Sweet baby Jesus. I don’t remember a Survivor episode having so much to unpack in such a tight timeframe. Since I’ve been writing about this show, this may be the first time I honestly am not sure where to begin. There was so much going on! A lot of it was simply terrible decision making by players. All of it was thoroughly entertaining.

I suppose the easiest place to start is with the person who was voted out. Our dear Lauren Rimmer. In the pre-season, I was definitely not super high on her chances to make it far. Even if she did make it far, I definitely would have thought it was from being dragged along as a number, Denise Martin style. As it turns out, Lauren Rimmer is a certified badass who takes control and isn’t afraid to break spirits.

Losing her this “early” blows. She was a low-key quote machine and brought a lot of fun to the season. Even at this tribal council, the one that would eventually become her burial grounds, she didn’t hold back. Her response to Ben when he told her he was gunning for her of, “well I hope you brought a lot of ammunition” basically sums up Lauren the Survivor player. Her humor was always subtle and dry. She never was scared of making a move to better her position. She always made her opinion known.

That said, not matter how highly I think of Lauren, I think we can all agree this was not a very sound episode for her in matters of strategy. The most obvious error was giving half of her idol to Mike and joining J.T and James Clement in the “biggest idol mistakes” in Survivor history.

Let’s take a minute to think about this. Part of the idol is a seashell. They are playing the game on a beach. On the beach, there are hundreds, if not thousands of seashells. Most seashells are indistinguishable from one another and nobody really got a close up glimpse of the seashell Lauren grabbed during the immunity challenge. All that said… why the hell didn’t Lauren give Mike a completely random seashell? That way, she keeps her entire idol safe, Mike feels like he has part of Lauren’s power, and everybody wins.

As you may know, I’m a gigantic fan of the Genius, a South Korean game show where ingenuity is important for one’s success. Had last night’s Survivor been on the Genius, we would have had a moment at tribal council, where after Mike threw the idol in the fire and Ben’s idol was played, Lauren, played by Lee Sangmin, would have stood up and brought Jeff Probst her full immunity idol. Then we would have had a flashback, set to “Extreme Ways”, showing Lauren give Mike a fake seashell and revealing the real one in her pocket as she smiled devilishly. It would have been fantastic.

Lauren as played by Lee Sangmin.

Instead, Lauren gave Mike the actual freaking part of the idol. There is no universe in which this makes sense. Mike has already been played like a fiddle by Lauren on multiple occasions. Giving him half of an advantage isn’t going to be enough to win him over. All it’s going to do is weaken Lauren’s stance in the game and give Mike a bit of breathing room at the bottom. It was absolutely terrible decision making and it cost Lauren her life in the game.

There’s also the fact that Lauren called attention to Ben and Devon when she found the idol. At this point, she should know better than to reveal these things to everybody. There aren’t enough people lying around and any known advantage makes a person so much more dangerous. Given that Lauren already had one advantage, finding another one and calling attention to it was simply drawing an even bigger target on her back.

Speaking of the other advantage, Lauren should have been ready to use that tonight too. Not that it mattered considering how the voting went down but when the table turns on you so quickly, you should expect to need everything in your bag to make it into the next round. It’s really a shame that Lauren went out in such a blaze because for most of the season, she had been making the correct reads and playing very well. Hopefully at some point down the line, productions sees it fit to give her a second chance. I honestly see a lot of Sandra Diaz-Twine upside in Lauren and would like to see it fulfilled.

We also have to talk about Ben and his performance. I’m of two minds about his episode. On the one hand, I do think he should have handled Chrissy better. Yes, she probably shouldn’t be so upset considering she’s played people too but Ben should have tried to be a little more reasonable with her. They did have a close relationship for a long time and knowing one of your closest friends in the game has been lying to you 24/7 for six days has to sting. Antagonizing her further to me shows a lack of understanding in terms of the social game. You need people to like you at least a little bit if they’re going to vote for you at the end.

That said, Ben’s ability to completely keep his idol under wraps was phenomenal. This was the first time a sole vote has decided who goes home (disregarding a final three in a final two season) and there’s a reason for that: it’s hard as fuck to pull off. You have to pile all of the votes onto yourself. You have to play an idol that nobody can know you have. Both of those things, in a Survivor era where people constantly split votes and talk about idols constantly, are near impossible to do alone. Let alone combined.

How did everybody even end up all voting for Ben? Chrissy was so gung-ho about targeting Ben all episode but at tribal, she seemed squarely set on Lauren. The way I understood what happened at tribal council is this: Devon went to Mike and somehow convinced him to vote for Ben. Mike and Ryan then talked it out from their seats and Ryan agreed to also vote for Ben. Those two then managed to convince Chrissy this is what they needed to do.

With that said, if Devon was convinced that he had gotten through to Mike, he and Ashley should have voted for somebody else. There is always the threat of an idol and this was no different. Why wouldn’t Devon and Ashley put some votes on Chrissy, if and only if, they were convinced that Ryan, Chrissy, and Mike were going to vote for Ben? It would have protected Lauren from her fate and kept the three together. Instead, everybody piled onto Ben and when that surprise idol came out, it was lights out for Lauren.

I think that part of Ben’s success came in his openness about everything else. He clearly stated who he was gunning for. He showed off his fake idol to everybody. Tribal council was such an open book all-around. Even Lauren was talking about her double vote, which she didn’t have with her, and Mike burned half of an idol. Everything was so out in the open that nobody thought that there could be a hidden idol into the mix. It eased everybody’s comfort about an idol being played and that allowed just enough room for Ben to pull off Survivor history.

