Well, that escalated quickly.
Over the first three weeks, the slow burn of Heroes v Healers v Hustlers had its share of intrigue, but its focus seemed to centre more on laying out the pieces on the board. This week, however, we went into hyperdrive as a tribe swap, two advantages and the combustible personalities and gameplay of the castaways gave us a phenomenal episode to pick apart.
Survivor is a game where every little moment is an opportunity – every word, every action, every piece of information can be an advantage if employed effectively. One of the biggest weapons in the arsenal is knowledge. In this modern age of Survivor where Idols and Advantages lurk around every corner and in every corn chip, knowledge about those advantages – who has them, what they do and who knows about it – serves as powerful ammunition.
It’s fascinating that in the wake of an unprecedented three-to-three tribe swap, we saw all three tribes wheeling and dealing in secrets, weighing up what they knew and what they didn’t, what others might know or think, and trying to account for all those shifting details in order to find safety in a precarious time in the game.
THE ANGEL OR THE DEVIL?
With buffs dropped and tribes mixed up, the three new tribes of Levu, Soko, and Yawa were a fascinating blend of the former Heroes, Healers, and Hustlers. For the new Yawa, the situation looked ominous for Ben and Lauren, the sole representatives of their original tribes against a clear Healer majority with Cole, Jessica & Mike. Whether it was the cohesion of that majority out of the gate or just a compatible blend of no-nonsense and competitive personalities, Yawa dominated both challenges – including the Reward that unleashed chaos across multiple beaches.
Tucked into one of the bags of chips was another Secret Advantage. Like Ryan’s First Tribal Super Idol, this power was guaranteed to take effect at the very next Tribal and would allow the holder of the Advantage to block another player from casting a vote – which could make a massive difference on such small tribes. Thankfully, Jessica didn’t accidentally eat the Advantage when it turned up in her bag of chips, but perhaps that would have been the least of her problems.
Jessica is a fascinating character: bright and bubbly, but eager to play the game. Even with a showmance hovering dangerously beside her, she seems to have a clear-headed approach to strategy. In a secure majority with her number one ally still beside her, Jessica’s decision to share the knowledge of her Advantage with Cole and Mike should have been a slam-dunk. It would assure them security if they lost the next challenge, and they could utilise it to help their fellow Healers who were outnumbered on the opposing tribes. Bringing them in on the plan should have helped build trust – the only problem was that her number one ally Cole also happened to be the albatross around her neck.
From day dot, Cole has had a penchant for casually divulging private information. He told Joe where to find the Idol instead of bottling up that knowledge for himself, and then just last week, he told Jessica about the Idol, only to break rank and tell Roark as well. Even with this track record, I was flummoxed by Cole’s decision to take the information Jessica had shared with him privately, and then casually distribute it to Ben and Lauren, his ostensible adversaries. His reasoning seemed to be that he could use it to build trust – but it only served to fracture Jessica’s trust in him. Cole was right that knowledge is power – but if literally everybody has that knowledge, it loses all its advantages.
Fascinatingly, Cole wasn’t the only person to attempt to use somebody else’s secret to their own advantage. With Ben & Lauren now privy to this secret and baffled by Cole’s choice to share it with them, Lauren expertly used it to try to leverage it against the obvious pair in Cole & Jessica. By approaching Mike and revealing what she knew, she hoped that it would be new information for him and would thus plant distrust between him and his fellow Healers, perhaps loosening him up as a much-needed ally for her & Ben. It was a clever ploy from someone who is revealing herself more and more as a surprisingly adept player, and even though it didn’t work out exactly as she’d planned, it still had the desired effect of fracturing the Healer trio.
For Mike already knew about the advantage, but he dutifully reported what he’d heard to Jessica who was baffled. When she questioned Cole about whether he’d told Lauren, he denied it – only to sheepishly admit he’d “mentioned it to Ben.” Jessica was rightly beside herself at this half-truth. She had trusted Cole with very sensitive information, and he had betrayed her within 24 hours. At least when he’d blabbed about the Idol, it had been a situation where the secret had been his to share – in this case, he’d exploited his closest ally’s secret for absolutely no gain.
