Recap video and review of Survivor: Caramoan – Episode 2 – Honey Badger:
This week’s episode of Survivor: Caramoan was very much an episode of two disparate halves: the first seemed to focus exclusively on the shiftless lunacy of Phillip Sheppard and Brandon Hantz on the Favorites tribe, and on the self-absorbed brand of crazy Shamar contributes to the Fans tribe. It’s amusing yet borderline insufferable, at times, as the first half of the episode seems to indulge, if not luxuriate, in the highly-volatile craziness of some of this season’s players. But the second half of the episode is among the most fascinating of the game so far, as strategy comes into play in such a way that the foregone conclusion of tonight’s tribal council became less obvious as the night wore on, and new truths came to light. “Honey Badger” represents the best of what Survivor can be when clever people have good enough sense to put aside their personal feelings in service of the game, while also illustrating how players too absorbed in their own superior sense of their own gameplay are often blind to the machinations of the real players they’re competing against.
The crazy comes hot and heavy as Bikal comes back from tribal council. Brandon takes Francesca’s elimination as some kind of personal affront to him, for reasons that can only be attributed to the Hantz nephew being several screws short of a hardware store. Never minding that this is an absurd position to take, Brandon takes it a step further by taking Dawn to task for the eviction. Seriously, DAWN! That was such a random targeting on Brandon’s part, as he just tears into her for her supposed dishonesty, saying that the decision will prevent her (and her alliance) from winning the game. You know, the sooner Brandon realizes that the decision had absolutely nothing to do with him, the better off he’ll be; although he’d probably then take offense that the decision had nothing to do with him. Brandon, on a scary adrenaline kick, starts talking about how he feels his Uncle Russell’s spirit flowing through him, to where now he feels like playing the kind of scorched earth game that has made “Hantz” a household name (completely missing the point that even Russell, at his worst, still had a modicum of restraint in his gameplay). Brandon is one of the scarier figures in recent Survivor history – there’s always this sense that he’s teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown at all times, to the point that I have no idea how he would have passed the routine psych evaluation necessary to make the show. Cochran reflects this opinion when he observes that Brandon has a murderer’s mood swings, going from violent rage to eerie pleasantness in no time flat. He adds that it’s exactly this brand of mercurial volatility that makes him such a dangerous presence in the game – not because he’s any kind of strategic threat, but because at any moment he just might decide to ruin whatever carefully laid plans an alliance has in store, for no other reason than “Hey, why not?” Brandon proves the point by confessing to Cochran that, following Francesca’s elimination, he considered sabotaging the entire tribe, blowing up alliances and throwing challenges left and right. “Honey Badger” (so named because Brandon compares himself to one at the start of the episode) presents the question of whose instability is more troubling/harmful to the group: Brandon’s or Phillip’s?
For my money, Phillip’s self-important madness isn’t anywhere near as troubling as Brandon’s, but it does present a certain element of unpredictability that could make it difficult to play the game with him. Here’s a man who’s basically playing a Boston Rob tribute game, taking on the Godfather role Rob played in Survivor: Redemption Island, and appropriating much of his tactics. But much like Brandon fundamentally misunderstands how much more extensive his uncle’s play-style was, Phillip doesn’t seem to realize that Rob’s gameplay was much more nuanced than simply being “the boss”. Phillip can give his tribemates all the nicknames he wants, and try to make them all feel like one big stealthy family, but that doesn’t mean that any of them feel an inherent attachment to him. With Rob, however, he not only made each person feel like part of a cohesive unit, he also made each person feel, individually, as if they were vital to him – not just as a part of his game, but as a human being. Phillip is only approximating Rob’s play style, and while it’s working for now, he’s not really laying any sort of loyal foundation. People respected Rob, but we aren’t given the sense that anyone actually respects Phillip beyond what he can provide for them in the game. He’s a means to an end for many of these people. If we get a tribal shuffle in the next three or four weeks, will any of these people still be loyal to Phillip?
