After almost 30 days on the island, the survivors are starting to get that greedy gleam in their eyes, and all of the paranoia and deception that everyone’s been talking about for 11 episodes is finally percolating. Kim is having a harder time being everybody’s lean, tan best buddy; Kat is struggling with the idea that she’ll look like a weak player or a follower, as if it has just occurred to her that there are people watching these fun games in the sand; and good old Troyzan, who knows he’s not long for this island with no real allies on Tikiano, is left with no choice but to plant as many Troyseeds of doubt as he can to try to cling to his spot in the game for another week. Tarzan is the only tribe member who doesn’t seem to give much of a hoot how things shake up, drifting down the lazy river of game play on his dirty inner tube, and begins this episode by explaining that he’s just going to do whatever the girls say — the stress-free strategy employed by many contestants before him, who realize that they appear so weak that they might hang on until they finally foul up the laundry again in the final five.
Kim is not so carefree, saddled with the responsibility of keeping everyone happy and secure in their belief that they alone are her best friend, the one she’ll take on picnic challenges and high-five casually during games like a high-fiving gazelle. After the tribe fetches their tree mail, they realize that this is going to be a reward challenge revolving around perception instead of, say, climbing through a rope web that keeps trapping you and making you sweat and freak out and get burns. I’d be psyched, but the psychological games often come with casualties: Everybody’s feelings get hurt, and people like Kim, who seem so sweet and friendly, have to air some of their more umami opinions on members of their tribe in order to win. Before departing for the reward, Kat pleads with Kim to take her along if the winner gets a plus-one. Kim explains that she’s reluctant to let Alicia, Troy, and Christina have any time to cook up a plan, but Kat still clings to some kind of hope that she’ll get picked. Because Kat is fairly transparent, it’s easy to vibe out the fact that she doesn’t care so much about the reward as she does about being picked for something. That makes me sad. Kat was probably very popular in high school (she has the whitest teeth of anyone I have ever seen), and the virgin sting of being left out is clearly wearing on her.
The reward challenge is a poll. Everybody answers mean questions like “Who most needs a wake-up call in life?” with the name of a tribe member, then turn in their slam books to Jeff Probst, who re-questions them — this time, they answer with who they think got the most votes for each question, and whoever answers correctly hacks away at their choice of scarecrow avatars representing each castaway. Got it? It’s horrible, right? “Who doesn’t deserve to be here?” Christina. “Who’s the biggest poser?” Troyzan. As Troyzan’s dummy is axed, lowered into flames and burned until it’s just a dummy skeleton, Tarzan remarks that Troyzan “has become the molecular substrate of this island,” which is mature-plastic-surgeon-speak for less popular than leprosy. Kim and Alicia are the last two standing, and Kim takes it home, as she usually does. The reward is a helicopter ride to another island location, a picnic basket, and a makeover from Cher Horowitz. Kim gets to invite two guests, and goes with Alicia and BFF Chelsea. Kat looks ready to cry, and Troyzan lets some paranoia bats fly into the atmosphere as he muses on how “revealing” Kim’s choice was. In the helicopter, which the rewards crew treats like a roller coaster (holding hands, screaming, clutching at their picnic basket), Kim is disconcerted because Christina took a beating in the popularity poll and she knows she’s offended Kat.
Kat, back at camp, is sitting on a rock and whining about the unfairness of Kim bringing Chelsea (Kim’s justification was something about how Chelsea never eats — more high school food-chain reverbs! Lady island is like a Tori Amos song!), and Troyzan springs into action, telling her that “this isn’t about food, it’s about strategy.” Troyzan doesn’t seem to have much patience as it is, and trying to explain how to play Survivor to someone who seems to have found and smoked pounds of magical island brain-goopifying weed makes Troyzan yell. He yells at Kat to make the other players paranoid, to strategize, to “get mad!” as she massages her forehead and looks pained, then leaves the thinky circle to cry to the camera that Troy has made her — well, mad. Sabrina tries to calm Kat, telling her not to let him get in her head and then sneaking away to tell the camera that Kat is a hot mess, which is true. Kat says she’s afraid of being thought of as a weak player or a follower, as opposed to just a person who throws farts (a vestige from her prior life of crime?).
Troy, scrambling still, offers to give Sabrina and Christina his vote for whomever they choose, and when Christina seems receptive, Sabrina feels that she’s too waffle-y to trust. Christina has always been the underdog, but we’ve never seen exactly why she’s picked on so much until this episode: She has no strategy at all, and seems to have almost nothing invested in the game. She occasionally bluffs that she knows what she’s doing, but she’s just a Kat without the spunk. Kim, Alicia, and Chelsea return to camp and find Kat staring miserably off into the distance, rejecting their offers of salad. Kim takes Kat aside and tries to reassure her, saying that she wishes she’d never won the challenge, while Kat stares at her with the eyes of a house pet who has just been shoved into a carrying case and brought to the vet. Total musky betrayal and animalistic hatred, but probably just the temporary kind that can be erased with a teaspoon of cream cheese and some soothing pats.
