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One of Survivor’s greatest enemies is inevitability. An inevitable vote can be editing poison, especially as the show has become more and more dependent over the years on building to a shocking outcome at Tribal Council (whether or not that is a consistently successful editing tactic is a topic for another day). Somehow, some way, this intermittently unpleasant, uneven season of Survivor might just have beaten all of the odds and produced one of the only completely entertaining episodes with an inevitable vote in recent series memory. This crazy game!

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From the beginning of the episode, it was pretty clear that Joe was likely going to go home. He’s way too big a threat in the game—likeable, smart, and great at challenges—and exactly the kind of person everyone else wants to get out (and, to Joe’s discredit, he was never quite enough of a strategic threat on his own to get himself out of his own mess). The only way Joe was going to go far in this game was to keep winning immunity challenges or finding immunity idols. Last week he failed at finding the immunity idol and this week it was finally time for him to fail at an immunity challenge, so it was obvious he was not long for this game. The impressive thing was how fun it was to watch him go out.

The intrigue began when, after losing the reward challenge, Jenn decided she was pretty much done with the game and would like to be voted out. Her big plan was to win the Immunity Challenge so she could give Joe the necklace at the last minute, forcing everyone to change their votes from Joe to her. It’s a hilariously Jenn plan, because it involves messing with other people’s heads for her own pleasure. She seems to enjoy that (and I don’t blame her—it’s fun). The problem comes in when she loses immunity to Tyler and then Joe is forced to start scrambling to save his own skin. Turns out it isn’t actually much of a problem for the viewers, because the steps he takes next are so fun. At first it seems like Shirin might be his savior, as she reveals that she’s figured out a loophole in the numbers if the majority alliance splits their vote between Joe and Jenn. If this happens, she can end up being the deciding vote and switching the votes around so Jenn goes home. It’s an intriguing idea, but not all that beneficial to Shirin’s game (other than allowing her to flex some Survivor nerd muscle) so unlikely to happen.

Joe’s next plan is to run with the idea that people think he actually might have an idol, so he should create a fake idol to use as leverage. It’s an idea he’s apparently been sitting on for a while, which we see as he uncovers a buried treasure of rope and beads and medallions he’s spirited away from various things throughout the game like some kind of magpie hoarder. Hilariously, he cites his experience making jewelry as what might actually make this whole thing work, and to his credit he creates a damn good-looking fake idol to use. His main problem in this whole thing—and the reason you know it has no chance of working—is that in order for this to work he has to approach Mike about trading his “idol” for a vote, and Mike is the one person who knows that Joe didn’t actually find the idol.

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Joe’s problem leads to one of my favorite situations of the season, however, when Mike takes the fake idol out at Tribal (that Joe has given him in exchange for voting out Jenn instead of him) and asks Jeff if it is real. A somewhat flummoxed Jeff tells Mike he has to actually play the idol to find out, which Mike does—after voting, mind you—and finds out it is in fact fake. The whole thing is totally unnecessary for Mike to do, as he’s already cast his vote and made his decision before giving Jeff the idol, but it’s like he can’t help but find out if Joe was actually lying to him or not. It’s a weird, funny little thing in an episode full of weird, funny little things, and the sum total of those weird, funny little things is a totally entertaining episode.

What’s especially weird and funny is that one of the biggest runners in the episode is about how Jenn wants to quit, and even that isn’t something that drags it down. People wanting to quit the game is almost invariably annoying to watch, but Jenn somehow manages to straddle the line between whiny and funny throughout it all. The only obnoxious thing is her assertion that wanting to maneuver herself into a position to be voted out of the game isn’t the same as actually quitting. Sure, you didn’t just walk out the door as Jeff suggested, but if you were voted out tonight it would completely have been because you wanted it. That’s still quitting by proxy, Jenn, no matter how funny we may find you.

Stray observations:

  • This episode was totally edited as Joe vs. The Game Of Survivor. I would not be shocked to see him play the game again in the future.
  • Dan continues to go after Shirin after last week’s Tribal Council, because Dan is horrible. Can’t let a woman like her have the last word!
  • Shirin keeps talking about taking big risks but plays it totally safe. I don’t think she’s made incorrect decisions—a big risk at this point would just work against her—but stop talking about it if you don’t have a concrete plan. You’re getting our hopes up for some actual good gameplay.
  • Shirin pointing out to everyone that Carolyn is potentially the biggest threat of the non-Blue Collars is a great moment for her, though. It’s both true and useful as a way to keep eyes off of her.
  • Why did the previously segment say Rodney had control of the majority alliance? I don’t really remember that from the actual edit. Is this a case of the previously telling us what’s actually happening in the game again? I sure do hate that.
  • Speaking of Rodney, he was downright funny tonight with his impressions of Mike and Dan. More of this side of Rodney and less of his egotistical confessionals, please.
  • That Reward Challenge was definitely a case of too much pain for too small of a reward. Chocolate and popcorn? I’d rather have the chicken. (But Mike is all primed for his Snickers advertising contract now, thank you very much. He loves him some Snickers.)
  • “This would suck less if the people sucked less.” Jenn speaks for us all.
  • “I have no idea what’s going on.” Between this hilariously droll vote confessional and his immunity win, Tyler actually had a presence in this episode. A very, very small presence.

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