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Survivor's Latest Challenge Commemorates March Sadness

A basketball challenge appeals to the resident former NBA player, a dynamic tribal council appeals to strategy wonks, and the rest appeals to pretty much nobody.

The Tais That Bind

Sometimes the mood's somber when tribes hike back from Tribal Council, and sometimes the air is full of celebration when they vote out someone particularly heinous. But this time around, the focus is less on who they've lost and more on who they're happy to have kept around: namely, Tai. Everyone loves Tai. They want to keep him around as long as possible -- or at least as long as it takes to kill the chicken and prepare it Vietnamese-style.

Peter, now eager to prove that he's more than just a Brain, decides that Tai is such a great little dude he should be the first guy Peter lets in on his big plan to vote out Joe, the tribe's token old guy. Tai just smiles and nods.

Buoy-sketball

Nickbot 3000 says that underneath his humanlike rictus of a smile (which he's absolutely certain is fooling everyone into thinking he's not a cyborg), he's running millions of calculations per second and figuring out how to fit in. Verdict: he needs to reach out and connect to people.

Nick and Debbie have struck up a friendship, he says, as they hike out to tree mail together. It's just a matter of figuring out what people need, and in Debbie's case, what she needs is a good listening ear. So much the better if that listening ear is also attached to a pair of chiseled abs and some damn fine cheekbones, right? Debbie does admire Nick's angular good looks (since she used to be a model, among the nine thousand other things she used to be -- chemist, military, dog groomer, Red Lobster server), but she says it's not going to distract her from the big picture.

Tree mail reveals that the reward challenge is going to involve shooting baskets in some fashion. Scot's going to be the basket man for Yellow Team, of course, but Blue Team's not worried, since they have Nick. Over several shots of Nick throwing up total bricks, he says his high school basketball experience pales next to Scot's NBA record, but he won't go down without a fight.

The reward challenge is an oldie but a goodie, in which the basketballs are buoys that must be retrieved from the water. The winning tribe gets a picnic of bread, meats, cheeses, and multicolored sodas. There's also a big bowl of tuna salad, which already appears to have been out in the sun for long enough to resurrect last season's hashtag of #SevereGastrointestinalDistress.

Michele has some trouble getting the buoys out of their net, which means Team Yellow takes a little bit of an early lead. It doesn't help that Yellow, obviously, has Scot Pollard shooting baskets. While Nick puts up a pretty good hustle, it's not quite good enough, and Yellow wins the feast.

Bro, You're Gonna Carry That Weight A Long Time

Over sandwiches, Julia -- who's now joined Team Yellow -- gets to know everyone. Peter pounces: Joe or Aubry is the target. Julia smiles and nods -- she's on board with anything, she says, as long as it's not her. Meanwhile, Joe and Aubry observe the scheming and talk a little trash about Peter, whom they definitely would have voted out had it not been for last week’s tribe swap, and who they wish they could get rid of now.

The losing tribe congratulates each other about their good effort. Michele blames herself for losing the challenge, and while there's a stab at "noooo, you're fine, we still like you," it's pretty half-assed. She reaches out to Debbie, who seems to be everyone's best option out there these days, and Debbie gives Michele the same speech she gave Cydney about wanting the women to stick together. They agree that Jason is a prime target.

Nick disagrees: "You are definitely the target," he tells Michele condescendingly. He adds that everyone's just telling her what she wants to hear. In confessionals, he says that manipulating someone so young and malleable is a cakewalk for a genius like him, and that she has no idea it's happening. In confessionals, Michele says that coming across as young and malleable is pretty much exactly her plan, and while she can't stand the way Nick talks to her -- "I don't need to be carried, bro" -- she'll let him think he's controlling her for as long as he's useful.

You Blockhead!

Peter and Scot chat strategy. Joe thinks Peter's probably talking about voting for him, since he's been on that train since Day 1, but he decides to go to the source to find out for sure. He asks for an explanation so many times, and so rapidly, that at first Peter couldn't answer the question if he wanted to. His answer is unsatisfactory, naturally, and to my great disappointment, after Joe demands the truth for the eleventy-billionth time, he doesn't retort "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!"

Immunity is your garden-variety obstacle-course-and-puzzle scenario, this time including a component where the Survivors have to knock blocks out of a canopy and then stack them all up in a very tall tower. Joe takes some blocks to the head, but he insists he's okay despite the blood streaming down his face. Once Blue Team secures immunity, Probst insists Joe needs to go visit medical anyway, though Joe still seems unperturbed by both the immunity loss and the blood loss. Peter's the obvious target, he says, so it's not a big deal to go to Tribal Council.

Peter's Game Peters Out

Aubry reluctantly admits that it's not a good idea to get rid of Peter, since it gives Scot, Tai, and Aubry the numbers. Plus, without Peter, the target will likely fall on one of the two of them. They decide on Julia.

Scot, Tai, and Aubry don't think much of the plan to keep Peter. They'd rather get Joe and Aubry to see the light. Aubry's fairly tight-lipped about her plans, which makes Tai realize that they might just have to vote for Julia to save their own skins.

At Tribal Council, Julia highlights the schism between Brain and Not Brain. Aubry highlights Peter's tendency to scheme and plot. There's a little whispering and cross-talking mid-council between Scot and Julia, and between Joe and Aubry, and between Scot and Aubry, to the point where Aubry appears to lose the thread entirely. She's got no idea who it's going to be, and she spends a long time deliberating in the voting booth before eventually voting for Julia...

...but at the last minute, apparently, she crosses it out in favor of voting Peter, who now exits the game in a 4-2 vote. He has some spiteful and smug words about integrity in his parting words, of course.

Verdict

Pretty much the entirety of this episode is paint-by-numbers Survivor, without even the levity of a couple of well-timed ball jokes to make things more entertaining. There are some obstacle courses, some puzzles, some not-totally-appetizing food rewards, some effective plotting, and some ineffective plotting.

Fortunately, in the action leading up to Tribal Council, things get at least a little bit interesting. It's impossible to tell who's going home based on who's talking to whom about what, and Jeff Probst's usual grill session doesn't do much to illuminate the situation. It's always hard to tell exactly how often Tribal Council cross-talk actually affects the outcome of the game, but in this case, the outcome is more suspenseful than most. So, you know, give the last ten minutes a shot, but give the rest a pass.

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