Welcome back on the trail everybody! This was kind of an odd episode from a storytelling point of view, but it ended in exciting fashion. An idol was played! Allegiances have shifted! Chelsea has spoken! Let’s hit the road and get into all of the decisions.
Fork: The Stonewall Gang
Let’s start with the group that won the battle at Tribal Council this week. The alliance of ex-Naviti members on this new Malolo tribe managed to hold tight, picking off one of the minority and sidestepping a Hidden Immunity Idol along the way. While they emerged victorious in this battle, there are still warning signs ahead for this fearsome five. By further driving the wedge between themselves and the Malolo minority, the Naviti 5 are only increasing the animosity that these underdogs have towards them, making them want to bounce back and attack the very first chance they get. These no-fun Navitis should be looking at what’s happening on the other tribe; the fact that Morgan got voted out should tell them that there’s been some serious intermingling going on and that they should be doing the same. Otherwise, they may be boxed into playing with just each other come a second swap or a merge.
As for their big decision on who to put their votes on, I was initially very skeptical. Their entire premise about voting for one of the guys because the Malolo 4 would never suspect that they would target one of the guys on the grounds of needing challenge strength seemed so transparent to me. From Michael and Brendan’s point of view, I would for sure think they were coming after one of them, simply because these Naviti oppressors have made no effort to engage with them strategically. Who cares about challenge strength when you’ve got four people just lined up, waiting to be voted off, if you’re the no-fun Navitis? To Brendan’s credit, he seemed to pick up on that, and we saw him insisting to Michael before Tribal Council that the votes were coming towards him. Ultimately, Michael’s the guy with the idol, though, and he fell into ex-Naviti’s trap, which is what really matters in the end.
Michael’s wrong read meant that the alleged leader of the no-fun brigade, Bradley, narrowly avoided execution. Last week, I already declared my desire for him to be Captain Complainer for the rest of the season, but now he’s established as a full-on villain for the season, and I could not be more pleased. With his smug face and declarations of unattainable aspirations (Boston Rob and Kim Spradlin are very high bars to clear), Bradley will be an entertaining person to root against for the entire season. Even if he’s not the leader of this ex-Naviti contingent, it’s no surprise that he got the votes from the Malolo minority, and will probably continue to collect votes until he is gone. Hopefully, it will be a memorable moment when this bad babysitter gets fired.
Fork: Hitting the Target
For the Malolo minority, they had one job this week: play their Hidden Immunity Idol on the correct person. Sure, they could have conceivably convinced somebody to flip, but that Naviti group was holding steady, no matter how hard they tried. But boy oh boy did they try. Michael deserves major props for how hard he fought during Tribal Council, showing a lot of tenacity and poise for an eighteen-year-old kid. His lie that he spun about his idol was really inspired, taking the specific history of James Clement’s unplayed idol and twisting it into a believable bluff, and shows his Survivor bona fides in the process.
The biggest area worth nitpicking of Michael’s play here is his decision to declare that he and his allies were putting all of their votes onto Bradley. It’s a tough spot to say whether he was right in doing so. On the one hand, identifying Bradley as the primary target allows all of his allies to relax, knowing that the votes won’t blow back on them if an idol gets played; on the other hand, making their target known gives them somebody to point to in case somebody does flip. My suggestion on what to do here is a best of both worlds approach: Tell the Navitis that you’re going to split the vote, putting two votes on Bradley and two on somebody else, and if the idol is played successfully, you’re going to vote out the non-Bradley person on the revote.
That move would hopefully put a little more heat on all of the Navitis, giving them the knowledge that they have an out to take if they are genuinely fearful of the vote blowing back onto them. On the Malolo minority side of things, sure you could say you are going to split your votes and then slam all four on Bradley, but I think there’s value in following through with the split vote idea. It shows that you mean what you say, giving you more credibility in the game going forward, and forcing that little bit of extra tension within the Naviti majority before the revote, which can only be good a thing.
Granted, all of these hypotheticals are only possible if Michael had correctly played the idol, which unfortunately he didn’t. He simply just read the room wrong, falling into the Naviti’s trap of believing they wouldn’t target one of the strong guys, leading him to play the idol on Stephanie. It’s a tough blow to Michael, losing his closest ally, but he and Jenna and Stephanie can still come back from this. Just keep winning challenges, and maybe find another idol along the way, until the next swap or merge, and the game can open back for them again. As a semi-good Survivor player once said, you just gotta “keep hope alive.”
Fork: Should You Risk It to Get the Biscuit?
Kellyn’s trip to Ghost Island was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. Firstly, she further confirmed the idea that the Survivor Gods are in involved more in this season than ever before, actualizing her fear of making the trek out into the universe by picking the odd colored rock. Upon arriving on Ghost Island, she was faced with the same choice that Jacob had to make way back in the first episode, risking her vote at the next Tribal Council for the chance to secure an advantage in the game. When Jacob was asked to roll the dice, I thought that this would be a chance that every player would take, so I was surprised that Kellyn opted not to play, and I have to say that I’m very impressed.
This was an instance where a shiny new object was placed right in front of Kellyn, and the natural, human reaction is to do anything to get said shiny new object. The fact that she chose to turn down this chance at an advantage shows a level of discipline that I don’t know a lot of other players would have had. Her choice here indicates that she’s incredibly focused on the game, putting all of her efforts into keeping a Naviti majority on her tribe, and a removal of her vote would indeed put her group in jeopardy if her tribe would trek to Tribal Council. The fact that her tribe did indeed go to the next Tribal proved that she had made a worthy choice, but maybe only for the short term. Further on in the game, having an advantage might be helpful for Kellyn, allowing her to get out of a tight spot if the game turns against her, so it will be interesting to see if her choice here has ripple effects in her future game.
