Pre-credit sequence. Enil Edam returns from last week’s bananas Tribal Council. Phillip calls a Stealth R Us team meeting, leaving Reynold, Eddie and Malcolm alone. Poor Malcolm. He has a nickname and everything, but he’s no longer invited to the SRU parties. “It was the right call. I don’t feel too bad about it,” Malcolm says of his play for Reynold’s Idol. “We have nothing to be afraid of,” says Eddie, knowing that the Alphas are at the bottom. As the Big Seven agree that everything will be OK as long as they keep the Alphas from finding an Immunity Idol, the Alphas are agreed that they have to go out the next morning to find an Immunity Idol. “I’d rather be my own man than be a puppet for Phillip,” says Eddie, who has been drafting off of Reynold all season. Everybody else does a S-R-Us cheer. It’s lame.
All I want for Chrithmuth… After all of her recent betrayals and flip-flops, Dawn is no longer seeming so hypothetically unbeatable, or at least that’s what Cochran is telling Phillip, who agrees that she isn’t a threat in any challenges. And, indeed, Dawn is in the middle of a breakdown and calling for Brenda. Dawn, it turns out, doesn’t have any bottom teeth and she lost the retainer that contained her falsies. She can’t even look at the camera as she sobs and tells the story and she vows to pull herself from the game before continuing without her bottom teeth. With a snorkel and goggles, Brenda gets to play Steve Zissou and she recovers the teeth. “There is a lot of kindness,” Dawn says of Brenda. This was… uncomfortable. “My heart just went out to her so much,” says Brenda, who vows to stand by Dawn. That’s somewhat sweet and somewhat disturbing but… Brenda got a confessional segment! VICTORY!
Purple people eaters. Reward is up for grabs. They’ll be divided in two teams of five, racing through obstacles and searching through mud for bags of balls. Those balls have to be shot into a basket and blah blah blah. Want to know what they’re playing for? They get lunch at a nice resort with a pool. It’s Reynold, Erik, Dawn, Cochran and Phillip for the purple team against Eddie, Malcolm, Sherri, Adorable Andrea and Brenda for orange. Oh right. This is the challenge from last season and Malcolm is using the Penner strategy and securing all of the bags for his team. It worked for Penner, but will it work for Malcolm? Unfortunately, it’s only a good strategy if Malcolm actually finds all the bags of balls, but he lags. Any hope that orange had of catching up is squandered by Sherri’s slowness on the balance beam. It’s a rout. Purple makes all 12 shots before orange gets a single one.
Partially muddy with a chance of showers. The victorious orange team are greeted by an insane spread of food, including beef and calamari and all manner of protein. Cochran is appreciative of the rejuvenation, which he deadpans will allow him to continue to be a “challenge monster.” But they don’t just have food. There’s also a shower and soap, which is helping Dawn get her marbles back. Phillip doesn’t need no stinking shower. He’d rather just jump into the pool, leaving a muddy trail behind him. “I’m really sick of Phillip being around,” Erik complains. “I’m loving life,” Phillip tells us.
Dawn of the Dead. Dawn’s marbles lasted only a few hours. It’s nighttime and she’s not sleeping, just as she apparently hasn’t been sleeping for days. She’s getting nervous about the way the game is going to play out from here and she’s getting paranoid about being blindsided. Ruh-roh. Dawn’s particularly afraid that Adorable Andrea has become assimilated by the Alphas. Wait. Did she not watch last week’s episode? Dawn warns Phillip that Andrea could be targeting her. Phillip reassures her, while singing that Dawn could be his target. Phillip calls Dawn “a lunatic,” which is a little bit like… well… Phillip calling somebody else a lunatic. Cochran is baffled by Dawn’s paranoia and he’s becoming suspicious of Dawn. Crunch. Crunch. Everybody’s enjoying burnt coconut. Dawn can’t take it anymore. She says that she needs a break and she can’t take it anymore. Andrea’s concerned and confused and Phillip reassures her that Dawn’s paranoia is being monitored. “I honestly feel unstable,” Dawn confesses to Cochran, asking for time alone. “I cry more than a baby. Literally,” Dawn says, while Cochran compares her level of instability to that of the Departed Mr. Hantz. Ouch. Low blow.
