Welcome back on the trail everybody! This week’s episode kept up the excitement of last week’s two-hour premiere splendidly, delivering a blindside that showed that these new players are here to play and here to play hard. This is where Survivor is in 2018, big, bold moves right from the get-go, and it’s awesome.
Before we get started going over all of the key decisions of the week, I’m making my own big decision and changing up the format of the blog. Rather than go through the episode chronologically, for this week, I’m going to go through each player (or groups of players), and stop on the major decisions that faced those players, and then post all of my Signpost observations at the end. That way, I can get to the good stuff first and then trickle down through all of the things the rest of the players had going on.
With that out the way, let’s hit the road!
Fork: Take the Deal or Renegotiate
The big winners this week were the ex-Malolos on New Naviti led by James, who formulated a truly impressive, heads-up play that doesn’t happen very often in the early stages of a season. Fortunately for them, having Chris get sent to Ghost Island was a lucky break, evening up the numbers at a four-four split, creating just the right circumstances that James and his crew could take advantage of at Tribal Council.
The main crux of their decision here was their desire to play ball with the Domenick/Wendell/Morgan trio. Those three were looking to make some new friends, ready to cast Angela aside and forge some new trust with the ex-Malolos. So they put their deal on the table: join us and it can be an easy, slam dunk 7-1 vote to send Angela home. What James and company did was say “No, thank you” and put forth their own plan, capitalizing on the rift between the ex-Navitis and sniping out whoever they wanted.
But was it the right decision? At first, I thought that the ex-Malolos should go for Angela. The easy vote is easy for a reason, and there were too many potential problems this Morgan move could create. First, by reneging on the Domenick/Wendell/Morgan deal, they are destroying this first opportunity to build trust with them and leaving Domenick and Wendell in the game as players who could hold a grudge going forward. Secondly, while they saved Angela and exposed her ex-Naviti members, they still don’t have that great a relationship with her, and she might not feel any sort of gratitude or debt towards the ex-Malolos. Lastly, pulling off this move exposes the ex-Malolos, especially James as the architect of the move, as big-time players who are much more visible on the others’ radars now.
That said, after mulling it over, I think this was the right decision to make. Sometimes, in Survivor, when an opportunity presents itself, you just have to go for it and work damage control later, and this was one of those opportunities. This was a chance for James and his crew to set up the hierarchy on the new Naviti tribe the way they want to shape it. All of the potential issues about mitigating threat level and smoothing over relationships will be difficult, but it can be done if handled correctly, and I think these guys have it in them. Plus, the real brilliance of this move was the ability to punt on deciding between the Domenick side and the Chris side, taking out somebody in the middle and in the meantime giving themselves more time to gather information before having to pick one of those sides.
So far I’ve mostly given credit to James out of the Malolos since he was the one we saw coming up with the plan. Laurel and Donathan appeared to be in lockstep with James during the discussions, but I want to touch upon Libby since she was the one shown as having the closest relationship with Morgan. Her spot was the trickiest to be in, faced with the prospect of casting off her new friend. She could have easily flipped and been the fourth vote to send Angela out, but that would be stomping on all of the relationships she made with her fellow Malolo members in favor of people she just met and would probably be at the bottom of, so ultimately she made the right call. I do want to give her props though; the way she acted at Tribal Council was perfect and played right into the ex-Navitis hands. She could be a killer in Catholic clothing, and I’m excited to see if she can continue her smile before you stab ‘em ways.
Fork: Stay Strong or Splinter
Out of all the people who were hurt by Chris being sent to Ghost Island, it probably affected Angela the most. If Chris was around, she likely would have just fallen in line as he was guiding the strategy. With Chris away, she was probably excited that she could plant her flag and make her own decision without Chris barking orders at her, but that planted flag doomed her other Naviti members at this vote. Her willingness to stay loyal and go to rocks spooked her other Naviti members and I don’t blame them. If I were faced with the prospect of a rock draw on Day 9, I would do my best to avoid it as well, that’s a little too early in the game for my comfort level. So, as mentioned before, what the other three non-Angela Navitis decided to do was sacrifice Angela for a chance to build trust with the other Malolos, and it made sense from their point of view. They’re trading in the people they don’t like from their own tribe for some new ones and handing out an olive branch to the people in the minority. From their perspective, this was a great deal.
The thing that blows up the deal is Domenick. Last week I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking his idol shenanigans with Chris could pay off for later, but this week they made his game way more complicated. After Chris told all of the ex-Malolos that Domenick had the idol, the construction supervisor was really in a no-win situation. Showing the ex-Malolos the fake idol and outing it as a fake in an attempt to debunk Chris’ authority is really no worse than showing them the real idol – both paths show him as a shifty guy who is already telling lies and finding idols. Plus, after he showed James and company the fake idol, James didn’t believe him and thought he could still have the real idol, which is what led to him to take the alternate path he ended up taking. A large part of Survivor is minimizing the consequences of your actions, and Domenick’s play here was really just the invoice of his actions from last week catching up to him, and it cost him a valuable ally.
Fork: Is it truly “It Is What It Is”?
Over on New Malolo, there wasn’t any of the internal strife amongst the ex-Navitis like on the other tribe. No, for now, they are committed to each other and ready to wipe out the opposition one by one in the most epic fashion ever!! (Sorry Kellyn, Pagongings are nowhere near as epic as you think they are). While staying faithful to the Naviti cause is a perfectly fine path for them to take, I think they are making the journey a lot bumpier than they need it to be.
