US Survivor S15- China (2007)

As COVID-19 continues and there is no new Survivor on the horizon, I’ve resumed my rewatch of Survivor seasons I’ve missed. And I’m now up to China.

Overall this was a pretty fantastic season. However there wasn’t really anything that stood out- none of the characters were incredible, none of the moves were jaw dropping, none of the challenges were astounding, none of the moments were historical (even if they seemed so at the time). But while it didn’t perform spectacularly in any area, it did perform well above average in every area.

I also wonder if this version of Survivor was the TV show Burnett et al had intended to make- a cool show with some great people and some great moves and some interesting twists on an incredible scenic/cultural backdrop.

Going in I knew the big moment was the James blindside where he went home with two idols, a first in Survivor history. But viewed through a modern lens it’s actually a fairly uninteresting event. So many people get blindsided with idols and most of them are more switched on than James. And given the immunity challenges that followed the blindside I doubt James would have gone on enough of a run to get to the end without being voted out. And even if he did get to the end people pretty clearly didn’t like or respect him enough to want him to win.

Anyway, lets plough through the episode-by-episode notes I have (I wrote them down so might as well) and maybe I’ll have some thoughts at the end

Episode 1

Love that the intro sequence gave a full run down of the players and their names, makes it much easier to find out who they all are compared to the modern seasons where we seem to not have heard from some people halfway through and don’t know half the people voted off. Also interesting that they go through their professions too… although the sheer number of ‘models’ in the cast perhaps hints at why they don’t do this anymore. Is hardly a game with ‘people from all walks of life’ when 2/3 of every cast is an aspiring actor/model from LA. Was also pretty cool seeing some of their transport/travel to location. Although I wonder if they were allowed to speak to each other while hanging out on the train.

Really liked how there was only 16 people, which is four less than recent seasons. A return to the OG format (if only also a Final 2). I feel they basically cut out the four least interesting and stupid potential players, raising the overall average and letting us see/hear form them all without the bloated cast number.

The Busddhist ceremony thing to start with was great. As a general overall note, the China culutral stuff they built into this season was fantastic across the board. Was a mix of bemused and annoyed at the christian lady who wouldn’t do the welcome ceremony. Seems really selfish (and also a terrible game move).

Even stranger/dumber was all the people not dressing for the occasion. Surely there’s been enough seasons to know that you dress with the gear you want/need to wear in game. No excuse for the huge number of people in the cast wearing other shit and getting cuaght out e.g. a person wearing crazxy boot, a person in high heels, a lady not wearing a bra.

Conversely, found it funny that they producers gave both tribes, it appears, a copy of ‘The Art of War’ to read. I guess for them to fill in downtime.

Watching years afterwards, is pretty ominous that I recognise four of the people on the red tribe and zero of the people on the yellow tribe.

It’s crazy that the first challenge, for reward/immunity, is on Day 3. Two whole days of people having to survive and deal with strangers before the chance to earn food or vote anyone out. Only possible because of the smaller cast, would never happen today. Conbversely another thing that wouldn’t happen was the losing tribe gets given flint by Jeff after the vote. Fairly sure it’s a rule that you have to earn flint through either winning a challnege or making fire without flint.

Also pretty clear they are casting for archetypes here- Chicken is a Rudy/Big Tom clone, Todd is a rafe/Ian clone, there’s a Ciririe clone who’s name I’ve forgotten, Eric is an Ethan clone. And speking of Chicken- his weird yell whne he gets voted out first (after not contirbuing to camp)

Starts with Dave volunteering to be the leader. After discussion in prior epidose, this epeisode and all of Survivor about how you don’t want to be the elader as that gets you voted out. Moron.

Episode 2

Especially when you go crazy and become more of a dictator with no consenus on decision you make.

But somehow Dave isn’t even the worst player witht he worst strategy, with Jean-Robert (genre-bear) having the stratgey of deliberatley making everyone hat him by being obnoiuous an dunhelpful and an ass so that he can then turn it around and be an ‘improved person’ to make them like him. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t go well as he is voted out “just before the turning point” post-merge.

The reward challenge was an absolute curbstomp. Can’t remember what exactly it was but apparently it had mud and was super lopsided. I suspect Yellow Tribe voting out one of their physically stronger players in Chicken was not helpful. Especially as the red tribe can sit out their much weaker players like Courtney.

Is actually interesting to try figure out what was happening with these initial tribes. Were assigned by Production with apparently little effort to balance them. But on closer look it appears that there was perhaps some sort of experiment on where the extremes of the spectrum (e.g. James vs Courtney) on one tribe while the other tribe was more centralised/less variant. Given how much the tribe of extremes dominated, the experiment was never repeated.

(I guess it’s worth tangenting here to comment how much a players starting tribe affects their chances in the game. Fat chance of Courtney getting second place if she’d been on the yellow tribe (spoilers I guess). Or “Queen” Sandra winning twice if her initial tribe lost any of the initial challenges. I think people in the fan (and player) community general underesimate how important your starting hand is. Winners at War’s entire pre-merge in general showed how much tribe allocations, both pre and post-swap, massively benefit and/or fuck players beyond what can be accounted for by those players actions)

The kidnap a losing tribe person is a really cool idea. Am very much a fan of things that let people develop cross-tribe relationships. Is just unfortunate that the way it manifested this season put huge targets on the people who were kidnapped. Most of them were sent home after being kidnapped.

Also weird seeing people be uncertain about whether hidden immunity idols are in play, with the clues the kidnapped person is given to to pass on to someone while visiting the opposing tribe making a single person (well, one person on each tribe) aware they exist. I imagine this is the last season where it was a legit question if idols would or wouldn’t be a thing. With machinations then playing out as they try to find the idols (using some very unhelpful clues) and manage the information about who knows idols exist.

