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“Survivor 46” recap: The ultimate unraveling

Bhanu begs, pleads, and cries — all to no avail.

I hope this doesn’t sound mean. I’m not trying to be mean. Because what I am about to say is, in some ways, a compliment. In some ways. In other ways, perhaps considerably less so. But there really is no way around it if we want to talk about this week’s episode — and the entire season so far — of Survivor. So I’m going to have just let it rip, and here it is: I think Bhanu Gopal is probably the least equipped player we have ever seen in 46 seasons of Survivor. The guy was just too pure for this game.

We could go through the list of disastrous things Bhanu did over his first nine days — some of which, like when he pretty much point-blank told Jelinsky he was voting him out at the first Tribal Council, did not even make it to air — but we simply don’t have that much time. It’s not just that Bhanu didn’t play well. There have been plenty of people — folks that have even won Survivor — that made foolish moves. The problem with Bhanu is that he didn’t make any moves at all.

Wait! That’s not true. He did have one move, and that move was pretty much to incessantly beg others for help. That’s it. Find me anything else besides begging. And what Bhanu’s begging may have lacked in quality, he made up for with sheer quantity. The begging had a range that extended anywhere from mere light pleading to asking others to “go find me an idol” to, when all else failed, literally getting down on his knees. That last one was suuuuuuuuuuuper difficult to watch, and just kinda sad.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Bhanu Gopal on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Bhanu Gopal on 'Survivor 46'

Watching Bhanu beg on bended knee to Tiffany was not even the hardest part of the episode for me. That would be watching the guy who had been praying to his God every day shake his finger at the sky and proclaim angrily, “I’m mad at myself and I’m at him. If this is what you wanted and you wanted to end my story so soon you shouldn’t have put me on Survivor in the first place!” Wow, and I thought his yelling at Jess during the challenge was intense.

I understand that there are a ton of you out there that were over the Bhanu show and how much his struggles have been monopolizing the edit over the first month of the season. Totally get it. It’s been a lot. But to watch a guy that wears a “Be Kind” t-shirt and has been praying to his God every day reduced to yelling “If this is what you wanted and you wanted to end my story so soon you shouldn’t have put me on Survivor in the first place!” is one of the most brutally real things I have ever seen on my TV set. I can’t stop thinking about it.

To watch this pre-game beacon of light and positivity reduced to emotional rubble to the point that he was yelling at his God is pretty seismic stuff. And because I am a Misery Vampire and gain power through others’ pain like some sort of twisted version of Colin Robinson, this scene was like an all-you-can-eat buffet of abject failure that I mainlined directly into my veins. You want a scene that shows Survivor at its most raw and uncompromising? This was it.

Look what the game did to this poor guy! Because bless his heart, Bhanu was simply not made for Survivor. And he would be the first person to admit it. He was incapable of keeping secrets, incapable of strategizing, incapable of even standing up at times. Beyond just collapsing in agony in front of folks on the Journey or in front of tribe mates at the water well, at one point the guy fully just laid down on the ground unable to do anything but sprawl out in a prone position — which, to be fair, is usually how I find myself after every increasingly humiliating Washington Commanders loss.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Kenzie Petty, Tiffany Ervin, Bhanu Gopal, and Q Burdette on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Kenzie Petty, Tiffany Ervin, Bhanu Gopal, and Q Burdette on 'Survivor 46'

Bhanu’s ouster was so assured that Probst didn’t even make the tribe go through the charade of casting votes. And before anyone goes crazy saying how presumptuous that was of the host, keep in mind that if any of the players were secretly planning to vote any other way other than Bhanu, they would have told a producer during an interview and that information would have been relayed to Probst. There was absolutely no need to play it out.

