OK, I have really been railing on this season of Survivor for being boring, awful, and heavily massaged by the producers. I almost gave up so many times, but I'm glad I didn't. This, people, is why we will never stop watching this show. One episode and everything is turned all topsy-turvey. How did Michael get eliminated? How did Malcolm get Reynold to give him the idol? How are Andrea and Dawn running the whole show? How is Cochran still alive after climbing down a waterfall? How long before Brenda actually says a word? I have no idea, and I couldn't be happier.
Here's what I sort of ascertained from last night's episode. Malcolm thinks he's not only a dreamboat but a strategic genius. He goes to Dawn and tells her, "We're on the bottom of the alliance, we need to get on the top." That is sound thinking. The funny thing is, everyone thinks that Dawn is this stupid, crazy, scatterbrained woman because she's older and she cries a lot, but she is sneakier than a 17-year-old with a gravity bong. First of all she's in control of the game, because everyone thinks they can talk to her. She's bringing all the flipping information back to the core of her alliance which is now Cochran, Special Agent of Annoyance Philip T. Shepherd, and, shockingly, Andrea, who is running the whole thing. They've enlisted Sheri too and those Survivor zombies Brenda and Eric, who just sort of stumble around the island and grunt every once in awhile and look for brains under rocks.
When Dawn told everyone that Malcolm was getting the fans together, stupid Stealth R Us decided that they were going to tell Malcolm that they were splitting their votes between Eddie and Reynold, but they were really going to vote for Malcolm. At this point in the game I thought for sure that Malcolm would win the immunity challenge and save himself and ruin the whole plan, but no. Brenda won. Brenda. Stupid zombie Brenda who, I believe, did not utter one human syllable approaching a word last night, but she can throw a grate in the rising tide the best. That's because she's an undead monster and probably doesn't even need to breathe.
Here's where things got crazy. Dawn and Andrea told Malcolm they were splitting votes between Eddie and Reynold to flush out the idol. Then Dawn told Malcolm that she would go with him if Reynold showed her the immunity idol. She then went back and told everyone he had it. This is Grade A Survivor right here, lying to someone's face, getting information that will give you an advantage, and executing a plan that has almost no way of failing. Malcolm's plan hinged on Dawn flipping, and if she didn't, then he was not going to have the numbers and he'd be toast.
What threw it all off was Andrea's relationship with Eddie. They clearly like each other but have this Romeo and Juliet thing going on where they're trying to work with each other, at least nominally, but also trying to stay true to their alliance. This culiminated in the second best conversation in Survivor history (the first best is still when Eliza told Jason back in the original Fans Vs. Favorites that he wasn't holding a hidden immunity idol, but a "f**king stick with a face drawn on it"). Andrea told him that they were splitting votes but they may not be between him and Reynold, and they have a real target but she can't tell him who. He was telling her that someone may have an idol, but he doesn't know if they do or if they don't. There was lots of stammering and back and forth and lying and working around the fact that neither of them wanted to give up any information but wanted to get as much information as they could. Andrea asked who the target was and, after more hemming and hawing than you trying to explain to your mother whose cigarettes those are that she found in your back pack, he told her that her name came up to be voted out.
BAM! That's all it takes. All it takes it that little bit of doubt, the fear that your name is going to be put down on the paper. This sent Andrea into a crazy tailspin. She then started to cry which, ugh, but then she freaked out and though she was going home and made everyone change the vote to Michael so that she could keep herself in the game. This teaches us a few things. The first is that Andrea is really in control because everyone, including crazy Dawn, told her to relax and that it was going to work out, they just needed to take out Malcolm when they had the chance. Since they all voted for Michael, that means they care more about Andrea than good strategy, which means she is their leader. It also shows us that they are all scared to hell of the idols, and Malcolm still has one that no one knows about. It also teaches us that Andrea doesn't really have what it takes to play Survivor. What she needed to do was stop having an emotional reaction and start counting the numbers and playing out the scenario in her head. If they didn't tip their hat that they were gunning for Malcolm, he would have been out.
But they did. Well, big mouth Phillip, The Informer, did. He talked about flushing out idols and getting rid of people that were unfaithful to them, and that gave Malcolm a clue as to what was going on. When it came time to play an idol, he made one of the most genius moves I've ever seen on this show. He told Reynold that he was safe and that everyone was gunning for him, so he needed to give him the idol. Yes, Malcolm didn't play his idol, he got the only other guy in the game with an idol to give it to him. That is balls. That is brilliant.
It turns out he was wrong — they voted for Michael, and Philip was only talking about what he wanted to happen, not what they were actually going to do. This is even worse because if he had shut up and had Andrea not lost her nerve, they would have sent him packing. Now they're stuck with a master strategist who is excellent at challenges that have nothing to do with balancing a ball between handles. They are screwed.
But look at the game. Malcolm (who I root for because I want to lie my naked body next to his for all of eternity and breathe in the musk of his hair) doesn't have many options. He has Eddie and Reynold. That's it. Despite Reynold's continued pleas to get everyone to "bro down" — a phrase that actually gives me hives — no one seems into it. Malcolm and Co are up against Andrea, Philip, Dawn, Cochran, Sheri, and the zombies Eric and Brenda, who they are leading through the woods on long chains like Michonne does on The Walking Dead. Recruiting the zombies is his only hope. Malcolm was right, he needed to make his big move at 11 when there were still a lot of people on the outs left to rally, and when there was an odd number of players (I have a whole theory about this I've written about before). The problem, is he got played.
Speaking of playing, we're finally starting to see some, and I'm happier with Survivor than I've been in a long time.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan