Photo: CBS

Playing Dirty

Mud gets slung, literally and figuratively, in the most entertaining episode of the season.

I was wondering earlier today whether I would give this season of Survivor a "Skip" or a "Watch" as a whole. It's had its moments, but there's also been a lot of disappointingly bad strategy from almost everyone, and an inevitable-seeming winner who didn't play particularly well, so I was leaning "Skip." But now, in the eleventh hour, comes an episode of Survivor so entertaining that it has me leaning toward a season "Watch" again. This episode has everything: smart strategy, terrible strategy, angry skeletons, mud wallowing, llama impressions...seriously, just watch the whole thing.

Post-Tribal

In the shelter that night, Spencer asks Woo and Kass why they would unnecessarily propose the vote-Tony-and-Trish plan when they could have just straightforwardly voted Tasha out; Kass says that lying is part of the game, and Tony says that they were just toying with him. Spencer interviews that Tony has been playing the other three like a fiddle and that his only hope is the fact that those three don't understand the game much. It's hard to argue with that.

The next day, Tony and Woo are canoeing and discussing strategy. Tony suggests that the two of them plus Kass would make a good final three. Woo tells him about the way Kass and Spencer approached him with a plan to vote him out last week. Tony tells Woo that he has loyalty and integrity, and then interviews that he hates that he's going to have to eventually blindside Woo because he could potentially win a few jury votes. So his plan, assuming a final three, includes Trish and Kass, as it should. And while I'd argue that Woo's best final-three opponents would also be Trish and Kass, I can't fault him too much for thinking that he could potentially beat Tony, though I don't believe that to be the case myself. So far, episode strategies: solid.

Reward Challenge

An oldie and a goodie: wallow in a mud pit, run back and scrape the mud into a bucket, repeat, for 10 minutes. Normally this challenge goes to the person with the longest hair, so I figure Woo, who also has some muscle mass left, is the likeliest winner. Nope: bald Tony surprises me by winning it handily. He chooses "Anorexia" (his term for Trish) to go with him on the pizza reward. Anyway, if you don't enjoy this challenge, I don't even know what to tell you. I mean, LOOK at the photo on this page. That's just pure entertainment, right there.

Camp Life

Kass interviews that Tony and Trish are very attached and that "no one in the game should have that much power," forgetting all the times she's had the chance to do something about that and chosen not to. Spencer makes the barest of metaphors by interviewing that Tony winning and taking Trish along is like what's happening in the game. Wow, deep.
The pizza (from "Cagayan Crispy Crust Pizza," according to the boxes; no product placement this time!) gets wolfed down by Tony, grossing out the delicate flower that is Trish. They discuss that Spencer has to go, and then Trish asks him about his idols. He tells her that he can use one now and one next time, then interviews that he hopes he can get people to believe that lie. Hmm. That actually has a chance of working, if there's not a more immediate need to use both idols this time. Interestingly, one of the things he should be considering is whether Jeff will blow the lid off this plan at Tribal by publicly announcing that Super-Idol has to be used now. My guess is that since Tony fits the alpha-male stereotype that Probst loves to see win, he won't say a word. So, a tentative backing for Tony's plan here, for once. Trish and Tony confirm that they want Kass as their third and that Woo should go after Spencer.

Later, Tony goes up to Kass and makes one of his biggest strategic mistakes to date, which is really saying something: he's honest with her. He tells her that he wants to be in the final three with her and Trish, and that Woo told him all about her plot to oust him, but he forgives her and wants her to feel 100% comfortable with him. Oh, Tony, Tony, Tony. Do you not understand Kass's ego at all yet? Even if that's precisely the final three arrangement she wants, which it almost certainly is, she is not going to take well to you acting like you have control over her; remember, she's already told you that she's tired of your condescending attitude. And indeed, she interviews that Tony is acting like a "Mafia boss," and says that if she is going to sit against Tony in the finals, she has to make sure that his reputation is thoroughly trashed first. Which...is true. If Trish is a nonentity in the final three and Tony becomes so hated by the jury that they ignore his gameplay moves, Kass might have a chance at earning some votes. She and the hashtag both refer to her as "Chaos Kass" again, earning my first eye-roll of the episode.

Kass then plays Tony beautifully. (Dammit, Kass, stop making me give you credit.) She goes to Woo and tells him that Tony told her about the boat conversation, which he nervously denies. Tony walks up and Kass says to him that Woo denied the conversation. Lunkhead Tony has no idea what to do, so he does the worst possible thing, which is to go off on Kass while admitting in front of Woo that he did in fact make a secret final-three pact with Kass and Trish. Kass once again does not lose her temper, speaking calmly and rationally, which sends Tony off the deep end; he eventually asks whether she would understand llama speech, following that with an impression of uncertain accuracy but unquestionable entertainment value. He interviews that Kass is "an insult to this game" (Survivor-to-English Translator: "didn't do what I wanted") and that "she's done" (Translator: "see I'm done with him from last week").

