“Survivor 45” recap: Why I’m thankful for “Survivor”

There's plenty to feast your eyes on during the show's Thanksgiving week episode.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! I hope everyone out there will be surrounded by friends, family, and good cheer this holiday. As for me, I’m still weighing my options and deciding between a few different Thanksgiving day invites. Austin Li Coon was so honored when I made him my episode 1 pick to win it all that he invited me over for a sumptuous meal of giant fish eyes. (Katurah RSVPd no.) But I also was on the receiving end of a request to join the entire cast of Survivor: Africa to pound a few rounds of fresh cow’s blood. And then there is my annual standing invitation to meet up with Karishma Patel at — where else? — Applebee’s, where we can load up on Brew Pup Loaded Waffle Fries and Chicken Wonton Tacos. So many options!

Whatever I choose — and it’s not looking good for fish eyes or cow’s blood — time is a bit tight this holiday week, so I am going to do us all a favor and cut to the chase by giving thanks to the Survivor gods for all the goodness they bestowed upon us this week. What do we give thanks for this year? Let us count the ways.

<p>CBS</p> Jake O'Kane, Bruce Perreault, and Emily Flippen on 'Survivor 45'


Jake O'Kane, Bruce Perreault, and Emily Flippen on 'Survivor 45'

I am thankful for… an eye-opening experience

Sure, it has been fun — and, at times, hilarious — to see Bruce annoying everyone (not just Katurah) while being completely oblivious as to how he was being perceived. In most cases like this that we have seen throughout the years, the person in Bruce’s situation would remain oblivious until watching it all play out on TV.

That can be a pretty rude awakening. You go out there, you play Survivor, and you see the game and experience through your own eyes. Then, you get back, months pass, and you now watch the game play back on TV through the eyes of others. It can be jarring, to say the least. Rarely do we get to see someone react to this experience in real-time, but that is exactly what we got this week with Bruce.

As interesting as it was watching Jake wake up and realize “how bad I was reading people,” and how intriguing it was seeing Kendra console herself on the beach after losing her island bestie, by far the most engrossing element of the post-Tribal scene was Bruce being told that not only did his “number 1” Kellie want him out, but that she felt like she was under “house arrest” playing with him because of his domineering ways.

This led to a scene of ultimate introspection. Look, it’s been of a bit of a rough go for Bruce. Jeff Probst was pretty insightful talking about this on his podcast a few weeks ago, so I am just going to go ahead and regurgitate some of what he said then and attempt to pass it off as my own brilliant thoughts here, but as terrible as what happened to Bruce last season was in injuring himself in the first five minutes of the game, he left with everybody loving him. Everybody! He had such bad luck out of the gate that both Survivor players and fans rallied around him.

But that’s not how Survivor tends to work. Now that he is playing for longer than 12 hours, Bruce is learning that this complex social game tends to also lead to more complex relationships and reactions. He is also learning that Survivor can be as emotionally painful as it is physically. Bruce could have gone two ways with this news that Kellie was annoyed while working with him. He could have just gotten defensive and blamed her. Or he could take a deep look within himself to see if there was something to Kellie’s words after all.

Bruce talked about how he was treating Kellie in the same way he treats his daughter, causing him to not only confront his social approach in a reality television game, but confront his entire life and the way he talks to his own family. A “devastated” Bruce said he was going to ask his wife and daughter when he got home, “Am I overbearing? And do you feel like I don’t allow you to grow?” And if the answer to those questions came back in the affirmative, he would make changes to way he lives his life.

That’s a super difficult realization to have to come to, especially on national television. And it provided a much clearer, fuller portrait of the man than the gruff and oblivious commander and demander we have seen over the past two months. Very cool to see. And it will be interesting to see if any of the changes he was talking about appear in his time left in the game, however long that may be.

<p>CBS</p> Bruce Perreault on 'Survivor 45'


Bruce Perreault on 'Survivor 45'

I am thankful for… actual movement during a challenge

The past few seasons have featured way too many post-merge challenges where people just line up and compete to see who can be the longest to do something. Often, like last week, it makes for fantastic television, but it can also start feel too samey-samey when it happens week after week.

So while this week’s immunity challenge also ended in a stand-here-as-long-as-you-can battle, it also — thanks to 90-minute episodes — featured a lot more, with the players separated into three teams and needing to advance through two obstacle course stages to advance to the final section. You know I love seeing the players out and moving, so it was a very welcome addition.

