Welcome back on the trail everybody! Well, decisions were definitely made this week; they were just of the less exciting variety. For weeks, us Survivor viewers have been waiting for some big shake-up, waiting for the moment when Domenick and Wendell would come crashing down from their place at the top. Alas, that did not happen this week, and now the stage is set for one of them to take the crown.
Without further ado, let’s hit the road!
Ever since the Desiree boot, Laurel has been the main obstacle blocking any kind of insurrection against Domenick and Wendell. All throughout that span of episodes, I have been here defending Laurel’s decision to stand pat with Wendenick, arguing she needed to wait until the right moment when she could be the person to organize the move and take the credit for it. Well, that right moment was this episode, and she didn’t take the shot.
When Laurel announced, after the immunity challenge, that she was going to stick with Domenick and Wendell I was pretty floored. During all the time that she wasn’t taking a strike against those guys, she kept talking about how big of threats they were and how she can’t win the game against them, so I was pretty confident she would take the shot when the time came. But, she didn’t. While I was frustrated that the shake-up that I so desperately wanted did not happen, I was actually more curious as to why, from her perspective, sticking with them is the best idea for her. Laurel has been one of my favorites all season, largely because she’s been presented to us as a big fan of the show who knows what it takes to win, so coming into this week, I fully expected her to be gung-ho about making a move against the Wendenick power couple. Now that she didn’t, I find her interesting for a whole different reason; now, I see her as a great example of how easy it is to get wrapped up in the game of Survivor and how transformative an experience it can be.
Prior to the last 35 days, Laurel had never met Domenick and Wendell, but for the majority of her time in the game, they have been a part of her reality and the relationships she formed with those guys have been in this physically and emotionally taxing environment. Now, she can’t bear to see those guys leave, no matter how much it might make sense for them to do so. Give credit to Dom and Wendell for cultivating that relationship with Laurel, absolutely, but Laurel’s whole entire Survivor worldview seems to have changed from “win the game at all costs” to “go to the end with her two best friends” thanks to the extreme pressures and challenges of the game, which is fascinating in its own right. Unfortunately, I think that Laurel has given up any chance she has to win the game. The chances of at least one of Dom or Wendell to get to the end are too high to give anybody else a realistic shot, but by the game’s end, if Laurel feels comfortable and pleased with the game she played, then that’s all that really matters.
Boy, did I feel for Donathan this week. He was the voice of the audience this entire episode and I thought the show did a really good job of telling the story from his point of view as he scrambled to try to make this big move happen as it was slowly falling through his fingers. At the start of the hour, he was all hopeful that he and his best buddy Laurel were going to take the shot at Dom and Wendell, but once he began to realize that he had lost her to the Wendenick power duo, the more he was consumed by frustration and paranoia. While his feelings were very relatable to what I was feeling watching the episode, his approach on how to fix his situation left a little to be desired.
If he were a little savvier of a strategic player, then maybe he would have found a way out of the situation he was in. The best approach here would have been to discreetly talk to people one on one, even going up to Domenick and Wendell separately, and try to subtly plant seeds in the other players’ heads to try to take out the two power players. However, Donathan is not that kind of player and God bless him for it. He prefers throwing bombs than planting seeds, which made for a much more entertaining episode, and I think his questionable play can be excused a little bit because the motivations behind it were so understandable and relatable.
Openly casting doubt at Dom and Wendell in front of each other made himself a bigger target, which only increased his own paranoia. The whole “What’s in the bag” moment was just one big feedback loop that fed into each party’s growing suspicion of the other, so by the time Tribal Council rolled around Donathan was convinced he was going home, and I was right there along with him. Luckily for him, he gets to set his bags down at camp for at least one more day, but after his big blow-up this episode I don’t know if he will still be on Lavita beach come Day 39.
What more can be said about these guys? Week after week, they continue to keep the game on lock-down, snuffing out any potential counter-strike made against them. While they allowed this week’s rabble-rouser in Donathan to stay, that was the better choice between him and Kellyn. Kellyn has stronger relationships with people that Donathan doesn’t, like Angela and Sebastian. Plus, while Donathan is blunter in his strategic dealings, Kellyn is a little subtler, making her a better candidate to potentially put something together in the future. Going forward, Donathan is also now an easier target to point to for future votes, so another solid decision on their part this week.
