'Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers' Warns That 'The Past Will Eat You Alive'

Wednesday's 'Survivor' actually has very little to do with the past eating anybody alive, but it sets Cowboy Ben up for a strong finish.
Robert Voets/CBS

[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, October 25 episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.]

That was an unpredictable, but oddly edited episode of Survivor.

The title, "The Past Will Eat You Alive," came from Cowboy Ben, who after a PTSD-related incident involving crackling and exploding bamboo logs, got as weighted a "winner's edit" as I've seen on Survivor in a long time, talking about how his goal in playing this season was encouraging fellow veterans that there's hope for the future. The good-natured Marine's bravery and earnestness were unquestionable, but the connection between his reaction to the popping log, his courageous quote and everything else in the episode was completely absent. Presumably we've just got to file Cowboy Ben's aspirations away and remember that his heroism goes beyond the name of his original tribe. Duly noted, Survivor!

Then the bulk of the middle of the episode related to Ryan's staggering weakness in a coffee-based reward challenge. The challenge was probably my favorite of the season, because I always prefer tasks in which you can see people doing things well, see other people doing things poorly and understand, in the end, how the results materialized. In this case, players had to do the worm across a beach while pushing a ball along with their heads through the sand. It was easy to tell the core strength required and also to see the frustration of nearly getting a ball over the hill and then having it slide down past you, which happened at least three times with Ryan. As Ryan accurately observed, the reward of iced coffee and pastries would go right through the winners, but as Probst accurately observed, it's always better to win things than not to. The responsibility for his tribe's lost fell only on Ryan, who then sat out the immunity challenge, but nobody thought to target him.

Instead, Ryan ended up being the swing vote as Soko went from losing reward to losing immunity and it became time to choose between booting Chrissy and sending Roark packing. Ryan's allegiance to Chrissy related to Chekhov's Super-Immunity Idol that he gave her to start the season, even if she didn't use it. Ryan's allegiance to Roark was just through fellow Hustler Ali, who bonded with Roark in ways that seemed loose, but meaningful to her. Chrissy was the easy target, since she was somewhat blamed for losing the immunity challenge, though she very correctly noted that even though she didn't do well with the ball maze at the end of the challenge, nobody else stepped up and tried to take over. Roark was made into a target because Chrissy told JP a story about Roark planning an all-female alliance.

Really, though, we're going to have to wait until next week, I guess, to hear Ryan's explanation for why he went with his idol-buddy Chrissy instead of his Hustler-buddy Ali. The thing I don't get is why Ryan didn't talk things through with Ali. Targeting Roark wasn't some complicated process and nobody had any deep ties with her. She was the odd woman out and I don't see why Ryan had to alienate Ali instead of just approaching her and saying, "Let's just knock Roark out now." Yeah, Ali and Roark had had conversations, but it wasn't like they were braiding each other's hair or making fantasy football trades together (I'm not going to ascribe any traditional gender roles to their friendship). By the numbers, Levu recognized last week that it was important to take out a Healer, but because of Joe's idol, they failed. So that should have made it completely intuitive for this week's target to be Roark, because every week you go without taking out the Healers, the more likely it is that they'll be able to form like Voltron after a merge and take everybody else out. Yes, the tribes were divided based on arbitrary criteria, but the Healers came into the shuffle with an advantage and extended that advantage last week and they'd have been smart enough to recognize those numbers, even if they shared few affinities. Ali is smart. She would have known how the numbers looked. She'd have voted Roark if Ryan had proposed it. Instead he was squirrely, which may be his nature, but isn't good Survivor social play.

All I'm saying is that Ryan made a choice this week, but he made a choice he didn't have to make this early in the game and I'm not instantly sure why he made it.

As for Roark, she was at least philosophical that she hadn't made the right alliances after the shuffle, but it wouldn't have been excuse-making to have just said, "It was bad that I was the only Healer in my tribe and it became worse when last week's Levu vote went pear-shaped. Oh well." Those are just the facts. Now as for why Chrissy took on an active animus against Roark, we lacked the information to know for sure. Were it not for a snarky online bio that left me thinking Roark had potential, I never would have known that she was allegedly smart or strategic. We saw nothing from her when she was at the Healers camp and we saw very little from her at Soko. Chrissy approached Roark, for the first time and way too late for it to have any positive impact, and praised her as appearing to be a strategic player, but we just have to take her word for that.

I have no cause to miss Roark, so my biggest takeaway from the episode is worrying about Ryan, who's probably the castaway I'm rooting for hardest this season.

Some bottom lines from a pretty flat Survivor episode.

Bottom Line, I. The speed with which JP turned on Roark when Chrissy uttered the words "all-girl alliance" was somewhere between hilarious and disheartening. For future reference, Chrissy need only remember that JP is terrified of women and I suspect she can make strategic use of it.

Bottom Line, II. Another week, another excuse to turn on Cole. We've seen his fumbling attempts at strategy blow up in his face two straight episodes by oversharing information about idols and advantages that weren't his to give. This week, we discovered that Cole is just kinda gross, at least according to Lauren, prone to licking their serving spoon, eating communal food with his fingers and scratching his netherbits. I've run out of reasons to like Cole and I'm going Team Jessica as a solo act all the way here.

Bottom Line, III. Speaking of Jessica and speaking of oversharing, why did Jessica decide to tell Dr. Mike about Cole and Joe having previously found an idol in proximity to a well and why was she just standing around drinking water while Dr. Mike was digging frantically? So now Dr. Mike has an idol and yes it's nice that Jessica knows about it and it puts her in league with Dr. Mike, but do you really want to be aligned with Dr. Mike? Is that going to be sufficient power for Jessica to leverage? And is she going to feel like she needs to tell Cole about it?

Bottom Line, IV. I've already reached the point at which I can only think of Dr. Mike and Cowboy Ben in those terms and when they're referred to as "Mike" and "Ben," I can't remember who they are at all. When Roark was talking about thinking she had "Mike" in an alliance for after a merge, I stopped and stared for 30 seconds without a clue who she was referring to. Dr. Mike is, like Ryan, being pushed with a heavy "underdog" edit. This is all about proving to his family that he's not a valueless nerd. I can root for that, a little.

Bottom Line, V. They went all-out on the insect photography budget in this episode. And bats, too. It's not making me lament the absence of monkeys any less, guys!

Bottom Line, VI. Probst tried to get Ali to explain how, even after the shuffle, Healers, Hustlers and Heroes might be approaching the game differently. She didn't bite. That conversation felt like the producers whispering in Probst's ear that this episode didn't really have a narrative and he needed to find something to give it structure. He failed. Looking through my notes, I can't even mind an alternative episodic quote for a title, one that actually related to things in the episode. Nothing about Roark's departure related to the past or to anybody being eaten alive, so it wasn't even like Ben's quote was universally applicable. We're just going to wait until he wins the season and then we'll know it was an honorable win.

I'll be back next week! Be sure to check out Josh Wigler's interviews with Probst and Roark!