joe is the one who appears to initiate this situation, in an attempt to get some sort of majority numbers going into merge so he isn’t picked off right away.
  • That Terry was obliviously happy while an alliance is made behind his back doesn’t seem to bode well for him.
  • Stephen finally got a few confessionals here that reminded me of the first time he played, with smart strategic thinking. Good to see. (I’m still rooting for you, buddy.)

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