‘Survivor: Second Chance’ Review: ‘What’s the Beef?’ Draws Line Between Loyalty and Strength
Recap and review of Survivor: Second Chance – Episode 4 – What’s the Beef?:
Survivor: Second Chance is a game of constant change. Hell, Chaos Kass said as much herself this week, noting that the person who wins this season will be the person who embraces evolution. Some people, like Kass and Jeremy, are taking their strategies to new places. But for every person who’s evolved, there are several who seem far worse off on this second playthrough. “What’s the Beef?” explores the positions of those two players, Woo and Varner, by making this the tale of loyalty vs. strength.
Of course, boiling it down to this thematic conflict is a bit simplistic, since it’s about a lot more than just loyalty vs. strength. Rather, this is a tale about a tribe in dysfunction. Really, there was no freaking reason whatsoever that Angkor should have lost immunity after having won a massive food reward. But despite their stomachs being filled with grilled sausages and veggies, the tale of the three-way immunity challenge was how Angkor lost energy towards the end of the challenge, so much so that they barely stood a chance of finishing before second-place finisher Ta Keo. Ultimately, the real reason they lost had a lot more to do with the miscommunication and disharmony within the Angkor camp. For instance, they only really won reward because it was a “Hero Challenge,” in which each tribe selected one person to run the entire course. The group selected Savage, who took a measured approach by conserving energy, racing out into the water to retrieve his bags, and then walking back to the plank in order to launch them into a basket overhead. If the immunity challenge had been similarly independent, Savage might very well have kept his group out of tribal council. However, this week’s immunity challenge was the notorious blindfolded puzzle piece-gathering challenge. The miscommunication between caller and camp led to a host of injuries for all the tribes, but particularly for Angkor, which saw Tasha getting smashed between two puzzle pieces. She let out a scream that was either a gross overreaction, or the blood-curdling pain of a person on her last leg. Either way, Angkor blew it, and Varner was right at the center of the controversy.
The difficulty faced by a player like Varner comes not from his inability to make social connections — which he did, even if they didn’t carry him far enough — but rather from trying to overcome his reputation as a strategically savvy player. I’m not sure how much Varner’s tribemates remembered about him going in, since he played way the hell back in Season 2, but even from watching Varner for a few episodes, it seemed as though he had dealings with everyone. Varner was a hustler, and he wasn’t exactly subtle about it either. And while a play style like that can certainly work — hell, Tony Vlachos won Survivor: Cagayan on a variation of this strategy — it’s a much harder game to pull off among second-time players. Loyalty is the name of the game on a second chance season, and so it is here, although it’s hard to say that Woo is anymore dependable than Varner, honestly. Sure, he’s a guy who lives by a code of honor — a code that, famously, cost him a million dollars against Tony in Cagayan — but his physical strength makes him a clearer threat than a man like Varner would have been. If Woo gets to the merge, his innate likability could put him in a swing vote position, as I could imagine multiple alliances trying to court him. It could end up being a repeat of Cagayan, with Woo potentially being savvy enough this time to avoid taking a Tony-like player to the end. In short, despite the advantages he presents to the tribal portion of the game, Woo’s physicality and social acumen makes him an imminent threat, should he make it to the individual stage of this game. Then again, the argument could also be made that Woo should be ditched because of his code of honor: will he do what’s necessary to help his alliance get farther in the game, or will he be so yoked to the notion of playing honorably that he’ll end up making things harder on Angkor than they have to be? Basically, there are arguments to be made on each side: Varner isn’t a physical threat, but he can’t exactly be trusted; Woo can likely be trusted, but he’s a major physical threat. Going into tribal council tonight, I felt like there was genuine mystery over which contestant would leave, and that’s a quality reserved for some of the best tribal councils.
Naturally, this tribal council was no different, as things quickly got explosive, with Varner arguing for the elimination of Woo, while Woo made the plea that he could be trusted, and would remain loyal to the Angkor four. Caught in the middle of all this is Abi-Maria, who seemed to have all the power here. On the one hand, Tasha was worried that Abi’s volatility would render her unpredictable and dangerous. On the other hand, they need Abi to maintain the numbers. And, ultmately, Abi wanted Woo gone for having written her name down twice. So it seemed, for a moment, that Woo would end up going home as the result of a long-held grudge. But the savviest players are the ones who can keep personal animosity out of the larger logic of the vote. Whether Woo was the right person to save or not, Abi was able to put her personal feelings aside and vote with her tribe, which shows tremendous growth on her part, considering she’s someone who doesn’t always react well when she doesn’t get her way. She makes statements for why she wants to keep both men, saying that Woo will be a bigger challenge asset, whereas Varner would be a better strategic ally, and it makes sense that she would want to vocalize this sentiment, since it didn’t seem as though she was entirely convinced of which way she was going to go until it was actually time to vote. Abi and Woo have been at odds from the start, whereas Varner allied with her when no one else would. But Survivor is a game where it’s important to know when to cut your losses. There was really no salvaging Varner, from how little his tribe trusted him. Woo’s plea to Abi that he would remain loyal, made right before Jeff Probst announced it was time to vote, was a nice gesture but redundant. Varner’s fate was already sealed.
All told, I think Angkor made the right choice for right now, although I’m not entirely sure if saving Woo was the best pick for longterm, particularly if we have another tribe shuffle in the offing. Regardless, things should begin heating up sooner rather than later, as several contestants are showing a willingness to play cunningly. Jeremy is choosing to hide the hidden immunity idol from top ally Stephen, while Spencer is throwing Kelly Wiglesworth under the bus to keep himself safe if/when Bayon goes to tribal council, telling his tribemates that Kelly has countless allies in the other two tribes (a lie that Monica, smartly, opts not to believe, considering how hard Spencer is trying to sell it). Meanwhile, Kass is endearing herself to Kelley Wentworth back on Ta Keo by making her a birthday gift. This was a bit of a risk, since it was instantly misinterpreted as Kass crafting a fake immunity idol, but it’s a ploy that all seemed to have worked out, provided Kelley actually bought Kass’s sincerity. In short, everyone is making moves, and preparing for the future of the game. That alone added significantly to the subtle drama of “What’s the Beef?”, as Survivor: Second Chance begins kicking it into high gear.
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