Survivor, Island of the Idols, week two

Survivor doesn’t use the standard bleeps and foghorns when someone says a network-unfriendly oopsie-word. They instead use a variety of vaguely tribal-sounding stings. So when I tell you this episode starts with Vince arriving back at the Lairo camp and demanding to know how the WHOOOOMPH his name came up, I hope you will understand he was not being polite. This man is a bit of a roller coaster so far. He goes from being weepy and a big simpering to demanding answers from Aaron while using no-no words. I would like to think this means Vince’s honeymoon phase with the game is over, and he realizes he’s actually here to play. I know from experience, though, that it’s just as likely that he has a bit of a swingy brain and is going to spend the season teetering back and forth between friendly and frothing. Either way it may well be entertaining!

Aaron is on the outs for not knowing about the Ronnie vote, and I did note that Lairo did not treat him with kid gloves afterwards. A lot of tribes will come back from that first council with re-assuring voices, coddling the people who didn’t see the swing and trying to make them feel secure. Not so with Aaron. It was made pretty clear that nobody trusts him and that he’s got a lot of work to do to get back into anything resembling good graces.

I expected Elizabeth to make her tribe a big fire after her sojourn to Rob & Sandra’s Island Paradise last week, but it was Chelsea that stepped up and built the fire instead. And while out gathering firewood to keep it going, stumbled across an immunity idol hidden in a tree stump. This looks to be an old fashioned no-strings-attached hidden immunity idol, which means it is certain to change the narrative at some point. We’ll keep an eye on it.

At Vokai, they really play up how Noura and Jason are on the outs with the purple tribe. Jason is the guy everyone thought was out looking for a hidden idol on his beach on Day One (and, well, now we know there’s really one out there). Noura is the bog-standard “nobody works hard enough” lady that gets on everyone’s nerves. The comedy of Noura’s interaction specifically is that she was apparently upset at being the first person in her tribe awake, and felt like her sleeping tribemates were being lazy? That’s ridiculous, but we’re then shown a rapid-fire montage of Noura complaining to just about every other player about how shiftless everyone else is, so maybe she’s just a ridiculous person.

In any event, the Vokai alliance is built around Jamal, Jack and Molly, and the pecking order runs down from there to Jason and Noura. This is the state of things when a boat appears to whisk Kellee off to the Island of the Idols.

Upon arrival there, Sandra and Boston Rob begin pelting Kellee with an avalanche of personal details about their lives, their kids, their spouses, their dogs, the color paint they chose for the kitchen, their preferred method of digging gunk out from under their fingernails, and just about every other irrelevant detail you can possibly think of. I immediately recognized this as the test; they were going to quiz her to find out how good a listener she is. The idea here is that listening to people and internalizing what they say is a way to build trusting bonds with other players. (Boston Rob says exactly this in a confessional during the scene, just in case someone at home hadn’t twigged to what was happening.)

This actually struck me as very interesting indeed, because this kind of endless personal yammering is usually not shown to Us-the-Viewer-at-Home. Obviously there must be hundreds and hundreds of hours of such footage every season, that just gets jettisoned in the editing bay. This is one of those things that seems obvious in retrospect but is never at the forefront of my mind while watching and analyzing the show, because it’s easier to look at what the editors want me to see and more difficult to read between the lines. So I appreciated the sobering moment.

(I observe, of course, this will not prevent me from speaking from absolute authority on this blog.)

Kellee was smart enough to turn down Rob’s initial offer of “get four out of five questions right, and you win an idol good for two Tribal Councils”. Rob’s second offer was three-out-of-five, and an idol good for three Tribal Councils. You could tell Kellee still didn’t like her odds, but the temptation was too great. Fortunately for her, they stuck to softball questions I think most Survivor addicts would know just by following their favorite players’ careers on the show. Kellee wins her idol (some strings attached) and returns to camp.

She tells her tribe the same sad story about finding three urns and getting a “no game” message, so clearly this is something that has happened in a prior season at some point. This explains why Lairo also bought the same lie unquestioningly. Next episode someone from Lairo is going to know Elizabeth lied, though, and it’s going to be interesting to watch that play out.

The Immunity Challenge involed swimming, climbing a ladder, and then playing Survivor pachinko. Lairo won the challenge, and this may have been a trick of the editing, but I think it was simply because they had a better strategy. The climbing section of the challenge involved lifting a heavy ladder out of the ocean and holding it while one tribe member climbed up to retrieve their bag of pachinko balls. It looked to me as though Lairo leaned their ladder against the wooden pole holding the bag, then reaching out from the top to take it. Vokai instead tried to steady the ladder with raw human girth in the water, and collapsed several times. Well, okay, time to go watch Noura and Jason squirm some more.

