Oh my goddamn god.
Okay, backstory. I watched Worlds Apart live, and there has been few experiences quite as soul-crushing. After Hali was blindsided over an episode of Dan mansplaining and puzzle-bombing and having the same grace with foreign names as Ben Waterworth, logically our brains started to think “okay, there is no way they would sell a season with all of these negative slimy people triumphing over the sweethearts we were told to like, right?” Out of denial and desperation, in disbelief their version of a “happy ending” was “predictable alpha male who’s kind of nice wins all of the immunity challenges and no one gets actual comeuppance except for Rodney”, we started to come up with insane, off-the-wall theories as to how things got saved. We were like Shirin looking for banal, insane numbers loopholes that would have made for a story actually worth the hype the editors were building up, a solution to weeks of false tension.
When the idea started popping up two week ago that Tai would deny Scot or Kyle the power idol, it seemed just as out-there. It’s a nice idea, but Scot and Kyle have gotten quasi-sympathetic edits, and how do you undo a power idol like that? We’ve had it drilled into our head that Scot and Tai are besties and that Scot would so go gay for Tai. Besides, as soon as one of them wins immunity, the other two can just play the idols and they have the majority and the game. It can’t happen. Can it?
My heart and confidence in the editors after a season like Worlds Apart was still at an all-time low. You guys saw it in my past articles. Worlds Apart is the kind of editing sin I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive Survivor for. It’s like if you have a partner that cheats on you- no matter how sorry they are or how awesome they re-become in the future, there’s still always gonna be a part of you waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was just gonna sit back and see how a Julia or Tai win was gonna justify everything, and how I was gonna cope with losing Aubry after such a comeback of a run.
Then, four votes for Scot. It didn’t quite register with me that with six votes against the saboteurs, that meant only two voted for Aubry. Because what did it matter, a super idol’s a super idol. Even as I wondered why the hell they didn’t just play them normally, I was expecting Tai to hand it over, and then goodbye Aubry to bullshit twist mania. Then… the money shot.
The hashtag this moment got was #Wow. I feel like it’s accurate enough, but more accurate ones would have been this, #neallaughsinyourface, or this image. Yes. Hashtag this image.
But I think the one accurate hashtag for this moment would be #fangasm. Because, holy shit, the fans all around the world recognized this for the God tier moment that it was. This moment, right here, was what the entire season has led up to. Like, it’s a testament to the season’s strength in storylines that it doesn’t just end right the hell here. Scot sabotaging, Scot harassing Alecia, Scot’s friendship with Tai, the guys vs girls, Aubry’s emotional recovery leading to her being the emotional savior, and Aubry growing into the HBIC role that has her firmly in control of the season. It all led to ten seconds of Scot desperately making eyes at Tai, only for Tai to solemnly shake his head no, leaving Scot to walk out with Kyle’s idol (which is the icing on top of the cake if you ask me).
The episode itself wasn’t nearly as dynamite and complex as last episode. Last episode was the start of the big battle, with heavy casualties and the dark side seducing Tai and Julia, and killing the ultra-cheerleader matron Debbie. This was the battle winding to a close, where either the hero faces a tragic end with Aubry, or the menacing supervillain Scot comes crashing down to Earth. Because of Tai’s moral compass, in an event we haven’t truly seen of this magnitude since Ian took a dive to sacrifice his game for his friends, maaaaaybe since Woo took Tony over Kass if you squint at that right, Tai made the worse move for his game to make the better move for his heart.
Again, yes, I am aware that I am late. Still sick. I’m almost done with being sick but I’m hopping over the final hurdles right now. So, we’re gonna do things a little differently this week- this entire article is going to be an assessment of what each character brought to the last episode. It might be a little shorter than the Hindsight Biases we’ve seen, but bigger than your typical Survivor Autopsy. Either way, we’ve got a good decent amount to unpack.
High and Mighty
Look at this bastard. Look at how his knees nearly go up to Aubry’s shoulders. Look at just how smug his face is above his gigantic NBA body. And in your head, if you’ve watched this show, you can hear the guy’s Ganondorf-level husky baritone in a classic villainous monologue. When he plays RoShamBo for an idol, he picks Rock, and causes an earthquake on Kaoh Rong. When he pours water on the fire, it’s like the water came down from the waterfalls John Carroll brags about his power in. You know, immediately, this guy is not to be messed with. He’s proof that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Downed trees in highways leave less impact.