Also early signs that Todd was all over this game with Leslie (crazy christian lady) coming to him to share the incredibly cryptic clue to try and decipher it. They were unsuccessful for several episodes (until Todd got like the 4th or 5th clue) but it showed how early on Todd was working himself into a trusted position. He had a tight three with Amanda and Aaron, with Amanda as a tight 2 within that three. Plus James, Courtney, Jean-Robert floating in and out to be a majority And then Leslie, who wasn’t even in his plans, came to him with idol info. Absolutely dominating the subtle social/strategy. And it had convenient Art-of-War-tie-in with Todd talking about winning the battle before it even begins,

Very funny seeing yellow tribe come back to camp and find the whole place flooded after the rain. Don’t choose to build at the bottom of the hill in the flood plain next to a river rather than the top of the hill where it’s not that.

Was shocked to see the log puzzle I’d praised in Cagayan actually debut in this season… and be a way fucker cooler version. The walls they had to break through and the carvings on the logs were way more intricate and cooler with the China theming. Also the requirement to ‘break through the wall’ with the log seemed a bit looser this time with both teams half breaking the wall and then just pushing through with their bodies.

I must confess that I’m surprised how physical these opening challenges were. With the weakened yellow tribe (made worse by Dave exhausting himself doing camp stuff and Ashley being sick) losing. And they then vote of Ashley on account, losing her large partially uncovered breasts and the WWE cross-promotion Survivor was presumably hoping to use to get ratings.

Also interesting to note that Ashley being sick was a big part of her storyline in the first two eps but it ultimately didn’t appear to be relevant to why she went home (it was very much her personality clash with Dave/everyone). Conversely allegedly Leslie was also super sick which factored into her elimination the next episode (according to press interviews) but was not mentioned once in the show. Dislike how them highlight stuff that doesn’t matter while burying stuff that does.

Also allegedly Jamie, who was kidnapped in this episode and gave Leslie the clue, stole the fishhooks the Red Tribe got as part of their reward to take back to yellow tribe. Surely that’s not allowed.

Episode 3

Is weird seeing it be proudly displayed on the TV edit a tribal attitude that working at camp stuff is bad. In earlier seasons they would hide that stuff… or show it to explain why the person was voted out. Maybe it’s just further burying the yellow tribe so the audience doesn’t like them, but it does show a big culture change since Borneo about what people do and don’t find important. Working at camp was originally super important. In China it’s saving energy for challenges. (And nowadays it’s spending your energy looking for idols in the jungle).

Very awkward post Island of the Idols to see Jean-Robert being a weird creep around the girls on the red tribe. Making them feel very uncomfortable. And similar in the challenge when Dave got naked in an effort to ‘get an edge’ over the other guys, revealing more about himself than he perhaps realised.

The reward challenge was on a build/set of a fake ship which was really cool and impressively built. Less cool was hoe the outcome was determined by Production- they had to do 3v3 wrestling on the boat of men vs women. With red team having OP men and… uhh… UP (underpowered) women. Yellow tribe easily won both women bouts. Red tribe won both men bouts even easier. But because the women went first the yellow tribe won the challenge. Presumably Production liked having the yellow obliteration get paused and this reward victory was followed by a immunity.

Which probably cemented the importance of strategically sitting people out, although I’m sure this was already a known thing. Red team chose to sit out Courtney in reward and had to play her in immunity. And her inability to cut rope with a knife was 100% the reason they lost the immunity challenge. Although I’m not sure if the ‘cant sit out back to back challenges’ rules were fully developed by this point

Also worth noting there was this cool/cringe kung-fu movie edit on this challenge where as people successfully cut through rope they got this freeze frame action shot.

A pretty straight forward elimination of Leslie. She’d been the person Yellow Tribe had kidnapped . A very clever play by Jamie to minimize the spread of knowledge about the idols and clues and build that cross tribe relation. But Todd was more clever in wanting to get rid of Leslie and keeping the knowledge/clues himself. Plus he looked forward based on Leslie’s reports of how much more religious/christian the yellow tribe was as a potential number-flip problem at the Merge of her potentially forming into a Christian Alliance.

Similar further good edit for Todd of him picking out Courtney as a person to keep to not be an individual immunity threat (who edited to look absolutely incompetent in the knife chopping challenge) and Jean-Robert as someone to be an unlikable target to easily rally people against. Although maybe it’s more the lack of any explicit strategy content for other players that clues you in to Todd doing well in this season.

Is also a big miss I feel that people don’t (well, Leslie and Jamie don’t) twig that the idol clues for the two camps are identical… strongly suggesting that the idols are going to be hidden in some sort of spot that is common if not identical in both camps. Which limits the locations massively.

Episode 4

Night challenge! These are so fucking cool in general, need more of them. And this one had them using giant novelty chopsticks to carry flaming balls to set off fireworks. Very “Chinese” themed I guess. But very cool looking when they win by having fireworks go off. And funny seeing so many white people not understand how chopsticks work.

Unfortunately the reward is a bit meh. Some fishing equipment and a lesson from a local fisherman. Very lucky for Red Tribe (who of course won) that Jean Robert randomly could speak some Mandarin and translated for them. Otherwise they would have been fucked in terms of getting the detail about how to use the apparently very complicated fishing net system they’d won.

Meanwhile on the yellow tribe, Dave Cruser is continuing to be insane as he has a near physical alteration with not-Cirie over some shells. So after he is kidnapped by the Red Tribe (and gives Todd more idol clues), he is voted off pretty straight forwardly. Todd/the idols clues appear to be cursed.

Also worth noting the immunity challenge is another thematically cool one- they dressed up in full traditional Chinese warrior armour and used a sling to throw rocks past each other to break vases. So cool to watch, so not good from an OHS perspective.

