Pre-credit sequence. Hali's gone. I may not miss her, but Merica will, especially the awesome sloth who may or may not have anything to do with camp. Dan, standing by his “flippers never win” nonsense, is lecturing Shirin on how to play “Survivor,” but Shirin is still hoping for a Blue Collar fracture. She wants to go to the end, which will only work if somebody on Blue Collar splits from the rest. Shirin tells everybody that she's voting for Mike at the end, which is the start of her fracturing process. Will she find help from Rodney? Boston's Finest thinks Dan is wrong in saying that flippers don't win the game, but he emphasizes that it matters when you flip and he sounds ready to flip at some point. How soon? Dunno, but let's just say Rodney isn't Blue till he dies at all. “I don't need no more friends. What I need is zeroes in my bank account,” he says, promising he's got a Mike Tyson knockout punch coming, an analogy that lines up with his previous treatment of women. A storm is brewing and Jenn is miserable about her position in and participation in the game. “For selfish reasons, I don't want Jenn to go,” Shirin admits, but she's also looking to make a new alliance of some sort. Shirin goes to work and she goes first to Mike and Sierra. Mike thinks that taking Shirin on would be a good way of getting rid of other threats and Shirin wants to target her former White Collar mate Carolyn. He's interested. And for Shirin, while she knows that flipping wouldn't put her in the driver's seat immediately, she's hoping to be “in the passenger seat backseat driving.” Well, if she can pull this off, I'd be impressed.
Zagnut Reward. We're kicking things off with a Reward Challenge at sea. They'll be divided into teams of five and they'll be racing through obstacles and collecting grappling hooks. Wanna know what they're playing for? A trip to the Candy Company Sponsored Gorge Cafe. To whet their appetites, Jeff Probst gives them each a single M&M, which causes 10 simultaneous sponsored orgasms. They do a schoolyard pick and it's Mike, Tyler, Shirin, Dan and Sierra against Rodney, Joe, Will, Carolyn and Jenn. I guess at this point I assume that any team with Joe has the advantage, but we'll see. I enjoy watching people like Dan and Rodney bounce off of wooden slides and balance beams in ways both horrifying and hilarious. There are some classic face-plants in this challenge. Mike's team develops a pretty solid lead, but the lead vanishes as Jenn destroys Shirin one-on-one, leaving Joe as a commanding anchor racer to only expand the advantage. But who will collect five rings first? The teams are tied at three rings apiece, but Mike's team gets the last two rings and they win Reward. Mike is the hero and they have an extended opportunity to plug for a chocolate bar with peanuts, caramel and nougat. “Unless you play this game, you have no idea what this feels like,” a miserable Jenn says. But Joe is still happy to be there. Jenn has absolutely checked out.
Abba-Zaba Reward. Monkey! Candy-coated chocolates! The winners fall on the branded sweets with voracious appetites and an eagerness to list every single candy bar and repeat the name of the candies and celebrate the experiences of eating those candies. “I love literally every one of you,” Sierra says of her group, which includes Dan, who she hated just a day earlier. “I see the game from a new angle and now I'm charging forward,” a fortunate Shirin says.
Chicken-o-Stick Reward. The losers return to camp. Rodney is bitter, but he's also determined to slaughter a chicken. “I guess she wanted them as her little buddies because she just lost her buddy Hali,” Rodney says. “This would suck less if the people sucked less,” Jenn grumbles, a sentiment that I've felt in countless social situations. She thinks she's the only one taking care of the chickens and she's sad to see them go. “I've got nothing out here, except despair,” she laments. Rodney does a fairly good Mike impression. I don't wanna take that away from him. Even Jenn has to laugh. Wow. Rodney's actually a good impressionist. His Dan is quite solid as well. Joe is sensing that behind Rodney's mockery is some genuine animosity and he wants to work on him. Meanwhile, I'm confused by the fact that this group of losers unilaterally decided to devour a chicken. This isn't democracy. This isn't my Merica.
Dead chicken unremarked upon. Will the winners protest the eating of the chicken in their absence? Or will they return too full of chicken to care? If there was controversy, we missed it. Instead, Tree-Mail says something about keeping on your toes. Joe is feeling a ton of pressure. He describes himself as 3-0 and is going for 4-0. This ignores the Reward that he just lost which wasn't individual, I guess. “The more I ask to leave, the less likely I am to leave,” Jenn says, even telling Joe that if he let her win Immunity, she'd give him the necklace. So Joe views this now as being twice the chance of Immunity. I bet he'd count a Jenn win as making him 4-0.
Blockhead. Immunity time. It's the challenge were you have to balance on a step with a thingie between your head and another board. If you wobble, the thingie falls and you're out. I guess it's a block that you're balancing. “It's gonna hurt and it's gonna hurt fast. Joe is wobbling, but Carolyn and then Will go out first, followed by Shirin. Jeff Probst babbles and Joe wobbles some more. Rodney goes out and then Dan's block drops. Down goes Sierra. Every time Joe looks like he's going out, somebody else is knocked out first. His luck runs out and Joe's block tumbles. It's down to Jenn, Tyler and Mike. Jenn is an unmoving rock and Mike tumbles. We're 30 minutes in and Jenn and Tyler are both twitching in obvious discomfort. Jenn buckles first. Tyler wins Individual Immunity. Jenn is upset because she wanted to win only so she could go out and now Joe is going to be doomed. Or is there a wrench she can throw into the works? A monkey wrench? Or maybe just a monkey?
