Pre-credit sequence. The steadily dwindling Team Russell returns to camp, Angie-free. Why bother? It’s cold. It’s raining. And there’s no Angie to cuddle with for warmth. Malcolm certainly looks miserable. His eyes are dull and sunken. He misses Angie, even if he won’t say it. They have no fire. They have no Angie. And nobody’s saying a word. This is “Survivor” being arty, isn’t it? We’re gonna play out the opening sequence without dialogue? That’d be fun. Bah. Finally, they break the silence. Malcolm wants to know what else the fates can pile on. “Everyone’s scared and everyone’s a little bit nervous, but one win is all it’s gonna take to turn the mood around,” Malcolm says. “With three, there’s always one that’s out,” Denise says. But Malcolm is sure they can launch the greatest comeback. “Line it up. Let’s go. And we’ll let the chips fall where they may,” Malcolm announces.
Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell off. Who was left? It’s still raining, only now it’s raining on Team Skupin. Their roof is leaking and everybody’s looking bedraggled. “You have nothing to do out here but think about different scenarios,” Blair Warner says, worrying that the rain will prove that they’re not in control. The weather may suck, but Pete’s feeling good, figuring this will be a good opportunity to create chaos. Abi is staring into space and she happens to spot the Immunity Idol clue that she was hiding with RC (except that she wasn’t). Abi’s already found the Idol and she thinks that finding the clue proves RC’s deceit and validates her decision to go off in her own alliance with Pete, who was the ringmaster behind the placement of the previously buried clue. “This couldn’t have gone any better,” Pete says, as Abi repeats her threats to kill RC for betraying her. Pete grins and twirls his mustache.
If only Jeff Kent had learned to work as well with Barry Bonds. MONKEYS! There’s sun over at Team Penner, where they decide to celebrate the respite by starting fire and gathering supplies. Jeff Kent, feeling frustrated at his tribe of kids, takes refuge in Jonathan’s attempts to carry on an adult conversation. I hope they’re talking about “The Nanny.” Kent is learning to adapt and although he didn’t want to work with a returning player earlier, he’s prepared to make deals with Penner now. “He and I are prepared to be loyal to each other deep into the game,” Penner says. Somehow, they’re having this conversation with Carter just steps away from them. Finally they bring Carter in on their conversation. “Right now, I want to go far with you,” says Carter, who has neither personality nor vocal tonality. Carter figures the girls are on the chopping block, but the girls are back at camp strategizing on their own. Dawson, Dana and Whoever Katie Is have decided to stick together until a Merge. “I’m a girl. I can make fire. I can cook a chicken,” says Dana, who knows that women feel comfortable together. Foolish Team Penner. Nobody’s only the chopping block, because only Matsing loses challenges.
The joker… the smoker… the beauty queen… the millionaire and his wife. That was almost a record amount of time away from Team Russell. MONKEY! They’re all still grumbly. “Because of a smoker, a lunatic and a beauty queen,” Russell says of the team’s struggles. “He’s still here only because we’re doing so badly and we need muscle mass,” Malcolm says of Russell. For his part, Russell has realized that neither Malcolm nor Denise has come to him about alliances if they lose again, so he’s become suspicious. But if you recall, Russell has a clue to the Idol and he’s on the prowl. Russell’s convinced he’s probably walked past the Idol a dozen times and he’ll look stupid in the edit. Smart Russell. Denise catches Russell in his search and she’s suspicious now. Wrack-focus on the Idol atop the rice directly behind him. She’s convinced that Russell was actually hiding an Idol he already found and Denise and Malcolm go through all of Russell’s stuff in the shelter. “I have no shame,” Malcolm says.
Along came a spider. That’s a very large spider and a very large worm caught in his web. This somehow leads to Abi and Team Skupin making seafood stew. Oh right. The spider is Pete, who’s cackling in the background as RC and Abi have evolved from allies, to estranged to outright hostility. “I have nothing to talk to you about,” Abi tells RC when RC attempts to apologize. “You betrayed me! You broke my trust. So that’s it,” Abi tells RC. “Abi is irrational,” RC worries, before going to Pete to get insight, but he rebuffs her attempts to commiserate, pushing her to the outside. “If I knew what I did wrong, I could apologize,” RC tells Blair Warner, who nods politely. Then Blair Warner lets Abi rant about RC, adding oxygen to the fire. Very tricky, Blair Warner. Who’s the spider now?