Episode 5

The episode leads with probably the most fundamentally dumb/broken twist I’ve seen in Survivor…although the more I think about that statement and recent things like EoE and such perhaps not.

Permanent kidnapping instead of a tribe swap. Where both tribes get to steal two random players from the opposite tribe. The only good thing is that the yellow tribe don’t twig that both tribes are getting to steal people and think only they are getting new members. So it was funny seeing them get so happy thinking they’re getting a free boost with the two best physical players in James and Aaron… to then have that dashed when a boat comes to take Frosti and not-Cirie.

Anyway, the reason this is fucked is because the stolen people are then immediately in a minority and are obvious targets to get voted out. Through no fault of their own with no way to stop it- as shown when Peih-Gee and Jamie throw the immunity challenge so they can vote out Aaron.

I’m mildly surprised they didn’t make it a 3-2 swap Red-Yellow to re-even the tribe numbers up and also even up the intra-tribe numbers.

Anyway, PG and Jamie are super obvious in their attempts to throw the challenge, literally throwing away a piece of the puzzle so James couldn’t solve it and stopping mid-puzzle to chat with Jeff. James’ increasing frustration was pretty funny. I’m also pretty sure Jean-Robert was also throwing the swimming portion of the challenge for the red team with how much he interfered with Frosti and kept fucking things up. But it was actually unny seeing Jamie especially not even trying to hide her throwing the challenge… although eventually it got a bit annoying as it was clearly bad gameplay being so obvious given how much it annoyed James and (later on) made it hard for them to convince James to flip to them.

Jeff was very clearly pissed off with the yellow tribe for throwing the challenge. But it surely aligned with some Art of War wisdom of losing a battle to win the war so Production should be over the moon! Initially my reaction was ‘throwing challenges is always a bad thing’ but then literally 5 seconds of thought showed ‘no, in this case throwing the challenge is very good, otherwise Yellow tribe is guaranteed to come into the Merge fucked as a losing Red tribe will just vote out Frosti and/or not-Cirie. But if they throw the next two then they go in 5-5 even’.

Although I do feel sorry for Aaron coz he got fucked by the twist, didn’t make any errors other than being a young, strong male. So was screwed by external forces and had no capacity to recover. Although on the flip side he also got into a great position initially through the external force of random(?) tribe allocation which also wasn’t his ‘fault. So I guess swings and roundabouts.

Episode 6

Starts with a scene where apparently everyone is sleeping… except Todd and Amanda who are strategizing. More pretty blatant editing that the game direction is going to revolve around these two and their plans, with everyone else comparatively being lazy fools who aren’t trying.

Specifically Todd shares with Amanda the idol existence and clues, and with a modern eye it is weird and refreshing seeing the existence of idols be a shock and game changer. Tis only the second season with the current idol format… what heady days 2007 were.

Reward challenge is a search of an abandoned village for puzzle clues, a nice (accidental?) throwback to the mock ‘parachute rescue’ challenge from Borneo where Survivor was still considering playing along with this “shipwrecked” themeing thing.

Also notable that this is, I would say, the first time in Survivor history where winning Reward was more important than winning Immunity. As noted in Epsidoe 3 commentary, sitting out people in the correct challenge is key. But in this cycle winning reward means you get to steal back a person from your old tribe (presuming you choose them, which only an idiot wouldn’t do) to give you idol clues. Then you lose immunity and vote out a person on your tribe from the other tribe. A probably unique confluence of factors that happen to align to make winning reward, losing immunity the objective best scenario and needing to allocate resources accordingly.

Only thing that doesn’t reinfirce this is the reward prize which is a luxury spa day style reward. Which is weirdly early for that type of reward. Normally it’s midway through the Merge… and given the spa didn’t have enough bath tubs for everyone to get one each I really wonder why they went for this reward this early.

Then again, maybe they were deliberaelty wanting to force the hot Amanda and hot Courtney share a hot tub for some promotional shots.

Continuing the Todd is in complete control arc, we see him getting/forcing James into giving him the clues. And after getting them he make the connection the tribes are getting the same clues and this the idols are probably hidden in the same place (big fuck up by Production with this presumed cost-cutting measure).

Frosti is dangerously/comically close to accidentally getting an idol but Todd (and Amanda) manage to flip the very funny scene where Frosti nearly grabs it by accident and then sees Todd grab it (and Amanda stand on it) into them “trusting Frositi” an dhim feeling like he’s been brought into their little group. Clearly not true form the way the edit framed it but convincing for Frosti.

Great follow up from Todd as he uses this clue knowledge to approach various people in his tribe/alliance and using that info to lock them in. In particular the implied threat of having two idols (va James grabbing the yellow tribe idol) on Todd side making it foolish for anyone to flip against Todd. Courtney in particular seemed to be the recipient of that message.

The immunity challnege is, weirdly, a food eating challenge. I;m guessing Production trying to rectify their terrible tribe set up by having non-physical challenges? To try prevent Yellow throwing another challenge. Also weird/disgusting how the promo shots over the traditional chinese food they’re going to have to eat has flies visibly buzzing around and on the food. Keep it clean (and not vaguely racist)

And on the vaguely racist front, both Tribes choose to send their only Asian member (PeeGee and Frosti) to compete first. Super well done there by everyone.

One of the food they eat are BABY TURTLES. Complete WITH SHELL. That’s crazy. Also continuing my suspicion on this challenge Jeff calls a win for Eric on Yellow when he very clearly still has food in his mouth. Normally it has to be a clean/empty mouth. The nature of this challenge puts a lot of power in Jeff and also makes it hard for one person to throw it without being super clear, as evidenced by James trying to lose (as he has two idols and can fuck yellow if they lose and he gets votes) to Denise. But Denise’s inability to expand her palette beyond a 1970s America means she loses even with James trying to have her beat him.

