Warning: This recap for Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers contains spoilers.
“Stay tuned. I think it’s about to get really good,” Dr. Mike told us at the start of last night’s double-helping of Survivor: Heroes v Healers v Hustlers. It was the line featured in all the TV previews leading up to this pair of episodes, and surprisingly, it turned out to be more than just misleading promo hype. It was like the producers’ nod to the audience, an acknowledgment of this season’s slow pace and mundane gameplay, all while begging us to hold on for a better tomorrow. Thankfully, Mike’s promise came true and Survivor delivered by far its two most compelling episodes of the season.
The two hours unraveled like a great John le Carre novel. Intrigue and espionage and secret plots. Intelligence was shared. New coalitions were formed. Undercover operations were set in motion. Finally, after watching one alliance of seven routinely picking off the bottom-feeders week-after-week, the game was given a much-needed shot of adrenaline. Now we have a season on our hands!
With two episodes to power through, there’s no time to waste. Let’s get to it…
NO WAY OUT
The episode opens at camp following last week’s perplexing tribal council where Dr. Mike compared himself to Lady Liberty and played an idol on himself for no discernable reason. The rest of the tribe is just as baffled as the audience when it comes to Mike’s move. “I had to spice it up a little bit,” Mike says in his defense, sounding like he’s describing a bland risotto rather than a genius takeover plot. He tells Joe that he was trying to keep him safe by directing votes onto himself. While Joe appreciates the gesture, he declares “…it was a stupid reason to play the idol.” In confessional, Mike admits he didn’t want to be the idiot that went home with an idol in his pocket.
Chrissy, on the other hand, is thrilled with the outcome. “Mike wasting an idol was the icing on the cake,” she says with a big grin on her face. The alliance of seven (aka the Round Table) removed a significant physical threat in Cole, flushed an idol, and have Mike and Joe lined up as easy pickings. “Joe and Mike are dead men walking,” states Chrissy. Things do look incredibly bleak for the two remaining Healers — out of idols, out of allies, and out of luck. It seems a near impossible task to find a way out of their predicament. But Mike doesn’t care about having painted a target on his back. “I already had a target,” he tells us, “now I just need to show the seven why they should crack. It’s time to act.”
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS
Lauren wins the first Reward Challenge of the night — her second victory a row. It’s the ‘build-a-tower-block-with-your-feet’ classic, a challenge which I’m pretty sure only exists because someone on the production team has a foot fetish, and when I say ‘someone’ I mean Jeff Probst. The challenge isn’t important though, what matters is the reward, or more specifically, who Lauren chooses to accompany her on that reward. Lauren picks Devon, Ben, and Ashley to join her with minimal hesitation. When Probst asks Ryan if Lauren’s choices have a larger bearing on the game, he brushes it off, saying he supports Lauren’s choices and doesn’t think there is an ulterior motive.
Naturally, Lauren immediately undermines Ryan in confessional, revealing that she selected strictly for strategic reasons. After a seaplane ride over Fiji, taking in all the sights and sounds, including Joe’s bare-ass, the foursome enjoy a platter of cheeseburgers and french fries. While gathered around the table – rectangular, not round – the topic of conversation is the alliance of seven and how they are fooling themselves if they think it’s going to stick together. Lauren takes command, presenting a new plan of action, wanting to strike against the trio of Chrissy, Ryan, and JP. There is a palpable fear that if they don’t break the alliance now, they might not get the chance again.
There is some reluctance from the others at first, but Lauren presents a convincing argument. She tells Ben that as soon as they get down to seven, he will be the first of the Round Table to fall. Lauren says Joe and Mike need to stick around a while so that they can use them to usurp the power from Chrissy and Ryan. Ben, Devon, and Ashley soon come on board, and the sharing of intelligence begins. Devon divulges intel about Ryan’s idol and how the Bellhop had been lying to him all this time. Lauren confesses to owning an Extra Vote advantage. “I didn’t know any of this!” Ashley says in surprise. For Ashley, who has played the majority of the season in the background, she sees this as a wake-up call and an opportunity to step up her game.
This newly formed four-piece is brought even closer when they discover letters from home amongst the array of food. Lauren breaks into tears instantly upon seeing the words “Dear Momma” on her letter. “My daughter is who I’m here for,” she states in an emotional confessional. Lauren has been a consistent player throughout this season but not really a leader. Now, she is breaking out and taking charge while proving to be a savvy strategist. Devon, for one, is surprised to see this strategic side from the quiet fisherwoman he remembers from the early days on the Hustlers beach. “She’s almost as good as me,” he laughs, “and I’m happy she’s on my side.”