Having survived this vote, the chances that at least one of the pair makes it to the Final Tribal Council are incredibly high. Even if one of them gets blindsided with an idol in their pocket at the Final 6, the one remaining can play their idol at Final 5, which places them in the Final 4 with two chances to save themselves, either through the immunity challenge or the fire-making challenge. That’s worst-case scenario for the duo. The more interesting question is how the two of them plan on disposing of each other, if at all. These two guys have been in such lock-step with each other, and their games so intertwined, that it could be difficult for them to distinguish their individual games in front of the jury. So, I would wager that it would ideally be in each other’s best interest to take out the other, just so each one can have a clean shot at the win; but, we’ve only heard one talk about taking out the other.
Back during the double boot episode, Domenick gave a confessional, intercut with a scene of him and Wendell reaffirming their loyalty to each other, acknowledging the fact that if he needed to cut Wendell, he would. The show hasn’t given us any such confessional with Wendell, and game-wise that makes sense. Wendell has been the calmer, more laid-back of the two, confident in his social game and the relationships he formed. Maybe he’s thinking that’s the thing that would give him the win, and therefore he feels comfortable going to the end with Dom. Domenick, on the other hand, probably recognizes this fact, and has a trigger finger ready for Wendell if and when the time comes. My gut feeling is that only one of them will reach Final Tribal, with Dom betraying Wendell in some fashion at the Final 4, but if this season has taught us anything, it’s that your gut isn’t always right. Regardless, one of these two is winning, and I imagine will be celebrated as a great Survivor winner in the years to follow.
The reward challenge was very fun to watch. A fresh, exciting new take on the Simmotion challenge (aka the final immunity challenge of Survivor Tocantins and Survivor: Cambodia) that emphasized teamwork, physicality and strategy. Plus, it was just an awesome and impressive set piece. Hopefully we will see this one again.
I love that they recycled Kellyn’s extra vote right back into the game. I think that Kellyn used it correctly given the situation that she was in, but I think it’s fun that this season is already a part of the mythology of this advantage. Just a nice little touch and some good, on-the-fly producing by the show.
End of the Line: Kellyn Bechtold
What did Kellyn do wrong? Throughout the season, Kellyn had talked about her driving force behind her game being her gut, and her gut had been telling her to stay “Naviti Strong” through most of the season. Last week, she finally decided to break from her original tribal ties and make a move against Wendell and came up short, seeing her close ally Chelsea get voted out instead, and then was just picked off from the bottom this week. After her exit, obviously the question becomes when she should have moved away from her OG Naviti ties, but I think those opportunities aren’t as apparent as they seem.
The easiest point in the game for Kellyn to make the move was the Michael vote, where she could have joined Michael and put her two votes on Wendell to send him home during that round. Prior to that vote, however, there wasn’t a clear opportunity where Kellyn should have zagged when she zigged. The previous vote was the Desiree vote, which put heat on her for the first time in the game and she was forced to take out an ally that had turned her back on her. Before that vote at the Final 12, I remember thinking at the time why she was targeting Michael instead of working her relationship with him, having spent the majority of the pre-merge together on Malolo, but she was in a comfortable spot with no allies that had turned on her at that point, so I understand why she wasn’t thinking about breaking up Naviti. Perhaps maybe the biggest mistake prior to the Michael vote was the decision to leave Desiree out of the Chris vote, which helped spring her to make her move when she did. Sometimes it’s the small mistakes that can kill a Survivor game just as bad as the big ones, and certainly speaks to this season’s mantra.
I was sad to see Kellyn have her torch snuffed, and not just because she was my winner pick. I found her to be a thoroughly enjoyable presence on this season that had some of the best, over-the-top facial reactions out of anybody who’s ever played. She took a lot of heat as the avatar for the static strategy that was happening throughout most of the season, and while I think her inflexibility might have hurt her in the game, I still appreciated her character on the season. She was a great mix of dorky exuberant superfan combined with the hard edge of somebody who took the game seriously. Kellyn is somebody who I would happily welcome back on a returnee season; hopefully her gut won’t lead astray again if she gets that opportunity.
See y’all for the finale tomorrow!