Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, week eleven

We can call this episode “The Evolution of the Hidden Immunity Idol.”

At some point back in the murky bits of Survivor history, there was no hidden idol. Everyone always knew who was immune at all times. Then, one season, they hid it as a gimmick. Some football player guy found it, and I don’t remember what he did with it. It probably was nothing important.

For a few seasons after that, the hidden idol was an open secret. People would find it and keep it to themselves. It was a trump card to be played if they were in trouble, but that’s it. I don’t even think the idol was played at all the first couple seasons after it became an important game token.

Then there was Yul in Cook Islands. Yul found it, but playing it for himself would not have done him any good. His alliance of four stood to get picked off by the opposing alliance of six. (Or seven… memory’s fuzzy.) That opposing alliance, I should point out, contained a cute skinny white girl named Parvati. This cute skinny white girl didn’t care who had the idol, and why would she? Her alliance was strong and the other guys were weak.

Yul never played the idol for himself. He did use it, though: he showed it to the guy at the bottom of the opposing alliance. That got him to flip, then a game twist took a huge bite out of the opposing alliance, then Yul took his four to the end and wound up winning the game.

So for a few seasons the idol was used as a game tool rather than a trump card. You’d find it, show it to your allies, and think about how to use it without simply playing it. This caused lots of upsets over the years and it was all great fun, but it was all still very hush-hush.

Then Samoa, and this guy Russell. Russell knows the game token is out there. He decides not to wait for a clue, he just goes out there and finds it. And uses it. He shows people, or doesn’t, seemingly at random. And after he uses it, he goes out and finds another one. He puts the idol right there in the open. He designs his entire game around it. At one point in Samoa you had every single player out there openly searching for the idol in full view of everyone else… because if they didn’t get it, someone else certainly would.

This season, therefore, has been interesting because it contains players from every evolutionary step of the idol. We have players like Rupert and Boston Rob who never had to deal with it and don’t really know how to play around it. We have players like Candice who only think about it in terms of who has it, and will they play it. And we have players like Amanda who know what it is and how to use it strategically.

Which leaves Russell, who is still designing his game around it. But his pupils are learning fast. Parvati’s comment at tonight’s council about how he “wasted one” — she knows what the haps are. Danielle, too, seems to know their current value and why it’s important to fight like hell to get it at any cost.

So let’s talk about Danielle’s play for the idol. She, Amanda and Colby won a shared reward, during which Danielle found a clue for the idol. She tucked it away to read it later, but Amanda caught her, and eventually snatched it up. A catfight ensued and, eventually, Amanda handed it back. Danielle, of course, did not share the clue.

Amanda is very clearly playing under the old idol rules: the clue belongs to whomever finds it, it should be kept secret, etc. etc. Danielle is clearly playing by the new ones: the only thing that matters is who knows what the clue says, regardless of how they came by that knowledge.

What I’m trying to say here is that if Amanda were playing for real she would have shoved that stupid clue into her tiny little bikini and refused to give it up until Probst himself were called in to resolve things. Something tells me he would have, under no circumstances, told Amanda to give the clue back. This is not kindergarten. She did not swipe someone else’s juice box.

So Danielle takes the clue to Russell, who finds it immediately. (Because he’s Russell and that’s how he roles.) Some stuff happens, and Amanda gets voted out. Just like Rob before her, Amanda didn’t learn how to cope with the “new” idol rules and ended up getting snaked.

Ah, yes. “Some stuff happens.” Let’s talk about that stuff. Specifically, let’s talk about how Candice hasn’t learned to cope with the new idol rules. Step one: Sandra is at the bottom of a five-man alliance, which means the opposing four-man alliance looks mighty tempting. Step two: Russell sees this for exactly what it is. So Sandra wants to flip to improve her station a bit, and Russell wants her to stay loyal so he can secure his numbers.

Step three: Russell pre-empts Sandra’s flipping by getting Candice to flip instead. This is a super-smart play on his part; if he can trust Candice, it doesn’t matter what Sandra does. If she goes over he still has the numbers; it’s an even trade. If she doesn’t he has six instead of five and can cut Candice loose at his liesure.

The thing is, Candice should not have fallen for it. Simply seeing Russell’s idol caused her so much distress that she could not be convinced to stay loyal. If she had stuck to her guns her tribe would have changed the game back up… but Russell spooked her and she got scared. She said as much in one of her confessionals: she wants to make the safest play. She wants an alliance that is rock solid.

Russell, on the other hand, said the opposite. He talked about how he takes risks. He talked about how some people get caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Ladies and gentlemen, this cat lives in the cookie jar. His willingness to take risks to get ahead, and Candice’s contentedness to stay as safe as possible for as long as possible, is probably why he came in 2nd and she came in 8th.

By the way, Candice was the other skinny white girl who watched as Yul used an idol to totally change the game. Unlike her buddy Parvati, though, she didn’t see a lesson in it. This is why you’ll see Parvati’s name in the next paragraph, but not Candice.

Who’s gonna win? This was a tough episode for Russell and Parvati, but they both slithered on by. The worst of it looks to be behind them now, and both of them are still my picks to win the whole thing.

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