I recognize that a little Bhanu goes a long way, and we got a lot of Bhanu this season. I am guessing too much for some of you out there. But he was also a flavor of Survivor contestant we have never seen before. Yes, I will freely admit there was a car-crash element to Bhanu’s gameplay from which I simply could not look away. (I lost track of how many times I mentally screamed “DUDE! NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”)

But his experience also said so much about Survivor and how the game can chew you up and spit you out. And as this new era of the show has specialized in highlighting uplifting fare in the form of players overcoming fears, doubts, and obstacles through inner strength and fortitude they never knew they had, it was oddly refreshing to see the complete opposite — a contestant that came in all smiles and left in absolute tatters.

Jeff Probst used to often say that “Survivor is an ass-kicker,” and we just saw someone get his ass kicked. Even in the new kinder, gentler era of the show, there is something undeniably fascinating about seeing that unraveling up close. And seeing just what an ass-kicker Survivor can still be. I was riveted by Bhanu’s last stand, and when it comes to providing a pure window into raw human despair — a key emotion on Survivor — I’m not sure there will be another TV moment this year that rivals Bhanu yelling and gesturing at his God.

Okay, let’s get into what non-Bhanu stuff went down this week on Survivor 46, because, believe it or not, there was some....

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Maria Gonzalez, Charlie Davis, Tim Spicer, and Jem Hussain-Adams on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Maria Gonzalez, Charlie Davis, Tim Spicer, and Jem Hussain-Adams on 'Survivor 46'

Jem is truly outrageous (truly, truly, truly outrageous)

While Bhanu was busy telling Tiff, Q, and Kenzie how he had thrown them all under the bus during his Journey, Jem was causing some mischief of her own over at Flock of Siga. In a scene that, as far as we know, did not take place four days ago, we saw Maria find the Beware Advantage that Jem had replanted. After initially throwing it to the ground as if she had accidentally picked up a decapitated rat, Maria finally opened it in front of the whole tribe and they all commenced digging.

Because nobody on Siga was having an emotional breakdown of epic proportions — sorry, Maria, yours doesn’t count — that was pretty much all we got from Siga this week, except for Moriah going all Woody Harrelson and proving that white women can’t jump. I will say, I love this move by Jem. A wise philosopher named Keith Nale once opined that Survivor is not fun. My guess is Bhanu would agree. But Siga is all about that fun, and mischievous fun is the best kind of fun.

Not only did Jem get to amuse herself (and us) by watching her tribe mates get covered in giant ants for no reason looking for advantage that was not even there, but she also was able to cast suspicion on another player for doing it as Moriah wondered if Tim, not Jem, had already found the real one and planted the fake. That enabled the culprit to push that narrative and sow doubt about two of the men on the tribe. Apparently, when Jem is not tied up battling Pizzazz, Roxy, and Stormer of the Misfits, she goes and picks on guys named Tim and Charlie.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> The Yanu tribe in a 'Survivor 46' challenge

Robert Voets/CBS

The Yanu tribe in a 'Survivor 46' challenge

Put a ring on it

I thought about skipping over this week’s reward challenge, but that would seem like cruel and unusual punishment to not even mention Yanu’s first (and last?) ever competition win. Plus, any challenge in which some dude repeatedly flips a platform upside down with himself on it is definitely getting a notice.

What was most interesting to me about this one was it illustrated exactly why making everyone do something can be so dramatically stimulating, as opposed to one person doing it all. Take the rings. Or “Take the rings… please!” as Maria might say. As part of this challenge, the four players competing for each tribe had to each get one ring off the pole, but one person could do all the shooting to get them back on.

I really like the wrinkle of making each person get a ring off because it means your team is only as strong as your weakest member. No place to hide, baby! It also can create story — as it did here with Maria — for the person who falters. Look, nobody wants to point fingers, but everybody wants to watch other people point fingers. That’s why we enjoy these shows. Unfortunately, the folks on Siga are just too nice to complain about one of their own. Or maybe they were just too busy looking for a non-existent advantage.