Of course, I’m only extrapolating from what we’re shown. And Phillip IS certainly amusing (I really can’t remember the last time anyone directly looked into and addressed the camera on Survivor, if anyone ever has). His nicknames for each member of his newly-reformed Stealth R’ Us:
Phillip: The Specialist
Malcolm: The Enforcer
Cochran: The Intelligence Attaché
Andrea: The Eliminator
Corinne: The Dominatrix
Dawn: True Grit
While Malcolm admits that this is all a bit silly, he’ll go along with it now if it’ll get him further in the game, though if he has to remain in Stealth R’ Us until the end, he says he’d rather just be shot now. Can’t say I’d blame him, even if Phillip seems relatively harmless this week. And hey, I really can’t argue with the challenge acumen of the Favorites. They absolutely decimate the Fans in the reward/immunity challenge, in which the teams are competing for fishing equipment in addition to immunity.
The challenge involves half of the tribe pulling the other half of the tribe out to sea on a dolly to a station set up in the water. Once there, each member of the team must go underwater, one-at-a-time, and loosen several bamboo sticks, releasing individual rings that will then be tossed onto one of three poles back on shore. First tribe to score all three rings wins. The Favorites get an early lead and never really lose it, as the Fans are too busy making a mess of their attempts to release the rings. They gain a little bit at the end, but it’s not enough to stop the Favorites from thoroughly embarrassing the poor Fans, and it’s off to tribal council for them.
And this is where the episode picks up, as Reynold calls Shamar out for his lousy attitude. Apparently, he spends more than half of each day sleeping or just sitting around, taking the Gervase Peterson approach to Survivor gameplay, believing that he doesn’t need to actually contribute. Shamar feels that his laid back, care-free attitude will resonate well once people see he’s not actually playing the game. Of course, this begs the question of whether this supposed “fan” has ever actually seen Survivor before, because he proceeds to shout Reynold down, calling him childish despite Reynold bringing up several valid points about Shamar’s openly-hostile, frequently disrespectful attitude. As Reynold heads off into the forest to gather wood with Eddie, Shamar loudly tells them to “shut up” when they try to make it apparent that they’re not going to discuss strategy, they’re simply going to gather the wood he was too lazy to gather himself.
It would seem like a foregone conclusion that Shamar would be going home, except that the other tribe has a distinct numbers advantage. The six-person majority turns its attentions to Allie, of Reynold’s Cool Kids alliance, as Laura recognizes that she’s really the only blonde in that alliance who’s actually thinking. Complicating matters for Reynold, strangely enough, is his discovery of a hidden immunity idol (and seriously now, if you’re not going to bother to hide the thing, what are they even out there for? Reynold himself said he hadn’t even been looking that long!). Reynold tucks it into his pants, but Laura sees a bulge in his pocket as he dresses for tribal council. This leads to everything coming out at tribal, as Laura looks directly at Reynold when suggesting that she perhaps saw the hint of a hidden immunity idol in someone’s pants. Reynold comes clean and reveals that he has, in fact, discovered the hidden idol. He then turns it around on Laura, saying that he planned to keep it a secret so that his tribe could use it once they got down to a merge, so they would have an advantage against the Favorites. He then blames her for ruining that plan for everybody, in one of the episode’s most baffling moments. I mean, it’s one thing for him to have done such a crummy job concealing the idol (hey Reynold, I know you think your body’s hot s*** and you want everyone to see it, but maybe don’t get dressed in front of people next time), but it’s quite another thing for him to have kept the idol a secret from his alliance. In fact, if word of the idol had actually gotten out, Shamar might have been the obvious boot instead of a member of Reynold’s own alliance. But now he’s got to live with the numbers game going from “workable” to “practically insurmountable” as Allie gets voted out, and Reynold is left with a defeated “Well, f***” expression etched across his face. And all that, after bluffing that he would play the idol just to have it over with. Reynold might not be long for this world unless the Fans start winning some challenges.
“Honey Badger” is about as exciting as Survivor gets, full of sound strategic gameplay from some, and laughable hubris from others. This is already shaping up to be one of the better seasons in recent Survivor history, and I’m genuinely excited for next week to see how the Favorites handle a potential Brandon Hantz meltdown.