Idol or Bust

Ianic Roy Richard
May 9 · 7 min read

Do you hear that sound? The one that sounds like a gigantic group of people all clutching their pearls at the same time? That would be the majority of Survivor’s online fan base as Rick Devens continues his march towards what appears a certain victory in next week’s Edge of Extinction finale. If you want my opinion, and I’ll pretend that if you’re taking the time to read this, you do, everybody needs to take a breather and relax for a minute.

First let’s establish why people are out on Rick as the potential winner of the season. The biggest factor for many is that Rick was already once voted off his tribe, in the pre-merge no less. He spent time on extinction before winning his way back into the game at the merge. There’s also the fact that Rick has now put his hands on three idols, one of which was directly given to him for coming back into the game. A lot of people feel he is playing for the cameras and being “extra” for the sake of getting more airtime. Subsequently, he has gotten a lot of airtime that has conversely affected the other players left in the game.

The biggest thing I’ve seen used to denigrate Rick is that he is being labelled as “Ben Driebergen 2.0.” Ben is, of course, the controversial winner of Survivor: HHH. Having spent most of the post-merge on the bottom with everyone looking to eliminate him, Ben went on to find three consecutive hidden immunity idols. Still, he looked toast at the final four when he lost the immunity challenge and idols were finally out of play. That’s when the show first introduced the fire-making challenge at four twist, blindsiding the final four with it. Ben made fire, won his way into the final three and won the game.

There are a lot of things you can highlight about Ben’s win that feels fishy. Not the least of which was idols popping up where Ben liked to sleep at night. Then you consider that he was dead to rights the minute he failed to win immunity at four. Chrissy, Devon and Ryan were never going to give him a chance to survive. Miraculously this twist pops up in the nick of time and Ben ends up profiting from it.

I’ve never subscribed to the fact that Ben’s win was rigged. I do fully believe that the fire-making twist had been established before the season because production would be in a lot of legal hot water if it hadn’t. That said, I do think some shady things went on with hidden immunity idols and where they were ultimately placed on that season.

The thing is, Rick is far from a Ben, in my opinion. Ben won solely on his ability to produce hidden immunity idol after hidden immunity idol. He didn’t win a single immunity challenge. So far, Rick has played one idol on himself. He has won three immunity challenges, something that has been part of the game since day one. Yes, he was already voted off once but that’s the twist that was created for this season. It’s hard to blame him for seizing a second chance in the game when he earned it by beating five other people to get that second chance. I’m not a fan of a player who was voted out potentially winning the game but the mechanic is there for it to happen and I can’t fault Rick for going for it. As for his idols, none of them have been hidden anywhere that seems specifically targeted for Rick. He’s simply worked hard to find them while everyone else has been more concerned about Rick finding an idol instead of looking for it themselves.

Yes, Rick hasn’t played a great strategic game when it comes to making alliances that last. When David, his ride or die, was voted out, Rick was suddenly a nomad in the game. He was able to cobble together numbers on a few occasions, the Julia tribal council in particular stands out, but people keep turning on him at every opportunity. Where Rick has been successful is putting on a show in front of the jury. Whether Rick has been a dominant force in the game is irrelevant if the jury thinks that he was and from what we’ve seen so far, they believe him hook, line and sinker.

This week featured some more Rick posturing for the jury and snowing the remaining players in the process. Aurora was completely accurate on her way out. How did three people get convinced by reverse psychology? The notion that Rick was going to play an idol for Julie at final six was asinine. Everybody left in the game knows that final five is the last round where an idol can be played and that final four is now fire-making. Having considered all of that, with Rick winning immunity at six and having an idol in his pocket, that assures him a shot at making fire. Did Gavin, Victoria and Lauren seriously think he was going to jeopardize that chance for Julie?

Rick’s gambit worked and he managed to save Julie. It made him look like a mastermind to the jurors and it made the three left in the majority look weak. It may be that Lauren (and by proxy Gavin) took this opportunity to vote out Aurora, something she wanted to do anyways, but if that is the case, she was only strengthening Rick’s winning potential in the process.