Also a fun moment of irony when Jamie and PeeGeih start criticizing James for appearing to try to throw a challenge. Fair given how much he went them for it, but not fair given they already did it and did it way worse (…or better?).

Anyway, Red tribe lose and in this walk-to-tribal sequence I finally twig to how cool the tribal set is, in particular the walk up the steps the people have to do. Unsure if that’s been shown in previous eps and I just missed it. But it is pretty cool.

Weird how much Sherria (not-Cirie) comes out swinging for JR. It doesn’t make any difference as it’s pretty clear she’s the bigger threat to flip back to Yellow and thus gets voted out. Despite Jeff’s best efforts to try undermine the Red alliance with hsi questions, especially to Courtney about her feeling like she’s on the outs. Which Todd has a great counter to by emphasizing the personal connection he elt they had and how Courtney saying she feels like she’s not in the group hurts him too.

Episode 7

Opening scene of James easily pulling down the second idol that is at chest height is great contrast to Todd barely being able to reach the first one. Presumably James grabbed this idol in the prior cycle and we’re just getting shown it late.

Also some clear foreshadowing by Jeff in the ‘Previously On’ segment where he draws attention to the ‘clear writing’ on the back of the idols that had not been highlighted in prior episodes.

Courtney displays an irritating lack of math skills when it comes to thinking about votes. Feel for Todd. Conversely it is amusing how the people on the Yellow tribe find the random/wrong plaque James pulled down while grabbing the idol and think that maybe it is the idol and James just dropped it and left it behind by getting spooked when people were walking over. Absolutely insane idea.

But there was an excellent/interesting observation by Jamie and co that the plaques that aren’t idols (due to their lack of writing, not that they now about that) do have chinese characters written on their front side. And it would be a classic, really clever move to have the idols sitting in plain sight with ‘immunity’ or ‘idol’ written on them in chinese characters. Unfortunately production isn’t that clever.

So later that night when Jamie and…. Peegee or Eric…. go through James’ bag (which is kind of yuk and I don’t like) when the find the two actual idol plaques they feel pretty convinced that the other plaque they have found is also an idol. Initially I thought it was stupid that they committed to going through James’ bag but then didn’t unwrap the idols out of his pants to get a good look at them. But realistically it was night time and pitch black with no light sources so I dunno if they would have been able to notice any writing on the actual idols which is absent from what they found. And given that darkness they needed to minimise how much they unpacked James’ bag so he wouldn’t notice they’d gone through it. Plus he was, at least according to the edit, close by and coming back when they got up to the pants wrapping on the idols.

But surely it would be weird that, having confirmed that James has two idols in his possession to then think that they’d got a third. That’d maybe imply there was a fourth to keep tribal idol numbers even which is WAY more idols than ever before. Either way it should be setting off alarm bells.

Merge then happens and there is a nice culture demonstration show. That I fast forwarded through coz I didn’t really care.

Which meant I would have been fucked for the first immunity challenge as it was a quiz about what happened at the cultural show. A type of challenge we never see anymore (memory test) but get several times this season. Also the start of an ongoing…. tell? trick?… where whoever the person is who is shown going ‘I’m gonna suck at this ‘ is the person who wins immunity.

Was funny when Jeff rocked up at camp coz a) Denise did not recognize who he was as he came up from the boat pier, b) everyone panicked because Jeff at tribal always means something has gone wrong and c) Jeff got really pissy about how there was no concerted ‘welcome to camp Jeff’ effort.

Honestly this was a weirdly boring Merge episode. I feel merge eps have a reputation of often being a season highlight but this was pretty lame and straight forward. Red has the numbers and the pagoning starts with… uhh… Jamie voted off. Like Red has such an advantage that even with Jean-Robert and Courtney absolutely hating each other they could afford to have Courtney throw a stray vote at Jean-Robert to keep her happy and still have more than enough for a majority vote against Jamie.

Was interesting seeing her play the fake idol but being very clear that she suspected it was fake. First ‘fake idol’ play which is lost in the idol blindside later on.

Also on the JR vs Courtney thing, interesting that JR identifies and expresses the idea that Courtney is a goat to beat at tribal and will now cruise to the end to lose as a non-threat to a better/smarter player. Courtney is not a fan of it. But I vaguely feel this is the first time the concept of a goat being carried has been explicitly articulated on the TV product.

Episode 8

Fun to see the intro sequence get tweaked to give the Merge tribe and then the Jury instead of the original tribes. A clever and nice touch….. in hindsight I wonder if the post-“swap” intro was also tweaked. Didn’t both to check but that’d too be clever I suspect.

Reward challenge is a cool boat sinking one- split into two teams and each team has a person paddle a boat in a small square. The rest of the team then runs around the square trying to splash water into the other teams boat to sink it. Unfortunately given the pretty clear tribe divisions, having a team challenge here was pretty pointless.

Immunity challenge is ANOTHER cool challenge this one a sit and balance on a moving barrel with all the barrels built into this cool snake design. Courtney, weighing approximately 0 kilograms, easily wins this challenge.

Worth noting there that despite James’ reputation for being a challenge beast and strong performance in tribal challenges, post-merge he is pretty terrible at every challenge

Interestingly it seems that Production have replaced the plaques that James took down from the Red Tribe camp (which is now the Merge camp). Which then lets Jean Robert have another couple cracks at removing plaques to look for idols.

Leading to the funniest failed double bluff by JR against first Eric then James. Tries to scare Eric into working with him by hinting he knows where idols are. Eric then blows hat up by telling JR he knows that James has two idols, causing JRs brain to visibly grind to a halt. Later JR ties to bully James into admitting he has two idols while they’re out fishing (hilariously claiming that he and only he was clever enough to figure it out) and James refuses to buckle to the bluff.

