‘Survivor 45’ recap: Is Lulu the worst tribe ever?

Previously on… the Survivor recap.

Dalton wanted someone to explain The Summer I Turned Pretty to him, but everyone agreed it was too creepy and weird that he seemed so interested. Dalton also threatened to mirror the show and make his recaps 50 percent longer, giving his editor a heart attack. And he managed to mistakenly spell “palm fronds” as “pomme fronds” because apparently he’s French now???

But who needs a recap, am I right? Well… hopefully you need a recap. If not, then I’m out of a job. What I mean to say is, who needs a recap of a recap? You want to read last week’s recap? Then go right ahead! Here, I’ll even provide a handy dandy link. But when it comes to TV shows, “previously on…” segments to begin episodes used to be par for the course, serving as a catch-up for those who missed the previous episode, or a reminder for those with a terrible memory. They were everywhere, these montages.

However, in the age of streaming, “previously on…” segments seem kind of like dead weight. Especially if you — like many people — are watching episodes back-to-back. Survivor did away with them years ago, believing the time was better spent on actual new footage, and I could not have agreed more. Plus, I never liked the “previously on… Survivor” show openers because they often gave subtle spoilers of what was to come in the episode judging by what they showed had happened in the past. I was happy when they went away.

But are they back? Now with 90-minute episodes to play with, Survivor 45 began its second episode with both a recap and another segment of yesteryear: the opening credits sequence. Jeff Probst and I talked recently about how Survivor decided to use their extra time (adding approximately 20 minutes of running-time per week), but I never anticipated the “previously on…” being part of it, because why would it be? It’s lame! Well, lame might be a little strong, but it’s taking time away that could easily be used for something far more pertinent, like Bruce doing the robot while standing up in a boat. Hopefully that was just a one-week refresher and not a part of our regularly scheduled Survivor.

As for the opening credits sequence, this will probably shock longtime readers who know I somehow became the “Opening Credits Guy” (not an official title) because I would doggedly pursue the sequences once CBS stopped airing them and exclusively reveal them on EW.com every season. But I’m actually kind of torn on having them back. On one hand, they are gorgeously shot by director of photography Scott Duncan. Seriously beautiful. And a great tone-setter for the show. But again, that’s more time we could spend with close-ups on Dee’s ginormous toe. So while it was great seeing them back, and I loved every second of them, would I still by the end of the season take watching it for the 12th time over having more original footage? That’s a tough call.

But as I talk about wanting to get to more action on the beach, let’s do exactly that and get into episode 2 of Survivor 45: Brandan Donlon’s Last Stand.

Emily Flippen on ‘Survivor 45’.
Robert Voets/CBS

Emily’s List (of things she needs to do to win over her tribe)

I can’t tell you how many people came up to me this week after watching the premiere and said, “That yellow tribe is the biggest mess I’ve ever seen.” Well, that’s not entirely true. They didn’t actually come up to me because I generally don’t leave my house, but they have been texting, and tweeting, and slacking “That yellow tribe is the biggest mess I’ve ever seen.” And my response is always the same: I know. Isn’t it amazing?

It’s not just that I enjoy watching people suffer. I mean… I do, but it’s not just that. It’s seeing what they do and how they react after bottoming out in every category possible. For instance, take Emily… PLEASE! Haha, that’s a joke. You all know I love Emily. I love Emily because only Emily would come right out and attempt to blow up somebody’s game for no reason, and Survivor has been missing having an Emily for a while. It’s a different kind of energy. A super-negative-glass-half-empty energy, to be sure, but a different energy nonetheless.

“You’re so adamant about being someone that is not liked,” Sabiyah told her in my favorite quote of the week. Unfortunately for us, it seems Emily realized being that adamant might not be the best approach to winning this game. She was 100 percent correct in refusing to group search for idols, knowing it was a ploy by the others to make sure she didn’t find it, but Emily certainly softened in other ways under the teachings of her new mentor, Kaleb.

Such a savvy move by Kaleb to feed Emily a lifeline and take her under his wing. He just took someone dead set on getting him out and turned her into an ally. He also protected himself in case she did find an idol. Had it gone down that way, whom do you think Emily would have put a vote on — Sabiyah or Kaleb? The Canuck may be stuck on a so far embarrassingly inept tribe, but he’s showing why he is still a major threat to win this game.

