Well, there's one thing for certain after this week's episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains: viewers either loved this episode or hated it. When two alpha players the likes of Boston Rob and Russell end up on opposite alliances, it's going to result in a messy confrontation, and that makes for entertaining but polarizing television. So who's side were you on? Did you like both of them like me? Or maybe you couldn't stand their cockiness and didn't like either of 'em? Well either way, there were lots of scenarios for you to be disappointed with the results, but if you just like the game of Survivor in all its craziness, then you would be satisfied with this one.
I was hoping their back-and-forth would go on for weeks and weeks, but alas, that wasn't the case. Russell managed to convince Jerri to change allegiances (and Coach to float somewhere in the middle), and when the Heroes miraculously won a puzzle-based immunity challenge, the Villains went to Tribal Council and voted out Boston Rob. The great manipulator and backstabber (from All-Stars) and challenge master (from all 3 of his seasons, but especially Heroes vs. Villains) was sent home before the merge and jury, and the new self-proclaimed Survivor master stuck around for at least another few days -- and possibly with an even stronger alliance in place.
Just like last week, this episode was all about Russell vs. Rob, but rather than mostly a behind-the-scenes war with some cryptic quasi-threats, this week we saw the gloves come off and the fight for alliance numbers pretty much out in the open. The most open things got -- and it was so nice to see some bloody honesty in this game, even if it was in an incredibly cocky way -- was when Rob asked Russell who should go home in the vote while sitting with Courtney and Sandra, and Russell flat-out said one of those 2 ladies should be voted out to keep the tribe strong. It's something we've never seen on Survivor, and it made for hilarious TV. (And as an aside, it's weird with Courtney and Sandra: they're both essentially useless around camp and in challenges, yet I love Courtney and I can't stand Sandra. Go figure.)
With clear alliances of Russell-Parvati-Danielle and Rob-Sandra-Courtney, that left Coach and Jerri as the swing votes. Jerri had shown nothing but contempt for Parvati, so it was a bit of a surprise that she was so open to switching sides, and then actually agreeing to do so. Coach, meanwhile, had been a party of the immunity idol "trust circle" with Russell, so Russell already assumed he had Coach on his side. However, even with his #1 ally Jerri joining up with the new group, Coach still wasn't committing to switching allegiances (even while not committing to stay with Rob, either). Those 2 potential lovebirds have a weird dynamic, which really came out in their confessionals when talking about each other. It's the first non-annoying side of Jerri I've seen since early on in Survivor: Australian Outback, but I'm curious to see how it will affect their gameplay going forward.
It's interesting that both Rob and Russell were condescending to Coach (without him picking up on it first). They both realized how they could play off of Coach's naivety to try and get him to trust them. Despite most people loving one of them and hating the other, Rob and Russell are so alike it's not even funny. They had different social games, and definitely a different approaches to getting to the end result, but they are both top players who can exploit weaknesses in their allies and enemies for their own game. I really wish they had teamed up early on, because had they, I have no doubt they'd be sitting at the final vote as the last 2 standing.
Some people have wondered why on earth Jerri would want to go with who she ultimately did, because Rob would have been a better ally. But in that group (had it remained Rob, Sandra, Courtney, Coach, and Jerri), she's definitely #5 on the pecking order. However, with Russell, she's at worst 4th, but very possibly in the "final 3" spot with Coach and Russell. And for those who insist that Russell is untrustworthy and use last season as an example, think back to who he "back-stabbed" -- the only times he didn't keep his alliances were when someone was too much of a threat to his alliance by either exposing details or trying to actively get someone in the alliance voted. I wouldn't try and screw him over unless you were guaranteed to have the numbers to do so, but if you stick with him, he's proven to (mostly) keep his word. So I don't think she made a bad call at all.
Coach, on the other hand, didn't simply have a problem with loyalty or keeping his word, he had a problem with making contradictory promises and then trying to find a way to get out of the mess while still somehow keeping his perfect integrity track record in tact. Given the fact that Rob called Coach a "little man" when he was voted out, I'm pretty sure Rob thinks he is a liar, even though he wrote Courtney's name down rather than Rob's. Coach may have been able to rationalize his decision by saying that he didn't betray either Russell or Rob that way, but he knew essentially abstaining from the vote would mean it put Jerri in the hot seat as the "turncoat", which was a very unfair position to put her in. Essentially, I truly believe his heart is in the right place and he really is trying to be an honest, trustworthy, morally-strong dude, but he's trying way too hard to hold himself up to some magical self-measured "standard", which is a bit sad to watch.
And oh yes, this season isn't just called Survivor: Villains. The Heroes are still here, and they actually won 2 challenges in the same week! After dominating the reward challenge, which included some fired-up play by the hopefully re-vitalized Colby (I really like the original Survivor Hero, but James was right last week -- he had been sucking so far this season), they appeared doomed when the immunity challenge was once again half-physical, half-puzzle. I knew things might be different when the Villains took a sizable lead in the physical portion of the challenge, though that lead didn't end up lasting when Courtney took forever to make a jump from the ropes down to the trampoline-y thing, and then finally did jump in the absolute most awkward fashion possible. JT and Amanda then kept the lead up through the puzzle portion, working together as "one voice" and leaving Rob and a completely useless Sandra in their dust!
The Heroes continue to be the less interesting tribe, but it's still nice to see the numbers evening out a little bit here. If the stupidly-named "Fantastic Five" can actually keep working as a team, there's a chance the tribes could even merge at an even 5-5, which would certainly make that first post-merge vote more exciting.
One final thing I was thinking of as the Villains were at tribal council: why wasn't Russell out looking for an immunity idol? He proved last season that he could find them without even getting a clue, and he must assume that another one is in play (which was confirmed when the Heroes got their reward note), so shouldn't he already be in possession of the idol given his track record? Or does the layout of the camps this season make it much more difficult to find what area to search in?
Anyway, the previews for next week show absolute turmoil and madness over at the Villains camp. Is it just cleverly-placed soundbites and video, or are things going to be chaotic over there, likely leading to another team loss and trip to tribal council? If they do go to another vote, can Russell's alliance stay in tact? And can the Heroes stay "fantastic" and keep working as a united team, or will someone still go out and try and search for the idol to use on their own (instead of as a team once the merge happens)? Despite the most entertaining feud in Survivor history (in my opinion) now being over, Heroes vs. Villains still looks like it will continue to bring the goods. I hope I'm right, because it's been a phenomenal run so far, and I don't want things to get boring only halfway through the season.
Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of ShowbizMonkeys.com. When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found at The Purple Room in Winnipeg, where he is Artistic Director. (@comedygeek)