JR then decides to try co-ordinate a movement to blindside James with his two idols… which was a plan Todd (and Amanda) were already looking to pull together. But much to Amanda’s chagrin Todd pushed to change the plan to instead go after JR, with Amanda complaining that (to paraphrase) “Todd is all over the place, someone come sup to him and tells him something and he reevaluates his strategy”. This is, of course, the obvious/best thing to do, adapt and change as info comes your way and is the edit laying groundwork for Todd being good and Amanda being not good.

In any event, Todd gets his way and JR goes home in a blindside despite his (JRs) threats of going to actively campaign against Todd if Todd backstabs him (later revealed he said the same thing to multiple other people including at least Amanda but showing just the Todd scene make for better TV story in the finale)

Also note that in the ‘Next Time’ on Survivor segment ends with the reveal that after the vote next episode there is some sort of twist revealed by Jeff. Exciting!

Episode 9

The bouncing drum challenge is pretty cool. Although the red team with James and PeeGee were absolutely terrible, which appeared to maybe be due to how they allocated the varying drums amongst the team members. I have to assume they weren’t allowed to swap drums

Also a classic food temptation in the reward challenge which I was very excited to see. Although following a reward challenge it meant that it turned out that all the people who got the reward meal competed for immunity and the reward losers went and ate. Suggesting that food temptation needs to occur during the later cycles where reward+immunity are combined…. and also the numbers aren’t such that the large majority can afford to have a minority person win and still have several other targets to choose from.

Is a memoery challnege where htye have to stab animal cards in a specific order as Jeff reads out. Super over drmratic with the big knives. PeeGee said she’d suck, so she wins. Therefore the (original) Red tribe alliance takes out Frosti from the (original) yellow. So much for being in the secret trust group eh Frosti?

Is a very boring episode, the most interesting thing happens is after the vote when, as flagged last week, Jeff says that they are not yet finished with the tribal council!

…and then the spidoe ends. That’s right this episode was so boring/straight forward the ‘next time’ segment on the last episode is teasing something that happens in the next episode after this one!

Episode 10

I’m sorry, did i say next episode? HAHA GET FUCKED THIS IS THE CLIPSHOW EPISODE!

That’s right, people need to wait ANOTHER week (for a total of three) to find out what this post-vote tribal twist is. This clip show aired during Thanksgiving, which I believe was a production decision to let people ‘skip’ a week while hanging out with their family.

Conversely, they then got to lose having people sit down with their families and get encouraged to watch it and pick up some new/extra viewers. Which I think is the stretagy they go for nowaays which is much smarter.

So isntead of seeing a ‘great twist’ (and having it heavily promoed in the lead up to thanksgiving family gatherings), instead it was a rnaodm assortment of clips of many people who were no longer in the game that did not matter.

So fucking stupid

Episode 11

And then we get the big reveal that the post-vote twist isn’t another vote of but a reward challenge. So not that big a twist and it didn’t really matter. It’s a trivia challenge about chinese culture which PeeGee wins

I presume that it was a logistical requirement to do the challenge now so that they could manage the transport arrangement to get the winner (and two extra people…. I think two) to go visit the Shaolin Temple. it involves a private plane trip and I feel o sorry for the plane and cabin crew that they didn’t let/make the contestants shower before getting on the plane. I’m fairly sure that there were sheets laid down over the chairs to stop them leaving any mess behind too.

Yeah it’s three people- PeeGee, Eric and Denise go. Because PeeGee and Eric try to get Denise to flip with them because they believe they have/can get James to flip too. When there’s been no evidence of James showing any strategical acumen about his chances (and corresponding need to flip) or any desire for hm liking PeeGee et al enough to flip to them (if anything, the challenge throwing saga and following fall out would suggest the opposite). Nor has Denise showed any of that strategic acumen. Really should be pushing it to Amanda or Courtney.

Anyway the reward itself is pretty cool in showing off cultural stuff but goes for, in my view, far too long. For example the segment of Denise doing and demonstrating karate ot the little monk kids should have been a fun extra/secret scene online not part of the TV broadcast.

Most notable thing about the immunity challenge is how they blur out Amanda’s shorts/butt. It’s been happening all season but was really obvious here. Fucking weird American censorship for a ‘family show’ while letting Courtney’s bikini be fine. Also drew my attention to the fact that, I think, Amanda may be significantly hotter than Parvati.

So this is the tribal where they orchestrate the blindside of James. the Edit does it’s best job to make it seem like it’s a question but James had no clue and no strategy/sneaky edge to his game so the “iconic” blindside goes off without a hitch. Honestly compared to the drama and ‘nuance’ of modern blindsides it was super anticlimatic. Not even Jeff’s questions can nudge James to play it.

Of note is that everyone including the jury is visibly laughing at James or being an idiot and getting voted out with two idols. Which really shows to me that no-one respected James as a player as they all thought he was an idiot before this happened.

I have been told by multiple people that the reason the James blindside was so incredible was because James was “a lock” to get to the end and win if he just played one of his idols. I think that is very clearly false. There were still two more tribals after this before the idols expired so has James played one he would have been vulnerable at one of the remaining two. And given a) James’ challenge performance so far and b) the next two/four challenges (depending if you want to count reward for getting food) I very much doubt James would have won either of the immunities. So if he was a threat to win he’d get voted out.

