[Once again, I'm stuck doing a “Survivor” recap as CNN is showing an American city on the brink of revolt and as my Twitter feed is bursting with well-earned outrage and indignation. It's hard to see much value to this, but here it is.]
Pre-credit sequence. Eight are left as the castaways return to camp still shaking from the wild-and-crazy Tribal Council. Reed and Alec make it clear to Keith that he tipped Jon off on their plan and was responsible for all of the ensuing chaos. Ego temporarily vanquished, Alec is sad and disappointed. “Oh, there's nothing worse than angry girls,” Reed warns them. Over with the girls, Natalie is gloating that she told Jon to play the Idol, saving the day, with Jaclyn trying to take some responsibility as well. Jon insists he was going to play it, which is pretty clearly a lie. Natalie's ticked off with Jon. And speaking of Jon demanding credit for everything, he tells Jaclyn to make sure that she gives him credit for the Idol-playing in the future, already making plans for a Jury situation in which he's still in the game and she, apparently, is not. Jaclyn is incredulous that Jon should be so insecure. “I was so mad when he took credit for something that I helped him to do,” Jaclyn says, suddenly insisting to us that she's Top 3-bound. Ruh-roh!
Red Skull. Before we get back to our Trouble in Camelot, it's time for a Reward Challenge. It's a series of questions about players in the game. Each correct answer lets you chop another player's rope. Three chops and you're out, with the crushing of a blood-filled skull. Want to know what they're playing for? The winner will get to ride horseback to a resort for BBQ and brownies and a night at said resort. “Oh my gosh, horses and brownies!” gushes the orgasmic Baylor. First trivial tidbit: Jeremy has a twin. The initial chopping target is Reed. “It's alright, my family has 12,” Reed says of the joy of riding a horse. Man-of-the-People Reed goes out first. Julie owns and operates a tanning business. Alec's skull is crushed second, followed by Keith. The oozing red goo from the skulls is pretty fun. The lines have been drawn, but now The Five Amigos have to bicker about who wins. Fan of manly competition that he is, Jeff calls them on their charade and they all agree, to Probst's disgust, that Missy will win. Jon also volunteers to go to Exile. Missy selects Baylor to join her on the Reward, but she has one more choice to make, picking Natalie. Jaclyn looks sad, so Probst takes the opportunity to twist the knife. But Reed swears he likes Jaclyn just fine, to which Baylor says Reed likes everybody, as if this is a crime. “I'm a people person, Baylor. You're a brat,” Reed responds. Missy is displeased. “That's my kid,” she says. “Girl, I know she's your kid,” Reed replies. Missy tells Reed to shut his mouth and stop lying. “He can't listen. He doesn't know how,” Missy says, ending the awkwardness. Jaclyn feels like Jon sacrificed for their alliance and she got the “butt-end.” The remaining guys agree. Ruh-roh again!
King of the Crevasses. Jon is back in Exile and he's mighty pleased. He's assuming there will be a new Idol in play and he's ready to get it. He knows he's a target and so he goes on a quest, following the hint of a sideways tree. Once again, with only moderate effort, he uncovers a Hidden Immunity Idol. But seriously, who isn't going to know that he has the Idol at this point?
Bad Girls. The Three Amigas take their ride through the hills, arriving at the resort, which looks mighty terrific, at least relatively speaking. Missy likes that Natalie likes Baylor, saying the Twinie will be like a daughter forever. Awww. The women know that Jaclyn's ego is fragile and that being back at camp with bitter men, Miss Michigan might tip. Over dinner, Baylor and Natalie tell Missy that they have an Idol, which Missy somehow interprets as “Baylor found an Idol.” They make a Final 3 deal, with Natalie confident she can win that matchup.
Three minutes of Jaclyn preening in the sun. Reed is disappointed by the way he treated Baylor. “That's not who I am in real life,” Reed says, before Jaclyn changes the subject to her slighting. “That was dumb,” Jaclyn declares, before going off to tan. After blowing it last time, Reed is determined to treat Jaclyn like a queen now, offering her a full coconut of rice. Jaclyn knows she's being buttered up and doesn't believe it, but she's also open to a conversation. Reed's pitch is that Missy is ruthless and may steamroll everybody. And Reed's seed of discord finds purchase. “We're in the middle again and it's so funny! I don't understand why this keeps happening!” Jaclyn gushes.
