6:45pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
Everybody Plays Chicken on 'Survivor: Kaoh Rong' in "It's a Me Game, Not a We Game"
[Warning: Spoilers ahead for the Wednesday, April 27, episode of Survivor: Kaoh Rong.]
You know Survivor is on good footing when even the most predictable and straightforward elimination of the season is edited and presented such that the tribal council decision feels like it's in flux and could go either way with gripping consequences.
Plucky Julia, briefly banished to a solo tribe of her own and eager to make her mark by playing both sides with a dimpled smile, was a reasonable and verging-on-obvious voting target for the power alliance, which took control last week when Tai refused to give Scot his idol. The season's youngest contestant, Julia made no bones about her alliance straddling and thus earned no rancor for her deceit. She also proved herself reasonably adroit at puzzles and the sort of endurance/persistence challenges that characterize individual immunity competitions. With Scot out of the game, Julia was in a two-person alliance with Jason, but unlike Jason, she hadn't rubbed anybody the wrong way and she could have been a candidate to snag some jury votes.
So you get rid of Julia, right?
But what about Tai? Everybody loves Tai. Yes, he betrayed Scot and probably made a couple jury enemies, but outside of those enemies, who doesn't love Tai? And maybe there's a chance that Scot, formerly besties with Tai, could get over his disappointment and support his old piggy-back buddy? Tai is beloved, a proven challenge threat and he ended the last tribal with the game's only remaining immunity idol, as well as the advantage that only the audience knows is a bonus vote.
So you get rid of Tai, right?
Well, Jason and Julia made the effort and the correctly targeted Michele and Cydney as the only possible swing votes, and I thought that at tribal council both Jason and Julia made really good arguments in favor of making the majority feel uncomfortable. They presented good points about why Cydney and Michele were probably on the bottom of their majority, and they repeatedly pointed to The Physical Space Occupied By Joe and Aubry as a power couple as worthy of breaking up as Jason and Scot were the episode before. A lot of the seeds of discord that Jason and Julia planted may not bear fruit until next week, but I thought they navigated tribal smartly and Jason positioned himself as a future wild card, even though he had to figure he was going home.
Instead, the vote went against Julia, whose departure left Michele in tears, even though Michele voted against her. I think Julia is yet another player in this strong season who should be confident about getting another shot at Survivor eventually. She played a thoroughly respectable game without ever really being in power and transitioned from an early season afterthought to a real second half contender, and I do think that she would have been trouble if she'd made it one or two tribal councils more.
But boy oh boy would that Tai blindside have been a stunner. It was yet another episode featuring tribal council whispering as Tai asked Aubry before the Probst tally if he should use his idol. She told him that she thought he was safe, but if Aubry had misread the vote and Cydney and Michele really had flipped, Tai could have gone out with both an idol and a bonus vote. Neal was evacuated with an idol, Scot was voted out with Jason's idol and Tai could have taken one more idol home with him. That would have been tremendous drama and you couldn't have doubted it as a game move. After all, you take Tai out and you effectively secure Jason's vote and probably a few other votes for audacity — plus you still have a majority if you want to keep going after Jason and Julia at the next opportunity.
But taking Julia out was fine TV as well.
Some other thoughts on Wednesday's episode:
Bottom Line I. It was a great episode for Michele even if she didn't make the strategic move that could have shifted her to favorite status. Instead, she and Cydney won fried chicken as a reward and smartly took Aubry with them. Then in a complex immunity challenge that involved both swimming/running and also a huge memory component, she won Jeff Probst's respect by memorizing all 12 numbers/animal combinations in one go and using that information to free a puzzle that she solved before Julia. Michele remains my underdog "winner edit" pick, if Aubry has made too much of a threat of herself by keeping Joe around as her puppy.
Bottom Line II. For around 10 seconds it looked like Joe had finally found the thing he was capable of doing. Yes, it might have been stereotypical that a 71-year-old man would be good at tossing horseshoes, but Joe was good with tossing rings onto hooks as well. He came up just short there and then in the immunity challenge, he didn't just basically quit, he totally quit. He just shrugged and surrendered as everybody else around him competed. Enough people have noticed Joe's attachment to Aubry that an effort will eventually be made to split them up, but he's coasting along as a threat to become one of the least effectual players to advance this deep in a Survivor season.
Bottom Line III. I was surprised that with Cydney, Michele and Aubry off eating chicken, Jason didn't take unilateral action to slaughter and eat poor Mark the Chicken. What? Was he afraid of losing Tai's support? What better way to get revenge on the guy than to eat his best friend? And yes, this season would be even more awesome if players were talking about eating a fellow castaway named "Mark," rather than just a former reward who has been losing weight himself, clucking uneaten around camp. Mark's not even going to be much of a meal at this point. Eat him!
Bottom Line IV. More Probstplaining in this episode as Jeff steered the conversation at tribal so expertly that Jason told him, "I couldn't say it better myself, Jeff." Probst, if a player says that to you ... that means you've talked too much.
Bottom Line V. This was the best week Jason has played all season, in that I didn't find him disgusting and boorish a single time. With no leg to stand on, he still articulated well why he should be kept around. I'm still not going to be rooting for him, but if Jason capitalizes on chaos and orchestrates a big reversal next week and then maybe wins an immunity, he could be a contender to beat several of the remaining players with a jury. Maybe.
That's it for another very good week of a very good Survivor season.