Welcome back on the trail everybody! After last week’s thrilling episode, this week’s offering was a solid follow-up. There were tacos! Sea slugs! A f***ing stick! Everything you could ever hope for in an ideal post-merge episode of Survivor. Without further ado, let’s hit the road!
Fork: Pulling at the Seams
Let’s start with Michael, the guy who should have gone home if not for a clutch idol play. Coming into this week, it was clear he was at the bottom of the totem pole, an original Malolo who could win challenges and a known idol-finder. His job was to do what most people on the bottom have to do: find any cracks within the majority and break them wide open. Luckily for him, all of these tribe swaps have jumbled alliances enough where there’s a subtle divide within the larger original Naviti group. On one side is Kellyn and her female OG Naviti cohorts, the side that Michael has the stronger ties with; on the other side, Domenick and Wendell, along with his fellow original Malolos Laurel and Donathan. Deciding what path to take is the task that lies ahead of him.
So, what does he do? Well, he tries going down the Kellyn road at first, but not going to her directly, smartly recognizing that Ms. Naviti Strong would not be on board with any anti Dom and Wendell plan he floats. Instead, he chats up Angela, pitching to her that now is the time to take out Wendell. But Angela blabs to Kellyn and then continues to drag Michael’s name through the mud to anybody who would listen. After that plan blows up in his face, he turns to plan B, pursuing Laurel and Donathan’s votes, hoping they would turn their backs on Dom/Wendell to join up with him. Obviously, that didn’t work either, as his former Malolo buddies, in addition to everybody else in the game, got in on the split vote plan between him and Libby.
Since neither of those routes worked, I propose a different option. Michael had the right idea going to Kellyn and her crew to try to make something happen; he just needed to shift the target. He had been playing a bit of a mercenary game up to this point, throwing former Malolos like Stephanie and James into the fire; so, now was the time to shift the target to Laurel or Donathan and float that option to Kellyn. That plan aligns up more with what she’s looking for, offering up an OG Malolo while weakening Dom/Wendell’s power base in the process. Outside of that plan, the only other option really worth exploring is letting Libby and Jenna in on his idol, but I don’t blame him for keeping that one close to the chest. As the Ben Bomb showed us, a well-timed secret idol can be mighty effective.
Fork: Old Friends or New?
Laurel and Donathan were positioned as the fulcrum players this week, debating whether they should stick by their new buddies Dom and Wendell, or turning their backs on them by jumping on board with Michael. Ultimately, this decision came down to timing, something simple in concept but difficult to master in Survivor. With 11 players still left after this vote, there’s still a tough road to hoe between now and the end, so right now, the objective is to create as few problems as possible. Sure, while Michael might be genuine in his desire to work with the duo, following his plan and voting out Wendell is only going to anger Domenick, who might shift his crosshairs over to the two of them, and Michael might not provide enough cover to endure the ensuing fire. Better for them to just not rock the boat and roll with the two guys they’ve been playing with recently. Especially when they’re starting to emerge as frontrunners now that Chris is gone, Dom and Wendell are excellent players for Laurel and Donathan to hide behind.
It is important, however, that they’re aware of how dangerous Dom and Wendell are starting to become, as evidenced by that Laurel/Wendell conversation. That talk showed just how tricky the tightrope of alliance management can be to navigate. Wendell initiated the convo because he felt some weird vibes from Laurel. So, being the good social player that he is, he decided to shore up that relationship, stressing how he was “1000%” with her, even divulging the existence of his hidden immunity idol. Yet Laurel seemed almost insulted that Wendell was even questioning her loyalty, and was definitely perturbed that he didn’t share the knowledge of his idol earlier.
What intended to be a good-natured moment of trust-building by Wendell only further fueled Laurel’s suspicion she had about him. For now, the alliance held, but I wouldn’t be surprised that the time to make a move against Wendell or Dom comes within the next two votes, especially because Laurel now knows both of those guys possess idols, something she only knows because Wendell genuinely wanted to strengthen his relationship with her. While he walked away from that discussion feeling good, despite evidence to the contrary, the ball is now in Wendell’s court to see if he’s really in tune with his relationships and can fend off any potential revolt down the line.
Fork: Create a Little Chaos
What a coming out party this week was for Angela. Chris’ dismissal seems to have breathed new life into her, having been set free from one of the most polarizing members of the tribe. Her first move in this new, post-Chris world was to set up “the battle of all battles,” which basically amounted to turning the entire group against Michael. Stoking the flames of conflict can be a high-risk move, but can be pulled off if the fire-stoker can find cover in the crossfire, which Angela seems to have now that Chris is gone. While it didn’t appear that she actually changed the power structure of Lavita, the one positive thing Angela did accomplish by stirring the pot was making everybody that much more emotionally invested in the plot to get Michael out. Whipping everybody into a frenzy to get out a big threat like Michael means that Angela can further dig herself down into the trenches, and now that Michael played an idol to save himself, she can continue to hang out while all of the people on the front lines take each other out.
What a great piece of business Angela’s performance at the immunity challenge was. The gross food eating challenge is already a Survivor classic, but watching her movin’ and groovin’ as she conquered each dish that was laid out before her was simply delightful.
Jeff bringing up the new Final Tribal Council format is noteworthy. Since this is the first group to play after watching the first run during Survivor: Game Changers, it makes sense that he’s now casually bringing it up during regular Tribal Council discussion.
Sebastian referring himself as a “Fishing entrepreneur” is definitely making his job seem more impressive than it is, but it’s a wonderful Sea Bass-ism all the same.
Finally, after ten long years, the F***ing stick gets to live out its dream of being a real hidden immunity idol, and Jeff’s delivery of the stick’s reveal was absolutely perfect. Just another example of why Probst is the best in the reality TV game.
End of the Line: Libby Vincek
What did Libby do wrong? Ever since her time on Naviti 2.0, Libby seemed to always be in the mix for the vote, hovering above the bottom and never managing to climb out of that hole. While she appeared to have some solid alliances, she was more of a follower than a leader, looking to forward-thinking players to make moves with, like James at the Morgan vote or Michael at this vote. Her sweet, Southern Belle disposition combined with her shaky spot in the power structure made her an ideal decoy boot at the last three Tribal Councils she attended, but whenever there is an idol in play, the decoy boot can quickly become the main boot.
For her part, she did the best with the information she had; with no knowledge of Michael’s idol, it made sense for her to just jump on the majority bandwagon to ensure her safety, especially when Donathan may have clued her in that he and Laurel were not jumping on board with Michael’s plan. Unfortunately for Libby, Michael’s idol sense was tingling, which signaled bad news for her. As Angela wisely said, once the target sticks to somebody, it’s very hard to get rid of it, and this was the episode where the shot finally connected.
That’s it for this week, see you guys out on the trail next week!