Recap and review of Survivor: Caramoan – Episode 10 – Zipping Over The Cuckoo’s Nest:
Not since Parvati’s double idol play on Heroes vs. Villains has Survivor delivered a tribal council of this intensity. And I’m not just saying that because Phillip Sheppard finally, thankfully, mercifully went home. No, this was one of the most exciting, satisfying tribal councils of all-time, and it’s all the more exceptional for coming at the end of an episode that was rich with strategic maneuvering and double-play. Let’s just dig into “Zipping Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, the best episode of Survivor: Caramoan this season.
The editors did an exceptional job concealing some of the mystery behind the developments this week. The big meltdown from Dawn at the start of the episode throws doubt on whether Dawn is really all that valued as a member of Stealth R Us. When Phillip Sheppard is calling you crazy, you know you’ve probably had one meltdown too many. And really, Dawn’s breakdown was over the loss of her retainer, which contained two teeth she’d lost over the course of the game. She opened her mouth to get a scoop of water, and the retainer fell in and disappeared below the grimy deep. Enter Brenda, who dives in and retrieves the lost retainer, remedying the situation and earning what might be only her second confessional this season, as she vows to always look after Dawn. Yet Cochran and Phillip still float Dawn as a possibility for elimination. Dawn, for her part, grows paranoid of her position in the game and begins working Cochran and Phillip to get rid of Andrea, since she’s been palling around with Malcolm, Eddie and Reynold, as of late. What’s amusing about this is that Erik has arguably been more visible as a friend of Malcolm, Eddie and Reynold, yet no one sees him as the kind of guy with game smarts, so his loyalty is never called into question. This will become somewhat important later (though, really, it has greater implications for the game going forward, as opposed to just tonight’s episode).
The reward challenge is a perfunctory obstacle course in which the ten remaining Survivors are split into two teams of five. It’s really only interesting in how it continues to further Cochran’s idea that his a “challenge monster,” as he happens to be on the winning team, earning a resort getaway. The immunity challenge, however, is where things begin to turn against Stealth R Us. They go into the challenge with the objective of keeping Reynold from winning immunity, since the plan is to vote him out next, as it’s obvious that Reynold no longer has an idol to play. Yet the challenge, in which the castaways must swim beneath a deck and recover rings to hang on the post above, plays right into Reynold’s strengths. Worse yet, the challenge triggers memories of an old childhood trauma in Phillip, as he’d once gotten caught below a deck as a young boy, and nearly drowned. Phillip elects to sit the challenge out, a decision that eliminates one of the stronger competitors of Stealth R Us (seriously, while he likely wouldn’t have won the challenge anyway, Phillip is severely underrated as a challenge threat). The race ultimately comes down to Malcolm and Reynold, with Reynold coming out on top and screwing the best laid plans of Stealth R Us.
Back at camp, everybody is scrambling. Malcolm knows he’ll have to play an idol tonight, but he doesn’t want it to have to be his idol, so he sets about looking for another idol on their beach. Yet because they’re paranoid too, Andrea and Dawn join in the search. This means that they’re present when Malcolm just so happens to find another hidden immunity idol. Or is it another? We can’t be sure that he found this idol, or if he simply pretended to find the idol he already had, and this is why the editing is genius, since we’re never given a confessional that reveals the truth, one way or the other. Malcolm shows Andrea and Dawn his idol, and they report Malcolm’s findings back to Phillip. From there, the plan is to split the vote between Eddie and Malcolm, in the unlikely event that Malcolm opts not to play the idol. And like that, the entire status of Stealth R Us is up in the air.
Needless to say, at tribal council, things officially gets real. Probst interviews Stealth R Us, who reveal that they’re voting Eddie, even though it’s not something they want to have to do. They would much rather vote for Malcolm or Reynold. However, Reynold winning immunity and Malcolm finding another idol has forced their hand. As if on cue, Malcolm, who’d been wearing the hidden immunity idol around his neck, produces a second hidden immunity idol! He really had found a second idol out in the woods, and he’s using the second idol to give Eddie protection. The goofy, dumbfounded, gloriously stoked look on Eddie’s face is second only to the “We’re screwed” looks on the faces of Stealth R Us. Andrea is near tears, assuming that now she’s certain to go home. W
hile Probst talks the move through with Malcolm, Stealth R Us is already chatting with one another, floating out different possible names (“Andrea” and “Phillip” are the prevailing possibilities). Malcolm takes the opportunity to soapbox about how Phillip has taken the fun out of the game by turning it into “basic training,” and says that they’ll be voting for Phillip, and it’s up to the others to either vote with them or against them since, if only for just this vote, they have control. And now we’re left with a series of questions headed into the vote: Who will Stealth R Us vote for? And will Malcolm and Eddie actually play their idols, or are they simply threatening to play them? This latter point is brought up by Erik, who proves himself to be far more attuned to the processes of Survivor than many are giving him credit for, and he’s also much deeper entrenched in the “Three Amigos” alliance than many are suspecting. Thus, it’s not really a surprise when he proves to be the only member of Stealth R Us to vote with Malcolm, Eddie and Reynold. The rest stay the course by splitting the vote between Eddie and Malcolm, desperately pinning their hopes on the possibility that one or both might not actually play their idols. But, after a short tease from Malcolm, they both do. None of the votes against Malcolm or Eddie count, and the four votes against Phillip are enough to rid us of The Specialist.
I go back and forth on whether it was smart of Malcolm to reveal the second hidden idol before the vote, or if he’d have been better served waiting until votes were cast. Ultimately, I think Malcolm made a genius move bringing out the second idol before the vote, as it threw Stealth R Us into disarray and revealed, to a certain extent, the pecking order of the alliance. Moreover, it forced the hand of at least one member of that alliance (Erik) into voting with them, as it was the fourth vote that Erik provided that gave them the numbers they needed to get rid of Phillip. If he’d waited until after the vote, they still would have gotten rid of Phillip, but they wouldn’t have gotten that crucial fourth vote on their side. Erik hopping onboard to form a solid four strengthens the numbers of the Three Amigos alliance, and it only takes one more person to give them a majority in a group of nine. Malcolm deserves a berth in the Survivor Hall of Fame (oh, it exists) for this, as he’s now opened up channels to completely change the dynamic among the fractured Stealth R Us alliance.
“Zipping Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is, without question, the best episode of Survivor this season, and that tribal council may go down as one of the best in the history of the series. It’s rare that we have this many players functioning at this high a level, much less one at the level of Malcolm. Say what you will about his personality, but that man knows Survivor.
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