[This article contains spoilers for the October 4 episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.]
Last week, I began the new Survivor season with two of my favorite complaints: That an hourlong premiere makes it impossible to get to know most of the castaways, and that arbitrarily divided theme seasons are often a mess in their early episodes because Jeff Probst and the editors get hung up on validating characteristics that they've decided to pretend match members of different tribes.
So for the season's second episode, let's look at another of my familiar nitpicks, which relates to last week's problems: If tribes are divided on arbitrary criteria, it rarely behooves the players who are, as I've described it, divergent. If you're going to be a Healer, it helps if you fit all of the pertinent criteria that Probst and the Survivor editors have decided make somebody a healer. If you're a Hustler, H-U-S-T-L-E-R Hustler, you'd darned well better be a hard-working go-getter, if that's how Survivor is choosing to define "hustler," and not a male prostitute or card cheat on a turn-of-the-century riverboat.
Simone Nguyen was not a "hustler" by the definition Survivor set for the Hustler tribe this season (or either of those other definitions either). As a "diversity advocate," I'd have put her in the Healers tribe, probably. In a different arbitrarily themed season, she might have been on a Brains tribe or a White Collar tribe and she might have found herself embodying some of those tribal virtues and been integrated into the ebb and flow of camp and she might have lasted much longer in the game. In a camp of scrappy grinders, though, Simone didn't fit. When she celebrated her first "aqua dump," who didn't feel her pride and intestinal relief vicariously? But that was as good as it got for Simone. She struggled to find common ground with those in her cadre, even when she was obviously trying hard. That she also blew the week's immunity challenge, had no evident physical attributes and chose as her target one of her tribe's stronger contestants didn't help her cause, but her biggest problem was really just that — other than potentially being trustworthy or grateful — nobody saw her as being part of the unit. Others in the tribe were unified by some of the things they were supposed to have in common. She was not.
From our perspective, it didn't help that Simone was completely invisible last week. I'm not sure she appeared in the center of the frame for a single shot in the entire episode, and I only make that caveat because I guess she might have been in the background of a shot or two, but I didn't notice her. So when Simone was front-and-center from the first Hustlers segment, you knew that she was in trouble tonight. Simone, very clearly intelligent, talked about trying to craft the narrative of the tribe, and she was smart enough to know that playing the "eager-to-grow wilderness neophyte with a desire to gut fish and just be friendly" is an arc that players can sometimes be sympathetic to.
She did a good job of at least recognizing that the other Hustlers were uncomfortable with Ginger Patrick's ADHD franticness and she created the conversation about short-term tribal strength versus long-term trustworthiness. It didn't work, but I don't know if there was a better play she could have made. I guess she could have pointed to Lauren and tried to get the younger players to bond against the older fisherwoman, but I don't think that's the sort of group she was with, nor did it feel like that's the kind of person Simone is. In a game in which everybody starts off just trying to make it to the next day, Simone could only beg people to believe that on Day 15, they'd be sick of Patrick and that on Day 30, she'd be faithful and true to the tribe. Instead, the tribe looked just to the next day, and I can't disagree with their hunch that they'd be better off with Patrick.
Fortunately, even once we got to know Simone and appreciate what she brought to the table, those things she brought to the table in terms of game knowledge and cleverness don't look to have been unique among our contestants. I still don't understand why Chrissy is on the Heroes tribe, but the actuary's explanation for how the data led her to seek an alliance with Cowboy Ben was pretty good and I can imagine that duo going far. I can already see how, as a Hollywood assistant, Ali's ability to interact with all sorts of abrasive and obnoxious people could serve her well, and she may have a good head on her shoulders. Ryan has a bit too much of a malevolent elf vibe about him, but he's a great quote and his early alliance with Devon should be fruitful for a while.
So farewell to Simone, a player who might have had potential in a different season, but whose loss will not be felt for long.
Let's get straight into some bottom lines ...
Bottom Line, I. The smoldering intrigue of Chekhov's Super Immunity Idol continues. Last week's episode spent much too much time on this one-use-only idol that was not, in fact, used. This week, we saw how it could come into play again, as Chrissy observed that she'd held onto the idol and might use it as a decoy. That, Survivor producers, is a legally binding contract that at some point this season Chrissy will utilize the super immunity idol as a fugazi, but only when the data supports it. We also saw Ryan at least ponder whether or not Chrissy might have survived last week's tribal because he gave her the idol, and he's hoping that might be something he can leverage into an alliance. So that had better happen, too.
Bottom Line, II. Probation officer Joe, who definitely doesn't belong on the Healers tribe, continues to offer intrigue as a hustler. This is a guy who, like Ali, has experience dealing with all types of problematic personalities, and it was fun to see how differently he approached Cole this week, when he found an idol clue and thought the wilderness guide could assist him, versus his confrontation with Mike last week. "It's second nature for me to enable people and help them accomplish their goals," Cole said, and good on Joe for recognizing that. So Joe found the clue, but Cole told him the part of the map he was misreading and now Joe has an idol and a healthy fear of Cole's excessive knowledge. I think Joe's better off taking advantage of Cole's charity and using him as a patsy until he gets into a situation in which everybody is able to look at Cole and distrust him for his abs. [See attached picture.]
Bottom Line, III. This week in Anonymous Players Who Didn't Get Screentime, I give you: Roark! She got Simone's pilot only-in-the-background edit this week. Totally invisible. Desi wasn't invisible because she said that she was a former Miss Virginia, information that wasn't really relevant. And last week's overplaying eyesore Alan vanished after the opening segment with everybody reeling from his various accusations.
Bottom Line, IV. CBS promoted the episode on Patrick's craziness, and on the flirtation between Cole and Jessica, who Cole worries might not be into him because she's an old woman at 30. Patrick is definitely crazy. At 24, he's a "small business owner." It appears he owns a moving truck? I guess I get why he's categorized as a Hustler, because there's no Hyperactive Ginger tribe. Next season they should do Survivor: Bubbly Blondes vs. Bookish Brunettes vs. Hyperactive Gingers. Still a made-up theme. Less arbitrary.
Bottom Line, V. Patrick also got the episodic title quote this week when we all know that the quote of the week was Ryan's declaration that keeping Patrick around was, "like you've got a newborn baby. You really wanna like it and take care of it, but it's really really annoying because you've gotta watch it every single second." Ryan should not be allowed to have children, but he uses them a lot in his similes.
Bottom Line, VI. As long as we stay in Fiji, apparently we're never going to have Survivor monkeys again, but I like the various snakes and whales we've had this season. We've also had great underwater photography, which probably relates to how lovely the weather appears to have been. They're catching crabs and lobsters. They've got their camps on lovely beach locations. Really, this feels like a vacation season so far.
Read all of Josh Wigler's great interviews and coverage and check back next week for another recap!