Last week, the Gods of Reality TV dealt me a cruel blow, not once but twice, as amputee Kelly B fell victim to Evil Brenda’s schemes. Then, scant minutes later, Espada convened at Tribal Council and, for the third straight time, Shoeless Dan was kept around in favor of sending home someone both stronger and more strategic, in this case, homemaker Yve. La Flor is currently ahead, seven members to six, but looking at the big picture: eight of the remaining thirteen players were original members of the 30-and-under tribe, math that doesn’t favor the older players. If my math is correct, there will be one more TC before the voted-off contestants start forming the jury.

Night 15 at Espada. Dan thanks the rest of his tribe profusely for keeping him around, dubbing himself “Teflon Dan” in honor of John Gotti. Chase, NaOnka and Holly hobnob and agree that Alina is next to go. Over at La Flor, Marty is alternatively grateful (to still be around despite not playing his HII) and fuming at how the rest of his tribe lied to his face to flush the HII out, including Jane, who he can’t believe turned on him so quickly. Not feeling so damned smug now, are ya? Anyway, he vows that Jane is next to go. Good luck with that, weasel.

Two things I noticed about the opening credits: it’s cool that they are still continuing to update them every week, which means that you no longer see the names and faces of ousted castaways. I suppose that’s a smart idea, not sure when they started that… that really would make it easier for people who joined the show mid-season. Also, I saw that Jud’s name has officially been replaced by “Fabio” in the credits, so I guess I’m going to have to bite the bullet and start calling him that too.

The next morning, Marty confronts Jane about the myriad strategies being tossed around at last night’s TC, and even tells her that he knows she wrote his name down. Jane, feeling reasonably comfortable in her alliance, doesn’t deny it, and blithely laughs him off. Marty then goes to Jill, and together they wonder how they can extricate themselves from their predicament.

Reward Challenge. This one’s pretty straightforward, as challenges go. One member of each tribe has to stand on a perch in the middle of a pool of water, and in front of a large soccer-type goal. Meanwhile, a member of the other tribe must, while leaping off the dock at the other end of the pool, try to throw a ball past the defender and into the goal. First to five wins the reward, which is that the whole tribe will get to enjoy what Jeff calls a “Nicaraguan farm experience,” including horseback riding and a hearty country breakfast feast. Chase proves to be a better goaltender than Fabio (who had to take a hysterical pee break – in the pool, and in full view of everyone), and Espada wins. It is worth noting that Dan’s uselessness at challenges has never been more evident than it was here. An omen for later? We’ll see.

Day 17. Mama Jane is up with the sun, fishing and toting firewood in while her tribemates sleep. That’s a great work ethic, and something you expect from farm folk. Though she lists “dog trainer” as her vocation, she admits that she’s a country girl through and through, and could outlast Marty and Jill any day of the week. Sash, meanwhile, tells us how cool it is that the “older people” have to curry favor with the younger people by bringing them food. Which is not a good work ethic, no matter how much money you’re playing for. Didn’t think I’d like him before the season started, and I was right. Later on, Jane snags a few good-sized fish, and then decides that she’s earned the right to keep the biggest fish for herself, and goes into the woods to cook it. We see her enjoy the blackened catfish quite thoroughly, and I say: good for you, Jane. Don’t share with those ingrates.

We join Espada already enjoying their reward, riding through the jungle on horseback. Chase is on Cloud Nine, having grown up around horses, and the experience makes him miss his dad, who passed away recently. They arrive at the farm, and the farmer tells them their first chore is to milk the cows. NaOnka doesn’t look jazzed about the prospect, but Dan makes me laugh by saying that the cow reminded him of a girl he once dated. NaOnka even gives it a half-assed try, but admits that she really didn’t enjoy it. (Yeah, I’m sure it was no picnic for the cow either.)

