I’m a few hours removed but I still find tonight’s (or last night’s) episode of Survivor the most heart wrenching episode of Survivor I’ve ever seen, and this is coming from someone who wasn’t even a fan of Brenda – I think I never liked her because in Nicaragua I oddly took a liking to Chase and she was playing him. Even before she was voted out I had a hard time watching the episode. I don’t mind when one player is put in a position to give up something good so everyone else gains, but the way they went about doing it tonight was extra brutal. Brenda had to (and ostensibly HAD TO) give up not only time with her dad but also getting to spend time with her sister and for her biggest ally, Dawn, to not get to spend time with her husband and best friend. Plus the food. The family was emphasized, but the game is both physical and mental, and without food to fuel the physical side it can and will affect the mental side, as we saw with Erik at the beginning of the episode.
I know it’s just a game and the Survivor producers want to keep things interesting, but this went too far, and not just because it put whoever won the challenge and earned the reward in a tough position where whatever choice they make would be more negative than positive, but also it put too much strategic emphasis on just one player in the game.
What I mean by that is that whoever wins the challenge, in this case Brenda, now has everyone thinking about her and her position in the game, and by no fault of her own. All she did was win a challenge so she could spend time with her father. This wasn’t like Malcolm becoming a target because he tried to start a Bro-Alliance, or Reynold because he’s good at challenges. This was unfair pressure and focus that Survivor put on Brenda – which they have every right to do, they’re trying to make an entertaining show, not a completely fair game, and as much as we’d like to believe it a fair game does not always make an entertaining show.
The winner is in a lose-lose spot because if Brenda had chosen to take the reward for herself and Dawn the other four Survivors would have took a Utilitarian stance and recognized that she didn’t choose the greatest good for the greatest amount of people, but instead took the selfish route, and now Cochran’s goal of voting her out becomes much easier. If she gives up the reward to the other four members now she seems to be a saint, but to smart players, like Cochran, she becomes very likable in the game, and at this point likability is a dangerous quality to have, and we saw how that worked out for her.
I don’t blame Cochran for voting her out. I think he made the right choice. She was gunning for him next week – which was her big mistake, she should have tried to get him out this week, all she needed was Dawn and Erik to blindside him assuming Cochran and Sherri attempt to blindside Brenda this week and Eddie’s vote is a throwaway to Erik, so 2 votes Brenda, 3 votes Cochran and we have a much different game – so you can’t say Cochran would have been smart to wait an extra week to try and get her out, even if it would have been the nice thing to do. Plus, as far as we know Cochran and Brenda were never that close. It’s Dawn who’s taking the brunt of the blame. Not only were they much closer, but during the immunity challenge Dawn made it as clear as she could, without actually making a deal, that she had no intentions of voting out Brenda, which clearly comforted Brenda enough to eventually throw the challenge – and yes, this was absolutely a thrown challenge, unlike Phillip’s weeks back.
I completely stole this thought from Stephen Fishbach while listening to the Robb Has a Podcast Survivor Know-It-Alls, but I agree with him that Brenda should have bowed out of the challenge as soon as Dawn made it clear she wanted to win, or at least Brenda should have made it clear that she was letting Dawn win – although I’m actually leaning towards Brenda just trying to outright win it, since at this point I’d put immunity at a higher priority than good graces, and if you disagree refer back to the hugs Brenda was getting from the Survivors after she gave them the Family Reward and then check what happened at the end of the episode to her again. The reasoning behind Brenda needing to make it clear that she’s letting Dawn win is because it’s one more bond between Brenda and Dawn. Brenda was the one (not really by the fault of her own) who took Dawn’s time away from her husband, so if Brenda let’s Dawn win immunity now when Cochran approaches Dawn about blindsiding Brenda it becomes a more difficult decision. Also, a thing I don’t think most people are thinking about, Dawn was the only other survivor other than Brenda who got screwed after the reward challenge, but unlike Brenda, she didn’t get any credit for it, she even mentions it in the episode. Perhaps that’s still in Dawn’s mind when she’s thinking about whether to blindside Brenda or not. Even though she’s the closest person to Brenda on the island, Dawn is the one person who actually doesn’t owe Brenda any good will after the reward challenge. Maybe, just maybe, if she knew Brenda let her win the immunity that causes just enough guilt to keep Dawn from flipping for at least one week.
I personally don’t blame any of the survivors for the choices they made on last night’s episode. It’s a game, and yes I think we forget that for them, for these 39 days, or however long they each last in the game, it’s also their life, they’re spending almost every single moment with these people and it’s nearly impossible for any non robot not to form bonds with each other, so the love they have towards each other, or the hatred they have towards each other, is amplified, because unlike in real life where we hate a coworker or enjoy flirting with Mr. Tightpants at the gym, we go home and don’t have to have sleepless, cold, hungry nights next to that person. It’s impossible for most people to only play Survivor as a game without the emotional element, and in the last few seasons we’ve been seeing that the emotional element might be the biggest element of the game. Russell Hantz played by far the best game in his Samoa season, and played the best game in Hero’s Vs Villains as well, but the Jury decided that didn’t make up for the social element. In South Pacific there have been many accounts, including the winner Sophie’s, that had Brandon Hantz made it to the end he would have won. That’s insane to the mind. In that same season Coach basically Boston Rob’d a group of much smarter people than Rob did Redemption Island style and didn’t get the win because people didn’t like his personality. I love that the game includes a social element, but I don’t like that now the Juries seem to prefer a person who does nothing over someone who backstabbed people. So if Cochran and Dawn make it to the end – and it seems impossible that at least one of them isn’t there – it’s very interesting to see how the Jury responds to the way they’ve been playing the game.