Warning: The recap for the Oct. 5 episode of Survivor contains spoilers.
If Survivor has proved one thing during its 16 years on the air, other than the fact that Jeff Probst doesn’t age, it’s that the game is fluid. Much like how the show itself has evolved over the years, the game keeps flowing and changing shape, shifting direction either at the hands of the players or the twists of the elements. It’s why, in an endless sea of reality shows, Survivor remains the Great White Whale easily gobbling up its prey.
Tonight’s tribal council was a perfect example of how quickly the tides can turn. All hope appeared lost for CeCe, the insurance saleswoman who received three votes back in the first episode. She was clearly on the outs of the Gen X tribe, and her performance in the immunity challenge certainly didn’t do her any favors, hobbling across a balance beam with the urgency of an 80-year-old woman navigating an icy sidewalk. In days of Survivor past, this behavior would warrant a swift torch snuffing. But by the end of the episode, it was boat mechanic Paul swimming with the fishes.
OK, enough with the nautical puns, although it’s hard to resist when the episode centers on the downfall of a self-described pirate. Early in the episode, Paul announces that he’s back from the dead, reborn and ready to conquer both the game and the ocean. Boasting of his fisherman flair, he takes to the sea like he’s Moses, only to come back red-faced and empty-handed. Ken, who caught an octopus last week, is dumbfounded by Paul’s arrogance and his tribe’s willingness to go along with his false claims. Ken decides it’s time to start dropping some hints to his fellow tribe mates that maybe they’d be better off without Paul.
The whole hour is just a comedy of errors for Paul. His fishing failures are only the start of it. Things get even worse at the first-ever Survivor Summit. Both tribes are given the opportunity to randomly select four players to attend a meet-and-greet with members of the opposing tribe. Over a lunch of PB&J sandwiches, the eight chosen castaways have the chance to intermingle and gather info about the other tribe’s dynamics. Lovebirds Figgy and Taylor represent the Millennials, along with bowling bro Jay and the deepest-voiced 18-year-old in the history of humanity, Will. All four are part of the majority alliance that booted Mari last week and so are happy to take a little trip together. It’s kind of like spring break — if spring break were also attended by Chris (Coach Taylor, with the looks of Louis CK), David (neurotic to the point of nausea), CeCe (mom trying to be hip), and, of course, Paul (what more can be said?).
While everyone remains cautious, dodging questions about tribal relationships — and romantic relationships in the case of Figgy and Taylor — Paul uses the opportunity to regale the group with thrilling tales of life in a rock tribute band, followed by a poorly thought-out comedy roast about David’s life on the island so far. As David so succinctly puts it, “Paul loves to perform.” It doesn’t take long for the Millennials to figure out exactly what Paul’s like and he’s quickly dismissed. Meanwhile, a conversation between Figgy, Taylor, CeCe, and David presents possible working relationships later in the game, with David promising to vote out his Gen X tribe mates if necessary. Again, the fluidity of the game is ever present — even while Paul bathes in the ocean among all the fish he’ll never catch.
Speaking of fish, after CeCe, Chris, and David return from the summit, Ken manages to do what Paul couldn’t and brings back a bountiful supply for the tribe. Ken has it all: the looks, the skills, the charm, the ability to connect with nerds, and even a nickname courtesy of the Millennial tribe — “Ken Doll.” The name brings back bad memories for Ken, as he reveals he was tormented as a younger man by being compared to Barbie’s genital-deprived plastic companion — and we all know how hard it is being called beautiful. But he doesn’t let that affliction stop him. Ken has a mission, and that’s to get Paul voted out. He’ll soon get that opportunity.
The Millennials win the combined reward/immunity challenge, where tribes have to carry large sandbags across a balance beam before launching smaller sandbags to knock down a stack of puzzle pieces, which then must be reassembled in the correct order. After their victory, the Millennials try to test their luck, asking if they can swap the comfort reward for fishing gear; Jeff lets the Gen Xers decide, and Ken tells them to enjoy their pillows because there can only be one Ken Doll Scuba Edition in Fiji.
Side note: It’s a little disappointing that the Millennials avoided tribal council because after last week’s witchcraft from Michelle, when she was able to sway three votes from Figgy to Mari, the tension at Camp Millennial was bubbling. Zeke is steamed with Hannah, his former nerd ally, who last week spent an eternity trying to decide whom to vote for — a predicament many Americans will face next month. He didn’t want to hear her excuses even though she insisted on telling him, repeatedly. Adam is also on the outs of what he calls “Dumbass Island” (Mark Burnett’s original draft title for the show) and tries appealing to Hannah and Michaela’s senses by explaining to them how tight the Cool Kids foursome is. Alas, we will have to wait, because first, a pirate must walk the plank.
Returning to Gen X beach after the challenge, the six-strong majority alliance is dead set on voting out CeCe. In a rare moment of awareness, Paul acknowledges how fast things can shift in Survivor, but is pretty confident that CeCe will be leaving in a unanimous vote. Chris and Bret share his confidence, and Chris says he won’t be sad to see CeCe go — he’s a lawyer, and compassion is not required. The whole alliance seems to be onboard until Paul does a Paul thing and tries to put Jessica and Sunday’s worries about an all-guys alliance at ease by saying, “If the guys asked me for that, I’d tell ya ladies, you’re on your own.” Which is awfully kind of him but also incredibly stupid. Instead of calming the women’s concerns, Paul increases them, and a pow-wow among Jessica, Sunday, and Lucy, who is apparently a contestant this season, has them considering removing the bigger threat in Paul.
That’s exactly what happens at tribal council, but not before Jeff forces the season theme down our throats some more, asking which of the Gen Xers text and who still listens to vinyl — Jeff apparently missed the hipster movement, as vinyl record sales are at a 28-year high. Who’d have thought on a tribe that includes a ZZ Top wannabe that Jeff Probst would be the most out of touch? Maybe it’s because he’s ageless and has no generation; he doesn’t understand these things. After some text talk and discussion of whether it’s too early to be flipping on alliances, CeCe is expecting the tribe to say CC U LATER, but instead, Jeff flips over six votes for Paul, much to the confusion of Bret and Chris, and to the jubilation of CeCe, David, and Ken.
Riding the wave of momentum from last week, this episode delivers another shift in dynamics, suggesting that with or without tribe summits or idols or dumb themes, this group of castaways is willing to shake things up to gain an advantage and take out the big threats. And when that’s the mentality of the players, that is when Survivor is at its most fluid and exciting.
Players of the Week
Jessica & Sunday (and Lucy?): They weighed their options and realized that Paul was a bigger threat than CeCe and used the opportunity to vote with the outsiders (CeCe, David, and Ken) to make a big move.
Ken: He continued to prove his worth to the tribe by catching fish and kicked up his strategic game by pointing out Paul’s flaws to the women of the tribe.
Michelle: I’m not sure she did much this week, but, come on, her move last week has put her alliance firmly in the majority on the Millennials tribe, and she seems to be calling the shots (she named Zeke as the next target).
Who are your Players of the Week? Sad to see Paul go? Let us know in the comments below.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.