As for Emily, she was working overtime to work her way back into the tribe’s good graces, even giving Sabiyah her Shot in Dark to prove she would not play it. But she was also astute enough to note how difficult real change can be. “So much of the issues I’ve had out here are attitude, and that’s so hard to change because attitude is so ingrained in who you are.” For her sake, I hope she’s successful in that change. For our sake as viewers, maybe not.

Brandon Donlon on ‘Survivor 45’.
Robert Voets/CBS

Mixing it up

I’m not really ready to talk about Brandon. I’m working up to it, I swear. But I’m not there yet. However, I do want to touch on two things when it comes to the Lulu Beware Advantage. First off, very interesting decision by Brandon to not open it. This is a guy whose dream was to get on Survivor, and you can see him soaking up every single second of the experience — from stepping onto that barge to watching his torch get snuffed. Well… maybe not the ladder. I don’t think he liked the ladder. Not a big fan, I’m guessing. Or the ramp. Or, now that I think about it, the puzzle. Either puzzle.

WHATEVER! YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN! He’s been dreaming about this every night for well over a decade. So for him to stand there with an advantage in his hand and not open it was positively shocking. I’m sure there is a decent-to-strong chance you were screaming at Brandon through your TV set at that moment to open it. Especially with him being at the bottom of the tribe, you would figure the dude could use any and every advantage he could get (and he would go for one at the journey later, with disastrous results). But I’m not going to kill Brandon for that move here because I think I know what he was doing. Beware Advantages — as we have seen again here — don’t always offer immediate rewards. They can take time to procure. And during that time, you have no vote. By letting Sabiyah open it, Brandon kept his vote (for a few hours at least) and took away hers — a potential two-vote swing.

It is entirely conceivable that Brandon realized he needed to play a short-term rather than long-term game and was trying to do the thing that gave him the best fighting chance going into the next Tribal Council. I’m not saying this was it. And I would have 100 percent opened the damn package. But if that is what he was thinking — I get it. At least I got it until a few hours later when he DID THE EXACT OPPOSITE and risked his vote on the journey… and lost.

But the thing I really want to say about the Beware Advantages is thank God they made them different for each tribe. You all may remember me bitching and complaining back in season 43 about the beads. Each tribe that season received the exact same Beware Advantage challenge to get beads from all the other players, and while seeing it once was fun, seeing it over and over again felt like a missed opportunity. Why not have three different tasks for three different tribes? Well, it seems someone was listening, and I like the way Austin had to solve a code on his tribe flag, and yet Sabiyah had to lay a parchment over her map. I also love that after Sabiyah procured her idol, she learned it was encased in wax that needed to be melted off.

Let me be crystal clear about this: That is absolutely brilliant. Genius. Inspired. And not just because Lulu didn’t have any fire (meaning Sabiyah could not melt it off), because even if they did, that still means Sabiyah would have to sit there at the fire for God-knows-how-long to melt it off. Not exactly easy at the center of camp where other players always congregate. Really looking forward to seeing how that plays out. As for what awaits Belo? No idea, but at least we know it won’t be the same thing all over again.

Bruce Perreault on ‘Survivor 45’.

Loosey Brucey

Speaking of Belo, what the hell is going on with Bruce? According to Katurah, the returnee is barking out orders every five minutes, and milking his celebrity, and name dropping all over the place. (Although it should be noted that if that is indeed the case, then “Kane Fritzler” is the lamest name-drop in the history of name-dropping — and that comes from someone who is flat-out obsessed with anyone who hails from a town called “Moose Jaw.”)

However, if you believe Jake, then Bruce is a walking, talking Netflix comedy special with zingers popping out of his butt every time he makes a zany facial expression. I don’t know what the truth is. I just know that Bruce was playing peekaboo from a boat in a routine that absolutely kills with the under-five set. And why was Bruce specifically doing the Robot for Brando? Is he calling Brando out as an artificial intelligence-loving nerd? Is Brando a terrible dancer? And do I really need to keep referring to him all season as Brando?

I have spent way too much time already considering why Bruce would choose to stand up in a boat, call out to… ugh, fine!… Brando, and then start doing the Robot. Did someone ask him to do that? Is it a callback to an earlier joke that didn’t make the final cut? I sincerely with every fiber of my being hope that it is not, and that Bruce simply decided that was a thing to do and that his tribe — and Brando specifically — would find it side-splittingly hilarious. And then he decided the bit needed even more so proceeded to tack on a game of peekaboo to seal the comedic deal. Gold. Straight gold.

