Jeff Probst/CBS
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This is an episode full of messy people being complete messes. Wait, let me rephrase: This is an episode of messy, awful people being completely awful messes. The result is one of the least fun episodes of Survivor in years. The frustrating thing is that it’s also a pretty darn good episode of Survivor, action-wise, if you can overlook all of the horrible human behavior on display.

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The tone for nastiness is set at the very beginning by the producers themselves, when the traditional auction challenge begins with a blind bid that knocks Will out of the rest of the game. This ruthlessness continues when it becomes clear that Dan, Carolyn, and Mike are holding out on the food to bid on an advantage. When the group makes an agreement to all purchase letters from home and Mike holds out at the last minute—for good reason, as he feels like he needs an advantage after learning Rodney is secretly working against him—it’s pretty fantastic television that might put viewers wanting drama on his side, but doesn’t sit well at all with Dan and Carolyn. Mike can’t stick by his decision, however, and buys his letter after all, but having tipped his hand potentially irreparably ruins a few relationships along the way.

It doesn’t help that when everyone gets back to camp and wants to open their letters, a concerned Mike reads the situation incorrectly and takes that moment to start apologizing for his transgression at the auction, then explaining that he felt he had to do it because Rodney is turning the numbers against him. Despite Rodney’s aggressive protestations, Mike is completely right—he just chose the exact wrong time to tell everyone about it. Rodney (after he’s done yelling) decides to use Mike’s misread of the social game against him, immediately getting in Dan’s ear about how Mike is untrustworthy. Could Rodney really be flipping this whole game?

No time to wonder about that, because the episode then has to move onto the next extremely unpleasant situation: Will and his food stash. When Will was kicked out of the auction, Survivor gifted him with his own personal rations, rations that Will then decides to share with the group. Mike doubts Will shared everything, however, and voices those doubts to Jenn and Shirin. Somehow in the telephone game of Tyler overhearing and then passing this information on to Will, Will decides that Shirin is the most to blame for this and absolutely explodes on her, attacking her first on a game level and then on a completely uncalled for personal level. It’s here where we get some interesting backstory on Shirin and her past family difficulties with verbal and physical violence, which turn Will’s rants into something much more sinister. Shirin does get to exact a little bit of personal revenge, though, when Will wants to sit out of the Immunity Challenge in exchange for his letter from home, and Shirin blocks him from doing so. It would seem brutal in possibly any other circumstance or episode, but this episode is so full of people being awful—and Will was just so awful to Shirin—that it just feels like earned revenge instead.

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The plan for the whole episode is for Rodney and his new alliance of six to take out Mike, but when Mike wins Immunity everything turns into a bit of chaos. Mike goes to work on Dan in an attempt to shore back up their original Blue Collar alliance, and he does have the support of Jenn (who hilariously just wants to be in the game at this point to mess up the games of people she doesn’t like) and Shirin, but that still puts him at a great disadvantage. The goal is to blindside Carolyn, but that requires Dan and Sierra’s cooperation, a cooperation that feels less and less likely as the episode goes on.

Before we can get to the vote, however, we have to sit through the Tribal, and what a nasty Tribal it is. Earlier in the episode Will promised the best Tribal ever, but instead of a great fireworks display it just offers a great display of asshole behavior, as Will reveals once and for all that he’s a horrible person. While Shirin tearfully discusses her past abuses that made Will’s attacks feel personal on a level far beyond the game, Will first denies them and then keeps interrupting her to say “that’s true, though” when she details yet another horrible thing he said about her. Any person who could put the world victim in air quotes while someone is confessing childhood abuse is an absolute garbage person, and can kindly get the fuck right off my television. I wasn’t rooting for anything until that moment, and now I am rooting for bad things to happen to Will, so, at least this episode was good for something? (It certainly wasn’t good for keeping entertaining people in the game, as Jenn goes home in what appears to be an attempt from her alliance to keep Shirin in the game by voting Jenn out.)

Bottom line on this episode is that it was certainly a captivating hour, but for all the wrong reasons. This was a questionable cast at times in the past, but this was nothing but awful behavior from awful people, with a few bright spots peppered in between. If it did accomplish one thing—besides cementing my hate for Will—it made the narrative of rooting for Mike that the show is pushing down our throats a lot easier to take. Team Mike and Shirin to the end!

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Stray observations:

  • Let’s talk about Dan’s advantage of an extra secret vote at Tribal. I hate it because it feels like doing it secretly like that makes for an uneven playing field. What say you?
  • When did this alliance of six become a thing? Rodney, Will, Tyler, and Carolyn seemed like a solid four in the previous episodes, but Sierra and Dan’s involvement in this alliance was treated like a given here although it feels completely new. Am I crazy?
  • Rodney’s statement of “facts” that are 100 percent bullshit is almost impressive. Does he really believe the things he says, or is this all gameplay?
  • Those chicken and waffles looked GOOD. $300 well spent, Shirin.

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