Survivor: Papa's Got A Brand New Nobag

The sense I get is that the developments on Survivor: Gabon during the last two weeks, which have put the former born losers of the Fang tribe in what now appears to be a dominant position, are pretty popular ones with most fans of the show. I find myself less charmed. For the most past, the new frontrunners combine unlikability with stupidity, not usually the way to become rooting interests of mine.

The festivities on this week's show began with the nine remaining players hoping for a merge, particularly the five at Fang, whose long-dwindling rice supply had just about given out completely. Matty remarked that the tribe had even forgotten how to make fire, which at the time seemed to be an idle comment. What the majority at Fang -- Randy, Corinne, and Charlie -- did not realize is that they should have been hoping for continuing division that would enable them to lose a challenge on purpose and get rid of Matty. Once again this week, the twists of the game would work in a way that would benefit old Fang. But more on that below.

As the players gathered for the reward challenge, the entry of those just back from tribal council was more dramatic than usual, as Fang noted that Kota had dropped Marcus last week. Charlie looked downcast. Matty, realizing he had been given a new lease on life by players who he had been at odds with most of the way, gave a wink. Corinne, who for better or worse always wears her heart on her sleeve, pronounced that Marcus hadn't "deserved" to be voted out, prompting newly cocky Ken, who doesn't seem to appreciate that he's still in Gabon due to an unprecedented amount of good luck, to defend his worthiness.

The reward challenge involved a version of the traditional Gabonese sport of golf, with the players using slingshots to advance the ball. Fang actually won the challenge, but not before a minor disagreement over strategy prompted Randy to blow up at Matty. Maybe Randy realized that his typical behavior at challenges, which involves taunting the other tribe, might not be such a bright idea. The reward took Fang to a local village where they were given a bath with wet leaves, consumed a nice meal, and were then invited to get down and boogie. Randy persuaded himself that one of the villagers took a shine to him, which I'll choose to believe is more of that puckish dry humor of his. Matty, who has had few rewards in Gabon, lost himself in the dance. Lady Gaga has that effect on all of us, Matty.

The majority at Fang chose to send their old ally Bob into exile, figuring he was going to need the help of an individual immunity idol. The old physics teacher hunted in vain, ending speculation (mostly my own) that a second idol might have been there all along while Sugar was sleeping off her repeated trips into exile. He managed to fashion a phony idol, which might seem like a lame twist on an old failed strategy except that he did a damn good job of it. Unfortunately for Bob, Sugar and her primary allies know exactly where the real idol is, so he's not likely to scare anyone with his facsimile.

After the reward, Randy worried about being reunited with Crystal, who he variously referred to as Sasquatch, Bigfoot, and T. Rex. (It gets worse later.) As everyone gathered for the immunity challenge, a fire-making contest, Jeff Probst informed the nine that the merge had occurred and immunity would be individual. Matty and Randy had dismissed the possibility of Susie having any chance, so naturally it was Susie (the eventual winner) and Sugar who completely dominated the challenge, battling it out with lovely little fires before any of the others so much as made a spark.

The two factions in the new tribe (named "Nobag" -- Gabon backwards! How clever!) quickly split up to decide on their strategies. Corinne and Charlie saw Sugar as the one player on the other side who might be easiest to turn (despite, or perhaps because, Corinne found her to be a "moron"), but Sugar seemed dead set on voting out the annoying Randy. The others didn't like Randy either, but Crystal, to her credit (she knew Randy was gunning for her), saw Corinne and Charlie as the power couple that needed to be split.

Ken, who had been feeling his oats at old Kota as the only male while Bob was at exile, informed everyone that Charlie was the major power player on the other side. Charlie was as good a pick as anyone, but Ken had a surprisingly petty and non-strategy based reason for targeting him: a grudge going back to the previous episode, when Charlie had foiled Ken's attempt to grab the clue to the second individual immunity idol for himself. "I'll trade that idol for his life. Serves him right," Ken told the camera.

Tribal council had more than its usual share of fireworks, as Randy told Crystal exactly what he thought of her, going back to their early days in Fang together. Why Randy chose to refer to Crystal and GC, the game's two black players, as a "gang" and a "posse" ... well, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt he probably doesn't deserve. Randy may have felt he was a goner anyway and wanted to get it off his chest before heading off to jury-land.

But to Charlie's surprise -- he assumed that it would be one his allies who would be targeted instead -- he was sent out of the game, and back into the company of Marcus. Sugar already knew that Ken would lie to her to advance his interests in the game, but decided to vote with him anyway. This bears watching in future weeks, especially since Sugar still holds that individual immunity idol. And as long as Randy is in Gabon, he'll always be worth watching. Hey, peevish middle-aged men are underrated entertainment.