Welcome back on the trail everybody! This week’s trek offered another switch-up that gave way to another interesting vote with more strategic depth than a five-person Tribal Council might suggest. Without further ado, let’s hit the road!
Fork: You Can’t Pick Your Family… but Can You Pick Your Survivor Family?
This week, the army veteran had to navigate the Survivor battlefield as the swing vote, deciding between her original Naviti members Kellyn and Desiree and her new buddy James and his rekindled ally Michael. After having been saved by some deft maneuvering by James and his crew at the Morgan vote, it seemed the stage was set for Angela to return the favor and keep James in the game. But when it came time to put pen to parchment, it was James’ name she ended up writing down, opting to side with the people she once dubbed her “family” to send James out of the game.
On a surface level, it makes complete sense why Angela made the move she made here. After being distraught that the original Naviti tribe was being broken up at the first tribe swap, Angela was ready to go to rocks to protect her people at first tribal council, proving herself to be an extremely loyal player. Those Naviti ties seemed strong enough to pull her back towards Kellyn and Desire and trump whatever bond she had with James, but I think this was an instance where she should have fought those urges to stick with her old family and take up residence with a new one.
Why should Angela have gone the other direction? Well, the merge is right around the corner, and the OG Navitis are going to have that majority. Within that majority, Kellyn’s Five, formerly known as the No-Fun Navitis, will hold court within that large majority. Maybe she and Bradley will swap out a Chelsea or a Desiree with a Domenick or a Wendell, but Angela is not being brought in within that majority group, heading for a dead end around 8th or 9th place. Going with James and his crew and taking out Desiree here weakens that overall Naviti majority and provides an opportunity for her to worm her way into a smaller group. James will probably express some gratitude for having been saved and might open up a spot in his inner circle amongst the OG Malolos. Plus, going with James’ group gives her the chance to be the bridge between the original Malolos and the original Navitis, picking people from her old family to join her new one.
But here’s the thing about Survivor: people’s true personalities shine through and dictate their gameplay all of the time. Angela’s strong loyalty to her original tribe means she probably thought about ditching Kellyn/Desiree for only a brief period of time, if at all. Kellyn most likely greased the wheels a little bit to get Angela to stay put, but the decision she made was rooted in the way she’s wired as a human being, which ultimately meant success for Kellyn and a loss for James. The meshing of different personalities and approaches is a large part of what’s kept Survivor so fascinating 36 seasons in, and this was just another example of castaways playing with and around each other, figuring out how to best make each player work for them.
Fork: Hidden in Plain Sight
Poor Michael. After pulling yet another orange buff at the tribe swap, Michael is the only player in the game to be a member of the Malolo tribe through all three versions, failing to avoid the growing hex on his tribe and attending his fifth tribal council. Greatest tribe of all time this is not, Jacob!
However, there is a silver lining to Michael’s predicament. He has done a pretty great job of receding into the background after his flashy idol play at the Brendan tribal council and wasn’t even targeted for elimination by Kellyn and Desiree. Furthermore, he was barely shown at all during the pre-tribal scrambling, which led me to believe he was in lock-step with James, so I was very surprised when he ended up writing James’ name down to join the effort to send him home. However, as I said, Michael has been doing some nifty background work to avoid the chopping block, so stealthy that it wasn’t part of the main focus of the episode.
After having spent the last set of days with Kellyn/Desiree, Michael has probably built up a pretty decent bond with them. Sure, they were stonewalling him at seemingly every turn, but they’re still talking with each other and building up a rapport. That preexisting relationship is what probably kept him out of the crosshairs and maybe even put him in the driver’s seat a little bit. Having been saved by them at the last tribal council, Michael probably made it clear to Kellyn/Desiree that he was ready and willing to stick with them and was a more forceful voice in the vote discussions. After feeling out how much James had a grasp on Angela, maybe he decided he wasn’t going to play with James. Either way, casting his lot with Kellyn and Desiree is a great call for him here.
Michael is the captain of a sinking Malolo ship, hopping on board the Naviti boat with Captain Kellyn and First Mate Desiree provides a little more cover for him once they get to the merge, making him a valuable pawn for the big Naviti majority until he gets a chance to strike himself. Plus, if this tribe does lose again, I think there’s a chance he can convince the Kellyn/Desiree duo to keep him over Angela, hyping up the fact that she could have many more options compared to himself once the merge does come around. He may not have liked to see his former Malolo member go, but letting go of James and siding with the Naviti duo was a step in the right direction for Michael. I’m hoping he can lay low for awhile until the right time to step back into the spotlight.
Fork: New Week, Same Plan
Desiree had a rough go at the immunity challenge and was predictably the target that James had decided on going into the vote. She had a nice moment after the challenge, lamenting in a confessional about how she didn’t want this one screw-up to dictate her Survivor life. Fortunately for Desiree, she has Kellyn in her corner, who once again proved to be a pretty formidable player by directing the vote for a third week in a row. She continues to beat that original Naviti drum hard, this time giving Angela what she needed to hear to keep her bleeding purple.