His physicality mixed with his actions and his brazen willingness to do shitty things makes him such a fantastic Survivor villain in every way. If there’s any prediction I bombed this season, it’s saying that Scot was going to be a nothing of a character. This guy, despite how much I couldn’t stand him in the season, and despite me not being convinced he’s the untouchable misunderstood beast many of his fans made him out to be, as a character, and as a villain, he kills it in every perceivable way. I’m insanely glad he was cast. I don’t know if I ever wanna see him again because of just how much the stars aligned for him to be perfect here, but I loved him in this season.
Part of what completes Scot’s story is just how brutal his downfall is. He had absolute safety in his hands because of the help of a very close friend. Not just any close friend, but Tai freaking Trang. Tai was willing to turn evil to stay loyal to Scot. Between the two of them, they had two idols, and their third man Kyle is immune. If Scot was smarter, he’d have played his idol normally and had Tai do the same and there would be no way for them to be eliminated. Then they sway Julia and the game is theirs. And why shouldn’t they? They have everything- Tai’s advantage, two idols, and the numbers once they hit next round.
And then… Scot just didn’t anymore.
Kyle gives Scot the idol for… reasons (he’s really good at stradegy gaiz) and Tai is swayed by Aubry to turn on Scot. He writes Scot’s name down and watches his former best friend drown. The Tribal Council music should have just been In The Air Tonight. Unlike Phil Collins, however, that drowning was the moment I’ve been waiting for all of my life. I mean, goddamn. That’s brutal. That almost makes you feel for Scot, until you remember what season you’re watching.
That’s what I’m talking about when I compared this to Worlds Apart. As it turns out, given the slightest bit of time, I did not find any of the downfalls of the villains satisfactory. Tyler gets idoled out by Mike? That changes nothing, who cares. Dan gets idoled out by Carolyn? Both of those just show it takes a mountain of twisty bullshit to not let complete casting mistakes get to the end together. Rodney gets voted out in the tiebreaker after outlasting whipping “broad” Sierra and gets to be informed he basically was good enough to win. Will gets a little yelled at by the jurors but he still ties Carolyn for second. I didn’t care at all outside of being thankful none of these walking deadly sins got a million dollars… and then Mike pissed that goodwill away anyways in less than a year.
Scot going out like this, however, is nobody’s fault but his own, happened in spite of extremely overpowered, borderline unfair twists that a child could use accurately, and happened in many ways because of the long term actions he initiated. He wanted the sabotage to make people act crazy and irrational. As it turns out, his buddy Tai saw it all, and despite dipping his toe in the water he jumped out like a gator was chasing him, and made the less-than-stellar game move of dumping a solid alliance to sleep well at night. So, in many respects, Scot got his way, just not how he had hoped.
So, yes, after all is said and done, I feel content watching Scot walk out with a stunned, Erik-y, wimpy little “wow” with Kyle’s idol in his pocket while Kyle sadly watches husbando leave the game. However, I would be remiss to avoid mentioning that, despite not being a fan of the guy, my heart goes out to him and his family. He is given his letters from home as the traditional Ponderosa “consolation prize” and it’s a quite tragic letter from his severely cancer-stricken sister, who, thank the gods, has recovered impressively. I won’t spoil the letters for you, because they are really depressing, in a way that’s hard for me, as someone almost recovering from lymphoma herself, to talk about.
All I can humbly say is, Scot, if you’re reading this (you’re not, but what the hell), I wish all the best to your family. I think it’s disgusting that you got death threats just because you’re the 10,587,383rd person to come off like a jackass on reality TV, and it populates the eleventh circle of hell when people send your family death threats, many of them fully aware of the strife they’re facing. Glad to see things are coming together for them, and I hope it stays that way for as long as possible.
