Survivor Recap
The Dragon Slayer
By David Mumpower
April 10, 2009

Anybody got a saw?

Previously on Survivor, we set a new season record for super-secret hidden alliances. We also saw a third hidden immunity idol come into play, this one a fake created by Taj and Stephen to trick Joe into believing he had one. Meanwhile, Taj talked Stephen out of bringing J.T. into their trust about said idols. Soon afterward, J.T. saw it in Stephen's bag, thereby reducing his trust for his bromancer. It was the largest amount of shenanigans ever seen among a group of castaways who had not been on a three hour tour.

Night 18 at Jalapao finds everyone discussing Sydney's elimination. Taj is relieved since she almost saw her post-merge plans go up in smoke prior to the merge. Meanwhile, Joe laments the recent course of events, recognizing that with ally Sydney removed, his neck is next in line on the chopping block. His strangest comment is that he is getting more concerned as he sees torch after torch extinguished. Joe, that's the idea here. If other torches are the ones extinguished, this INCREASES your chances of winning the game. When it's your torch extinguished, that's when you should be worried. This is a pretty fundamental concept about the game, dude.

The morning after sees the production stuff having a lot of fun in the editing bay. Coach is doing some weird Mr. Miyagi stuff in the water, and they have given the type of musical accompaniment generally reserved for mystic warriors as they prepare themselves for mortal combat against ancient evil. I cannot help but think this is probably the way Coach sees his situation, too. There is a whole Secret Life of Walter Mitty aspect to his behavior that never fails to creep me out. Back in the real world, I bet he describes himself in the third person a lot, probably calling himself The Justifier and wearing a cape a lot of the time. He's probably caused a lot of neighbors to move over the years.

"Boom, everything just clicked. This is about me now." -- That's right. Coach is now determined to become even more self-absorbed. This is going to rip apart the very fabric of the space/time continuum.

We cut away from Coach's heartfelt impersonation of Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai to discover that a bunch of tribe members are worried about Joe's leg. It's turning some colors that were previously not known in nature. Like purblue. As Taj describes it to the camera, she involuntarily shudders, which tells us all we need to know. J.T. is worried about Joe's knee for a different reason. They're going to need his vote once the tribes merge, assuming that ever happens.

Right on cue, tree mail indicates the possibility of a merge or the reinvention of the wheel. Sometimes it's hard to tell on this show. J.T. takes this opportunity to talk about how much he hates to lose these competitions. It's a nice sentiment, but he really, really didn't need to say it after the "lost tooth" incident last episode. There are professional hockey players who were impressed by that show of heart.

"I get excited when I hear anything that starts with an F." -- Taj. Hey, Sister With Voice, "Fahrvergnügen!"...apologies to those of you who have never seen Love Potion #9, which is probably everyone outside of Sandra Bullock's immediate family.

The merger segment is more awkward than normal. First, Coach attempts to let all of the alpha males on the other team know that he's a soccer coach as well as a maestro (his word, not mine). Then, an attempt is made to move the conversation in the direction of the new name of the tribe. Someone suggests something that closed captioning thinks is "Dingus". It's shot down for obvious reasons. Eventually, they all settle upon Forza, which means strength in Portuguese. I presume that whomever suggested this is a Sports Night fan (La Forza del Destino!) and I love them for it. Unfortunately, I can't really tell who it was. Before I can figure it out, Sierra attacks the elephant in the living room and tries to make luggage and shoes out of it by asking what in the blue hell Jalapao was thinking with their last two Tribal Council votes. This is...not well received. Poker faces come out and noncommittal grunts are exchanged as a means of conversation. What is readily apparent in all of this is that six members of one extinct tribe and four members of the other extinct tribe do not trust each other in the least. Any and all political maneuvering used in an attempt to gain information is pointless at this juncture.

