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Survivor's Double Elimination Sees Shan Playing a Dangerous Game

Plus: A history of Survivor double eliminations!
  • Shantel Smith at Tribal Council on Wednesday night's Survivor. (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)
    Shantel Smith at Tribal Council on Wednesday night's Survivor. (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

    SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.

    Double-elimination episodes should be a bigger deal on Survivor than they are. As it stands, they're the one thing that Big Brother does better than Survivor. On Big Brother, they're an event   a chaotic scramble of competitions and strategy that, at times, has resulted in big, surprising fireworks. On Survivor, double-elimination episodes often seem like the show speeding through its middle section in order to brush aside some of the more boring contestants to get to the endgame fireworks. When Jeff Probst announced that this week's episode would result in two immunity necklaces, two tribal councils (with the final ten split into two teams), and two eliminations, I wanted to look back at the history of Survivor's double elimination episodes and find out which ones were the best.

    In total, Survivor has pulled the double tribal council bit 14 times. This doesn't count double episodes where two eliminations are carried out on different days. Same-day double eliminations only:

    The first double elimination came in the 7th episode of Survivor: Pearl Islands, with the controversial Outcasts twist, where eliminated contestants returned and competed against the two active tribes. When the Outcasts won, they sent both other tribes to tribal council. There, the Drake tribe carried out the rather predictable elimination of Shawn, a himbo who was on the outs of the major alliance. Meanwhile, the other tribal council saw the first ever Survivor quit, when Osten voluntarily left the game, to Jeff Probst's demonstrable disgust:

    Two seasons later, on Survivor: Vanuatu, the double elimination came in only the third episode, and neither elimination was all that exciting (does anyone remember John P. or Mia at all??). These kind of nondescript pre-jury doubles happened a few times through the years: Palau (eliminating Willard and Angie), Cook Islands (Cao Boi and Cristina), Gabon (Ace and Dan), and Nicaragua (Kelly and Yve).

    That leaves eight more. Nothing from Survivor: Redemption Island was good, and the Ralph/Steve double elimination was no exception. The same could be said for the icky Island of the Idols season, whose double elimination booted Aaron and Missy. South Pacific's double elimination of Dawn and Whitney was mostly about speeding through some academic vote-outs before the culty Coach alliance made it to the end.

    Top 5:

    • 5. Survivor: Ghost Island, whose double elimination was much like last night's, with the contestants randomly drawn into two mini-tribes, two individual immunities given, and two tribal councils undertaken. Incredibly enough, that episode also saw a player — Kellyn — use her extra-vote advantage to force a tie, only to lose in the re-vote. Shan better hope Kellyn's fate isn't an omen for her own, since she was eliminated two episodes later.
    • 4. Survivor: Guatemala's double tribal had fireworks to spare. Not so much the rather kind and humane elimination of Ivy League wunderkind Brian, but the acrimonious elimination of Margaret, who accused the increasingly belligerent Judd of — in his words — "being a bad sportsmanship."
    • 3. Survivor: Winners at War, whose double elimination episode saw both of the queens from the Heroes vs. Villains season — Parvati and Sandra — eliminated back-to-back, with Sandra's ouster at the hands of a particularly cunning Denise being especially riveting.
    • 2. Survivor: Cook Islands delivered the most shocking double tribal, considering the tribe in question didn't know it was happening until they got there. After losing the immunity challenge, the Rarotonga tribe were given a sealed bottle to take to tribal, and after the tribe voted out Rebecca, the bottle's message revealed that Raro would have to vote out a second person (Jenny). This helped to swing the balance of the season towards fan faves Yul and Ozzy.
    • 1. Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains, which delivered one of its most memorable moments in an episode that most people probably forget was a double tribal, ending with the Heroes voting out an injured (and ill-tempered) James. But first, we saw Tyson make one of the dumbest moves in show history, changing his vote at the last minute to try to eliminate Parvati, only to get outsmarted by Russell Hantz and eliminated essentially by his own vote.

    Last night's Survivor didn't feature any moments quite so self-destructive. But it did leave me questioning whether certain players who I'd previously been giving a lot of credit for smart game play aren't deep-sixing their own games at the moment. The last two weeks had me higher on Xander's game than I'd ever been. He expertly navigated that merged tribal council, he knew enough to sit out of a reward challenge to search for an advantage (fruitlessly, but A for effort!), and he showed an awareness that being on the losing side of a reward challenge is a good chance to make allies among the disgruntled and hungry. All while staying alive and hanging onto his immunity idol! But this week, in declining to play that idol to save Evvie and turn the tables on the dominant alliance of Liana/Danny/DeShawn/Shan/Ricard, Xander may have played it too conservative. Holding onto his idol was nice, but he literally has zero allies left now, and the rest of the tribe can simply flush his idol next week and boot him after that. If he'd used that idol along with Evvie and axed Liana, he might have put a fatal fracture in the alliance (especially since Shan and DeShawn are fighting) and maybe even opened the door for an all-male alliance with DeShawn and Danny, the latter of whom looked really freaked out that Naseer was eliminated earlier.

    Speaking of said earlier tribal council … we need to talk about Shan. She's been the protagonist of the show all season, with a heavy winner's edit that persists. She keeps coming out ahead at tribal, but she's scorching the earth behind her. This week once again saw her butting heads with her closest ally, Ricard, over the deeply trivial choice between targeting Naseer or Heather. This came a week after Shan annoyed DeShawn by gunning way too hard to eliminate Heather at tribal. She's pissing people off whose help she needs to make it to the end, and at this point she's also pissing off potential jurors.

    And to top it off, she blew her extra-vote advantage this week to split votes on Naseer and Heather, all in the service of not even getting Heather voted out anyway. She's playing wayyyy too aggressively at the moment, and she's getting sloppy. Calling for her alliance to go huddle right in front of Xander and Erika was a terrible move, just begging to mobilize the rest of the tribe to rally against her. If she's going to live up to that winner's edit, it's gonna take a lot of work and some luck.

    As for the rest of this week's happenings…

    Player of the Week: I'm not sure now much we should credit her for strategy, but that tribal council turned out quite well for Erika. The numbers are currently against anyone who's not in the majority alliance — that'd be herself, Heather, and Xander — but she's still alive for the moment.

    Honorable Mention(s): DeShawn could have flipped to Xander and Evvie's side, but he made the smarter decision to stick with the alliance he had, even if that alliance seems destined to implode next week.

    Sketchy Strategy: I love Naseer and will miss him terribly, but he probably shouldn't have told Heather so definitively that she was going home, and he definitely should have realized the peril he was in and played his idol.

    Alliance Report: Shan and DeShawn's rift threatens to wreck what otherwise looks like a solid final five. Maybe Xander will slip through the cracks after all.

    Advantage Report:

    • Xander and Shan still have their immunity idols, with Naseer's likely getting put back in play next week.
    • Xander also has an extra vote.

    Coming Next Week: Ricard may well end up paying for Shan's sins.

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    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Jeff Probst