Welcome back on the trail everybody! Coming into this episode, I was a little worried that it could have been a ho-hum affair with a straightforward vote, so I was very pleased when it swerved at the end in a way I didn’t expect. Plus, there were relics, steaks, and flag burnings galore! Without further ado, let’s hit the road!
Fork: Pain in the Ass or Player in My Pocket?
Last week, I glibly suggested that, while a vote on the new Naviti tribe almost assuredly would result in Donathan or Libby going out, Bradley could screw up socially so badly that he could be voted out, never really believing it would happen. So, color me surprised to see that idea come to fruition and Bradley’s torch being snuffed, seemingly because the social faux pas continued to pile up on one another until they were too much to handle. What caught me off guard about the decision was I didn’t expect such an old-school mentality to take precedent. Each member of Naviti is looking at this decision from a different angle, so let’s go through each of them to see if it was truly the wrong decision.
Domenick was presented to the audience as the face of this move, and it makes sense. He’s the next in a long line of stocky, aggressive, players, sometimes bald, sometimes hailing from the East Coast, and he’s already shown a desire to play big and outside-of-the-box – which was why getting rid of Bradley was so surprising from his perspective. From Domenick’s point of view, Bradley is a great ally to have, somebody who actively wants to play with him and has been nothing but loyal to Domenick so far. Plus his dickishness makes him an ideal shield for Domenick after the merge, drawing all of the heat onto Bradley while he moves as he pleases in the background. Furthermore, the other target up for elimination, Libby, was somebody who had already betrayed Domenick once before, back at the Morgan vote. All of the evidence lined up before him suggested to keep Bradley, yet Domenick chose to eliminate him instead.
Maybe by eliminating Bradley, Domenick further cemented Donathan and Libby’s loyalty as soldiers in his upcoming battle against Chris. Maybe he just wanted to make a big move. Perhaps he simply couldn’t take Bradley’s patronizing comments anymore. Whatever the reason, what is true is that Domenick has made the game just a little bit harder for himself, which is bad news for him but good news for us at home. What could have been a peaceful coming together between Domenick, Bradley and Kellyn is now going to be all kinds of messy. Kellyn is not going to be too happy that Domenick eliminated one of her closest allies, and she has a nice little faction herself that could swing the tide in the great Domenick vs. Chris war. Domenick may have made a questionable decision this week, but what’s unquestionable is the good TV we at home are sure to get because of this move in the weeks to come.
Domenick’s right-hand person in the decision making this episode seemed to be Chelsea, somebody who has been with Bradley the entire game so far. Because of that fact, it seemed like a reasonable assumption that the two of them would be on the same page heading into this vote. Yet, once Bradley was voted out, I realized, much like Michael’s hidden role in the James vote last week, Chelsea must have played a much more important part in this decision than originally presented. Chelsea’s one-on-one relationship with Bradley hadn’t been featured on the show that much (along with the rest of Chelsea), so I thought it was possible that Chelsea and Bradley weren’t all that close, and were only “together” after they were thrust into an alliance after landing on Malolo 2.0. A lot of my suspicions were confirmed during Bradley’s exit press, where their distrust of each other goes back all the way to the first days of original Naviti. Based on the way Bradley tells it, Chelsea had been looking for an opportunity to get rid of him for a long time. From a storytelling perspective, it’s frustrating that we don’t get that piece to help us understand the full story, but Chelsea’s absence speaks to an eternal truth of Survivor: some players are just more dynamic screen presences than others, and will always factor into the overall narrative of the show more often. For players like Chelsea, they will have to contend with being history’s forgotten heroes, sitting and scheming on the beach while other players take their glory.
As for the last two players involved in the vote, Donathan and Libby, this was a really easy vote for them: either vote out Bradley or its one of their butts on the chopping block. While they weren’t shown in any significant conversations trying to persuade Domenick or Chelsea to keep them, both were no doubt still in the ears of the other two, watering any anti-Bradley seeds to make sure they fully blossomed. Also, after having made fast friends with Morgan before having to vote her off, it’s possible that Libby hit it off with Chelsea right away as well, pulling her even more so to her side. Libby also made a really great point at Tribal Council, talking about how her loyalty to her first alliance could just as easily be transferred to a new alliance that would be willing to take her in. The two OG Malolo members seemingly had the toughest job this week but managed to stay out of the crosshairs for now, and with the merge coming next week, may live to see the light of day for a couple more weeks.
Fork: Another Role of the Dice
Once Kellyn was selected to make a return trip to Ghost Island, I bet production was sweating just a little bit, hoping this visit wouldn’t be a repeat of the last one. Thankfully she indulged in the Ghost Island Game of Chance this time around. Granted, the odds increased in her favor, going from a 50/50 chance to a 2/3 chance of getting some kind of power, which gave her all the more reason to “risk it for the biscuit.” Losing a vote in a 3-1 majority tribe is a lot more palatable a scenario than in a 5-4 majority. As she said, the merge is coming soon, so now’s the time to stock up on as much ammo as you can before the war ahead, as we saw other players do as well (more on that in a bit). As I mentioned earlier, now that Bradley’s been voted out, Kellyn’s group is a little more up for grabs. Angela may go back to Chris, but Kellyn, Desiree and Michael could go that way as well depending on how well Domenick is at damage control. Things could be explosive next week, and as we saw this episode, Kellyn is ready to go BOOM.