When it comes right down to it, Katurah and Jake’s opinions of Bruce don’t seem to matter nearly as much as Kellie and Brando — who have positioned themselves as the ultimate swing votes. Will they side with the women, or with the men/robots? Perhaps the stars have already determined it.

Drew Basile on ‘Survivor 45’.
Robert Voets/CBS

Matchy matchy

A surprising call by Bruce to not play for the advantage during the journey. A not-surprising result for Brandon that he played and lost (what appeared to be a pretty easy game of match the tiles). But perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of the risk vs. reward journey is that Drew told his Reba tribe exactly what happened — including that he won and what he won, the opportunity to leave Tribal Council before voting. And as a card-carrying member of the Never Tell Anyone About Any of Your Advantages club, I have to say… I don’t hate it.

These journeys are so weird in that even if you come back with nothing, people assume you got something. So why not try to build some trust by laying everything out on the table, with the parchment to prove it. Plus, Drew’s advantage was not that great. It wasn’t an idol. It wasn’t something that was likely to make a tribe mate go, “Oh, we definitely need to get this guy out now!” So I think what Drew did was ultimately the best course of action. And it seemed to turn out that way as it solidified a bond with Austin, who then told Drew about his Beware Advantage. Along with Julie and Dee, that fearsome foursome appears to be running Reba.

Sean Edwards on ‘Survivor’.
Robert Voets/CBS

Players swim, Brandon sinks

Jeez, this challenge looked fun. The satisfaction of smashing a tile in mid-air and then falling deep into the ocean must be so satisfying. Or horrifying. One of the two. Of course, that wasn’t all they had to do in this week’s immunity challenge, as players had to swim out, climb up a tower, leap off and smash the aforementioned tile, go over a three-tiered balance beam, swim to the end, and then let two other people complete a puzzle.

It looked super fun. And because I am a psychopath who — judging my earlier comment on Dee’s monster toe as well as what is about to come — is apparently obsessed with feet, I once again could not help but focus first and foremost on how many players would choose to wear shoes and how may would go barefoot. Because there were strong arguments on both sides for this one. The reason to go barefoot is because you will swim much faster that way. The reason to wear shoes is that the balance beams would be easier with them. So, like all the best Survivor moments, a choice had to be made. And it looked like a pretty even split between contestants on which way they went, with a slight edge to the shoes, which is actually what I would have done in this situation because you won’t be that much slower swimming with shoes, but if you fall off the balance beam because you went barefoot, that could lose you a lot of time. You also may have noticed that people who worse shoes crossed faster, and the two people who fell both went barefoot. And thus concludes the most annoying and useless paragraph of this week’s recap. You’re welcome.

There are three other significant things to note about this challenge. We’ll do the most important one first. And that is obviously Kendra almost breaking her pelvis on the balance beam. Raise your hand if you crossed your legs when that happened. Now raise your hand if you still haven’t uncrossed them. That was an epic, next-level crotch shot, and probably the most brutal one in the history of this game to not happen with a blindfold on. Still can’t believe she walked — and swam! — away from this one. (Should have worn the shoes!)

Kendra McQuarrie on ‘Survivor 45’.
Robert Voets/CBS

Almost as noteworthy — but far less GIFable — than Kendra suffering permanent injury in a most sensitive region was a big and bold announcement by Probst, just casually dropping a major rules change to the franchise. For the first time ever, a tribe cannot sit out the same player in back-to-back immunity challenges.

This rule has always confused viewers, and with good reason. When Survivor first began those many years ago when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and cassettes and 8-tracks were battling it out for car stereo domination, the show always had two challenges per episode — a reward challenge and an immunity challenge. The rule was: A tribe could not sit the same person out of both in that one-episode cycle. However, as the show evolved and reward challenges became the exception and not the rule, the no-sitting-out-back-to-back challenges didn’t really make sense because there was often only one challenge per episode and therefore players were allowed to sit out back-to-back immunity challenges (that appeared in different episodes).

