"Survivor: Philippines" Episode 4 Recap
In the past few years, "Survivor" has become all about the returning players. At the end of every season, the fans gather together, go through all the heroes and villains and boring people that didn't pick a side, and debate which castaways will (or should) get another chance to play the game in a future season. Four out of the last six seasons of this show have featured a returning player. That count will grow to five out of the last seven once we get to season 26, which will have a "Fans vs. Favorites" format for the second time.
When these players return, they are looking for a second chance (or in the case of Rob Mariano, a third or fourth). Some players obviously do better than others, but there's never been a returning player whose second chance turned into a total disaster…that is, until "Survivor: Philippines."
When all is said and done, Russell Swan will go down as the biggest waste of a two-time player in the history of "Survivor." It seemed like a good idea at the time. Here was a guy who was a leader on his tribe and possessed one of the biggest work ethics ever seen on the show. It was ultimately his strength that led to his downfall, when he nearly worked himself to death and had to be evacuated. But surely he's learned his lesson and will make the best of his second chance, right?
But no, Swan has proven to be an incredibly weak player. He declared he would not be the leader, only to assert his "authority" on his tribe when it wasn't needed or wanted. He's thrown fits, alienated people on his tribe, struggled in challenges, and last week, used his near-death experience as a reason to stay because it shows how "dedicated" he is to the game. No, Swan. It just shows what an idiot you were for not recognizing your own limits or the tough conditions you were in.
Now, it's time to begin the Swan Song.
Let's begin with Tandang, where Pete continues his secret dominance of his tribe. He points out a piece of paper in RC's bag, and it's the clue to the hidden idol. For Abi, who found the idol in the last episode, this is "proof" to her that RC hasn't been honest to her at all, because she and RC buried the clue when they first found it. But in another confessional, Pete reveals that he dug up the clue and planted it in RC's bag. And how did he find out where the clue was buried? Because ABI TOLD HIM. So in other words, Abi is complaining that RC is sharing information with people, and her proof is an incident that was brought about because she shared secret information with Pete. So along with being paranoid and insane, Abi is also a hypocrite.
Oh, and let's add passive-aggressive to that list, too, because when RC tries to understand what is going on, Abi just gives her the hand and says, "Don't talk to me about it. You know what you did." Just like that, RC has become the top target, and Pete is just sitting back looking at the chaos he has created without anyone noticing. Meanwhile, Lisa is looking at the incident and believes there is new life in her game. Now that RC is out of power and no longer able to turn the tribe against her, Lisa can work herself back into the social circle and create an alliance that can really get her going.
WIthout a doubt, Tandang has been the tribe holding this season together. Kalabaw has done nothing of interest and Matsing is a dysfunctional mess. The yellow tribe is where the real social game is being played. Over the past four episodes, we have seen an alliance get formed, only to get completely overturned by the secret ninja moves of Pete. He went from the guy that got tossed a spot in RC's alliance because he seemed easy to manipulate to the guy that allowed Abi to give him all the power he needed to make himself the top dog. With Abi the foaming Brazilian pit-bull, Lisa the desperate loner, and Artis the brooding muscle man, Pete now has himself a solid final four deal, leaving RC to wonder how everything went so wrong so quickly.
And all the while, Skupin is there in the background just happily working away and destroying his body with his clumsiness. Hi, Skupin! Remember, coconut water really helps wash out those machete wounds.
Now we switch over to Kalabaw, where Jeff Kent is ruminating about his original plans to go after Penner and how they have been changed since the veteran got a hold of the hidden idol. Kent notes that he doesn't want a returning player to win, but that since Penner is now protected, he will have to work with him for the time being in order to stay in a good position in the game. The two talk while fishing and agree to look out for each other, with Kent making a full five-fingered handshake this time instead of a four-fingered one, so you know he means it.
BUT WAIT! The show is finally ready to let us hear from the non-celebrity tribe members for once! First, Penner decides to add some more manpower to his alliance by inviting Carter, the third male on Kalabaw, into his alliance. In a confessional -- yes, a full confessional! -- Carter agrees to the deal, and suddenly we have a solid alliance in Kalabaw! But that's not all! While this is all going down, the three Kalabaw women, Dana, Dawson, and Katie, realize what the men are doing and decide to create an alliance of their own, leading to a tribe split along gender lines. Wow, since when did Kalabaw become interesting?
OK, I guess it's time to talk about Matsing. Swan continues to chatter away, but Malcolm and Denise don't answer his attempts at conversation. Malcolm tells the camera that Russell lacks self awareness, and it can be seen by the way he conducts himself in every aspect of the game. Sounds about right to me.
