Everybody Is 'Playing with the Devil' on 'Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers'

A family-style reward feast leads to a sandy kerfuffle over yet another hidden idol on 'Survivor.'
Courtesy of CBS

[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, November 15 episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.]

Since I'm still angry about last week's absence of blooming' onion at the Outback Steakhouse reward, allow me to begin my thoughts about Wednesday's Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers by wondering how aggressively Survivor went after Olive Garden to sponsor tonight's Italian reward feast.

I can just imagine Jeff Probst announcing, "At Olive Garden, when you're there you're family, so today's reward will be family-style."

Instead, the reward was just limp-looking generic spaghetti and red sauce, a bottle of unmarked wine, a small baguette and salad that looked good, but you know was unnervingly warm by that point. So... totally Olive Garden.

I kid! I kid! Everybody loves unlimited breadsticks.

The family-style reward was one of Wednesday's two deviations from the Survivor norm, tiny twists that helped boost an episode that, like so many this season, led up to a Tribal Council where the dominant viewer response was likely, "But why?"

Why, once you've successfully split votes and secured a tie between Desi and Joe, would you vote Desi out instead of eliminating the idol-finding machine who rubs everybody the wrong way? Yes, Desi won one immunity and performed reasonably well in a second, but come on! Desi was not going to win this season of Survivor. Joe still could. Also, Joe is annoying. Desi is mostly just there. You could take Desi out at any time. Joe's gonna do something crazy at some point and just when you think you're about to take him out, he'll pull yet another idol or cause Ben to have a breakdown or who knows what. I mean, Joe told everybody they were playing with the Devil. Or he told us. It was the title of the episode!

Sure, a Healer had to go home. Everybody figures Doctor Mike is a floater. And Cole, who would have been going home otherwise, won individual immunity. So it was down to Joe and Desi and I guess Ben and Chrissy and Lauren and Ryan had a conversation and the consensus was to take Desi out in the event of a tie, but... Why?

Oh well. Bye, Desi. You were OK, but certainly not memorable.

So let's get back to the unique things.

The reward was truly a fun variation. The winning team got an Italian feast for six, but it was family style and it had to be eaten one person at a time with no restrictions, so you could either apportion yourself an exact sixth of the subpar cuisine or you could stuff your face and let the people after you suffer. I liked that as a gimmick. I also liked that the clue to yet another immunity idol was written on the bottom of the serving plate. So that meant that Devon, who went first, didn't eat enough to notice the letters and wasn't alert enough to inspect. In the smallest surprise in Survivor history, Cole pigged out and noticed the words and got the clue and was at least smart enough to move the pasta onto a cloth to cover the plate, which didn't fool Chrissy, but Chrissy left the plate so that Ryan could find the clue and then, when Ryan found the clue, he hid the plate in the woods and just left the remaining pasta on the table. Why didn't Cole think to do that? Because Cole is Cole. And why didn't we, after all of that talk of people eating more than their share, get to see how much food was actually left for Joe? By the time Joe got to that feast, it was a couple strands of barely sauced pasta and some hot lettuce.

So... basically a lunch at Olive Garden.

Naw. I kid. We're family. Bring on next week's Panda Express Orange Chicken reward!

I enjoyed the concept of the reward twist and always encourage the producers to do whatever they can to incite new and different responses, but it's impossible not to think that this reward twist and each individual oddball advantage are things that the producers thought up long ago and are only unearthing now because they recognize and fear a season in desperate need of prodding along.

In this case, the clue at the bottom of the spaghetti dish led to a three-tiered pasta-noia with Cole knowing about the clue and suspecting that Ryan and Chrissy knew, but Ryan and Chrissy not knowing if Cole knew, but assuming that since Cole is dumb, he probably didn't know. So Cole went to pee and Ryan went to dig and Ryan found the idol and started to walk away, urging Chrissy to cover the hole, which Cole interpreted as digging for the idol and Cole dove at the Chrissy and Ben dove at Cole and Ryan stood on the outside malevolently tenting his fingers like the cobbler elf he is. And now everybody thinks Cole has the idol. Brilliant! Or, rather, brilliant except for how many darned idols are now out there. Ryan has one. Mike has one. And there's one still out there at camp to be found.

There's also Chrissy's bluffing fake idol and now Lauren has an advantage, because she found the parchment mixed in with the nails, instructing her that if she didn't vote at the next tribal, she'd have a bonus vote at a future tribal. Short-term, this made it hard for the Heroes/Hustlers to split their votes against Joe and Desi because Lauren didn't have a vote and yet nobody paused and was confused when only 10 votes were read during the initial vote. Somebody could have said, "Wait!" but nobody did.

So this was another engaging episode and the number of potential components to future craziness is high.

Some bottom lines from tonight's episode...

Bottom Line, I. Joe taunting Ben by claiming he'd made promises on the Marines was borderline diabolical and probably over-the-edge from Good Survivor into Bad Person. Joe correctly identified the button that gives Ben a shock when it's pushed and he kept pushing and pushing. I think he wanted to simultaneously make everybody realize that Ben is a strategic threat and also to make Ben look threatening or unstable? But seriously, don't taunt the veteran and maybe don't play headgames with the guy who flinches when wet kindling is thrown in the fire and pops?

Bottom Line, II. There has to be a way to approach individual immunity challenges so that the second half of the season isn't just Survivor: Balance Beam. So far we're 2-for-2 since the merge. This one was perhaps a tiny bit less balance-y, since it didn't eliminate all of the men immediately, just most of the men immediately. Cole ended up winning and saving himself. How did we get no reaction from Cole to Jessica's elimination? Where was his sorrow?

Bottom Line, III. Why was Jeff Probst so impressed with the Tribal Council conversation? He was just gushing all over the place about the roller coaster the castaways had taken him on and I missed anything deeply introspective or revelatory, though I would have pulled the episode title from Devon's observation, "I don't wanna be a zombie. I like being a bright and beautiful light."

Bottom Line, IV. The random team division in that reward challenge came out really wonky. No group should be able to get Cole, JP and Devon in a challenge that involves any strength at all. The strategy to get the weak people out of the way with the slingshot so that JP and Devon could dominate late was a good one. That also meant that three players with the highest necessary caloric intake were sharing the family style meal.

Bottom Line, V. When it comes to fracases like what broke out over the idol, or lack thereof, I always wonder where the line gets drawn, because it looked like things were physical, but not quite up to the level of assault, but when there's a physical disparity like exists between Chrissy and Cole, when does somebody step in? Does somebody step in?

Bottom Line, VI. I'm still confused by some of the votes at the Tribal, but the only thing I'm sure of is that this may be the dullest Survivor tie ever? Normal ties are such high drama, but the drama in this episode peaked in the fight over the idol that wasn't there.

Check out Josh Wigler's post-episode interviews and I'll see you back again next week!