The new Forza tribe winds up at the former Timbira camp and let's just say that the old Jalapao folks are less than enthusiastic about their new surroundings. Imagine an American watching the first half of Slumdog Millionaire and you'll get the general idea. Perhaps still stinging from his recent falling out with Stephen over hidden secrets, J.T. forges a new relationship with Coach. The two southern gentlemen (despite Coach's professions to be from California) fish and chat about the game. J.T. startles The Maestro by stating he's heard Brendan is in complete control of the game. To say that this shocks and aggravates the soccer coach would be an understatement. He immediately seeks to unearth whose opinion this is, presumably so that he can later assail them for their novice's take on tribal status. He's the leader, dammit! Why don't people realize this? Did they not see him in the water at the start of the episode? Did they not hear "You're the best around, nothing's ever gonna keep you down" playing as he crane kicked that blond-haired kid right in the face while Elisabeth Shue and that dude from Happy Days watched?

J.T. runs circles around Coach during this conversation. First, he states that Brendan has the idol. When Coach asks if Taj does and requests a promise from the good ol' boy on the subject, J.T. lies without blinking. It never even occurs to Coach that this may be the case. He is confident in his read in the boy, which could wind up being his downfall. The editing team has a bit of fun at Coach's expense at this point, showing a clip of him making vague yet ominous threats about what will happen to the people who lie to him during the course of this game. Just to be safe, the other contestants should probably hide the machetes while he's around. Everyone remembers that one incident with crazy Matthew a few seasons ago.

The surprising element of tonight's episode occurs when Coach and Tyson have a moonlit conversation. Rather than discuss the beauty of each other's eyes, they focus upon Brendan, presumably to make one another jealous. The agreement is that they will target him at the next vote rather than pick off one of the (presumably) outnumbered members of the former Jalapao tribe. This is frankly suicidal strategy, as the 6-4 lead currently held by the old Timbira group is shaky as is. At 5-4, only one of them would have to flip in order to guarantee a very bad series of Tribal Councils for the others in their alliance. Once again, fear of the hidden immunity idol is creating irrational decisions by rational players...hey, Tyson still qualifies for that description even if The Maestro does not. The problem with plans such as this is that secrecy is a must. Tyson, showing signs of being another Corinne from last season, brags to the camera about what a masterful liar he is. Then, he behaves just like any James Bond villain would and proceeds to tell J.T. their nefarious plan to eliminate Brendan. What you always want to do right after a merge is tell a member of the smaller alliance that you plan to vote off a member of your own alliance. That always ends well. Tyson is like a November turkey running straight at the dude wielding the axe.

Speaking of being sworn to secrecy, Brendan and Sierra are playing their ultra-secret alliance so cool that Taj and Stephen are freaked out about the lack of communication. When Tyson watched this episode on television, I hope he was taking notes. The problem here is that Brendan is making plans without his allies, and that's not always the best thing to do. During a monologue, he states that they need to do absolutely nothing together until Joe and J.T. have both been eliminated. This alliance is so super-secret that he doesn't even know J.T. is a part of it. There is a fly in this ointment and Tocantins does not appear to be chock full of bug spray.

Tyson pulls Debra aside and tells her that the alliance is: "You, me, Coach, J.T. and Stephen." J.T. missed his calling as a double agent. An ally is planning his demise while his enemies are celebrating what a great friend he is. Almost as if the show were fixed, Brendan chooses this moment to enter the conversation. Tyson, who is plotting against Brendan for this very vote, states that Joe needs to be next to go. Brendan, who is plotting against Tyson, is pleased by this because he wants Joe then J.T. to go before he targets Tyson and Coach. I think I understood Mission: Impossible and all of its Tom Cruise masks better than I do the current permutations of who is with who on the current season of Survivor. What is clear is that Tyson has major insecurity issues regarding Brendan. He spends a remarkable amount of time trying to convince himself that he is a better manipulator.

Remember last week when Joe thought Erinn was hot? He hasn't gotten any less horny with three more sexless days. For this less than gallant reason, he takes Erinn aside and tries to show her the hidden immunity idol, if you know what I mean. To both of their surprise, it's not there. Even Joe's sex-deprived brain can suss out what this means. Erinn tells the camera that they're working under the assumption that either Brendan or Sierra has the idol, so they need to be the next two players eliminated. The show has expended a tremendous amount of injury trying to show how many people want Brendan gone, which means it's a slam dunk he's safe at least this week if not indefinitely.