Humpty Dumpty, Repaired. It’s Day 28. Maybe Dawn just needed a commercial break to recharge? Or at least a night’s sleep. It turns out that Dawn went home on Day 28 last time, but suddenly her head is clear and she’s rebooted. Stealth R Us calls another meeting to decide who’s going next. They unanimously agree that they want Reynold gone first. They decide to split the votes four for Reynold and three for Malcolm. “My alliance has the numbers and I couldn’t be happier,” says Cochran in what I have to assume will prove to be the foreshadowiest bit of foreshadowing that was ever foreshadowed.
It’s “Aquaman” and Reynold is Vinnie Chase. Immunity time. I bet nobody wants Reynold to win Immunity, eh? Players have to race across a platform, swim under the platform and secure various rings. It’s an entirely physical challenge. Gee. Think Reynold might have a good chance in this one? The competition is in two heats. Reynold dominates the first round, followed by Andrea. Before the second heat, Phillip recuses himself due to a childhood incident involving water. Predictably, Malcolm dominates the second heat, with Brenda finishing second after Eddie blunders his second ring. It’s hard to imagine somebody other than Reynold or Malcolm taking this. In the final challenge, they have to collect a whopping five rings. That’s a lot of underwater swimming and… Reynold and Malcolm dominate. Malcolm has the early sprint advantage, but when it comes to endurance, it’s not all that close. Reynold wins Immunity. Well that complicates things slightly, eh? Not for me, I mean. I’m sitting on my couch.
Do you have Prince Phillip in a can? “I’m gonna do whatever I want,” Reynold says. And what Reynold wants to do is talk trash about Phillip, who he’s incredulous was willing to sit out an Immunity Challenge, “especially if you have lions and gorillas tattooed on your body.” Phillip is still feeling cocky, though. Phillip figures he’s coasting to the Final Three and, barring bitterness, he could even win. He has zero concern about a vote-splitting situation with Malcolm and now Eddie. Malcolm’s hope is to somehow get through Tribal without giving up the Idol in his pocket, so he calls the Alphas together to see if he can get a new Idol. Phillip is sitting around recalling his trauma, while Andrea and Dawn also go on the Idol prowl. Who’s going to get lucky? Well… It’s hard to know. Everybody is scouring simultaneously and in the same place, when Malcolm reaches into a rock crevasse and pulls out an Idol. Is this a play? Is it actually a new Idol? Apparently. Andrea rushes back to Stealth R Us and lets them know, not that this changes the plan. Everybody agrees they still have numbers and it’s off to Tribal. “Now I’m double-screwed,” Eddie says, predicting his own exit.
Tribal Council. Oh. Michael is the first member of the Jury. Did we know that? Reynold, Eddie and Malcolm agree that they’re collectively in jeopardy. Everybody tells the happy story of Malcolm’s Idol, which he puts around his neck. It seems that sitting out Immunity made history for Phillip? Phillip again tells the story of his near-drowning and he insists he’d do it again. Andrea discusses a stressed out situation at camp where nobody can talk to Malcolm, Reynold and Eddie. And then… The awesomeness begins. Malcolm whips out his other Idol and passes it to Eddie. Reynold loves it. Michael on the Jury loves it. Eddie loves it. Heck, even Cochran loves it. He appreciates good game-play. Adorable Andrea, however, looks like somebody drowned her puppy. Suddenly, there’s crosstalk everywhere. “I want to hit pause on the other nine,” Probst says, simultaneously loving this moment, but also hoping to retain order. Malcolm acknowledges that even if they’re temporarily safe, it’ll still be 6-3 against them at the next Tribal. So he gets to fiddling. “I’ll just throw it out there. The three of us are voting for Phillip,” he says. “Phillip is the fun-sponge,” Malcolm argues, saying it doesn’t have to be “this militaristic thing.” Andrea’s name seems to be getting whispered a lot, plus she also isn’t sure if she can trust the Alphas. Erik then throws out the possibility that one of the Alphas might not decide to actually play one of their Idols. Cochran describes his reaction as “bipolar,” saying that the “Survivor” fan at home is sitting there loving this. So… What’s coming?
