Survivor

Survivor: Caramoan – Recap: Drop Your Bluffs

Recap and review of Survivor: Caramoan – Episode 9 – Cut Off The Head Of The Snake:

If it wasn’t evident before tonight, “Cut Off the Head of the Snake” made it clear: perhaps more than any other season in recent memory, Survivor: Caramoan is populated with a high-functioning class of strategists. Usually, in recent years, it feels like you only have about half a handful of people who actually seem to know what they’re doing, as it concerns the strategic portion of the game. Yet with this season, you have deals within deals, like a Russian nesting doll of duplicity. That element of the game makes this episode one of the best of the season, as it completely subverts what we expect to happen at Tribal Council, even though it was hard to know exactly what to expect in the first place.

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

The big point of interest is Malcolm’s attempt to form a solid core alliance in the wake of the blindside on Corinne. To do this, he tries to get Dawn on his side with himself, Eddie, Reynold, Michael and Sherri. He also tries to rope Andrea into this tenuously built alliance, and it seems, at the start of the episode, that it might work. Malcolm assumes that Stealth R Us is planning on splitting the votes between Eddie and Reynold, so rationalizes that he’ll be able to use this split to accumulate enough votes to eliminate Andrea, since Malcolm surmises that she’s really the one making the calls in Stealth R Us. And in many respects, he’s right. At least about the rationale that it isn’t Phillip who’s doing the shot-calling. But what Malcolm doesn’t really recognize is that the brains behind Stealth R Us isn’t just Andrea, it’s a coalition of Andrea, Dawn and Cochran (who amusingly shoots down a “bro” alliance with Reynold’s goons while on a reward victory with him, Eddie, Erik and Michael). Malcolm doesn’t realize what a bad idea it is to try and get someone like Dawn to flip, as she’s far too emotional about the game, which makes for a combustible element when you need to actually be able to rely on someone. Malcolm gets Reynold to show Dawn his idol so she’ll know he’s not kidding around, and so Dawn agrees to jump ship to Malcolm’s alliance.

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

But then things get properly out of control. Stealth R Us had been planning on blindsiding Malcolm, since they don’t believe he has the idol, and he also failed to win immunity (Brenda was the victor, holding her breath the longest while under a metal grating at high tide). However, Eddie has been flirting with Andrea, and has gone as far as to promise her his vote. When Andrea and Eddie have a meet-up before Tribal Council to discuss voting plans, Eddie lets slip that not only could Reynold possibly have an idol, but her name has also come up as a possible boot candidate. This sends Andrea into disarray, as she has a massive panic attack over the possibility of going home. She tries to get her alliance to vote for someone safe, namely Michael. Multiple Tribal Councils have proven that he doesn’t have the idol, so she feels that it’s pretty much a no-brainer to dump him. What’s funny about this is that Andrea doesn’t recognize that Malcolm’s alliance doesn’t actually have the votes to get rid of her — in fact, Andrea’s fear that Malcolm and co. could vote her out seems predicated on the notion that Stealth R Us is actually planning to split the votes between Eddie and Reynold. And she should know that’s not the case, as it was merely a ruse to lull Malcolm into a false sense of security before blindsiding him. But Andrea’s panic has unmoored her, and it’s this panic that brings her into conflict with Dawn. Dawn is furious with Andrea because she feels if they don’t stay the course, their entire plan will fall to pieces. As she always does, Dawn begins to cry. Her tears, coupled with Dawn’s certainty that Malcolm doesn’t have the idol, so the blowback won’t send her packing, convinces Andrea to stay the course and pick off Malcolm.

Credit: Greg Gayne/CBS

This leads us into one of the best Tribal Councils in recent memory. Probst talks about strategy, prompting Phillip to reveal that Sherri is a double agent for Stealth R Us, with Sherri stating that she joined the organization in retaliation for Eddie and Reynold writing her name down back in their old tribe. This revelation prompts Phillip to continue extolling the virtues of Stealth R Us, and of his own gameplay in Survivor: Redemption Island. In detailing these exploits, Phillip lets slip that the person who they will be voting for tonight probably thinks he’s safe, and that this person probably thinks he’s about to spring some genius plan into action that will turn the game on its head. However, Phillip says that, little does this person know, Stealth R Us is about to flush them out. It isn’t until later that we learn how carefully chosen this wording is.

Credit: CBS

Credit: CBS

The castaways vote, and when Probst comes back to read the names, he asks if anyone has an idol they would like to play. And this is when the magic happens. Reynold gets up to play his idol, but Malcolm stops him. Malcolm says that everything Phillip just said was obviously about him, and so he pleads with Reynold to give him his idol, since Reynold is clearly safe. And what do you know? Reynold actually gives it to him! This is all the more incredible because Malcolm actually has an idol of his own that he could have played, yet Malcolm is running his alliance so effectively that he’s won the unquestioned trust of the people beneath him. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in 25 seasons of Survivor. And I was completely ready to see this brilliant bit of gameplay culminate in the blindside of a Stealth R Us member.

Yet that isn’t what happened. At all.

Probst reads the votes: Reynold gets one vote, Andrea gets three, and Michael gets the rest. Malcolm got Reynold to play an idol that Malcolm didn’t even need! It was a long con by Stealth R Us, using the word “flush” to trick whomever had the idol into thinking, at the last moment, that his or her head was on the chopping block. While they couldn’t have predicted that Reynold would give Malcolm his idol, they ultimately succeeded in flushing out the hidden immunity idol. Of course, little do they know that there’s still another idol in play, and it belongs to Public Enemy #1. No one in the game knows Malcolm has the idol, now that Corinne is gone, as Malcolm hasn’t told a soul. And I don’t see how he can now, without losing Reynold’s loyalty for getting him to play an idol when Malcolm already had one of his own. But I’m sure Reynold can sleep easy knowing that he’d have wasted his idol anyway.

This was one of the best episodes of Survivor this season. Hell, I’d go as far as to say it was THE best, full-stop. You don’t see this kind of high-functioning strategy every season. God help me, but Stealth R Us might be one of the most effective alliances in the history of the game. That said, the final vote actually proved Malcolm’s point about Andrea: she very well could be the one running the show, far more so than either Dawn or Cochran, as she actually got the seven people in her alliance to go along with her last-minute panic vote. And the extent of Andrea’s influence proves to be one of the bigger revelations of the episode, in my opinion, as I don’t think we could have expected just how much power Andrea actually wields.

Sure, we didn’t see the particulars of how she made tonight’s magic happen, but the fact that the vote got switched from Malcolm to Michael is indicative of the reach of Andrea’s power. Now that Michael is the first member of the jury, I wonder if Andrea already has a mark against winning the million, since Michael seemed pretty bitter about getting booted, calling the remaining castaways “turkeys” before flipping them off and “farting” in their general direction. The closer we get to the end, the more vitriolic things are going to get, I’d imagine. Yet, for Michael to hold his ouster against Andrea, he’d have to know she organized it. And like the best strategist, I feel like Andrea ultimately kept her hands clean on this one, as she allows it to appear as though Phillip is running the show. Somebody tell Phillip that the heir apparent to Boston Rob’s strategic legacy from Survivor: Redemption Island is actually the petite blonde sitting next to him.

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