Warning: This recap for the “I Don’t Like Having Snakes Around” episode of Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers contains spoilers.
It wouldn’t be a lie to say that so far this season of Survivor has been going through the motions. The first three eliminations have been obvious, unanimous vote-offs. The theme is convoluted, and not in a way that creates compelling conversation. The challenges are the same-old obstacle course followed by puzzle arrangement. Even the castaways themselves seem to be holding back, both strategically and personality-wise. When the official Survivor Twitter account told fans to look out for Foo Fighters references in the latest episode, I couldn’t help but think we were in store for another snorefest if all they had to market the episode around was Dave Grohl.
Thankfully, a nicely-timed tribe swap threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings and lifted this season out of stagnation and into something resembling entertaining television. Suddenly dynamics were shifted, old alliances were separated, new alliances were born, and people were finally playing with the kind of urgency missing from the first nine days. All of which culminated in a chaotic vote and the season’s first truly iconic tribal council.
DROP YOUR BUFFS
The entire purpose of a tribe swap is to shake-up the status quo and avoid predictability. That’s the whole reason the twist was first introduced way back in Survivor: Africa after the show’s first two seasons fell into a pattern of the dominant tribe picking off the members of the outnumbered tribe at the merge. A pre-merge swap can shatter strong alliances (as it did Africa’s Mall Rats alliance), save underdogs (as it did for T-Bird Cooper), and force new relationships to blossom. With members of different tribes required to mix and mingle before the merge, it increases the chances of a more fluid and fluctuating post-merge game.
Tribe swaps have evolved since the days of Survivor: Africa where Jeff Probst awaited four unsuspecting castaways in the middle the barren desert like a mob boss about to stealthily dispose of his enemies. We’ve seen early swaps, late swaps, multiple swaps per season, swaps from two tribes to three, swaps from three tribes to two, schoolyard-pick swaps, swaps involving Exile Island, and so on. But this was the first time we’ve ever seen three starting tribes swap to a new configuration of three tribes now with five members apiece. A blessing for the dwindling Hustlers tribe and a curse for the so far so powerful Healers tribe.
The episode wastes no time in getting to the switch-up which is more evidence that nothing of interest was happening on these original tribes. There’s only so many times you can watch JP striding out of the ocean in his undercrackers with a fish skewered on the end of his spear (that’s not a euphemism). The surprised and trepidatious castaways are soon flinging their old, dirt-covered buffs to the floor and hand-picking fresh ones from Probst’s trays of terror. The proverbial “Survivor jackpot” — a chance for a new lease on life or a potential ticket to destination snuffed. It’s a complete toss-up, and you really do just have to let the chips fall where they may.
The new tribes are as follows:
Alan – NFL cornerback and failed coconut conquerer
Ashley – Lifeguard and JP spear admirer
Desi – Physical Therapist and someone who is apparently on this season
Devon – Surf Instructor and big spoon to Ryan’s little spoon
Joe – Probation Officer and Tony Vlachos tribute act
Ali – Celebrity Assistant and former Patrick babysitter
Chrissy – Financial Analyst and data fan
JP – Firefighter and things like that
Roark – Social Worker and someone who is apparently on this season
Ryan – Bellhop and turtleneck trendsetter
Ben – Ex-Marine and good ol’ boy
Cole – Wilderness Survival Guide and world’s worst Secret Santa
Jessica – Nurse Practitioner and waiting for Mr. Right
Lauren – Fisherman and red-head hater
Mike – Sex Doctor and nothing more needs to be said
The benefits of the tribe swap are immediate in just looking at the new line-up. The powerful duo of Ben & Chrissy is now broken up with Ben on an island by himself, the lone Hero on the new Yawa tribe. Roark, Devon, and Lauren similarly find themselves as odd-one-out as the only representatives of their former tribes. Ryan is pulled away from his big spoon but has a potential connection with Chrissy after secretly gifting her the Super Idol back in Episode 1. The only tight pair still together are the lovebirds, Cole and Jessica, and luckily for them, Dr. Mike is tagging along for the ride too.
LOOSE LIPS SINK… CHIPS?