But more to the point, given his lack of game strategy and terrible unsocial attitude/behaviour to the other players if he was in the Final 3 he’d have no real argument to make. He’d be a bigger goat than Courtney. I think the most likely effect of this blindside was shuffling the elimination order pre-final 4. PeeGee would have gone home next after tying with Todd at 1-1 (at best losing the revote 3-2 with Denise, Amanda and Courtney voting PeeGee with James and Eric maybe going either way depending on how they react to the results of the idol play-blindside stuff). Then the next two votes would be Eric and James, followed by Denise in an identical Final 4 conundrum to what actually happened.

James really struggled without food so I’d odds on expect Amanda to clean up the challenges as she did once PeeGee was gone. So Amanda would lose her ‘key move of organising the James blindside (weird it was given to her as sole credit….) but gain an extra two cycles worth of challenge/immunity dominance. And then still suck in Final Tribal

Episode 12

Oh people are talking about how hard it is being out in the game and missing their family and not trusting anyone is getting to them. I wonder what that might be foreshadowing?

Oh WoW ItS ThE fAmiiLY vIsIt!! How exciting.

It was as usual pretty fucking boring. Despite some fun moments- Denise trying to take her husbands socks, Courtney’s dad being a fancy British guy in long pants and a proper shirt who looks very unimpressed when told he has to participate in a challenge and a weird reveal about Todd’s younger sister having a miscarriage.

Weird coz Todd is a Mormon (and gay) and so his family probably is Mormon too. And his loved one is his younger, middle sister. Who is a few years younger than the 23yo Todd. And the miscarriage sister was even younger. Doing some math on that, it seems weird that you’d want to air that info on national TV. Beyond the general idea of wanting to talk about someone else suffering a miscarriage on national TV. Was hardly an era of breaking the taboo-ness of the topic in 2007. Plus the way the sister says it is almost blase.

Leading to some speculation by other players Todd was trying to do a Fairplay Grandma move. Although Todd confirms in confessionals that it wasn’t a trick (or at least he doesn’t admit it was a trick).

Anyway the challenge is pretty interesting- a blindfold maze. So we get the fun of blindfold confusion without the danger of deadly head high blocks. Amanda and her sister have some crazy bird call system to try co-ordinate to find each other and the maze centre which is… interesting… but I’m not sure it’s particularly effective. Somehow Denise and her husband win and there’s a bit of drama when Denise doesn’t pick PeeGee to join her. Unsure if PeeGee legitimately thinks there should be some quid-pro-quo on this stuff after the took Denise to the Shaolin temple or if she thinks Denise is the type of person where that sort of thing matters.

Only thing notable about the reward was the phonecall home on the Sprint sponsored Blackberrry. Really making a point about Sprint being a sponsor… perhaps they were threatening to pull out (which, at some stage in the future, the obviously do). I’m more interested to know whether the Blackberry was a callback to Shane from Exile Island.

The immunity challenge is unremarkable. I can’t even remember what it was or who won. Probably PeeGee or Amanda. In any event it’s a super straightforward boot leading to Eric going (so yeah PeeGee must have been immune).

But it shouldn’t have been. In perhaps another first, it actually makes sense for Denise to agree to PeeGees plan to flip from her 4-2 majority to a 3-3 tie. Denise can’t get to the end staying in the majority 4, except for winning the Final Immunity (and her challenge record does not lead to that seeming to be likely). And I don’t think she can beat Amanda, Todd or PeeGee in Final Tribal so she needs to go with Courtney (people don’t like) and Eric (hasn’t done anything). Although even then I dunno how good her chances are…. although flipping here would give her a great move/argument.

But if it goes 3-3 then suddenly Eric and Todd are targets for the revote. If it’s tied again then Eric probably beats Todd in fire or its a 2-1 odds of Courtney/Amanda drawing the purple rock over Denise. Then it’s a 3-2 advantage to pick off Courtney/Amanda the next vote (or maybe Denise can flip back to vote PeeGee if Amanda is immune?).

Like, it’s not a likely road to victory but it’s Denise’s only chance. Unless she’s aiming for second/third place… in which case flipping increased her chances of getting those two AND increases chances of second over third.

Basically Denise is a bad player… as evidenced next episode by her trying to guilt Amanda later on by talking about how lame/shit her (Denise’s) life and family were back home and how winning would be the pinnacle for her but just a beginning for Amanda.

Episode 13

The narrative at the beginning of this episode, and the end of the prior, about Denise thinking not flipping was the biggest mistake she made was some very heavy handed editing hints that gave away how her arc would end.

Reward challenge was interesting where is had an element of the Rotu Chop pecking order establishing. Where they had to distribute arrows to other tribe members to use to try hit targets. Unfortunately this came too late in the season- PeeGee was the only minority person left so no-one gave her ANY arrows (except a consolation one by Courtney) while she HAD to give her arrows to people against her. At the same time, it didn’t really matter what the majority pecking order was because it was Final 5 and there weren’t enough numbers for anyone to really change anything. So Denise being clearly on the bottom is kind of irrelevant.

Plus Courtney was so bad at challenges that everyone deliberately loaded her up with arrows coz it would be 100% chance if Courtney his anything. Everyone is pretty terrible at operating the crossbow launcher (noting that being a crossbow launcher thing strength played no part in the challenge. Just aiming).

EXCEPT FOR TODD who is a fucking machine and lands 5 of his six arrows. Unfortunately for him Courtney’s random arrows hit a bunch of Denise’s targets and Denise manages to win on literally the last arrow.

Production then absolutely fuck it up by letting Denise pick two people to go on Reward. So there are more people on reward than back at camp. As Todd notes while they are eatgin (Denise having picked Courtney and Todd to go), it doesn’t matter what Amanda and PeeGee think or do. They don’t have enough numbers to do anything.

That being said Amanda and PeeGee do have a good chat and airing of perceived grievances and appear to get along really well. Which I would hope was in some part Amanda trying to butter up PeeGee as a future juror.