Same old crap. Jellyfish are freaky, especially totally irrelevant jellyfish that the editors cut into a sequence leading up to… a land-locked challenge. Weird. Anyway, Immunity is back up for grabs. One at a time, players carry two pots of rice on bamboo poles through an obstacle course. Then they will use a wrecking ball to smash the pots. They’re also playing for Reward: First tribe to finish gets steak and veggies and spices. Second tribe to finish get some veggies, a pot and some salt and pepper. With Team Russell half-gone, each of the other team gets to sit their women. That’s a bit gross, “Survivor.” But if that’s the way Jeff Probst wants the game played! Perhaps Team Russell has finally reached its perfectly condensed essence, because they’re in an early lead. However, they’re the only team with a female player competing and as strong as Denise is, she’s not Pete-strong or Jeff Kent-strong and the lead vanishes. The Unstoppable Team Skupin gets to smashing first, followed by Team Russell. Team Jeff Kent seems far behind. There’s no chance they can catch up, is there? Artis gives Team Skupin Immunity. And, heartbreakingly, Malcolm misses and Jeff Kent scores. “Matsing loses for the fourth. Straight. Time,” Jeff gloats. Russell smashes a pot and yells, “Same old crap!” Russell launches into a scary conversation with God. Jeff Probst isn’t impressed. “You’re just a guy,” Probst tells him. “I’m a guy who was formed by God’s hands. A perfect creature,” says Russell. “Russell, not everyone can succeed at everything,” Probst says, explaining the concept of competition. Awk-ward.
Russell Swan’s primal scene. Once again, we’re going to have to spend the last 20 minutes of the episode with Team Russell. No wonder I don’t have a clue who “Katie” is. Guess what? Team Malcolm is miserable again. Malcolm was about ready to cry after the challenge. Russell is sad, frustrated and disbelieving. The music is as melodramatic as I’ve ever heard it before. Out in the water, Malcolm tells Russell that they need to vote Denise to keep strong, but he reassures Denise that they’re sticking with the original plan. “This isn’t right. I don’t go into anything expecting less than the best and when I lose, I’m pissed,” Malcolm tells Denise. Playing therapist, she asks if this is the way he’s always been. This prompts Russell to tell a story of getting beat up as an eight-year-old. Young Russell was scared, but one day he caught one of the kids and punched him and the kid started crying. This taught Russell not to cower. Or something. Denise is GOOD. She reassures Russell that Malcolm will be a bigger threat after a Merge and Russell is so shaken that he’s receptive. “I thought I was gone,” he tells her. Russell finds himself thinking that he’s the swing vote, but he’s not the one getting gunk picked out of his ear by Denise. Ick. Denise is philosophical as they go to Tribal Council.
Tribal Council. “Wow, Denise. Crazy, right?” Jeff Probst says, starting up the conversation. Probst would rather talk to new people, too. “There’s no telling tonight what’s going to happen,” Malcolm tells Probst. They’ve all packed their bags and they’re all shivering. Russell repeats his perspective of his attitude of excellence. “If it’s a fatal flaw, then I’ll just have to accept it,” Russell says. And speaking of accepting it, Malcolm admits that he blew it when it came to pot-breaking. They each plead their cases to stay. Malcolm is young and strong. Denise is strong and social. “When I grow up, I wanna be like Malcolm,” Russell says for why the younger man is a bigger threat. Both Malcolm and Russell agree that Denise is impossible to beat socially. “I think that the two going forward are the two that have the best chance together to go deep in this game,” Malcolm predicts.
The vote. Russell writes Malcolm’s name. Malcolm writes Russell’s name. And it’s all up to Denise. Well, unless she wrote her own name down. Thunder crashes as Probst tallies the votes: Russell. Malcolm. The fourth person eliminated is… RUSSELL. There are no hugs or graceful acknowledgements as Russell departs. Probst tells them to keep fighting. “Right now, it’s just utter shock. I was just completely blindsided,” Russell says, criticizing his dysfunctional tribe. He says that he and “Survivor” don’t get along and he’s done with it.
Bottom Line. Odd jellyfish choices aside, that episode was a tribute to the craft of the “Survivor” music and editing teams, because by all rights, that should have been the most boring and predictable episode of the season. The team that has lost EVERYTHING lost again. The player who wasn’t part of a pre-existing alliance went home. There was no Angie to be found. And yet it was an interesting and sometimes harrowing episode that played out as extended therapy for Russell Swan, albeit not necessarily productive therapy, unless “Survivor” was the embodiment of all of his demons and escape from “Survivor” was the only true exorcism. There was, however, something raw and painful about watching Russell’s journey in this episode and something sad and cruel at witnessing the false hope Malcolm and Denise gave him on that last day. They thought he had an Idol and they had to take his vote out of play and they did exactly the right thing, but that doesn’t mean it was pleasant. As for Matsing, they’ve certainly been a textbook example of a tribal disintegration and I think that “Survivor” probably played things wrong by not shuffling into two tribes in this episode. The Immunity Challenge in which two teams benched their entire female contingents for a challenge that only rewarded strength and agility was a disaster for the game and one that should be avoided, even if only by contrivances. Otherwise, not much is new in “Survivor”-land. Abi is crazy. Pete is an evil genius. And somebody named “Katie” exists.
What’d you think of Wednesday’s “Survivor”?