Phillip Sheppard is my favorite contestant in the history of Survivor. I wouldn’t dare suggest that he is the best contestant of all time, but for pure entertainment Phillip is tops in my book. He has given us so much: Stealth R Us names, the pink underwear, that time he went Native American and was a medium for his deceased grandfather, the lion and gorilla tattoos, etc. He doesn’t talk like regular people talk. He doesn’t share the same lexicon. In conversation, he makes regular references to the animal kingdom, special ops, and occasionally Samurai. He’s like Coach Ben Wade but more eccentric.

Is he crazy? Some people think so. I think it would be fair to say that sometimes he acts bizarre. That speech earlier in the season about “taking out the cubs” as an explanation for purportedly throwing a challenge is certainly one of those times. There are other times when he just seems to be enjoying his own goofiness, when he is cognizant of how weird his behavior is and takes delight in it.

I think the time I realized that he would forever be my favorite was during Redemption Island when after things where cooling down at camp and people were beginning to warm up to Phillip, he began to intentionally antagonize them. In his confessional he said something akin to, “Every now and then you have to know when to rub a little salt in that wound.” Phillip was driving people batty on purpose! This was strategy.

I was not mentally prepared for Phillip leaving this week. Moreover, I’ve probably an aggregate of 2 or 3 hours of sleep for the past 3 days so I’m understandably unstable. There was nothing to provide harbinger to this outcome. Stealth R Us has a hidden immunity idol proof super majority putting Eddie, Reynold, and Malcolm in the line of fire. Also, Andrea has been stigmatized for conversing with the pariahs and everyone thinks Dawn has gone insane. At reward we see Phillip relaxing in a pool saying, “I’m loving life!” I am seriously going to start crying.

Let me give myself a respite and talk about Dawn for a second. This is the first episode where we really see Dawn start to mentally deteriorate. What we thought was “true grit” is perhaps paranoid schizophrenia. First, we see her crying hysterically and calling for Brenda. When Brenda arrives we see the issue: Dawn’s retainer, which holds some of her front teeth, fell into the water and she is apparently uber-self-conscious about her smile. “I’m going to pull myself if I don’t find it!” she says desperately, covering her mouth so as to not expose her missing teeth. Brenda heroically dives into the water and recovers Dawn’s retainer intact. Dawn is so relieved she hugs Brenda and, I can’t say for certain, but these two may have a final two alliance. Dawn subsequently makes her a BFF bracelet.[1]

However, the retainer is not enough to lick whatever anxiety is brewing inside of Dawn’s head. Apropos of nothing, she interrupts Andrea’s conversation with the Three Amigos, except she isn’t really talking to them. She walks over and just starts talking "stream-of-consciousness" about how she can’t take it anymore and needs to be alone for a while. She is certain that Andrea is backstabbing her and that she is the number one target in the game. Cochran, Phillip, and Andrea are all concerned about Dawn and the value she offers Stealth R Us.

But Dawn gets some wicked awesome sleep and it is all copacetic now so don’t worry about our favorite Mormon.

Phillip sits out of the immunity challenge. In this challenge contestants must race underwater, resurface, and climb a platform where they then grab a ring, run it over to the other end of said platform and start the process over anew. Jeff Probst even emphatically tells everyone that this is going to be grueling. Are we supposed to believe Phillip actually had a viable shot at this challenge? Get real. 

Probst points out that this is the first time in Survivor history that someone has, on their own accord, sat out of a challenge. Phillip explains that he had a harrowing “incident” as a child: He was swimming underwater and found himself trapped underneath a deck. Fortunately, someone rescued him in time, but he has been skittish of being submerged under water ever since. Malcolm and Reynold do not have this problem. They are burning through this competition and in the final leg it becomes patently clear that Brenda and Andrea have no shot whatsoever. Malcolm’s stamina starts waning and Reynold pulls out a clutch victory.

What happens next is a brilliant piece of editing. We see Malcolm, Eddie, Reynold, Andrea, and Dawn on the hunt for a hidden immunity idol. We know Malcolm already has an idol; no one else knows this. Malcolm begins examining this area with a massive rock while other people are literally watching him. He pulls out an idol and Dawn questions whether he planted it there.

What makes this great television is that Dawn is voicing what we, the audience, are thinking. Malcolm made Reynold give him his idol last week; he can’t exactly just come out and say, “Oh yeah, I’ve got this idol already so if we can find another we are set!” Might that strain his alliance with Reynold? Malcolm has also been extremely cagey about telling others about his hidden immunity. Did he plant it?

At tribal Malcolm dons his hidden immunity idol necklace and then something spectacular happens: He pulls out another immunity idol and gives it to Eddie. The Three Amigos are untouchable. They announce that they are casting their votes for Phillip. And now Stealth R Us is in utter consternation for they have to vote out one of their own. This outcome has not been discussed.

We see people whispering “Andrea” and perhaps some are receptive to writing down Phillip, but yet another wrinkle presents itself: Is it possible that Malcolm and Eddie aren’t playing the idols but rather using them to distort the vote? The Specialist puts the onus on himself and says that they should still split the vote between Eddie and Malcolm; if they play the idol, Phillip will go home. And then they both play their idols and Phillip’s torch is snuffed.

I keep coming back to what Dawn said earlier in the episode: “It makes you feel kind of schizophrenic how quickly the emotions change.” That line seems very apt for this episode as a whole. And like Dawn pre-slumber of lucidity, I am a wreck. I look at everything around me and it is distorted in a violent confusion. The world seems so empty. People are talking but it doesn’t make sense for there is a shortage of lion metaphors. I have to accept that there will be no more Phillip Sheppard. This man who has brought me such transcendent joy is now consigned to the jury.

Jimi Hendrix used to speak of “strange, beautiful music.” Well I say, Phillip Sheppard: strange, beautiful human being.

 

 



[1] Ok I entirely made this up.