“Alright, everybody on the crew is essential personnel! Umbrellas, coolers, water! Find a spot to help!” -Jeff Probst
I think this picture summarized Survivor tonight. Like, the show broke tonight. Production literally broke down and went into emergency preservation mode after perhaps the most unprecedented… well, anything in Survivor history. Things like this have happened before to some extent- Russell Swan passed out at a challenge similar to Caleb, and more likely than not we’ve had other moments with scares like this that have been edited out. Still, the magnitude of this moment- 20% of the cast being struck by heat stroke and on the verge of being medevac’d, and perhaps the scariest medevac aside from the Swan incident, means that Survivor experienced something in production it rarely does- failure.
A lot of people yelled at the show for negligence and exploitation- generally these “Survivor is too hard on people” crowd were once the “if you cry on Survivor because it’s hard you took my spot” crowd so let’s hope it’s at least a semi-conversion for good. I get where it’s coming from- Kaoh Rong is insanely hot and I’d imagine they’d hoped they’d get a moment to show it off. A moment like this, however, seems like more than anyone ever bargained for. Probst panics and scrambles the crew. Three people drop from heat stroke. One is completely passed out and- spoilers for off-show info- would be in ICU for days with barely any consciousness. There’s heat-struck women, some of the strongest women you’d ever look at, sobbing out of pain and fear. You see exposed spinal cords from ninety-pound people hunched over, exposing every sinew. Even the worst of contestants lend a hand- Jason’s look of terror never leaves his face as he carries Cydney over to the shade, and Nick morosely holds up Caleb’s legs, watching as Caleb starts choking on his own lack of breath. When Probst said everyone was essential personnel, he meant everyone.
Still, despite challenges and, yes, a shoehorned Tribal Council taking up a literal thirty-two minutes of a forty-three minute episode, leaving us with a bizarre, intimate episode where none of production, edgic, convention, or structure could hold up, this very special episode of Survivor manages to be twofold. For the first half, it’s the cruelty of the elements mercilessly punishing three people, leaving slightly less injured people to help them. For the second half, sadly, it’s the cruelty of the people, as we return to Alecia’s swan song, where she finally comes to a head with the consistent demeaning from Jason and now Scot, who ordered her to continue being a cheerleader because “it’s all you’re good for”. Because of this, there’s rumors that To Tang threw the challenge to punish her, and indeed they did- Alecia dragged her heels at every turn but it was such an obvious vote you could hear Probst reading the three Alecia votes at light-speed, as though he was as eager to be rid of the three core To Tangs as the rest of America should be.
Tonight’s autopsy, like this very special episode, will also be unique. Due to the unconventional editing and circumstances of the episode, only the four To Tangs, Tai, and Debbie really have any confessionals or circumstantial airtime. Therefore, I’m going to tackle the two autopsies and skip “Pity The Living” save for Debbie and Tai, who obviously earned their intro photos regardless. The meat of the episode is the aforementioned twofold cruelty that defines the harshness of Survivor- both that of man and that of nature, combined in a deadlock that claimed two people.
Autopsy #1: Caleb Reynolds
I mentioned in jest last week that I could be doing a literal autopsy this week. Frighteningly, I was near correct. It’s easy to see Caleb as just having more severe heat stroke than Debbie or Cydney. Debbie, despite her assertions that she felt weak, held on quite strong, never panicking and always keeping a joking mood. Cydney took it harder, breaking down in tears and holding on in very understandable fear and anguish. However, both of them were… let’s say, fully conscious. For them, it was plain and simple heat stroke, and because of that, they recovered.
For Caleb, it was far more severe. According to Anna on Periscope, which my friend Dabu graciously did, sacrificing the ability to say he never deliberately paid attention to Anna Khait, Caleb was heat struck to a severe extent- hence the enormous ice cubes on his body- but he was also dehydrated and suffering from massive kidney and liver failure. Holy. Damn. With no exaggeration or emphasis, Caleb was very nearly the first contestant to die on Survivor. That’s intense, and I feel immensely for him- all of my reservations and my condemnations aside are not enough for me to ever sincerely hope someone dies on Survivor.
I would like to believe Caleb has shown change. In his post-game interviews he shows a lot of good spirits and maturity, and especially sincere admiration around Tai that suggest every interaction with Tai he meant 110%. His stalkmance of Amber, his “Arabs in a bar” comments in late Big Brother, and his aforementioned behavior on Instagram are still a hurdle to climb. I feel a need, as the kind of person with a background that people find eminently mockable or susceptible to discrimination, to keep a distance and to be wary of people like Caleb. Still, I hope he finds happiness and peace, that his relationship with his new fiance is outstanding and eternal, and I hope the good he showed us is what consumes his heart.
