Survivor: Nicaragua, week seven

Survivor: Nicaragua

I know, I know, I was shocked too! This episode actually featured a little bit of… playing!

My favorite part was the unique immunity challenge. I rarely comment on challenges anymore, partly because I’ve already seen them all and partly because I’m usually more interested in the results of the challenge than the challenge itself.  But since there’s nothing more interesting going on this season, and since the challenge itself was a fascinating piece of engineering, I feel motivated to talk about it.

The challenge involved breaking tiles with heavy cannonballs by rolling them down a large, mobile chute. Two people were perched at the top of a wooden platform with a bird’s eye view of the field. Four others were down at the bottom, controlling the angle, slope and direction of the chute by manipulating a series of ropes. The goal was to position the chute so the people up above could roll the cannonballs down the chute, launching them out into the playing field and hopefully breaking one of the tiles.

There were a lot of choices to make in this challenge. The droppers could release the cannonballs from one of three heights, altering its momentum down the chute. They could also choose between one of two sizes of cannonball, altering the weight. In addition, the perspective of the chute was different for each group of people; those on the bottom could see its grade, but not accurately judge where it was pointing. The folks on the top had a birds-eye-view, and could easily judge where it was aimed, but not how steep it was.

So this was one of those challenges where communication was key. Espada figured this out pretty quickly, possibly overjoyed to have a challenge Dan wasn’t absolutely worthless in. La Flor, on the other hand, spent the entire ordeal bickering about which of them sucked the least, and wound up at tribal council for their efforts.

By contrast, the reward challenge was nowhere near as fun. Fabio peed in the pool, and Dan proved he can’t jump and throw at the same time, but other than that it (and the reward itself) was pretty unremarkable.

Well, no, that’s not entirely true. This week’s “Oh That Naonka!” moment occurred at the reward. Espada got to sit down for a nice, homecooked meal, and several of the Espada ladies had an emotional family bonding moment. I usually roll my eyes at these and wait for them to pass, which means Naonka and I have that in common. The difference is I’m not actually sitting within eyeshot of the other players when I do it. The contempt she showed for the display of feelings in her confessional was identical to a recently-activated factory robot attempting to understand human emotion. “WHAT IS… LOVE? BEEP.”

After La Flor was doomed to tribal council, some playing happened. Not smart playing, mind you — these guys are all still locked in some kind of learning disability arms race. But it was playing, at least if you squinted a bit. Here’s what happened: the La Flor alliance still wanted to flush Marty’s idol, but minus Kelly B. they no longer had the ability to do it outright. The plan, therefore, was to split their vote; three votes Marty, two votes Jill. Marty would be forced to play his idol, instigating a revote between Jill and whomever Marty and Jill’s target was, which Jill would certainly lose.

But then Sash thought, wouldn’t it be great to put Marty in a terrible, hopeless position and steal his immunity idol?

So Sash goes to talk to Marty. “Marty,” he says, “you’re screwed. Here’s the diagram. You can play your idol tonight and lose your closest ally, or you can give your idol to me and lose your closest ally.” The advantage to handing over the idol, Sash explained, was that Sash could put Marty to use as a back-pocket ally later. Or, alternatively, double-cross him immediately and send his ass home tonight.

Marty just had to trust that he wouldn’t.

What happened was: Marty handed over his immunity idol to Sash, and Sash’s alliance voted out Jill. Exactly like Sash promised. It’s a good thing Jill didn’t make jury, because there’s no way she wouldn’t have murdered Marty for selling her out so completely on the off chance he made the finals.

There are a lot of questions about this deal. First, was it a smart play on Marty’s behalf? I think that can be answered with an objective and emphatic NO. Giving an immunity idol away is almost always a stupid idea, unless you are precisely sure what the outcome is going to be. Every time someone has put their security wholesale into the hands of another player — especially an opposing player — it has blown up in their face with a spectacular mushroom cloud. The few times it did pan out in the giver’s favor, it was because some serious vote manipulation had already taken place.

The next question, though, is: did it work for Marty? And… I think maybe it did, but not for reasons of his own design. See, Jeff probed the blackmail deal a bit at council, and got Sash to slip up. At first Sash was very gung-ho about using Marty’s idol for anyone in his alliance, and explained he would be comfortable with any of them holding on to it. Then he went and put his foot in his mouth: “But if there comes a time where I can’t trust them — no, wait, I mean, where they can’t trust me…”

Sash, I think that moment came a hell of a lot sooner than you were expecting.

So the game state is in a very, very strange place right now. Sash might be able to backpedal his little blunder, if he plays it safe and hands the idol off to Brenda for safekeeping. (If he does, and she immediately uses it to snake him, I swear to god I will fall in love with her.) Or, he can keep his greedy mitts on the idol and turn to Marty, who really has no one else to lean on. The merge is close, after all, and underdogs have a tendency to come out on top of tribal shifts.

Which reminds me: Jane. Jane’s an underdog who came out on top of the tribal shift. I’m beginning to feel like Jane is a really good player who has just been holding her cards close. I love her approach to work ethic: she’s perfectly happy doing absolutely everything around camp, as long as it means the lazy kids in control of the game keep her around. You’ll notice this is the exact opposite of every other on-the-outs workhorse who has ever played this game. Everyone who laments about how they’re the only one who ever does any work gets voted out for their bellyaching. It’s nice to see someone finally break that trend; Jane considers it perfectly fair that she pull twice her weight, if it means she has a good relationship with the folks in charge.

She also considers it perfectly fair that she keeps an entire fish for herself out of the day’s catch. That made me smile. She cooked and ate it in secret, but something tells me she would have had no trouble spinning it if someone had discovered her.

I also noticed that Jane is very, very closed off at tribal council. Anytime Jeff asks her something, she answers quickly, directly, and succinctly. She doesn’t tiptoe or waffle, and she doesn’t allow herself to get bogged down into petty arguments. When Marty tried to accuse her of flip-flopping after the shuffle, Jane’s response was: “Jeff, when we became yellow, I became yellow.”

Brilliant answer! All at once Jane managed to reaffirm her loyalty to her new La Flor allies, deflect the suspicion of underhandedness Marty was trying to dump on her, and make Marty look like a jerk who refuses to see one united, yellow La Flor tribe. It was also a bald-faced lie; in her confessionals, Jane has been talking about but how good it feels to have the upper hand over Marty and Jill since the shuffle.

Who’s gonna win? It’s still anybody’s game, but a few players are starting to emerge at the head of the retard pack. Brenda, Sash, Marty, Jane and (sigh…) Naonka all strike me as being in fairly good positions, should we merge in the next couple weeks. At the moment I’m just going to say Jane because I like her the most, but that’s based on a lot of shifting variables.

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