Warning: This recap for the “The Past Will Eat You Alive” episode of Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers contains spoilers.
Every Survivor fan remembers Rudy Boesch, the 72-year-old ex-Navy SEAL and perpetual curmudgeon who won his way into America’s hearts back in 2000. The first season of Survivor was very much a human experiment, strangers from all walks of life dumped on a desert island and forced to work together. The strategic trickery and brutal backstabbing the show is now known for was present then, but it took a backseat to the human relationships. Rudy was a significant part of the show’s human element — his way of life, particularly his military experience, provided an entirely different outlook than that of the so-called MTV generation he was stranded alongside. Rudy had seen things his fellow tribe mates couldn’t even imagine, and his tough, world-weary attitude provided a unique perspective on the game going on around him.
Flash forward seventeen years, and Survivor is still able to deliver intensely personal moments that transcend the game. It’s easy to lose sight of the human side of Survivor in the #BigMovez era, where the focus is all about blindsides and who can come up with the next clever buzzword for an alliance. But this episode took a time out from the gameplay to a shine a spotlight on a powerful moment which is both culturally relevant and undeniably human.
THE PAST WILL EAT YOU ALIVE
Ben, like Rudy, is a military veteran — a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq. It’s a role that earned him his spot on the Heroes tribe this season, not that Ben would describe himself in such grandiose terms. “I’m just doing my job,” he said back in the premiere when Jeff Probst talked up his heroic feats. Up until this point, the former Marine hadn’t really opened up about that job. Instead, the cowboy-hat-wearing castaway has chosen to spend his time building alliances and earning his tribe mates’ respect by helping around the camp and performing well in the challenges. But after a sudden explosion caused by bamboo popping in the campfire — mimicking the sound of gunfire — Ben’s demons rise to the surface, he’s quickly overcome with emotion, and he quietly removes himself from camp for some alone time.
“When you come back from combat, there’s no way to adjust fully,” Ben says in confessional. Where Rudy was very stoic and reserved when it came to discussing the emotional toll of war, Ben is more forthcoming about his feelings, revealing that the heartbreaking effects of combat plague the mind long after the soldier returns home. “There’s things upstairs that are there forever. They don’t go away,” he says, while the rest of his tribe mates begin to realize Ben is struggling with PTSD. But even if they realize what is happening, they can never fully understand. “Coming back with that, it’s hard, it’s lonely, and you feel like no one understands. Civilians have no idea what it’s like to be shot at and have people try to kill you. You can’t comprehend it without going through it.”
Ben is absolutely right. Nobody can understand. But Ben speaking out about this on prime time network television to an audience of millions at this moment in time can help open people’s eyes and offer comfort to those who are going through the same thing. And despite the obvious pain Ben is feeling, he refuses to let the past eat him alive. “My wife and kids have definitely saved me from my demons, my nightmares, and the past,” he tells us. “The future will save you,” he adds. “There’s a way to life outside that hell.”
It’s an incredibly heavy yet powerful moment which may have only taken up five minutes of a 42-minute episode but which had more of an impact than anything that came before or after it. It was honest and heartfelt, and most importantly human — something Survivor, and the world at large, can often forget to be these days.
BETWEEN TWO ALLIES
The game does indeed go on, and for Ryan, the more recent past is front and center in his mind. Swapped to a new tribe with his former Hustler buddy Ali, and Chrissy, the woman he gifted a Super Idol to back on Day 3, the New Jersey bellhop finds himself in a swing position. Ali wants to take out Chrissy because of her balance beam blunder, which cost the tribe immunity. Chrissy, meanwhile, has her sights set on Roark, the lone Healer at Soko beach. It’s a prickly predicament for Ryan, who has an early bond with Ali because of Hustler spirit and a connection with Chrissy based on a past good deed. He tells us that Ali will never work with Chrissy, so either way, the decision he makes is going to hurt one of them.
There are pros and cons for both choices. When it comes to Roark, we don’t know much about her because the show hasn’t bothered to inform us, but what we do know is that she’s a Healer. There are still six Healers in the game, and with a merge approaching, a potentially six-strong voting bloc poses a significant threat. For someone like Ali, those numbers are opportunity, and she’s hoping to hide behind the mass of Healers during the precarious early stages of the merge. It’s a solid plan, as very often in Survivor these large alliances begin self-cannibalizing, allowing the under-the-radar background players to swoop in and pick up the scraps.
For Ryan though, keeping Roark would mean cutting loose a potential ally who promised to return his favor. Why get rid of someone who has shown a willingness to work with you for someone with whom you have no relationship at all? Not only that, but taking out Chrissy would set a precedent of voting based on challenge strength, and given Ryan’s less than stellar performance in the Reward Challenge, he would be opening himself up as an easy target should the Soko tribe return to tribal council. Ryan disarms people with humor, and making his tribe mates laugh is how he gets them on his side and able to forgive his challenge flaws. “I rely on my social game. It’s everything,” Ryan says, and that is what ultimately leads to his decision.
