Last week's reward challenge (where they raced around an oval track in knee-deep water trying to catch the other tribe) is one of the more exciting challenges the show has come up with. But, they completely wasted it here. First, the challenege is incredibly grueling, so it really ought to be saved for an immunity challenege. Second, because it's so physical, and the tribes are so mismatched, there was no chance of it ever being competitive (when they ran the challenge in Palau, it was one of the more epic competitions in the show's history). Instead, in this incarnation, we were treated to one of the more pathetic efforts (I've watched games of Solitaire that were more exciting) and whiny scapegoating the show has ever offered (does anyone really think it was Phillip's faulty strategy that caused them to lose?). Fischer at Reykjavik could not have drawn a gameplan that would have produced a W for Phillip's team. Frankly, if I were on the tribe, I would have suggested forfeiting. Why waste the energy on a hopeless endeavor?
Cochran is a lot easier to like this time out. The first time he played Survivor he was in a complete panic that he would humiliate himself - and, of course, that is precisely what he wound up doing. But, being invited back as a favorite seems to have calmed him down. As a result, you get to hear his insights and observations (which are pretty entertaining). The other thing calming him down is the fact that he's in a very powerful position. Next week they merge (thankfully) and there might be 4 or 5 primary targets, but I don't think anyone will be gunning for Cochran soon. Rather, I think the different factions will be looking to Cochran and Dawn for their votes. They might be the ones making the decisions.
Speaking of the much-needed merge, now might be a good time to handicap the 12 remaining players' chances of winning. [I’m going to mention the alpha/athletic-males quite a bit because there are a lot of them left for this stage of the game, and the last episode indicated they were aligning. How that resolves itself will dictate much of the rest of the game.]
1. Cochran: I think he's in a great position right now. His one weak spot is that he betrayed his alliance the first time he played. It could get people nervous about him later in the game.
2. Malcolm: Has the idol. I am very skeptical about an athletic-male alliance, but we'll see. An alpha-male alliance of four, where two have an idol, is formidable. However, my gut tells me that even if it got going, when they got down to nine, the five people outside the inner four would unite to destroy it. But, with an idol, Malcolm might survive that process. So, in sum, if he sticks with his Favorite alliance, I think he's in great shape. If he goes with the athletic-male alliance and it works, he still might be in great shape. And, if the athletic-male alliance blows up, he might still be OK. I think he’s going to go with the alpha-males because he didn’t last game, and it partially explains why he lost.
3. Dawn: She is poised to go very deep unless an alpha-male alliance overturns everything and puts her in a minority (which kind of happened to her the first time she played when Cochran's treachery left her in a minority).
4. Andrea: Her athleticism and good looks might make her more of a target than Cochran/Dawn. But, there's no doubt she can play and she's dangerous. However, I think everyone sort of knows it. She's not under the radar enough. She could use an alpha-male war to distract everyone from her.
5. Phillip. He's crazy, but why can't he win? Despite being slightly unhinged, he is reasonably honest and loyal. I think he could stumble into the final three - and, he has a case to be made if he gets there.
6. Brenda: Under the radar. She's gotten less attention or camera time than anyone left. Her first time out, she was the center of everything, and it blew up in her face. She has learned much since then.
7. Reynold: Has an idol and might have an alliance with Malcolm. He's been the best in the challenges so far. Until we know how the athletic-male alliance shakes out, he's hard to rank. After the next episode. he could be in the top 3 or going home.
8. Erik: He's still pretty dumb. He's in a good position, but I don't know if he'll be able to close it out.
9. Eddie: Might be in the dominant alliance. Might be going home next. Who knows?
10. Corinne: I don't think she's liked enough to get her through the mid-rounds.
11. Mike: Corinne's protection does not offer much cover. It's like carrying a parasol in a monsoon.
12. Sherri: Made too many early mistakes. Who is her ally now? Nobody, that's who. Maybe she could latch on to an anti-alpha-male alliance. Maybe she can survive on the sidelines during an alpha-male war. But, even if she made the final 3, who would vote for her? All the people who liked her are gone.
As noted before, after a strong start, the show went through a 3-4 week dry spell. Hopefully, the merge shakes things up and provides some decent action.