Jamal was borderline smug about his alliance back at the beach. Instead of feeding Noura some phony assurance and sending her on her way, he asks her point blank “Why should Jason go home and not you?” Noura slinked away from the answer, because what could she possibly say, ending on a kind of pathetic “I want to do whatever you want me to do”. I wondered at the time, though, whether it was a sensible question for Jamal to ask. This is Vokai’s first Tribal Council, and the strength of Jamal’s alliance is as yet untested. Nobody should feel this bulletproof on, what is it, day three? He does have the presence of mind, however, to split the vote between Noura and Jason, just on the off chance one of them has the idol.

Lauren, who is ostensibly a member of Jamal’s alliance but not in the top three, is the one who cooks up the plan to blindside Molly. When she floats the idea by Tommy, he calls Molly “Parvati 2.0”, and I guess that’s my cue to talk about Parvati a little bit. Parvati was one of the cute forgettable white chicks clique in Survivor: Cook Islands, one of my favorite seasons ever. In that season she found herself in a pretty solid alliance and only eventually lost because the smaller opposing alliance was headed up by a superhuman chessmaster. I recall she took her loss in good spirits and didn’t expect to see her again.

We saw her again in Survivor: Micronesia, where one tribe was made up of returning players and the other was made up of Survivor superfans. In this season Parvati proved that she actually learned something her last time around, and had transformed into something of a chessmaster herself. She used a combination of femenine wiles and good old-fashioned backstabbing to win the whole shebang. She played a third time, as one of the villains in Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, and made top three.

When Tommy says Molly is “Parvati 2.0”, that’s what he means. The editors pull a neat trick here, all throughout Tommy’s confessional, by cutting to Molly constantly giving this bright, cheerful grin. It’s a Parvati grin. Like Parvati, Molly locked herself into a solid alliance with two big guys. Like Parvati, everyone loves Molly but nobody really sees her as a threat. Which, like Parvati, is exactly what makes Molly a threat. Lauren cooks up this scheme to use Jason and Noura to blindside the big alliance by removing what she sees as the alliance’s strongest player, and eventually, Tommy sees the wisdom in doing exactly that.

Throughout Tommy’s confessionals, he talks a lot about what’s best for him personally in the game. I think his eyes are really on the prize here, and I think Vokai is in for a big shake-up if he and Lauren really are as smart as they seem.

At Tribal Council, Jamal keeps up his bulletproof demeanor. When Probst asks him about it, he says that Survivor is a slow burn. He doesn’t have to play in fourth gear yet, because he’s safe right now with his alliance. Jason, who is still squirreling around on the outs of his tribe, challenges the idea: maybe he’s playing a different speed than Jamal out of necessity? (Over in the Idols’ secret bungalow, Rob answers this with an “uh oh”.) Jamal’s counter is to brag about how his position in the game doesn’t require him to play in fourth gear, allowing him to save his energy for later on when it’s required. So he does understand that the game changes for individuals as it matures, and he does understand that it’s going to shift around at some point.

I think this Tribal Council’s outcome was a harsh lesson for him, that maybe he should have upshifted earlier. When the trigger gets pulled on the Molly blindside, Jamal has a look on his face that says he understands just how complacent he’d been.

To her credit, and I always appreciate this when I see it, Molly had a really classy exit from the game. She smiled brightly and wished her tribe the best of luck. I admit I do not recall exactly how Parvati left Cook Islands, but I’ll bet it was similar. If I’m really back on the Survivor horse for the forseeable future, I wouldn’t mind seeing Molly come back for another round.

Who’s gonna win?
I realy liked the blindside play this week, and expect there will be a lot of power moves as Jamal/Jack and Lauren/Tommy seek to gain control of their tribe. I think Lauren and Tommy have the upper hand here, since they have the grateful Jason and Noura in their pocket. And Kellee has a potentially important game piece that might mix everything up. I think more actual playing is happening on Vokai than Lairo right now, and I think Lauren and Tommy are at the forefront of it. Of the two, I’d say Tommy is my pick. He projects a different persona in his confessionals than he does on the island, which tells me he can maybe compartmentalize the game better than other players can. I think Lauren may eventually come across as a backstabber, and Tommy might be able to use that perception to step right over her.

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