Autopsy #2: Alecia Holden
Whenever there’s a clear instance of sexism and bullying on Survivor, mentally I clear my entire calendar because whenever this happens, I consider it absolutely worthy of intricate, clear discussion. Call it education, call it passion, or do what most do and call it being a loudmouth arrogant SJW bitch. I don’t know which is most accurate anyways. Bottom line, to me Survivor reflects social standards a decent bit and when we let this slip by without a reaction, we let it burrow insidiously into the real world and not just Survivor’s miniature societies.
I’ve already made lengthy comments in places like AtS and The Tribe about the levels of which I think the Scot/Jason’s heady condescension of Alecia at every turn reflects both sexism and bullying on both of their behalfs, and nothing they have said has given me any awareness at all, not even a passable Freudian excuse. I think it starts at the root of Scot’s comment- telling Alecia to just sit back and be the cheerleader- it’s all she’s good at.
Ah, cheerleaders. Despite amazing athleticism in their performances and the fact that Scot likely tried to bang more cheerleaders than I’ve ever talked to, cheerleading is one of the most condescended professions out there. On a whole, cheerleaders are presumed stereotypically to be lesser women, and you could argue the entire job is to dress skimpily and praise a bunch of men before they go out and do the real work, if you’re an asshole who can’t let women choose to do what they want. Scot tells Alecia to be the cheerleader because, despite evidence to the contrary, he presumes Alecia is incapable of real help.
On the subject of Alecia, let me make clear that I am not saying she is at all a perfect person. She’s shown signs of what is at worse utter brainlessness and at best a complete failure to read social cues. Still, I hate the idea that a woman has to be an angel to deserve sympathy while a man can lie about Hurricane Katrina and still get $100,000 from America because strategy. I could easily spot you that Alecia immediately coming back to get angry at Scot after a traumatic afternoon is an absolute lack of social grace. However, just because you start with the moral upper hand doesn’t mean you leave with it.
If, to Scot and Jason, it was more important to them that Alecia not make this about her so Cydney could get the rest she needed, they would not have engaged her. They’d have told her “look, save it, Cydney got heat stroke and we don’t need to make this about ourselves.” Making it about themselves, however, is exactly what Jason and Scot did. As Cydney cringes in annoyance from the end of the shelter, Scot condescends that Alecia isn’t worth his respect because he’s from the NBA and she wasn’t, and Jason eggs her on, affirming her worthlessness because she didn’t shut up and do as she was told. Essentially, that’s what the argument came down to. Despite their assertions to the contrary, Alecia wasn’t weak enough to shut up when they insult her. Was it bad timing? Yes. Was it a valid point? Extremely. Ultimately, I can’t condemn Alecia for bringing it up. I don’t know if I’d have made it back to camp before reaming Scot over it.
Speaking of which, Scot and Jason could take a cue from Cydney, who ironically is the only one of the three who entered saying she hated most types of women. Despite the fact that I don’t doubt this as she clearly can’t stand Alecia for the same superficial reasons the guys can’t, at least with her objections she manages to be respectful and mature about them. If Jason admired her so much, he’d take cues from her on how to treat people.
Ultimately, what got my attention in a nightmarish way is Jason trying to excuse the way he treated “Blondie” because he wants his daughters to be strong women unlike Alecia, who he punishes to set an example. For one, Alecia’s problem has never been weakness. In fact, one could say she is way too goddamn strong. For another, what justifies weakness to Kyle? With Alecia, it’s her inability to back down to the treatment she’s received, her physical weakness, and her horrible read of social cues.
Okay, Mr. Jason. Let’s talk about autism. I have it. I have a high-functioning variation of it, but I identify as autistic. I also identify with Alecia, whom I absolutely will not assume has autism because that is presumptuous. Still, I’m more than forgiving of her inability to do what she feels is the absolute most important thing at any given time like speaking out at bad times, her lack of focus and sometimes lack of physical strength, and especially her complete frequent misread of social cues. I’m forgiving of these because in many ways autism brings these to me. I can’t read people, my motor skills are ass, and I cannot shut up if I feel it’s important to speak or I swear my body will implode.