Fork: Burn Baby Burn
This wasn’t a strategic decision so much as a spiritual one. The Malolo tribe’s decision to burn their tribe flag shows just how much these players are engaged with this season’s theme of reversing curses or, as Desiree put it, getting rid of some “bad juju.” Jeff’s constant invocations of bad decisions and past mistakes is probably weighing on these players minds when they’ve got nothing but time to think about these things, so I’m not surprised that this group thought that burning the flag would be a good idea to get them out of their funk. Who knows if the Survivor Gods actually answered their sacrifice and lifted the hex that was bestowed upon the Malolo tribe; it made for a fun moment though, especially when they won the next immunity challenge. All I know is that, in a season meant to tie in the mighty gods of Survivor, I was happy to see them continue to play a role in the season.
Fork: Island Treasure Hunt
Both Michael and Wendell had the luck of the Survivor Gods on their side by finding Hidden Immunity Idols this week, so I’m grouping them together here. What’s interesting is that both guys took almost opposite approaches to finding them. Michael, who’s on the bottom and knows it, took a more brazen approach and searched out in the open, not really caring if he was being followed or not. Wendell, on the other hand, specifically waited until the rest of his tribe was in a food coma before going off and finding his own idol. Both approaches worked for both guys, which speaks to how situational the game of Survivor is, and how taking wildly different paths can sometimes lead to the same destination.
While I’m touching upon the idols, let me take a moment to geek out about all of the Survivor relics that we saw this week. After seeing all of those fun flashes to the past the first few episodes, I’ve been a little bummed that we hadn’t seen anymore the last few weeks, so seeing all of these classic Survivor artifacts flood into the game definitely scratched that itch for me. The two items from Survivor: Micronesia were especially thrilling to see, considering they’re maybe the two most famous relics in Survivor History. I strongly suspected the F***ing Stick would make an appearance this season, so I was amused but not surprised to see it turn up. But I definitely got some goosebumps when Wendell uncovered Erik’s immunity necklace, both because of the really bad juju surrounding it and because I didn’t expect to see it surface as an in-game item.
The back stories these items have about living on Ghost Island and maturing into full-fledged Hidden Immunity Idols may be a little hokey, but in a charming and harmless way, and I like that the producers are having fun with the narrative aspect of the Ghost Island premise. As for Sarah’s vote steal advantage from Survivor: Game Changers, the show really yadda yadda’d over Cirie’s involvement in the whole debacle and really emphasized Michaela’s blunder of not picking it up in the first place, which is fine, the more pristine Cirie’s reputation is kept the better. This episode certainly gave me my full of classic relics for the next couple of episodes, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not eagerly anticipating the next Survivor flashback.
Great little editing moment when Angela calls Michael “James” by mistake. I’m glad, in an age when the show is mostly all blindsides and big moves, that they can still include funny little moments like that.
Michael’s dive off that platform was simply majestic. I see one having a long gif life.
The Yanuya tribe signing Happy Birthday to Wendell’s girlfriend Nicole was very sweet, but it got me thinking, if I were ever to play Survivor, I wouldn’t lie about when my birthday was, like we’ve seen other players do (*cough COCHRAN cough*), but I’d lie about when my loved one’s birthdays were. That way, I can share some of my own family life with the other tribe members, making them feel that much more connected to me. I’d only throw out 2-3 though; anything more would be too suspicious.
End of the Line: Bradley Kleihege
What did Bradley do wrong? Well, he was a huge dick, so his tribe voted him out. Case closed.
In all seriousness, Bradley’s exit is probably much more nuanced than he was merely difficult to be around. Again, referring to Bradley’s exit press, he believes that he was perceived as a much bigger threat in the game and a worthy person to take out right before the merge for somebody like Domenick, for fear that he could have been a scheming thorn in Domenick’s side later on down the road. So, was he too much of a threat or too much of dick? The answer obviously lies somewhere in between.
Bradley’s dismissal from the game is a great example of how so many different smaller things can compound on each other to make the decision to send somebody out a viable and comfortable one. He carried himself as a smart guy who has some strategic prowess (“squalor” is a snooty intellectual word if I ever heard one). His draw at the second swap put him on a tribe with somebody he didn’t have a great relationship with (Chelsea), and he couldn’t stop himself from some pretty patronizing behavior (no grown adult likes to be clapped at like Donathan was). In isolation, any of these things could have been problematic, but not game ending; put them all together, and Bradley’s torch was snuffed after 19 days on the island.
Oh, but what a fun 19 days they were with him. Last week I had hoped that Bradley at least made it to the jury, thinking he had the potential for some great reaction faces sitting on the jury bench, but to see him go out in (presumably) the last pre-jury spot is perhaps a little more fitting, at least from a narrative point of view. His story is neatly contained within the seven pre-merge episodes of the season and perfectly told. He starts by sitting out the two-hour premiere, after which the audience is introduced to Bradley the Complainer in the third episode, which morphs into Bradley the Boston Rob/Kim Spradlin wannabe in the fourth. After a brush with death at the Brendan vote, he continues to ride high, coming home to the Naviti camp after the second tribe swap thinking his game couldn’t be going any better. Then, assuredly thinking its all smooth sailing until the merge, he gets cut down, giving the audience the comeuppance they have so patiently been waiting for.
Along the journey, Bradley established himself as one of the most fun to hate characters the show has seen in seasons, his confessionals dripping with cockiness and slight condescension, thinking he had the makings to be the next Survivor great. While he did not play the dominant game he was hoping to play, Bradley still made his mark on the season. If there ever is a Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains 2, here’s hoping Bradley’s ticket is punched for entry to the island.
That’s it for this week, see you guys out on the trail next week!