There is an interstitial here, during which the survivors chase a giant pig (Troyzan estimates that it’s one hundred and sixty pounds). Kim enjoys the fact that the pig has broken the tension and wonders if they should keep it as a pet. Christina runs behind Sabrina, who’s giddily pig-chatting to the camera, wielding a giant ax. What does it all mean?
The immunity challenge can only be described as a slip ’n’ slide ring toss. Everyone has to cover their bodies in oil before they slip down the slide, which is the kind of humiliation you’d really only expect from The Challenge. There are three battles to this war, with the winners from each round going on to compete in the next. Kim and Chelsea find themselves in the finals, and Kim gets immunity. The only notable point to make about this immunity challenge is that Troyzan and Tarzan go up against each other, and Tarzan wins. It would be great to root for Troyzan if he were an Ozzy of sorts, but he’s unreliable in these challenges, so when he cheers for himself or beats his chest and goes “YES! YES! YES!” when he wins, it’s hard not to want to tell him to cool off, hot shot. He really needed immunity this time, and he let Tarzan beat him at a slip ’n’ slide challenge. It was a shame.
The giant pig is chilling back at camp when Tikiano returns, but everyone has their mind on business and nobody even goes over to pet it or give it a name like Chicharones. Kim suggests that the alliance throw two votes to Christina as insurance in case Troyzan has the idol, while Kat worries about following directions because that’s what followers do, not masterminds like her. Sabrina, in a moment of stupidity, tells Christina about the split vote and reveals that Christina will see her own name, probably misspelled, on some cards at tribal council. She almost immediately realizes her mistake and keeps repeating that Christina isn’t going home, even though the whole point of splitting the vote is that Christina will be going home if Troyzan has the idol (which is still up in the air, since he faked that it’s been in the pocket of his cargo shorts last week). Christina is oddly unworried, mentioning that she’d heard this news from Kim and Alicia but isn't really doing anything about it. Alicia uses this opportunity to compare Christina’s intelligence to that of the children she teaches as a special ed teacher, saying, “I handle her as one of my students. She’s going to do whatever we tell her to do.” Wow. That’s uncomfortable! I don’t know who should be more offended, the special ed students or Christina. I think Alicia’s students might want to confer with Kat about starting a mutiny against their insensitive leader. They might want to start with drawing mean doodles about that bikini I can’t stop talking about or staring at.
Troy and Christina are conferring in the ocean about how they’re going to vote, and Christina (possibly infected with ill-advised loose lips from her earlier chat with Sabrina) tells Troyzan that she’s going to vote for Chelsea, and reveals how the votes will be split. Aha! Now Troyzan knows he can vote for Christina, recruit Kat and Tarzan, and have a shot at staying another week. Unfortunately, he’s not as smooth and convincing as Kim, so it’s more of a last-ditch attempt than a feasible plan. At tribal, Jeff asks Christina why she’s still around, and she answers that it’s because she’s lucky. Chelsea points out that Christina had been voted as the person least deserving of a spot in the game during the poll challenge, and Christina sprays some fluff about how she has a secret strategy, super deception-heavy, yada yada yada. She’s such a bad bullshitter. Kat admits that Troy got to her and that she’s worried she seems to be “up Kim and Chelsea’s ass” — such a poet, that one.
The votes are read: one for Chelsea, three for Christina, and four for Troyzan. On the way out, as he’s giving one of many final meaningful looks at the rows of people who voted him the person they’d least like to see again after the game ends, Troy leans in and tells Kat to “do it.” I think that the problem with Kat is that “Do it” needs an accompanying set of Ikea instructions with pictograms showing how to “do” whatever “it” is, and you don’t get that kind of time when your torch is about to be squelched. The monkey whisperer departs, lamenting that he didn’t win (he spent 11 years wanting to get on Survivor — shh, man, it’d sound way better if you shaved it down to eight or nine) but hoping that fans appreciated his game play. At times we did, monkey man. At times we did.
Next time! Tarzan is the last man standing, but, strangely, doesn’t seem to be the target of the voting-off conversation teasers — everybody is huddling around whispering Sabrina and Kat’s names instead. You guys!! He shat his pants! Don’t let him blend into the palm trees and manage to whip out heretofore unseen immunity skills and win the whole damn thing! “It’s going to be a catfight,” says somebody, or maybe they meant a Katfight. Somebody better take that girl on a helicopter ride and tell her she’s their favorite, or she might put a giant pig’s head on their pillow and become like Fairuza Balk in The Craft. That’s what “Do it” means, right?