“The Strongest Man Alive”
March 5th, 2009
There has very rarely been a scenario wherein two tribes on Survivor have been such polar opposites. Going into tonight’s episode, Timbira has been a highly dysfunctional wreck of a tribe, where Coach is convinced that he is not actually part of their failure and where all the beans in the world can’t keep them from cutting off their stronger players. Jalapao, meanwhile, has been able to for weeks put together a very strong tribe that cheers on one another like they’ve been together for months, not just under two weeks.
But what this episode clearly indicates is that the social elements of the game are not the be all end all, and that while Jalapao’s attitude has been very different they were not so fundamentally stronger, or without their own drama, than we would have thought. As a result, for once, there’s actually some suspense about who wins immunity challenges, since both tribes have a very clear path to take if they lose. The result of the episode is nothing surprising, still, but it’s clear that we’re in a “wait and see” pattern in terms of those surprises.
This will be quick, since it went exactly as you’d expect based on what has been our first actual “interpersonal tension” look into Jalapao as Sandy complains about Sydney using her sexuality. I was just noticing that Jalapao must be getting along awfully well for us to have not seen Crazy Sandy really taking hold, but we got a fairly nuanced view at tribe dynamics in that moment: Sydney and the younger members of the group viewed Sandy as an annoyance, and the older members of the tribe (Taj and Sandy, mainly) viewed Sydney as a threat. Stuck in the middle, unfortunately for the old ladies, were impressionable males easily hooked by her model wiles.
The tribe wasn’t immune to some sort of interpersonal conflict, but it didn’t really play out in a way that’s going to create some long term troubles: Sandy left proud of herself for not being the first person her tribe voted out, Sydney is left proud of her ability to keep herself around through sneakiness, and apparently Taj is pissed at Joe for some reason that we don’t quite understand. That is the only part of this equation that feels like it’s showing cracks in the tribe’s armour, as everyone else seems to be on the same page even if J.T. had to dig deep within himself to make the decision (Joe and Spencer? Not so much).
Taj, though, is part of the episode’s one major development, the official establishment of “Team Secret,” the alliance between Brendan, Taj, Stephen and Sierra, the latter half being added this week. It’s a strong alliance in theory, as noted when Sierra marvels at how she literally stumbled her way into it by choosing to ask Brendan that first week to help her dig for that eventually unnecessary immunity idol she never found. The problem right now seems to be Taj, who if next week’s preview is to be trusted more or less loses her mind and flips out on her tribe. I get that she’s kind of over the tribe already, but you can’t buy into your own secret alliance so much that people ask “Wow, she must have some sort of secret alliance, because she’s acting crazy.” Then it’s not, you know, secret anymore. I make less of the preview’s insistence that Tyson has “figured out” the plan from the Timbira side of things – he said himself that he barely pays attention this week, and I think he’s just talking out of his ass.
Timbira’s own narrative disappeared after the immunity challenge, of course, but it played out as one might expect – Erinn gets thrown under the bus by Coach for suggesting Brendan as the tribe’s leader, and later because she doesn’t interact with anyone personally. We get a weird moment where she blames this on a really bad pre-game breakup, where my sympathy for her was admittedly limited considering she feels it’s going to completely define her the second it comes up in conversation so she doesn’t have conversations, but for the most part her inevitable exit was the only story we got.
The episode really didn’t do anything special otherwise: reward challenge was your test of strength that boiled down to Taj vs. Debbie, which was exactly what you’d have expected going into it, and the immunity challenge had a neat puzzle element at the end that hid the fact it was really just a zig-zag relay race (were they not allowed to cut through the middle – how bizarre). The teams are back to being even, and I don’t think one bag of beans is going to make a fundamental difference in terms of the teams’ performance over long periods of time.
- I am fairly certain at some point in her life Sandy was passed over for someone prettier, and that it’s made her very angry: her entire rant about Sydney taking off her clothes and suggesting she needs to go full frontal to truly bring them to her side, was tinged with a sense of bitterness that couldn’t have managed to develop in only 10 days with this person. My favourite thing about her rant: that she was doing it in the Tocantins equivalent of Hugh Hefner’s grotto.
- Sydney came out of nowhere in this episode to be self-described as sneaky and ogled and fawned upon by her male tribemates. She might be pretty, but it wasn’t a pretty sight – however, considering how recently Natalie was, this was not a bad “hey, remember her? She can speak!” edit by comparison.
- Brendan really needs to work on his secret alliance skills considering he forgot to bring Sierra into the plan, but also because the plan was flawed to begin with. Taj picking Sierra could be sold considering she is considered one of their weakest players and was initially “voted off,” but what logic other than potential subterfuge would they REALLY have to pick Stephen to go to Exile, especially when they had conversed about it and decided that sending Taj back was in their bext interest back at camp?