This season, there are two crazy people on Survivor island: Brandon Hantz and Phillip Sheppard. We already know they’re crazy because they established that in the previous seasons in which they appeared (South Pacific and Redemption Island, respectively), but because the insanity level of the castaways seems to increase exponentially with every subsequent appearance on the show (see: Coach Wade’s evolution from “Dragon Slayer” to fellow Villains tribe member Jerri’s pseudo-boyfriend to his final wackadoodle avatar, “Zen-Slayer”), they are now nuts in an even more self-aggrandizing way. Brandon establishes this right away in last night’s episode: After returning to Bikal after voting off Francesca, Brandon lays into Dawn, telling her that sending Francesca home first for the second time is “the harshest thing [he’s] ever seen in [his] life” and crowing that he’s “a fucking honey badger, dude.” Francesca was apparently not one of the evil female temptresses that dog Brandon throughout his poor, morally conflicted life, and he’s pretty broken up over the whole thing. Irrationally so.
Dawn tries to calm him down with some mom-lingo about having compassion for both sides of the situation, smiling pacifically as he rams crankiness down her throat like five dozen bitter doughnuts in a row — she’s going to lose the game because of this dumb move, he insists — until she slinks away to cry. Meanwhile, it’s made to seem, a dingo or other strange wild dog-cat wearing night-vision stripes spies on her from a tree, and a gang of rats play in a pair of sneakers. Her brain “can’t process” the meanness, and she compares Hantz to pollution (just wait, Dawn. JUST WAIT). Brandon continues to dumps some confessional bile onto Shaggy Erik, musing aloud that he’s “feeling a little revengeful” and can feel his infamous uncle’s “blood running through [his] body right now […] This is a game and [he's] playing it DIR-TY to the core.” He waves his arms around to indicate the presence of foreign blood. Erik looks at the camera as if he’s waiting for it to become an elevator that will open and take him to a different floor. This season's cast is breaking the fourth wall with a sledgehammer. I’m guessing they got a really attractive camera crew. Hey there ;)
After a good night’s sleep on the hard rods of bamboo, however, Brandon has mysteriously changed his tune. He confides in Cochran that he was going to sabotage his tribe by spilling their ration of beans and pulling assorted high jinks, but he had a revelation that he’d be seen as a quitter and would disappoint his children. He claims to have realized that the best course of action would be to “be nice,” particularly because his ranting and chest-beating might have put off some of his team and sent him down a few notches on the totem pole. Cochran just sits there, but in an aside to the camera later, while sitting in a giant rock armchair in the tranquil sea, he muses that Brandon’s unpredictability reminds him of a “murderer […] who is sort of sociopathic.”
Even Phillip’s getting wary: As he approaches the duo, Brandon invites him over, and Phillip launches into a Lessons From Boston Rob session about controlling the flow of information. What Boston Rob probably wouldn’t have done is tell Brandon that he “doesn’t have enough data yet” to trust him and compare his role in Bikal to “middle management.” No nickname for Hantz — and he’s probably the only person who actually wants one. This angers Brandon, obviously, who goes on a private tirade during which he calls Phillip "special agent Pink Panther” and “Inspector Gadget." For his part, Phillip tells the camera that he’s disturbed by Brandon and that he thinks he’s “narcisstic.” You know, a “narcist.” Brandon tries to pit the rest of the tribe against Phillip, telling them that he’s “trying to Boston Rob us” and that Phillip calls himself the CEO. This is not news to The Dominatrix, Corinne, or to anyone else for that matter; the draw of sticking with Phillip is that he’s obliviously eccentric and is the perfect person to bring to the finals. Brandon, however, is so paranoid that he can’t seem to hold on to any threads of an alliance for more than a few minutes without getting a message from the universe or wanting to deuce in the rice pot.
Over at Gota, the fans have their own Phillip Sheppard in Shamar. He’s not crazy, but he’s going to have a hard time winning votes if he keeps spending 19 hours a day conserving his precious bodily fluids by lying supine in the shelter, watching people sweat as they hurl axes at various objects. He giggles and says stupid things like “Life is good on the i-sland,” but at least Sherri’s a fan. She’s pegged him as her back-pocket Survivor bitch and encourages him to annoy the rest of the tribe in order to remain unpopular while she carries him with her to the end. The double-date lookers, Eddie and Hope and Allie and Reynold and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, have all decided that they want Shamar gone and assume it’s a lock. He’s so lazy, but I guess that’s understandable since he just did two tours in Iraq.
At the combination immunity/rewards challenge (for fishing gear), the fans — especially Michael — are surprised that Bikal showed “no mercy” in sending Francesca home first. It was a pretty harsh move, but Survivor is not a polite game. This much is clear when Phillip drops the Bikal flag and almost beans Corinne in the head. The challenge consists of sending three tribe members racing to a raft before three different people drag the raft to a platform and then dive to retrieve nine rings; they get pulled back to shore and the remaining three teammates throw the rings at three sticks until they’ve hooked a ring on each. I hate when there are still so many people in the game, because it’s so much easier when there are four people balancing balls on their noses while they hang out on toothpicks suspended five feet above the ground, but whatever. The fans strategize tensely, with Shamar passive-aggressively commenting that "my ideas never work, I'm just a fool." Yeah, better go back to sipping margaritas under an umbrella, you big refrigerator. The fans lose a ton of time on their ring-fetching because they fail to alternate divers often enough and the favorites cruise on by, making it almost all the way to shore before the fans get all of their rings together. Malcolm scores two rings almost immediately, and though the fans make up some ground, it’s an easy victory for Bikal with Phillip scoring the final point.
