“Survivor” Recap: We Needed Another Hero. We Got One.

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Look, you can sigh in relief that Colton Cumbie‘s exit from the show last week spared us a season’s worth of his humiliating antics. Sure. But you also had to wonder if Colton was secretly the only exciting cast member, the only castaway willing to piss off acquaintances, start fights, and find the Zen in chaos. Well, get this: Since Colton left, everyone else on the show is suddenly meaner. Not kidding! It’s balanced out nicely. Almost poetically. It’s reality TV Zen, actually.

We’ve got a long way to go before this one-sided battle between the Galang (which always makes me think of Evonne Goolagong Cawley when Jeff says it since I like having a reason to remember Chris Evert‘s subtle rage) and Tadhana tribes is over. But if Blood Vs. Water is anything like Survivor: Philippines, the surviving members of the fast-dwindling Tadhana tribe will use their hard-luck experience as jury bait later in the game. For now, they just look like losers. Aww. Attractive losers with Mentadent smiles, but losers nonetheless. Like The Bad News Bears — which makes adorable gay Caleb The Bad News Cub. For real this time: Awww.

And now, onto my deep thoughts from Wednesday’s episode.

Oh, good, now John and Candice can be angrily great at everything together.

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There is nothing I love more on a reality show than watching a power couple flounder. Remember Colin and Christie’s aggro fights on the fifth season of The Amazing Race? They were so good at everything that it actually filled them with rage. And a Christian rage, too! Watching John and Candice on Redemption Island feels like a grim little sitcom about Colin and Christie in purgatory (This was definitely pitched 3-5 times at CBS), and even though John and Candice are a more likable duo than those two, their seething attractiveness is the same. Hopefully they just find reasons to get madder and even better-looking. Candice flicked off Brad Culpepper upon entering the Redemption Island battledome, and that’s the kind of laughable grit I need more of. Stamp your feet, Candice! Stick out your tongue! Point! Yell at Brad using swear words, fill up a swear jar with nickels, and donate it to the American Heart Association! Yeah! Stay symmetrical!

I miss Marissa.

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I had a good feeling Marissa would be the losing combatant on Redemption Island this week since John and Candice are programmed for excellence, but I didn’t anticipate how much it’d suck. First of all, I am over Gervase. Gervase was trying to encourage Marissa as she put together a stupid cube puzzle, and lord help me, his diplomatic hurrahs were depressing. But why? I think Gervase’s overconfidence is grating. Paired with phony encouragements for his beleaguered niece, he bordered on unbearable. Another part of this problem is I honestly think Gervase could go a long way in this game — not because he’s a great competitor, but because he’s that inoffensively fine player who has no reason to be offed. Mostly my issue is that I loved how Marissa was righteously angry all the time. Loved that. I got that. Now she’s gone for good and probably walking down some street snarling at strangers and screaming, “Look me in the eye when you ignore me!” Miss you, girl.

This Hayden character is getting very likable. 

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Give it up to this Aberzombie-shaped dude, because he gives good quote. “Today we lost to a one-armed dude and three moms,” he deadpanned about the immunity challenge. “That’s brutal. Brutal!” I remember liking him on Big Brother, but I don’t remember thinking his attitude was especially relatable. Well, I’ve been put to shame. He’s cruising along well in his dilapidating tribe, and he seems like one of the most sensible cats on the roster. If he and Caleb work together to shoot down the rest of their clan, I wouldn’t hate it.

So, why was Brad Culpepper so dumb?

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As far as I could tell, Brad Culpepper had a gift for endearing his teammates, at least initially. Tribesmates seemed un-self-conscious, yet confidential with him. He had overcome his celebrity status and established himself as a common man. So, here’s my question: How could someone with an iota of common sense be so dumb as to backstab a huge ally and expect no repercussions? It is blue-rare that a reality contestant who plays “too hard, too soon” ends up winning. Like Amanda on the most recent Big Brother season, he couldn’t help but congratulate himself (in front of everyone else) for making a “power move,” which is a good way to deflate all the power in your move. When you announce that you’re a scheming player, you become a target — particularly at such an early stage of the game when everyone is looking for reasons to call someone else a target. While his exit at tribal council was shocking, he wasn’t the character I found myself thinking about most. That person would be…

Caleb. Phew. We have a new gay hero.

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Let me first say that Caleb, whom I interviewed a couple weeks ago, seemed like a guileless doll. I believed every word he said to me. I was all set to like him on the show anyway because he’s a gay sweetheart with the pleasant facial hair of a young Leo Buscaglia, but then I found myself respecting his “gameplay”  (if that’s what we want to call it) when he comforted Colton in his arms during that Redemption Island meltdown without drawing too much attention to himself. He was sincere, but reserved. This entire season he’s been reserved, save a couple of confessionals where he specifically mentioned he was biting his tongue around the chest-pumping Brad. Now, finally, at a shocking and unexpected moment, he launched into an attack on the loudly two-timing footballer. At tribal council, Caleb parried Brad’s well-known shadiness by announcing his intentions outright: “I’m voting for Brad,” he said. And he motioned towards the tribe’s last two ladies, who knew they needed an ally at that moment. After a quick vote and re-vote, his word was God’s: Brad was out of the tribe, and now Caleb is the gleeful slumlord of the depressed Tadhana halfway house. That was a thrilling move. I’m not sure how possible it is for Caleb to maintain his warmly straightforward persona without filling his competitors with paranoia, but so far he feels like a working class hero. A cuddly and cunning cub. Alliteration! Now I’m having a good time. And now I’m paranoid too. Don’t lose, Caleb! We need your cuddly Cumbieness.

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