27 days in captivity with the contestants and this is what we have learned about the Survivor: Gabon this season thus far:
• This has been a season of blindsides. And not just this, but, in true safari style, some of the victims have been big lions. Ace the mastermind, the sometime British-accented guru: gone. Marcus, the ringmaster doctor who felt he could sway anyone with a wave of a hand: gone. And last week, it was Charlie, the lawyer from New York, who was also as self confident as Marcus, and was possibly in a bro-mance with him, and was trying to call the shots on Fang with evil Corinne: gone. Not that the remaining players are all weaklings, because they’re not. But there is some kind of triumphalism in that comparative weaklings like Susie and Ken, and especially Crystal are moving past the established players.
• Randy is an extremely evil, possibly amoral player with few, if any, scruples. There really is no excuse or explanation for his rancor. He detests Crystal for being a woman, for being dumb and weak, and possibly for being black. Last week he called her “Sasquatch”, which took some of her teammates by surprise. Randy does not appear to have any friends and he just admitted last week that it’s been 10 years since he danced with a girl. But what I want to know is this: what does it take to be so instrumentally and vocally evil that you will yell and pick fights with others and believe still that others won’t come after you?
• Corinne is extremely evil, but she is also stupid in being so blind to forces around her. She hates Susie. Susie tossed out her main alliance partner, Marcus. She still hates Susie. Susie helped vote out her remaining partner, Charlie. Corinne appears to believe Gabon is a corporate board room where she is taking no prisoners and bellowing orders to underlings. What possesses her to say, unbelievably, when she and her tribe see that Marcus is gone that “He didn’t deserve to go”. The gall of her pristine sheltered WASP existence! How does one say these things out loud? And to say them to Ken, Crystal and Susie especially, as if to almost chastise them. Ken wasn’t having it. “Who does deserve to go?”, he barked. True ‘dat. Kudos to him for trying to put her in her place, because Corinne and her erstwhile partner Charlie were positively shocked that their golden boy had been ousted. Corinne simply wanted to throw her weight and declare something son absurd —the idea that someone like a Marcus, because of his good looks and personality maybe or even good genes, was somehow immune from this game and its treacheries, just because he could. And that a relatively weak player like Susie, with her genteel darker skin, was a more disposable player. Corinne got exposed for her idiotic remarks and sometime soon she will get her comeuppance.
• That Jeff Probst hasn’t lost his edge with the snarkiness. Fresh off an Emmy victory this fall as Best Reality Series Host, he seems to relish not just the witty play-by-plays he does as players are falling all over themselves in sometimes violent physical challenges. He especially loves to get his digs in and gently humiliate the players, especially those who have it coming to them. He relished seeing the reaction of Corinne and Charlie especially at the sight of the new Marcus-less tribe, and he had to keep digging in at them about their visible shock. Probst is adept at playing people off each other. His experience as the host of “Survivor” also informs how he knows how each player thinks: allying themselves too soon, playing under the radar, taking on the role of leader, being perceived as too strong, and pretty much reading into their lines. His skills are most pronounced during Tribal Council.Probst just adores poking the contestants about whatever is a sensitive point. Why did he pick on Matty and Randy this past week about their most bizarre interplay during the Immunity Challenge in which Randy yelled angrily at Matty to get him to make an easy shot, prompting a visibly shaken Matty to tell him to shut up? Clearly Randy did not want to lose an easy challenge, but he also wasn’t skilled enough physically to match Matty. But Matty also didn’t want to be overpowered by him either. (It would have been funny if they missed the easy golf shot, though.) Probst gets under your skin because he wants to expose what the contestants usually don’t want to say. And sometimes, when Probst plays it right, all he needs to do is expose the scab, and simply step back and allow all that bile to flow.
• Ken is one bad ass player. Remember that look he made during the Tribal Council session the week Marcus was tossed out? Remember that fierce, almost predatory face he made, as if he was ready to pounce on someone? Well, he appears to be in some kind of alliance with people who have thus far been successful at slaying those big tigers I just mentioned. It’s becoming clear that he means business because while he is less adept at the physical challenges, he more than makes up in mental ability. He focuses when he needs to, and he gives off a whiff of vulnerability but will strike you in your tracks when you least expect it. The hidden power he has is that few expect him to do much and still more don’t perceive him as a threat –yet.
• Sugar and her secret Immunity Idol don’t equal much suspense quite yet. For some reason, even while she was under the Mephistophelian spell of Ace, we really haven’t seen much of her mostly because she was always sent to Exile Island. And once she found the idol, all she could do was eat tropical fruit. True, she ended up backstabbing Ace, and she does believe that she was hoodwinked into doing this by Ken. But where’s the assertiveness or nastiness of Sugar? She now seems close to Matty, who was also in cahoots with Ace. I don’t know why this is, but she probably expects that she would one day use the leverage she has (remember that Ken, Crystal, Susie and Matty know she has the idol but the others don’t) to carry him along. She seems one Kleenex away from turning on the waterworks. She is emotionally brittle. She adds absolutely nothing in the physical challenges. For all her kewpie doll looks, however, Sugar is still a cipher.
• Matty is a god. Really he is. He isn’t quite aware of it, I don’t think, but he is one of the most assuming players who has seemed to gradually get stronger and stronger each week. No longer in the shadow of stronger players like Marcus or even Dan, he has been allowed to surpass his own tribe members in mental and physical agility. That doesn’t sound like much but here’s what’s significant: he has not been involved in any real treacherous or nasty alliance making or lying/backstabbing to get him to where he is. His only liability appears to be that his new-found strength will expose him more as a threat because he keeps winning challenges.
• Bob the Physics Teacher is one of the most creative players, perhaps of all time. Sent to Exile Island, he thinks he has found something called the idol, but then he puts together some kind of craft-like idol necklace that would win first place in most high school arts and crafts competitions. Really, it’s very cool. Problem is, uh, it is not the idol.
• Merges are a powerful way of solidifying things among the contestants and of motivating them as well. It was a huge relief to everyone involved when Jeff announced, before the Individual Immunity Challenge, that the teams were now as one, as he tossed them new blue buffs. They had to go back to camp and concoct a new name. For now, it’s simply “Merged Tribe”. But now with Kota and Fang no longer separate tribes, the contestants can at least feel that whatever calamity, whatever issue, whatever nagging doubts or mistrusts, they will now be able to go through it together. Randy hates Crystal, it’s true. But as the final vote showed, he can’t simply count on his own former tribe to do this because what he doesn’t know is that Crystal has some allies on her side. Randy, in all his blinded anger, also doesn’t know that this same alliance knocked out Ace and Marcus, who, maybe a dozen days ago, were sure things in this competition. And guess what? They struck once again –sending Charlie home too. Charlie will now join Marcus, and he can’t be all that unhappy anyways. He gets to frolic inside the Jury house with his strapping manfriend. And next week, when Tribal Council convenes, they will be a giggling twosome.
• Do not underestimate Susie. Don’t count her out for any reason.You will do this at your own peril. She proved that not only can she start a fire –the Immunity Challenge—faster than anyone, but she is also humble in victory and doesn’t have to stick it in everyone’s face, even Corinne, who was every bit as angry that this woman of color won something. Oh and next week? Yeah, Corinne, start worrying and be prepared to join your old alliance of Marcus and Charlie.
Week 8 Reward Challenge Winner: Fang, despite Randy’s anger
Reward: A Night of Food and Dance in a Gabonese village
Immunity Challenge Winner: Susie the Firestarter
Player of the Week: Matty