By Brian Moylan, Hollywood Staff
I have said it before and I'll say it again, I both love and hate the ''loved ones visit'' episode of Survivor. I love it because it's one of the most truly emotional events of any given season and it makes you like even the most awful and annoying players when you see them melt in gratitude that their parent/spouse/sibling is there to give them a hug and engage in a challenge. I hate it because, well, it makes me cry. Almost every damn year, I get all welled up at these reunions and then I think about what would happen if my mom showed up and then I miss my mom and then I cry and then I finish watching Survivor and call my mom and when she asks what's wrong I say, ''Nothing, Mom. I love you. But if you ever come to visit me on the set of Survivor hide a box of Junior Mints somewhere on your body. Thanks''
Yes, thanks to CELL PHONE PRODUCT PLACEMENT, last night was the ''loved ones'' visit. Cochran's mom, Dawn's husband, Sherri's husband, Eric's brother, Eddie's dad, and Brenda's dad all came and, for some reason, this year made me more emotional than ever. Maybe it was Brenda who started off by telling her father that she was being humble this time around and she was doing really well because of it and how she thinks about him every day. Even Jeff Probst, a man with a demeanor as stony as a hidden immunity idol, got a little teared up. Dawn absolutely bawled when she saw her husband. Cochran and his mom had a cute bonding moment and then faced the challenge - where everyone had to get rungs off a pole and then throw balls with strings attached at them - as if they knew they were going to lose. Yup, Cochran and his mom just had themselves a nice cute visit. ''So, how's the food out here?'' ''Pretty non-existant. How was your flight?''
Brenda wins the challenge and gets to pick someone to go with her to spend the rest of the afternoon with their loved ones. She chooses her retainer buddy Dawn. Oh, but no. No, indeed. Cruel, cruel Jeff Probst had other ideas in mind. Everything this season has been amped up for, what seems like, the viewers' benefit. It worked very well for the Survivor Auction, when each item was really some cruel Sophie's Choice, but last night, well, it was just mean. Probst tells Brenda that not only was there one loved one visiting, but two, including Sheri's oldest son, a revelation which brings on even more bawling. Probst then tells Brenda that either she and Dawn can go see their two loved ones and everyone else goes back to camp or everyone else gets their loved ones and she and Dawn are back at camp lonelier than the guy running the carving station at a vegetarian convention.
Of course Brenda chose to let everyone else have their fun, which screws both her and Dawn which brings about even more bawling from Dawn. And then, to make it even worse, the family BBQ was being held on a raft within sight of camp, so these two had to watch what they gave up. But Dawn didn't give it up, she just got screwed by Brenda. She cried and raged and banged things and almost lost her mind and, man, that was mean. It was so mean, in fact, I thought that at any minute Dawn and Brenda's family would come out of the trees and surprise them and give them hugs and thank them for their sacrifice. That would have been the right thing to do, but no, that did not happen. They were made to suffer.
This seems to be a new, cruel brand of Survivor that I don't know that I'm really down with. It seems to be one that prizes Dawn, Shamar, Brandon, Phillip, and, this episode, Eric freaking the hell out on everyone and making camp awful. The producers (let's call them ''Probst'' shall we?) think that we want the histrionics that accompanies so much of every other reality show. But this isn't any other reality TV show. This is Survivor. We don't watch it for the same reason we watch Honey Boo Boo or any of the Kardashians' dog and pony shows. We don't watch for drama. We watch for amazing game play, insight into group dynamics, big personalities making big moves, and surprises. The show already puts people on an island with little food, no change of clothes, and nothing but a non-lethal Hunger Games to keep them amused. You have to make things worse for them, especially psychologically? That's just messed up.
Speaking of great game play, I would have rather watched more of the coup against Brenda unfold rather than spend all that time watching Dawn cry and feeling so bad for her that I just want to give her a peanut butter cookie and a hug that lasts three weeks. Anyway, Brenda's big mistake was at the immunity challenge, where everyone had to hold onto handles and dangle over the water until their arms gave out. Just like when she and Andrea faced off, not giving in when it's a member of her own alliance and trying to show how strong she is made everyone see her as a big threat. When Brenda made a production out of staying up there and then lost she only reinforced in everyone's minds how hard it is going to be to get her out of the game in the future, so they took the chance and voted her off.
Then, as if there wasn't enough crying, Brenda left in a heap of sobs. ''I was honest with you guys. I was genuine with you guys,'' she said as she stood before them and then had her torch extinguished. That even made me cry too. Usually when someone is blindsided they leave in anger, but Brenda left in sadness. Man, it was a very hard thing to watch her cry as she walked away.
Other than all the sobbing what was really interesting is how the voting went down. Cochran, Dawn, and Sheri voted for Brenda. They went off on their own and this triumvirate is now the majority. They didn't even bother to tell Eddie, who obviously wouldn't have voted with them to save himself. That was the fourth vote the needed to make sure that they got their way, and they could have used it to bargain with Eddie. Also, Eric is probably going to be burned that he wasn't in on the decision and won't trust any of them. If he wins the next couple of challenges, that exclusion could bite them in the end.
I would pick Cochran, Dawn, and Eric as the final three after this week, but based on the preview for Sunday's finale, it looks like someone might get hurt and have to leave, so I'm leaving it all up in the air. See, that's the kind of surprise we want, not one of Probst's cruel twists.
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