Not being adequately fed for over two weeks, they tuck right into the feast. Both Alina and Holly tear up at how grateful they are for the experience, and actually share a hug. But of course, there’s never been a parade that NaOnka couldn’t rain on, and she shares with us that Alina’s emotional outburst was nothing more than a calculated strategic move, and that it changes nothing about the fact that she’s the next to go. Jeez, this woman. I suppose matters of the heart would tend to fly right by someone who doesn’t have one, wouldn’t they?

Immunity Challenge. We come right back from commercial straight to the IC, so I guess the pleasantries are over with. Jeff explains that Tribal Immunity is now back in play, and the challenge is a pretty good one. One member of each tribe stands at the top of a four-story tower, rolling cannonballs down a moveable gutter. Four other members will move the gutter around so that the cannonballs will shoot out and break a series of tiles of various sizes belonging to the other tribe. First tribe to break them all wins. And it’s not even close, as the cool and calm Espada routs the argumentative La Flor 5-1. Jill looks like she can already feel the noose around her neck.

The strategy is pretty simple; three of the five La Florians will vote for Marty and two will vote for Jill; if Marty plays the HII, there will be a tie between Jill and whoever Marty and Jill choose, and then they’ll gang up on Jill at the re-vote. Sash then decides to add some drama; he tells Marty to give the HII to him, and in return Marty won’t be voted out. Marty says that would buy him only one TC, but then Sash sweetens the pot by saying that if La Flor loses immunity next time out, he’ll give the HII back to Marty. Of course, Marty doesn’t know that Sash and Brenda have already decided that if Marty gives up his HII, they’ll vote his ass out anyway. Sash ultimately tells a defeated-looking Marty that Jill is going home regardless of whether he plays his HII or not.

And then it happens… Marty gives the HII to Sash. Oh, he knows full well that the whole “look you in the eye, shake on it” means less than nothing, which he should. Evil Russell swore on his kids, Johnny Fairplay famously used the “dead grandma” trick to gain sympathy. Honesty and trust are optional commodities on Survivor, always have been, always will be. I don’t entirely blame Marty for doing this: if he uses it, he’ll go home one TC from now. If he doesn’t use it, he’ll go home immediately or one TC from now. His only option to last longer is to trust Sash, and that’s a terrible position to be in. And then Sash smugly gloats in interview what a dumb move it was, and how he’s firmly in control. Tool.

Tribal Council. Jeff opens the Q&A by asking Fabio if Espada has the momentum now, and he agrees, but notes that they could easily take it back. Jeff asks Jane about where the alliances are, and Jane indicates that Marty and Jill are definitely on the outside looking in, at which point Marty jumps in and crassly accuses Jane of switching alliances to save herself. Yeah, and it’s worked so far, hasn’t it? Why didn’t you think of that, Mr. Chess-master? Jane just says she tried to embrace La Flor, and Brenda confirms that Jane is a “genuine person”, who makes friends without regard to strategy.

The discussion then turns to the HII, and Jeff seems shocked when Marty and Sash reveal that the HII has now changed hands. (Hmm, guess that network of spies took the day off.) Marty admits that he may have signed his death warrant, but he figured that gambling on trusting Sash was his best option. Jeff asks Sash what he plans to do with it, and he replies that though he currently has possession of it, he’s not prepared to claim sole ownership of it, lest it put a target on his back.

Voting time. Jane, once again, votes for Marty. Marty votes for Jane. Fabio votes for Marty. Jill votes for Jane. Brenda, Sash and Kelly’s votes remain a secret for the moment. Jeff collects the urn, and out come the slips. Jane. Jane. Jill. Marty. Jill. Marty. And… Jill. Back to the ER, Doctor. I wasn’t that fond of her, but she was considerably less objectionable than most of the others. Marty gives her a hug, and then her torch is snuffed, and off she goes. And now Marty is truly alone.

Next week: It’s merge time! Both tribes come together for a picnic banquet, but darned if NaOnka decides she’s going to keep the bad blood flowing by stealing food. God, can someone just shoot this harpy?

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