A much-needed tribe swap shakes up Survivor: Kaôh Rōng and brings about some interesting new dynamics.
After last week’s scary medical situation, and the uncomfortable elimination of Alecia Holden, Survivor: Kaôh Rōng was in desperate need of a shake-up to wash away the bad taste. Thankfully, the tribe swap this episode provided the perfect palate cleanser. While it didn’t quite bring back the fun and frolic of those first three episodes, it did give us two interesting new tribe formations and a solid episode of alliance building and strategy.
The episode wasted little time getting to the switch, only stopping in on the Brains tribe for a cursory idol search by Neal Gottlieb. Before we knew it, the three tribes were stood in front of Jeff Probst, who shoved a platter of wrapped buffs in their faces, like an overeager server at a wedding reception. Due to Caleb Reynold’s evacuation in the previous episode, the originally planned swap at 14 was now at an odd-numbered 13. It still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense why they didn’t just cancel last week’s vote-off, much like in Survivor: Samoa after Russell Swan was evacuated, and go ahead with the original 14 person swap. Not only would it have kept the schedule on track but it would have provided the exciting possibility of Alecia seeking revenge on Kyle Jason and Scot Pollard.
Instead, Survivor decided to add a twist to this season’s swap. The unlucky person who picked the lone red buff would be sent to the former Brawn beach, alone, to fend for themselves for the next three days. The advantage was that this person would be immune from the next vote-off and would join the losing tribe after the next tribal council. It’s a twist Survivor has used to great effect in the past, perhaps most significantly in Survivor: Gabon when the members of both tribes had to rank themselves in order of importance, leaving Jessica “Sugar” Kiper unpicked; resulting in her return to Exile. However, the “Sugar Shack” seemed like five-star accommodation compared to the ToTang beach (also known as the Angkor beach; home to broken dreams and broken toes). Julia Sokolowski, the victim of the red buff and the youngest Survivor player ever, became the lone inhabitant of ToTang. She was shown clearly struggling with the elements. But even more than that she was worried about missing out on forming new bonds and alliances.
Julia was right to be worried because new bonds and alliances were quickly taking shape on the new Chanloh and Gondol tribes. The new Chanloh tribe had a pair each from Brains, Brawn, and Beauty. Debbie Wanner, jack of all trades, mastermind of Kaoh Rong, was quick to get things moving both physically and mentally. In between sets of pull-ups (let’s hope she releases a home fitness DVD after the season), Debbie was pulling in allies to join her and Neal, namely the former Brawn pair of Cydney Gillon and Jason. Meanwhile, Nick Maiorano was trying to do the same thing for himself and his former Beauty tribe-member Michele Fitzgerald, who was commiserating the separation of the Beauty girls alliance. Why the Brawn members were such sought after despite losing three out of four challenges was baffling, but regardless, they found themselves in the perfect position with options on either side.
The other former Brawn tribe-member, Scot Pollard, was in an equally strong position on the new Gondol tribe. Even though he was the only Brawn against three Brains and two Beauties, his impartiality made him a desired number of the battling alliances. He quickly fit into Caleb’s old spot as Tai Trang’s bromance buddy and was also the object of desire for the Brains, who wanted to remove a former Beauty and remain in the majority; knowing that Julia would be joining their tribe should they lose the next immunity challenge. Anna Khait was the most in danger post-swap. She had gone all-in way before it was necessary, throwing Tai under the bus and making everyone aware that he potentially had the idol. Anna’s moves only helped to paint a bigger target on her back, and after Gondol lost the immunity challenge, no amount of talking or boob-squeezing could save her.
What was interesting here, and what made this tribe swap so successful, was the added element of the combo-idols. This season’s twist of combining two idols to make a super idol is a little convoluted, but in this episode, it added yet another layer to the strategy. After teasing the idea of blindsiding Dr. Peter Baggenstos, Tai revealed his idol to Anna and Scot. The plan to blindside Peter with an idol was a tasty one, but Scot showed some game savviness when he realized that he now knew the whereabouts of two idols, and they were both in the hands of his allies. If he makes it to the merge with Tai and Jason, both with idols intact, that is a potentially impenetrable alliance. Scot being able to convince Tai not to use the idol, and instead just letting Anna go, was a smart move with potential long-term benefits.
While the tribal council was rather anticlimactic, and the humor lacking, this episode introduced some interesting new alliances and tribal dynamics. Last week, everybody was dying, but this week showed that there’s still life in Survivor: Kaôh Rōng yet.