Pre-credit sequence. Adorable Andrea is gone. What will I do with myself? What will the tribe do with itself? What will Eddie do with himself? “All the chicks that I go after and try to hook up with go home,” Eddie laments, graciously. He expects that he’s going to be a sitting duck at the next Tribal Council and he tells Cochran as much. Cochran asks who might be targeted next if Eddie wins Immunity and Eddie tells him that he — Cochran, I mean — might be that target. Cochran is taken aback and begins to wonder if he has “an expiration date that’s rapidly approaching.” Brenda agrees that Cochran is the target and tells Dawn as much. Naturally, this leaves Dawn feeling wishy-washy. “The good thing here is that I have options and hopefully I’m going to take responsibility for it in the end,” Dawn says.
Existential Erik. For his part, Erik is feeling a newfound ennui on his 70th day in “Survivor.” “I feel like I’m in prison right now,” says Erik, who feels as if there’s nothing to be talked about and nothing to be done. “This is the most beautiful prison I’ve ever been in in my life,” Erik says. Even the coconuts are mocking Erik. Literally. Erik thinks the coconuts are laughing at him, so he decides to attack the coconuts, which are way up in a tall tree. He goes higher and higher and higher and he begins to fantasize falling from the tree and breaking his leg and getting to leave the game. Whoa. Where did this deep vein of fatalism come from? I kinda dig it. It’s the most tangible personality Erik has had all season.
Sprint = Love. Monkeys! Erik is still making his way down from the tree. He didn’t get his coconuts. Hell, for Erik, is unpicked coconuts. Hell is not, however, other people. In fact, everybody is overjoyed by Tree-Mail hinting at a family visit sponsored by Sprint. In perhaps the most literal product-emotion branding ever, the message declares “Sprint = Love.” The Sprint message includes videos. Brenda’s dad makes her cry and want a hug. Dawn’s husband wishes her a happy anniversary and makes her cry. Sherri’s husband makes her cry. Cochran’s mome makes him cry and urges him to use sunscreen. Eddie’s dad makes him cry. Erik’s brother makes him cry and pulls him back from the end of his rope. “I’m 100 percent now. I have not been here this long to go home with nothing,” Erik vows.
Unscrew this. Jeff Probst welcomes them to Reward and plugs Sprint like the huckster he is. “After 35 days, very few things can rival a loved one’s message on a Sprint phone,” he says. Here come the hugs! Brenda thanks her dad for telling her to be humble and cries a lot. “26 seasons and I’v never cried at a loved one and you got me,” says a red-eyed Probst. Erik and his brother wrestle a little. Sherri reacts with the subtlety we’ve come to expect from her. Cochran and his mom look an awful lot alike and she’s proud of him, even though he smells. “You’re the hairiest man alive,” Eddie’s dad tells him. Dawn tries to compete with Sherri for biggest emotional reaction. The competition pairs contestants and their loved ones. They have to unscrew rails and make a ladder. Then they have to throw bolos at those rails. Want to know what they’re playing for? The winning pair will go to a floating backyard BBQ just off-shore. So much spinning in circles. “You’re gonna get dizzy. That’s the point,” Probst says helpfully. “Arlene already slowing down,” Probst says of Mrs. Cochran. “Don’t say anything about my mom,” Cochran says. Brenda and her dad get their third rail first, while Cochran is still asking his mom if she got an affordable flight. Erik and his brother land the first bolo, but Brenda and her dad catch up and they win Reward! Brenda gets to choose one pair to join her and she takes Dawn. But Probst takes out another Sprint. There are second Loved Ones there as well, including Cochran’s dad, Sherri’s eldest son, another Erik brother, Eddie’s mom, Dawn’s best friend and Brenda’s sister. But there’s a choice: Brenda can choose one other “Survivor” to join her, or she can give up her time and Dawn’s time to let the OTHER four have time with all of their loved ones. Oy.
Brenda’s Choice. Yikes. This is… not easy. Dawn is crumbling next to her. Sherri is crumbling across from her. “Of course I’m going to give it to them,” Brenda says. REALLY? “Of course”? Oy. I guess this was honoring her dad’s request for humility. Everybody hugs Brenda, who seems chill, and Dawn, who’s freaking out.
The meanest Reward in “Survivor” history. Cochran remembers watching the original “Survivor” in the summer of 2000 and sees this as an extension of that journey. Eddie’s mom want to fatten her son up. Sherri’s happy to see her son and a bit scary. Cochran’s perplexed at his dad’s sunglasses and his grill skills. Everybody uses the Sprint phone to take lots of pictures. Sigh. This is cold, because the BBQ is in easy sight of the camp. Brenda and Dawn have to stand at camp and watch and, if we trust the sound-editing, listen to the happiness. “I’m exhausted. I’m hungry. The game’s just breaking me down,” Dawn says. Oy. And from the floating BBQ, everybody yells that they love Brenda and Dawn and that “it’s just OK.” But… Ouch. Dawn knows that Brenda did the favor and she’ll reap whatever rewards there are, while she only lost. “I just want to eat! I’m so mad,” Dawn wails, beating the shelter. Brenda coaches Dawn into some measure of calmness. “I’m praying that this is the right choice, regardless of what my stomach is saying,” Brenda says, though she doesn’t know if this choice will benefit her or be her downfall. Cochran suggests the latter. In fact, Cochran’s mother told him that Brenda’s going to win. “We’re at that point of the game where likability is a liability,” Cochran warns. Uh-oh.