I’ll be honest, I thought that Kellyn was full of anxious energy and was not very convincing in her conversation with Angela, but maybe those nerves are part of Kellyn’s charm. So far, she has displayed a good grasp on the strategy of the game, but she doesn’t talk in a very strategic language of numbers and voting blocs. Instead, she takes a gentler approach and invokes more emotional concepts of sticking together and going with your gut, and maybe the nerves help sell these ideas as more genuine coming from her. It’s the kind of emotional appeal that Angela was looking for, who was looking for a family more than an alliance.
Kellyn may be stifling more exciting gameplay in favor of a more old-school Pagonging, but it’s clearly working for her. She got Angela back on her side, and her relationship with Michael may have come through here as well. Sure, moments like her answer to Jeff Probst’s “Head vs. Heart” question at tribal was a little too Teacher’s Pet and could cause some members of the audience to roll their eyes. But so far she’s managed to corral her people to be on the right side of the vote at very tribal council she’s attended. Right now, everything’s looking good for my pre-season winner pick.
Fork: Domeinck’s Choice
Over on the new Naviti tribe, this group seems to have the most clear-cut dynamics out of the three. Domenick is in the middle of two pairs, one from his first tribe and one from his second. Right now, he really does appear to be sitting pretty, and name checks one person from each pair that he feels comfortable with, Bradley and Donathan respectively, indicating he does have room to maneuver. If this group does end up making the trek to tribal council next episode, Domenick’s primary objective should be eliminating somebody from whichever pair won’t support him in his impending war against Chris, so his targeting of Libby makes some sense.
From Domenick’s perspective, this cute blonde was one of the main movers in the Morgan blindside and might want to play with Chris moving forward, considering she helped save Chris’ closest ally, so it might be a good play to cut her out before the merge. That is unless Bradley and his super Survivor skills get in the way. Based on the preview for next week, Bradley’s game may turn from fantastic to dicktastic, and may draw Domenick’s ire if he is not careful. So I wouldn’t say it’s an open and shut case in favor of Libby’s dismissal if the Naviti tribe goes to see Jeff next week.
Fork: Spiking the Competition
At the new tribe of Yanuya, the story this week almost entirely revolved around Chris, as we the audience continued to be beneficiaries of his greatness. In all seriousness, The Noble One continues to be one of the big sources of entertainment this season, alternating between a Coach Wade-level self-absorbed goof and a serious strategic player to be reckoned with. When he’s not boasting about his insane volleyball skills, he is putting in the work to sway Wendell, who up until this point had been a key Domenick supporter, over to his side. Wendell, for his part, played his interaction with Chris perfectly, nodding his head to everything Chris was saying and giving him every indication that he wanted to work with him.
As for Chris himself, what looked to be a rocky beginning may turn into a deep run. He’s going to make the merge, as his new tribe is stacked and will win the next immunity challenge, and once he gets there he may have a sizable enough army to take on Domenick and his forces. And us viewers will hopefully get to see the culmination of this feud that’s long been teased over the first half of the season. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.
Bradley’s game may not be A+, but he continues to be an A+ heel. There’s a slight chance he could get voted out next week, but I hope he at least makes the merge. That way, when his big downfall comes, he can sit on the jury bench and scowl at the other players at tribal council for the rest of the season.
Of course Sea Bass has a shell collection, and you know what, I bet it’s pretty awesome. I’d love a show and tell of all of his items, each one associated with a daring fishing adventure from his past. Put it up on his Instagram feed; I’d watch.
I feel you Chelsea, sometimes I tear up at my first cup of coffee in the morning. Just a powerful way to start the day.
Laurel may not have had a whole lot of screentime so far, but I appreciated so much that the editors chose her to be the voice of the audience as she commented on all of Chris’ grandstanding and bloviating. She’s a really good narrator, and hopefully, we will get to see more of that in the future.
Wendell’s performance in the immunity challenge was one of the most clutch ones I have seen in a long time. Truly a “zero to hero” moment, with a badass line to top it all off, “What up, Probst!”
End of the Line: James Lim
What did James do wrong? His demise came about through a healthy combination of luck and his own shortcomings. First, the swap wasn’t in his favor. Both in the minority of the first and second iterations of the tribes, he had some work to do in order to come out on top on this new tribe. Unfortunately for him, his life would have been a whole lot easier if he had done most of that work on his former tribe. During his debriefing session with Michael, James didn’t say “I saved Angela’s butt! She’s totally with me now; she’ll do whatever I say.” Instead, it was “I saved Angela. Hopefully she feels indebted to me. We still got a lot of work ahead of us.”
Work he did, and he seemed to be saying all of the right things, assuring Angela she wouldn’t be on the bottom of his alliance and he would never vote against her. Bringing up the idea of arbitrary tribe divisions and the importance of reaching across the aisle at tribal council was some especially good play on his part. Alas, it just wasn’t the right approach with his intended target. Whereas Kellyn seemed to hit the right emotional notes with Angela, James’ language appeared to be too formal and strategic, which simply didn’t appear to be what Angela was looking for at that moment.
While that formal approach may not have worked here in Survivor, it stands as a great representative of who James is. An extraordinarily strategic and driven person, with incredible posture, James has the makings of a really good player, and if he were to get another crack at it, I’m sure he would do a lot better. In addition to being hella’ smart, he seems like just an extremely classy and stand-up guy, from the way he owned up to his mistake in the second immunity challenge to his very gracious parting words, Terminator death glare notwithstanding. I’d be all for him springing into another season of Survivor in the near future.