Apologies for the lateness of this recap. I went back to New England for Thanksgiving and, after six inches of wet snow, power went off late Wednesday afternoon and didn't return until late Friday afternoon. Fortunately, my exit interview this week was already holiday-delayed, so I'm right on schedule there. Anyway… Happy Thanksgiving!
Pre-credit sequence. Josh is gone. Jeremy is gone. So… Now what at Huyopa? Sloth! Is that supposed to be symbolic or just cute? Keith is confused by what happened at Tribal Council, because he was expecting Reed to be going home. He thinks Reed is still around because of… ummm… mathematical mess and other stuff that goes over Keith's head. Oddly, it has come to pass that Reed seems to either be in a dominant position, or else he thinks he's in a dominant position and he's musing on either sticking with Jon or, possibly, taking Jon out. Natalie feels that she can't trust anybody. Trying to build trust, Jon tells Natalie about his Idol. And now Natalie is also thinking of how she might possibly blindside Jon as well. Natalie decides to go on a quest for an Idol, thinking that her vague recollection of the Exile Idol clue might help her find an Idol that clearly nobody else could have already found. But I guess desperate times call for desperate measures.
A challenge to make El Presidente proud. Reward is up for grabs. It involves swimming, key-collection, puzzle-piece-collection and the building of a puzzle piece statue. Wanna know what they're playing for? They'll get to be goodwill ambassadors, delivering baseball equipment to kids who love the game but don't have the requisite gear. *I* think that's worth playing for. They'll also get to eat a lot of baseball food traditional to American culture. They do a schoolyard pick that we don't get to see, but which leaves Keith abandoned and unloved on the sideline. It's Reed, Alec, Jaclyn and Jon against Missy, Baylor, Natalie and Wes. Now I'm gonna pause and allow you to think of a schoolyard swap in which the participants actually wanted to win, but these were the two teams that got selected. You can't do it. Regardless of who picked first or who the captains were, if people wanted to win, you couldn't get these teams. Watch, now Missy's team is gonna win. Making an instant fool out of me, Wes proves to be a strong swimmer and gives her team a lead, a lead Jaclyn isn't able to erase against Missy. But Reed evens things against Baylor and Alec pushes his team to a slim lead. I'd have expected a slightly largely advantage after the physical phase. It'll all come down to the puzzle and this is where Team Jon is surprisingly dominant. They win easily, even if it wasn't quite the way I expected them to. Jeff Probst isn't impressed with the losers and Baylor cries at the idea that Missy has never won Reward. In this season of allegedly heroic sacrifice, Reed offers his Reward to Missy. “It's about doing good for other people and I feel like this would be good for Missy,” he says. Missy cries and accepts. Everybody talks about what a big move it was for Reed. That didn't work out so well for Jeremy, did it? The winners send Wes off to Exile. “In the grand scheming of things, I can suck this up,” Reed says, vowing to use the time to plot against Jon.
The next Vincente Padilla. Baseball time. I love the Community Outreach Rewards. Alec, Jon, Jaclyn and Missy arrive at a baseball field with bags of shirts, hats, bats, balls, gloves and more. “It was so darling,” Missy says, getting a recharge from the kids. Sitting surrounded by kids, the castaways chow down on food that, for the most part, these kids probably never get exposed to. They're just munching away as the kids look on in envy. This part I don't get. Why aren't the kids getting ice cream, too? Why do we have to wait for Jon to offer a bite of dessert to a small child while telling us about Jaclyn's MRKH, which makes her unable to have children. Yes, Jon's a good dude because he's totally down with adopting kids with her and he didn't leave her because she can't have his kid. But I'm not sure why we're playing this as “heroic” rather than “decent with a bit of TMI.”
Babysitting Baylor. Reed seeks Keith out for a Come-to-Jesus moment. He doubts Keith's grasp of “Survivor” strategy and explains the situation to him like he's a two-year-old. Reed's goal is to bring Alec over and form a new alliance with Keith and Wes, an alliance which not coincidentally would give Reed sway over three gentlemen with somewhat questionable IQs. This is his biggest swing to get Jon out. Keith's down, because he can excise a ringleader and keep his Idol. Natalie, meanwhile, is leading Baylor on a field trip to find an Idol. This is a sweet gesture, because without Missy around, I figure Baylor was spinning in confused, sad circles. Natalie is convinced she's looking for an unfound Idol and that the Idol is in the center of their camp. And, indeed, they find an Idol. Was this an Idol reburied after John Rocker went out? I guess so. “It's like my little Twinnie,” Natalie says. Their goal is to get Jon out in two votes, but to target Reed first. We'll see if this works.
