Blurry Denzel and Barbara Anderson outlast Ulong and continue the Watch-Along of Survivor: Palau with Episodes 5-8. Quick reminder: this Watch-Along will have spoilers for the entire season, so tread with caution if this is a concern for you.
Blurry Denzel: The whole thing felt inevitable, but yet I couldn’t look away. As Koror ate big and celebrated hard, Ulong was completely decimated. We see as the energy fades and their spirits are crushed again and again. Stephenie put it nicely when she said “I never give up but we hit a dead end”. Ulong always fought hard and didn’t look like a complete disaster in the challenges in the same way as other failure tribes over the history of Survivor have looked, but Koror just seemed to always be able to outsmart and outhustle Ulong at every turn when it mattered most. The show also never gave Ulong any relief in a swap or a merge, relief this squad desperately needed. In an unprecedented move for Survivor, they let it play out until there was a tribe of one with the iconic image of Stephenie all alone at Tribal Council. It felt a culmination of an emotional journey, but somehow we are only halfway through.
Barbara Anderson: It just feels Kim’s boot was a major shift in morale for Ulong. Sure, they win the great mai tai and Pringles reward in the following episode, but they just seem so miserable throughout these four episodes. Even Angie, who is usually pretty positive, is left fairly broken by the time she leaves. It also feels like Production decided to let Ulong hang out to dry after they saw that they dismantled their camp to come to tribal. Even Steph, the only fan of the show on that tribe, should have known that a merge was still a few tribal councils away at this point in the show’s run. On the whole, you can definitely make the comparison between Ulong and Matsing. Both of these tribes were decimated despite coming incredibly close in the immunity challenges. The only difference is that Matsing made better boot decisions than Ulong ever did. At this double Tribal Council, we see them struggle with anything that deviates from their plan.
BD: Clearly Ulong didn’t see the idea that Ibrehem may be protected by an idol at the end of that double boot episode, since they did everything short of putting up a billboard stating their intention that Ibrehem was the target. That is somewhat understandable since the both tribes are going to Tribal concept was still pretty new but their backup plan or lack of one was horrendous [Editor’s note: it might also be because the very first immunity idol in Survivor history would not debut until the following season]. If you are Steph and Angie, James has to be the boot. You have to be observant enough to know there is not a good relationship between James and Ibrehem. James doesn’t seem to the type to not make his intentions clear and that it might rub Ibrehem the wrong way. You have to know James would oust a woman before Bobby Jon, dude is not complex. You have to know Ibrehem is close to Bobby Jon and is not going to be putting a vote on him. Voting for Bobby Jon is useless. It’s been weeks now with these players, so there is no excuse to still be so behind on how relationships and Survivor works. You have to be better than this. Ulong never made necessary adjustments in their games to be better and this is a big example of why Ulong failed.
BA: I bet Production was pretty happy that Steph and Bobby Jon were the last two left from Ulong. Both of them are great characters in completely different ways. Steph is plucky and competitive while Bobby Jon is a quiet hardworking type who goes aggro in challenges. It does suck that they went out the way they did, but at least they got another chance with Guatemala. Yes, that season does exist even if the show in general would like to forget it.
BD: The fire making challenge being between those two felt right. Ulong may have been destroyed but they had a few players that had something. They did their part in keeping a predictable pre-merge results interesting and could’ve had shined brighter in a different season.
BA: One of those particular people is Angie. Many of y’all thought that we didn’t give Angie any respect last week, but that’s because we wanted to talk about her entire arc in one fell swoop. I think she is an absolutely fascinating character because of her arc. Angie goes from last picked to badass who gets screwed over by the double boot twist, which is such an unusual twist on the underdog story that Survivor likes to tell.
BD: Angie is awesome. Others struggle after not making the best first impression and become an easy pick to go home. Angie doesn’t take that shit though and forces people to come up with a new narrative about her. As a character on television, Angie gave compelling confessionals and had great energy that pops. I wish Survivor still cast people like Angie. She had a distinct style that makes the show better.
BA: Angie also had a decent sense for the game, which makes her arguably the best player on Ulong. She managed to remove the target off her back by being a strong challenge performer and integrating herself well with her others. I just hate that she seemed to become the target because she couldn’t handle the stupidity of walking around the jungle in the dark while it was raining. She just wanted to lay down, folks, let her be! Anyway, I would love to see her come back but unfortunately, she was diagnosed with a rare type of colon cancer last year. I tried to see if I could find anything about how she is doing today, but I could not. It just sucks because she could have an interesting contender for Cambodia or another similar season, even if she wouldn’t have made the final cut.
The James That Sucks
BD: Unlike Angie, James was not awesome. I get why he was cast. He gives memorable sound bites with an accent. Too often though, he says horrific stuff. There were the comments in past episodes about Kim only having her sexuality to get ahead because she is a woman. There was his astonishment that he got beat in competition by a gay man. This week there was the comment about Ibrehem and his Muslim faith that was way over the line. Now the show tried to sell James as a dope, a man who consistently oversold his abilities just to fall on his face again and again. That James was wrong about a lot and it is not as wise as he thinks he is. I’d rather James not have the platform at all to spew sexist, bigoted thoughts on national television. As many people as there are who know that James is not someone to take seriously, there are many nodding along with him, proud there is someone out there “telling it like it is.” It’s not just words, it is ideas that can put people just trying to live their lives in a dangerous position. He doesn’t deserve the attention. I hope the James of today has grown and learned from his mistakes of the past but the James on Palau was a fucking clown.
