Survivor Autopsy in Hindsight #9 or Something: Death of a Cheminist

Hey all! First things first, apologies for bowing out and not showing up with an article for last episode’s Hindsight Bias as well as being late and minimalist on this week’s “Autopsy” which after three ecstatic viewings is more a celebration of this episode. I’ve mentioned before I’ve been suffering with illness and I’m hitting a pretty big rough patch, sort of the last, harshest bit of the storm, so I was absolutely zapped, no energy. To some extent I still am, but if anything is giving me life right now, it’s this episode.

Guys, Survivor has gotten really good in a way it hasn’t in years.

I know, I know, I can’t believe I’m saying that right now. I mean, what happened this episode? The two douchiest douches in this game, one of which makes me break out in hives, are intentionally trying to starve and dehydrate the “bitches” out of the game. As recompense for this, everything goes right for them- they turn Tai to the dark side, Julia sides with them and wins immunity, and the super idol as a threat means a woman is going home, and it turns out to be Debbie, who might have been the most dynamite character out there, next to Tai at least. The outcome of this episode was just emotional destruction, and it leaves us with little hope left. At best, the women’s alliance has Michele, Aubry, Cydney, and Old Man Groundskeeper Joe. Julia’s clearly wavering, Tai is nigh unpredictable, and the two douchy guys have a freaking super-idol, which can either be two vote-deflecting idols or one elimination-preventing idol.

This, right now, is the lowest we’re getting. This is Negan brandishing Lucille in front of the tear-stained faces of the Grimes Crew. This is Korra being poisoned, traumatized, and unable to walk for two years. This is Harvey Dent and the half-burnt lucky coin after he loses Rachel. More literally, in this episode we saw the brutal death of the mentor of the story, the wacky mama bear whose ego was only topped by her positivity. I’ve mentioned before that as a TV character, Debbie was aces for me. On the surface, sure, you could laugh at her ego and her thirty million jobs, but there was more to our favorite Cheminist. She was always around to uplift those who needed it, and only had a bad word to say about people far past the point where most people would be fuming.

Even when she was praising herself, she often did it as she praised others. She talks about the awesome things she does in life only to drive home the point that Tai in the challenge was as impressive as the most amazing things she’s done and seen in life. She claims she was ripped when she got to the island after she praises Cydney for being even more ripped and for being very disciplined. Her downfall this episode, which sent her home, was that she refused to lose faith in Julia even when Julia didn’t deserve it. Debbie asserted many times she wanted to see a woman win and it became clearer and clear that she meant it, so how brutal to see her sacrificed to the wolves by four of the women she encouraged most- underestimated Cydney, self-conscious Aubry, untrustworthy Julia, disrespected Michele- so that the men wouldn’t get their way against Cydney.

What this also signifies, however, is that we’re seeing a lot of bold storytelling this season that we’ve been missing from awhile. For one, this is the latest step in several overarching subplots and one large overarching plot, the main one picking up steam after the Anna boot. From Nick failing to manipulate and condescend to Michele to Scot cornering Chan Loh into picking off their outsider, to the fall of Neal leaving Aubry alone and despised, to Cydney putting together that she was being pushed out of the alliance she had from Day One by Nick, to all of the women coming together to bitchslap Nick for all of his bullshit, to here, where the guys get revenge and win over Julia (saved by Scot) and Tai (Scot’s best friend) to make sure the girls don’t have a way out this time. Survivor has been largely reliant on one-episode plots that vaguely connect, but this is a legitimate arc, one we haven’t really seen since Heroes vs Villains with Rob vs Russell feeding into the JT idol clusterbleep feeding into Sandra destroying Russell at every possible turn.

For another, we’re seeing big heroes fall and big villains succeed without it getting as nasty as Worlds Apart. I mean, the dudes are bad and I still think Jason is a black mark on the concept of breath and life, but I doubt we’ll see them being as completely abusive as a Will Sims II. Still, they’re doing incredibly messed up villainous things. From the miles of needless condescension towards Alecia, to this episode where they hide supplies and publicly put out the fire in front of everyone while they’re all near it, these guys are villainous bastards, and they have all of the power. Jason I don’t think really has any skill outside of idol finding, but Scot is where it’s at. I called him being the biggest dud this season, but wow. He’s not just an asshole, he’s proficient at Survivor, and he gets shit done.

Survivor nowadays has three mainstay villain types- the dumbass flameout, the absolute joke, and the needlessly disgusting. Drew Christy, Phillip Sheppard, and Dan Foley, respectively. Scot, however, is the threatening villain we rarely see around anymore. He’s John Carroll, Alex Angarita,Jonny Fairplay. Maybe not as great a character as the higher echelon villains, but he has one thing most modern villains lack- the ability to make you fear he’ll never get his comeuppance, that he’ll get away with it. No one saw Peter this season and thought “oh shit, what if he wins out?” We were there to watch him keep getting kicked in the jaw by his own hubris. Scot might never fall to that, from what we can tell. Theoretically, it would make perfect sense for Scot to succeed in his goals and make us all miserable for it. And since Scot toes the line but doesn’t quite cross it yet to the point where his existence is immoral as hell, I can appreciate the exhiliration.

