10:50pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Kaoh Rong' Puts Tai's Soul Up For Grabs in 'I'm Not Here to Make Good Friends'
There were some concerns in Survivor fandom when CBS/producers opted to leapfrog the Second Chance all-star season ahead of Survivor: Kaoh Rong. The move was made to capitalize on the fan voting and preseason attention for what turned out to be a top-notch season, but there was the suspicion or subtext that Kaoh Rong might also be a disappointment.
Survivor: Kaoh Rong continued along its exciting and unpredictable path in Wednesday's episode, titled "I'm Not Here to Make Good Friends" and also, with yet another whisper-filled tribal council, unraveled some of the bully domination that made last week's episode fascinating, but also could have been the season's undoing.
Jason and Scot have made for a terminally unlikable pairing since they hit the beach at Brawn camp. They were cackling, smug and full of hubris and also wielded their strength and in-game power like a weapon in the least likable ways possible, consistently tormenting weaker players and also, a real Survivor no-no, consistently chiding the players they were about to send home. Other than one heartfelt story about his autistic daughter, Jason has never come across as anything other than a cackling meanie, but Scot has had these strange moments of charm, particularly when he first met up with Tai and they became a mismatched comedy pairing.
Probably that's why it was so satisfying that Tai proved to be Scot's undoing on Wednesday's episode. Tai wasn't the orchestrator of Scot's doom. That credit appears to go to Aubry. But Brutus wasn't the only guy who stabbed Caesar, he was just the guy whose betrayal left Caesar quotably terse.
The show went with the succinct hashtag "#Wow" for the end of another great tribal and, for once, it fit the bill. Rarely has a tribal had more sneering bluster, as Jason and Scot repeated over and over that they were in full control and that everybody would be well-served to just get in line or get run over. They had reason to be cocky, I guess. Jason had won individual immunity in the season's latest "Stand with your arms outstretched for as long as possible" challenge. Tai had his own immunity idol. And before going to tribal, Jason gave his original idol to Scot. The assumption was that if the votes went against Tai, Scot would give him his idol, which would become a super-idol and would send home whichever girl they targeted (Aubry). So nobody played an idol before the votes. And, rather than going against Tai, the votes fell on Scot, which surprised him a little, but he looked to Tai, expecting a second idol to make his idol "super." Scot looked to Tai. Jason looked to Tai. Everybody looked around in perplexity because, lest we forget, only Jason/Scot/Tai know about the super-idol and despite several weeks of hints, nobody else has been able to figure anything out. So nobody quite understood why Scot wasn't leaving, Scot didn't understand why Tai wasn't giving up his idol, and Jason was just stunned. Finally, Tai shook his head no, and that was that. Wow, indeed.
One week after Scot, Jason and Tai got the female alliance to stupidly vote out Debbie while keeping both idols and the potential of the super-idol in play, fortunes were reversed again. In sending Scot home, Tai realigned himself with the forces of good, at least on the surface, but he also put himself in a position of prohibitive power. Scot left with an idol and, at least for now, he took both that idol and the prospect of the super-idol with him. And when you remember that the idol was Jason's idol, it was a double-whammy. Tai doesn't just have the game's only remaining idol, though. He also has an advantage that he won in this week's reward challenge, the huge advantage of an extra vote at an upcoming tribal.
I can't say that Tai's move/choice was necessarily brilliant, since somebody else will still take deserved credit for moving him around the board, but if you take Scot and Jason at what they told Julia, he was just getting them before they got him. And even if Jason and Scot don't seem like geniuses, their assessment to Julia that she'd be better to take to the end than Tai is probably correct. He looks flip-floppy here, but I think his argument, "I didn't feel comfortable with the way my alliance was playing the game, so I chose to get a new alliance" plays better than, "I found myself in an alliance I didn't agree with, and I sat quietly and did nothing" if he makes a jury.
Last week, things couldn't have gone worse for Michele, Aubry and The Physical Space Occupied By Joe. This week, they couldn't have gone better.
This week's Bottom Lines...
Bottom Line, I. Aubry is getting a very clear winner edit at this point, which may mean that she's peaked too soon, but it's still been fun watching her. She started off insecure and overmatched and seemingly on the verge of being taken out. She started to look better, but still played second fiddle to Cydney in the big move that took Nick out. She was smart and in-control, but she was also part of last week's big blunder in voting Debbie out. But this week, her handling of both Tai's decency, but also his ego was masterful. She had two "courageous" defeats in the reward and immunity challenges, going down to Tai and Jason, but winning respect for her physicality, or at least her endurance, in both instances. She's also become a quote machine in both confessional segments and just in ordinary conversations. She's been reading one interaction after another correctly. And she also keeps putting people in front of her for the blowback. She was able to operate the past two weeks because Jason and Scot were blinded by their rage against Cydney. Next week, Tai is sure to be the revenge target. While Tai has the most acquired power in the game, Aubry has exhibited the best play thus far. I think Michele remains the best candidate to lay back and make a sudden push past Aubry and Cydney as somebody who has been a little involved in a couple big moves, but hasn't done enough to make anybody even think about targeting her. But we'll see. Aubry could just deliver a Cochran-esque underdog-to-domination win.
Bottom Line, II. Somehow there was no blowback from Julia's back-and-forth game last episode, no quibbling about the vote she cast. For a while, the men seemed happy that she was willing to be their double agent and the women were content that at least if she was betraying them, they knew she was betraying them. It's funny, because there's no deceit to what Julia is doing. She's just a kid who has gotten to go out there and eagerly play both sides, so nobody can really be angry at her. As Aubry put it, "I can respect that. But I don't know if I want it next to me." That sounds right. I feel like Julia might be the sort of person who would play better in her second Survivor season, but what she's doing can be admired.
Bottom Line, III. On one hand, I liked the reward challenge with its three options for prizes, making players pick whether they wanted to go after food, a letter from home or an advantage in the game. But with three different benefits on the line, including the probably-too-big advantage that Tai won, I think they needed something tougher than holding down a balance beam with your foot and trying to keep a pot from falling. And this was yet another uninspired immunity task, coming after the far superior domino run challenge last week. Slightly disappointing, but only a little.
Bottom Line, IV. Joe is contributing nothing to strategy and he's the first person out in nearly every challenge. I have zero doubt he's a decent man, but eventually he has to do something right? Otherwise, why's he even bothering?
Bottom Line, V. Jeff Probst would not shut up tonight. Both tasks and the tribal council were wildly over-narrated.
That's all for now …