We are also treated to some clips of Swan searching for the hidden immunity idol and noting in the confessional that the idol is probably being shown by the camera and that he is passing over it without even knowing it. Sure enough, the camera keeps flashing over to the rice pot, where the blue talisman idol sits waiting to be picked up. While he searches, Denise and Malcolm begin to suspect that he may already have the idol and that he's just looking for a place to hide it. They search through his belongings but don't find it. Still, they remain worried that Swan has found the idol, even though we all know he hasn't.
After some pretty shots of nature, it's time for the #immunitychallenge. Using two baskets hanging from a pole they will carry on their shoulders, one tribe member at a time must carry a pair of rice pots through a series of obstacles and then place them on perches that vary in height. Once all six perches have pots on them, one person from each tribe must use a wrecking ball to smash the six pots. First two tribes to break all the pots win immunity. In addition, both winning tribes get a pot of vegetables, and the first place tribe gets a slab of steak. Either tribe can exchange this reward for a tarp.
Since Matsing only has three members, Tandang and Kalabaw must select three people to sit out of this challenge, and without blinking an eye, both tribes have their women sit out the challenge. It is here that I call shenanigans. One of the rules that has been a part of every season of 'Survivor' is that no one can sit out two challenges in a row. This has been the second challenge in a row in which all the men from Tandang and Kalabaw have competed while the women sit out. How the hell is this fair? Denise has proven herself to be great at challenges, but this is about brute strength, and by allowing the other tribes to just have their men do all the work, Probst and the producers have put Matsing at a disadvantage.
Sure enough, the Tandang men pull out to a quick and large lead as Pete, Artis, and Skupin easily transfer the rice pots. Fortunately for Matsing, Carter struggles as he keeps bumping his pots into the obstacles, allowing Matsing to take second. But when Matsing finishes transferring the pots, in comes big man Kent. Despite having to go through the obstacles and fields of mud that must have really aggravated his knee injury, Kent managed to make up the time that Carter lost and allowed Kalabaw to catch up. Artis quickly smashed the pots to give Tandang a first place victory, leaving Malcolm and Kent in a showdown to avoid Tribal Council.
And let me tell you, this season's biggest strength aside from Tandang's entertainment value has been the masterful editing job on the challenges. Russ Landau had his music team blasting out dramatic music, Jeff Probst was hollering out his play-by-play, and Malcolm and Kent were neck-and-neck as they smashed their rice pots. It came down to the very last pot, and when Malcolm just barely missed his pot, Kent launched a wrecking ball shot that just nudged the pot at first, but then smashed it on the return end. And with that, Matsing was handed its fourth-consecutive defeat.
That's when Russell Swan decided to cope with failure the only way Russell Swan knows how: by throwing an almighty tantrum.
Swan grabs the last rice pot and smashes it to the ground, screaming at God for answers as to why he keeps failing. Probst, recognizing this is great TV, keeps Swan burning by asking him why he's so upset. Swan responds by accidentally and hilariously referring to Probst as "Lord," and then says that "For me, this isn't supposed to happen." That's when Probst blasts him with some brutal honesty, "Russell, you sometimes talk like you're a superhero. Like Superman's never supposed to fail. You're just a guy."
And boom, that's it. That's Russell Swan in a nutshell in terms of this game. He's just a guy who has no real understanding of his strengths and weaknesses, and Probst's assessment matches up with Malcolm's comment on his lack of self-awareness. There's really no point in talking about what happened after the challenge. We could talk about how Malcolm and Denise made contingency plans in case Swan played the idol that he actually didn't have. We could talk about Swan's weird childhood story about the time he punched a kid in the face. We could talk about the Tribal Council that took place during a freezing storm in which Denise was praised as a social mastermind that can not only convince a jury to unanimously vote for her to win, but also to give her money out of their own pockets to help with the taxes.
But that's all inconsequential, because the result is inevitable. Swan finally gets put out of his misery, and Matsing is down to Malcolm and Denise, the two people that were the strongest and most interesting members of the blue tribe from day one. I'm really hoping that in the next episode we see the tribes get shuffled up into two new tribes, because Malcolm and Denise are great players and deserve to play this game without weaker players dragging them down.
But on the preview of the next episode, something big might be on the horizon. Probst makes a visit to the Kalabaw camp, and we are teased with a possible medical evacuation. Has Kent's knee finally given out on him? And if so, how will it affect the gender alliances that have just been built there?
And now to bring this article full circle, I leave you with this question: Wouldn't Malcolm, Pete, and Denise be great if they came back in a future season?