Utter bleakness on Extinction? Emotional catharsis on Kama? A bonkers jailbreak and flint heist on Manu, not to mention the strategic switcheroo in its wake? Two whole challenges? This episode had some of the sharpest tonal shifts in recent Survivor. This potpourri of narrative continuity may not have resulted in the most balanced episode, but it did serve to advance a number of the storylines begun in previous instalments, and in view of the impending tribe swap, even gave us a partial resolution to many.
Let us begin with the biggest character to emerge from our new crop of castaways: the inimitable Big Wendy. This episode was a tour de force as Wendy kept charging along the trajectory of the obvious next boot only to completely evade seeing her name on that parchment by the end of it all. Already ostracised by the majority of Manu, Wendy had been lucky to avoid the target once due to Keith’s poor challenge performance. But the vultures were still circling, and when she badly injured her ankle during the reward challenge, it seemed this would be the death knell. It’s always tragic to see a player eliminated for medical reasons, whether it’s an evacuation or the mercy kill of the tribe voting out their injured member. It would have been particularly unfortunate this season, where Wendy has emerged as one of the more colourful new additions to the Survivor roster.
But if that wasn’t reason enough, Wendy became fixated on the chickens. After finally winning a challenge, Manu had scored a coop of chickens and a rooster, and as starving minds are want to do, talk immediately began of when they could kill and eat some chicken. But not Wendy! She made it her personal campaign to save the feathered-friends. At first, she made her reservations known and was met with confusion and frustration from the rest of the tribe. Wentworth and Lauren seemed particularly infuriated, and Wardog was baffled by her admission that she ate meat back home, but wouldn’t do it here. However, Wendy owned the inherent hypocrisy and retorted to Wardog’s challenge, announcing that she would become a vegetarian, which only seemed to frustrate him more. To him, it was a trait he recognised in himself, but it was still stubbornness to a mad extreme.
Wendy, too, acknowledged her stubborn resolve, but her feelings towards the chickens seemed to be a personal turning point for her. Back home, she wanted to live in “a meatless world” but felt powerless to do anything to save the millions of animals farmed for food, but out on the island, it felt more real and different – and punishing the living chickens they’d won seemed too cruel. It was not the first time in the episode that the stark difference between the real world and Survivor would haunt a player – and they, unlike Wendy, would ultimately pay the invoice for their epiphany.
But Big Wendy’s Chicken Escapade was far from over. It’s one thing to object to eating meat. It’s another to actively prevent your tribe from eating. In the opening moments of the episode, Reem and Keith (who made the obvious choice to stay in the game; a flat, but unsurprising, resolution to last week’s cliffhanger) discovered that there was a food supply on Extinction Island. But it was only a single days’ portion of rice at a time, and at the end of a gruelling hike to the top of the Island. The eliminated pair lamented that the sign at the Edge held true to its threat that everything would be hard – even the basic needs of sustenance.
Food at the Tribal camps may be a little more plentiful and less exacting to obtain, but the players remaining in the game are still starving. Yet Wendy’s intent wasn’t just to abstain from eating the chickens but to sabotage her tribe and stop anyone from partaking. As she lay injured and (unsuccessfully) attempted to recruit Rick as her accomplice in a jailbreak to free the chickens from their coop, it seemed like yet another death knell for her game.
Yet it escalated again! After fighting through her injury to give a strong performance in the immunity challenge and proving herself again to be one of her tribe’s strongest swimmers, Manu still lost, and Wendy knew she was in danger. But she was seemingly more fixated on saving the chickens then saving herself, and rolled into camp to steal the tribe’s flint. Her thinking: no fire, no roast chicken. The rest of the tribe were dumbfounded by the disappearing flint (Wentworth, especially, seemed shell-shocked given her history with misplaced flint in San Juan del Sur), and Wardog seemed suspicious that Wendy had taken it, recruiting David and Bad Cop Rick to get to the bottom of the mystery. Perhaps Wendy sensed she was probably going home that night, and just wanted to stick it to her tribe on the way out the door, but regardless of the reason, Wendy picked that hill to die on.
Only somehow this wasn’t her night to go home. The ankle-swollen, chicken-freeing, flint-stealing outcast would live to plot her fowl jailbreak another day. Who would go home instead? The inoffensive salesman. His crime? Breaking trust for fear of burning bridges. Survivor can be such a fickle game.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
So how did we go from an obvious boot in Wendy to eliminating Chris? As much of this season has, it comes back to the returning players. David’s distrust of Wentworth was founded last week as he, and his main man Rick, attempted to gather the numbers to blindside Kelley only for it to fall apart when Wardog pulled Chris back from the ledge of making the move. But now with only seven players left on the tribe, it was easier to swing the numbers. David had Rick, and Wendy was willing to vote with them – particularly against Kelley. All they needed was one more vote to execute a blindside while Wentworth was distracted by the “smokescreen” of Wendy’s antics and injury.
Naturally, they saw Chris as the swing vote. He’d been interested in making the move at the last Tribal, so David and Rick approached him again – on one condition. They had to leave Lauren and Wardog out of the plan, making it a 4-3 blindside. Excluding Lauren was obvious – she was clearly tight with Kelley – but David & Rick feared that Wardog was also in Kelley’s pocket, or at least wanted to keep working with her. Chris agreed but was torn. Having an honest and open nature back home was catching up to him on Survivor, where he was finding it hard to navigate the real relationships he was forming with the game’s need for subterfuge. Survivor was more real – and much harder – than it looks on TV and he wasn’t willing to burn his relationship with Wardog this early. So again, Chris spilled the plan to blindside Wentworth.
