'Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers' Reminds Us 'This Is Why You Play Survivor'

Pizza is eaten, an idol is found and a power couple has to decide who to align with at tribal council.
Robert Voets/CBS

[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, Nov. 1, episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.]

In its 35th installment, Survivor remains a show that doesn't flinch from competition, even in the face of a World Season Game 7 that's causing everybody to blink and pull original programming that would get caught in the shadow of Astros-Dodgers.

Not Survivor. Nope, Survivor is still airing tonight because no matter what changes around it, Survivor is steady. Survivor is sturdy. Survivor is an hour that dedicated fans will carve out even against a couple innings of a baseball classic.

I wish Wednesday night's episode could have lived up to the respect CBS is showing in it. Instead, it just so happens that fans who picked baseball will be able to tune back in to Survivor next week without having missed much, because Survivor is still waiting for this installment to click into cutthroat high gear.

Yes, the post-shuffle episodes have been better than the episodes focused on Healers, Hustlers and Heroes, but we're still stuck in a rut in which the only tribal council surprises are caused by editing trickery rather than strategy.

As the struggling Soko tribe left for their second straight episode at tribal council, the editors left us with Ryan and Chrissy in power. They could stick with JP and vote Ali out or they could stick with Ali and vote JP out. The last thing we heard them announce before heading to tribal was that they both agreed they wanted to play with people who love the game and want to play hard.

This pronouncement was clearly meant to lead us to assume that the target was going to be JP, or rather that they had decided that they were going to align with Ali at least for one more week. Nobody's saying JP hates Survivor and isn't there to play, but he's there to play a version of Survivor in which he has to think as little as possible between the challenges that he dominates. That's not really Survivor, as perpetual loser Ozzy could tell you. JP isn't there to make alliances or to count votes or to build elaborate trust circles. He's not there to scurry or evolve or do any of the things that make a victory arc for most players. He's there to be strong and necessary and earn trust that way.

Ali is there to mobilize votes and to build relationships and also there to play hard. Well, that's what she was there for.

Ryan and Chrissy voted Ali out.

"Are you kidding me?" Ali asked as the votes were read.

I'm right there with her. I don't understand the logic of Ryan and Chrissy's decision and the part that's annoying is that the editors don't care about us knowing the logic. They just want us to be a little off-balance at the end of an episode and I guess I am.

It's not that there aren't reasons why Chrissy and Ryan would have gone after Ali. She's smart and social and she probably would have moved fluidly between groups after a merge, and you might not have been able to predict which way she was leaning because she probably could have put on a performance. She works in Hollywood, after all. None of that was discussed, mind you. The case we heard, the case we heard over and over again, was that JP is well-suited to be a dangerous post-merge challenge beast and you're supposed to get people like him out of the game when you no longer need them for tribal strength. If a merge really is a week or two away, JP is well-positioned to win a few immunities and then to be carried along by whichever alliance wants an amiable beau-hunk who gives his word and won't flip on you. Can you imagine JP making his own decision to betray somebody or stab somebody in the back? He's so stolid he has both a go-to first date (a bonfire and dinner at the beach) and a go-to first date salad (tri-tip). He would never even consider surprising a date with tickets to a play or with the addition of gorgonzola to that salad. Dull reliability is an easy standard for wanting to keep somebody around on Survivor, and I'm not bugged by Chrissy or Ryan for applying that standard. I'm bugged by the editors leaving us with the ruse that Ryan and Chrissy were doing anything based on a desire to play with competitive players.

"I guess I let a little twerp like Ryan ruin my whole game," Ali said as she departed.

Accurate.

"I don't know why everybody wants to work with me. I think I'm a fricking weasel," Ryan said before going to tribal.

Also accurate.

Fortunately, there's entertainment in being the weasel people keep wanting to work with even if it's against their interest, and that's why Ryan is easily one of the few engaging players in this yet-to-be-engaging season. But taking out Roark and Ali hardly counts as slaying dragons, and we'll have to see in the weeks to come if Ryan is able to take out anybody who's actually playing the game cleverly, the kind of person he claimed he wanted to work with.

