Just How Phony Is Survivor?

For the record, I predicted before the episode aired that the Survivor producers would furnish another immunity idol for Malcolm to find last night. This hardly qualifies me to hang out a Madame Buntsky shingle, since it's only slightly more surprising than a Tribal Council taking place; the show has long made clear its preference for "challenge monsters" like Malcolm, versus those who might win via strategy -- or worse, merely flying under the radar without pissing anyone off long enough to take home the million.

All this by way of saying that you could definitely -- and repeatedly -- sense the interfering hand of Burnett Probst LLC in "Come Over to the Dark Side," but the real question isn't how phony Survivor got this week. It's why. The manipulation was blatant; I just don't think I get what was being manipulated towards.

A few examples:

  • The Survivor auction ordinarily provides nifty insight into human behavior, but last night, it seemed rigged from the jump. Brenda, who had dissolved into tears earlier in the episode because she's so hungry, bids big money and gets pig brains. Andrea, meanwhile, is on borrowed time as a threatening member of the (then) dominant Favorites alliance; she gets the chance to play the hero by trading a plate of spaghetti for rice and beans the whole tribe can eat. At the end of the auction, Eddie just happens to bid on a giant bowl of peanut butter the entire group can use to protein-ize. Not a coincidence.
  • Nor, in my opinion, is it a coincidence that Malcolm bid on what he thought was food, but was an idol clue only he got to read. The My Three Sons voting bloc should have disintegrated weeks ago, and the double-idol play last week saved them in the short-term, but it meant the overdue end of the line -- not a result the producers want, as it's both anti-Malcolm and too predictable.
  • But then it gets hinky, because Cochran -- also an audience favorite, I'd say -- also gets a game advantage. We don't find out what it is until he does, at the elimination challenge…
  • …which is a physical game (hold onto a weighted rope as long as you can using the knots provided; every few minutes, you have to go down a knot, making it tougher), so it would seem to favor Malcolm et al., and Probst is rooting openly for Eddie when it gets down to the end…
  • …but Cochran can go two knots back up whenever he likes, so he wins. So the producers put their thumbs on the Cochran scale, right?
  • Not so fast. Malcolm is up before sunrise to hunt around for the idol, and from what we hear of the clue, it's just a matter of following directions. Like, literally it's "go here, turn left, start digging." Survivors never get up early of their own volition, so a PA clearly went and woke him up to better his chances. So they're in the tank for Malcolm, then.
  • Nnnnnot so fast! Another PA apparently woke Andrea and Cochran at the same time, because they zombie over to where Malcolm is looking around, and just sit there, cockblocking him from the idol. It's a great idea; if it was their idea, I'll eat my hat.
  • Also, ostensibly because of "the numbers" but really because the show apparently heard me and every other viewer asking, "What's an Erik?", like, every week, all of a sudden Erik is a key swing voter. Enjoy it, kid, because next week they'll be telling Sherri what to do instead.

In the end, after a three-way tie, Malcolm got (re-)voted off at last. He could see it coming, and didn't take it personally, which is exactly why he had to go -- not just physically strong, but smart and likeable -- and headed off with a shrug and an "I need a drink." I need to see how Survivor rigs the game from here on out.

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