I will be honest up front that this is going to be a unique blog because as I sit on my couch writing, my mind and my heart are with all the local Samoan families who are in dire straits as a result of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that rocked the island of Upolu, just a few days ago. So much devastation, so many lives lost.
This is show business and the show must go on, so I will share my thoughts about this episode, but bear in mind my focus is somewhat challenged.
Here we go…
Last night’s episode was one of my favorites and tribal council one of the hardest to watch. Jaison showed some real backbone. I was happy to see it. It is fascinating to watch someone reach their breaking point and then what happens as a result. Jaison threw down the ultimatum and in doing so earned a lot of respect. Certainly from me.
PERSONAL INSIGHT: Jaison struggled a lot these first several days of Survivor. There were many times that it appeared to me his heart was just not in the game. I now wonder how much his struggle with Ben had to do with his spirit, as it clearly was taking a toll on him. More on Jaison later…
WHO IS PLAYING THIS GAME ANYWAY?: Russell made a big statement last night about being the only one playing the game. I think he’s wrong. Not everybody is playing as aggressively as Russell, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t playing.
For instance, when Russell approached Natalie and asked for her reaction to last week’s tribal council in which Betsy was voted out, she was very cagey with her response.
She stated only facts.
Natalie: “It was brutal. It was the majority. It was the plan.” She gave nothing away regarding how she felt about the outcome.
Her approach was a wise one. If you argue with Russell, or challenge a decision, or try to play him as aggressively as he is playing you, it will end badly. So instead, Natalie made a strategic move. She didn’t agree or disagree with the vote. She deflected. Well done.
Russell took it as a sign she was not involved in the game, I took it as a sign that Natalie understands this game more than it might appear.
I HEAR YOU!: Yes, I heard you yelling at your screen when Russell explained with devilish glee, “The Russell Seed.” I do admire the conviction. There is no doubt in Russell’s mind that “The Russell Seed” exists and that kind of belief in yourself can take you a long way. Not always the right way, but a long way.
OVER AT GALU: I continue to be amazed at their winning streak. As they said last night, they’re so comfortable, they are not even in “game mode.” Instead they spend their free time doing yoga and watching the “hot” threesome of Laura, Monica and Kelly prance around in their bikinis playing Charlie’s Angels. Don’t get me wrong fellas, I’m not complaining. Laura, Monica and Kelly happen to be a very attractive threesome and let’s hope there are more swim suit challenges coming up… but from a “game” point of view I am surprised they haven’t crumbled yet. Typically when you get comfortable you get complacent and on Survivor that usually leads to disaster. Time will tell.
BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE EPISODE: Dreadlocked Russell made his first leadership mistake. He took as a reward, a few soft fluffy cushions over… a protective tarp.
As we were standing there and I gave him the choice between comfort and function, I was certain he would choose the tarp and everything else that went with it. I was blown away by his decision. I expected it to be the easiest decision he’d had so far.
He supported the choice as his way of “taking care of his women.” I don’t buy it. I think it was a mistake and I think he knows it. One of the most valuable things you can have at your camp is a big tarp to keep you dry. The odds of Russell regretting that decision are enormous. In fact, if you can find odds at Vegas go ahead and put the pink slip down. Rain. Cold. Misery. It’s coming.
I HEAR YOU, AGAIN: Yes, I heard you screaming at your screens again when Russell said, “This is what god made me for.” Notice I didn’t capitalize the word “god.” I’m not implying anything, it just feels better with a small “g”, that’s all.
SHAMBO VISIT: Shambo was put on the wrong tribe. She should have been a Foa Foa member. She felt so at home that she gave away a lot of information about the dynamics of her tribe. As you all know, I like Shambo, but girl, sometimes you need to be quiet. Try counting to ten before speaking… you’ll go further in the game.
BIGGEST HERO OF THE NIGHT: Jaison at Tribal Council. Jaison elevated himself in the eyes of this host and I’m guessing a majority (but not all) of our viewers. I loved last night’s Tribal. As I said earlier, it was hard to watch at times, but absolutely compelling and completely honest. Two people from very different walks of life, going jaw to jaw with their personal beliefs.
Jaison was determined to not let the game or his pursuit of the million dollars get in the way of his personal integrity. Ben, on the other hand seemed determined to make sure his personal beliefs got in the way of his pursuit of the million dollars.
The conversation between Jaison and Ben offered another fascinating peek inside the psyche of humans. I have no doubt that Ben believed everything he was saying to Jaison about Yasmin was “accurate.” Not an opinion, but a fact. Just like I believe Ben did not intend to be chauvinistic when lecturing the women of the tribe on why they should not attempt to make fire: “Not to be chauvinistic… not to put you down. I wouldn’t even attempt it.”
But, that is not what is fascinating. What’s fascinating is his inability to measure how such comments would resonate with another person. Now he knows.
Jaison proved himself a worthy prosecutor with his ability to eloquently attack Ben for making what he perceived to be racist comments. Then after letting Ben state his case, he was able to reassess and attack from a different but just as impressive and damaging angle: “Okay, then you’re ignorant.”
TO BE FAIR: I gotta say I was impressed with one thing about Ben, his fire starting capability. Very smooth. I learned a couple of tricks from him. Build a nice pile of magnesium and then be very gentle with the flint. Two good lessons. Not enough to keep him in the game, but something I will definitely keep in mind the next time I actually have to start a fire using flint and steel. Which is hardly ever. Okay, maybe never.
Ben delivered exactly what he promised he would in casting. For that we owe him a thank you. He didn’t back down or cower in a corner and wait for someone else to drive the story. He came strong. Very strong. He is who he is and he wasn’t embarrassed about it. Some people are attracted to that kind of bravado, others are not. Survivor is a game about social politics and with this group of Survivors, Ben was never long for the game.
Russell impressed me last night at tribal council with his realization that the tide had changed and he had to change his vote to Ben. I would have bet good money that Russell, The Human Steamroller, would have tried to push his idea through and intimidate people into still voting out Ashley, in spite of everything that went down at tribal. The fact that he was able to read the situation and change his action surprised me. Up until now he has succeeded based on sheer aggressive play. Last night’s move shows another layer to his game.
Okay, it is later in the day now and I have moved location to a local Baja Fresh to sit in the sun and finish this.
I’m going to leave you by revisiting the thoughts I shared at the top of the blog. I am sad today. The island of Upolu, where we spent the summer shooting Survivor, has been devastated by an earthquake and a tsunami. Lives have been lost. Homes destroyed.
I’m happy to tell you that all of the Survivor crew on location are okay and unharmed. But for many others the news is not as good.
It was a week of devastation in the South Pacific, with Indonesia and American Samoa also getting hit hard. I am focusing only on Western Samoa because they are now a part of our Survivor family.
Tribal council was built by local labor. The posts that support the roof of Tribal Council were all carved by local students. The mats that are on the floor of tribal were woven by the women of the villages.
All of our challenges employed local labor, every department had locals working with us, our meals were cooked by local labor. We went to work together every day. They became our friends, we stayed in their homes, we ate dinner with them, met their families, shared stories of our lives.
It is heart breaking to see the devastation caused by an 8.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
It is another reminder that life is unpredictable. We all have to do our best to make sure we’re living the life we want, not the life we think we’re supposed to be living. I am saying this to myself as much as I am sharing with you.
If you want to help you can donate by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS and designate it is to help Samoa. You can also visit REDCROSS.ORG or HELPSAMOA.COM.
Check out an exclusive video of Jeff Probst conducting a run through of an upcoming challenge for Survivor: Samoa!