More Jaclyn eye-candy. The winners return to camp the next morning. “They all look the same,” Keith grumbles. Missy knows that she has to nurture Jaclyn and fight off the advances of Reed and Alec. Jaclyn flirts with Alec and asks if he'd ever take Baylor out on a date. Alec scoffs and says the only “Survivor” girl he'd take out is Jaclyn, who giggles. “It's like cream cheese, you can't hurt many things what put cream cheese on it,” Alec says his attempted woo-pitching. Natalie thinks that Jaclyn's behavior is inappropriate and the music certainly agrees, with the camera looming above Jaclyn's hips, watching her every breath. This is some pretty brazen eye-banging from the “Survivor” cameramen, even more brazen than usual. I'm uncomfortable. Have a little decency. Not a lot of decency. But a little? Baylor doesn't like the flirting either.
Paddlin' the school canoe? Oh, you better believe that's a paddlin'. Immunity is up for grabs. They have to balance six balls at the end of a paddle at the end of a pole. And, once again, it's just a chance for Probst to say “Balls.” Jon is the first to get three balls, followed by Keith, who takes the lead with four and then five. Keith wins Individual Immunity for the second time. “Wow,” Reed Gumby says. “Way to get those balls in there,” somebody tells him. Reed thinks he's doomed unless Jaclyn sways Jon and they can target Missy.
Cuckold's Horns. Monkey! More monkeys! Jaclyn lays out her options: Reed or Missy, basically. She takes Jon aside and goes through the same “We're in the middle speech.” “They're all lying,” Jon tells her straight-out. “I already knew all this,” says Jon, who knows everything. She walks away from him and he has to call her back. She gets impatient and tells him not to touch her. Looking shell-shocked and exhausted, Jon has no way of calming Jaclyn down. Somehow, Jaclyn's interpreting what Jon did as snapping and she cries about his attitude. Reed makes his case to the couple and Jon is derisive. “I just got yelled at too,” Jaclyn snaps. Natalie comes over as Jon is showing interest and Jon gives an odd double-wink to Reed and talks about how he can't trust him. This gives Reed hope. But Jaclyn missed the wink and goes off swimming by herself, much to the joy of the cameramen. I'm amazed we're not getting underwater photography. But back to Jon, who tells Missy about his new Idol. Jaclyn figures that Missy has become Jon's Island Mom and she's pissed off and decides to tan and vent with Natalie and Baylor. Natalie needs harmony and even with Jon coming over to apologize, forgiveness isn't in the cards. This entire segment has been Jaclyn adjusting her bikini top. On one hand, that's a weight-loss thing. On the other hand… Leer much? Jaclyn curls up in the shelter and refuses Jon's advances. Oh and Jon has also noticed that Jaclyn is flirting with Alec. Now he's pissed. “My life hinges on those two talking to each other,” Reed grumbles. “This may be a fatal fight for my game,” Reed whines. But what about true love, Reed?
Tribal Council, Part I. Probst begins by putting Jon and Jaclyn on the hot-seat. “How big a fight, Jaclyn?” Probst needles. Jaclyn is sad and disgruntled. Everybody else is uncomfortable. “Jon, this is a really interesting development,” Probst says, grasping at straws. He's seeing this as an opportunity to make this into an episode of his talk show, playing Dr. Phil. Reed makes his case. Missy insists she's not in a position of power and calls Alec on the flirting. Alec plays coy. Jaclyn blushes and plays coy. Jon squirms, emasculated before his eyes. And then we're just blathering. Let's vote!
The Vote, Part I. Missy votes for Reed and tells the camera that Baylor isn't a brat. “This will likely be the only time I ever write your name down,” Reed says, voting for Missy. Nobody plays an Idol. The vote: Reed. Missy. Reed. Reed. Reed. REED. Farewell and back to your horses, Reed. “Ouch Jeff,” Reed says, torch snuffed. Jon and Jaclyn agree that, at least temporarily, they love each other. “That's why Blood vs. Water is so difficult,” Probst narrates. Reed calls the experience amazing-slash-terrifying, calling the torch snuffing a dream come true.
Hang In There. Whoa. We're going right into the second hour. “Tribal was such couples counseling,” Natalie says as they all return to camp. Jon and Jaclyn kiss and pretend that the “emotionally draining” experience is behind them. Alec is lonely. He has nobody to talk to. “I don't have much to hold onto, but I'm still holding on,” he slurs. The next morning? Everybody is still reeling, especially Lonely Alec. Jon has sympathy, but says that either Keith or Alec have to go next. Jon tells Alec that he trusts his alliance and tells us that he's still “controlling and steering the direction of the game.” Yeah. That's one way of looking at it. I guess Jon did get his way at the previous vote, didn't he?