Jessica’s heart-broken confessional that followed where she questioned her own decisions and blamed herself was devastating, as she was not to blame here. She’d repaid Cole’s secret with one of her own, but he had not honoured her secret. Jessica is still learning the ropes of Survivor, but she’s clearly beginning to see Cole as a liability, as he has proven himself to be unreliable and untrustworthy on multiple occasions. The sooner she can take a page from Ali’s book and cut loose the dead weight, the better.
ARE YOU THINKING WHAT I’M THINKING?
While Yawa had devolved into a baffling game of Chinese Whispers about Jessica’s Advantage, it only served as a prelude for the mind games of knowledge and prediction that played out on Levu. It started out as a cut-and-dry battle between the Heroes Alan & Ashley and the Healers Desi & Joe over the loyalty of sole Hustler Devon. By the time they’d lost their second challenge and were on their way to Tribal, it was like that episode of Friends: The One Where They Don’t Know That You Know That They Know That We Know.
Out of the gate, most everybody seemed to be playing smart. Devon was using his clear position as the outsider to play swing vote. Despite her frustrations with Joe’s attitudes last week, Desi stuck with the devil she knew. Even Alan and Ashley, who had been caught in a cycle of distrust since the night of the Full Moon, put an end to that “last chapter” and agreed to work together for their mutual benefit. The only one on their own planet? Unsurprisingly, Joe.
Out of the gate, he lied to Devon about Alan & Ashley trying to vote him out. It wasn’t outlandish, but such a blatant lie was easy to disprove when Devon subsequently spoke to Ashley at the well. The extent of their “emotional connection” over a love of surfing may have been overstated, but between Ashley’s no-BS and genuine approach and Devon’s good BS-detector, the BS-generator that is Joe was immediately in hot water. So after alienating the swing vote, what was his next big move? Why not alienate the whole tribe?
With all five Levu players in camp, Joe aggressively lit a fuse by openly discussing the vote, playing coy to wind Alan up and ultimately throwing Ashley’s name out publicly. Joe’s brash behaviour in this circumstance was alarming – even keeping in mind his intention behind the chaos. Outnumbered, Joe knew his best hope was to play his Idol, but to do so he needed to assure that the votes would be coming his way and not Desi’s. By making a scene, he hoped to aggravate Alan, Ashley & Devon into targeting him. On the one hand, it was a clever ploy (and let’s note it now, one that actually paid off!). But on the other, it spooked his only ally Desi who rightfully questioned if he’d gone too far, stirring up trouble with so much confidence that their opponents would predict he had an Idol, thereby throwing her under the bus (again, let’s note that the majority did debate whether or not to take the shot at Desi instead).
What should have been a straight-forward vote became a guessing game as each side attempted to predict what the other side were thinking. Joe & Desi had the secret of an Idol in their arsenal, but Alan, Ashley & Devon had the suspicion of an Idol and that could be just as dangerous. Again, knowledge is power – and on Levu, nobody seemed to have enough information to make an easy decision.
As Tribal moved along, the divide became more apparent as Alan and Joe went head-to-head, but Alan and Ashley began to let their frustration with Joe show. Ashley noted that Joe’s behaviour (and accusations that she was the weakest) could affect his chances. Alan compared him to a man desperately clinging to the edge of a cliff, his fingers slipping one by one. Maybe that was what gave it away, for when the time came to vote, Joe confidently played his Idol for himself, negating the Heroes’ votes, whilst he and Desi pulled a fast one and threw their votes at Alan instead. Just as Desi & Joe weighed up which one of them was the target and which was the decoy, they threw out their own bait-and-switch. If you look at the results, Joe made chaos work in his favour and he pulled off the impossible. The only trouble now is that he’s shown his hand, painted a target on his back and now he doesn’t have an Idol as a safety net.
