Okay, now I’m sure of it: Jim is the best player this season. He skimmed by on Ozzy’s alliance just long enough to make sure the competition (Cochran, Dawn, etc.) couldn’t turn the tables without him, then started looking for ways to fracture the alliance to his benefit. In particular, he noted Ozzy’s tendancy to cuddle up with Elyse. Couples are dangerous in Survivor, but it’s still way too early to get rid of Ozzy, so Jim instead hatched a plan with Cochran to eject Elyse.
Of course, he’s still in the planning stages. He can stick with the five if he really wants, although it seems like he’s aware he’s somewhere towards the bottom, and can’t stick there forever. Jim won’t get complacent, but I also think he won’t make a ballsy move unless he’s sure the fallout won’t backfire.
Nobody on Upolu is playing that kind of game, least of which Brandon. For the sixteenth time this season, we get a heartfelt confessional about how he really strives to be a good person and praise Jesus he’s going to redeem the Hantz family name. He follows this up by going to Edna (who is not in his alliance) and spilling his guts about all the strategy things she shouldn’t know about. He even admits what a dumb strategic move it is while he’s doing it.
I need to break here and discuss Dreamz, who played way back in Fiji (season 14-ish). Dreamz was a likable enough guy, and a fairly strong contender at the physical challenges. When it came to strategy, though, Dreamz was not only ineffective — he was outright destructive. Dreamz had a few solid alliances at various points in the game, but he always betrayed them. It didn’t matter whether the betrayal made sense or not; it was as though he were more interested in seeding chaos throughout the game state than actually advancing his position within it.
That’s what I see in Brandon. The difference is, Brandon follows up each of his extremely bad moves with a tearful apology and a promise to never, ever do it again. The crazy part is, the strategy (such as it is) might actually pay off. Dreamz made it to the finals in Fiji, partly because nobody could ever be completely sure all the shifting and shaking was his doing, and partly because he was just a darn sympathetic guy when he wasn’t busy burning bridges. No Upolu alliance can exist in this game, but a smaller partnership of two (maybe three) players might be able to bottle Brandon’s lightning and manipulate him just enough that he’s useful all the way to the endgame.
I bet Brandon goes far for that reason, and no other.
The Redemption Duel involves tossing sandbags onto wooden pedistals. Christine dove in and attacked the challenge like a rabid dog, flinging sandbags like she didn’t give half a rat’s hat whether or not she won. Papa Bear took a more slow and steady approach, trailing far behind at first, but he eventually got into the swing of things and caught up. It was a photo finish, but Christine won and sent the big lug home.
Brandon, of course, apologized to Christine for having told lies about her. I half expected him to follow this up by running down into the Redemption Arena and lighting her on fire.
For immunity, they rolled out the good ol’ “how many sandbags can you hold before collapsing under your own weight” challenge. Each tribe selected three people to play for them, and then took turns adding weight to the other tribe. The rules stated each tribe had to use two men and one woman. Upolu chose Brandon, Albert and Stacey. Savaii fielded Keith, Jim and Dawn. I cannot for the life of me figure out why Ozzy was benched, but there it is.
Jim and Brandon both shouldered 240 pounds before the strain brought them down. This is apparently a new record, previously held by Rupert and five or six other guys. The real challenge, though, was between Dawn and Stacey, who were both struggling at the 120 mark. Dawn, who was lamenting her decision to come on this stupid show just a few episodes ago, hung in until the bitter end, and won immunity for Savaii. That victory bought her a lot of points for her tribe.
That left Stacey on Upolu’s chopping block twice over. One, she has no allies. Two, she lost the challenge. Her plan to wriggle free at tribal was actually fairly sound: she fed Brandon a lie about how Albert, Makayla and Sophie were about to turn on him, then set him loose. The resulting confusion might be just enough to let her sneak past.
Brandon, predictably, ran straight to Coach, all up in arms about his pending ejection. Coach, in a rather uncharacteristic show of rationality, put the breaks on the whole thing. He tells Brandon to never believe the person on the chopping block; desperate players tell desperate lies, and so forth. Brandon responded by throwing Coach’s previous losses in his face. After all, Coach lost twice, so what does he know? He was going exactly as crazy as Stacey wanted him to.
Probst got a little more involved in tribal council this time around, picking out random tribemates and asking them “What is the most annoying thing about ______?” This prompted the first words Rick has said in three episodes: “He snores.” The look of shock and disbelief Rick had on his face when someone suddenly remembered he was in the game was 100% priceless. I get the feeling Rick is playing a very “speak when spoken to” kind of game, and his hilarious non-answer was exactly the right way to play his short time in the spotlight.
(Albert is the alleged snorer, by the way.)
Brandon has another meltdown about God and Uncle Russell, and then his tribe votes Stacey off. Coach tries to give her a parting hug, but she shrugs it aside, then vows to come back and destroy him and the whole stupid blue tribe.
Who’s gonna win? On Savaii, Jim definitely has the best shot. He’s in a secure alliance, but has the means and resources to shake it up if he wants. If he succeeds in eliminating Elyse he will improve his standing dramatically; instead of being #5 in his alliance, he’ll have his pick of choosing to stay with Ozzy’s side, or defecting with Cochran and Dawn. My only reservation is whether he’ll pull the trigger too early.
Any potential winner from Upolu is going to be someone who crosses tribal lines post-merge, possibly used by Savaii to blindside Ozzy. Coach would never do it, and there’s been so much focus on Brandon’s adventures in bipolar disorder that I can’t tell if anyone else has the chops. Maybe Makayla, if she’s still around, or Rick, if he’s playing the “hang back and watch the fireworks” game I think he’s playing.