Vince Sly, Jenn Brown/CBS

The advanced Survivor analytics may not support this thesis, but I feel like the second episode of a season is almost always something of a letdown. We’re past the initial excitement of the premiere, the tribes have settled into their routines, and the vote is usually predictable because no one wants to rock the boat this early. Too often the same tribe that lost in the first episode ends up going back to Tribal Council, frustrating our desire for a fresh set of voting dynamics.

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None of that proved true in “It Will Be My Revenge,” raising hopes that Worlds Apart will be as good as Jeff Probst kept hyping it to be pre-season. The “collar” gimmick is still in effect, but it’s already receding and will likely be all but forgotten in a couple of weeks as the tribes are inevitably remixed. It’s the personalities that truly drive the game, and unlike last season, there’s no shortage of colorful characters this time around.

We don’t see much of the White Collars this week, and yet we see far too much of them thanks to the nudist element of the tribe, Max and Shireen. I guess I’m happy for the nudity blur technician, who hasn’t had much to do in recent years and probably got to put in for some overtime this week, but I’m not sure I see the strategic value. Max tries to claim it gives him a chance to be alone and think, but I believe he actually thinks it gives him a chance at more airtime. I want to like Max, but the jury’s still out.

It’s possible that no one improved their standing this week as much as Dan, who looked like a dead man walking in the premiere. His shirt-skirt provided even more Rupert flashbacks for a guy who’s already gone out of his way to fill that character slot, but I’m relieved we’ve seen the last of his manties. Lindsey is shrewd in pointing out that he may have staged the loss of said banana hammock in order to provide a little comic relief, but it looks like it worked, at least a little. Dan plays basketball with the gang and powers through his portion of the challenge, proving to be a more useful team player than expected. It helps that Mike is intent on drawing the heat to himself by being the most blue collar guy he can be, barking out orders in a way that rarely serves the cause of longevity on this show. If Dan can manage to lay off the Dansplaining, he may not be the top target after all.

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The real drama is happening with the No Collars, most of whom may also be the no-brainers. What happens with Nina is predictable enough; the older women rarely have it easy on this show and for Nina, the situation is compounded by her hearing loss. It’s easy to feel sympathy for her from our couches, but the dynamics of Survivor simply don’t allow for that within the game. Her frustration is definitely understandable, but her outburst helps her situation not one bit. Pointing out that you feel like an outsider is equivalent to painting “Vote Me Off” on your forehead.

The expected course of events this early in the game would be for Nina to get voted off after some half-hearted misdirection by the editing team, but when No Collar loses the immunity challenge, a surprising number of options are on the table. Joe, already aligned with Jenn and Hali, tries to pull Will in for a vote-splitting strategy that seems crazy-risky. Vote-splitting (in hopes of flushing a hidden idol) works when you have a solid majority, but a threesome with a possible fourth in a tribe of six is math that would scare the hell out of me. Indeed, it looks like the plan will blow up in Joe’s face when Will tells Vince, who manages to set aside his seething jealousy of Joe in order to target Jenn.

But the beauty of Survivor is that the most offhand, innocent comments can throw everything into chaos. When Nina tells Will that Vince is worried about his health, it’s a moment of concern from her perspective…but that’s not how Will sees it. I was almost certain that Will’s doubts were a last minute fake-out and Jenn would be sent packing, but when the votes are read, it’s the coconut vendor who’s out of the game. The beauty of the moment is that Will is really the only one who knows what just happened. Joe’s alliance probably has no idea how close they came to disaster, and Nina will likely be stunned to learn that a few ill-timed words doomed her own chance at the majority position. But that’s the beauty of Survivor: 30 seasons in, it’s more unpredictable than ever.

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Stray observations:

  • Is Vince gone too soon? He was entertaining in his creepy way, and his rivalry with Joe might have been fun for a few more episodes. Then again, we’ve seen that dynamic a few times before, so maybe two episodes was just enough for this hippie-dippie Coach knockoff.
  • “Water’s always been the black man’s Kryptonite.” There’s a stereotype Survivor has been only too happy to indulge over the years.
  • Your regularly scheduled Carrie Raisler will be back on the case next week.

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