With exactly half of the castaways sent home the time has come for the bringing together of two tribes to build a stronger, greater community of castaways who will battle in a glorious war for the title of Sole Survivor. Well at least that seems to be what Jericho believes is going to happen (so much for the cookie monster) but, for me at least, it’s a renewal of the game.
The merge episode is often a cracker, and any pre-season cast assessment will zero in on big threats as the “merge boot” or the person other castaways would like to keep around to keep their tribe strong but who is too good to keep and defend themselves individually. Some notable merge boots include Gretchen (also the victim of the first crazy merge episode), Boston Rob Mariano, Andrew Savage and Sarah Lacina. Survivor: All Star’s merge saw the fiery demise of Lex and Survivor: Fiji’s Michelle Yi was eliminated in a controversial deal that saw only half the merged tribe go to tribal council. As I said, I love the merge episode, and I was glad I got to cover it for Inside Survivor.
Going into the episode, I was focused on the different cross-tribe relationships and the beautiful alliances that could bloom. Top of mind was Sarah, who managed to wrangle her way through the previous episode by convincing tribemate Luke that Odette would float to an opposing alliance given the chance. Sarah has good relationships with people on Samatau including Anneliese (who shared the idol clue and discovery with her), Peter (formed a bond after a tribe shuffle) and Henry (who already has her in his plans according to their conversation at the Pasta feast).
Several possible alliances have been thrown around over the past few episodes, but in general, it seems like we are heading into a merged tribe divided along previous tribe lines. Jarrad confirms the Samatau alliance is built around a core four of himself, Peter, Ziggy and Tessa which also includes Anneliese, Locky, and Michelle. Henry is the least trusted, as per Jarrad, but Locky requires some kind of maintenance to “keep him happy.” Tessa describes Locky like a delicate flower who needs frequent watering of his ego to thrive.
Jonathan LaPaglia confirms what everyone was suspecting (tribes are merged) and the first individual reward challenge is on. The prize on offer is a Merge Rejuvenation Package including clean clothes, a shower, a three-course meal and a letter from home. The challenge itself puts a focus on the letters. Each person’s message is inside a glass bottle placed on a frame in front of them. The challenge is to swing a rope around the frame without bumping it as a slightly-more-than-gentle bump will result in the frame moving and the bottle breaking. The challenge narrows down to Tessa versus Jericho and during a mandated hand switch Jericho knocks down his bottle and Tessa is crowned the victor.
Of course, wherever there are letters from home there is usually some type of twist which could result in everybody getting their letters. In the Survivor Auction it’s usually that after being sold once, the letter will be offered to the remaining castaways for the same price. Tessa comments that the reward seemed “too good to be true” and, alas, it is. JLP offers Tessa to swap her reward for everybody to receive their letter from home. Whenever this scenario comes up on Survivor, the only “correct” thing to do (from a gameplay position) is to swap whatever the individual reward is so that everybody in the tribe receives the reward. As Michelle points out “it was in her best interests,” but there are tears when Tessa accepts. Everyone is emotional reading and sharing their letters, and there is a flood of heartwarming moments for every member of the tribe.
Jericho seems to have lost himself in Game of Thrones as every confessional he gives brings up the war and how they are all knights. Now he’s bringing up references to David and Goliath. “Asatoa”, the merged tribe, is firmly split between old Asaga and old Samatau. Sarah is hoping to nab Michelle, but Michelle doesn’t want to leave the majority group. Henry, on the other hand, is back to his Asaga tribemates in a flash, knowing that he was the bottom and isn’t going to claw his way through the rock-solid alliance.
Arrival at the Immunity Challenge brings news that whoever is next voted out will be the first member of the Jury. This is a difference from last season where Conner and Kate were eliminated after the merge but before the jury started. The first individual immunity is a feat of endurance. Last season, individual endurance competitions favoured smaller, leaner bodies which saw female castaways like Brooke, El, Kylie, and Jennah-Louise winning the majority of challenges. Ziggy has already been a threat in challenges, winning the previous stand-on-a-giant-floating-pyramid test. Perceived physical threats such as Locky and Henry are usually too heavy to support their own body weight during these longer challenges.
Locky seems to be hyping himself on the chance to prove how strong and masculine he is. Luke appears to be struggling early and falls despite attempts to put off other castaways with singing and teasing. The challenge comes down to Tessa, Ziggy, and Henry. As someone who can plank for approximately 30 seconds, I’m pretty impressed with these people who get to 51 minutes. Ziggy pulls out the win with pizzazz.
Back at Asatoa beach (still not sure how that is spelt), the initial plan was to get Henry out, but rumours of Henry having an idol drives Tessa to suggest a “safer” target in Luke, and everyone is on board. Sir Jericho, the royal knight, thinks old Asaga can get the numbers. Henry’s first preference target of Ziggy is off the table now that she has individual immunity and so the old Asaga vote is going towards her right-hand man Jarrad.
There are plenty of options here from past connections, so I’m not sure why there is so much emphasis on getting Michelle and Locky’s votes. Sarah and Anneliese had a good past relationship, as did Henry and Anneliese. Yet no one from Asaga has approached Anneliese about voting with them. Michelle begins to feel neglected when she is being left out of decision-making conversations. She thinks being left out now is a bad implication for her long-term game. Instead of reassuring her, Tessa tells her it’s because she was the last one into the alliance. I was a little surprised to hear this coming from Tessa who has had a strong social game thus far. Locky’s vote also seems to be up in the air after Henry approaches him to make a move and flip over to old Asaga.
At tribal council, Locky states the obvious. Luke, who has been uncharacteristically quiet in decision-making this episode, says he’s worried about the vote. Michelle is giving vague answers. Tessa and Jarrad go from confident to confused as tribal council progresses. Ziggy says she’s really glad she has the idol necklace. Nobody is giving too much away; everybody is giving really diplomatic answers that provide very little actual information. Time to vote.
The votes come out 7 for Jarrad, 5 for Luke. Jarrad is going home. I had high hopes for Jarrad; I thought he was flying under the radar while maintaining a strong social game with good connections to multiple people. In a funny moment of irony Jericho, who Jarrad asked to underline his vote as a sign of trust, did underline his vote to let Jarrad know that he was part of the seven voting him out.
In a single afternoon, the majority has flipped. Michelle seems to have jumped ship since she had no sense of control in the Samatau alliance. According to this voting confessional (“why’d you have to go for Henry?”), Locky flipped to stay close with his best bro buddy. The loss of Jarrad seems to have stemmed from the core group’s inability to keep everyone happy in their alliance and as such have let two key votes get away.