7:00pm PT by Daniel Fienberg
'Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers' Castaways Face "The Survivor Devil"
[This recap contains spoilers for the Wednesday, December 13 episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.]
I can't imagine there's a single Survivor fan who didn't come away from the end of Wednesday's episode with the same two-word reaction:
If the contestants on this Survivor season were so anxious to give Ben a million bucks, why couldn't they have crowdsourced or done a telethon and let other people who wanted to play Survivor complete to win Survivor?
I'm just baffled by what went down on Wednesday's episode because on the scale of avoidable Survivor shockers go, this one is probably filed as a "9" or "Easily avoidable."
You have Ben. Everybody knows he's impossible to beat if you take him too far. He's got a sentimental personal story involving PTSD from his time as a hero in the Marines. He's been part of basically every major strategic decision that shaped the middle part of the game. When everybody realized it was time to get rid of him, he promptly played an idol and made everything nuts. No, he hasn't won countless immunities, but he's been a respectable physical player, at least respectable enough that nobody would mock his general weakness the way Doctor Mike mocked Ryan's physical weakness after this week's immunity. Yes, I'll repeat that so that it can sink in. "Doctor Mike mocked Ryan's physical weakness."
Ben's dominance this season hasn't been stealthy. It's been so blatant that the second trickiest player in the game spent a full week calling Ben "King Arthur" and letting everybody know that Ben was unbeatable and he just smiled and laughed.
And yet the recurring action of Wednesday's episode was Ben going off in search of idols and other players just being all, "Shrug Emoji."
Like it's early morning and everybody is sleeping so comfortably you'd think this was Survivor: Bed, Bath & Beyond and when Ben gets up and starts to prowl and everybody is just like, "Yawn. There goes Ben looking for idols again."
Like Devon and Chrissy win reward and they're deciding who to take with them to a private island for a resort night with protein and a full night's sleepy and they're all, "Sure. Leave Ben with the weakest players who won't care enough to tail him and make sure he doesn't find an idol." And they take Ryan, meanwhile Ben wanders around the jungle unfollowed and unfettered.
And like everybody's back at camp after the immunity challenge and Chrissy won, which means that they have a chance to knock Ben out without any conversation or contention. And first of all, not only do they have extensive conversation and contention, but when Ben goes off into the jungle, nobody bothers going after him. Doctor Mike is all, "Well if I couldn't find an idol, there's no way Ben's going to find one," which may be one of the dumbest things anybody has said on Survivor at least since whenever Doctor Mike said that thing about the Statue of Liberty at Tribal Council and then threw away an idol for no reason. Then everybody lounged around in the water talking about contingencies and being certain Ben couldn't possibly have an idol, as if he hadn't been roaming free for basically 24 hours.
And you know the funny thing? At that point, Ben hadn't found an idol. Instead, he found a clue and the clue told him to check under the shelter and he came back to the shelter and everybody was too busy debating regional variations in bagels to watch Ben eventually, in a move we didn't see either, get under the shelter somehow and get the idol.
This is a circumstance where, if you're all in agreement multiple times that Ben has to go next, there has to be somebody suctioned to Ben's earlobe for 48 hours. The other castaways had to have somebody latched to him like remora at every second, swapping off if necessary. You have to be stuck to his beard like a stray blob of cupcake frosting. He has to be accompanied when he goes off to urinate. If he's sleeping, two castaways have to be his big spoon and his little spoon.
It's just completely inexcusable for everybody to get to Tribal and for Ben to be able to go through that whole cocky Ben dog-and-pony show of reaching into his boot and pulling out the idol and then the whole "Do you want to go back to camp tonight?" thing with both Ashley and Devon trying to get them to vote out Doctor Mike and then walking up to Jeff Probst well before the vote and handing him the idol and declaring, "I'm in the final five."
Ben has been swaggering through one tribal after another and I no longer know if we're supposed to give him credit for how much fun he's having and how little effort is being put into stopping him or just wonder how he ended up with this group of people who are feeling so generous.
We've reached the point at which I'm going to be angry if Ben goes home not because he deserves to win and I'll be pissed off if he doesn't. No, I'm less invested in Ben winning than in rooting for everybody else to lose.
The other viable winning candidate continues to be Chrissy, I guess, and she won another immunity this week and she wanted Ashley out and she got Ashley out. But the desire to get Ashley out was born of her feeling like Ashley slighted her and therefore was her rival and therefore had to go. Chrissy has now done this exact same thing three or four times this season. I guess it's a "Get them before they get you" reactivity and I guess she hasn't been gotten, so it works, but she's so distant a second choice to win she's like Twice a Prince at the 1973 Belmont.
Devon would be the alternative second except that Devon keeps talking and he keeps not doing anything. The most impressive thing Devon did on tonight's episode was the part where he successfully identified each food at the reward. I get the feeling that Devon is such a superfan he's just loving his proximity to Ben. If he went to the final three with Ben, his statement to the jury would probably be, "Dude! This was excellent. Vote Ben."
Doctor Mike is definitely a guy who's still out there.
And farewell to Ashley. A couple immunity wins. The brief illusion of control in the game. Ultimately negligible. I'm not sure where the signals were that led to everybody voting Ashley out. The editors must have felt that it didn't matter. What definitely mattered was Devon going in for a farewell huge and Ashley giving him the Heisman. "Oh. OK," a put-out Devon said.
Some bottom lines from Wednesday's episode…
Bottom Line, I. Devon got the episodic title quote when he talked about Ben's idol play from last week's episode and said, "If there are Survivor Gods, then that was the move by the Survivor Devil." Ben isn't even convincing as a villain this season because nobody's putting up any resistance. People keep saying they want Ben out and realize they can't beat him and stuff, but when push comes to shove, I don't think they even care. Chrissy was already leaning toward not voting Ben out and targeting Ashley, not for any legitimate or strategic reason. She just decided she maybe wanted Ashley out and would get around to taking Ben out eventually. After Probst hands Ben the million dollar check, Ashley should raise her hand and tell Probst that she's ready to vote Ben out.
Bottom Line, II. Two good challenges this week. I still don't have a clue how that cog puzzle worked in the reward challenge. I appreciate that we've had several immunity challenges in a row that weren't just balance or endurance.
Bottom Line, III. The need to vote Chrissy out is almost as urgent as the need to target Ben. It's not that she's going to win. No, only Ben needs to be voted out because he's going to win. But that thing Chrissy did where everybody was planning and she was all, "I may need to make a last-second decision" was ridiculous. How did Ryan and Devon and the rest not just stare her down and go, "No. We're playing Survivor. You don't get to just improvise at Tribal Council. This isn't a jazz club and you're not John Coltrane."
Bottom Line, IV. I don't think we saw enough of that resort reward. Did they have showers, too? Or just the infinity pool? How comfortable were the beds and how long did they get to sleep? And given how soundly everybody was sleeping when Ben was out doing his night-vision idol searching, is anybody actually all that tired? Is that why we've stopped doing Survivor eating challenges? I used to love those, but is the worry that these castaways are too well-fed to willingly eat a balut?
Bottom Line, V. One more week. I can't think of anything that could happen to make this a "good" season. I can't necessarily say for sure that this is a bad season. It's just feeling very forgettable and in the case of forgettable seasons, I at least require the right person to win. Ben's the only right person and I don't even like him.
Be sure to check out Josh Wigler's exit interviews and come back next week for finale talk!