Things get off to a cracking start for the new Yawa tribe who win a basket of PB&J sandwiches and potato chips in the season’s first Reward Challenge. I mean what is more rewarding than peanut butter left sitting in the sun all afternoon? Mmm… soggy, salty sandwiches. But more important than the food is the morale booster that comes with a challenge win, especially for a brand new tribe looking for a fast-track bonding technique. Ben speaks of the comfort that comes with victory and hopes he can use the experience to gain respect and trust with his new tribemates.
Jessica is having an even better time on her new beach. Not only does she have a Healers majority and her island boo by her side, but she discovers a Secret Advantage inside her bag of chips. Not since Frito-Lay used to hide temporary transfer tattoos in packets of Cheetos has somebody grasped a bag of chips with such excitement. The advantage allows her to block someone’s vote at the next tribal council, and, similar to Ryan’s Super Idol, if her tribe doesn’t attend tribal she must curse it upon someone from the losing tribe.
On the one hand, I like the Mission Impossible-style “This advantage will self-destruct after one tribal council” time limit because it lowers the risk of Advantageddon happening later in the game — like what poor Cirie suffered through last season when everyone but Probst practically yanked an advantage out of their pocket. On the other hand, the decision to introduce a vote-canceller at a tribal council where there are only going to be five votes to begin with seems somewhat unnecessary. However, seeing how it later plays out, I think I’m good with it and the ultimate result.
Jessica tells Cole and Mike about her power, a smart move to cement the Healers trust. Well, it would have been smart if Cole knew how to keep a secret. In his ongoing quest to become the WikiLeaks of Survivor contestants, Cole proceeds to share the information with Ben and Lauren, hoping to earn some loyalty points. If spilling that Joe had an idol last week was considered “word vomit” then this is an Exorcist-style projectile spewing. Lauren, not quite buying what Cole is regurgitating, takes the news to Mike, hoping that if it is true and he doesn’t know about it, it could sway him away from the showmantic pair and over to her and Ben.
Of course, Mike does know and is flabbergasted how the info has already spread all over camp like warm peanut butter on a sticky slice of bread. When he questions Colessica (Jole?) about how the secret leaked, Cole tries playing dumb, which is clearly not a hard feat for the Wilderness Guide. After a Jessica death-stare, Cole eventually owns up to sharing the info with Ben. Jessica is seething but remains composed in the moment, only later in confessional does she shed a tear, admitting that she feels hurt by Cole’s betrayal and begins to blame herself for making a potentially poor decision in aligning with him. It’s a brutally honest confessional from Jessica and one that you can’t help but frame in the wider context of current world news. Yes, it’s just a silly game of Survivor, but these are real people, and this is a woman blaming herself for the actions of a man who abused her trust, and it’s not the only time it happens this episode.
NEW FRIEND REQUEST
Not much to report on the new Soko tribe other than Ryan letting Chrissy know about his Super Idol re-gifting. When Chrissy asks why he chose her, Ryan tells her it’s because he felt a connection to her and she was someone he hoped to work with in the game. It appears that Chrissy is flattered by Ryan’s explanation and describes his gesture as a feeling of “love” — as opposed to say, hmm I dunno, him trying to save the woman that threw up after the first challenge. Chrissy wonders if Ryan perhaps sees her as a mother figure, and so from now on, I will refer to this budding alliance as Motherboy in homage to Arrested Development. Let’s hope for both their sakes this alliance won’t turn out to be a huge mistake.
THERE’S A SNAKE IN MY TRIBE
Speaking of huge mistakes, let’s say hello to the new Levu tribe. Probably the most combustible of the new groups as it contains two of the bigger, more vocal characters of the season in Joe and Alan. It’s also divided firmly down enemy lines, with two Healers and two Heroes standing either side, and lone Hustler Devon hovering in the middle as the swing vote. But to add to the tension, the two Heroes happen to be Ashley and Alan, who have butted heads since Day 2, while the Healer pair is made up of Joe and Desi, who clashed last week about the food situation. A recipe for disaster and it’s no real surprise that their lack of cohesion costs them at the Immunity Challenge.