For Ben, hearing from his wife and kids gives him the “gas and fuel” to power on ahead. He later finds a clue to another hidden immunity idol and begins some reconnaissance at camp, scoping out the area for a clay pot. After locating the target atop a tree, he hurls his cowboy hat up into the sky in excitement. The glee on his face as he ran through the forest reminded me of Ron Swanson’s happy-face when he’s served breakfast food. With a prod and a poke, the pot comes crashing down, and the idol is in Ben’s hands. “Thanks, honey,” he says, crediting his wife for his latest discovery.
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
Back at camp, Mike and Joe perform their daily comedy routine, referring to their double-act as “The Coconuts” because “…it describes [Joe’s] Dominican roots because he’s slightly cocoa, and it describes [Dr. Mike’s] urology.” Mike says they are the Siskel and Ebert of Survivor, which is a weird reference to pull when comparing yourself to a comedy act — unless Mike just finds movie criticism really, really funny. It’s fun to see the jovial relationship which has developed between Mike and Joe over the course of 30 days, especially after they started as enemies back on Day 1. Their tactic at this point seems to involve making each other laugh, winding people up, and portraying themselves as hapless buffoons. Hopefully, that way, their tribemates will see them as less of a threat than some of the more powerful players.
But that’s not now Ryan and Chrissy view things. Ryan thinks Mike’s and Joe’s behavior just makes people want to work with them even less, which makes his job easier. Chrissy and Ryan have a pow-wow about the next vote and the future of the Round Table alliance. “Me and Chrissy are playing a little more of a strategic game than everyone else,” Ryan boasts, a statement which sets the stage for the turn of events to come. The problem for both Ryan and Chrissy is they’ve become too comfortable and overconfident in their position. They’ve already written Joe and Mike off and are thinking about who should be first to go when they get down to seven. Little do they realize that the clear and present danger lies in the other members of their supposed strong-seven.
The game becomes even more layered before the night’s first tribal council. When Ashley wins Immunity — in another challenge including exposed feet I should add — it leaves Chrissy, Ryan, and JP vulnerable at the vote, little to their knowledge. As far as Chrissy and Ryan are concerned, the alliance is splitting the vote between Mike and Joe. “It will be more fun to leave Joe and take Mike out first,” Chrissy suggests in a Round Table meeting. Ben and Devon agree, leaving Ryan and Chrissy feeling “unified,” while their real intention is to turn on the seven.
Devon wants to take the plan even further by having Ben infiltrate the Chrissy/Ryan alliance. He says that Ben should vote for Mike with Chrissy and Ryan so that they don’t suspect Ben has flipped. That way, whoever remains after tribal council will go running to Ben and continue to feed him info. It’s a cunning plot from the surfer-bro, who up until now has mostly played the game in Ryan’s shadow. Ben is excited to get his “acting shoes” on for Operation: Secret Spy, and so now all they need is to secure Mike’s and Joe’s votes. Given that “The Coconuts” are dead men walking, they, of course, jump at the offer presented to them by Ashley and Lauren. “The Court Jester has become Merlin,” Mike laughs.
Lauren promises fireworks at tribal council, and that’s what we get, even if JP was the least exciting option to be blindsided. The firefighter had about five confessionals all season long. His most significant contribution to the game was talking about his love for Tri-Tip salad — that tells you everything you need to know. But it’s the reactions of everyone else and the subsequent fallout which make this moment special. “Holy s**t,” Ryan whispers, completely shocked by the events unfolding around him. Chrissy looks around to try and make some sort of sense of the situation. Ben plays his part beautifully, acting just as confused as Ryan and Chrissy. It’s a fantastic moment, even if Survivor over-egged it with the #EpicBlindside caption.
Two episodes in one night means we get to witness the aftermath back at camp immediately. Chrissy is hurt and wants answers, but none are forthcoming. “If we tell you what happened, we’d be idiots,” Joe says, posturing as if he was the architect of the blindside. Chrissy says that she can appreciate a good move but didn’t like the way she was treated following tribal council. It’s kind of hard to sympathize with Chrissy here as she is essentially getting a taste of her own medicine. She was more than happy to shut Joe and Mike out of the game, but now feels slighted that it’s happening to her.
Ryan takes a different tact. He compliments the move and pretends to be gracious, even though deep down he’s seething. He’s mostly surprised that Devon flipped on him. The two had been aligned since Day 1, but honestly, Ryan has always underestimated Devon. The reason he chose to work with him initially is that he thought Devon would be the brawn to his brains. Even last week, after he told him about the idol, he bragged about making Devon dependent on him. The truth is, Devon is smarter than Ryan gave him credit. When Ryan tries to rebuild the bond, by claiming he never wavered from their Final 3 plan, the surfer says he lost his trust when he told others about the idol.
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
Ben, meanwhile, continues his double-agent act. He puts on a performance back at camp by appearing just as confused and upset as Chrissy. He argues with Joe, who he calls a “puppet” for being dragged along in someone else’s plan. Ben is amused that Joe is taking credit for the idea when he’s utterly clueless about Ben’s role in the operation.