I've got baseball to watch, so let's get to some bottom lines …

Bottom Line, I. Tonight on People Getting Winner's Edits: Ryan is getting a predictive "Everybody on the jury is mad at them, so they can't possibly win" edit. Cowboy Ben got the, "He's a true hero and battling PTSD to prove that soldiers can do anything" winner's edit last week, but was just chummy and funny this week. Mike's "I'm a nebbish who's a stranger to the wilderness but now I'm catching fish and expanding my comfortable limits" winner's edit got a big bump this week with his sharing of the tiny fish he caught. And Joe's "I'm a snake and everybody knows I'm a snake, but I just keep finding idols" edit gets more impressive each time he does, indeed, find an idol. As it stands, with the merge looming, Ryan, Ben, Joe, Mike and Chrissy have gotten edits that could be pointing toward a victory. Now watch Desi win.

Bottom Line, II. Cole, on the other hand, has started getting a conspicuous loser's edit. The show never put him on much of a pinnacle, other than his dreamy smile and abs, so he didn't fall from a great height, but he's either being treated like a buffoon or charlatan at every opportunity. This week's indignities related to his desperate need to eat, which has led him to catch fish only for himself, if Cowboy Ben is to be believed — and who wouldn't trust a former Marine? Sometimes the show uses medical emergencies to highlight how much effort players are exerting or how much they want this opportunity. Cole collapsed while doing nothing more than standing up and then he used his fatigue to get an extra portion of rice as Jessica cooed and babied him. We didn't even see the show's staff doctors come and examine Cole, so the editors wanted us to at least consider the possibility that he was faking this fugue to get more food. Do I believe that Cole was faking? Nah. But if the show wants you to respect an episode like he had, they show a doctor taking a pulse as the player keeps insisting that they're fine. Those who want to give Cole the benefit of the doubt would say that we didn't see the Survivor medical staff because Cole was on a tribe with multiple Healers who were able to accurately diagnose him, but that's not how these things work. And Cole has now totally destroyed Jessica for me. She needs to get over her goo-goo eyes and realize she's hitched her star to a pretty albatross.

Bottom Line, III. Another idol for Joe. That puts two idols he's found and two idols now that are out there in the game and they just happen to be held by Joe and Mike, who butted heads back on the original Healers tribe. Plus, we have Chekhov's Super-Immunity Idol, which expired but still is in Chrissy's possession and darned better be used as a bluff, or else I'm going to be disappointed. Basically, Survivor needs aggressive players to be exciting and it almost always gets them. This season lacks for either aggressive players or intelligently aggressive players and everything has gone on near-autopilot so far, and if it's going to take idol play to elevate things … bring on the idols! Oh, and Joe had this week's episodic quote, which was fine. Devon, meanwhile, did a bad job of keeping watch over Joe, but still consistently seems more engaged than Cole.

Bottom Line, IV. Two decent challenges tonight. I liked how difficult the waves and the floating platforms made the slingshotting in the pizza reward challenge. And I was truly perplexed by why only Yawa figured out that the balance platform in the immunity challenge could be held in place by three players, leaving the remaining player to just run back and forth spelling out the word. It was the rare challenge in which there were differentiating choices being made that led to the final result.

Bottom Line, V. Jeff Probst tried very hard to agitate at tribal council. He couldn't, however, get JP to show an iota of emotion or insecurity, nor could he get any of the friction that normally comes from what should be a tough choice. I sometimes criticize Probst for overplaying at tribal council, but tonight I appreciated his thwarted efforts.

Bottom Line, VI. This week's nature photography was dominated by one absolutely terrifying giant spider. And by discussion of a worm that fell on Mike in their shelter. As long as the worms stay out of people's ears, that's all that matters to me.

Be sure to check out Josh Wigler's interviews with Ali and Jeff Probst. And catch y'all next week!

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