I mention autism because you are the proud father of an autistic girl, who will God willing become an autistic woman. I warn you now, if you expect her to become a grown woman, and you don’t expect her to face some of the things you condemn Alecia for, you may be in for a very bad time. Learn that now, because I’d rather you get it now than get it later.
Ultimately, Alecia was always going to be up shit creek without a paddle because even if she was in this Alliance of Four from the beginning she was the clear #4. Kyle and Scot were always a pair, and Cydney is very self-sustained, and anyone knows there’s likely a swap after this. Voting out Alecia is a no-brainer. Still, the guys threaten to vote her out at the challenge, but Alecia has none of it- presumably because she’s gonna make them remember her name if they wanna vote her out. Tribal Council is so blisteringly unfortunate and obvious that Jeff flat-out says despite him rooting for her to stay, she was clearly set to go. So it was- in a 3-1 vote Alecia walked out of Tribal Council to heroic music only saved before now for the first finale boot and when Carolyn cockblocks Rodney from rewards.
I teased Alecia a lot for her mistakes and imperfections, as I feel liable to do as a snarky blogger for anyone on this show. Still, I will lay my cards on the table- I admire this woman. Despite her faults and despite the pressure from others she gave her all, never compromised herself, and fought until the end while keeping her head held high. Absolute respect to you, Alecia- from one socially awkward goober to another.
Pity Poor Goddamn Heartbroken Tai and Heatstruck Debbie
Debbie, you expressed that you didn’t want medical to visit you because you didn’t want to appear weak. I’ll say this- not accepting medical’s help when you need to admit it, that can be seen as weak. Your absolute mental fortitude, from your tearless, powerful handling of the care given as you recover to the casual joking and flirting and sincere gratitude you showed those who helped you (especially Joe, who was just as much a BAMF as ever), that’s where strength lies. I hope your daughters are proud, because you stuck it out like a freaking champ.
The power of the medevac was already obvious, but the emotional impact came from a deeply affected Gondol- if your name wasn’t Nick the edgicless robot, you showed that you were clearly hurt by the loss of your team anchor. Michelle’s being overwhelmed, Julia’s shattered belief that Caleb was invincible, and Anna’s face-twisting tears, those were all genuine reactions of sorrow and pain that hurt to watch. Nowhere was this more clear than Tai.
Tai and Caleb had a deep, emotional “bromance” that led to culture clash in some ways, but deep unity in others. Tai self-admittedly was attracted to Beast Mode Cowboy in a passive, playful way, but it’s clear that there was a strong emotional bond there. From the moment medical stepped in, they practically had to pull Tai from Caleb’s head so they could work on him. The entire time, Tai watches in horror as his best friend starts suffocating from heat exhaustion and eventually is pulled from the game. He has to clarify several times in sheer denial that Caleb is “gone gone, like right now?” When it hits, it’s possibly the most devastated I’ve seen anyone in regards to a medevac. His final tribute to Caleb, when he says he wants to see him again, and he still wants to get that kiss, was a beautiful final note for the Survivor legacy of Caleb. Tai as a character never fails to deliver and I think when I said this episode would give Tai the kick in the pants he needed, I was right.
Nice to actually predict something accurately for once.
My First Final Thoughts
I think Signed, Sealed, and Delivered is one of Survivor’s most powerful episodes. It’s an immediate icon for its raw production value, fascinating situations, gut-wrenching intensity, and ultimately for its tragic heroes. Not much progressed here aside from the medevac and the property value lowering done on To Tang. It didn’t have to, and it wasn’t meant to- the moments that consumed the episode were always going to, and production made the best out of a bad scenario. Probst said that no one on the cast was phoning it in. As if to thank that, he made sure none of the fans would phone it in either.
I’m certainly glad I got to start my work here on this season, and I don’t plan on phoning it in either.
P.S. I’d like to address my comments about Caleb as the medevac from last week. It’s come to my attention that it was like the single most obvious spoiler since the Cochran win. I’ve been pseudo-spoiled before on things that would happen in ways that only happened in hindsight. For example, the strange turnaround on So Kim from Worlds Apart from badass seeming player to suddenly unanimously theorized first boot from jagoffs who wanted to look clairvoyant (cough Josh cough Reed cough). I thought I was unique in coming up with this theory on the fly after Episode 3 ended, and I hope you all know and can believe I came into this season unspoiled and I plan on leaving it the same. I apologize that my less-than-groundbreaking theories contributed to this pseudo-intelligent groupthink that for many spoiled the Caleb evac before it started.
Wishing you all my best.