Anyway, Yanu won! And that is not a typo. But even when Yanu wins, they kinda don’t. Not only was it not the far more important immunity challenge they won, but since they had no flint, that meant no fire, which meant they had no way to cook the fish that were being given away, so they had to accept a previous reward of tool kit and tarp instead.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Tevin Davis, Jeff Probst, Hunter McKnight, and Liz Wilcox on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Tevin Davis, Jeff Probst, Hunter McKnight, and Liz Wilcox on 'Survivor 46'

Is Soda starting to fizzle?

The Nami footage this week started with Soda and Tevin making beautiful music together, but like every great band that doesn’t want to overstay their welcome, they eventually appeared destined to break up. Tevin had noticed Soda having lots of one-on-one conversations and worried she was making too many connections. I had wondered if this tribe would be big enough for two huge personalities in Tevin and Soda, and it appears the answer to that question might be a resounding no.

Tevin started floating the idea of taking her out should they ever lose an immunity competition, and Hunter was on board because all it would do is bring Tevin closer to him, Liz was naturally on board because it meant Liz would not be the one to go. Of course, as long as Hunter is on that tribe, they’re not likely to lose any challenges and end up at Tribal Council, so the point could be moot. Also, shout-out to some pretty spectacular fish cleaning and gutting by Tevin. Just like they do it in Mayberry, I imagine.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Moriah Gaynor on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Moriah Gaynor on 'Survivor 46'

One guess who lost the immunity challenge

I had so many questions while watching this immunity challenge in which players had to climb a tall tower, leap into the ocean, then climb onto a crate and jump back into the ocean, then release buoys, and then shoot the buoys into baskets. I now present a few of those questions to you.

QUESTION 1: Why are Tim, Q, and Ben wearing sneakers?
You all know I obsess over footwear in water challenges. Seriously, sometimes I only half-notice who even wins the damn thing because I am too busy acting like some wikifeet creep staring at contestants’ toes to see if they are barefoot or not. I’m fascinated by the decision making process. You would think sporting footwear while swimming would not exactly qualify as wise. And you would be right. But sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, like, say, the players have to also climb a somewhat sharp ladder or need to traverse a balance beam, where the advantage of sneakers might outweigh the disadvantage of having to swim with them.

It is situations like that in which I obsess over what each contestant decides to do, because it’s not so clear cut. That said, I have no clue what Tim, Q, and Ben were doing wearing shoes here. I also have no idea why I care. But I do! I care! Not unlike Faith No More, I care a lot! DEFEND YOURSELVES AND YOUR TERRIBLE FOOTWEAR DECISIONS, GENTLEMEN! This seemingly nonsensical footwear strategy brings us to my next question.

QUESTION 2: What is Venus doing?
Did you see it? Because I definitely saw it. This season has been very heavy on players holding their noses while jumping into water. I don’t really get it because I have jumped into literally thousands of pools, lakes, seas, oceans, and lagoons over the course of my life and have never plugged my nose. But I suppose these nervous nose-holders for some reason are convinced that water will shoot up their nose and into their brain upon impact with the surface. That has not been my experience, but at least I can understand the logic behind it. They don’t want water violently entering their nose, so if they simply plug their two nostrils, then it can’t happen. Again, seems wildly unnecessary, but I get the thought process.

Which brings us to Venus, who did the best jump into water in Survivor history. Sure, Hunter may have jumped so far he almost broke his legs landing on the second platform, but it still couldn’t match what Venus busted out. Because what Venus did will confound Survivor historians for ages to come… or until Probst retires. Whichever comes first. Venus leaped off the tower and immediately held her nose as she began her descent. But then, she did something remarkable. And something radical. Something remarkably radical. She held her nose, and then moments before impact with the water… LET GO OF HER NOSE!

Considering how I am apparently only staring at people’s feet in challenges like this, the fact that I even noticed anything around the facial region is stunning in itself, but this simple act of holding the nose in the air and then releasing the nose before the water has forced me to rethink every basic tenet of my entire life. All of a sudden, black is white. Up is down. Island of the Idols is the best Survivor season ever and Micronesia is a complete dumpster fire. I MUST UNLEARN EVERYTHING I HAVE LEARNED!!