Later, Woo, Kass, and Spencer have a discussion where Kass mentions that Tony swore on his wife and baby girl that their final-three pact was in effect. Woo appears to weigh this heavily, and I have to say, it's nice to see this whole dumb "swearing on my ___" thing boomeranging for once. Woo says that it probably wouldn't make good strategic sense for Tony to take him to the finals, given his own good reputation with the jury. Spencer spells out the math: if he went next, Trish and Tony would largely be able to decide which of Kass and Woo went with them, and they'd probably pick Kass. Since Tony's idol collection keeps him safe, they decide that taking out Trish this time would force Tony to take at least one decent opponent to the finals. Given that they need to get rid of Trish to have any chance of toppling Tony later, this is pretty sensible strategy, though most of all for Spencer.

Trish overhears the plan and interviews that she's offended. Oh, who cares. Spencer interviews that though these conversations are promising for him, he knows he still really has to win immunity.

Immunity Challenge

It's a four-part puzzle challenge. First they have to untangle ropes by sliding around some blocks that they're attached to, releasing a key; then they use that key to unlock a Box Of Puzzle Pieces (stepbrother to the Bags) and put those pieces into a ladder; then they climb the ladder and make a second ladder by fitting steps onto pegs; then they climb that ladder and solve a sliding-block puzzle. Tony gets an early lead and extends it, getting to the final stage while Spencer is still a full stage back and everyone else is further back yet. Tony maneuvers the sliding blocks quickly but with no strategy. Sorry, but why would you go on this show without learning how to solve sliding block puzzles first? You're extremely unlikely to luck into a solution by just slamming pieces around.
Spencer catches up, ponders the puzzle, and solves it quickly, winning immunity. If you're counting, that means that each of the last six immunity challenges has been won by Spencer or Tasha.

Scramblin'

The minute they all return to camp, Trish asks Kass why she would discuss voting her out when she was just a few feet away. Kass claims that she knew Trish could overhear her, which makes no sense to me: if that was actually Kass's plan, why would she want Trish to know about it? Perhaps it was just to cause Chaos! Trish goes on to talk about how Kass likes to stir things up and then sit back and act like an innocent victim. While I'm certainly no great fan of Kass, I can't recall having seen that particular behavior; in fact, her ego demands that she own her moves. Trish goes on to call Kass "vicious" and "cruel" and...what the hell, seriously. Could I please order Trish in vitriol-free flavor? She refers to Kass's "big ugly bleep grin," but is topped by Kass's interview where she says that an angry Trish looks like Skeletor, and...yep.

Tony and Trish desperately try to get Woo with them to vote out Kass. Tony fast-talks in the obvious way he does when he's trying to pull a fast one. Woo asks whether Tony did in fact swear on his wife and child that he had a final-three pact with Kass; he says that he did, but then says that THAT swearing didn't mean anything, and NOW he's swearing to Woo that Kass is done, and he's doing it on his wife and...uh...his dead father. Yeah, that should be much more valid an irrelevant promise than his wife and kid, right?

Tony interviews that Kass is horrible at Survivor because why would she blab all this stuff unless she was planning to blindside him? I think Tony does not understand the meaning of the word "blindside," though I grant that may be partly because Jeff has been stretching the definition of that word over the years.

Woo tells Kass that he's in for the Trish boot. Kass interviews that she's nervous because he's occasionally said he would do something and then not done so. Oh, sister, are you KIDDING me with this. Spencer joins in the conversation, which Tony nervously watches from behind a bush, since his SpyShacks are not portable. Tony later tells Woo "I need you" rather than telling Woo why Woo should need him, but this is the last thing we see go into Woo's ears, so hey, it might work.

Of course, the other thing Tony could do would be to give one of his idols to Trish, forcing the Kass boot. Given that that's a sure thing, whereas the successful bluff about Super-Idol next week is far from it, that would seem the clear move here.

Tribal Council

The jury enters, and Tasha looks beautiful (as does Jeremiah, for REAL). The discussion starts out with a rehash of the Kass/Trish conflict; Kass uses the terms "wild skeleton blue-eyed banshee" and "her capacity for hatred" and "psycho bitch," while Trish gets out "troublemaker" and "agitator" and "victim," so point: Kass. Trish claims that she hasn't had conflicts with anyone other than Kass; I have a feeling Lindsey would dispute that claim.
Tony...oh, where to even start with this speech. He admits that he had a final-three pact with each of Kass and Woo, tries to brush it off, acts as if "delusional young lady" Kass is the one with no strategy even when she explains precisely how her plan worked, and then he reprises the llama impression. Props to Kass: she wanted to make Tony look bad in front of the jury, and boy did she do that. Then Tony reveals both idols, putting the normal one on his lap and putting Super-Idol around his neck, saying that he "won't disclose...at this time" how he'll use that one later. Tony never fails to win the Eye-Rolling Comment of the Week Award.

People vote. Spencer refers to the Trish/Kass conflict as a "catfight," proving that his snarky "estrogen" comment in an earlier episode was not an isolated instance of sexism.

Snuff!

Tony plays the normal idol and keeps Super-Idol. Trish goes home; surprisingly, it's 4-1. What I read into that: Woo told Tony his decision. Tony decided there was some benefit in going with the group; I'm not sure what it is, but I am 110% certain that he will expound on it at the beginning of next week's episode. I do wonder if that vote could have just lost him Trish's vote in the end, though, given the value she puts on loyalty. (Also, as Trish says "good luck" and walks off, Kass flips her the bird. Goodwill feelings toward Kass: faaaaading.)

Verdict

No need to repeat myself. This one's a keeper.

Almost all readers liked this episode
What did you think?