There is also a funny moment when the trio come back to camp and it’s deserted and they’re worried the other two are super mad or have left or are doing something. Turns out they’re just off getting water. But there’s this werid moment where Denise throws Todd under the bus to Amanda by saying that Todd ate three sandwiches on the trip back that they were going to give to Amanda. Which doesn’t really make sense coz not being allowed to bring back food from reward is a fairly well established rule. Perhaps an accidental hint to come of Denise’s honesty/factualness in the reunion? (Also in other commentary it’s revealed that there were three sandwiches made but odd, Denise and Courtney each ate one. And that while Denise pulled her lie and gave Amanda smuggled pistachio nuts, Todd and Courtney did the exact thing with a smuggled muffin for Amanda).

Immunity challenge is one of those cool thematic ‘reuse prior challenges and you get a second crack at them’. Weird that two of the prior things were form the team phase though. While I do miss these sorts of challenges nowadays, when every challenge is some sort of balancing on a beam or irrelevant obstacle+puzzle/carnival game; a combined challenges would just be a single thing.

Not a fan of how the challenges are done in ‘heats’ where people get excluded based on results. Too much risk of the underdog being knocked out early and the rest of the challenge not mattering (which to be fair didn’t happen here).

Funny moment in the eating challenge redux where Denise again can’t eat the weird duck egg thing and Courtney asks if she can then skip it given Denise had given up. No such luck. Also funny how often and obvious Amanda’s ass blur is. Surely that just brings more attention to it.

Most notable thing about this immunity is how fucking long it is. Which does make it pretty clear how straightforward the vote out is- Amanda gets the immunity and PeeGee is the only non-red tribe person less. Frankly the edutirs are lucky PeeGee kept in the challenge to the end coz if she’d been knocked out in an early heat then there owuld have been zero drama/tension at all.

They do their best with a paper thin attempt to make it look like Amanda is considering flipping on Todd and trying to get Courtney to flip with her. Wasn’t even half convincing.

At Tribal PeeGee’s speech/angle of people should keep her because ‘she’s honourable and played the right way’ is on one hand terrible as that sort of angle would make her a clean sweep winner if she got to the Final 3 but on the other hand there is fuck all else PeeGee could say that would change the result so might as well be honest and pump yourself up.

Episode 14- Finale!

The intro summary sequence for this Finale was incredibly long and detailed. Like we got Jeff narrating the entire play by play of each episode boot.. I can’t believe they were padding it out with that stuff given how live and interesting Final Tribal was.

The final reward challenge is an AMAZING mock Great Wall of China build where they have to solve a couple puzzles including the final puzzle that builds a crenelation on the top of the wall. The only bad thing about this reward is that the prize is a single Survivor Pizza instead of the typical car reward. Can’t imagine why no car sponsor was keen to come on board after last season…

I feel indignant on behalf of the four remaining players that they didn’t get to complete for a car given how fucking cool this challenge was.

Anyway, as usual despite the physical component at the end of the day it’s the puzzle that matters. Although maybe uniquely there are two different puzzles that matter. There’s a (relatively) simple bridge puzzle that knocks out Denise and Courtney who are oddly terrible at it. While the most complex crenelation puzzle slows down Todd and lets Amanda snag another win.

She then gets another food dilemma, being able to share the single Survivor Pizza with one or two other people. It’s an interesting dilemma to see but I’m not sure if there are any good options… or rather all of the options have bad aspects but no good aspects to balance against them. You share with no-one and you’re selfish which alienates everyone. You share with one and you alienate half the tribe while losing half the food. You share with two and you SUPER piss off one person and lose 2/3 of the food.

In any event, choosing only Todd seems to somehow be the worst option which is the one Amanda takes.

The Rites of Passage segment is really fucking weird this season and emphasizes why it’s no longer a thing. Firstly all of the final four are from the same tribe, so they literally don’t know half the people who were booted. Secondly we’re basically just getting another recap of prior events which Jeff already covered in the extended intro segment narration, with some mixed in post-vote off audio clips of people saying how wonderful the experience was and how it’s changed them. You know the clique sort of stuff.

Personally I feel this sort of thing is great for the game and the hardcore fans but is 100% bonus content released online, not a solid 5-10 mins of the finale.

Honestly the only interesting part is that Amanda has somehow acquired a second buff as she’s wearing a merge tribe black buff as a tube top and a second merge tribe blakc buff as a skirt. I guess someone who was voted off gave it to her? Or maybe Production wanted to stop blurring her ass in her short shorts.

The Final immunity is really weird- like a fancy china stack and balance thing. My only tought is that maybe it’d be more exciting (and faster) if jeff didn’t tell them which piece of mismatched China they have to grab and stack next but they had to choose from the pile. Having to choose the bigger things which are heavier for longer at the bottom vs the little things which are harder to stack things on top of. Like Jeff lets them stack in different ways- most notable when its Denise and Amanda at the end where Amanda stacks the bowls upside down.

Anyway, Denise tries to get Amanda to make a deal when they’re the last two but it’s WAY too late for that. Denise loses balance, Amanda wins another challenge and another immunity. Leading to another obvious and straightforward tribal where Denise is voted out.

But straightforward doesn’t mean boring. There’s a few great exchanges, including a threeway between Todd, Amanda and Denise where Denise tries to pin Amanda with some vague ‘promise’ and as Amanda extricates herself from that to try prevent any jury blow-back from ‘breaking a promise’ Todd smirks. Which Jeff zeroes in on.

After tribal when they get back to camp Amanda is angry at Todd for that. Which I suspect is her realising that the way the jury sees Todd is not going to serve Amanda’s chances well.

I can’t recall if there was nothing else between this and Final Tribal or if there was nothing interesting as my notes jump straight to Final Tribal.