BA: Also, James was not the greatest in challenges, but he was able to stick around because he was a man and man equates strength, right? There was a discussion in the comments last week about how James is similar to Dan Foley and I get it. Both are supposed to be seen by the audience as horrible idiots who get their comeuppance, but there is one key difference. Dan was always in some sort of power, while James never was. James was the worst kind of wild card – the wild card who doesn’t really matter in the long run. He can cast stray votes, but it is not a big deal. It is fair to say that he is probably the worst in the “country bumpkin” archetype in the show’s history.
Keeping Up With Koror
BA: Although Ulong is the focus of these episodes, with good reason, we still got a lot of great content from Koror. Unlike other dominant tribes like Tandang and Timbira, the members of Koror are handling the cold war-like paranoia extremely well. They are smartly thinking about their post-merge game in a variety of ways. Sure, they are desperate to actually participate in the whole voting out people willingly, but they know that they need to keep their numbers up.
BD: I love the scene after that last team challenge where they get to have their victory lap, especially Coby’s confessional about being part of a dominant team after being bullied in his past. Things remained interesting over on Koror. We had Tom and Ian checking in with each other, worrying about the Gregg/Jenn showmance and thinking up ways they can use their relationship with Steph to their advantage. We have Gregg approach Coby about a partnership with them plus Jenn and Janu in a power play to overthrow Tom and Ian. Koror isn’t just resting on their laurels. The question though is if winning all the challenges was best for everyone’s game?
BA: I have often thought about that question. I think two things caused that to not happen. First of all, if they gave up one immunity challenge, then Ulong might gain momentum. After all, they were stronger and came dangerously close to winning some of those challenges. Secondly, I don’t think Tom and Ian would allow them to throw a challenge. I mean we saw how they handled winning the shower and fresh water.
BD: Tom can be very stubborn and assertive, even in situations where he doesn’t need to be. One shower wouldn’t make that big of a difference. It may even make Tom look good to relent on this one. I will say though that he was successful in getting what he wants without damaging blowback, even if it doesn’t feel right. Also, dude killed a shark. I do wonder if someone like Coby suffered from not getting to vote people out. He seems to grow frustrated by his tribemates and distracted from certain aspects of the game.
BA: I think Coby is someone who needs to have different people around to make bonds. He called himself something along the lines of a “social butterfly” in these episodes and you can see that in play with how he got everyone on the same page about Jonathan in the premiere. It’s almost as soon as Willard was voted out, Coby inherited his grouchiness.
How About Those Challenges?
BD: Challenges are generally the part of the show that I pay attention to the least. I enjoy them, but it doesn’t stick to me the same way strategy or character moments do. Part of the reason challenges stuck out to me in Palau is because strategy in challenges played such a big role in Koror’s dominance. Another part though is that these challenges are so well designed. The multiple layers in challenges, the way they utilize the water in a lot of these. It was very physical but maintained a nice mix of mental skills. It also looked fun for the viewers to want to jump in and try. I would do the massive slide puzzle in a heartbeat. I believe the team challenges in Palau are the best Survivor has ever had.
BA: I also enjoy how well the theme of World War II is integrated in these challenges. Yes, you do have your traditional Survivor challenges like the gross food eating, but you also have them learning Morse code, winning MREs, and shooting old guns. Of course, you have the whole sake bottle challenge, which can be just looked over because it is almost as bad as the giant chopsticks challenge in China Palau is also a good season to look at the old school challenges that you don’t see anymore (the S.O.S. challenge and the shelter building challenge say hello) while looking at the future of Survivor challenges where puzzles and physicality are becoming more important. This is the season that introduced Sumo at Sea after all.
How Is The Season Going?
BD: I loved this first part of the season with the story of Koror’s dominance and Ulong’s struggles with all emotions tied to it. This has been absolutely riveting. One thing I also like is how the second part of the season has been set up. We have Tom and Ian in control, Gregg and Jenn as a strong pair, Janu and her mindset in the game, Katie and Caryn’s dislike of each other, Coby’s frustration and what Stephenie is like after Ulong. So many different parts of this game are set up while also telling a satisfying pre-merge story. Real impressive work. But as you know, I’m already a big fan of Palau. How is the season going for you, Barbara?
BA: This batch of episodes are really strong and what makes Palau such an anomaly among Survivor seasons. I think what helps is the long-term storytelling mixed in with the strategy, which is always something I love to see in a great Survivor season. It is great that Palau has such a strong cast because it makes the stories and strategies more captivating for the audience. I do have a nitpick to bring up though. I still do not like Jenn’s edit at all. For a while, her confessionals were basically “tell the camera what you think Tree Mail means”. Then, once Gregg emerges as a potential strategic threat, she comes out of the woodwork as his showmance partner who wants desperately to be with him romantically. In other words, he gets all of the strategy confessionals, and she gets all of the romantic confessionals on top of complaining about Tom’s shower decisions. At this point, we should have a sense for everybody on Koror, but Jenn is just “Gregg’s girlfriend who wants a shower”.
BD: That is a very valid point about Jenn, I agree completely. She has been underutilized by the show to this point. She is someone that we will learn later has a mind for this game and someone who will pull off some pretty solid work down the stretch. It’s a shame Survivor didn’t show that early.
BA: If only she killed a shark.
Blurry Denzel (the artist formerly known as Black Dynamite) came back to Survivor after a 13 year hiatus since the first season and instantly fell in love. Now he spends a near obsessive amount of time talking Survivor, occasionally with rankings.
Favorite Seasons: Heroes vs Villains, Palau, Philippines, Cagayan, Pearl Islands
Favorite Players: Cirie Fields, Parvati Shallow, Stephen Fishbach, Natalie Anderson, Earl Cole, Jerri Manthey