This week’s episode was all about contrast. With a merge looming on the horizon, the castaways found themselves grappling with how to prepare for the next phase of the game – and who they trusted to have their backs. On each of the three dwindling tribes, the question of ‘Which Ally?’ was a prominent one – and in a cast so diverse, the options to choose from were chalk and cheese.
On Levu, it was about weighing up the best approach to build trust. On Yawa, it was about selfishness, generosity, strength, and reliability. On Soko, it was about bad blood and bad reads. For everybody, it was do or die.
ENEMY OR FRIEND?
Ali saw an abrupt turn of fortune in this game. Having started off in a strong position on the Hustler beach with everybody wanting to work with her, she seemed primed for a deep run into the season. But then she got caught out at the swap, and everything came crashing down.
After being left out of the loop on the Roark vote, Ali was understandably frustrated with Ryan. She perceived him to be her closest ally, but he had isolated her and gone behind her back. Their heated argument in the wake of Tribal set them further at odds, with Ali confused and hurt by the betrayal and Ryan trying to explain his side, but having no success in assuring Ali she could still trust him. For these two Hustlers, it was not a good look. Post-Tribal arguments rarely help an outsider’s case, and Ali’s palpable distress only served to make her a bigger target in the small tribe. For Ryan, the biggest risk last week was how he would handle the damage control with Ali, and it did not get off to a great start as his attempts to explain only exacerbated and escalated her confusion.
One of Ryan’s primary strategic goals has been to win the trust of everybody on the beach and to cut out anybody who he perceived to be an enemy before they could get him. With their conflict, Ali was on her way to becoming an enemy for Ryan, and thus, a huge liability, and he needed to avoid that one of two ways: repairing the relationship or voting her out. Ultimately, after scoring another date with Jeff Probst at Tribal, Ryan approached Ali to apologise, and the two seemed to sweep the dispute under the rug. But could Ryan truly trust her moving forward? Right now, Ali clearly had no better choice than to work with him, but down the line, would she be a scorned enemy or a renewed friend?
BRAINS OR BRAWN?
With Ryan and Chrissy as the new nexus of power in the tribe, they found themselves in the position to take the easy road and pull out the loose thread in Ali – or make a pre-emptive strike against a physical threat in JP. JP has been a stone-silent presence throughout the season – and it’s not just been a trick of the editing. On the beach, his quiet game has concerned his tribemates and baffled Jeff, who teamed up with a clap of thunder to point out how JP’s answers said a lot by saying nothing. Seeming to speak only in vague and generic idioms – or about tri-tip salads and wood on a first date – JP is inscrutable. Impossible to read and difficult to connect with, his social anti-game coupled with his powerhouse determination and strength in challenges were beginning to raise a warning flag. With the merge around the corner, was it the right time to cut loose a challenge beast?
Knowing her neck was on the line, Ali did what she could to make that happen. In addition to agreeing to work with Ryan again, she approached Chrissy to bury the hatchet and build something new, promising new loyalty moving forward. It was worth the shot, but perhaps it was too little too late. Ultimately, the decision came down to Chrissy and Ryan as a unit. Which ally would serve as the biggest asset at the merge?
In one of the more significant editing red herrings of recent memory, the story seemed to hint that the tribe would actually take out the physical threat, only for it to be the obvious outsider all along. But was it the right choice for Chrissy and Ryan? Absolutely. As Ryan observed, Ali and JP were polar opposites. Ali was a well-rounded competitor with bad blood who had no reason to stick with them at the merge, whereas JP had only maxed out his strength when picking his stats, so could serve as a loyal soldier and a meat shield for physically weaker players like Ryan and Chrissy. Now, heading into the merge, the three-strong Soko can act as a reliable unit to navigate the tangle of interpersonal connections in what looks to be a chaotic merge.
SELFISH OR SELFLESS?
Yawa, meanwhile, continued to dominate. With strong, collaborative performances in the challenges, including gaming the system of the brilliant new Immunity challenge, there is a veneer of tribe compatibility. Back at the beach, though, it’s a different story.
Ben and Lauren still felt isolated amongst the Healers, and they needed numbers, seeing an opportunity with Mike. His likability appealed to them, and the three had an easy rapport of wiser minds compared to the love connection between Jessica and Cole. But the contrast between Mike’s and Cole’s approach to the game were night and day. Mike may have only caught a tiny fish and then dropped it in the fire while trying to cook it, but he shared it with his tribe. Cole, meanwhile, devoured whatever he could and his impetuous hanger reeked of selfishness. His short temper with Lauren when the tribe decided to skip a meal to save on rations and his arrogant assertion that he needed fuel because they wouldn’t win challenges without his strength was a very bad look. And it only got worse.
When Cole passed out suddenly in camp, the Healers came to the rescue, but it amplified the target on his back for an unexpected reason. While strongman JP was viewed as a threat on Soko, Yawa’s resident challenge beast, starved of the food to support his bulk, had become a physical liability. It was a fascinating turn of events, but one that emphatically underscored the importance of the social game. Cole’s selfish behaviour and obvious coupling with Jessica had turned the three older members of his tribe against him with such intensity that a health problem didn’t elicit any sympathy – it was like blood in the water.
Cole’s game is in trouble, particularly heading into the merge where his muscles and blatant showmance are going to draw the target simply for existing. The only question is whether the smarts of his only real ally will be enough to save him. Jessica mused that she wasn’t ready to play without Cole, but will her savvy be able to make up for his social gaffs, or will he be a monkey that she’ll need to get off of her back?
TRUST OR TRICKS?
Meanwhile, on Levu, the two-two split between Desi & Joe and Ashley & Devon began to shift as two different approaches to playing the game were highlighted. Ashley and Devon felt the tension of the even split and made their move to gain the upper hand through the old-fashioned way. Ashley approached Desi, feeling out if she would be open to voting against Joe, flipping to make a new alliance. Desi rightfully said yes in person, but even in confessional, she recognised that Joe posed a threat – she could trust him to a point, but only so far as he thought he could use her for his own game. He’s a significant threat and not the most reliable ally – it would make all the sense in the world for her to flip.
Joe, however, had no time for social politicking and continued to go all in on the aggressive, Idol-focused game he’s started. It’s a dangerous game – but he’s pulling it off. Even with Devon doing his best to keep his eagle eyes on his adversary, Joe tracked down the clue for the Hidden Immunity Idol, and after a glorious day-to-night shot, he snuck out in the dark to dig up his second Idol. Joe spoke of his motivation to win the million dollars to provide for his family and his approach to the game as a business trip. He’s all in, and he’s making it work so far – but can Idols alone get him all the way to the end? Advantages can be powerful tools, but they can never be a substitute for the social game.
OLD OR NEW?
With buffs dropped and newly adorned in purple, the twelve remaining castaways have made the merge – and the playing field is wide open. The unique 3-to-3-to-1 tribe swap schedule means that the castaways have fewer ties heading into this next phase of the game, which could lead to a dramatic few weeks as old alliances stick together or break apart to form new majorities.
Whilst I’ve enjoyed the old school character and narrative focus of the pre-merge of Heroes v Healers v Hustlers, I know the quiet pace and limited strategy hasn’t appealed to everyone. But all twelve of the remaining castaways have been given an origin story through these first six episodes. Now it’s time for the blockbuster cross-over event, and I have faith that we’re in for an exciting second half.
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