In the long term, I don’t know how much this will help Ben’s game. Now that he’s pulled this off, the target on his back is as big as it’s ever been. People are going to be pretty angry that he managed to pull the wool over their collective eyes. On top of being a successful secret agent, he’s now managed to hide an idol from every other person in the game. That’s somebody you don’t want around and it could very easily turn the remaining five people against him.

We also need to talk about Mike’s decision to burn the idol in the first place. This season, Mike has been kind of an empty vessel to me. He makes these big “moves” that create a commotion and then follows that up with a whimper. He did it again last night by burning Lauren’s idol… and then immediately turning around and voting with her on another idol.

Why couldn’t Mike simply pull out the idol and tell everybody he would never, under any circumstance, play it for Lauren. Why did he have to burn it and make it completely unsalvageable? This is shades of Survivor: Gabon and Marcus Lehman and the onions drowning an idol they very well could have used the very next tribal council. By voting with Lauren, Mike was essentially sending himself to be stoned to death had his outcome worked out. He burned her idol and then supported her in the vote. That makes no sense. Lauren would have seen him burned to the stake before she let him escape the next vote after a stunt like that.

There’s also the matter of Chrissy and her decisions during last night’s episode. She was all over the place but definitely not in a good way. I can understand the emotions coming out after being betrayed so badly by Ben, I can even understand why she showed those to Ben. It’s a hard game, they’re all starving, and Chrissy felt really close to Ben. That said, once she let it out against him, that should have been it. She should have closed that door and moved on.

Of course, that isn’t what Chrissy did. She had to take it a step further. It may have been lost in the commotion of tribal council, but last night was the Loved Ones visit. It was also the scene for the worst challenge Survivor has ever “constructed”. This is a show that has had SOS subjective challenges to gift to a tribe, Jack Black and Adam Sandler themed challenges, and even a Bocce ball game where Jeff Probst wasn’t even present. The show has put out its fair share of bad challenges. Last night’s marble match was the cream of the crap.

There was no twist to this challenge. No way of gaining an advantage on anybody else. You just picked a marble and hoped that your partner picked the same one. 50% chance you survive the round. There was no drama or flair. Again on my Genius train, that show might have had something similar as a challenge but there would have been something to it. A way to break the game and outthink your opponents. On Survivor, there was no such gadget. It was pure chance. And sure, Survivor requires a modicum of luck but not to this degree.

A few more things about this loved ones reward while I’m on this tangent. Devon’s reaction to seeing his mother gave me some serious Fabio Birza vibes. Here’s a surfer dude who absolutely loves his mother and completely breaks down emotionally when he finally gets to see her. I don’t know what that means in terms of the edit, or if it means anything at all, but it was too similar to me not to mention.

Also in the past two seasons, doesn’t it seem like the actual loved ones reward has become an afterthought? We saw maybe a minute of the people enjoying their time with their family before going right back to camp and Ben’s fake idol. It sure seems like we only care about seeing the loved ones come in and the players’ reactions.

Anyways, Chrissy won the terrible challenge and was given three choices to bring along to the BBQ reward with the loved ones. She chose Mike and Ryan, the two people on the bottom with her, and Ashley. What the hell was she thinking? If any reward is going to extend an olive branch and buy you life in this game, it’s the loved ones reward. Look at how Chris was able to use his wife to stave off elimination in Survivor: Vanuatu, kick-starting his comeback that would lead to his eventual win.

In that moment, Chrissy HAS to be the bigger person. She has to pick Ben to come with her on the reward. That opens the door for communication with someone you’ve had a real working relationship with in the past. Ashley? Chrissy probably hasn’t said six words to Ashley. They were in a group together but never actually worked with each other closely. In what world is Ashley going to be swayed by what Chrissy has to say?

Besides, Chrissy is a math-inclined person. She should have easily seen what she was offering Ashley which was moving from a solid four person alliance, in which Ashley had a lockstep ally in Devon, to moving to a loose four person block in which Ashley would be the obvious 4th place. Chrissy should have been able to see the forest through the trees and known that the only logical person to bring along was Ben.

Then, after telling us all episode that she was gunning for Ben, Chrissy is the last person standing who doesn’t want to actually do it at tribal council. She suddenly wants to gun for Lauren while her alliance is changing stances at tribal council. She needs to be talked into voting for the person she wanted to get out all along. A very weird episode for Chrissy from start to finish.

There wasn’t a lot of solid gameplay going on this episode. I do think a few people made some good decisions and will highlight them now. For my money, Devon had the most solid episode even if the person he voted for didn’t go home (which is true of everybody but Ben). His decision to let Ashley win immunity was great. Now she’s won two immunity challenges to Devon’s zero. People are going to start thinking of Ashley as a big physical threat and will want to target her ahead of Devon. In a roundabout way, I also think that Ben sticking around is a good thing for Devon because it keeps a huge target ahead of him once again. He didn’t have anything to do with that decision, but it certainly doesn’t hurt him.

In terms of playing from the bottom, if Chrissy and Mike made some flimsy decisions here and there, I think Ryan played it about as well as you can. He didn’t rock the boat at tribal council. He passed around messages as quietly as possible to Mike. When Chrissy was losing her shit at Ben, Ryan stayed quiet and didn’t demonstrate any frustration. Everything he was doing was going to lead to Chrissy going ahead of him had the alliance stayed strong. Now, he may suddenly have new life in the game without anybody being actively pissed off at him.

Going into next week, I really have no idea what might happen. Devon and Ashley are in the minority on paper but who knows how everybody will feel about Ben’s move. Can Ryan and Mike work together after last week’s denial from Dr. Mike? Will Chrissy actually mend fences with Ben after such a fiery episode? Whatever happens, it’s clear that Jeff wasn’t lying to us, this season’s finish is coming in hot. And we’re all here for it.