After a brief stint on Exile Island, Blurry Denzel and Barbara Anderson continue the Watch-Along of Survivor: Palau with Episodes 9-11. Quick reminder: this Watch-Along will have spoilers for the entire season, so tread with caution if this is a concern for you.
”The Stephenie Show”
Barbara Anderson: Clearly the star of these three episodes was Stephenie as it was her farewell arc. Finally, I got a sense of the person that audiences in 2005 fell in love with. She is scrappy and fierce, but not afraid of being vulnerable. She was willing to do almost anything to get one more day in the game.
Blurry Denzel: I think everything you said about Steph is perfectly shown when she came back to camp following the last Ulong tribal. I once called this scene the greatest single scene Survivor has ever put together. We have things like Steph all alone tending to the fire with this dark background. We see her work so hard and relentlessly just to get a coconut from a tree. She has to do everything with no outlet of support. Her narration throughout this sequence is beautiful. She expresses fear, lost, strength, hope. This all makes Survivor feel so difficult and with her desire to fight on, the show feels important. Her emotion when reading the note that she is finally gone from Ulong and has a new start in Koror is a moment that stuck with me since my original viewing of this season. It was such a magical moment for the show that it caused them to create the Exile Island concept on the spot and they have tried to replicate what they had here with Steph but it’s never felt the same since. Stephenie proves here that she was a great character find for Survivor. As a player, the results are mixed but she does things on these three episodes that are intriguing to watch.
BA: She knows that she is an easy target, but I don’t think she realizes how much of a physical threat she truly is, which is insane (especially when you think about the people who are left on Koror not including Tom and Ian). However, she does her best to integrate back in with her Day 1 alliance of Tom, Ian, and Katie while also entertaining other options briefly. Of course, that option quickly disintegrates in front of her.
BD: I think she benefits from being the new face amongst a group that has spent three weeks with each other. Her story of lasting through Ulong is fascinating to the other people in the game. It’s enough to make her feel special but also dangerous. Gregg can’t get the idea of getting rid of Steph out of his head. I’m not sure what she could’ve said with the story she had that would have gotten people to take her to the end.
Coby’s Slow Descent Into Madness
BD: At the beginning of the game, Coby seemed like someone who can win this game. He spoke like someone with a sense of the game. The way he was able to interact with others throughout the season felt like someone who can have influence with others. He also proved to be capable in challenges with a diverse set of skills. There were moments when he was frustrated during the pre merge but I thought when it was finally time to go against the rest of Koror, he can shine. It is a shame to see it fade so suddenly.
BA: He literally cannot wait to get Stephenie to himself so he can use her. The main problem is if he was successful to pull Steph on his side, then he would still would be down 5-4 to the main 5. Of course, his behavior to the fishing adventure did not help matters much. Instead of just being chill that Tom wanted Ian and Gregg to go with Edwin and Joe, he immediately gets huffy in their faces. That doesn’t help their perception of him as being a bit of a grump at all.
BD: I think subtlety would have helped Coby immensely here. Perhaps if he approached people solo instead of in a group about opposing a Tom or Ian because they are strong, close duo, he could have gotten some movement. He did it well with Jonathan on day one. If you are so open about everything, like the way Coby was in the challenge, you bring too much of a spotlight on you in a game where you are better operating in the shadows.
BA: Also, he didn’t follow through with his intent because he threw his vote on Janu, who was seemingly his closest ally. Basically, what I am trying to say is that the “merge” episode was an awful boot episode for him because they made him look like an idiot. However, I do feel like he could stand a return trip, especially since his style of gameplay is very similar to Ciera’s and other similar modern players who don’t like others who aren’t “playing to win”.
BA: Janu is such a weird entity on this season, because I can kinda see what Casting saw in her. She’s a former beauty queen turned Vegas showgirl who is not afraid of climbing trees. But then, the really bad storm happened in the pre-merge which caused her to falter a little bit before bouncing relatively back. Then, the Coby boot truly blindsided her and this episode is her immediate downfall. In general, her “boot” episode is very oddly constructed.
BD: Janu’s ending baffled me, which is strange since the quit has been telegraphed for a few episodes. She was seemingly fighting her own body in the episode to win a reward challenge. After struggling in the immunity challenge and having her tribe laugh at her like a bunch of assholes, she seemed to still have decent spirits on Exile. I feel like Janu is someone who could never fully adjust to the elements rather than someone who no longer wanted to be there. Janu was never winning this game though. People’s perception of her were too damaging. I wonder if this is a case where Janu can see that there was no path and decided to cut her losses.
