Survivor: Caramoan 26.10, “Zipping Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” brings an incredible comeuppance

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Survivor: Caramoan Review, Season 26, Episode 10
“Zipping Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

This week’s Survivor episode is thrilling for so many reasons. It forces players to make decisions on the spot at Tribal Council, which rarely happens. The dominant alliance loses one of its members and can’t take the easy route with the vote. The immunity idols actually change the game and knock out a comfortable player. A truly surprising idol play like this one hasn’t happened since Heroes vs. Villains. Those factors would be enough to deliver a truly great episode, but there’s a bonus that pushes it into the stratosphere. The ultimate victim is actually Phillip Sheppard, who put himself at the center of the alliance and has enjoyed running the show. Even if he was a figurehead, that doesn’t make his exit any less satisfying. He’s dominated the screen time for too long, and it’s refreshing to see the underdogs remove an obvious goat destined to reach the end. Phillip has not played an awful strategic game, but his social play has been awful and seals his fate.

Once Reynold wins immunity in a brutal swimming challenge, Eddie seems like the obvious choice to go home. The only chance for the three guys is to find a second idol, and that’s exactly what happens. Malcolm grabs it right in front of Dawn and Andrea, so they realize he’s safe. The excitement comes from knowing the majority alliance has no idea about his other idol. This is why revealing the idol is stupid! The editors hold back conversations where the guys discuss their plans, so it’s a surprise to the audience when they show their hand. Instead of trying to blindside Phillip, they inspire chaos by putting the idols in the open. This choice is brilliant, and it’s clear that Eddie, Reynold, and Malcolm are having a blast. Even if they don’t end up winning, this moment will stand out as one of the greats in this Survivor era, if not the entire show’s history. Cochran’s reaction says it all. He’s losing an ally but is giddy about such an incredible Tribal Council. He’s so endearing because he realizes it’s also a fun game. Malcolm has that same approach and loves messing around. True fans realize that this will be great TV and want to avoid the predictable outcome. Malcolm’s speech about getting rid of Phillip and making the game fun hits home and shows why he’s so entertaining.


The editors have telegraphed Phillip’s demise since the first episode and have gotten serious mileage in making him look ridiculous. He loves the spotlight and plays right into their hands. He provides fun television, but the lavish attention has grown old. His comfort level is clear when he sits out the immunity challenge due to a childhood trauma. Even if it’s a legitimate story, he could have gone through the motions and lost the first round. Putting a lack of concern front and center is rarely a wise choice. Once he steps out of the challenge, it seems more likely that he’ll be gone. At Tribal Council, only Erik flips on the Specialist and hilariously spells his name “Fillup” on the parchment. Even so, the other votes for Malcolm and Eddie are disallowed, so it’s just icing on the sake. It’s interesting to see Phillip and Brenda openly pushing for Andrea to exit, then not voting for her. Her place in the alliance is hardly secure and could be in danger if anyone flips to Malcolm’s group.

The episode begins with Dawn’s latest meltdown, which happens when she loses her retainer in the water. It contains some fake bottom teeth, and she’s ready to quit the game without it. Brenda arrives to save the day and confirms her connection to Dawn. Also, she gets a confessional! Despite this recovery, Dawn’s paranoia remains due to lack of sleep and alliance concerns. Last week’s previews focused solely on her breakdown, but it doesn’t play a significant role this time. A revelation from Cochran that he’s not as concerned about going to the end with Dawn could be crucial in the future. At the reward challenge, that duo joins Reynold, Erik, and Phillip to grab a fancy lunch at a resort. Phillip uses the pool as his bathtub, and it’s another example of his foolish antics. This could be the last straw for Erik, who’s been annoyed by Phillip since the start. Both challenges confirm that Reynold could make a serious immunity run. Erik is the only guy who’s on that level, and even Malcolm struggles in the reward challenge.


