Those faces say it all

That was not the episode this Survivor season needed, but it might be the one it deserves. This season is deep in a spiral of boring, hamstrung by the fact that very few cast members are actually playing the game. The merge seemed like the one chance for this season to take a turn for the more interesting—and anything is possible, so that could very well still happen—it certainly didn’t happen in this episode.

At the beginning of the season, Survivor aired scenes that suggested someone was going to quit before the season was through. Easy money was on Jon, whose father is currently dying of cancer, which would have at least been an interesting blow to the show considering how much of the narrative he’s been involved with so far. No, instead it was non-entity Julie, who ends up quitting because she had no desire to actually play the game, so she’d rather go off and spend time sequestered with her boyfriend until the end of the show. It’s one of the most pathetic quits I’ve had the displeasure to experience on Survivor, and exposes a huge weakness of the Blood vs. Water concept: If you cast a couple solely because one half of it is John Rocker, you’re stuck with whatever happens with the other half.

It maybe wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t such an anticlimactic end to what was an episode that at least had some back-and-forth strategy for once. Once the tribes merged, the narrative of Jeremy vs. Josh began, and that story is what carried the majority of the episode. It’s so refreshing to see two players recognize they’re playing a long-term game and take steps to advance themselves in that game, after watching Coyopa stumble through strategy for most of the game so far. It’s also refreshing to see Josh and Jeremy so aware that they are on opposite sides of the game and take the appropriate steps to turn against each other. There’s a decent story in this episode of Jeremy having the numbers to take out Josh, then Josh wooing Jon and Jaclyn and potentially flipping the script. It sets everything up for a fun Tribal Council and blindside, and then it all just…ends. Because Julie wants to see her boyfriend.

The disappointment of this episode isn’t really the producers’ fault, and at the same time it is entirely the producers’ fault. Once Julie decided to quit they didn’t have much of a choice but to tell a story throughout the episode and then have that story fizzle out and die, because that’s exactly what happened in the game. But the casting of Julie, like the casting of a lot of the current players, is where the issue lies. The Blood vs. Water twist worked out well the first time around, but any twist is good if the casting is good, and that casting was good. This time around, they weren’t as lucky, as this is not a great cast on the whole. Sure, there’s potential in the Josh vs. Jeremy narrative set up in this episode, but it’s still surrounded by so much banality that it’s hard to grab onto.

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It doesn’t help that just when an interesting story is finally kicking off, the entire thing comes to a halt while we spend ten entire minutes listening to Jeff question Julie about why she’s quitting the game, and then question the rest of the cast about how they feel about her quitting the game. The shift from building an actual story based on strategy and gameplay to this mini-episode of The Jeff Probst Show is jarring, to say the least, and entirely unsuccessful. No one wants to hear the excuses of a non-character who never played the game her entire time on the show and then decides to quit, and no one wants to hear everyone else’s reactions to a non-character quitting. Maybe it is logistically necessary in the process of building an entire television season, but it’s complete dead weight on an episodic level, and it results in one of the least satisfying episodes of Survivor in quite a long time.

Stray observations:

  • Trail mix, trail mix, trail mix. TRAIL MIX. Trail mix?
  • Keith remains completely awesome, winning Immunity and generally being extremely likeable. Not sure how Wes felt about him forgetting his birthday, though.
  • Missy is playing the game decently hard, but I’m not so sure she is as good at being phony as she thinks she is. She was very clear to Baylor that they’re going to have to lie in order to get ahead, but Missy’s lies to Julie were pretty feeble.
  • Great moments in editing: Letting the awkward silence play out in actual silence after Julie heard Alec’s trail mix remark was very smart and effective.
  • “No one wants to date someone who doesn’t make the merge.” OK, that was funny.
  • “Josh is the only one in Josh’s alliance who is playing the game. If you take him out, it’s over.” Jeremy speaks the truth.

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