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Survivor kicks into high gear as an overconfident power duo underestimates their tribe

Brawn tribe/CBS
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Whenever a Survivor season begins with the same tribe losing the first two immunity challenges, the third episode becomes a tipping point. We’re either going to watch a loser tribe continue to get decimated in increasingly predictable fashion, or we’ll see a mini-redemption narrative play out and finally get a look at the dynamics of a competing tribe. Seasons have recovered from the loser tribe pattern before (Philippines turned out to be awfully entertaining after one tribe’s long initial losing streak), but I wasn’t particularly looking forward to seeing the Brawnies back at tribal again for what would seem to be (barring an immunity idol being played) an inevitable Alecia boot.

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Upon returning from tribal council, Alecia certainly isn’t behaving like someone who’s aware she’s still in the game only because of Jenny’s epic meltdown. She questions Scot’s vote for her when it would probably be best just to let sleeping dogs lie, and tries to scheme with Cydney to oust Scot, oblivious to the fact that the bodybuilder is aligned with the men. Things are looking up for Alecia when she finds an idol clue, except that Cydney is right there and finds the lockbox right under Alecia’s nose. Cydney would have the idol for herself if not for the second stage of the process, which entails retrieving a key from the top of a tree.

I’m not sure this is quite as much fun as the idols hidden at challenges last season, but it does add another layer to the usual routine idol hunt. Tai is in the same boat over at the Beauty tribe, and he and Jason (who blows up the idol hunting party and runs off with the map to the key) come up with the same solution: tying a few sticks together and using them to poke the key out of its hiding place. (This is one of those times that knowledge of the game pays off, as Survivor has often run a challenge that involves tying sticks together in order to reach for a key.) There’s a bit of suspense on the Brawn tribe, as Alecia is hovering beneath the tree in hopes of catching the key when it falls, but in the end Jason the bounty hunter catches his quarry.

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Fortunately for Alecia (and for us), the Brawn tribe finally breaks through with a win. Technically, it’s a second-place finish, and only seconds ahead of the Brains, but it’s enough to save them from a third consecutive tribal. Instead, the Brains will be voting out a member, and this is where Kaoh Rong kicks into a higher gear after a somewhat lackluster start.

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Sometimes the Survivor editors are given a gift in the form of an overconfident player all too willing to go on at length about how easily they’re controlling the game and how stupid and/or docile everyone else on the tribe is. The Brains tribe offers two such gifts in Peter and Liz, who are convinced they are running the show because, after all, how could Debbie and Joe think for themselves? They’re old. Granted, on the surface Joe comes off as a good soldier in the gruff Rudy mode, and Debbie looks to be a branch of the Coach/Specialist tree of delusional kooks. Debbie proves to have a little guile beneath her bluster, however, when she catches on that Peter and Liz are actually targeting Neal the ice cream man. She puts together a coalition with Joe, Neal, and Aubry, and by the time the Brains go to tribal council, the only real question is whether it will be Peter or Liz who gets the boot.

I don’t know if Probst is dosing the contestants with LSD before tribal this season or what, but for the second week in a row, a player can’t help but babble openly and cluelessly about the tribe’s voting plans. Here it’s Peter, who correctly points out that the tribe is divided into three “voting units” (I’d say these were the next stage beyond voting blocs, except that this season was actually filmed before Cambodia), but is almost fatally wrong about which two units will join forces. It’s a shocking wakeup call when the votes are read, although not a true blindside because Debbie’s coalition has split the votes in case of idol play. Still, that allows Peter and Liz to stew for an extra few minutes until the revote reveals that Liz is a goner. Peter might have been the more satisfying ouster, but now we’ll get to see if he’s capable of adjusting his game or if he’s simply delayed the inevitable.

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Stray observations

  • We didn’t spend too much time with Beauty this week, but we did get a replay of that old sentimental favorite, the softhearted person who doesn’t want to kill the chicken. Having never seen his season of Big Brother, I have no preconceptions about Caleb, and so far I have no problem with him at all.
  • The idol twist this season is that two idols can be combined into a Super Idol that can be played after votes are read. That’s an improvement over the Tyler Perry Idol, in that it may force a tough decision between two idol-holders down the road. Or as Scot puts it, “Wonder Twin powers activate!”
  • “Emotional” items? Whatever happened to luxury items?
  • Never underestimate a man in ice cream pants.
  • Looks like we’re getting an evacuation next week. The pre-season emphasis on medical drama concerned me a little, but the strategizing has been lively so far.
  • Your regularly scheduled Carrie Raisler will be back next week.
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