In scripted television, shows that build a season-long narrative frequently feature so-called “filler” episodes that don’t seem to have much value on their own, but work toward building story threads that will pay off later. Tonight’s Survivor is the reality equivalent of one of these episodes, except far more boring because reality shows simply aren’t designed to work this way: They’re all about instant gratification, of which this had very little.
To its credit, Survivor had very little to work with, here. Matsing is a complete failure of a tribe at challenges, and any attempt to cut around this would likely end up as a failure as well. Still, as soon as Angie called Russell the “weak link” early in the episode, the writing was on the wall as to who was going to go home. The only thing left to do was to sit back and watch how the editors would stall on their way to the inevitable reveal that Matsing lost the challenge once again and would be forced to drop their third player in a row.
The way they decided to handle this was to explore the dynamics of the other two tribes, which is great for their character development but not so great for creating a dynamic episode. Over at Tandang, the weird rivalry between RC and Abi heats up again when Abi decides not to trust RC for no apparent reason. Well, other than the fact that Abi seems like kind of a pain in the ass, that is. After RC patiently reassures Abi that Abi’s hurt knee doesn’t make her a target, Abi approaches Peter and tells him about the idol clue, convincing him to help her find it before RC does. She does, in fact, find it and shares it with Peter, who between his relationship with Abi and his newfound alliance with Lisa is turning out to be a pivotal player in the Tandang tribe. He wants Michael out first, but with Matsing losing challenges left and right, it’s unclear just when he’ll get a chance to go for him.
Meanwhile at Kalabaw, the idol is on everyone’s minds but in a far more obvious way. When Dana notices the emblem is missing from the rice box, the tribe (sans Penner) confers and comes up with the theory that Penner must have it. Jeff is the first one to voice the opinion, and Penner rightly realizes that Jeff might be a threat to him and takes him aside to attempt a tentative alliance by confessing that he does, in fact, possess the idol. Jeff goes along with everything Penner says and even shakes on the deal, but reveals to the camera afterward that it was a “four-fingered handshake” which doesn’t mean anything to him. Wouldn’t someone notice if you shook their hand with your index finger in the wrong place? Maybe Penner just thinks Jeff is a weirdo. With Jeff’s comfortable place in the tribe and his handling of that very weak Penner approach, I’m officially beginning to be impressed with his game. At least he’s a celebrity player with some sense of how to play.
Other than these little bits of tribal life, though, the best thing about the episode was likely the challenge. After the series was not able to have water-based challenges for a few seasons, they’re back with a vengeance this season, and they’re pretty spectacular. Survivor has always been good at challenge photography, but its underwater work is particularly impressive, and it continues to be so here. More impressive than the photography is Denise’s prowess in the water and Russell’s absolute failure (he can’t even climb the ladder!), which almost makes you think Matsing will send him home either than the more generally challenge-challenged Angie.
But when it’s time for Tribal, things are pretty clear: Matsing is a failure of a tribe, and Angie is the one who will pay the price. Both Angie and Russell get unexpectedly feisty here, going after each other in an attempt to save their own skin, but in the end, Russell’s strength is what makes Denise and Malcolm decide to keep him around. I doubt Matsing will even be a tribe next week; a merge must be coming soon, because a tribe of three is basically no tribe at all. If there is a merge, at least we’ll likely get a more exciting episode than this one.
- The Malcolm/Denise alliance is surprisingly fun to watch, and I hope if the tribes are merged they end up able to still work together in some way.
- Wait, who is Artis? And Dana? And… Dana’s male twin? All kinds of people spoke tonight for the first time.
- There is “accident prone” and then there is “cursed by a demon who will eventually take your life.” Michael Skupin is obviously the latter.
- Malcolm: “I’m stuck out here with just the goon squad of tribes.”