All that said, I’m now going to talk about the stand-here-as-long-as-you-can battle that I just complained about. Once again, we had a face-off between the two oldest players in the game: 49-year-old Julie and 47-year-old Bruce. Once again, I thought Julie would win. And once again, I was dead wrong. But big props to both of them for once again DIGGING DEEP and pushing through the pain. Super impressive showings for those two old fogeys (who are both, incidentally, younger than me).

<p>CBS</p> Katurah Topps, Emily Flippen, Julie Alley, and Dee Valladares on 'Survivor 45'


Katurah Topps, Emily Flippen, Julie Alley, and Dee Valladares on 'Survivor 45'

I am thankful for… stealing food

People hoarding food or stealing from others is never not funny. (It’s why Chappies from Survivor: South Africa is an all-time personality.) And that’s why I can go donate a Thanksgiving turkey in the morning and then laugh my ass off at night watching Drew totally screw Jake over in the rice department. Not only did Drew screw him over by eating all his rice, but he then tried to convince Jake that there was plenty left! Reverse psychology! I love it!

I am thankful for… math drama

Since Austin, Emily, and Katurah were out first in the challenge, they each lost their vote but had an opportunity to win it back on a journey where they would face off against… math. Not even complicated math involving fractions or decimals or quotients or other terms this writer only vaguely understands, but rather math involving simple addition and subtraction. But the equation was not exactly simple.

The players had numbers 1 through 9 written out in reverse order and then had to insert three plus signs and one minus symbol somewhere in between those numbers to equal 100. How hard was it? Well, Probst said on his podcast that he tried it out himself and thought it was too easy and that everybody would get it. He was wrong. Evidently, Surivor host Jeff Probst is some sort of super genius because while University of Chicago MBA student Austin nailed it, lawyer Katurah and noted financial analyst Emily were completely stumped.

I was about to write that people being mystified by math is especially funny, but honestly, I think I just like to watch people struggle in ANY sort of competition — physical, mental, whatever. I don’t discriminate, is what I am saying. I am an equal opportunity a-hole when it comes to this. Is someone falling on their face better or worse than the look of utter and complete befuddlement and confusion on a player’s face when up against a brain teaser they simply cannot comprehend? Tough to say. Both have their charms. But yes, watching a professional financial analyst perplexed by arithmetic was right up there with bearing witness to a professional river guide (Kelly) losing a rowing competition to a guy (Gervase) who could barely swim. Thank you, Survivor. Thank you so much for 45 seasons of this.

<p>CBS</p> Kendra McQuarrie on 'Survivor 45'


Kendra McQuarrie on 'Survivor 45'

I am thankful for… jury reaction shots at Tribal Council

Am I still angry that we now get 21 more minutes of airtime each week and yet still don’t get to see the jury walk in all dramatic-like at Tribal Council after the players? Yes. Yes, I am. But this is Thanksgiving week, so I am going to remain thankful — this time for the abundance of jury reaction shots. Nobody will ever top Eliza Orlins in this department. The woman was a modern work of art with her wild gesticulating and mouth so wide open you could drive the entire Survivor Sanctuary through there. The absolute best.

Kellie Nalbandian is no Eliza Orlins, but she delivered something else this week from her perch on the jury, and that was an intoxicating blend of depression, devastation, and disgust. You could tell she was still completely rattled and angry about her exit. At one point she appeared so upset by the entire thing that she could not even look at the players still in the game. To which I say… GOOD! Give me players still pissed off 48 hours later about their blindside. That is exactly whom I want playing this game. May her anger never cease!

There were some other weird looks going on at Tribal this week. Am I the only one that noticed Jake turning dramatically to look right at Kendra during the reading of the votes? What in the name of a Jack and Jill movie reward was that all about? He voted for her, she voted for him. So what gives?

Speaking of Kendra, the fact that she did not even consider the fact that players could be lying about losing their vote at the journey kind of sums up why Kendra did not win Survivor 45. Fun personality. Would love nothing more in the world than to put down some beers with her and her biological dad and find out what what it even means to be born on a cusp, but she never appeared to be a true threat to win this game. However, I am thankful that I got to watch her on my TV screen for nine weeks, and am hopeful she will take some of those wacky facial expressions with her to the jury and combine with her island bestie Kellie to provide the thunder and lightning of modern day Tribal Council facial reaction shots. The stars demand it.

And if you are hereby demanding more Survivor coverage, we have it! Probst talked about why they don’t have more older contestants on the show, so we encourage you to check that out, and we also have an exclusive deleted scene of the players on day 17 looking back at day 1 of their journey. Kendra’s exit interview will be a bit delayed due to the holiday, but we’ll have that for you on Monday. Until then, have an amazing Thanksgiving and we’ll be back next week with another scoop of the (leftover) crispy. Sorry, Jake.

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