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Tension has been building around the Bikal, or Favorites, tribe all season long. Despite winning a near record number of pre-merge challenges, the team has been faced with paranoia, backstabbing, and intimidation tactics almost since everyone set foot on the beach. Most of this has revolved around one Brandon Hantz, he of Survivor: South Pacific and member of the Hantz family. Brandon is a clearly unstable young man – his first time round on South Pacific should have been enough for everyone to see that. But despite his obvious mental illness, Hantz was asked to participate on the latest season. Tonight, everything came to a head for Brandon and the Bikal tribe. We’ll get to that soon enough, but let’s talk Gota (Fans) tribe first.
The Gota team returns from tribal council, and many members feel renewed. Matt, Eddie, and Reynold see their voting out Laura as a net positive and a turning point in the game for all. Sherri, one of Laura’s closest allies, sees it as a foolish move, and voices her opinion in a confessional. Since Reynold played his idol last time out, it goes back into play. Everyone makes a mad scramble to the jungle to look for the re-planted idol, but it is coincidentally Reynold who finds it again. Reynold has been an interesting addition to Survivor lore all season long. His initial alliance of four was a complete failure. He has personally dominated in the challenges, but his tribe has won only one collective immunity challenge. Reynold has great potential to turn himself into a Survivor all star in a future season. It’s too soon to call him an early favorite to win, and being a physical threat he will have a target on his back in a post-merge game, but Reynold’s ability to do well in challenges and find idols has been impressive thus far.
At the reward challenge, members must throw coconuts into opposing players’ baskets. It’s a somewhat boring challenge, but it prevents a unique strategy. The Gota tribe should have had Eddie as their muscle instead of Michael, and this is their downfall. Bikal wins yet again, sending the Gota tribe back to camp empty-handed. Sherri complains that the team voted out Laura for nothing since they’ve lost yet another challenge. She’s not entirely wrong, either. Reynold and Eddie just aren’t enough to save the team, and bad strategy has continually doomed the Gota tribe. Rain starts to fall, and spirits shrink with the rain.
Back on the Bikal tribe, Brandon Hantz finally loses it. After a few more needless encounters with Phillip, Brandon realizes the team may be throwing the next immunity challenge to purposely vote him out. Andrea pretty much confirms this with Brandon, rather foolishly, and Brandon goes off on a tirade against Phillip and the majority alliance. Brandon grabs the rice pot and empties it onto the ground, much to the shock and horror of his tribemates. He then proceeds to wrestle the beans away from a teammate and dump them on the ground. The Bikal tribe, having enough of Brandon’s antics, decides to completely forego the challenge – the first time in the history of the game that this has happened.
The big problem with this episode is that it showcases Brandon’s obvious mental illness in a way that borders on exploitative. Brandon is a troubled young man who shouldn’t have appeared in the game even once, let alone a second time. Not only was he clearly not playing this game to win, he took a slot from someone (like, for instance Marty or Troyzan) who definitely *would* have been playing the game to win. Host Jeff Probst handles Brandon here well, keeping him in check and away from Phillip, because it’s mighty clear that Hantz wanted to. To his credit, Phillip mostly keeps mature and calm, demonstrating the leadership capabilities I’ve always thought he had. This was a game-changing episode of Survivor for sure, just probably not in the way that Probst, the producers, and CBS as a whole hoped it would be.