Ryan votes for Roark, as do Chrissy and JP, who Chrissy is able to effortlessly snowball into voting her way by lying about Roark forming an all-girl alliance. “Oh, then she’s gotta go,” JP mutters, as if thinking about the decision for more than three seconds will kill his last remaining brain cells. Ali, who had previously talked about how tribal council is where you find out who you can trust, learns she can no longer rely on her past relationship with Ryan. If Ryan is banking on his social game pulling him through, he better have some good jokes up his sleeve next week to cheer up a clearly upset and shocked Ali.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE A SEX DOCTOR
Last week, Cole was spilling secrets left and right like an Ashley Madison hacker. This week he’s ingratiating himself by devouring the tribe’s entire supply of sugar like Augustus Gloop in “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.” “He eats like a pig,” Lauren says, as we’re treated to a montage of Cole licking jars and spoons and fingers. “I hope it sticks his lips together,” she adds. Jessica is probably hoping for the same thing, so he’ll stop blabbing vital information. But again, the past begins to shape the future. …
Because of Cole’s loose lips, Jessica decides to replace him with Mike, likely recognizing the benefits of doctor-patient confidentiality. Despite her physical attraction to Cole, his lack of game awareness is potentially detrimental to her, whereas Mike provides a safer, more reliable option. The new pairing gets to work immediately, heading to the well to search for the idol, knowing that’s where Cole and Joe found one back on the Healers’ beach. Jessica keeps guard while Mike furiously digs. “Cole would tell us if he had it, wouldn’t he?” Jessica asks. Come on, Jess, Cole would have told you, the entire cast, the camera crew, and the family of hermit crabs living on the beach by now. Eventually, Mike finds the idol, and shares a hug and bonding moment with his newfound ally.
“There’s a danger someone else knowing about the idol, but at this point, I’m trusting Jess,” Mike says, happy but apprehensive about going from the bottom to the top so suddenly. “Never underestimate Dr. Mike.”
Things are settling down on Levu beach after last week’s standoff between the Heroes and Healers, which saw Joe play his idol to send Alan packing. “I knew you were crazy, but I didn’t know you were also smart,” Ashley tells Joe, realizing his pretribal antics were just an act to lure the rest of the tribe into a false sense of security. Joe pats himself on the back for a job well done. Their mood is given a caffeine injection after a dominant Reward Challenge win — the returning wriggly-worm competition, aka the Human Centipede. A feast of pastries and iced coffee lift spirits even higher as the group comes together to snatch another victory in the Immunity Challenge.
But the game is still percolating beneath the happy smiles and the facefuls of croissants. Devon’s mind is very much still on the game, and he makes it his priority to get rid of Joe as soon as possible. “He’s got the best strategy and knowledge of the game of anyone I’ve met,” Devon says about Joe, which is perhaps giving him a little more credit than he deserves. When Joe and Desi take a walk to the water, Devon confirms his trust with Ashley and promises to stick by her no matter what, even if it results in a two-two tie and rock draw. Ashley echoes the sentiment but hopes they can pull Desi over to their side if it comes to that. It’s a solid plan, but knowing Desi’s past beef with Joe, she may not be willing to put her game on the line for his sake.
THE FUTURE WILL SAVE YOU
Heading into next week, I can’t help but come back to Ben’s powerful words at the start of the episode: “The future will save you.” This was an episode where the past affected every facet of the game, on human and strategic levels. For Ryan, a past good deed gave him options, but he had to destroy a prior bond to move forward — will he be able to repair that relationship in the future? For Jessica, Cole’s past actions led to her seeking new alliances, and she’s hoping to move into the future of this game with reliable Dr. Mike. For Ashley and Devon, the sting of the past tribal council made them see Joe in a new light — not as not just a crazy person but as a big-time strategic threat. Will they be able to take him out in the future and avoid the dreaded rock draw? And for Ben, the game brought up demons in the form of PTSD, but he was able to look to the future to help heal those wounds, even if the scars will always remain.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Chrissy: After tanking in the Immunity Challenge, it should have been easy for the tribe to gather numbers against Chrissy — and it might have gone that way had Chrissy not used her Jedi mind tricks on JP. In a matter of seconds, Chrissy had swung JP’s vote by telling a very simple lie about Roark and an all-girl alliance.
Mike: He had the foresight to check the well for an idol and was rewarded for his efforts. Not only did he find the idol, but Dr. Mike solidified a bond with Jessica, and right now the two of them appear to be positioned as the most powerful duo on the Yawa tribe.
Jessica: Likewise, Jessica knew that there was very likely an idol at the well, and while she wasn’t the one to find it, she helped Mike, cemented a bond, plus has knowledge of where the idol is. Her realizing that Cole is not the best bet for her longevity in this game is a big plus.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.
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