It's Time to 'Get to Gettin'' on 'Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers'

The merge brings about a ridiculous Outback Steakhouse product placement and forces several castaways to decide between alliances.
Courtesy of CBS

[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, November 8 episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.]

When a Survivor season's component pieces maybe aren't as good as they should be, shaking things up is always a good idea and for the second time in this Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers run, a structural overhaul broke up a run of strategic monotony and led to an above average episode. First it was a tribal shuffle that eliminated the stupid Healer/Hustler/Hero distinctions and, with the help of an idol play, contributed to a twisty hour of TV. And this week, it was the long awaited merge that, with the help of another idol play, brought the drama back to the beaches of Fiji.

With that in mind, let's discuss what was surely the most important part of Wednesday night's episode:

If you're having an Outback Steakhouse-sponsored post-merge feast, it is absolutely, 100 percent untenable to do it without bloomin' onions.

Outback went all-out on its sponsorship of the traditional post-merge meal, contributing enough backing for a branded beachside shack, dozens of close-ups of perfectly cooked meat and roughly a quarter-of-an-episode's worth of screen time, which I'm confident is unprecedented by Survivor standards.

Outback also bought Jeff Probst's very soul, forcing the ostensibly dignified host and executive producer to utter phrases like "Yes, the steak authority will be in charge of the merge feast" and "Because Outback Steakhouse lives by Aussie rules, which are no rules, just right ..."

I have to admit, I've felt bad for Probst fairly frequently over the years, but I've rarely felt quite as ashamed as when Probst heard a request for the chocolate lava cake and had to agree that they would be getting, "the authentic chocolate thunder from down under."


So the players got chocolate lava cake and they got bone-in ribeye steaks and they had salads and baked potatoes and a quantity of alcoholic beverage that probably shouldn't be provided to people on the verge of malnutrition.

It appeared, however, that they did not get bloomin' onions.  [I'm hesitant to capitalize Outback's glorious fried calorie bomb, even though the actual appetizer is both capitalized and carefully trademarked.]

To that I say, "What's even the point?"

You wouldn't get Arby's to do a post-merge feast and say, "Yeah, we've got everything but the meats."

It's like promising visits from loved ones and bringing out the guy you sat next to in high school homeroom.

It's like getting the Muppets to sponsor a reward and then only delivering Elmo.

Was the problem that it's easy to transport a grill and makeshift oven to the beach in Fiji, but a deep-fryer is more complicated? No, please don't tell me. I don't care. It's just not right and that, as Jeff Probst told me, is the opposite of Aussie rules.

The castaways, to be fair, all seemed really happy. Joe ordered many steaks and extra desserts. Cole, who claims he normally eats 8,000 calories a day, enjoyed with gusto a meal that he didn't have to catch himself and eat on the sly.

That's important because Cole very nearly was voted out because he was eating sticks of cinnamon by himself at the camp. Why was he doing this? Why does Cole do anything? Cole's unfortunate eating habits, including acknowledgement that he has been fishing and feeding himself exclusively without any consideration for tribal niceties, made him an immediate target at the newly condensed Solewa tribe, specifically for Cowboy Ben, who came into the merge as the man with all the power. Would Ben and Lauren stick with a proposed Yawa alliance, bringing over Joe and Desi for numbers, even if that meant remaining in league with piggish hunk Cole? Or would he go back with original chum Chrissy and Chrissy's new bestie Ryan to form a Heroes/Hustlers alliance to take out the larger, more cohesive Healer contingent.

As has been the case for most of the season, we never saw the moment Ben decided to go with Chrissy and we definitely never saw the moment that he convinced Lauren to vote against the alliance that included her buddy Doctor Mike. But those were only a couple of the points of uncertainty going into tribal. Would the Heroes/Hustlers alliance aim for Joe or Cole? Or fearing one of them might have an idol, would they go after a third possibility? And would the Yawa contingent really target Chrissy because she can do math?