BA: Even Steph picked up on Janu wanting to quit after a couple of days being there, it was that evident. But, instead of Exile leading straight to the quit, Janu comes back to Koror like she has just gotten back from the spa. That is why the quit still feels weird. Maybe it is because she quit to save Steph (despite Steph begging her not to say that was her reason), but she still gets a relatively sympathetic edit for a quitter.
BD: I didn’t really have a problem with this quit. It didn’t seem like a case of someone who was willing to try. She isn’t someone who wanted to avoid the consequences of their actions. Janu gave it a solid push and it just couldn’t happen. There is something about someone who goes out there, really sells out for success but realizes that they just can’t do it. It feels authentic and I think it adds value to the people who can make it through the game. It’s another layer of the game worth exploring. I understand the fandom not liking it because they would kill to be on the show but maybe it’s necessary to show that this is not all it’s cracked up to be. This is a game but it’s something serious and potentially life changing.
BD: It is finally time to talk about Caryn, which will make a friend of mine pretty happy. Caryn makes her biggest stamp in the game by cutting down the plan for the women to take out Tom in a rare instance of him not being immune. On the surface Caryn sucks for this move, but I wonder if it was her best bet to get as far as needs to be. Caryn is someone who has spent the entire game on the outside. When Gregg approached Coby a few weeks ago about the potential of toppling the control, he wasn’t interested in having Caryn as a vote to make it happen. No one was interested in Caryn or having her in plans. Tom showed an interest. It is powerful to have such a strong force as an ally who would be targeted before you. Also, the most substantial relationship we have seen her have in this game has been an antagonistic one with Katie. Katie has shown that she is close to Jenn and Steph. Why would she choose Caryn over them? Caryn is number 4 in that group with Jenn and Steph being more likely to win immunity in that spot. I think Caryn is a little savvy here to see this.
BA: Pro tip: Don’t have the swing vote’s enemy be the only person to approach the swing vote. Think about how Jay handled a similar situation in MvGX. He knew that Figgy approaching Michaela would have been a losing situation that reeked of desperation, so instead he mediated the conversation. Imagine how differently it could have been if Jenn was there to mediate Katie and Caryn. She could have even promised a F3 deal between them and it would have worked well for all of them. But, instead we have Katie doing a pretty decent job trying to get Caryn on her side, but their past preceded them. Instead Caryn took Tom’s offer of being a Strong 6 at Final 7.
BD: Katie did a lot of damage by not maintaining at least a neutral relationship with Caryn. People will remember how you treated them in the past when you come to them for help. Katie has done decently in getting close with Ian, Tom, Jenn and Steph. She has the most strong relationships but everyone matters in this game and Katie failed with making connections with others not in her alliance. I’m not sure if Caryn ever had a shot of winning. One of the things Survivor has repeatedly taught me is that it’s not fair. The older woman historically has it tougher than other archetypes. Even they make what looks like the best move on paper, they get blamed for it a lot. I understand Caryn looking at the situation and telling Katie to fuck off.
How Is The Season Going?
BA: I can feel this season ramped up, especially now that Ulong anchor is free. We are finally able to get into the nitty gritty with the Koror and the strategy is pretty interesting. We now have a better sense of our merge crew with even Jenn emerging to say that she was willing to cut Gregg, which is something that we don’t have Gregg saying at all. We also got good farewell episodes to two large characters and Janu, which is pretty impressive with a 20 person cast*. That being said, the modern day editing problems are somewhat apparent here. In the Steph boot episode, which side is going to prevail: the side with Tom and Ian or the side with Steph, a largely purple character, and two tart women? That being said, the editing in that merge episode is indeed beautiful. I especially love the cut from Steph saying that she was afraid of starving out there to Coby brushing his teeth on Koror.
BD: This season is going just as great for me the second time around. I look forward to rewatching how the season ends with what I think is the greatest trilogy of episodes Survivor has had to end the season. God, I’m full of hyperbolic statements in this post. Aren’t you glad I badgered you for so long about this, Barbara?
BA: First of all, I am expecting to see more of this:
Secondly, I do see why people love this season so. I don’t think it will crack my top five favorite seasons, but at the very least, it is better than Cambodia and that is a good thing. Thanks for that.
BD: Just wait until we do the Guatemala Watch-Along after this.
BA: That is actually a season? You could have fooled me.
After being an off and on viewer for 14 years, Barbara watched the season premiere of San Juan del Sur and the rest is history. And by history, she means winning two Survivor fantasy leagues, becoming the resident Cambodia contrarian and Survivor gossip queen and lurking in discussion forums. Oh, and she’s totally not a witch.
Favorite seasons: HvV, Philippines, Australian Outback, China, Cagayan
Favorite players: Sandra Diaz-Twine, Jerri Manthey, Denise Stapley, Aubry Bracco, Courtney Yates