The Rumble For Rigatoni. It's time for another Reward Challenge. Didn't we just do this? Players have to stand on a block while balancing a ball against a block of wood with a big rolling pin. Wanna know what they're playing for? A king-sized canopy bed and an Italian dinner. Alec goes out first, but he wouldn't have had anybody to share the bed with. And yes, it's another chance for Probst to say “Balls” and to tell the castaways about the pain they're probably feeling after 20 minutes. “Keep pressure against that ball. Not too much, though,” Probst says. Missy goes out. Keith goes out. Baylor drops out. Jon's ball seems to be on the verge of slipping, but he recovers. A wasp-type-creature lands on Jaclyn's hand, but it's just a red herring. Jon's ball drops. It's Natalie and Jaclyn. “'Survivor' pushes you to go past that point of comfort,” says Jeff Probst, who seems only able to speak in cliches tonight. Jaclyn's ball drops. Natalie wins reward. Natalie sends Alec to Exile. “It's whatever. I figured it was coming,” Alec says, going off to spend more time alone. “Find some crabs,” somebody tells Alec. And Natalie chooses Jaclyn to share her spaghetti, adding Jon to their bed. That leaves Missy and Baylor bedless and pasta-free. “I'm used to it,” Keith says. Natalie, interesting, sees this as a way to lure Jon into a false sense of security before taking revenge. Nice. Revenge is, indeed, a dish best served with garlic bread.
Whine and dine. In the middle of the beach, there's a canopy bed. It's like a scene from “The Fall.” Jon's initially giddy, but then he realizes that their bed enjoyment will happen with the others just feet away. Missy, Baylor and Keith wander off to get water, leaving Jaclyn to hope that Jon's bond with Missy will be sufficient. “You guys are the worst,” Natalie says aptly. So say we all. Yum. Dinner. It looks delicious. Natalie wants to get back at Jon on Jeremy's behalf. “I like wine because it's a memory of my dad teaching me how to drink wine properly,” says Wine Snob Jon, who dreams of being a sommelier. Nuts. Because he mentioned his ailing father, it's impossible to properly criticize Jon for swirling a full glass of what is no doubt cheap “Survivor” wine talking about his sophistication. Fortunately, Natalie can do that for me. Yay, Natalie. For purposes of trust, Jon tells Natalie about his Idol, which throws a wrench in her plan, but only makes her more determined.
My wallet is too small for my 50s and my diamond shoes are too tight. You know, two hours is too much “Survivor” for a non-finale situation. The next morning, Jon and Jaclyn are complaining about their canopy bed. Natalie goes to Baylor and begins her conspiring. “Even though he's obnoxious, he's played a really good game,” Natalie tells us, vowing to kill herself if Jon wins. Baylor's amenable to Natalie's plan, which has magically become her co-plan. Baylor worries that Missy is addicted to helping men. “Jon just reminds me too much of past men in my mom's life,” Baylor says, making a confusing mess of the whole mother-son-daughter-lover dynamic. Ew. Monkey! Jon and Jaclyn have become lazy and lounge-y and Keith's grumpy, just waiting for somebody to bolt. Things are awkward when Jon wakes up from his nap. “A weird vibe can mean very bad things,” Jon says. “I don't trust anybody out here, honestly,” Jaclyn says. Jaclyn says that in real life, Jon is prone to getting too excited for things in real life and then getting disappointed.
Served up on a platter. Immunity time. Alec stumbles out of the wildness, looking half-dead. Wes was the only person recently to return from Exile without dead eyes. Baylor makes Missy cry. Missy's crying makes Baylor cry. Jeff Probst makes them both cry. It's another balancing-and-stacking Immunity, second in a row. That's why you don't air two straight episodes if you're out of ideas: Too many balls challenges and too much balancing in too short a window. This time, they're stacking 10 tiles on a platform. Just as Keith was good at the Episode 1 balance-stacking Immunity, he takes a lead here as well. “The only way to win is to be faster than everybody else,” Probst says for the benefit of… nobody. Jon wins, if you care. Sorry, Natalie. “We have to come up with a Plan B and fast,” Natalie says.
