‘Survivor: Worlds Apart’ Review: Sometimes Being a Super Fan Doesn’t Always Help
Recap and review of Survivor: Worlds Apart – Episodes 4 and 5 – Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner; We’re Finally Playing Some Survivor:
This week’s double-episode of Survivor: Worlds Apart was fascinating, but for different reasons than I expected it to be. “Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner” and “We’re Finally Playing Some Survivor” are interesting for their twists and turns, but what got me most was the way in which these episodes illustrate that the social/strategic aspect of Survivor can be extremely difficult even for people who know the game’s ins and outs.
As with any game, being in the game is far different than observing it. And actually playing it in the moment is leagues different from Monday Morning Quarterbacking it. You can know every single stitch of gameplay inside and out, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to know your ass from a hole in the ground once you get out there. This is what happened to Max, who was the second of two eliminations in tonight’s two-hour show, and he really only has himself to blame. Okay, well, it’s not his fault that the tribe shuffle separated him from the rest of his alliance, leaving him with one divisive ally (Shirin) and one ally who wasn’t really an ally at all (Carolyn). But one of the instrumental concerns of a game like this is how to not only manage your own game, but manage others’ as well. Max can’t manage Shirin, but he can manage being in an alliance with her. Had he been able to read the attitudes around camp, he might have been able to tell that his own public image was suffering by association, and he could have distanced himself from her as a result. But he doesn’t, and it comes back to bite him. When it comes time for the new Nagarote (Max, Carolyn, Shirin, Kelly, Will, Jenn, and Hali) to vote, everyone wants to get rid of Shirin, but they realize that they’d never be able to get Shirin to vote against Max. So the safer course of action is to simply blindside Max, since there’s no real expectation that Shirin is going to be able to ally with anyone else, since she’s such an agitating figure around camp. It’s a toxic association that gets Max eliminated, and in that sense, these episodes serve as a sort of deconstruction of the “Survivor megafan”.
Max reminds me a bit of Cochran during Survivor: South Pacific. Here, Max is the guy who knows a ton about Survivor, but who’s so awed by the experience of being on Survivor that he essentially forgets everything he knows about how a strategist ought to be playing (look no further than his comment to Probst at tribal council, in which he wastes everyone’s time by pretending he has a hidden idol, just because he always wanted to say “Hold up” to Probst). I mean, really, anybody who knows as much about Survivor as Max wouldn’t keep 1) yapping and yapping, to the agitation of his entire tribe, and 2) going off on his own so often, leaving everyone time to plot against him. Max assumes that his alliance with Shirin is enough, and that Carolyn will do the work of securing Kelly’s vote to make them a tight foursome against the three No Collars with whom they’re sharing tribe space. But Max should have been trying to make those alliances himself, instead of delegating the responsibility to Carolyn. At the very least, he should have been keeping an eye on Carolyn and touching base to make sure the plan to vote out Will was on track. But he doesn’t, and it costs him. Of course, as a Survivor megafan myself, I could yap all day about the game, but I recognize that it’s a far different thing to play the game than it is to write about it, since we viewers are privy to information the players aren’t, to confessionals and alternate takes and the whole nine yards. So it’s easy to say “so and so should have done this,” but sometimes, it really is easier said than done. However, that shouldn’t absolve castaways from lousy gameplay, especially when they’re contestants who should know better.
Case in point, Dan. In the first episode of the night, the blue collar tribe ends up going to tribal council for the first time, and although it seems as though Rodney’s sexist attitudes will get him blindsides, it’s Lindsey who gets booted after Kelly, Mike, Dan and Rodney remain firm in their four-person alliance. This leaves Sierra on the outs. Mike tries to play damage control by telling Sierra that he hated leaving her out of the loop, especially since their voting plan required sending two votes Sierra’s way just in case Lindsey had an idol. The three-way tie that resulted allowed Mike’s group to eliminate Lindsey without trouble on a revote, since Sierra was never the target. But that doesn’t really help her feel any better, particularly since Lindsey was her closest ally. So Mike does his best to specify that she’s still an important part of their plans, moving forward. But Dan takes it a bit too far by being overly condescending in assuring Sierra that she’s viewed as an “asset”. It’s like he’s talking to a child, as he tries way too damn hard to convince her that he’s not going to blindside her once she’s no longer of any use to him. This gets even worse later when the tribe swap leaves Mike, Rodney, and Dan with Sierra on the new Escameca, alongside Joaquin, Joe, and Tyler. Sierra is essentially the swing vote between a new alliance, and an old alliance that recently proved they don’t value her all that much. So Mike approaches Dan about apologizing to Sierra for his actions, since they really do need her if they’re going to keep the numbers. But Dan thinks Mike has no idea what he’s talking about, since he’s half his age and hasn’t spoken to nearly as many women.
So Dan decides he’s going to talk to Sierra his way — which basically involves trying to make it seem like they were both at fault for how they acted. Objectively, Sierra isn’t wrong for being mad they voted out her ally, and she’s certainly not wrong for exploring her options with the other three people in their new tribe. But Dan flips out on her, which has the net result of sending her over into the arms of the other alliance. On the one hand, Dan ends up being lucky that Escameca wins immunity (actually, a bit more than lucky, since Dan’s one-man wrecking ball routine basically won them the challenge in a total pushover). On the other hand, as a self-avowed super fan, Dan apparently has no working understanding of the social nuances the game requires. In fact, the only person who impressed me this week more than Kelly (who soldiered on in a reward challenge despite getting her head bloodied due to Dan’s negligence) was Mike — and not just because he skinned and ate a snake, keeping his streak of eating potentially venomous things alive. The dude simply hustled like crazy to try and keep his alliance intact, noting in a confessional that Dan needs to keep his mouth shut to avoid alienating people, since this game is about social connections. I may have written Mike off too soon, and all in favor of propping up super fans like Max and Dan. This episode illustrated that was probably a big mistake on my part. Hell, some of the best players ever weren’t really huge fans of the show before they played (Parvati Shallow, for one). Regardless, this pair of episodes made things far more interesting, owing to the three-way tie that resulted in Lindsey’s ouster, the tribe swap, and the Max blindside. This was a crazy night of Survivor, and it made for two really fun hours of TV.
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