Despite past beef, Ashley and Alan commit to having each other’s backs. “I don’t trust Alan,” Ashley tells us, “But I trust that he doesn’t want to go home.” It’s an alliance of necessity and a true case of “I’d rather trust the devil I know than the devil I don’t.” And if anyone this season can be described as a devil, it’s Joe. The man is a blustering force of energy, and while he certainly has some game awareness and ability to read a situation, his manner in approaching people can be aggressive and off-putting. Devon, the much sought-after swing vote, is immediately skeptical of Joe after the Probation Officer spins a yarn about the Heroes wanting to vote him out. When Devon confirms with Ashley that Joe was indeed bullsh***ing, he refers to him as a “snake,” which ties back nicely to that devil imagery.
Desi notices Devon and Ashley hugging on the beach and worries that she and Joe are on the chopping block. Joe, having an idol at his disposable, comes up with a plan to draw votes towards himself by causing chaos at camp and making himself look an ass — again, not a hard feat. He starts discussing the vote in a public forum, letting everyone know that he’s writing down Ashley’s name because he perceives her as the weakest, and then in a strange turn of events, Alan comes to Ashley’s defense! It feels like only yesterday he was shaking her down for idol clues. The back-and-forth begins to get a little heated and results in Desi’s name being thrown into the mix of potential vote-offs. Just like how Cole’s actions hurt Jessica’s game earlier, this time Desi breaks down, realizing that Joe’s brash attitude could have just cost her her game. When this is brought up at tribal, Probst compares it to a movie: “It’s like that moment where they wanna get the bad guy, so they get the bad guy by getting his wife.” Yeesh!
Joe tries to alleviate Desi’s concerns by revealing to her that he has the idol. She tells him that what would really make her feel comfortable is if he played the idol on her. While initially hesitant, Joe says he will give her the idol if he thinks the vote is going her way. Meanwhile, just to add more confusion to the proceedings, Devon receives a surprise package in the form of Jessica’s Secret Advantage, and he couldn’t be happier knowing that he has a secret admirer. Oh poor innocent Devon.
AIN’T NO HOLLABACK GIRL
At tribal council, it’s a Healers versus Hustlers stand-off with Devon positioned on neutral ground. The edit leaves it up in the air in regards to which way Devon is swinging, but it seems more likely he’s surfing over to the Heroes, especially following Joe’s blow-up. But unfortunately for Devon, as he reads out his Secret Advantage, he discovers that it’s not his advantage to use but in fact an advantage being used on him! He gets no vote. “That is not an advantage,” he deadpans. This certainly made the vote-blocker worthwhile, not letting Devon read it until tribal and allowing him to believe it was something good is harsh but hilarious. Not sure what exactly Jessica was thinking using it on Devon though? She said she wanted to save her fellow Healers, but for all she knew Devon could have been voting with Joe and Desi and her decision might have screwed them.
Anyway, with that revelation, it looks like we’re heading to a two-two tie. But to avoid that deadly predicament, Joe gets up to play his idol, surveying the room before doing so and deciding to use it on himself. “I told you!” Joe yells in jubilation after seeing his name come up twice, meaning that just two votes for Alan are enough to knock the former NFL player out of the game. Ashley appears shocked but more so because the vote didn’t land on her rather than the idol play itself. It’s Ashley’s big facial reactions which Joe claims tipped him off on who to play the idol for. “I read you baby-girl,” he says, before telling Alan to “Hollaback.”
It took a little bit of meddling in the form of a tribe-swap, a new advantage, and swift idol play to kick this season into gear, and while I’m generally against too much producer interference, hopefully this will be the push these players need to step up a level.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Joe: He’s not the most subtle of players but I have to give credit where credit is due. He correctly read the room and played the idol perfectly, saving himself and his Healers alliance.
Ryan: Any chance to form new bonds at a swap has to be taken and Ryan had a perfect in with his Super Idol stunt earlier in the season. He told Chrissy exactly what she needed to hear, bent the truth just a little, and gained a new ally in the process.
Lauren: I maybe should have given Lauren some credit last week for escaping tribal council and making sure Patrick went home over her, so I’ll make up for that here. I think her approaching Mike about Cole’s loose lips was a wise move, she had the right intention, and at the very least has caused some cracks.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 pm on CBS.
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