Fork: Finding the Right Friend
After last week’s blindside of Morgan, the ex-Malolo’s upheaval of the Naviti tribe’s power structure looks to be in full swing, with Domenick and Chris still at each other’s throats and the four of them sitting pretty. James and Libby stepped up to the plate during last week’s episode, but this week the spotlight shined on the other two members of the group, Laurel and Donathan. The two original Malolos were faced with an age-old Survivor question: in a field of so many options, who exactly do I want to play with? On one side, there’s Chris and Angela, who seem more straightforward and honest, and on the other side, there’s Domenick and Wendell, who are the more devious and slippery pair. By describing the pairs in those terms, I would probably go with Chris/Angela if I were in Laurel and Donathan’s shoes, as going with the more predictable is perhaps the easier of the two paths. As we saw, however, there’s a lot more to this decision if we dig a little deeper.
First of all, Chris’ “I love myself” attitude is bound to rub people the wrong way, making him a more repellant and difficult person to work with as time moves on. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, his and Angela’s Survivor worldview might be a little narrower than what Laurel and Donathan are looking for. Those two are huge superfans and want to play a bold, exciting game that will leave a mark in Survivor history, which leads them over to Domenick and Wendell. Despite seeming more dishonest on the surface, the Construction Boys are also big fans of the show and offer the chance of excitement in their Survivor lives. So while going with Domenick and Wendell may not be the safest travels for Laurel and Donathan, they all see the game from that same superfan lens and are all eager to maximize their Survivor experience by playing the most exhilarating game they can play, and I could not be more in favor.
Although going with Chris/Angela might be the easier path, Laurel and Donathan going with Domenick/Wendell will almost certainly create more exciting gameplay, and I pledged my loyalty to Team Good TV long ago, so I’m excited to see what comes next.
Fork: To Troll or Not to Troll
Like I mentioned earlier, the way this episode was presented was a bit odd, so I wanted to touch on that briefly. First of all, the Malolo tribe was not shown at all before the Immunity Challenge, which kind of spoiled the result of said challenge. No tribe has ever been completely cut out of an entire episode, so I knew that the Malolos had to lose in order to be featured, which removed all of the edge-of-your-seat excitement from the Naviti comeback. Plus, the Next Time on Survivor from the previous episode featured scenes from the Malolo tribe that hadn’t aired yet. Usually, the editors are good at protecting themselves from these spoiler-y types of moments; they let this one fall through the cracks in a major way, which wasn’t fun to see.
On the other hand, I want to give major props for how the episode was cut once the Malolos lost the challenge. Guys like me who’ve watched the show for years and years think they’ve got the story beats for any given episode figured out, and this one was no different. Cocky Guy Bradley believes he’s got everything figured out and thinks he can’t lose, only to get his butt handed to him as his torch is snuffed. Bradley was going to get voted out, and then he didn’t. I was wrong, and I couldn’t be happier. The editors used the viewer’s expectations against them to create a much more surprising ending, and anytime the show can still surprise me is a good thing. More troll jobs in the future, please.
Despite what I said about how the editing ruined the challenge result, that was still an insanely exciting challenge. The best kind of Survivor challenges are ones that can be won or lost in an instant, and this one definitely was. That shooting-balls-on-top-of-the-narrow-perch part should be included every season if we can get edge-of-your-seat excitement like we got this week.
This was definitely Laurel’s breakout episode. First, she completely beasted the reward challenge, and then her play seems to be setting herself up very well within her own tribe. It’s more subtle work than what James did last week, simply bringing people together rather than publically Making a Move. Both could have success, but Laurel’s work is keeping her more under the radar, a good place you want to be at this stage of the game.
Domenick sharing his idol with Wendell and then Laurel was a good first step at worming his way back in with the majority. When the rumor mill surrounding an idol becomes too much to handle, sometimes it’s best to come clean and use it as a tool to build trust, and that’s just what he did here. Sure, it could be more difficult for him to play in the future, but he may now have an easier time moving through the game without the constant paranoia of the idol surrounding him, so, for now, things are looking up for Domenick.
Stephanie’s sand calligraphy was on point. I bet she gives out killer birthday cards.
All right, Sebastian, I may have called you out for your terrible candy takes last week, but you pulled me back this week by dropping that great penguin analogy. I hope you continue to give us more wonderfully weird analogies all season long.
End of the Line: Brendan Shapiro
What did Brendan do wrong? Mostly, he was just on the wrong side of the numbers. After starting the game in the position he was destined to fill, the strong, respected leader of the original Malolo tribe, the swap upended him and placed him in the minority. His new Naviti overlords didn’t want to play with him and deemed him one of the strongest of his group, so he was sent packing. The only reason he had any hope to stay at all was because of Michael’s idol. According to Brendan himself, he had a strong feeling that it was going to be him in the lead-up to Tribal Council. He did the best he could to plead with Michael to use the idol on him, but ultimately it was Michael’s decision, and he just read the room wrong.
Personally, I was bummed to see Brendan go. This season has a lot of superfans on it, so it’s going to be hard to see any of these guys go out early, but my heart breaks a little bit more for him. A guy who’s been trying to get on the show on and off for 16 years finally gets his chance to play and getting it cut short due to some rotten luck is a tough way to go. He’s a guy I liked a lot on paper: physically strong and very personable, with his teaching experience allowing him to relate to people younger than him. Alas, the history of Survivor is littered with people who looked good on paper and were voted out before they got a chance to shine, and Brendan has become another one of these Ghosts of Survivor Past.
Thanks for reading everybody! See you on the trail next week!