(We all knew this title was coming eventually.)
This was a good week for the Contenders tribe.
Again, the story focused entirely on the Contenders. Guess even the producers can’t deny how they make good TV, even though they are clearly rigging things in favor of the Celebrities tribe. They’re dynamite, one of the best tribes ever for my money.
Even though the late swap and emphasis on physical challenges for the sports stars are present (technically the only puzzle I remember was the one the challengers lost) and are designed to whittle the Contenders down, they are clearly the better tribe. Ten is misfiring drastically by assuming that because they are not celebrities, they are not as entertaining. In my mind, the six left are way more interesting than 11 of the 12 Champions that were cast on this season.
Saying that the Contenders are one of the best tribes ever can be seen as jumping to conclusions. The swap is tomorrow, so there hasn’t even been an episode without them and I am already ready to goddamn canonize them. Well… think about it. They not only manage to fulfill what is needed of a tribe in the way the Champions lack, but they manage to throw some extras in, some good and some bad. They’ve been a ton of fun to watch and root for.
What makes them a good tribe like I’m saying?
Well, they have all of this.
#1: An explosive opening
I’m not keen on the opening episode of the season, but it is an example of what I am talking about. The Champions likely had Russell cast to stir up a whole lot of hell, as he does. That episode as a whole is pretty interesting. However, we got a very similar sort of blow up at the first Tribal Council thanks to the contenders. Specifically, thanks to one Matt Dyson, a stereotype-enforcing police officer who spent the day searching for idols, acting paranoid in front of everyone, and pulling an Advanced Lanzetti™ by using good ol’ casual sexism to tell women to start playing the game, which they promptly did by shuttling his ass out of there in a reversal of a split vote that favored removing weak link, interesting underdog Stevie K. It’s clear we were meant to root for Stevie, and that was immediately fulfilled by Matt basically insisting on taking the bullet for him.
#2: Clear divisions and tribal lines
The lines in the Champions are still hazy and unclear. It leans towards a Jackie/Brian/Shane vs Mat/Sharn/Lydia/Steve thing with Monica an apparent swing and Sam doing fuck only knows. None of it has been declared, and you kind of have to infer it. Meanwhile, on Contenders, from pretty early on, you have the bro alliance of Zach, Robbie, Benji, and for some reason Stevie K. Then you have a women’s alliance of Shonee, Fenella, and Anita. In between them you have swings Heath, Jenna, and Tegan, and Paige doing fuck only knows.
What’s interesting is, all sides lose players periodically. Stevie K, Jenna, Anita, and Zach. Even at the end Paige is dispatched for transparently humping the leg of the nearest Champion during a challenge. Yet, all of the sides stay. Through vote-outs, exiles, and the halving of their tribe, there are two girls, two bros, and two of the former swings. Each episode you have the same sides in new and interesting dynamics.
#3: Characters that serve their roles well
I differ from the others even in RTVWarriors in that I like Zach, in the same way I like Scot in that I hate him. Zach seems like a complete douche-chill, but seeing the women slowly have less and less of his attitude and his extremely blatant sexism and usage of terms like snowflake that eventually despite his muscle and manly untriggeredness, he was voted out was the kind of scenario I was hoping for. Him getting shit on for most of the episode after he left was divine.
I really hate when others excuse his sexism or paint it as not that bad. For all the women who have to run into that shit in their daily lives, that’s minimizing bullshit. Still, watching the women shit talk and railroad his ass out of there is the kind of catharsis we as women deserve. It’s so nice to have someone for once in their lives pay for their sexism. I’m just sad that Lydia never got a chance to drop-kick him.
Benji… is starting to pass his expiration date, but I kind of love him as a villain so far. Granted, I would love him more as a short-term villain, but the conflict he delivered is pretty amazing in terms of a story. I went into it here last week but short of Benji going home this was the best outcome we could have asked for. Just don’t get taken seriously, Benji. I don’t want another A.K. for Nick to cry over.
Not only is Benji the villain, but Tegan is clearly the hero. She had a few episodes set up as the hero, appeared very well in the Jenna boot, and has a defined storyline against the suddenly evil Benji. She came back as a complete badass shitstirrer, proving that her going back to the exact same tribe that voted her out actually made for good TV.
The major players aside, the others function incredibly well within their roles. Matt was a good trainwreck, Stevie a good mixed-tone underdog, Jenna a good tragic hero, Anita a good strategically overpowering figurehead, Paige a good cockroach, Heath a good right hand to the hero, Shonee and Fenella good Rice-and-Beans-esque shit-talkers, and Robbie doing exceptionally well at being Mat Rogers’ bitch in life. All of the characters feel like they have a place on the progress of this tribe.
#4: There are stakes and things matter
All of this combined- the clear divides, the good first impressions, and the banger characters- implies some fantastic stakes for the goings-on at the champions, and boy are there. It isn’t a straightforward battle of good vs evil- for every Zach or Matt boot there’s a Jenna boot or temporary Tegan boot. There’s a clear story anchored by the gender divide and the Benji vs Tegan battle, which was still so, so good even if it didn’t end how I wanted it to.
Think about it. Not only was Matt a dynamite first boot, the Stevie K vote was a great overthrow, Jenna was an amazing and amazingly edited tragic boot, Heath had a really great idol play for the plot even if it does cost us Anita (sadface!), Zach was a great douche downfall, and even my problems with the Paige vote set the swap up pretty damn well. Above all, we got all of these money outcomes consistently, without them feeling tacked on. Everything goes in a clean line from A to B, but it isn’t a straight line. My motto in life is to do nothing straight, so this is perfect.
Some say that they wish the swap had come earlier, in part due to the unfair bullshit that was tilted for a Champions domination, even though Sam aside I am not overly invested in them. Sure, they’re nice, and they have fun moments. I even like a few of them. I don’t even think they’re riding the mateship dick that apparently being good sports to the people you crush means. But despite all the Lost segments and the Miss Congeniality power plays, I cannot say I am invested for them to win out.
I kinda want Jackie, Brian, and Shane to flip and cause chaos, because as I see it, the Champions are doomed to be exorcised, and I’ll be very sad to live in a world where the endgame is full of nice people who stick to a very airtight strategy. I wouldn’t object to calling Mat Rogers a Survivor winner. Hell, I kinda want Lydia to win for the same reason people think Ozzy is a legend- she’s good at challenges. But at the end of the day, I’ll always wonder what could have been.
P.S. The Exile Challenge was amazing holy hell. That table was prettier than any RI duel has ever been.