The next day, Devon and Ben compliment each other on a successful mission. Devon is like an FBI Deputy Director commending an agent on a job well done. With Ben as his secret spy, Devon has access to all the intel, he knows about all the advantages and powers and what the other alliance is thinking. “My game has been cloudy, but now it’s becoming really clear,” says Devon. The one thing he doesn’t know, however, is that Ben has an idol, and that could prove a problem down the line.
It’s a delight to watch Ben go from King Arthur to James Bond, and it’s obvious he’s enjoying every minute of it too. Ashley calls his acting ability Academy Award worthy, and I don’t disagree; I mean, Nicolas Cage as an Oscar, so why the hell not? Ben mainly loves it because he gets to mess with Joe, which he really amps up when Joe joins himself, Ashley and Devon on a reward-winning spa trip. They can’t talk strategy in front of Joe, so Ben carries on portraying the dethroned King who was betrayed by his disloyal Knights. Joe completely laps it up.
But as Ben plays secret agent, Devon transforms into the new sheriff in town, donning the ex-Marines cowboy hat — it really suits him, the surfer-cowboy. While Ben and Joe shower, Devon and Ashley take the opportunity to chat. They both feel like they are in a great position now they’ve made a big move and promise to ride this out until the end. “I finally feel like I’m playing Survivor,” Ashley says. I finally feel like I’m watching Survivor, so welcome to the party!
Back at the beach, Ryan tries to change his fortune by reaching out to Dr. Mike. He hopes that because they’ve both now experienced being on the bottom, it will create some common ground between them. Mike, however, isn’t buying Ryan’s spiel, and rightly so. As Mike says, Ryan never wanted to work with him before this, and so why would Mike suddenly take up his offer now? It shows a real lack of awareness on Ryan’s part and is a knock on his relationship handling. You have to keep a line of communication open with every player and not just those in your immediate alliance.
Chrissy is in the same boat, as she tries to persuade Lauren to jump ship. Again, these two have never talked game, Chrissy even starts her pitch by admitting as such. “I can listen all day long, but it doesn’t mean I’m gonna change my mind,” says Lauren. It’s a case of too little too late. Lauren is in a commanding position in her new alliance, and there is no benefit to flipping again to align with someone who wanted nothing to do with her a day ago.
It’s tough news to take for Chrissy. She is a Survivor superfan who has been trying to get on the show for 16 years. To see her game coming to an end is a hard pill to swallow. She curls up in the shelter, not wanting to the face the reality of the situation. Chrissy is a solid Survivor player, she worked her way up from the bottom of the original Heroes tribe and got herself into the majority on her swapped tribe and the merged tribe. Her problem is the same as Ryan’s — overconfidence and a lack of care when it comes to the relationships outside her core alliance. But for all her doom and gloom this episode, she remains a fighter, and she proved that when she won the second Immunity Challenge of the night.
THE SPY WHO BLUFFED ME
With Chrissy invulnerable, and saving herself from an inevitable torch snuffing, it means new mission objectives are on the agenda. Ryan is off the chopping block too because he has an idol. The next option for the Spy Kids alliance is to take out Joe. “It’s easy and simple,” says Ben, which are always frightening words in Survivor. Devon once again takes charge of the finer details. He instructs the alliance to tell Mike and Joe that they are splitting the vote between Ryan and Ben, using Lauren’s Extra Vote advantage to do so. Joe and Mike are ecstatic and practically foaming at the mouth to see Ben leave. Meanwhile, Ben pretends to be on board with Ryan and Chrissy and pushes for Ryan to use his idol to save himself.
The plan looks to be set in stone until Lauren and Ashley begin to wonder if they should take the chance to blindside Ben. Even though they just created the alliance, they know it would be crazy to take Ben to four because if he gets to the end, he’ll win. Ashley tells Devon she’s considering “alternate plans,” and he’s all “Wow!” It seems that the “25-year-old surfers,” as Ryan mockingly described them, are the decision-makers heading into tribal council.
At tribal, Joe and Mike show confidence in their new alliance. Joe continues to bicker with Ben, totally unaware that the former Marine has been pulling the wool everybody’s eyes. Ultimately, Devon, Ashley, and Lauren stick with the “easy and simple” option by voting out Joe. They also succeed in flushing Ryan’s idol — which somewhat makes up for not blindsiding him at the previous tribal instead of JP. Ben’s undercover mission is complete, and with Ryan and Chrissy now knowing exactly where he (and they) stand, I expect the game to self-destruct within five seconds of returning to camp.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Devon, Lauren, and Ben. The reasons are detailed above — this recap is already nearing War & Peace levels, no need to stretch it any further.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
Review: Amazon’s ‘Mrs. Maisel’ is marvelous
Awkward: 4 times Matt Lauer interviewed people about sexual harassment this year
The 20 best contemporary holiday movie classics