Conversely, Survivor has also been very scared to give its more positive headlining characters a brutal downfall in the face of villainy, unless it’s Worlds Apart and they have vastly overestimated the power of the payoff or our patience for psyching us out. When someone’s idoled, twist-screwed, or a victim of a bad situation, we get Katie Collinses or Dan Foleys. Rarely are they someone with as complex a portrayal and influence on the season as Debbie Wanner. Debbie going home here reminds me of the Rob boot in Marquesas- it’s a character who, while very imperfect, was painted as the way out of the ugly mess of the season and the villains winning, then he doesn’t survive long enough to make it happen. It’s a kick to the teeth, but it raises the stakes way more immensely than if Debbie had the edit of Kelly Remington up until then.

At the end of the day, even if things didn’t go the way I liked, the storytelling practices here feel like, for the first time in a long time, that the editors are taking the audience seriously and not handling them with kid gloves. Unlike Worlds Apart, there’s a lot more legitimate room for variability- Julia’s playing both sides blatantly and Tai has genuine moral quandaries, so we’re not looking at editing lying about what’s painfully obvious. There’s some hope left, but the mountain the plucky heroines have to climb is intense. No food, no supplies, and hounds willing to stomp down any progress they make to physically protect themselves. The enemy is swaying people that should know better, and on top of that they have invincibility that would not have to take much effort to give them permanent numbers.

Yet, I still have hope. I have to see how this plays out. If this is what Michele, Cydney, Aubry, or hell even Joe have to go through to get to a win, I have to know how they overcome this. For now, let’s get into how Debbie met her fantastically told doom, and let’s praise the role every character has had in this episode. 

Debbie’s Autopsy

Despite her zaniness, Debbie had a surprisingly powerful strategic intellect and an impressive drive and ability to get stuff done. However, despite her intelligence, Debbie had a susceptibility to fall vulnerable to passion and emotion to make her decisions. It’s this Catch 22, this Mobius strip, that ultimately defines her as a player. She can lie to Liz and Pete’s faces without even blinking, but when her girls and Old Groundskeeper Joe are being pushed around by the wankers from To Tang, she wants them out now, damn the consequences. Ultimately, it’s that dichotomy that led to Debbie’s demise this episode.

Once Julia flipped over to the guys, there was almost zero chance that the guys were gonna be stopped this round. The worst that could happen to them is for the women’s alliance +Joe -Julia would vote for Scot and they could simply super-idol him back into the game. As such, Aubry decided Julia would be the safest target once she and Cydney both detected that Julia had eaten a side of bullshit with her Chinese Food and it was all over her breath. It’s a dire move, but essentially an Edgardo type of vote-out. Target the least susceptible person and maybe flush some enemy idols.

However, things went from bad to worse for the counterstrike when Julia netted a surprise immunity win this episode- the youngest person ever to win having just turned nineteen at the time. Bad enough that a counterstrike against Julia would be an intensely tough sell to begin with, now it was an impossibility. Still, while some like Aubry processed that this was going to be a sacrifice of a vote and others like Cydney realized their life was on the line, people like Debbie and Joe were too loyal, too idealistic to see that there wasn’t any hope this round. For Debbie, this was so extreme that she announced her plans to split the vote straight to Julia and the others, unwilling to believe until the very end that Julia had turned on them. Of course, Julia decided it best to go straight to the guys and tell them they had a split they could manipulate, earning good graces from them, meaning that Cydney was in more danger than ever.

Aubry would be the one to make the brutal call, essentially forced to choose which ally she could sacrifice easiest. Michele is in general inoffensive enough and flexible enough to have on board, and possibly the faintest chance at getting a shot at pulling Julia back in. Cydney had started the attack against Nick, saving the Chan Loh women and showing a lot of sacrifice and risk-taking to do so. Debbie was the most loyal, to a fault.

While I’d imagine no one liked having to decide which woman went, Debbie flat out wouldn’t do it, and it spooked Aubry. If they run into more situations where they have to make hard decisions to cut losses, how can you trust someone who, because of the goodness of their heart, would never be flexible to keep in time with the storm? To add to it, Joe also didn’t want to be disloyal, and was so morally disgusted with Scot and Kyle he was always going to have his vote there. Because of this, we get to the X-factor of the vote- Julia, the former target, now the swing vote. And there had to be a big enough target to tempt her to flip from the Cydney vote to the other side- Debbie.

As amusing as it is that Aubry used the person she wanted gone (Julia) to vote out the new target (Debbie) because Aubry was upset that Debbie wouldn’t vote out Julia, remember for most of these people, their first impression of Debbie was “holy shit this motormouth is playing way too hard!” It was not at all a hard sell to Julia to offer her the most big-moves oriented vocal strategist out there over Cydney, who according to Julia herself talked to and had great interactions with everyone. Because of that, irony sent home Debbie, the women’s advocate, as a sacrificial choice by the women, including the one she defended to the end. Too strategic to make a first impression less than terrifying, too passionate to make the hard choices against her own kin.

