Survivor Recap: The Meek Shall Inherit Survivor

Survivor always has to walk a thin line. You like to believe that those who do well in the game are "deserving" in some sense -- they've shown some physical prowess, been able to nab a fish or two, or at least displayed some political skill in making alliances for themselves (this last element would describe last season's winner, Parvati). But in the end, Survivor is there for our entertainment, and the game has to be reshuffled on occasion in order to keep things unpredictable.

And so we have the situation that we face now -- a player who had done most of the right things and had been on the winning side of immunity challenges all but twice is now out of the game, and players who have bumbled their way through the season now appear to have gained a measure of control. Had it not been for a second tribe switch which again played havoc with alliances, Marcus would still be in Gabon and one of the three people who ended up voting him out would be gone. It now appears that the ultimate winner of the season will be someone most viewers can't be too happy with. But complaining about "fairness" is really beside the point in a game show.

All the excitement at the end was touched off by the producers taking advantage of a reasonable assumption on the part of the players: that the two tribes would be merging. Merges typically take place when there are ten left and are often signaled by some kind of group feast. From all the talk about an impending merge, which actually began on last week's show, it was pretty easy to guess that we were going to get something very different.

The ten dug into their feast on the beach, which featured another little mind game that was likely inserted just to see how everyone would react. A clue to the location of another individual immunity idol was left underneath a basket on the table, not quite in plain sight but not all that hidden either. Ken noticed what it was but had no chance to unobtrusively grab it, and he eventually had to let Charlie read the clue to the group. The peer pressure to pretend not to care about the idol was enormous.

Finally, Marcus and Randy jointly came up with an idea: OK, everyone is pretending not to want the idol -- so let's look for it as a group and then agree to throw it in the ocean. Which is what Randy (who located the idol in about six seconds) did after getting everyone on the record that they didn't want it. Both Marcus and Randy believed that they had the luxury of acting from a position of strength, with a solid six-person alliance and a merge no doubt on its way. Randy was more over-the-top than ever, playing to the camera shamelessly. "With all due respect to President Bongo, I am the new king of Gabon," he crowed. "All these Fang, Kota members? They work for me. I'm king. Cheers." (By the way, the President of Gabon actually is Omar Bongo Ondimba. This will be on the test.)

After the jettisoning of the idol, the players then opened a box that they had been told to ignore until their feast was over. The box contained stones with numbers between one and ten: the odd-numbered stones became the new Fang tribe, while the even stones became new Kota. Once again, Kota would lose a numbers advantage due to a tribe swap. The potentially good news for the Kota Six, however, was that old Kota held a three/two numerical edge in both new tribes, thus giving them control at tribal council ... assuming nothing went wrong.

Randy, Corinne and Charlie went to the new Fang tribe, separating Corinne from her nemesis Susie: "I plan on burying her as soon as possible -- alive," Corinne had said earlier. The three discussed throwing the immunity challenge in order to eliminate Matty, the last real physical threat outside the Kota Six. Cleverly, though, the producers came up with a challenge that was impossible to throw, since players competed individually, but for tribal immunity. The task was to balance a board atop poles that were held in one's open palms. A tense Matty/Bob duel ended with Matty saving Fang, and himself.

So Kota would actually have to go to tribal council -- hardly a new experience for Ken and Crystal, who had been going every week at old Fang. Crystal was thrown a lifeline in that Marcus realized that she was the cousin of one of his best friends. This was the first sign that the erstwhile favorite to win the game might be in trouble -- when you start thinking that friendship outside the game will do you good within the game, you're likely to get a little sloppy. With Susie already on the outside of the alliance due to Corinne's enmity, Marcus offered Crystal Susie's place in the Kota Six.

Ordinarily, Crystal might have accepted. However, there were two big problems. One is that Marcus wanted Crystal to turn on Ken, and then only vote out Susie after the presumed merge. The smarter move for Marcus would have been to just tell both Crystal and Ken that Susie was going, and they likely would have jumped at the opportunity. The other problem was that Marcus, assuming way too much familiarity with Crystal, let her know just how much peril Susie was in, including the information that Corinne couldn't stand her. When Crystal made her pitch to Susie to flip and Susie responded that she felt safe in her current alliance, Crystal told her that Marcus couldn't promise her anything because no one else in his alliance liked her -- a bit of Survivor gamesmanship that was actually true for once.

So at tribal council, Susie did what players don't often do in this game -- give up a secure position as low man in one alliance to take a chance on a superior position in a new alliance. Marcus had forgotten one of the key tenets of the game: You have to work hard to make sure everyone in a big alliance feels completely secure. If a merge does occur next week, four people who have spent all season doing nothing but losing -- Crystal, Ken, Matty, and Sugar -- could be running the game along with new ally Susie. Corinne's meltdown alone will be worth watching next week. I'm pretty sure live burial violates a rule or two.