“You’re Going to Want That Tooth”
March 12th, 2009
One of the concerns with any season of Survivor is that you won’t get a story to follow – the editors will work hard to create one, but you’re looking for that alliance, or rivalry, or relationship, or something else that will make this season of Survivor different than the others. Of course, the fact that the producers are so clearly trying to find these every single season means that every season kind of becomes pretty much the same.
As far as stories go, the “Secret” alliance of Taj, Stephen, Brendan and Sierra is a great one on the surface – it justifies the new two-person Exile Island twist, it has the potential to be quite explosive, and more importantly it actually worked: this week’s episode opens with Taj getting the second immunity idol, completing the circle of life of sorts. The problem now is that their plan lacks foresight: instead of being a sudden twist or turn in the game, which are always more exciting, we get to watch it slowly disintegrate, an alliance that is hard to keep secret when it gives them an extra boost of what can easily go from confidence to cockiness.
The producers, meanwhile, are probably pretty happy with this: it means that instead of waiting for the merge for this alliance to explode, there’s every chance it could all explode at any moment, whether it’s one of the other tribe members getting suspicious or the alliance itself falling apart at the seams. Either way, it’s something that I am really curious to see play out, as we start to see parts of it here.
The biggest concern for Taj is that she has a Plan B, but her Plan A isn’t really there: she has missed various strategy sessions, Joe points out quite logically, and the rest of the tribe has been operating largely without her. Now, I don’t buy part of what Joe says: Taj has been integral to almost every challenge, so it’s not really fair to say that she hasn’t been playing along with everyone else. Instead of things like strategy (she’s been there when they had to vote people out, of course), what she’s missed is the simple social games that they play, the flirtations and the like. Her tribe judged her for her husband immediately, and she’s not going to overcome that – it has nothing to do with strategy, it’s petty dynamics.
The danger is found in how she reacts to this, not really it in and of itself: her performance in challenges could easily keep her around longer than some of the rest of the tribe should she keep her mouth shut and try her best. The problem here is that she lets it get to her in a way that you can’t in this game, especially when you’re feeling vulnerable. Taj more or less throws down the gauntlet in a way that shows she is letting things get to her, acting almost psychotic in her post-challenge frustrations. As they face needing to get rid of someone, her strategy is so focused on an alliance still days into the future that she fails to see what’s happening right in front of her.
However, the alliance brought its first dilemma: Stephen was faced with the tough choice of letting Taj play the Idol (since it is in his possession) and seeing it tossed out of the game with his alliance intact, or keeping the Idol for himself (by lying to Taj about the trend at camp) and keeping it for himself. In the end, of course, she didn’t actually need it and Stephen never had to make a decision: for whatever reason, the tribe decided to vote off Spencer (we never really saw the moment where Taj realized she was completely safe), but it indicates that the tension of having two people with the Idol at arm’s reach is going to make for some very compelling scenarios…we just didn’t get to see one of them here.
Spencer, meanwhile, gets this episode’s “I have fundamental identity issues” edit before his departure, discussing why he is hiding his homosexuality from his teammates. It’s a rather frustrating speech, not in his hesitance (which is natural considering what he calls the cultural climate) but rather his excuse that J.T., being from the South, would vote him out if he were to reveal it. It’s one of those statements that has likely been taken somewhat out of context, considering how the rest of the episode played out, but we haven’t seen J.T. be anything but quite tolerant (if a bit hot-headed here), so I’m hoping there’s some sort of hidden meanness that we haven’t seen; otherwise, Spencer is stereotyping J.T. just as much as he fears about their own stereotypes. That’s a deeper sort of identity crisis than just being concerned about one’s safety in the game, and is not quite what you want to see at this point in the competition.
Spencer only left in this episode because he did poorly in a competition that they should have won, and that J.T. tried the hardest during. It wasn’t anything personal, but rather about strategy: since challenges often divide men and women, Taj is going to be a force to be reckoned with compared to the others and Spencer showed his age this week, at least for his teammates. If anything, I think Spencer was the victim of ageism more than any sort of homophobia: while J.T. may have expected too much of him, and it was unfair to place it all on his shoulders, someone young and athletic is supposed to be better than he is, and his age would be an easy scapegoat factor. I kind of liked seeing Spencer’s wide-eyed view of the game, but at the same time can’t say that his departure really affects the game in a negative light.
The two challenges were pretty simple this time around: the dizziness aspect got a few laughs but never really created the kind of tension-filled moments when the balance beam was only a few inches off the ground, while the second challenge was a total derivative only really saved by J.T.’s tooth chipping incident. Jeff doesn’t usually get the episode quotes, but this one felt apt, and I enjoyed J.T.’s total disregard for the lost tooth (I guess he figured it would only add to his country charms?) Jeff holding onto the tooth for the rest of the challenge was memorable, which is good since we’ve now seen this one at least once or twice before and it’s getting a bit tired.
Oddly, we get almost zero time over at Timbira, the entire episode focusing on Jalapao. We get one moment of Tyson getting suspicious of Brendan (to Brendan’s credit, purely based on the logics of the situation as opposed to a slip up on his part), we get Brendan filling Sierra in on the plan, but we never get to see any drama. The implication is that Tyson is going to try to take Brendan out immediately upon his return because of the potential of him jumping over to the other tribe and abandoning them, but somehow I think Coach will find some reason to decide Erinn is a cancer and vote her out instead. Count on it.
- Sydney, apparently, had a dream where she was in the midst of a volcanic eruption and her boyfriend was dying, so now she knows she wants to be with him forever. This was likely spurred on by the letter from home, but it also felt like she was bringing it up only to interrogate Spencer on the subject of relationships.
- Speaking of the letters from, Cafe Charmin was kind of creepy with its glorification of flush toilets and toilet paper, but I’m at least glad that they didn’t show anyone using it. In fact, I wonder if they’d even be able to: that’s a lot of pressure to go right then and there, I’d think.
- Timbira’s one other moment was a great one, with Coach trying to show that he can predict the weather and then proving entirely wrong: the most we hear about Coach pre-game (the whole firing story is everywhere you turn, Survivor-wise), the more it’s clear that he is not going to be one of those reunion show people who either owns up to how the game changed him (see: Kenny last year); he’s just like this.
- Via my Twitter feed: “If only J.T. was like Bob – he could totally use that tooth as the center of a bombin’ fake hidden Immunity Idol.”