There’s far too much happening at Tribal Council to cover it in this recap. Erik brings up the wise point that Eddie and Malcolm could reveal their idols and then keep them. That tactic might work against novices, but it would have spelled their doom against these returnees. The guys wisely stick to their guns and live to fight another day. It’s amazing that Eddie and Reynold are now underdogs who have the audience on their side. They came off as tools in the opening episodes, and now they’re part of an outmatched trio. Their success makes for better TV and shows they won’t go out meekly like too many past Survivor contestants. Malcolm is the brains of the group, but they’re sticking with the plan and hanging strong against solid competition. It will be interesting to see if they can grab two players and flip the game next week. That vote will be critical in determining the direction of the season. If the majority alliance sticks together, this episode won’t be a game changer. Even so, it outshines last week’s excellent finish and reveals even more promise for the final weeks.

Dan Heaton

  1. Jandy Hardesty says

    I’m only a sometimes Survivor watcher, but sounds like I picked up on this season at just the right time! I started recording the eps 4 weeks back (when Julia was voted off), but just marathoned them yesterday. Aside from the strictly according-to-plan Julia vote, the rest of the eps have been great! I’m glad I remembered seeing your writeups on your blog and came over to check them out.

    I’m glad you mentioned how little screen time Brenda’s been getting. I thought that was weird – has it been like that all season? As just a sometimes watcher, she’s one of the few favorites I remember seeing before.

    1. Dan Heaton says

      Jandy, you arrived at just the right time. The first half of the season had its moments, but most of the votes were predictable like the Julia vote. It’s really picked up since the merge, and the last three episodes have been great.

      Brenda’s actually set a record for the longest run of episodes without a confessional. She’s nearly received an invisible edit, which is weird because she was a big player in her first season. I think she’s decided to sit back and not play too hard, but that still doesn’t excuse her not getting more screen time. They didn’t even talk to her after she won that immunity challenge last week!

      It’s cool that you’re watching Survivor again. I’ll definitely be interested in hearing your thoughts as the season rolls along. Who knows where it’s going now?

  2. Dylan says

    With you all the way. Particularly like the point about Reynold(s) (love that) and Eddie getting on my good side – I’m rooting for those assholes! – though I know that that’s largely due to Malcolm being a part of their team. Malcolm is perhaps the most all-around likable player I can recall, even more so than Ozzie, who had his moments of WTFness.

    It’s a shame the guys had to play all of their idols, and I’m curious to see how much Eddie/Reynold knew about that plan before Tribal. Eddie didn’t seem to know – I just don’t think he’s that good of an actor. It would be great if Malcolm surprised even his allies, though I wonder what Reynold would have to say about that after last week.

    As for the Secret Agent finally being gone, good riddance. Yes, his schtick had gotten old and he dominated screen time. Enjoyed seeing the head cut off the snake, even though I never thought he had a chance of winning.

    Brenda’s gone from getting votes in the first episode to now looking like a contender again. Something to keep an eye on. (She’ll probably get voted out next week.)

    I was way off with our pool picks. I guess I saw that news about a shocker and didn’t think Phil would be that big of a shock (even though I didn’t have points on him), so I threw some points at Cochran, who would have been my pick for most surprising ouster at this point. Congrats to you, as usual.

    1. Dan Heaton says

      Dylan, I originally had my points with Reynold and Eddie mostly, but after watching the TV commercials, I thought about it more. I decided that it had to be someone big from the favorites, and the editors would consider Phillip as the big one to knock off. I actually called the two-idols scenario to my wife before the episode started, though I thought they’d blindside him. The way they revealed everything and made everyone scramble was awesome.

      I like Malcolm a lot more than Ozzie, who’s great at challenges but got really full of himself in his second and third appearances. I expected him to not be as good this time, but he’s been even more entertaining in his second time. Of course, I’m doubtful he’s making the end given the target on him.

      As far as Brenda, I don’t think she’s had any votes yet. Andrea was the target in the first episode when Francesca went out. I do think that Brenda was outside the alliance originally and voted for Andrea, but she hasn’t ruffled any feathers since then. The lack of screen time makes me wonder how much impact she’ll really have, unless the editors are hiding the winner.

      I hate to give Eddie credit for smarts, but I think he knew about the plan and was playing up the fact that he was screwed. The way they were smiling, I think Malcolm revealed his plans right before Tribal Council. No matter what happens down the way, the turnaround on Phillip was just awesome.

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