Kool Keith. And back again. Jon's feeling relaxed. Jon proposes a 3-2 vote split on Keith and Alec. Who would have guessed at this point that we'd be talking about what a huge challenge threat Keith is? Natalie is grumpy and Baylor makes faces that resemble grumpiness. And, once again, Alec is sad and lonely. “I'm not gonna give up,” Alec declares, willing to do whatever it takes, even if it means feigning sensitivity with Baylor. “I normally don't share my feelings and emotions, but this game has really done something to me,” Alec says. Baylor is, of course, easily snowed. Natalie tells Keith that he's too big of a threat and Alec is useless. Natalie has a brainwave. She can turn the game, flipping her vote and getting Alec out. Why would she do that? Why would she think she could flip and still blindside Jon at the next vote. Natalie tells Baylor her plan and Baylor is confused.
Tribal Council, Part II. Jeff Probst begins with the assumption that this vote will be between Keith and Alec. Everybody agrees. “I've won a couple of Immunity deals, but I'm really not good at some other stuff,” Keith says. A rat interrupts Tribal and it's perhaps the most entertaining part of the season, especially when Alec says he'd eat the rat, a prospect Baylor finds wicked hot. Jon babbles about wine and his father and Probst makes him cry. This is simultaneously moving, but also uncomfortable because of how much Probst is manipulating these emotions. Keith offers his vote to change the game. Probst tells Natalie this is a chance to make a big move and impress the jury.
The Vote, Part II. Alec doesn't know how to spell “Keith.” Keith knows how to spell “Alec.” Nobody plays an Idol, so Probst tallies: Keith. Alec. Keith. Alec. Keith. Alec. ALEC. Jon is shocked. Missy is shocked. Jaclyn is confused. Keith is pleased. Natalie is smug. Alec says that his ambition exceeded his talent in the game. “I didn't win, but at least I beat Drew, so that counts as a win for me,” he says.
Bottom Line, Part I. I… don't get that at all. I get that Alec is useless and nobody cares about whether or not he's there or gone. And I get that even if you think Keith has become unexpectedly strong at challenges, nobody believes the guy is capable of an unstoppable run. But if you're Natalie and your goal is to eventually blindside Jon and you know he has an Idol, what is the possible advantage to tipping your hand this early? Even if you assume Keith is now a vote with you and even if you honestly believe Baylor will eventually split with her mother and vote with you, you know that Jon has an Idol and that Jon is aware you're after him, so what can you do? But I still appreciate Natalie's gumption and her desire to break with the pack. I just don't get this move. If you go one more episode, pray Jon doesn't win Immunity, pray Alec doesn't win Immunity, talk about targeting Alec and then… Hmmm. I'm not sure what the next move is. You hope Missy is willing to boot her son-husband Jon? You hope Baylor isn't spineless and doesn't cave when Missy tells her not to flip? This was Natalie's episode to make the move, the time she would have had the votes and Jon messed it up by winning Immunity. I still don't get basically telling Jon you're coming after him.
Bottom Line, Part II. I didn't always like Reed, but he had an active mind and at least a general grasp on “Survivor” strategy, even if he couldn't make it work at all. He was a much more engaging TV personality than most of the people left, so I'll miss him a tiny bit. At least he'll always have his horses.
Bottom Line, Part III. I'm not sure how the math worked out that we needed this double episode, but I didn't love it. If this were a better season with better contestants playing a better game, maybe I could have forgiven the low-budget sameness of all four challenges. That meant that we were left with over an hour of Jon and Jaclyn and their unpleasant bickering, the uncomfortable leering at Jaclyn, the sluggish depression of Alec, the bemused resignation of Keith, the thwarted ambition of Natalie and the chipper nothingness of Baylor. And has anybody detected any personality from Missy *other* than her admirable protective instinct? And then we had Jeff Probst stirring the pot, trying his hardest to be the star of the episode or at least to incite this season's poorly written characters into some sort of dramatic crackle. So he made Missy, Baylor, Jon and Jaclyn all cry in this episode. Was that enough? I don't think so. The sad part is that if these episodes had aired individually over two weeks, I definitely would have liked them more. In a good “Survivor” season, one hour is never enough. In a bad “Survivor” season, you can almost always find entertainment in an hour, but maybe that's sufficient.
Bottom Line, Part IV. I don't get Natalie's move, but I'm at least curious about what's coming next. So there's that.
Thoughts? Did you love this double-dose?