Jesus Christ Pose. Immunity time! Wes returns having had a totally uneventful time on Exile. The challenge is to balance with your feet on a perch and your hands on a handle. I get that this is exhausting and probably requires a level of endurance I'd never possess, but it's almost comically uncreative. The stations have been measured based on height, which Jeff Probst thinks makes it equal, though I'm pretty sure this totally ignores muscle mass, center of gravity and all manner of other factors. It's a “How comfortable are you feeling about your position in the game?” challenge and Probst brings out candy to try luring people down. Will anybody fold for sour worms and a chocolate bar? Initially? Nope. But after Probst erotically teases them by fellating the candy bar, Jon drops out, earning mockery and emasculation from Keith. “Just like Jesus on the cross, baby,” says Alec, who knows LITERALLY nothing about Jesus or crucifixion or… I'm gonna say “anything.” Sorry, but there's a level of ignorance that just offends me and Alec has well and truly achieved that. Missy bails next and tries psyching other people out. The next lure is chocolate chip cookies and milk, which get Baylor and Jaclyn to sprint off their platforms. “Baylor, Jaclyn just gave up a shot at a million dollars for five chocolate chip cookies and two glasses of milk,” Probst says incorrectly. They really didn't. Two beers and hot-wings get Wes to quit. Keith is talking trash to Natalie, suggesting she's the only person from her team still fighting. He also derides Wes for his food issues, as Wes proudly boasts about his chicken nugget-cramming prowess. After 80 minutes, Jon is licking his sugar-plate like a lunatic, but Alec, Keith, Reed and Natalie are still standing. Unable to stand any longer, Keith steps down and receives no food for it, with Alec doing the same. With the other players napping, Reed and Natalie go on. Things are so slow that we're watching Natalie spit on herself. My God. Wes is going full “The Chris Farley Show” asking Jeff to remember that time he cooked bacon on “Two and a Half Men.” This is so pathetic. Natalie's willing to quit for food and she tries to bargain with Probst. He acquiesces to her request for pizza, wings, a cookie and a beer. I don't know how Jeff Probst has come to basically be Wink Martindale this season. Natalie bails and Reed wins Individual Immunity. Neither of them can move, but Reed can still do full splits. You don't wanna mess with that guy in any task that requires endurance or physical control. At least Natalie gets a lot of food.
Ducks in a row. Returning to camp, Reed thinks Jon's cockiness is telling and moves to mobilize forces against him. There's going to be subterfuge with the majority thinking that the vote is against Keith, but with the Reed-Alec-Keith-Wes alliance going against Jon. Sloth! Missy is confident that Reed and Alec are in place with them, but Jon isn't so sure at all. Missy and Jon ask for Alec's assurances that he's with them and, several times, Alec repeats that he is. Jon is reassured, even if he's troubled not to be calling the shots.
Tribal council. Jaclyn professes to confidence in her five-strong, while Baylor adds that trust is important. Jeff Probst wants to get an Idol or two into play and he feigns shock that we've reached this point without a single Idol being played. I absolutely refuse to look this up, but is it so uncommon? Probst just keeps twisting and warning people that you don't want your Idol to be taken home as a souvenir. Reed calls Keith and Wes out on the Idol they either do or don't have. “I say, 'Stick to the plan,'” Keith cackles. Suddenly, everything goes pear-shaped. Nobody knows what Keith is talking about. Whispering ensues. Nobody knows what the plan is or what they're doing. Baylor compares it to a hall-of-mirrors. Probst compliments her for the analogy. “I feel like we may not have been as close or as organized as we thought,” Baylor laments.
The vote. We don't see who anybody wrote down. “Dude, play your Idol,” Natalie whispers to Jon, who doesn't have a clue if that's the right move. At least he doesn't take long to consider. “I'd rather play this than go home with it in my pocket,” Jon says and, indeed, plays his Idol. Wow, points for Natalie there. And Keith follows suit, playing his Idol, but only after offering it to Wes. Many jaws are slack. This is fun. Probst tallies: Jon. Jon. Jon. Keith. Keith. Jon. Keith. [Jon is giddy. Keith has no expression.] Wes. And… WES. Huh. “Sly dog, you,” Jon laughs at Reed. Natalie has to explain to Baylor what happened. “It's aggressive, it's risky and now that you've started, you can never go back,” Probst tells them.
Bottom Line, Part I. Well, the big winner in this episode is obviously Jeff Probst, who I'm guessing had a conversation with the other producers that went something like this: “There are now three Idols out there and one that was found and wasted. This has been a lame season. What can we do to start forcing some of the Idols out and change the game dynamic?” And this was the well-earned result. So… Yay!
Bottom Line, Part II. The other big winner in this episode is Natalie. It was her tingling Spidey Sense that got Jon use his Idol, which he wasn't going to otherwise. Or at least that's how it looked to us. So that presumably ought to earn her a fair share of Jon's trust, which is a better position to be in than she was at the start of the episode when she'd just had her only ally eliminated. Plus, Natalie got to watch two Idols get cast onto the metaphorical fire, while she found one herself. Jon's played Idol will return to Exile, but I assume Keith's Idol is gone for good.
Bottom Line, Part III. I'm not really sure what Wes added to the game. His most memorable moments involved somewhat recognizing John Rocker, overeating on a Reward, giving up Immunity on the week of his elimination for chicken wings and declining his father's offer of the Idol at the last minute. Ooops. Do we assume that Keith was falling on his sword in that moment knowing that he would be eliminated if Wes took the Idol? Presumably. Keith, while not the most engaged of players, looks like Boston Rob next to Wes, so I guess I'm OK with the reversal.
Bottom Line, Part IV. Reed's plan was fairly solid and I'm trying to think of where things went wrong in Tribal Council. Was the assumption that Keith had no plan and when he told people to stick to it, was that an indication that something was askew? Did Natalie understand the extent of the plan when she anticipated votes going against Jon? And does Baylor currently understand what happened?
Bottom Line, Part V. Once Reed went out and became Immunity Challenge Gumby, did Jon have an alternative plan that he should have gunned for? He and Jaclyn had all of those Tribal Councils in control and then they just kicked back and let things go this week. Having skated and survived, are they now able to point at Reed and get him out the first time he doesn't win Immunity? Is there anything Reed can do to prevent that from happening or has he both left himself without a worthwhile alliance and also played his card WAY heavy in Immunity this week, with people already worried.
Bottom Line, Part VI. That was a good episode. Probst will think it was a good episode because two Idols were played. I don't think that's exactly true. But the Idols nudged people in the direction of playing strategically and the result was unpredictably. In a season with so many less-than-engaging individual players, if their strategy is also less-than-engaging or nonexistent, we're doomed to a dull conclusion. This episode was not dull.