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‘Survivor’ gets personal as season nears end

Instead of being about strategy, "Survivor Gabon" has become a very personal game.  Fake immunity idols, bad sportsmanship, public humiliation -- it's all on display.
/ Source: contributor

As Randy voted for Susie during the 11th "Survivor Gabon" Tribal Council, he said, "This vote is not strategic. It's strictly personal."

With that, he summed up where the game has gone this season: instead of being about strategy, it's gotten personal.

Randy wasn't alone in making such a decision. Voting against Randy, who ultimately went home, pin-up model Sugar said, "You are a disgusting, old, hot-headed, chauvinistic, alcoholic bigot, and you need to grow up before you die alone." As if her feelings weren't illustrated by that statement, she made an L-shape with her hand and added, "loser."

Olympic gold medalist Crystal, who should something about good sportsmanship, made sure Randy and everyone else heard her rationale for voting off Randy, marking the first time in the game anyone has essentially broadcast their vote to the other players. "You have made my life hell from day one. Forget you, go home, goodbye," she said.

Last week, video gamer Ken orchestrated Charlie's removal from the game by lying to his fellow alliance members about Charlie. His reason, as he explained in his full voting confessional speech: "Sorry, Charlie. It's not like I'm a homophobic ... It's just that... at that feast, you took the hidden immunity idol away from me, and, uh, I thought I gotta get you for that. Sorry."

Voting Charlie out is a perfectly rational move; he was aligned with power-player Marcus and had an alliance with Corinne, and he wasn't exactly extroverted, especially compared to the others on the newly merged tribe. Even if his tribemates didn't know he was a lawyer, he was clearly a threat.

So Ken's strategic move was smart — except Ken himself said it wasn't a strategic move, it was vengeance.

This idol, I do not think it means what you think it doesThis week, in one of the more comically dramatic Tribal Councils ever, the tribe dumped abrasive, obnoxious Randy. While the alliance of Sugar, Crystal, Ken, Matty, and Susie could easily have voted Randy out, Sugar instead orchestrated his humiliation. She wanted him to have a false sense of security and superiority by holding and then playing a fake immunity idol before he'd actually be voted out, surprised to learn that the idol wasn't real.

Perhaps Randy deserved that after all of the increasingly awful things he said over the past 10 episodes, but the fact remains that his humiliation was pointless and unnecessary as far as the game is concerned.

In fact, that move may even work against some people. Bob, who has maintained a pretty clean slate, played along with Sugar's revenge and fed Randy the fake immunity idol that Bob crafted while at Exile, so Bob has possibly lost Randy's vote. And even though it's almost impossible to imagine Randy voting for Sugar or Crystal, after some time and given the right opponent in the end, he might have rewarded one of their game play with his vote. But after they openly laughed at and dismissed him, it's hard to see him ever voting for either one (unless they're the final two, and he has no other choice).

Although Randy wasn't well-liked, there's also an argument to be made about why keeping him around may have been a smart move. The members of the merged Nobag tribe voted Randy out because of his abrasive personality, which smarter and less reactionary players could have actually used to their advantage, letting Randy stay to deflect attention from themselves and perhaps to use as a pawn in the finals. After all, who could lose to him?

"Survivor" cast members are fond of excusing their behavior as just being part of a game, but even when they lie to or backstab their alleged friends, there's rarely been so much personal animosity, such bitter hatred. There have certainly been hurt feelings, but those tend to come up during the final Tribal Council, and the winner tends to smooth over those rifts by lying or otherwise telling the jury members what they want to hear.

Maybe all of those people are delusional and just not able to be so upfront about their feelings.

Still, it's hard to imagine what this season's final Tribal Council question-and-answer session will look like, since such strong dislike and petty jealousies have been front and center during the actual game. Jeff Probst may have to channel Dr. Phil to settle everyone down, or perhaps he'll just let it devolve into a "Jerry Springer" episode, which it's pretty close to becoming already.

This is what separates the players on "Survivor Gabon" from the players who arranged a number of blindsides last season on "Survivor Micronesia." While those contestants betrayed their friends, they did so for strategic reasons, systematically eliminating their strongest physical and intellectual competition (Ozzy, Jason, Alexis, Erik, Natalie, Cirie), and those people ultimately respected the others for their game play.

And no one in Gabon has offered a strategic plan that comes anywhere close to the plans crafted by "Survivor China" winner Todd last fall.

While there have been some incredible surprises and blindsides this season, they're not as satisfying as the ones that have come before them on those and previous seasons.

That's because so many decisions are being made due to emotional responses, as the contestants continue to admit, instead of just smart game play. Even when those two things align, as they did with Charlie, watching a player cite a petty personal conflicts as a reason makes their moves far less impressive, even if they are more honest.

is a writer who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.