Survivor: Island of the Idols, week five

I smiled a lot when “Detective Dean” went on the warpath at the start of the episode. I wasn’t at all convinced this was going to help further his game at all, but it made me smile to see he genuinely did seem to be in good spirits. Actually, as a whole, this season’s cast does seem to be having fun out there and have the ability to treat the game as a game rather than an extension of real life. Too many seasons with too many players that fed on pointless drama and took everything personally caused me to give up on this show a decade ago, so it’s important I acknowledge just how much I appreicate this. Good cast = good season. Big ups to (most of) these players.

Anyway, drop your buffs! Time to do the Tribal Shuffle. Feh. I don’t like the Tribal Shuffle. I understand why it’s in the game and I understand the problems it’s meant to help solve. It’s just… well, I think I’d rather have those problems in the season, you know? I think it’s kind of a design flaw that you can go into the game on Day 1 with a winning strategy, stay the course for 14 days while making no mistakes, then get snaked and sent home because a die roll dropped you on the “other” tribe.

The numbers as of the shuffle were Vokai 9, Lairo 7. So, advantage Vokai, but not a huge advantage. Going into the mid-game merge with those numbers is not insurmountable, and can often be advantageous, as swing votes are very valuable in situations where a bloated tribe might be looking to shed some weight. The opposite story can also be true, though, where one tribe sweeps Immunity all the way to the merge and the other tribe just sort of ceases to exist.

(The one season I’ve seen that happen began their two tribes with a schoolyard pick. One group focused on having all the young cool kids, the other tribe focused on picking people that looked like strong competitors. Guess which one swept the game!)

In general, I think there’s a knack to be learned for playing the tribal game, and I think a tribe which doesn’t grok that knack probably shouldn’t supply the winner to the entire season. In other words, I don’t think the “problems” the tribal shuffle is designed to solve should actually be solved. To me they’re just “playing Survivor”.

This season, Vokai really has it together, while Lairo doesn’t. The way the actual shuffle shook out, though, may end up not mattering. Here’s what it looks like:

New Vokai = Dan, Jason, Tommy, Lauren (from Vokai); Aaron, Missy, Elizabeth, Elaine (from Lairo)
New Lairo = Noura, Kellee, Jamal, Jack, Janet (from Vokai); Tom, Dean, Karishma (from Lairo)

If you’re Old Vokai, you’re in a good position here. Old Vokai has strong and smart players on New Vokai, while they have a straight-up numbers advantage on New Lairo. The 4/4 split on New Vokai might end up causing some friction if they ever have to go to Tribal Council, but SPOILER WARNING Lairo still sucks as of this episode, so we don’t get to see that happen yet.

That leaves Tom, Karishma, and Detective Dean in the worst positions right now. I think Dean gets a solid +1 here, since he was on the outs at Old Lairo but now has new people to work with, while Tom gets a solid -1 because his tribe evaporated in front of him. And Karishma… well. Let’s just see.

I also don’t care much for Reward Challenges in Survivor. These are challenges where tribes can win some practical or comfortable rewards, but don’t (usually) end up impacting the game. They’re also a chance for some good ol’ scummy Late Stage Capitalism to sneak into my game show about almost-naked people yelling on the beach. This episode the reward was Applebee’s, and everyone lost their minds. Karishma, in testimonial, claimed that Applebee’s was her favorite sit-down restaurant. That might be the saddest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I mean, Applebee’s is fine, you know? You can get a quesadilla or maybe a club sandwich or something. If you have 12 people who all need to eat before a movie, you could do worse. And if you’ve been on a desert island for 14 days eating burnt rice and greasy fish, I’m sure it looks like manna from heaven.

But “favorite sit-down restaurant”? Oh child. If only this was the dumbest thing Karishma said this episode.

Rewards can be worthwhile if the challenge itself is entertaining, though, and this one certainly was. Two members of a tribe are lashed
together and thrown face-down in the sand, and they have to worm themselves to the finish line, where a puzzle awaited them. My two
favorite players, Noura and Karishma, now on the same tribe, inspired me to snap this hilarious .gif:

Pictured: lol

That’s a four second loop, but I could watch it for hours and hours. Anyway, Vokai wins the challenge so Noura ends up eating six pounds of sand for no reason.