At this point in the season, it’s become clear where Rick’s strengths lie. He is an excellent public speaker, which should come to no surprise considering his job is to talk on television five days a week. Rick won’t be coming up with the most advances voting strategies or blindsides but he will convince the jury that he was. His strengths will line up perfectly with what he needs to do at final tribal council and he will be met with a jury that seems inclined to give him the money regardless. To me, Rick has played an impressive game in that he’s been dominant without actually driving much of the real strategy on the island. He seems to understand that perception is reality and the reality he’s selling has him much more involved than he probably was.

It was sad to see Aurora go this week. In the preseason, she was one of my favorites because she was so authentically herself. It was brutal to watch her go through the pre-merge like a ghost but the post-merge helped redeem it. She was given some good content about her childhood and we got to see her sass with both Ron and Rick. Her “I don’t give a shit” attitude when she got caught perusing through Rick’s bag will forever be an all-time moment. In the challenges, she was a beast that I would stack up to any player in the franchise, male or female.

The biggest theme for Aurora’s game was that she never really found her people once Joe and Aubry were sent home. Every time that Aurora felt like she was settling into an alliance, something would come through and destroy the game dynamics. She was always seen as the extra vote an alliance was bringing along as opposed to a full-fledged member of any partnership. Aurora felt it on the island and it took a toll on her. It had to be tough being left out by Gavin for this week’s reward challenge in favor of Lauren, someone who was opposed to Gavin for much of the game until the most recent weeks. Aurora sought acceptance that she never fully got but admirably, she never let it get her down and she always fought her hardest in challenges. It was a respectable showing for a strong woman and I hope she is happy with her end results watching it back.

I was also surprised that Rick didn’t sniff out Lauren’s idol. She was so adamant that Rick was lying about his own idol being from extinction island that I would question why. If he had managed to deduce that from her line of questioning, it’s something he could have weaponized against her with her own alliance. It’s been impressive that Lauren has managed to keep that idol to herself (outside of Wentworth) this entire game and she is also a lock to have, at the very least, a chance to make fire and a shot at the final three.

The letters from their past selves that the players on extinction received felt gratuitous but they did serve a purpose. For players like Julia, Chris and Eric, they served as the end to their narrative. Julia’s especially sticks out in my mind because they aired the part where she said something akin to “by going on the show you’ve already won”. This undoubtedly rules her out as the player to return from extinction and Chris and Eric had similar content (though from the amount of airtime those three have gotten since being eliminated, we could have deduced that already).

There’s some excitement in the air because one person who was not ruled out from returning thanks to their letters was Reem. Now, it’s unlikely that she will win a challenge to return against the competition facing her but the possibility for it has been left open in the narrative. More than likely, Reem will be given extra attention after she loses the challenge to return as the living embodiment of extinction island but either way, we will be getting more Reem-focused content next week. All of us Reem-heads can look forward to that.

Next week, it will all come to an end. It seems like just yesterday Wendy was releasing chickens while her tribe was imploding around her. Now we are going to crown Survivor’s 37th unique winner (hail to the queen) and start shifting gears towards two seasons that will feature returning players in different capacities.

Going into the finale, Rick certainly has pole position. The narrative is all set up for his win and he would vindicate the season’s theme by having spent time on extinction. I think that the biggest threat to his win could be Lauren who fought her way through the game from the beginning and has shown perseverance through sickness and a lot of early immunity losses. When it’s all said and done, I just hope for an exciting finale to close out what has been a very solid post-merge in a season where many of us did not expect much.

A Tribe of One

The premiere spot for Survivor history and analysis ranging from Borneo to the current season.

Ianic Roy Richard

Written by

Sports fan and alleged analyst. Day one Survivor fan and reality television junkie. @atribeofone1 on twitter. For inquiries: ianic.roy.richard@gmail.

A Tribe of One

The premiere spot for Survivor history and analysis ranging from Borneo to the current season.

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