After weeks of topsy-turvy upsy-daisy unpredictability, it was inevitable that we would arrive at an episode that would be a little more low-key and conventional. But if it had to happen now, it’s not a terrible spot to take a breath of fresh air and take stock of the situation before we dive into the chaos of the merge next week.
“THE CLOCK IS TICKING”
The Jabeni tribe had a rough run this week after a blowout loss in the Immunity challenge sent them straight back to Tribal. With David and Goliath numbers even, both on Jabeni and in the game, it became a crucial decision between Angelina and Lyrsa – who to keep and who to send packing. As the tribe – and particularly Mike – grappled with the difficulty of dashing a friend and ally’s dreams one way or the other, the vote seemed to circle the currency of trust. Who could you rely on to have your back, charging ahead?
Angelina’s stock seemed to be plummeting after her stunt with the jacket. Not only did she draw the spotlight onto herself with her public performance, but by voting against the group and tipping her hand as someone willing to put on a song-and-dance for a mere article of clothing, she revealed herself as a self-interested player. Of course, everyone is self-interested in Survivor, but as we saw tonight, it ostracised her from Lyrsa, Nick and Mike who pegged her as untrustworthy and unreliable.
On the other hand, Lyrsa was a straight-shooter, telling it straight and approaching the vote with staunch loyalty to the people who had her back at the last Tribal. Even when Angelina attempted to bridge the divide as a fellow Latina, Lyrsa had little interest in playing the flip-flopper, wishing to stick by Nick and by extension Mike, and take out the threat to their trio. On paper, if trust and loyalty was the deciding factor in this vote, it seemed like Lyrsa would be the victor in the fight. So how did she end up with the snuffed torch and a seat next to Miss Natalie at the Reunion?
Ultimately it came down to the Rockstars in the middle – Mike and Nick. On the surface, Nick seemed adamant about sticking by Lyrsa over the “sketch-ball” Angelina, but Mike was a lot more uncertain. Whereas Nick would have nothing to lose by taking out Angelina, Mike would be committing to flipping against the Goliaths to not only paint a target on his back but would also bear the blame of handing the numbers to the Davids heading into the merge. For Mike, the vote wasn’t about the trust and loyalty of Jabeni in isolation – Angelina or Lyrsa. It was about the optics of trust and loyalty on the grander scale of the game. By staying with Angelina, he could appear to remain Goliath-strong while still keeping Nick in his back-pocket – it’s playing the middle, but heading into a probable merge, it gives him clear options.
The decision is murkier for Nick, who sacrificed a David number for his new allegiance to Mike – and to a degree, Angelina and her flattery. There was an air of change throughout tonight’s episode as the conflict of David against Goliath dissipated in favour of new coalitions. As Nick put it, it was about “picking the brothers and sisters to fight beside.” The fact that Lyrsa wore the same orange buff on Day 1 mattered less to Nick than the new trust he’d formed with Mike. Furthermore, if Mike’s vacillation about the vote left him wanting to play safe by keeping the Goliath numbers, Nick had no reason to force a tie that would assure that either he or his closest ally Mike would be sent home. It’s also valuable to recall that Nick’s relationships with the Davids were tenuous at best, and perhaps his best interests lay in the newer alliances of Jabeni rather than the tribe who was hours away from making him the first one out.
So trust and loyalty aside, was voting out Lyrsa over Angelina the strategically sound decision? I’ll cautiously agree even though a loyal vote is a huge boon, and it’s clear that Lyrsa had less sway in the game than Angelina, who had her own independent – and possibly conflicting – interests. Yet Lyrsa was a seemingly lesser threat, but that only makes her the kind of player who can slide through the merge unnoticed. Comparatively, Angelina has proven herself to be someone to put herself up front, which makes her an easy meat shield for Mike and Nick and they’ll need all the cover they can get. It was a lose-lose situation for the Rockstars, but they made the best of what they had before them.
I’m sad to lose Lyrsa at this point – she was an entertaining narrator and unique personality who brought diversity and individuality to the cast, and she was the type of player who could have thrived if she could have just made the merge. But her elimination leaves the remaining trio of Jabeni, and particularly the Rockstars, as unmoored votes who could be the deciding factor in the coming votes as the distinction of a David versus a Goliath vanishes.
LEANING ON HOPE
Meanwhile, on Tiva, Christian and Gabby continued to shine as two of the most compelling characters on an already compelling cast as each reflected on their social position in the game. The Brochachos have well and truly become a key factor, and Christian’s alien experience of finding a seat at the cool kids’ table provides an interesting wrinkle. As someone fighting through his life to find validation in the face of the fear of being left out, the natural rapport and trust that has sprung up through his relationship with John and Dan provide him with both personal and game opportunities.
But it was Gabby’s situation as the perennial outsider of the tribe that gave way to one of the more significant developments of the night as she reached out to Alison. Alison’s role in the season has been severely underedited to this point, but it seems clear through her empathetic and personal conversation with Gabby – tearfully searching for a stronger strategy than blind hope – that there is a social bond that could yield fruit. At the start of the season, Alison rebelled against the idea of the Goliath label, and her assurance to Gabby that she identifies with her and Christian – the nerds of the bunch – more than the boys’ club of the Goliaths belays a strategy of newfound trust.
Notably, this new alliance turned their sights on Dan as a charismatic and well-connected threat who also happened to have an Idol in his pocket. Even without knowing about his second Idol, Alison and Gabby saw the value to targeting the big player and with Dan still reminiscing about his showmance with Kara and feeling confident in his Idol finds and his “indoctrination” of Christian into the Brochachos, it could make him a sitting duck.
“LAZY PEOPLE AND STUPID PEOPLE”
Speaking of Kara, the realtor found herself a front-row seat to an implosion of the “cowboy hat connection,” as social conflict drew a line between Elizabeth and Carl & Davie, shattering the appearance of a unified David front. Seeking respite for chronic pain in her back, Elizabeth took the initiative to re-cut the floor of the shelter. But her timing aggravated Davie and Carl who promptly undid her work and exasperated her, which in turn exasperated them.
Even when Elizabeth attempted to air her frustration and explain her situation, she was met with confrontation as Carl and Davie answered with a rebuttal. It was a vicious cycle fuelled by clashing personalities, but if there was any doubt, it makes it abundantly clear that loyalty to the David or Goliath flag is an ideal of the past.
So now it’s time for the merge, and honestly, I have no idea where we’re heading next. Tonight’s episode re-set the stage: we’ve got the Tiva Brochachos, but we’ve also got the budding alliance of Christian & Gabby with Alison; we’ve got a fracturing David group on Vuku, which leaves players like Alec and Kara up in the air; the Rockstars are holding strong, but how much do they really trust in Angelina? And that’s not to mention the imminent reunions of partnerships like the Dan & Kara showmance and Mason-Dixon.
The pre-merge of David vs. Goliath has been a truly stellar run, and I’m feeling optimistic that the latter half of the season has the legs to carry on the torch.