Survivor: Kaôh Rōng takes a necessary breather as it begins to set up the pieces for the final few episodes.
This season has been nothing short of unpredictable. Since the merge we have seen alliances shift, relationships break down, and thrilling tribal council vote-offs. It all started with the surprise medical evacuation of Neal Gottlieb; leaving the remaining Brains members as obvious vote fodder. However, what followed wasn’t a Brains slaughter. Instead, we saw the blindside of Nick Maiorano, the downfall of Debbie Wanner, and the delicious destruction of Scot Pollard and the Super Idol. This foot on the gas momentum was bound to slow down at some point, and this week was a rather more standard affair than the demolition derby that preceded it.
It was obvious from the very start that Kyle Jason and Julia Sokolowski were on the outs. Having watched his closest ally, and his idol, walk out of tribal council, Jason was scratching and clawing for a way back in. Julia was also out of the loop and on the wrong side of the numbers; her double-agent strategy finally exposed to all. By the end of the night it was clear that one of the two would be toast, and once the target landed on Julia, it only became a matter of how rather than who.
That is one of Survivor’s toughest challenges. Creating suspense out of the predictable. The editors gave a valiant effort to set up advantage-rich Tai Trang as the decoy boot. Using the close friendship of Julia and Michele Fitzgerald, and the former bond between Brawn members Jason and Cydney Gillon, the episode tried to offer an alternative to the obvious. But it never quite felt like a serious option. Cydney’s conversations with the outsiders were very non-committal, and her alliance with Aubry Bracco has always felt much stronger. The only realistic possibility was Michele voting with her Beauty bestie but given that even she voted against Julia, it demonstrated that the Tai option was never seriously considered.
That isn’t to say that this was a bad episode. Slow down episodes are often necessary for building the overall story. What this episode managed to do so well was highlight the various dynamics of the tribe and set up the pieces for what promises to be an exciting finish. It started at the reward when Michele cleverly used her social skills to work her way back into the majority after being left out of the previous vote. By correctly picking Aubry to join her and Cydney on their helicopter ride to paradise, it showed a game awareness that has boded well for Michele throughout her time in Kaôh Rōng. She was able to demonstrate her loyalty to the players running the game. But while it helped her survive this week, on paper Michele is still positioned on the bottom of the alliance, which could lead to some interesting maneuvering over the last three episodes. If her immunity challenge win proved anything, it showed that Michele knows how to work numbers.
The position of Jason is also very exciting. He is now the lone outsider and becomes less threatening as each vote passes, especially considering his unlikeliness to win a jury vote. That means he could become a very useful tool next week if someone in the majority wants to make a big move. Tai is also still in the spotlight given his idol and secret advantage. He may have been a decoy option this episode, but sooner than later he will become a serious blindside consideration. Aubry could also be in danger, as this episode made clear to focus on her tight partnership with Joe Del Campo. A five-person majority alliance with one powerless outsider is a recipe for bloodshed and blindsides.
While the elimination of Julia may have led to a slower paced episode, Survivor: Kaôh Rōng’s strength remains in its characters and the interesting game dynamics. If this season has taught us anything, we should expect this to be a short pit-stop before we go full throttle towards the finish line.