Is hilarious seeing PeeGee disinterestedly checking her nails during Todd’s opening remarks (at least that’s what was shown on TV). Clearly shows where she is coming from at the beginning and how much her position changed over Final Tribal to eventually vote for Todd to win.

Odd seeing Jeff ask a juror (in this case James) a question. I guess he didn’t like how James’ question was about having fun not about strategy or gameplay or whatever

Was funny seeing James roll his eyes during Jean Roberts spiel where he was talking up how great he was. Was then extra funny seeing how much Todd broke Jean Roberts brain with his answer to JRs question which was 110% insincere sucking up that played into JRs ego to make JR the ultimate threat leading to Todd blindsining JR out of fear. For the first time ever (as noted by James who bursts out laughing) JR actually shut up for the first time ever. JRs brain just couldn’t process and you could see the gears seize up as he tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t be super smug and give away he was now voting for Todd based on the easy compliments.

is very clear the jury doesn’t like JR. If JR made good on his threat to rail against Todd at jury villa then he probably laid good groundwork for people to like Todd.

PeeGee’s question is mostly most interesting as it shows Amanda completely collapse and capitulate, not owning any of her moves or actions and probably giving up a solid chance of winning to somehow losing to Courtney who was a certified goat.

Eric’s question was pointless. Seemed to be searching for a reason to vote for the hot girl Amanda. Frosti’s was equally unimportant/uninteresting, other than Frosti referring to himself in third person… and hitting on Courtney.

Jamie’s question was real WTF. I get what she was going for in trying to get people to put down the other Finalists games but her framing of airing dirty laundry just distracted it and she got way too flustered when Courtney didn’t immediately start ripping into Todd.

Denise’s bit started amazingly when she commented that it was good they could look her in the eye. But then it goes downhill as she pulls a mini-JR in railing that she was guaranteed to win if they hadn’t betrayed her at the Final 4 vote. Which based off how the other jurors react, is very likely not true at all.

Episode 15- Reunion

There is then a legitimately good switch from the tribal council set in China to the set in the LA studio where you can’t tell where the switch was made. Much better than Thailand’s ‘mid tribal’ switch. Well done… uhhh… broadcast team? The only clue is a slight change in how Jeff’s collar is laying over his necklace. The background and props and stuff all match.

But weirdly EVERYONE LOOKS WAY LESS ATTRACTIVE. It constantly astounds me how people covered in 39 days of mud and filth can look nicer than people dressed up for the studio reunion show. I think it’s a thing where going from super natural (and skinny/malnourished) to highly made up in the space of 10 seconds is hugely jarring. Also the incredibly dated fashion e.g. vest, hair bangs, mohawks, lime green clothes etc look horrible in hindsight.

The vote breakdown is pretty interesting. Amanda only got one vote from Eric, which is frankly unexplained as far as I can tell. Nothing about Eric’s personality indicates what about Amanda or her game style he liked (that would have him voting for her over Todd or Courtney). James and Denise voted for Courtney which is a pretty clear ‘fuck you’ to the Todd and Amanda dominance.

Todd picked up the remaining four of PeeGee, Jean-Robert, Frosti and Jamie. Which is incredibly because none o those four were thinking of voting for him when they came into tribal. This was perhaps the most live Final Tribal in the history of the show with votes swinging in new directions as people responded to jury questions.

Also this is the closest we’ve ever come to having a plurality but not majority winner and there’s a good chance that coming into the Final Tribal it was a 3-2-2 split Courtney-Todd-Amanda with people either voting against Amanda/Todd or splitting evenly between them to nearly give Courtney the win. Presumably Amanda’s terrible performance played as much a part in giving it to Todd as Todd’s amazing performance did.

Were three other notable things in this tribal.

First was Jeff’s horrific questions (which honestly made this both the best and worst reunion show ever in my view). Flat out asking Courtney if she has a n eating disorder and leading with the accusation she is anorexic is so crazy and awkward. Although it does make sense context given her incredibly emaciated form from like episode 1 or 2 was drawing viewer comments (along the lines of if the show was risking or causing harm letting her stay out there) so cutting that off and making clear that’s just how she and her family is built (and that Courtney has put on weight since before Survivor) is covering their ass.

Conversely, asking Eric is he’s still a virgin immediately after having Jamie confirm she and Eric are dating is basically him asking Eric whether he and Jamie have banged yet. Which is wildly not appropriate or necessary.

The report from James about his wholesome gravedigging Survivor experience was, well, wholesome and super fucking weird.

And then Denise… Denise’s heartbreaking story about losing her job when she got home and now being a janitor (which means more time away from her family) coz she’s too popular/recognisable with the kids is heartbreaking. And it’s great when Mark Burnett announces he’ll give her an extra $50k out of his own pocket to help out. Which is a great end to that story on the reunion special.

But then post-airing it turned out that wasn’t true. She’d actually been promoted to janitor (getting a chunk more money) but that she’d found the hours not to her liking (I assume working afternoons/evenings when school was out) as it took time away from being with family. So she wanted to go back to being a lunch-lady but they’d already filled the position. Caused a bit of a controversy and mini-furor and Denise had to issue a public apology and declared the $50k should go to charity instead.

A very weird end to an otherwise great season.

I dunno if I would recommend this as a season people should start with. While the pre-merge and early-merge are great, the end game is pretty straightforward. I think maybe this is a great season to watch if you’ve seen a few seasons but a feeling like the show has lost it’s lustre. The great cultural stuff, the great challenges, the great (and small) cast of characters, the camp life, the strategy and dominance by Todd/Amanda, the Final Tribal (and reunion) performances etc. All great stuff for a fan.

Although maybe stuff like the fake idol play and the double idol blindside will land better as a new fan.