Vokai is whisked off to their six-minute-long Applebee’s commercial, and nothing else substantial happens on their beach except Jason and Tommy deciding they have to work together to each make the merge.

At Lairo, Karishma again demonstrates her lack of understanding for how this game works by deciding to immediately flip on Old Lairo. This almost makes sense until you remember that Old Vokai has a 5/3 advantage on this tribe, so… I guess her strategy is to be at the very bottom of a six-man alliance. Later in the episode Karishma offers a lukewarm defense of arranged marriage then launches into a sob story about how her own arranged marriage isn’t very good. Apparently part of why she’s out here on Survivor is to decide what the “next chapter of her life” will be. Writing this post now I’m having this amusing image in my head of Mr. Karishma learning his wife wants a divorce by watching her on this episode of Survivor, but at the time of my first viewing I was too fuming mad to really appreciate the gag. I apologize for the digression, but I must indeed digress.

I don’t have a lot of hot button issues but forced marriage is one of them. There are horror stories of American daughters being whisked away by their family back to the old country to be sold off to some man she doesn’t know. Some of these stories involve families taking routine trips to India (or elsewhere, I’m sure, but it does seem to be a bigger problem with India, and anyway that’s where Karishma’s family is from) in order to groom their daughters into believing the trips are no big deal, right up until the moment they are. The thought of a 19- or 20-something year old woman being trapped in a foreign country with no passport and no legal recourse horrifies me. It horrifies a lot of people. There are institutions in the US and EU to protect their citizens against this kind of thing.

So I want to give Karishma the benefit of the doubt on this. I want to believe there was a lot more nuance to her story which the editors had to mangle down for time. In fact, I think it’s probably for the best that we chalk this one up to “sensitive subject, poorly handled” and move on. But just in case the Survivor editing team is reading, maybe in the future let’s stay away from subjects like kidnapping women into forced marriage situations, yeah? Also maybe let’s stay away from rape, religious brainwashing, anti-vaccination propaganda, white supremecy, and climate change denial. Sound good? Just have a show about people eating sand instead? Okay.

Oh, it turns out Dean once dated a girl Kellee went to school with. The Survivor casting folks tend to pull their contestents from about a four-square-block radius in Hollywood, so this makes sense.

Immunity involved climbing a ladder, which at one point prompted Probst to say, “Karishma takin’ a lot of time on that ladder!”, and Karishma to snap back, “No I’m not, Jeff!” even though she was totally taking way too much time on that ladder. Lairo loses immunity, and the scrambling begins anew.

It’s an easy vote for Lairo. On the block are Tom, Karishma, an Dean, all the members of Old Lairo. Old Vokai has no incentive to switch up, here. Other than nobody knowing Noura doesn’t have a vote (because of last week’s Island of the Idols shenanigans), the only question seems to be whether or not Lairo wants to ever win a challenge. If yes, dump Karishma now. If no, keep her around.

There was a bit of bickering about who was leaving, and in the end it happened to be Tom. Karishma somehow squeaks by one more. My understanding is that Old Vokai either wants Karishma there at the merge, where she’ll be an easy first vote once the split-up Vokai people are together again, or, individually, players are looking ahead to final three where Karishma is a useful butt to have in the seat next to you. Either of these ideas seems short-sighted to me, considering it’s still a tribal game. It seemed short-sided to Rob, too, up in his bungalow, where he remarked “They’re not going to win any challenges now.”

Who’s gonna win?
Karishma is in a good game position, if it’s true other people want to drag her forward just to have a warm body to point at when it’s time to win against the Jury. Dean is probably in the worst position, being the last Old Lairo still on Lairo that people don’t seem to want on hand. I think the four players who remained on Vokai after the split — Dan, Jason, Tommy, and Lauren — are in the best position over all. A lot can happen between now and merge. Maybe the new Vokai will be a united tribe that sweeps the challenges, then feels no loyalty to the five members who left. Or maybe the tribe remains split and some number of them re-form after the merge. Or maybe some combination of these things happens. Tommy is still my pick for now, but I must again emphasize his tribe is so good at winning challenges that his actual gameplay has not yet been seriously tested.

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