Tonight’s Survivor: Philippines was a study in paranoia, almost all of it justified in one way or another. “Create A Little Chaos” sees each tribe with anywhere between one and three players who are fearful of its position in the game, believing their head to be on the proverbial chopping block. Though, in the game world, little more than a week has passed, the game is already shaping around the escalating paranoia of people without alliances, and of those whose alliances weren’t anywhere near as rock solid as they initially thought. Though the first half of the episode is fairly dry business, the immunity challenge is a real nail-biter, and its outcome ignites some genuinely fascinating drama.
Matsing loses again. In other news, the sky is blue, water is wet, and the humor of Dennis Miller is dry. The losing streak persists unabated, and yet, what a hell of an immunity challenge. The contest involved a mud-soaked obstacle course topped with a dollop of pot-smashing. It’s a three-person relay, and Kalabaw and Tandang each choose to sit out their women, in a decision that justifies the earlier paranoia of Kalabaw’s women, who sense an all-male alliance and decide to stick together when the inevitable merge comes. Matsing, to their credit, give it a hell of a go, keeping neck-and-neck with the other tribes, and though Tandang reclaims their winning ways, the race for second place is maddeningly close. As soon as Malcolm smashes a pat, Jeff is there with an answer of his own, and vice-versa, until each are down to one last pot. Malcolm shoots, and misses. Jeff shoots…and misses. And then each man makes one last, desperate throw. Malcolm misses again, while Jeff’s connects, but only tips the pot. In a slow motion shot that would have been corny if the moment hadn’t been so fraught with tension, we see the pot teeter, and then smash when the sling connects on the rebound. Matsing loses yet again.
Trigger yet another accompanying meltdown from Russell. He shouts about the BS nature of their loss, and gets into an argument with God over why this keeps happening to them. Probst then has an exchange with Russell, questioning why he seems to think of himself as a superhero that isn’t supposed to fail, when he’s just a man. And hey, even if he was a superhero, Probst argues, Superman had his bad days here and there. Russell’s complete breakdown is gripping in its own right, but it saps the episode of the rest of its drama, since there’s essentially no possibility of anyone else going home but the buck-passing returning castaway.
Malcolm and Denise try to make Russell feel like he’s the swing vote deciding who goes home so that he doesn’t feel the need to play any hidden immunity idols he might happen to have. Russell has been searching for the idol with his clue, but nothing has turned up just yet, and the strength of Denise and Malcolm’s reassurances leave Russell feeling he doesn’t need it anyway. Of course, even with the inevitability of Russell’s eviction, a lot of salient points are raised at Tribal Council. Russell states that Malcolm will be a challenge threat once the game becomes an individual one, while both Russel and Malcolm argue that Denise is the biggest social threat in the game, since the jury would go out of its way to give her a million dollars (with Russell adding, in probably his first humorous, likable moment in the series, that some of the jurors would probably write her a check themselves to make her winnings tax-free). These are all well-observed points to make, and I appreciate that these are things that are being considered, even in the face of constant challenge defeats, since it’s heartening to see players who understand that the game is not a sprint but a marathon.
But here’s the thing: when you’re on a tribe suffering from a massive losing streak, and you’re down to only three people, and you’ve been given no indication that a merge is forthcoming, then there are other concerns than whittling down the number of people who could potentially win the game. Sometimes, you have to just think about surviving. And that’s where Russell failed, because he never once offers a reason, in any of his arguments, as to why Malcolm or Denise should keep him. He never explains what he brings to the table, and his insecurity immediately presents a detriment to the health of the tribe, since his challenge acumen in no way offsets his negative attitude. Normally, attitude wouldn’t matter much at the tribal stage of the competition, provided you’re useful, whether as a provider, as a challenge performer, or as a strategic linchpin. But, for all intents and purposes, Russell isn’t any of those things. And there’s the added issue of already being pit against a tight alliance of two, so the task of staying in the game was immediately going to be harder for Russell than most. But it wasn’t impossible. Yet his self-worth is so inflated that it blinded him to how thoroughly he was being snowed by Malcolm and Denise. It’s the least surprising elimination so far, and it was even less surprising that Russell didn’t see it coming (claiming he felt “blindsided” in his exit interview), and still less surprising that he didn’t once look back at his former tribemates at any point from getting up to leave to getting his torch snuffed. I can’t imagine Russell took it any other way than as an offensive personal slight. You really shouldn’t take this game personally if want to last. Thus, he didn’t.
The rest of the episode is pretty by-the-numbers. Abi-Maria continues to display signs of craziness, taking RC to task over the immunity idol clue falling out of her bag. I really don’t get what the argument was even about, since it’s a silly thing to get mad over. I suppose the implication is that RC must have been digging around through Abi’s things, which I guess would explain why Abi got so upset. But even then, it feels like she’s making a mountain out of a molehill, especially since she’s in a better position in the game than RC. RC, for her part, has no idea how the clue got there, and she’s come to realize just how dramatically the roles have been reversed in the past several days, where she went from being the head of her alliance to an outsider in no time whatsoever. RC’s frustration, as it turns out, has been orchestrated by Pete, who planted the clue in her bag, knowing that Abi would flip out about it. He claims that this is part of his divide-and-conquer style plan, in which he states he has to “create a little chaos” to keep control of his game, because, as Pete declares, “I don’t want anyone to be able to play their game. I want them to play my game.”
Over at Kalabaw, Carter (the other guy on Kalabaw who isn’t Jeff or Penner) commits to the Jeff-Penner alliance, realizing he won’t make it far in the game otherwise. Meanwhile, Jeff, after making a weak four-finger handshake agreement with Penner last week, recommits to the alliance with a full-on shake of the hand. Back at camp, the women realize that the men have been gone fishing for way too long, and surmise that the men are discussing them. And so Dana puts forth the idea that the women form an alliance of their own. It remains to be seen how these two conflicting alliances, divided straight down gender lines, will plan out, but if I know anything about Survivor, a tribe shuffle should be coming sooner rather than later. That could muddy up the waters in some of these alliances, if not all of them.
“Create A Little Chaos” is boilerplate Survivor, but it furthers the narrative of paranoia that this season has elaborated upon with each episode. Some players are beginning to really step up to the plate while others falter, and it should create an interesting contrast in play styles as the season progresses.