7:15pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
Steaks Are High on 'Survivor: Kaoh Rong' in "With Me or Not With Me"
[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, May 11 episode of Survivor: Kaoh Rong.]
Now I feel the tiniest bit guilty about my running joke regarding The Physical Space Occupied By Joe.
I don't feel a lot guilty, mind you.
Leading up to this week, Joe had probably done less and been featured less than almost any castaway to make a Survivor top five. Strategically, he was relevant, but only so far as he was taken entirely for granted by Aubry. Socially, he was relevant, but only so far as Aubry referred to him as the anchor to her game. Physically, up until this week, he was possibly the least relevant long-running player in Survivor history, basically giving up on nearly every individual challenge and contributing directly to a number of losses in group challenges.
But for one episode, Joe was suddenly the center of the action, which we probably should have known augured poorly since producers very candidly said that there were three medical evacuations this season and we'd had Caleb's heat exhaustion and Mount Saint Neal, but we were one short coming into Wednesday's hour.
In order to become the star of the episode, Joe first had to win a truly odd reward challenge. Players had to go back and forth collecting sandbags and then they had to throw them into five individual targets. It required multiple trips and, in normal Joe style, he made the trips at half the speed of the other contestants. But there was a catch that I'm pretty sure Probst didn't reveal initially: If you didn't get all your sandbags in the targets and you initially ran out of sandbags, you were done and couldn't get more until everybody else had used all their sandbags without winning. But Aubry, Michele, Tai and Cydney couldn't land the required five sandbags and they all ran out. So everybody had to stand around waiting as Joe finished one batch of sandbags. Then walked back to the jungle and fetched his last batch. And came back at a leisurely pace. And then threw one sandbag after another. With only two left, Joe had two targets left to hit. Surely this comeback story couldn't possibly materialize? Well, if it didn't materialize, Survivor wasted a lot of time on players standing around and waiting. Bang! Bang! Joe nailed two targets and won a spa afternoon/evening and a protein-filled meal. It was a glorious win for Joe, who predictably took Aubry and Cydney with him.
If you loved the foreshadowing exhibited by the Survivor editors sticking with Joe's slow challenge progress, your senses tingled when Joe sat and ate absurd quantities of beef on the reward. He just kept eating and kept talking about how much he was eating. I think if you did the math, Joe had more on-screen dialogue about meat in five minutes than he'd had about every other subject combined in the rest of the season. Then you had Cydney looking at Joe cautiously and saying that she knew from previous experience that bad things were going to come from the amount of meat he was eating. Then Joe returned to camp and he wouldn't stop talking about how much meat he consumed. It was ridiculous.
Around this point, I looked at the time and it was 8:38 and we hadn't gotten to an immunity challenge and it became clear that we were heading for some sort of sad payoff. Now Cydney talked about her personal experience telling her that Joe's meat consumption was a problem, but does Cydney have personal experience with being a 71-year-old man with an enlarged prostate? Because as important as the meat was to Joe's subsequent bladder problems, the age and common medical infirmity were almost certainly more important. So while those last 20 minutes didn't include immunity, tribal council and a vote, they did include lots of talk about Joe's urethra, his challenges making water and his bloating, which all looked and sounded hideously uncomfortable, unpleasant and generally untenable in a game that leads to plenty of discomfort without having concerns about your kidney or bladder or general insides exploding. Doctor Joe pulled Player Joe from the game after hugs, Probstian tributes and a sunset montage that looked like the euthanasia scene in Soylent Green.
Farewell, Joe. In departing, you proved more memorable than your persistent presence ever could have hoped to be.
I have more thoughts, but I'll work them into my Bottom Lines...
Bottom Line, I. The big loser in Joe's departure, other than Joe, is Aubry. Last week, Tai threw away a bonus vote advantage, but Joe was Aubry's bonus vote advantage. He was never going to turn on her and he was never going to get a single vote from the jury and she was never going to turn on him. There's a degree of comfort that comes from that that really can't be underestimated. Tai had a bonus vote for one week, but Joe could have been a bonus vote for two weeks for Aubry. In addition, when Joe wasn't talking about meat on the reward, he was raving to Cydney that Aubry was basically unbeatable, which isn't the kind of thing that plays well with Cydney's inferiority complex. So Joe left, took his vote with him and left a big target on Aubry. That's not good if you're rooting for Aubry.
Bottom Line, II. The second biggest loser in Joe's departure is either, depending on how you look at it, Tai or advantage-loving producers. Last week, Tai blew that vote advantage, which followed Neal and Jason/Scot's unused idols. But now Tai's idol is also out of the game, right? You can't idol your way into the top three, so the idol is toast, I guess. And its potential to sway the game is toast. Tai's disappointment after last week's tribal also exposed how limited his understanding of Survivor strategy actually is. I don't think he can win, regardless of who he goes to the end with. His only chance was a final three with Joe and Michele.
Bottom Line, III. Speaking of Tai and Aubry, Aubry's pep talk to Tai to get him back on her side after he felt hurt and alienated by the move to vote Jason off was tremendous psychological insight. She picked up on Tai's loneliness and isolation and played it perfectly. He went from wanting to turn on Aubry to hugging her and crying in what looked like five minutes. And if she was sincere about it? All the better.
Bottom Line, IV. Oh and Aubry was also correct that taking Joe and Tai to the end is her easiest play. I think she easily beats anybody other than Cydney and it's a slight mystery why she didn't realize that earlier. I think Aubry still beats Cydney because I think Scot and Jason may be bitter about Cydney turning on them in a way that nobody's bitter at Aubry, but I think Cydney and Aubry beat either Michele or Tai pretty cleanly.
Bottom Line, V. Mark the Chicken outlasted Joe.