Dance Yrself Clean
With this episode, Aubry has officially taken up the heroine role. This is basically fanfiction for me now. Am I hallucinating this season, y’all? I’ve made my Clubster-level adoration of Aubry clear from her very first episode, but I figured it would be the irrational love of an under the radar bit player that would just complete the CTS analogy. Then, boom, from the swap on she’s the lady of the hour at all those 50s dances she attends. She cements herself as a legend with the Julia-psyche-Peter vote, and then post-merge ends up as the underdog who loses everything. Even as she claws her way to power, it’s under the rule of an oppressive, destructive regime that still wants her head on a silver platter.
Then this episode happens, and it’s like the show and the world see the same Aubry I do.
I’ve posted about this in The Tribe Podcast’s Facebook group in the face of naysayers, but I figure I should repeat it here. To me, what makes Aubry’s journey to the pragmatic, dangerous hero so fantastic is that most people who have the look and backstory of Aubry in media are made out to be either the “ugly duckling” that wins the crowd by turning into the swan, or it’s made so very freaking shocking that someone like HER?! Could ever be super awesome. Instead, Aubry’s skill is played mostly straight after her first stumble. She earns the respect of her peers and becomes the queen of the game by playing to her strengths, ones she already had, in ways that defeat prior weaknesses. The way Kyle and Scot talked about her, she was just a strong player, and the one in charge.
This might sound dead obvious to you, but they could have played someone like Aubry a lot, lot more Cochran 1.0-esque, or even Spencer 1.0-esque. Me, personally, I like that, and I look up to that. It’s really refreshing to see a woman like Aubry, one who’s nerdier, has some neuroses, has her glasses and her thicker legs and her background, treated like a serious contender just because of the skills she offers.
I hope I don’t sound condescending- all of these things I listed about Aubry, I could list about myself, minus the awesome parts we see on TV and more bombing-even-the-easiest-of-Facebook-ORGs. Especially as a trans woman learning how to be a woman in modern society, I am sincerely thankful that Survivor, of all places, whose track record in portraying women has been notoriously lacking, has put forth such a dynamite character that many people I know, myself included, can relate to.
People who are in the future-predicting business are now seeing Aubry as a contender, a dark horse in the Cydney-Michele race. Could Aubry win? The material’s there, and the only thing I think really scares people is that Aubry is a woman getting the kind of edit you usually see only male big characters getting. Aubry’s edit wouldn’t look out of place lined up next to BvW Tyson, Mike, and Jeremy, but next to Sophie, Denise, and even NatA, it’s a decent bit startling.
As far as the filming schedule is going, Scot went home on Day 27, which astute fans will note as the day Rupert went home in Pearl Islands- also in eighth place. Because of this, it’s not out of the question, especially with the prospect of another medevac, to see a surprise Final 2, where the two less visible contenders- Cydney and Michele- go to the end after cutting the season’s Cirie off at the last place anyone expected. Aubry might end up being screwed out of the Final 2 much like Cirie, and much like Tony nearly was. Either way, as sad as that would be, the fact that we’re getting the big character Aubry was something I never expected, but I’m so happy we got it.
So who saw this shit coming pre-game? Hell, who saw it coming until like two episodes ago? Julia the cute side ally, Julia the cute underdog, Julia the cute UTR character. All of a sudden we have Julia, this adorable nineteen-year-old sorority girl, becoming Reed Kelly. How is Julia our overplaying, insanely transparent strategist who tries to manipulate both sides? This is absolutely nothing I expected of her character or her archetype, but I love it. I love it so much!
Next week, it looks like Julia has decided her side- though if anyone had ears at TC, “play your idol, Tai- play it! Play it!” might have decided it for her- and she’s about to show herself as equally diabolical as her predecessor Scot. The fate of Tai’s little pet chicken Mark, named after his boyfriend, has been up in the air many times this season especially after Jason and Scot started their sabotage. However, the idea that it’s Julia of all people who plots the evil deed against Mark. It’s not surprising that the sabotage would resume, but it is surprising that Julia’s on board, and wants to go straight for the jugular faster than Natalie Bolton.
Julia is a unique Survivor character in a sea of off-the-wall original contestants, despite her lower airtime compared to others. I doubt she wins, but I would bet she gets a hard downfall and keeps the season on its toes when by now you would expect it to flame out.