Which winch is which? And we’re on to Immunity. This episode is zipping along. Players have to stand on a ledge holding a handle behind them. The handle is connect to a winch. Probst will crank the winch and they’ll be lowered closer and closer to water. Cochran hits the water first and now he has to watch Eddie with nervousness. Fortunately for Cochran, Eddie drops out next, followed by Erik and we’re down to the three women. Sherri is out and it’s down to Dawn and Brenda. Dawn wants to strike a deal with Brenda to have Brenda drop out and have them just send Eddie home. “The two women who did not spend time with their loved ones battling it out,” Probst says and… Brenda splashes down and Dawn wins Immunity. Uh-oh. If Brenda is voted out, I’m gonna be angry right there with her. Brenda suggests that she could have hung on longer if she’d been against Eddie and she doesn’t appear to be at all unhappy.
Put Brenda in the Blenda. Dolphins are pretty. They’re not monkeys. But they’re pretty. Brenda’s still giggling and giddy about Eddie going home at this Tribal and Cochran going next. We call this “hubris.” Cochran is wondering if the straight-forward nature of taking Eddie out is going to make his anti-Brenda agenda less palatable. He starts by pitching Sherri, who suggests blindsiding Brenda before Cochran can mention it. She amenable. Cochran goes to Dawn next and Dawn makes the point that leaving Eddie around is a different form of dangerous. But Dawn isn’t immediately disgusted by Cochran’s idea. “There is a part of me that feels like Brenda’s the biggest strategic threat in the game to actually win it,” Dawn says, worrying at what happened last time she let Cochran control her game. “I’m really confused,” she says, as we pack up for Tribal.
Tribal Council. Hi, Andrea! And Reynold’s mustache is gone. How sad. “It feels good to come to Tribal Council and just breathe,” Dawn says, attributing the win to her training. “I wanted her to win it, versus me just jumping off,” Brenda says, all smiles. Eddie says he needed to win to survive, but admits that he’s said that before. “It was a no-brainer. It was hard and easy at the same time,” Brenda says of the Loved Ones choice, which Dawn and Sherri say will benefit her. “The easy vote isn’t always the smart vote. It’s about weighing short-term gratification versus long-term benefits,” Cochran says. Eddie’s grateful for having a great time and he’s ready to go.
The vote. We see a vote for Eddie and a vote for Brenda. We should get Andrea cutaways after each vote, if you ask me. Probst tallies: Eddie. Eddie. Erik. Brenda. [After the first “Brenda” vote, we cut to Eddie and it’s clear he was the Erik vote, so something bad is happening.] Brenda. [Brenda’s smile is gone. Malcolm is ready to go nuts and I assume somebody will make a gif of his reaction… now.] BRENDA. “I knew it,” Brenda says. “I was honest with you guys. I was genuine with you guys,” she tells them. “It hurts,” she says as she leaves, crying and smiling at the same time. Eddie has a glorious, “What the [bleep] just happened?” smile. Brenda was able hold the smile til she got to the camera and now she’s shaking with tears. “I think the reason it hurts so much is that I was hesitant to lie to people and I was so true to Dawn. Oh my God. It just hurts so much what I’m feeling,” she sobs. Sniffle.
Bottom Line, I. Poor Brenda. She spent so much of the season so silent and so ignored. And then she began such a central figure the past couple weeks, just in time to get really, really, really stabbed in the back. Or did she? I mean, how “true” could she really feel like she’d been to Dawn? She knew Dawn’s fragility and she dangled a family visit in front of her and then she pulled it away in an act of martyrdom. If she doesn’t do that, does everybody think of her as a saint? Probably not. One or two people might resent her, but presumably in resentment, they don’t view her as more of a threat than Eddie and the vote goes exactly the way it was supposed to go. It’s a tough one. If you make the right gesture, everybody loves you and you potentially secure a vote or two, but you also become a target. Like this. Make the wrong gesture and you get some extra food in your belly, some extra emotional sustenance and you put yourself in position to make your way to the Finals. After all, we know that in certain types of challenges, Brenda was positioned to dominate, or at least hold her own, with Erik serving as the primary alternative threat. But who would Brenda have beaten in a vote? Would she have beaten Cochran? Probably not. Would she have beaten Dawn? Maybe not. Would she have beaten Sherri or Erik? Maybe. So you’re supposed to be selfish in that circumstance? Probably. She had one more person she’d have gotten to take on Reward, so you maybe take Eddie and hope that he’ll spread kind words to the other Amigos and to the other Fans? I guess so. But can you anticipate that? Really? Anyway, I don’t think you can begin to argue against Cochran’s move. Brenda was a sentimental threat, a challenge threat *and* she was plotting against him. That’s just good “Survivor” play, even if it was heartbreaking.
Bottom Line, II. Given that we started this season with scary, brooding Shamar and scary, irrational Brandon and loopy, irrational Phillip dominating the screentime, it’s impressive that we’re heading towards a finale that could cement this as a reasonable good, unpredictable season of “Survivor.” Part of why it has been so unpredictable since the Merge is that we didn’t get nearly enough time to see relationships develop, but unpredictable is unpredictable. Looking at the remaining castaways, I think you can make easy arguments for Cochran and Dawn deserving to win, while you can also make reasonable arguments on behalf of Sherri and Eddie, though Eddie “Yup, I Forrest Gumped my way to the end, but nobody would have guessed that I’d be here” case is probably flimsier. I’m not especially interested in what Erik would have to say unless he goes back into existential crisis mode and his closing speech were only about coconuts. Still, that’s a pretty wide open field as we head towards the finale. So that’s good.
What are your thoughts on tonight’s episode and the season going into Sunday’s finale?