Now, however, with this long overdue change, your Claire Rafsons of the world could not keep hilariously sitting out. I spoke to Probst about the big change, and you can read what he said about it, but suffice it to say I am in huge support of this move. Not due to any reasons of fairness, mind you. But it simply isn’t right to deprive us of watching terrible challenge competitors in action as often as possible. That is one of the building blocks of the show. As is Probst’s play-by-play during such ineptitude.

Speaking of which, has the Hostmaster General — who got a shout-out on this week’s Survivor-themed episode of The Price is Right — gotten a little spicier on his play-by-play this season? I only half-know what “Put it in the deep freeze!” means, and yet I still love it. He was pounding Lulu for their performance at the end. “A familiar result: Lulu is dead last. Made no progress for most of that challenge.” Hahaha. So good. Not mean in the least, but accurate. Calling it as it is. Because Lulu once again failed, this time on the puzzle. And once again, Brandon was to blame. And the only question left was: What were his tribe mates going to do about it?

But before we get to that, just one other thing I want to hit on. There are plusses and minuses to having a three-tribe season as opposed to two-tribe ones, and I asked Probst earlier this week about the possibility of three-tribe seasons contributing to all the women getting voted out early the past few seasons. But one of the ways in which two tribes is better is when it comes to challenges. The race between Reba and Belo at the end could not have been any closer, coming down to what appeared to be maybe a mere second. The problem was the stakes were so low. Instead of that race being for immunity, it was only for the size of the fishing gear they received since Lulu was so far behind both tribes, meaning the race between the two tribes didn’t really matter. That would have been some serious edge-of-your-seat stuff if immunity was on the line. Just putting that out there.

Brandon Donlon of ‘Survivor 45’.
Robert Voets/CBS

Brandon’s last stand

It’s a Survivor conundrum as old as time: keep the better challenge player or the one more likely to stay loyal? Emily or Brandon? The main alliance of Kaleb, Sean, and Sabiyah couldn’t seem to agree. Kaleb wisely wanted to keep Emily because he had made himself the closest person to her. Sean also seemed to be leaning that way due to Brandon’s challenge performance. Sabiyah, on the other hand, appeared to want Emily gone. But Sabiyah didn’t have a vote due to the Beware Advantage. And Emily had one last shot to shoot.

If the tribe really was going to vote Emily out, the only way she could save herself is with a Shot in the Dark. But Emily decided to “permanently change my position rather than treading water,” and gave her Shot in the Dark to Sabiyah in the hopes of building some trust. Bold move. She was, in essence, giving up a 16.7 percent chance at safety and still having no relationships in the tribe, and instead hoping to actually build some long-term trust — which won’t change her position at the bottom of the tribe, but could help her if she needs Lulu allies at a potential tribe swap or merge.

An important side note: If Sabiyah does decide to keep Emily’s Shot in the Dark, does that mean she can use it and actually gets TWO Shots in the Dark? I checked with the Hostmaster General on this, and the answer is both yes and no. Check out my interview with Probst for the full explanation.

In the end, the tribe decided Brandon was simply too big a liability in challenges, and once he started failing in puzzles, they couldn’t justify keeping him around. For a lot of superfans who were obsessed with getting on the show, to get booted off it so early would be absolutely devastating. For Brandon, it appeared to be the exact opposite. As I wrote last week, he wanted the full Survivor experience. The thing is, every Survivor experience is different, and that uncertainty and variance is what makes it so exciting. To fully embrace the Survivor experience, you ultimately have to embrace whatever you get, even if that ends up being a disappointing result.

And that’s exactly what Brandon did. He called it “the most fun five days I’ve ever had,” he talked about how cool it was to get his torch snuffed, and I bet you he was even excited to go through the post-game experience at Ponderosa. And it was cool to see someone deal with his troubles in the game in an open and honest way and not let those troubles obscure or overwhelm the bigger picture — that Brandon just lived out his dream. Not unlike the waterboy of a junior-high basketball team.

Of course, part of the full Survivor experience is talking to me, which is what Brandon and I did on Thursday morning. Make sure to check out our interview as well as my chat with Probst about the new challenge rules and Shot in the Dark clarification. And we also have an exclusive deleted scene all cued up for you that you’ll want to hit up. It’s of Bruce! Is he forcing Brando to watch him do the Macarena? You’ll have to watch to find out! For updates on all this stuff, follow me on Twitter/X, Instagram or even Threads (is that still a thing?), and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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