I know I’m not the only one feeling down on Survivor Caramoan right now. In seven episodes, we’ve lost six Fans who never stood a chance, and two Favorites who never stood a chance. Watching each of their individual downfalls brought varying degrees of shock, awe, yawns and groans. Even the least predictable exit of them all — Brandon Hantz’s fiery meltdown — was entirely predictable before the season ever began.
Predictable. Painful. Those are words I’d use to describe the front half of Caramoan, that’s for sure.
Possibility. Promise. Those are the words I sincerely hope I’ll be able to use to describe the back half of Caramoan.
As Rob and Stephen mentioned during this week’s Know-It-Alls, we could very well be in for a “Merge Bump” — that is, an upswing in quality, as close to a return-to-form as is possible for this season, once all of the remaining Survivors are shifted to the same beach in next week’s merge. Here are a few reasons why I think the merge can save Survivor Caramoan.
ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE: Sure, we had to slog through seven episodes of pulling weeds to get to the heart of the matter, but here we are. The remaining twelve players on the beach of Caramoan are the leanest and meanest of the bunch. At the very least, they’re the spiciest. Even if you can’t stand Phillip, even if you can’t wait to see that smug smirk knocked off Reynold’s face, even if you’re thirsting for vengeance against Andrea for what happened to Francesca … well, for at least one or two of those, I imagine we won’t have to wait too long. With only twelve contestants still in contention, there’s nowhere left for anyone to hide, as Jeff loves to say.
INDIVIDUALITY: Individual challenges are, for me, one of the biggest draws of Survivor. The construction of the challenges, the nail-biting finishes, the potential for an underdog on an immunity run — all of that’s there as we shift to the individual stage. We’ll probably get a Survivor auction, always a highlight of any season. And we’ll almost certainly get a family visit as well, and with any luck, we’ll see the return of Malcolm’s amazingly goofy brother. (Have I mentioned before how badly I want to see a Survivor Family season, where all of the players are related to former contestants? Imagine Eddie George, Shawn Hantz, H.B. Fields, Miles Freberg and more in the same game. It would be nuts.) Factor into all of this that four physical power-house players — Malcolm, Eddie, Reynold and Erik — are all still in the game, and it looks like we’re in for an epic string of episodes, at least where challenges are concerned.
IDOLS IN PLAY: Not only are we at the individual stage, we’re also at the moment where two idols are in play within one group of people. Reynold’s already shown he’s not afraid to use his poker chip this season, and Malcolm has experience with an idol as well. How and when these idols get used is anybody’s guess, but historically, post-merge idol use pretty quickly gives way to must-see television. And considering that the next episode is called “Blindside Time,” it looks like we’re in for a good time pretty soon.
UNDERDOGGING IT: If the Favorites don’t reunite, it’s the gorgeous Gota versus the busted Bikal. If they do reunite, then the Fans are at a tremendous numbers disadvantage. In either scenario, never discount the underdog. We’ve seen it time and time again: when a Pagonging seems inevitable, a tight-knit unit manages to hold strong and bring a dominant alliance to its knees. Now, these Fans are far from tight-knit, and from what we’ve seen all season long, it’s questionable that they have the game-brain power to overcome the veterans. But it’s certainly not impossible, and it would make for an ironic finish for one of the most lopsided seasons in Survivor history.
BAD BREAK-UPS AND EPIC FAILS: Even if the Favorites hold strong, even if New Gota stays loyal, we’re destined for fireworks as alliances crumble, trust is destroyed and people are sent packing. The late stage of the game always features brutal betrayals, and there are plenty of opportunities for that to happen this season: Stealth R Us deciding to crush its “leader,” Phillip selling Andrea down the river, Cochran turning on Dawn for his second consecutive season. And that’s not to mention the potential for power-plays to blow up in players’ faces: Malcolm’s eagerness to “control the game” bringing about his downfall, Erik giving immunity away again, Reynold going home with an idol in his pocket. Ugly separations and outrageous acts of failure aren’t just possible, they’re inveitable.
A QUICK AND MERCIFUL DEATH: Worst case scenario, the Favorites/Gota do indeed Pagong their enemies, and it’s a predictable ride to the finish, sped along by the inevitable double-elimination episode that’s become a post-merge standard in recent Survivor seasons. If that’s what we’re in store for, then let’s look at the bright side: at least it’ll all be over soon.
What do you guys think? Will the merge turn this season around, or is it too far off the rails to recover? Let me know what you think in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter @roundhoward (like Ron Howard but rounder), and I’ll see you again next week right here in the Wiggle Room.