Survivor: Samoa, week two

Officer Betsy might be a good judge of character, but that’s only half the battle in Survivor. The other half, of course, is convincing everyone else you’re right. Unfortunately for Officer Betsy, the only move in her arsenal is nagging everyone to death, so she got voted off tonight.

Whoops, did I spoil that up front? It’s not that important, really, since tribal council was about the least interesting thing to happen in this episode.

The theme of this week’s episode was very much The Rules. See, in Survivor, you have the rules (which you are not allowed to break) and The Rules, which players have invented in their heads and believe they are not allowed to break, but actually don’t exist at all.

Russell’s strategy in the game is to break as many of The Rules as possible. For example, one of The Rules is that you should keep your tribe as strong as possible as long as possible. Russell is breaking this Rule by sabotaging his camp, instigating conflicts and targeting players he knows are strong. Honestly, I think he’s playing the odds here; he knows that more likely than not there will be a tribal shuffle at some point. What happens to the Foa Foa tribe on Day 3 isn’t likely to matter on Day 13; all he has to do is stay in the game until then.

Another one of The Rules that Russell broke: don’t start looking for the hidden immunity idol until you have the clues. Russell figured it this way: there’s been an immunity idol hidden at camp pretty much every season for the past three or four years. Chances of him finding it are slim, but if he starts looking before the mechanic is even introduced that gives him a few days up on everyone else.

I’ve often wondered how tricky it is to really hunt down a hidden idol. On one hand you don’t want the hiding places to be too conspicuous. On the other, you do want players to find them eventually. Russell probably stepped off the boat on Day 1 and identified the few dozen places he would hide an idol, and looked there.

While he certainly got lucky finding the idol, it was not pure luck. He had to make the decision to hide it in the first place. Compare that attitude to J(Y?)asmine, who actually obtained the clue and didn’t even bother to look for it. She gave up before she even started, figuring it would be too hard to even try.

A third Rule Russell is breaking: he isn’t trying to convince other players to vote with him. He isn’t being respectful and making his case. He is telling everyone else what’s going to be. And it’s working! I think, psychologically speaking, looking someone in the eye and flat-out telling them “so-and-so is going home” is more striking than the more Rule-abiding “so what do you think about so-and-so?” we normally see. It’s almost as though Russell is getting his way by establishing who the next target is with a statement of fact… and who can argue with an obvious fact? The sky is blue. The ocean is wet. Betsy is going home. Truth is truth.

We as viewers never get to hear Probst give the full rulesets at challenges, so it’s often hard to tell whether players are avoiding a winning strategy because they’ve been specifically told not to do it (i.e.: against the rules) or because they haven’t been specifically told it’s legal (i.e.: against The Rules). Tonight’s challenge, though, I think it would have been enlightening to get the entire picture. These free-for-all physical challenges always get super nasty, and it’s never really clear (to us anyway) what sorts of attacks are illegal. Obvious stuff like eye gouging and groin-punching, I’m sure, but then full body tackles are okay? Grabbing someone about the waist and flinging them to the ground? Heck, from the amount of fuzziness we see in these challenges, just grabbing some chick’s top and yanking seems to be a pretty good legal strategy.

I bring this up because we have Ben, the first ever Survivor player to be ejected from a challenge for misconduct. I obviously don’t have the full story, but I think it was a bad call. Yes, he tripped some dude. Yes, it probably hurt. But that’s the way this challenge is designed isn’t it? Everyone’s going to be sore coming out, and getting whacked in the ankle and taking a dive doesn’t seem any worse than getting knocked down so hard to fall out of the game, which is what happened to poor Mike.

And of course we have Ben’s big blowout with Jasmine about whether it was okay for a guy to hit a girl. In the context of that challenge, yes, it is. Again, Ben was playing to win and Jasmine wasn’t, really. Pushing Jasmine down isn’t what got Ben pulled from the challenge.

Which, really, is the problem with these “wrestle in the mud” challenges: the line between the rules and The Rules gets so murky that a subjective call on the part of the judges can cripple a team.

I think there’s still a purple tribe in this game, somewhere, and I think Jasmine is still on it. So why was she over at Foa Foa? Well, they have this new twist, where a winning tribe member gets to sit in on the losing tribe’s council. This week the privilege (and the clue to the already-claimed immunity idol) was given to Jasmine. She spent the entire time running her mouth and insulting her opponents, completely oblivious to the fact that her team only won because the other team suffered a penalty and a heart attack. Jasmine, picking on a crippled kid is even worse than a boy hitting a girl.

Also her mouth is incredibly big. I don’t mean in the sense that she talks a lot, although she does do that. I mean the physical size of her mouth is enormous. You could land a helicopter in there.

Who’s gonna win? Isn’t there a rocket scientist on the other tribe? Maybe when they think to point the cameras that way we might see him do something. I’m sticking with him, for now, even though I’m not quite certain he even really exists.

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