More than one way to split a cat. “I'm living on a limb,” Joe says, vowing to fight. As you do. “Nobody knows the game as well as I do,” says Shirin, who claims that she knows a numbers loophole. Shirin's done the math and she figures there'll be a 4-3 split from the dominant alliance, but that if Joe votes for Jenn rather than against a Blue Collar strawman, Shirin would be the deciding vote. Jenn loves this idea, loves any idea that would send her home. Mike knows the split, too, but he tells Shirin to vote for Joe to guarantee that Jenn won't luck into leaving. Monkey! Joe tells Dan he really wants to be there and Dan says there's nothing he can do. It's a staged plea and Joe runs out into the woods where, like a magpie, he has put together a collection of odds and ends and he sets about shaping them into a fake Idol using his skills as a jewelry maker. Joe crafts a necklace that isn't foolproof, but it looks OK. Joe offers Mike an Idol for voting Jenn and keeping him safe. Even though Mike has the Idol he found, he doesn't know if Joe has a different Idol that nobody knew about, so he's willing to trade.
Tribal Council. It begins with Joe making an exchange with Mike, as Hali comes out as the first member of the Jury. Jeff Probst can't figure out if Jenn wants to be there or not. Indeed, Jenn says that she likes the game and she also doesn't. She compares her split feelings to her newfound amusement with Rodney. Probst suggests that if Jenn really wanted Joe to be safe and send herself home, she could just pull “the ultimate White Collar move” and leave. Really, Probst? The ultimate White Collar move is quitting? Dude. Jenn isn't buying that. She's not quitting. “Jenn, she's already quit mentally, emotionally, physically,” Joe argues, saying that he loves the game too much to not fight for it. Shirin says Jenn is a better strategic ally, but she also doesn't want to stay with a goat. Before we go to a vote, Mike holds up Joe's Idol and asks Probst to verify it and Probst refuses.
The vote. “I have no idea what's going on,” Tyler says, writing Jenn's name. “I have no idea what is going to happen tonight,” Rodney says, writing Joe's name. Joe votes for Jenn. Mike gets up and plays Joe's fake Idol for Will. “This is… not a Hidden Immunity Idol,” Probst says. And tallies: Jenn. Joe. Jenn. Joe. Dan. Jenn. Joe. Jenn. Joe. “This is exciting,” Jenn says. JOE. “Damnit,” Jenn says. “I still have you,” Shirin tells Jenn, which is the coldest of cold comforts. Probst tries to make the best of the situation and says that the vote represents taking out a threat. Joe calls it “an indirect compliment” that everybody wanted him out. It's a pretty direct compliment, isn't it? Anyway… Bye, Joe.
Bottom Line, Part I. On a simple level, this episode began with a foregone conclusion: When Joe stops winning Individual Immunities, Joe will be voted out of “Survivor.” And the episode ended with a foregone conclusion: Joe lost Individual Immunity and, therefore, was voted out of the game. So that ought to have made for a ridiculously boring episode of “Survivor,” but instead it made for a fairly fun episode of “Survivor” and you can decide who you want to credit. Do we credit Joe for aggressively refusing to quit and making one of the game's more plausible fake Idols? Do we credit Jenn, who attempted to orchestrate one of the most elaborate plans to quit without quitting in “Survivor” history? Do we credit Shirin for at least running the numbers and putting herself in position to be plausibly accepted as part of a different alliance and maybe possibly for wedging her way into that new alliance? Shirin voted Joe and that was what Mike told her to do and she may now be in league with Mike, though I don't have a good perspective on where she is within that alliance and if she's really changed her position or not. I think Shirin was always going to be kept around for a while as a goat and then I think she probably would have always had a chance to offer herself up as a vote to reshape the game. So I don't know what she has going for her now that she didn't before. But at least she put herself in position where that's a question we can ask, making it her most active participation in the game this season.
Bottom Line, Part II. Joe was definitely an Ozzy-esque player, a guy with absurd physical gifts and some other odd individual skills, but no way to play strategically. Joe was in a hole from the Tribal Shuffle on and if there was anything that he could have done, we saw no hint of it. He was always looked at as a threat and that was that. He survived that one pre-Merge vote when he should have gone out but the Rodney/Joaquin bromance became overbearing, but otherwise he went out at the first moment that anybody could put him out. He physically defended his position in the game, but strategically, he did nothing. Or am I forgetting something? It was easy to admire him for the things he did, but he was otherwise limited.
Bottom Line, Part III. It was an oddly appealing episode for several people. Like Jenn, I never would have guessed that there'd be more than one version of Rodney that I liked. [I'm in favor of his Boston-based sports fandom, so we could bond over Tom Brady and Papi if nothing else.] But he turns out to be a fine impressionist. Or impersonator. Or whatever. And who knew that Jenn being grumpy, despairing over her chickens and attempting to quit would be as engaging as it was. And, as mentioned above, I was glad that this was an episode in which Shirin tried to make some moves and did as well as she could. And nobody suggested slapping or beating a woman for anything, so for some of this season's characters, that was a plus.
Bottom Line, Part IV. I need to think about how this episode's Candy Placement Reward compares to what “The Amazing Race” has been doing with Ford Foci all season on scales of obnoxiousness. Because this was highly obnoxious. But it was still a better episode than it needed to be given its high level of inevitability.
What'd you think? Was there anything Joe was supposed to do?