Kellyn was seen as the face of the strategy for the ex-Navitis, so she’s going to take the brunt of this, but the way she so plainly laid out the power structure of the tribe to the ex-Malolos was not the best approach here. Whenever people get told “There’s nothing you can do,” it’s human nature to say “Screw you!” and find a way to fight back. By telling the ex-Malolos there is no hope, Kellyn and company are only galvanizing them to find an opening and fight their way out of their situation. It’s always best to make players feel comfortable and complacent rather than anxious about their position in the game, so this was a spot where the Kellyn Krew needed to buddy up to the ex-Malolos and make them feel they’re still in this thing. Even if you do betray one of the people on the bottom after making friends with them, we’re still in the pre-jury phase of the game, so you don’t need to depend on a jury vote from any of these people right now. So throw some shade, fake a feud, do anything to make the people on the bottom feel comfortable before you “epically” pick them off one by one.
Fork: Mobilize the Resistance
On the flip side of the Malolo beach, there are the bottom dwellers, who didn’t do a lot other than look for the Hidden Immunity Idol, but it was great to see them not giving up and trying to find a way to climb out of this hole. This is a fun group of four to have as the underdogs right now, and they all seem savvy enough to put their heads together to come up with an escape plan, especially now that Michael has found the idol. Next week it looks like he shares the idol with all of his Malolo buddies, and hopefully, they can all put it to good use to make something happen.
Fork: Switchin’ It Up
When I saw that there was a tribe swap scheduled for next week, I admittedly got a little bit nervous, thinking it was too early for such a switch-up. I suspected that they were going to split into three tribes, so I was pleasantly surprised that the show stuck to two, that kind of a swap works much better with new players. Swapping after two votes into three tribes with returning players – as we saw in Cambodia and Game Changers – works because those players have a little more familiarity with each other, giving them a little bit more room to move out of a tight spot if they get down in the numbers. With less familiarity, but bigger groups, this gives players down in the numbers more room to play to work their way out of any holes a swap may have put them in.
It’s worth noting that Jeff Probst had two different bins o’ buffs, presumably one for the men and one for the women, in order to keep the gender balance as even as possible. This is the right call at this early stage in the game; it’s no fun watching a season of Greek Gods vs. Peasants this early on. For now, all of my swap-related fears have been abated. Let’s move on!
Fork: Unanimous Ghost
With the Ghost Island twist in play this season, I never anticipated that a tribe would disagree on whom to send there, but after a tribe swap it totally makes sense, and I love the solution that production came up with here. A decision like this should be unanimous amongst the tribe – it’d be too easy for one faction to steamroll another in any given tribe if this wasn’t the case. When a tribe can’t decide unanimously, the decision to go to a rock draw just adds a little more randomness that the players have to react to, something they’ll be coping with the entire game. As for what Malolo actually did, Stephanie made absolutely the right call here standing her ground. She doesn’t know the ins and outs of Ghost Island, no matter what Jacob told her. All she knows is if one of her Malolo buddies gets selected, then one of the other three is most likely getting picked off by the ex-Navitis. If this week is any indication, then I suspect we are going to see more rock draw selections in the weeks to come.
-Chris is the one guy I haven’t mentioned so far, and it was an up and down episode for him this week. He was giving off major douche chills when he was lecturing Angela on how to approach the game after the tribe swap, but then he was showing off some sincere and endearing emotion after being banished to Ghost Island. If the weeks where there is no game on Ghost Island are going to be devoted to personal character growth segments instead, I’m all for that, especially when they can subvert the way we see people as they did with Chris. Hopefully, this is a note we can revisit with him later on in the season.
-Bradley, my dude, what are you doing all this complaining for? You’re on Survivor! Smile a little! In all seriousness, while it probably isn’t fun for Bradley that his story so far is “The Complainer Guy,” I hope he continues to complain about anything and everything going forward. The Tribal Council set? “Yeah, I’ve seen better on other seasons.” This reward feast? “Um, not as good as the last meal I had before I came here.” I am here for Bradley Complains about Things as a subplot for the season.
-Sebastian, get outta here with your garbage candy takes, banana is nowhere near the best flavor of Laffy Taffy. It’s grape, it’s almost always grape when it comes to candy. Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise.
-While it was nice to see a big fan like Michael find the idol and see how excited he was, James’ China idol is an odd one to have. It’s a big block of wood, not the most conspicuous looking idol there is and tough to hide on your person. You won’t be seeing that one in any bulges anytime soon.
-Disinterested Wendell is quickly becoming one of my favorite people this season. He looked so bored at Tribal Council! Like, he couldn’t be bothered to answer Jeff’s questions. Some players seem out of the loop at Tribal because they’re not engaged in the game, Wendell just looked he was thinking about whatever awesome looking picnic table was going to build back at camp.
End of the Line: Morgan Ricke
What did Morgan do wrong? Honestly, not a whole lot. She hit the sweet spot of threatening, but not too threatening that James and his group was looking for at this vote. It’s criteria that we see at a lot of merge votes in recent seasons, a person that’s part of the main alliance, but not the one calling all of the shots. She was doing everything right up until this episode, forming good relationships and helping her tribe win challenges. Simply put, she caught a bad break when one of her fellow ex-Naviti members got shipped off to Ghost Island, which, compounded with the infighting between the Domenick and Chris factions, created the opening that the ex-Malolos needed to gain the upper hand for the vote, and so she’s out.
If she didn’t get sniped here, I could have seen Morgan lasting a long while. She was already putting out enough positive vibes to make Jacob want to will the Legacy Advantage to her, so that speaks well to her general disposition. Plus, I thought she was a very likable presence on screen, and a big fan of the show, so she’s definitely one I’m going to miss going forward.
That’s it for me; see you on the trail next week!