Kyle doesn’t get a segment because I still am protesting his existence. He’s still as cringey as ever and I don’t get any enjoyment out of him. So, instead, Mark gets a segment! It’s hilarious that Mark is as much a character as anyone else left this season, possibly more than a few on the season, but I can’t think of a pet, animal, or outside force that has had this much of a presence on this season. Other contestants reference Mark like a tribesmate. He’s seen from the first scene of the season as Caleb grabs him and goes overboard, and he’s been poking around ever since. You could feasibly give Mark the chicken his own Wiki page and an edgic strip. A fan has already given him a pretty successful Twitter, if you ever want a laugh.
As it stands, Mark has largely been an accessory to Tai, much like Joe has been an accessory to Aubry. Still, as the camp life gets worse his increase in airtime has been quite concerning. It’s not nearly unfeasable to consider that the height of Kyle’s stupid insipid shitty psychological warfare would move on from apprehending misdemeanors to killing Tai’s chicken because Tai thinks he’s independent like those damned women. It would be horrifying, and insanely cold, but to be quite honest I would love it. I mean, I won’t lie, if this is my fanfiction, Julia killing her tribesmate’s pet is how I’d write this season. Not even the OTTN female villains in CTS Herstory would plot this up.
Cydney got dogpiled by an insanely bitter and hypocritical To Tang Douche Duo this episode, whose initial plan was to vote her out for being strong and independent in ways they didn’t find okay for their daughters. Still, even for a quieter episode she showed up as the great copilot of the Aubry/Cydney reign of terror. It is still concerning that Cydney would pretty easily lose at least two crucial jury votes, however ridiculous and sexist the reasons may be. (Hell, the only difference between Cydney’s story and the last six or seven runners-up is that usually the women are a decade or two older). There’s an almost certain chance she’s the Woo to Aubry’s Tony, and even against Michele things aren’t certain. Either way, it’s been fun to see Cydney become a dark horse favorite. Here’s hoping the momentum doesn’t die anytime soon.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, For Tomorrow They Die
In a season that gives us mansplaining fake nobodies, sabotaging douchebags, unconventional heroes, half-crazy ever-employed mad geniuses, and some of the craziest events to ever go down, somehow Michele has been consistently the most controversial character of the season. Not because of anything she did, that’d be too easy and too fair. No, the controversy is, as it has always been, the debate of whether or not Michele wins.
Ever since a series of consecutive surprising UTR female wins as edits for women have somehow gotten even worse, edgic has been on guard for another one of these types of wins. As such, they’ve sniffed out Michele as a solid contender for the subtle yet powerful clues and content she got. However, Michele is a UTR female, so the backlash from non-edgic audiences has been immediate and powerful, with many a raging redditor attacking her personally for the crime of being existent in a way that makes people think she could win.
However, the other side has progressively gotten more harebrained in a way that edgic usually doesn’t. The edgicing forum, unspoilededgicersunite, has become a giant echo chamber where many members were outright banned in the middle of the season for zero reason given, and it is now an echo chamber of Michele fans who scoff at and assemble against anyone who doesn’t think Michele will win. I’ve paid a visit (as a viewer, they don’t let me post anymore for no given reason) and it’s been essentially one of the few anti-Michele people that still get to post, a prominent member and moderator, getting railed against constantly.
Basically, as it always seems to boil down to on the internet, I hate everyone.
As for Michele herself, she’s got a pretty decent winnery edit, but it’s not without flaws as I’ve pointed out before. I still think that while she’s gotten the least bad, she doesn’t have as much good or standout to propel her into the lead. For the first time, she’s actually gotten bad content, as Aubry assesses that Michele doesn’t have the stone cold ability to tell her closest friend is lying to her face, and as such Michele votes for Tai with Julia, who only votes Tai in a plot that fails to take out Aubry. I think Michele certainly has a shot, but I would say it’s a three-horse-race with Aubry and Cydney. All three have unique, strong edits and I could feasibly see them being the Final Three. For me, it’s not “will she or won’t she”, it’s, as it should be in a well-edited season, “who will?”
