Warning: This recap for Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers contains spoilers.
Let’s face it: This is the season of Ben Driebergen. The creative department should have just gone ahead and named the show Survivor: Ben vs. Boneheads vs. Buffoons. You can try and make excuses for the continuous display of moronic gameplay (starvation, tiredness, unfavorable editing, Jeff Probst’s distracting commentary), but it comes to a point where you have to call a spade a spade… or an idiot an idiot. There is no reasonable justification to be made for what this group of castaways allowed Ben to get away with in this episode. Not even the cast of Survivor: One World would have allowed this to happen… well, maybe Kat.
Usually I’m against seasons which rely too heavily on one particular character to carry the show, but it’s hard to blame CBS for banking on Ben. I think Dr. Mike put it best when he said, “Ben is a ferocity that transcends this game.” A grandiose statement perhaps, but one that is entirely applicable to Ben’s relentless gameplay and larger-than-life presence. He may be the self-described “lone wolf,” excluded from the pack, but that only serves to make him more aggressive and far more dangerous than any other player remaining. If thrilling television is the aim, then there is nothing better than watching Ben tear through the competition with a Ron Swanson grin on his face.
KEEP AN EYE OUT
This whole episode revolves around one monumental mistake. BAD BABYSITTERS. No, I’m not talking about that early 00s one-hit wonder by Princess Superstar (which, yes, is a guilty pleasure of mine and which, yes, I still listen to at least once a year). And I’m not talking about that time your sister was supposed to be looking after you and invited her sleazy boyfriend over to smoke weed while you snuck downstairs to watch R-rated horror movies and developed a lifelong fear of men who wear fedoras. I’m talking about the Solewa tribe’s pathetic attempts at keeping an eye on Ben during his idol hunting. The parents from Home Alone could have done a better job of keeping him in their sights.
The tribe’s lack of concern is even more baffling when you remember they’ve just returned from a tribal council in which Ben canceled all their votes with an idol. “If there are Survivor gods, then that was a move by the Survivor devil,” says Devon. Yet, when Ben leaves to fetch water, nobody follows the so-called Satan of Survivor. Instead, the group huddles at the shelter for a powwow and declares that no matter what, Ben is the next to go. “None of us can go against him at the end,” Ryan states. Everyone agrees. But, of course, when the target has been confirmed in the first five minutes of an episode, you can all but guarantee that person is going to be safe by the end of the night.
But the reason Ben remained safe is entirely the fault of Ashley, Chrissy, Devon, Mike, and Ryan. They know once an idol is played, it is most likely going to be reburied. They’re also aware that Ben is more than capable of finding said idol. But as the sun begins to rise on a new day, the majority of the tribe stays sound asleep while Ben goes searching. When the others finally start to stir, nobody seems determined to follow Ben or see what he’s up to out in the jungle. Chrissy tells Mike that he’s been gone “about 45 minutes,” but there is no indication that she ever followed him. “I’m banking on Ben not finding another idol,” Chrissy tells us. Well, you know, there is one way you could achieve that — follow the damn man!
Obviously, it’s an impossible task to keep track of someone 24/7 — they’re Survivor players, not the NSA — but there were at least three times this episode when Ben blatantly left camp to “go get water,” and his fellow castaways stood idly by fondling their coconuts. That’s just the moments we saw in a condensed 42-minute episode; I imagine he went on many more water runs. At one point Mike even says he’s not worried about Ben finding an idol because he already looked and couldn’t find anything. I do not doubt that Mike also searched, but that doesn’t excuse him from neglecting his babysitting duties. If you’re that afraid of a player — someone who has a “ferocity that transcends the game” — then you need to be watching that person constantly. That’s what Andrea Boehlke did in Survivor: Caramoan when she stalked Malcolm Freberg around camp like the world’s most incessant chaperone.
The combined babysitting blunder of the tribe ultimately leads to Ben finding another idol — right from under their noses at the shelter. “If I start digging around the base of the bed and pull out a purple thing, everyone is gonna know what it is,” Ben says, in the most inappropriate out-of-context remark of the night. The tribe has nobody to blame but themselves for what transpires at tribal council… but before we get into the “Ben Bomb” and Ashley’s ouster, we need to talk about Reward decisions.
WHO’S CALLING THE SHOTS?
The randomly paired team of Chrissy and Devon win the Reward Challenge and are tasked with choosing one other person to join them for an overnight stay at a private resort. Chrissy stumps for her closest ally, Ryan, and Devon doesn’t put up much of a fight. Ashley is visibly shocked and frustrated, and Probst, ever the instigator, quickly draws attention to her reaction. “It’s interesting who makes the decisions,” Ashley says, apparently surprised that Devon conceded so readily. As Ashley pouts, and Ben chuckles over being given a crack to exploit, the winners make their way via chopper to a private island, while the losers trudge back to camp.
What Ashley said is right, though. It is interesting who makes the decisions. But what’s more interesting is WHY those decisions were made in the first place. Chrissy’s decision to bring Ryan seems straightforward; she’s been working with him since the swap, and he has previous ties to Devon, which could come in handy. When the offer of new Final 3 deal is put on the table, Chrissy’s decision comes into even clearer focus. Somewhat surprisingly, Devon looks to be onboard with this new Final 3 alliance, despite his recent falling out with Ryan. “Ryan was my closest ally and then my No. 1 enemy… but I’m going with who I think I have the best shot of beating at the end,” says Devon.