Probst sighting!

The first individual immunity challenge is one of those seeking to determine who wants it the most. All the contestants have to do today is climb a pole and try to hang on as long as they can. These sorts of challenges always seem to favor the strongest, but oftentimes prove to favor smaller women with good balance and center of gravity. Demonstrating this, the first two people to struggle are Stephen, who isn't exactly Mr. Upper Body Strength, and Joe, whose bum knee gives him fits. Joe quickly comes to terms with the fact that he will be unable to win this challenge. Once he arrives on the bench, Probst winces when he sees the knee wound. HDTV must not be doing this justice, because it doesn't look that disgusting to me, at least not compared to a couple of similar wounds in the past. The Champ from The Tick had an absolutely gruesome one during the All-Stars/Fan Favorites season. That's the one that lingers in our minds.

Brendan becomes the first healthy player eliminated, which causes Coach to cackle so loud that he might as well shout, "We're going to sandbag you at Tribal Council tomorrow!" Taj, who is a bit more...let's say maternally shaped than some of the other women is next to go with Erinn finishing soon afterward. Only the last one surprises us much. The central difference between Erinn and Sierra so far is amount of fight shown in the challenges to date. We'd go to war with Sierra any day. Pound for pound, she's one of the toughest people there. The first surprise of the challenge occurs when J.T. falls off the pole. Soon afterward, Coach, having proven to himself that he is stronger than much younger and more virile men, is able to quit with his pride intact. WTG, Walter Mitty! A few moments later, Sierra slides down the pole in a painful way that shows she was never a fireman. That was brutal. With only Tyson and Debbie remaining, it's come down to power versus balance. Each of them lasts 30 minutes, but they both start to struggle. Eventually, Debbie collapses and Tyson becomes the first winner of individual immunity. Before they leave, a surprise occurs when Probst requests that a medical team check Joe's knee. That's...never a good sign.

When the doctor studies Joe's knee, it becomes apparent he will not be continuing. He states that they'll have to tell him he might lose the leg before he'd stop competing. That's going to happen. The only question is whether there is an additional Tribal Council elimination. Negotiations ensue along these lines with the bombshell coming from the Stephen/Taj tandem. Stephen asks if she would vote for Brendan and while she is reticent at first, it's obvious that his not communicating with her at all has rubbed her the wrong way. She eventually consents to the bold strategy, presuming everyone else agrees with the plan. A quick cut to Coach and J.T. shows the egomaniac telling his new protégé (?) that as long as J.T. promises not to burn him later, the kid is in Coach's alliance. Fearing his potential elimination otherwise, J.T. readily consents.

The southern gentleman directly heads to Stephen to strategize how to guarantee survival. Recognizing that they have enough votes to cover their bases in case Brendan chooses to play his idol, the men go to Tyson with an idea. Their new ploy is to split votes between Brendan and Sierra in order to assure that if Brendan does protect himself, it is Sierra rather than J.T. who goes home. Tyson quickly agrees and tells Coach the new plan. Amusingly, Coach monologues to the camera that this is the way HE plans for it to happen, which means that either he or the editing crew is the type of liar Tyson dreams of being. Not quite content to celebrate the impending victory as it stands, Coach starts deciding the best descriptive terminology for himself. He considers then discards The Orchestrator before having the epiphany that Jackie Chan would respect him more if he called himself The Dragon Slayer. Coach never got over bombing at that pro wrestling tryout, did he?

The producers of the show, perhaps hating Coach every bit as much as I do, deny him his victory. Jeff Probst walks up to the tribe and informs them that Joe's leg is about as gangrene as legs can get in the post-Civil War era. He's been Medivac'd back to civilization and is out of the competition. Because of this, there will be no Tribal Council elimination tonight, which may very well save Brendan's neck, depending on how much of this was an editing swerve. Under any circumstance, it's in Brendan's best interest to pull Taj aside next week, show her his Eddie George autographed jersey, and sing her every SWV song he knows.

Coach and Tyson's disappointment at this turn of events sexually arouses me. Their pain is my pleasure.