In a jubilant mood coming off the win, Phillip takes some time out of his busy schedule to explain the expansion of “Stealth R Us,” a holdover from his first season. Malcolm, the reluctant Enforcer, and the rest of the crew (Corinne, the Dominatrix; Dawn, True Grit; Andrea, the Eliminator; and finally, Cochran, the Intelligence Attaché) are held hostage by The Specialist as he points them out to the camera. It’s so weird. Malcolm decides that it’s OK to play FBI Puppet Theater with Phillip for a few days, but if this “insane person” makes him keep up the charade for the whole game, he’ll “hang [him]self.” Better get that noose ready, my long-haired friend. Just unsnap that Goody tie and say your good-byes.
Back at Gota, the mood is much darker. Eddie is filled with envy over the rivals' strategy, with their “muscle in the front, muscle in the middle, muscle in the back” — yes, muscle, muscle everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Did he forget that Cochran pulled the boat back to shore? Shamar vaguely complains from his lounge position, and Reynold jumps on him to inform him that his behavior is “not acceptable where [he] come[s] from” (San Francisco?). It’s childish. This sets Shamar off on an “LET IT BE CHILDISH THEN!” chant that is, you know, pretty childish. Reynold waves his hands around as though to say, “I’m Shamar, I’m a little ninny,” and tells Shamar that he’s going to vote for him at tribal. Everyone laughs awkwardly because this is not how you do Survivor. The alliance floaters, Michael and Matt, are flirting with the idea of joining up with the popular four to vote off Shamar. Matt even halfheartedly tries to get Sherri to agree to sending Shamar packing, arguing that they’d still have a five-four advantage, but Sherri’s not having it, and offers up that she thinks he’ll “chill out” once he knows he’s not on the block this time. Laura says that she’d like to take out Allie, because she’s the biggest threat of the “pretty people.”
Reynold, who I was promised would grow on me, sets out on the first expedition to find the hidden immunity idol, powered by adrenaline, while echoes of “LET IT BE CHILDISH THEN” fill his head and he imagines his own snappy retorts. Amazingly, he finds it within what seems to be minutes, hiding in a tree where the idols always nest. He vows to "be smart about it, you know, not walk back to camp with a stupid grin on my face and a huge bulge in my pocket," but unfortunately he cannot conceal his idol boner and Laura spies it from a yard off when Reynold squeezes into his skinny pants. She’s worried that he’ll pass it to Allie, but doesn’t have time to discuss a new plan with her alliance, so off to tribal council they march.
Jeff spends the customary amount of time grilling the tribe about how they formed their alliances (“it just kinda happened”) and Probsting Shamar about how the experience is shaping up for him. He complains that he’s 300 pounds and sort of drained; he also laments the loss of leaders (as in the Marine Corps) and how he struggles to deal with so many individuals with their pesky opinions about tackling challenges. Reynold criticizes Shamar’s laziness, to which Shamar responds that he’s a “good scapegoat” because he’s "big and loud, a big, loud guy." I like Shamar. He seems so self-aware, but I really don’t think he knows that he’s sabotaging his chances of winning with every subsequent nap, and I find this endearing. Probst asks Laura what she makes of this situation, and Laura uses this as an entrée to stare incriminatingly at Reynold and talk about the bulge in his pocket. Reynold confesses that he has the idol and shows it to everyone (“apparently my pants are too tight”). He says he’s going to play it “and be done with it,” and also slips in a Spin Doctors reference (“a pocket full of Kryptonite”). Maybe I will defect to Team Reynold. He and Eddie can be my “Two Princes.” Shamar is shocked and says that Reynold deserves an Academy Award, but we all know he’s not going to stand a chance against Bradley Cooper.
Before the votes are read, Reynold does some hand-acting and makes you think he’s going to play the idol, but decides not to. Is The Bold and the Beautiful hiring? Because if so I got your guy. He even made tears for this tribal council. Glycerine-like, sparkling, limpid, never-fallen tears. Lovely. The first four votes are for Shamar, but the next six seal Allie’s fate as the first Gota to get gone (she’s mortified and mimes that she’s going to shoot herself in the head for being voted off second). Probst lectures the fans that they have to band together to get the numbers to beat Bikal after the merge, to get it together, and blah blah blah. Keep trying, Probst. One day it’ll happen.
Next time: Shamar yells at everybody including Longbeard Matt, and Brandon contemplates pissing in the rice, in the beans, and (presumably) on the scorched remains of the shelter after he burns it “to the ground.” Please, please, please let Brandon and Phillip both survive the merge. I need to see what happens when vinegar and baking soda combine.
More Survivor talk: Be sure to listen to Chuck Klosterman's chat with host Jeff Probst on The Grantland Network.