Am I to believe that Venus was holding her nose because she did not want air to get in it? Because if I believe that, then I am believing the most perplexing Survivor strategy of all time, one step above “Can you find me an idol?” Or did Venus rethink her drink in mid-drop and all of a sudden was all, “I don’t want to look like a wimp with my nose plugged” so decided to go commando as she plunged into the not-so-icy depths? (By the way, I have no idea why I just equated jumping into water with no hands on your face as “going commando.”)

Anyway, this is the best move I have ever seen, and Venus deserves to win every season of Survivor from now to eternity because of it.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Jeff Probst on 'Survivor 46'

QUESTION 3: Is Probst trying to out-Van Halen Ben?
It’s no secret that Survivor challenge producer John Kirhoffer is a big time rock & roll fan. That’s why many Tree Mail messages and challenge names come from rock lyrics, or song and album titles. Of course, the Hostmaster General also loves himself some rock & roll, and even hosted Rock & Roll Jeopardy! back in the day. So perhaps I should not have been surprised that he decided to channel his inner Ben Katzman and start yelling out Van Halen references during this challenge like “Might as well jump,” “Diver down,” and "Somebody get me a doctor." Always nice to see Probst having some fun and survibe-ing out there.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Hunter McKnight and Tevin Davis on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Hunter McKnight and Tevin Davis on 'Survivor 46'

QUESTION 4: Is it more important to look cool or win?
So, I actually did a version of this challenge back on the Ghost Island season (the one where James Lim could not dive down deep enough to release the buoys so Donathan had to step in). There is a key to shooting the balls into the baskets, and the key is this: channel your inner Rick Barry.

I know, I know… Who the hell is Rick Barry? Rick Barry was a basketball player, and a damn good one, back in the 1960s and '70s. He is actually the only player to lead the NCAA, ABA, and NBA in scoring. He also had a dope combover, but that’s neither here nor there. However, here’s the non-follicle-related, interesting thing about Rick Barry: He retired from the NBA as the best free-throw shooter in history. The dude was money. Hardly ever missed. And he also looked absolutely ridiculous doing it, because he would shoot the ball underhanded, or “grandma style” as it were. But who cares? It worked!

And it works here. I discovered this while shooting on that Ghost Island challenge. Tried it a few times overhand and wasn’t even close. Switched to underhand and was almost automatic. Because you get a much better arc on the ball that way for shots like this. As soon as I saw Hunter go underhand, I knew the competition was over. Tim and Q, however, went with the standard cooler-looking overhand basketball form and got smoked. But hey, at least they had their shoes on!

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Tiffany Ervin, Kenzie Petty, and Q Burdette on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Tiffany Ervin, Kenzie Petty, and Q Burdette on 'Survivor 46'

Okay, I should probably wrap things up. Last thing I want to say about Bhanu, who was unanimously cut loose at Tribal Council without an actual vote: The guy was a disaster out on the island. There is no other honest way to say it. But he does have a legitimately incredible story of being born into poverty to a teen mom, living in the streets, becoming the first member of his family to graduate high school, and then get a graduate degree. He moved to the U.S. and even got on his favorite TV show. The point is, Survivor may not have worked out for him, but his list of accomplishments is far, far longer than his list of failures. Bhanu has moved mountains. Maybe not in this game, but in life — and that’s a hell of a lot more important, and impressive.

Oh my God! I sound like Q! Am I coaching Bhanu up right now?! Is this my water well pep talk? Is Bhanu now the Phillip Sheppard to my Boston Rob? Dynamic duo, baby! Okay, I better run before Bhanu asks me to do some mock interviews to help him prep for his exit press. Speaking of which, I spoke to the legend himself on Thursday morning, so check out our Bhanu exit interview. I also have an exclusive deleted scene showing one player suffering from some serious homesickness (any guesses?). And don’t forget to get take a gander at what Probst had to say about this week’s episode. Enjoy all that, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.

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