Pity the Living

Good goddamn, man. Every character fulfilled a great role to the episode so much so that I was tempted to give all of them intro shots. Being still zapped of energy (I started this article Thursday, and am just now finishing it Tuesday) I’m just gonna go through my love of each of the characters without all the fancy artistry and hope that Thursday I’ll be right as rain, but damn, this episode speaks for itself.

Aubry is our protagonist, evidenced by her logging ten more confessionals this episode (upping her count from five total in the swap episode to thirty in episode nine). Is she a reliable narrator? No. And out of all of the “good guys” she has probably the loosest morality, ultimately sacrificing a close friend of hers out of frustration. Still, she’s the most active in the fight against the chaos-starting men, for better or worse. She condemns Julia for flipping and she has the most to say about how things should go. She’s the brains of the operation, not acting on pure loyalty or good vs evil, but on what’s right for their team. This time, however, I’d argue she doesn’t succeed.

Cydney is one of the more pure heroines of the episode. When the sabotage starts, she’s the one hacking coconuts in half with a dull saw. She calls that Julia’s BSing them the moment she starts. Ultimately, her life is on the line because Scot and Kyle plan to punish her for having a mind of her own and flipping, but because of the qualities of hers that are positive (her strength and her connections to everyone) she is narrowly saved at the last minute, thwarting the villains’ plans.

Joe, of all people, functions as the moral compass. His scenes primarily are around the camp before and after the villains mess with it. It’s he who points out the sabotage going on, and he that confronts Scot for pouring the water out. It’s also he who Scot demeans for helping the women start a fire. “You’re the firestarter. Start the fire.” Out of moral stance more than anything, he becomes the sixth ranger to the women in this fight, dropping out of the challenge in a way that forced Julia’s hand. He wants to stay loyal to the women and vote out Scot for his treachery. I like that we have this sort of wild card, one who genuinely cares and seems hurt by the ruthless decisions being made by the Brawn men. I’m excited to see how Old Groundskeeper Joe factors into future episodes.

Julia is set up as our traitor. Even though she’s dead transparent about it I think she’s making a smart move by sticking with the Scot/Kyle movement since she already has an in with them, and she could easily beat the guys by virtue of not goddamn pouring water on the fire and demeaning others on the tribe. She also still likely has Michele as a guardian angel, though we don’t know exactly how that plays out yet. Still, Julia is the reason everything went wrong. She’s why they can’t split. When she wins immunity it means Aubry’s attempt to have her sold out is doomed. She’s also the vote that decides that Debbie goes home. If the guys succeed despite their wickedness, it’s all on the back of Julia.

Kyle at one point was probably seen as the lead villain but this guy is for real henchman material. All he does nowadays is sit back with his unflinching slimy smirk of a voice and laugh about doing evil while looking like a cartoon character. He delights in it. He brags about psychological warfare in the military, which isn’t a good look on anyone, and he brags about using it in bounty hunting- which holy shit dude you’re in South Michigan, who exactly the hell are you psychologically torturing, teenagers with unpaid parking tickets or weed smokers- and he loves showing off how evil he and his plans are. That and his idol are really all he has going for him right now.

Michele didn’t have a huge role in this episode other than to react and push girl power. And with those dynamite expressive eyes of hers, that is no problem whatsoever. She goes along with the plans for the good of the group while also being the closest to the traitor. Can’t wait to see how she gets involved in the future.

Scot is easily the lead villain and for my money one of the most effective ever at villainy. He toes the line a lot and sometimes outright crosses it but for once it actually makes the show better. This seven foot tall NBA player with the gravelly deadpan voice is good at Survivor most of the time, and at other times just a horrible little shit who fucks up everything and revels in it. He’s imposing in every way and I have zero clue how he’ll be toppled, but I know it has to happen. It just has to.

Tai, if anyone, is who would be Scot’s undoing. Caught on the bottom of the vote, by necessity he stays with the guys even as he finds their actions morally corrupt, but as the situation gets more dire he is swayed further and further to the dark side, eventually taking part himself. Unlike Scot and Jason, though, he’s pragmatic and precise. He pours water over the fire to get an objective done, not to strut around and prance like a villain. Ultimately that’s why I think Tai is less hated. You could tell this was his ill-informed version of a game move, while Scot loved making people miserable because the women had the audacity to think for themselves. Scot looks like a Marvel villain, Tai looks like a Muppet in comparison. That, and Tai succeeded and keeping the target off of himself, incriminating Scot even further and ultimately cementing Debbie’s anger against Scot and Kyle. However, there’s still signs of his morality deep down in his heart. How much further can Scot and Kyle push against the “bitches” before it’s Tai who pushes back?

My First Final Thoughts

I fucking love this episode. And I really fucking love this season.

-Cameron

 

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