Devon makes a lot of sense here, and it sheds some light on why he acquiesced so easily to Chrissy. The laid-back surfer-bro may not have the most extensive Survivor résumé, and he certainly didn’t add to it this week by failing to take out his target, Ben. But sitting at the end next to Chrissy and Ryan — two players who have rubbed people the wrong way at various points this season — could be his best chance at taking home the $1 million. Likability goes a long way in this game, and Devon hasn’t done a lot to piss people off. I think both Chrissy and Devon knew what they were doing here, regardless of what Ashley may have perceived.
THE COGS ARE TURNING
Ashley’s perception could be what cost her the game, however. When Chrissy wins her second Immunity Challenge of the season — an elaborate obstacle course culminating in a cog puzzle — she feels empowered to call the shots once again. Likely spurred on by Ashley’s comments after the Reward Challenge, Chrissy tells Ryan, Devon, and Mike that she doesn’t trust Ashley and would prefer to vote her out before Ben. It seems inconceivable given that everyone left in the game agrees that if Ben makes it to the end, he will win, including Chrissy herself. But, here we are.
I do see where Chrissy is coming from up to a certain point. If she is planning to stay true to her new Final 3 alliance with Ryan and Devon, then Ashley could be an obstacle in the way of that. Ashley and Devon have made no secret about their close relationship, and there is every possibility that Devon could go back on his word and choose to go to the end with so-called “goat” Ashley instead of Chrissy, who he has previously referred to as a potential jury threat. But even taking all that into consideration, Ben still appears to be much more of an immediate threat. He has consistently been labeled as the most dangerous player and the biggest threat to win, not to mention he has the compelling former Marine backstory. Oh, and he’s really good at finding idols.
Ashley seems to be the only one considering the possibility of Ben finding another idol. Not that she takes it upon herself to go and babysit. But she does suggest splitting the votes between Ben and Mike, just in case. It’s the most reasonable strategy put forward all night, but by that point, Chrissy is already trying to turn the tide against the lifeguard. Devon and Mike are unsure about Chrissy’s idea. “We have an opportunity to get this guy out. Get him the f*** out!” Mike states. Of course, little do they know, that opportunity has already passed.
THE BEN BOMB
Heading into tribal council, it appears that the tribe has put the Ashley plan aside and has its sights set on Ben — a little too late I’m afraid. When Devon cockily tells Ben he’s going home tonight, Ben whips out his idol and puts it around his neck. “I’m not going home tonight,” Ben boasts, while making child-like explosion noises. Chrissy calls Ben’s theatrics over-the-top and unnecessary, but the man has been in a combat zone, so I’m certainly not going to question the accuracy of his sound effects. Chrissy may not be impressed, but the rest of the tribe are clearly rattled. Ashley is literally lost for words. Ben asks Ashley if she wants to go back to camp with him, and if so, to vote for Mike. He tries to get Devon to do the same, but Devon doesn’t buy that Ben will actually play the idol. Then, in an unprecedented move, Ben plays the idol early, handing the necklace over to the Probst.
OK, first of all, is this even legal? A regular hidden immunity idol is always played after the votes are cast, but before they’re read. Probst even says, “If anybody has a hidden immunity idol and would like to play it, NOW IS THE TIME TO DO SO.” Ben completely sidesteps that rule and plays his idol before a single vote has been cast. As with most first-time moves on Survivor, if it makes for good TV, the production team will usually go with it. Would Ben have been allowed to ask for it back before Probst read out the votes? That’s probably unlikely, seeing as Probst does confirm it as an idol play when Ben passes it over. As for the move itself? It’s rather brilliant. Ben essentially forces the alliance to turn on each other. He could have kept it secret and blindsided everybody again, but he’d be right back in the same spot after tribal. This way he causes dissension among the majority, which can be exploited to his benefit moving forward.
Lastly, why Ashley? Ben pushes for Mike beforehand, but when the votes come in, it’s unanimous for the former Heroes tribe member. We don’t get to see the full discussion post-idol play, but given Chrissy’s earlier desire to get rid of Ashley, it makes sense that she lobbied for that result. Maybe Ashley’s perception of Chrissy as the shot-caller was not so far-fetched after all? Even Devon voted for her, which Ashley does not take kindly, brushing off his hug as she leaves. “Ouch” indeed.
Just five players are remaining as we look forward to next week’s grand finale. Ashley leaving was probably the best outcome in terms of creating the most compelling set of finalists. Each one of them has a distinct story-arc and a valid argument to win. Even if it is the season of Ben, that doesn’t mean he is guaranteed victory, although I suspect it’s between him or Devon. Ben is the man to beat heading into the finale, and I imagine that will be the driving narrative as the game reaches its conclusion, but we’ve seen many a great player fall at the last hurdle and join the illustrious Day 38 Club. Devon, on the other hand, is seemingly well-liked across the board (except for maybe Ashley now). If he gets a chance to explain his game in front of the jury (as he mentioned during tribal), that could be enough to snag the title of Sole Survivor, as long as he’s sitting next to anyone not named Ben.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Ben: Obviously. It’s a little worrying that his game has had to become so reliant on idols, but I was very impressed with how he played this one. If he can exploit the cracks he caused and make it to the end without needing more idols, then more power to him.
Chrissy: I’m still not entirely convinced her wanting to take out Ashley before Ben was the smartest decision, but it’s clear Chrissy has influence, and I credit her with Ashley’s vote-off.
I’m only naming two this week. No one else honestly deserved a spot as player of the week, right? Let me know in the comments.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.
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