The vote. “Whatever happens tonight, this is why I freaking love ‘Survivor,'” Cochran says, though we don’t see his vote. Erik writes down “Fillup,” which means at least one person split off from the main group. Still no clue what’s coming. But I love how much Cochran is loving this. Will anybody/everybody play their Idols? Eddie plays his. And Malcolm plays his. Bah. I wanted a killed bluff from one of them. “Bastards. Come on,” Malcolm whispers. Probst tallies: Malcolm. Malcolm. Eddie. Eddie. Eddie. Eddie. Phillip. Phillip. PHILLIP. He doesn’t say a word to anybody other than saying “Thank you” to Jeff. “Did they change the game enough to survive another vote?” Jeff Probst asks. And that is, indeed, the big question. “I feel I played a great game. I’m so happy with the way I played,” Phillip says. Interestingly, nobody changed their votes other than Erik.
Bottom line, I. First: That was awesome. Second: When it comes to game shifting Tribal Council distribution of multiple Idols, that was still way less awesome than this Tribal Council. Let’s never forget the many layers of awesome that took place with Parvati at that Tribal Council and, of course, that many layers of stupid that put JT in that position in the first place. This may come down to whether you feel greater affection for Parvati or Malcolm. In that battle, as much as I am a big Malcolm fan, I’ll always be Team Parvati. Speaking of… Surely it’s time to bring Parvati and Amanda back for another season, right? Right, Jeff Probst? Who’s with me?
Bottom Line, II. That was terrifically fun and theoretically marvelously played by Malcolm and his grateful alliance of Alphas. The question that has to be asked: Was Erik giving Malcolm some sort of symbol that he had flipped his vote against Phillip? Just so that Malcolm could have saved that Idol, which he didn’t end up needing to use? And I’m confused by the upshot of how Stealth R Us voted. In the end, they did nothing different, with the exception of Erik’s “fillup” vote, which presumably was supposed to be the third vote against Malcolm. So for all of that whispering, everybody other than Erik took the bloodless, passive path to decapitating their unpopular leader. They all remain in contention for Phillip’s hypothetical Jury vote and nobody risked accidentally offending Andrea with a stray vote or Dawn with a stray vote. Is that what their strategy was? Or were they counting on somebody from the Alphas trying an ill-fated bluff and pulling the Idol back? Or were they simply incapable of mobilizing in any way and they just retreated to the original plan because they couldn’t think of any alternatives? It was very weird. I have to assume that in a similar situation, a stronger leader — Boston Rob — would have been able to decisively tell his closest allies, “Vote for Dawn” or “Vote from Andrea” and maybe found some way to escape, but Phillip just didn’t have the juice for that or wasn’t prepared for it.
Bottom Line, III. It will speak ill of everybody in The Former Stealth R Us if they were being completely controlled by Phillip and they disintegrate as an alliance next week, because the fact remains that, as Jeff Probst and Malcolm both said: Nothing has actually changed in the slightest. The smartest vote next week would STILL be to take Reynold out. And if Reynold wins Immunity, the smartest move would STILL be to take Malcolm out. And if Reynold wins Immunity and Malcolm finds his third Idol of the season, the smart move would STILL be to vote Eddie out. I mean, Malcolm and Reynold are, as we saw tonight, the strongest players out there by an insane margin and if you don’t have a pre-existing alliance with either of them, what possible reason could you have to want to form an alliance with either of them? Maybe they could try arguing that Erik, who bailed on the Stealth R Us alliance and is probably the third biggest physical threat, might be a target ahead of one or two of them? Maybe? Just because he’s strong and wishy-washy? But otherwise, I don’t see how they’ve changed their strategic position in any way. And, ultimately, I don’t know if they’ve changed anybody else’s strategic position by removing Phillip, since Andrea and, to lesser degrees Dawn and Cochran, were already in charge of things in that alliance. So it feels like realistically all that happened was a cosmetic shift in the game and nothing more, unless Malcolm’s got some social magic up his sleeve. It will be interesting to see what that social magic might consist of and why anybody would fall for it rather than going, “Ding, dong the former federal agent is dead, but we still have numbers.” Of course, it’s not like there was an alternative play for the Alphas that made any sense that I can think of, so they got spectacular drama for an episode and then they’ll see what comes next.
Bottom Line, IV. This was a second straight great episode and a third straight above average episode. And we’re finally rid of the last of the season’s Big Crazy Distractions. Leaving aside the obviousness of the Alphas as targets for the next few weeks, it seems like it could be anybody’s season and there may not be any obvious goats who anybody would want to take to the end, leading to a hopefully entertaining free-for-all.
OK. Lots of thoughts shared there. Discuss!!!