Old Groundskeeper Joe and the Case of the Bitter Fuckbois
Joe’s our closest thing to a purple character this season. He’s a great side character and adds a lot to the season by being there, but he doesn’t have much in the way of his own story. Such is the case here, where he basically got zero airtime. People on reddit have started referring to him as “Aubry’s Extra Vote Advantage” and in many respects I wish we at least could have gotten his perspective to Aubry dicking him over again in the Debbie vote. Sadly, he also is doing depressingly badly at challenges, giving Julia the easiest win in the world at the multi-prize reward challenge by dropping out faster than Crystal Cox.
Still, I think there’s more to him. Admittedly, he’s not the best at confessionals, but like Steve Wright from RI (aka the one good thing) it’s charming in its own way how awkward yet genuine he is. One of his confessionals we didn’t see was a really charming one about how he competed for love over food and advantage to make a statement to his girlfriend of seven years (whom I will now fantasize was his partner-in-crime during his work against Somali Pirates) that he cared about her and what she had to say paramount.
That’s Joe in a nutshell. He doesn’t make a big deal about it, but he’s here to play Survivor on his terms. That simple. He wants to see what he, as the Joe he’s known for seventy-two years, is capable of. He doesn’t want to compromise his morals or do things he wouldn’t do, not from a sense of ego or self-righteousness, but because that doesn’t fit his need to test himself against the game. Even as under the radar as that makes him, that’s still ten episodes, twenty-seven days, and zero votes for the oldest contestant in the game. That’s impressive in my books. Joe always had a piece of my heart, especially after he stood up to the saboteurs in defense of the women he was quietly, comfortably aligned with as an extra piece. He’s easily one of my favorite quiet characters in years, it’s ridiculous how much you can say about him even if he only shows up a little bit.
The Tais that Bind
One word, and the world turned on its side. Pigs flew, war stopped, and cheese stopped tasting like foot for a few moments as the multiverse celebrated at Tai, after trying both to do the right thing by his friends and himself, told the poisonous company he kept “No, I’m not going to help you keep pulling me towards my grave.” I envy the strength this man has. I was genuinely proud of him whether or not it was his best move.
People seem upset that Tai didn’t do what was best strategically, but to them I say, piss off, you’ll get your TV show exactly to order next week. Sometimes it’s not about the game. It doesn’t always have to be. Sometimes it’s about what is going to help you at night. Not everyone can be a sociopath in these situations. Some are still human going through an incredibly difficult experience, one that I know I couldn’t go through and one I’m sure many of the people angry at this move couldn’t possibly make it through either. Oftentimes, the worst moves create the best moments. If you wanna get mad at someone for playing like shit, point at Kyle giving the idol to his boo who then proceeded to do nothing with it except take it to Ponderosa.
Tai’s emotional journey has taken many ups and downs and even as he ended last episode on a villainous note, an awkward third wheel to Scot and Kyle’s evil monologue, he was eager to call off the sabotage and get the camp back to normal, even if there was still a strategic divide. Your mileage may vary on how much Aubry was playing Tai perfectly and how much was genuine, but the bond between the two does come from authentic places. Aubry has questioned herself, had emotional breakdowns, lost faith in herself and found it again. Now, the two have had similar journeys with two healthy outcomes. Aubry has now had enough faith in herself to make hard choices if she thinks it betters her, and Tai now stands his ground against things he just knows deep down he can’t tolerate.
Still, it’s hard to deny Tai’s in trouble. Kyle’s pissy revenge train’s on a new course now, and Julia’s more than on board. Despite many fans’ insistence on the contrary, Tai still has a decent chance at winning, but the road there is harder than ever. Even as close as they are, Aubry still is cold enough to cut her closest friends, and Michele, Cydney, and Joe have little use for him. He has two powerful advantages- an idol, and a double vote. He swears up and down he won’t leave them in his pocket. Time will tell how accurate that is.
Still, Tai has been an unforgettable contestant who’s lodged another unforgettable moment in an unforgettable season.
Next time on… Survivor!
…shit, I dunno. The big plot of the season, that’s defined Episodes 5-10 especially, seems to have hit a very solid end with Scot eating shit from the cow pie Tai threw at him. I’m not sure what the aftermath leaves us, but it makes me more excited than ever, because Kyle aside this is a fantastic cast that I can’t imagine lets us down anytime soon.