Yes, it appears that Chrissy's huge sin, the one that gave her the scarlet letter "S" for "Strategic" or "Smart" was that during the first individual immunity, she proved capable of very basic math, calculating how many times longer Ashley and Desi had spent in the endurance/balance/ball-spinning task than Ryan, who went out in only two seconds. OK, maybe it wasn't VERY basic math, but Chrissy didn't do some janitorial sneaking into a classroom at night to solve an equation "How you like them apples?" level of math. Probably starving to death I couldn't have done it, but sitting on my couch eating chips? Oh, yeah. I can do that math.

So there were five votes against Chrissy. There were seven votes against Jessica, an entirely reasonable pick if you were going to be paranoid about Joe or Cole having idols. And Joe did have an idol, one that he brandished mid-tribal in a florid gesture before saying, "Let's not talk about this vote. Let's talk about the next vote." Joe used the idol and used it on himself and even if he could have read somebody's tone or body language like he did last time, he'd probably have handed it to Cole. Either choice would have been equally wasted. Jessica went home and as much as I liked Jessica, I can't be an apologist for how she let a Cole's physique and dimples light a fire in her loins that sucked the oxygen out of her brain. Because she wasn't thinking and she kept letting herself be swayed back to Cole's side, she made it easy for folks to look at her as the dispensable and disposable part of a power couple.

And the game demanded its virgin sacrifice.

A few bottom lines for Wednesday's Survivor ...

Bottom Line, I. I'm glad that before Jessica departed the editors managed to work in one more reference to her virginity as she accidentally got a little double-entendre-y with an Outback waiter and referred to his his thunder down under. "Being a virgin, I try to stay pretty moral and holy," she giggled. I'm very sad we never got to see the sex talk between Jessica and Cole, but it's sweet that she's saying she wants to have a date with him when they're away from the game. As it stands now, it's likely that that will be the most annoying and awkward part of the reunion show. It's good to be able to predict that this far in advance.

Bottom Line, II. Man, Cowboy Ben suddenly became a quote machine this episode. And I probably could have done without him becoming a predictably militaristic in his quote spewing. For some reason it cheapens the introspection he showed a couple episodes ago talking about his PTSD. Like, "War's not a pretty thing and it's not gonna be pretty tonight either." Come on, man. You've done war. It changed you. Survivor is a game. Enjoy it. Still, this is a huge game swing that Cowboy Ben gets credit for. Not many people have a winning resume this season, but this is a good line on his resume.

Bottom Line, III. Desi won the first individual immunity. I have no feeling for her as a person yet, but credit this achievement even if I had a hard time understanding exactly what anybody was doing in that challenge. All I know was what Probst said about the lulling sound of the ball spinning in a loop. 

Bottom Line, IV. Did they give them a whole new post-merge camp or just an old camp with a new assortment of supplies? And when somebody announced that the supplies included long nails, I was certain that we were heading toward somebody stepping on a nail and things getting gross. Instead, Chekhov's Gigantic Nail was about the advantage clue hidden inside the bundle of nails, a clue or advantage nobody found. Do we think it's separate from the idol? So Joe could plausibly find both an advantage in the nails and then find the idol? Until proven otherwise, I'm just going to assume that Joe finds everything because that seems to be what always happens on Survivor, the idol magnets get all the idols. Meanwhile, I'm still holding out hope for Chrissy bluffing with her expired super idol.

Bottom Line, V. We know, of course, that Joe didn't need to use his idol and that he wasted it and he said the whole, "It's only right to start out fresh" thing, but who believes that was his motivation? What in the tribal council conversation led him to think he was in trouble? The ultimate baller move is always walking in, letting everybody know you have an idol and then shrugging and not using it. I was sure Joe was going to get away with that.

Bottom Line, VI. Was JP even there tonight? Is he going to try hiding for the next 15 days? Who would notice his absence first?

I'll be back next week. Until then, be sure to check out Josh Wigler's timely conversations!