Airdate: November 19, 2009
Boot: Laura Morett
Quote: “It’s continually impressive and bordering on annoying how pathetic the analytical skills of the Galu tribe are.” – John Fincher
Rating: 7 + Tier E (1) = 8
Frustrating. That’s the only word to describe this episode. It’s not bad. It’s relatively interesting and entertaining, at least for a Samoa episode. But it’s frustrating. And here are the top nine reasons why, in chronological order:
- The obnoxiously long recap
This was fairly common during this era of the show, where the “Previously on Survivor” segment stretched on forever, went back multiple episodes, and essentially telegraphed the hour ahead.
- Russell and Shambo: the “I’d rather die-” namic duo
Samoa is one of Survivor‘s biggest “love it or hate it” seasons, and I’m very much in the latter camp. Wanna know why? Russell Hantz and Shannon “Shambo” Waters are both in my bottom five contestants of all time, and they happen to be the two most prominent characters of the season. Someone can be annoying or villainous and still be entertaining to watch but these two are insufferable individually. When they share the screen and celebrate Russell’s idol play at the previous Tribal Council, it’s like simultaneously getting kicked in the groin and punched in the Adam’s apple.
After I did that to a classmate in first grade, they forced me to take karate lessons so I could figure out how to “control my anger.”
- Sprint to the fast-forward button, here comes product placement
Look, I get it. Product placement has been a part of Survivor since the first season. But much like the blatantly biased and foreshadowing recaps, if memory serves me Samoa was part of a stretch of seasons in which it felt especially overbearing. (Exhibit A of course being the infamous Jack and Jill movie “reward” in South Pacific.) Food rewards like Snickers bars and even Applebee’s feasts can feel forced, but at least they make sense in the context of starving people living on an island. Watching these castaways play around with Sprint’s Palm Pre device for a quarter of the episode is significantly less organic.
Especially when they checked the search history and found “boston rob shirtless,” “boston rob underwater,” and “boston tea bag party.”
- The idol video clue
This is a fairly forgotten “WTF” moment. To give credit where credit is due, Russell finding the first two idols without clues was pretty revolutionary. (Although most idols prior to Samoa were hidden in places virtually impossible to uncover by chance.) But this time, the producers eschewed subtlety altogether by literally providing a video–on the Sprint Palm Pre, of course–of the idol’s location. I don’t remember if it’s ever happened since, but it was a major turning point in the show’s reliance on idols as a main attraction, rather than as catalysts to create drama and drive strategy.
- Shambo’s unmerited feud with Laura
I think every season of Survivor needs unpredictable players like Shambo, who act as spoilers for the overly competitive strategists that the show seems to cast almost exclusively these days. That said, they shouldn’t be as obnoxious as Shambo, who mercifully has turned down multiple opportunities to return, apparently unhappy with her portrayal. Because when you’re a 45-year-old woman who gives herself a nickname based on a Sylvester Stallone movie, you expect a certain level of respect.
Just ask Debbie “Docky” Wanner.
While Shambo seemed to dislike the majority of her Galu tribemates, most of her ire is reserved for Laura for some reason. I guess there are moments where Laura isn’t particularly polite towards Shambo, but it’s essentially a one-sided feud that dictates the season’s entire trajectory.
- A tension-free immunity challenge
There was a reward challenge at the final five in Kaoh Rong in which each player could only throw a certain number of bags before they had to sit out and wait for the other contestants to attempt victory. It was a neat change of pace and the Survivor gods (ugh, I hate that I just used that phrase) worked their magic that day, as that rule allowed 71-year-old Joe to pull off an upset. I liked it, though Jeff Probst vowed it would never happen again. Believe it or not, this isn’t the only time Jeff and I haven’t seen eye to eye.
Boy, good thing you didn’t have a final 2; otherwise Aubry wouldn’t have won!
That said, when it comes to immunity challenges, a certain dramatic tension is necessary, especially when there’s a clear target like Laura in this episode. In this challenge, whoever shot a spear closest to the bullseye would win immunity, but in order to even have a chance, you first needed to knock out your designated tile(s) with a rock toss. The only people who moved on to the second round were Bret, Jaison, Mick, and Monica, none of whom were in any danger of going home whatsoever. As soon as Laura failed to hit any of her tiles, the suspense was gone. Also, they make it seem like Shambo laughed hysterically when Laura was eliminated, but it clearly isn’t from that exact moment. Not even Shambo is that inept.
- Galu’s stupid plan
Oh boy, a lot to unpack here. With Monica eager to save her top ally Laura, she concocts a plan to instead put John on the chopping block. She tells Russell that she and the other members of Galu are willing to vote out John, and the Foa Foa members should follow suit. Ah, but it’s a ruse! She imagines the Foa Foa foursome putting their votes towards John, with Shambo
sticking a pin in a Laura voodoo doll voting for Laura, while the remaining Galu members will actually write down Natalie’s name, eliminating the eventual winner in a 5-4-1 vote.
There are two problems here. First, even if Foa Foa buys it, obviously John can’t vote off himself, so what’s stopping them from teaming up with Shambo to do a 5-4-1 vote of their own and picking off any target they wish? The other problem is that the plan is well in motion before the rest of Galu actually gives John a heads-up. Despite their assurances, he’s understandably unhappy about this and it sets into motion…
- John’s stupid plan
John Fincher’s smartest Survivor move was ultimately marrying Parvati, but I feel like he was one of the brighter and more respectable folks on Galu. And I don’t blame him for freaking out about having his name thrown out there. But when Russell invites him to join in on the Laura vote, John is on board, but he has one stipulation: the next person voted out needs to be from Foa Foa. And of course Russell immediately agrees.
This is not even a “you can’t trust Russell; he’s too sneaky!” thing. This is a common sense thing. If Laura goes tonight, Foa Foa and Shambo control a 5-4 majority. Your demands for the next vote are inconsequential.
- John avoids the rock draw
And now we get to the single most frustrating part of the episode. I remember watching it the night it aired, ecstatic that for the first time in 15 seasons, we had a shot at seeing a rock draw. The first vote came back 5-5. Surely there was no reason for John to force a tie only to switch his vote the second time. Except no, that’s exactly what he did. The last quarter of the episode raised our expectations only to deflate them, with John Fincher getting ready to kick the football and pulling off the impressive feat of being both Charlie Brown and Lucy.