It was a shock to see Alan go out so suddenly after being the explosive centre of the premiere. Maybe there just wasn’t room in the tribe for two hot-headed alpha males. Compared to his first Tribal Council, Alan was almost subdued, compared to Joe’s motormouth answers at Tribal and his obnoxious Tony-channelling Idol celebrations. Nevertheless, it seemed as though Alan was just getting his Survivor legs under him as evidenced by his willingness to mend fences with his adversary Ashley. Was that just a marriage of convenience, or was it the start of a new Alan? The question will remain – what could have been?
THAT IS NOT AN ADVANTAGE
But let’s not breeze past the other big moment of Tribal Council, as Jessica’s Advantage came full circle, blocking Devon from voting. From Devon’s glee at finding the “advantage” in his bag and celebrating his secret admirer to then learning that the note was an attack against him – what an emotional roller-coaster. Ultimately, it didn’t affect the outcome, as Devon’s likely vote would have been negated by Joe’s Idol anyway, but was it the right decision for Jessica?
After the challenge, Jessica said she wanted to help the other Healers by causing as much disruption as possible. However, it seemed peculiar that she should have chosen to block Devon’s vote instead of either Alan’s or Ashley’s. Devon was in an obvious position to play as the swing vote, and if Devon had actually sided with the Healers, Jessica’s decision to block his vote could have caused the Healers to get caught in a tied vote which could have then led to a Healer being eliminated. On the other hand, blocking a Hero vote would have been a safer bet to increase the chances that the Healers would gain the upper hand. Her Healers survived, but seemingly in spite of Jessica’s interference – not because of it.
But perhaps her intention really was to cause havoc. She knew that Joe had an Idol, and maybe she hoped that blocking the swing vote would force him to burn it. That would have been a risky – but creative – call, and if that was her intention, it worked! Nevertheless, it’s difficult to weigh up the merit of Jessica’s decision without knowing the full story of her rationale.
Before we move on, though, I want to take a moment to reflect on the “Use Immediately” advantages that seem to be a recurring theme this season, between Ryan’s Super Idol and Jessica’s Vote Block. One of the most common twist suggestions is expiration dates for Idols, and it seems production has leaned into this idea and it’s made for some intriguing gameplay so far. By forcing the players to have to use the Advantages immediately, it means that these twists have more impact up front, rather than languishing in the background until they suddenly reappear to cause an upset.
But perhaps the most intriguing part of these short-term Advantages is that it’s forced cross-tribal relationships to begin to develop earlier. This complicates the dynamics of the season and opens the door for some exciting repercussions down the line.
SPEAKING OF WHICH…
The new Soko were a minor player this week, with Roark’s position as the lone Healer caught between Hustlers Ali & Ryan and Heroes Chrissy & JP being an analogous but less urgent dynamic compared to Levu’s tribe breakdown. But the big moment we did get to see was the payoff of the Super Idol, as Ryan finally got the opportunity to tell Chrissy that he was the one who had sent the Super Idol to her.
Naturally, Chrissy was flattered by what she perceived to be Ryan’s kindness, assessing that it clearly meant he wanted to work with her from the start and theorising that maybe it was because she reminded him of his mother. For both Ryan and Chrissy, this connection serves as a relaxant for the anxiety a tribe swap can bring, giving them a powerful bond in an uneasy time. Knowledge is power, and this shared secret could turn the tables in their favour down the line. But this is just the beginning…
IT’S NO SECRET
With three unique tribal dynamics in play, and conflict bubbling over in the claustrophobic tribes, the stage is set for more fireworks. We began quietly, but this week, it seems like the game has been blown wide open. Will Joe be able to escape the heat on Levu? Will Ryan and Chrissy take over Soko? Will the super-cute Cole & Jessica reach a messy break-up?
It’s no secret that I can’t wait to see what happens next week.
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