Just as David & Rick had feared, Wardog wasn’t interested. But surprisingly, he also carved out a whole new plan. For the second week in a row, Wardog managed to pull the strings from the sideline, putting an option C on the table instead of the obvious Wendy vs. Wentworth divide, and once again, he managed to get the numbers on board for his scheme. Wardog knew Kelley was a threat, but he still trusted her more than Chris and ratted out the plan to the three-time player. Together, they concocted the new scheme to blindside Chris and recruited Rick.
Rick was shocked to learn that Chris had dug his own grave by telling Wardog, but played dumb and agreed to the plan, as long as they could bring David in on the decision. It’s worth noting for anyone doubting David’s suspicion of Kelley – her alliance wanted to leave him out of this vote, so there’s clearly a mutual distrust between the two returnees that gives weight to David’s desire to target her. So Rick and David found themselves in the middle. If they could trust that Chris still wanted to vote out Kelley – despite breaking his agreement not to tell Wardog – then they would have the numbers to vote out Kelley, but it wouldn’t have been the blindside assassination they hoped. Or they could keep their heads down and let Chris take the fall.
Ultimately, they chose for the latter. Effectively, it maintained the status quo – Wendy still on the outs (again, voting for Wentworth and solidifying that rivalry), David & Rick skirting the outside of the apparent Kelley/Lauren/Wardog trio. I have to say I’m a little shocked they didn’t take their shot at Wentworth. The numbers were there, and even if Wentworth had an Idol, it looked like Chris would be the one hit by the blowback. If Manu had to go to Tribal again, how could they possibly go after Kelley? At best, it was 3-to-3 unless Wardog suddenly changed colours.
But Rick and David are smart players, and there has to be good reasoning behind their decision. Were they anticipating a tribe swap, and fearing that making a disruptive Big Move™ could harm them if they end up in a bad distribution on their new tribe? Were they too distrustful of Chris, perhaps interpreting his decision to talk to Wardog as being a sign that he wasn’t on board with their plan anymore? Was David having second thoughts about drawing returnee blood this early? It’s certainly unclear from this episode, but I hope the future story can retroactively fill in the gaps. Nonetheless, here ended Chris’ story (at least, until he took the torch to begin his quest on Extinction in the most unenthused manner thus far).
“THERE’S SOMETHING HERE”
Meanwhile, Kama again got the short shrift of the air time. It’s not uncommon for the tribes who win Immunity to have significantly less screen time, but that only gets exacerbated by reward challenges or complex twists. It’s just a matter of economy – there are only 42 minutes an episode – but when it means that a whole tribe only gets a collective 5 minutes or so to focus on their camp life dynamics and players like Julia still haven’t even had a confessional, it starts to wear a little thin. Honestly, it makes me worry for the equitable story distribution in the coming weeks when we’re balancing three tribes – AND anything going down at The Edge.
Nevertheless, Kama’s story seemed to resolve its arc through these first episodes. Whereas Manu has faced three Tribals with a plethora of shifting plans, Kama has been on a glorious winning streak that has solidified into an “us versus them” mentality. Most of the new players (Eric, Gavin, Julia, Julie, Ron & Victoria) against the returnees Aubry & Joe, and Aurora, the sole newbie to have fallen in step with the returnees. That’s Kama’s story, and it met a climax as it became public knowledge.
In a gaffe that can happen to the best of us, but belied a hint of inexperience, Victoria and Ron stood in the shallows discussing targeting the pair of Aubry and Joe only for the cameraman to quickly circle around them and reveal Joe crouched mere feet from Victoria. While Victoria and Ron covered the best they could by reiterating the obvious (no doy, the returnees are a pair and are threats!), it confirmed the suspicion that Joe, Aubry, and Aurora had – they were undoubtedly in the minority on this tribe.
For Aubry, it fuelled the need to clinch victory in a different way. Her attempts to forge social bonds had largely fallen on disinterested ears, and she needed armour. She needed an Idol. In one of the more intense Idol search montages we’ve seen, there was a desperation as Aubry narrated her need to tick it off her Survivor bucket list. Not only did she need the Idol given her predicament, but in her time on three seasons of Survivor, finding an Idol was one of the few experiences that eluded her, and only behind winning the game in order of priority.
As the patented sepia-toned flashbacks (a trope I’m enjoying in its sporadicity) punctuated Aubry’s three-season quest for an Idol, she came upon a grove and found the blessed parcel. Bursting into tears, there was a sense of catharsis and a raw realisation of a dream that was moving. Aubry has had a rough road through Survivor and her first seven days of Edge of Extinction seemed like another path littered with obstacles. This Idol find was the first spark of joy and relief, the first victory, that Aubry has experienced in-game and it was an exciting note on which to end Kama’s pre-swap story.
MIXING IT UP
As Extinction Island grows more populated, it’s time to switch up the tribes. I wouldn’t be opposed to a swap in principle, but I’m wary of the promised swap to three tribes. Three tribes of five and three players on Extinction just seems like a lot to handle, and I hope that Survivor can pull off the balancing act against the odds. But regardless, I’m excited to see how this shakes up the tribe dynamics – hopefully we’ll see the straightforward divide on Kama forced to change tack and perhaps even see the grizzled Tribal-hardened Manu players find an advantage as the game picks up. So let’s go ahead and drop those buffs.