Recap in Brief
Fresh off of Taylor’s vote, Vinaka returned to camp hoping for a drama free next few days. Instead, paranoia ran rampant, with Jay’s idol becoming public knowledge and the two groups of Gen Xers mobilizing troops to blindside the other. Reward gave us the return of drunken Bret, who bonded with Zeke. In an endurance challenge, David held out to win immunity. After gaining the swing votes of Zeke and Will, David’s side won out, saving Jess and a surprised Chris was voted out 7-4.
The second hour of the episode kept the intensity up, immediately pitting David and Zeke against each other, thanks to Bret’s intentionally loose lips. Random chance gifted David a reward, also joined by Bret and Zeke, whose drinking buddy friendship escalated when Bret came out. With his back against a wall, Jay won immunity, sending everyone else into scramble-mode. A high-strung tribal had David play his idol incorrectly on Ken, setting up a deadlock vote between Hannah and Zeke. Without a unanimous consensus, Bret, Sunday, Will, David, Jessica, and Adam drew rocks, with Jessica choosing the black rock.
Two-hour episodes have proven to be incredibly dramatic and eventful (“Hot Girl with a Grudge”) or incredibly blasé (the Whitney/Dawn South Pacific episode). Walking into this episode, I was fully prepared for the latter, expecting to see Will and Jay go back-to-back. Instead, “Million Dollar Gamble” proved to be one of the best episodes in recent memory.
Jay has an idol
Idols have been everywhere this season, with an idol found at Vanua, Takali (x2), and Ikabula. Apart from Adam, idol possession (or any other twist) hasn’t been kept secret. I also say that remembering full well Hannah’s presence in Adam’s idol hunt. So, when Will uses his knowledge of Jay’s idol as a tool to build some credibility in the first hour, I wasn’t too surprised. Frankly, I think that making that information public played out well in both of their favors, as the idol created additional paranoia causing enough traction to make votes that didn’t require an idol play to save Jay. Will telling Zeke seemed to be the best disclosure strategy too, as they retain the former Ikabula trust and work on winning back the Millennials.
In hindsight, you might forget it, but there were actually three instances of drawing rocks in this episode. While far less consequential, the first case caused Jay to miss out on playing a reward challenge, where the second gave David an automatic reward. In the grand scheme of things, I found myself perplexed as to how Probst didn’t note this in reference to the season’s theme, where the Millennial didn’t get a chance to earn their reward, but the Gen Xer got a free handout.
David, whose swimming ability rivals CeCe and Sandra Diaz-Twine, was also put on full display, as he was convinced away from a self-induced sit out. Again, the situations that give a chance to bring the theme to light again are either incredibly drawn out or entirely glazed over.
This season, many contestants have backstories that weren’t made to be the focus of their edit. For example, Sunday is a breast cancer survivor but has been played up 100% as the maternal character with no mention of that fact. Likely due to her short stay, Rachel’s powerful story about her family was also not discussed. Bret’s sexuality has also been a non-factor, which I laud CBS for not making it the focus of a player’s persona.
Thanks to this, we saw one of the most potent scenes this season, where Bret and Zeke’s relationship progressed further than drinking buddies, as Bret shared his sexuality with Zeke. This, folks, is an excellent representation of a right situation to talk about the theme. While I don’t believe that this information will make a negligible strategic impact, other than cementing the Zeke/Bret bond a little more, it is nice to see complex characters highlighted.
Early in the season, Hannah’s paranoia and neuroticism were on full display, as well as her affinity for “puppies and butts.” Hannah has proven to be a bit of a rag doll this season, always falling in between alliances and as the swing vote. Not much has changed in an extra 3-4 weeks on the island, as Hannah has proven to be a critical vote in many tribals.
Hannah’s coining of the term “Trust Cluster” is incredibly indicative of how she’s playing the game – remaining loyal to those who reciprocate, but also reserving the right to deviate in order to fry a bigger fish. Like the lifespan of the term “Trust Cluster,” Hannah’s game will unfortunately not be regarded in high esteem up to this point. Keep an eye on her gameplay, however, as Hannah’s “fast and loose” style give her multiple options to remain alive, especially with the old Ikabula continuing to survive. Could that five rejoin and take over as the majority?
In the Crosshairs
After Michelle and Taylor had been voted out after the merge, it was no secret that Jay, the final remaining member of the Triforce, and Will, were in hot water. The crosshairs were clearly on “Peruvian Ozzy,” a situation that has propelled many to Survivor glory (see Mike Holloway). Armed with the security blanket of having an idol, Jay’s game quickly moves to what I view as “individual plus.” In this situation, you can work with people to try and get back on top, but you’ll always be seen as target numero uno. Without Sunday’s rogue confessionals and screentime showing their bond, I’d all but write Jay off being the man out at nine people left. With Chris (Bret’s closest ally) being gone, I would be very surprised if Ikabula didn’t come back into prominence.
Rock On – Part II
The second tribal council this episode was sheer pandemonium, eventually landing in a place few castaways have gone before – rocks. The ability to create a unanimous decision has frequently proven impossible, but not many have been ready to put their fate in the game to random chance/fate. Rocks have been in play twice before (Marquesas and Blood vs. Water), but I also consider the Carl/Lindsay trivia challenge from Survivor: Africa in the same vain – neither had votes, and the rules were different at that point.
Being willing to make yourself vulnerable without votes is an INCREDIBLY risky maneuver and, frankly, one that I would never do. This is likely why I haven’t been on the first 33 seasons and won’t be on a future one. This situation is a massively double-edged sword, as you either seem disloyal to your group or put yourself at risk. Neither is a solid “win,” but I always tend to view the best path as the one that guarantees your safety to the next day, which would have been flipping to vote Hannah.
In Jessica’s case, I think flipping would have been her best move, as neither David nor Ken would trust her any less and the three, arguably the tightest three in the game, would remain together. Interestingly, it’s the person who pulls the rock first that goes home, the same as when Katie Collins pulled her unlucky rock (Paschal pulled it last). So, for future skeptical castaways, stats show that you want to be in the middle of the order.
Lega-see you later
Outside of the first episode, Jessica didn’t get her fair share of screentime this season. Now I’m not advocating that Purple Kelly should have gotten the same amount of confessionals as Jane or NaOnka, but there has to be a check-in every once in a while to keep our minds on certain things. The perfect example of this is the Legacy Advantage, where it was only talked about in the first episode and then became a moot point. This has been the first real mistake in the edit if you ask me.
Without a mention of the Legacy Advantage in an episode, I assumed that Jessica would be safe (even if her name was on the block like the Lucy idol vote). When the Legacy Advantage was mentioned in the onset and the episode, it all but confirmed her exit for me. I was a bit surprised when it was Chris and not Jessica at first, but then the rocks situation played out fairly obviously.
After Jessica was voted out, she willed the advantage to Ken, who raked in the free handouts this episode. I really would have loved to see the edit flesh out the relationship between David, Jessica, and Ken more evenly, but it still was fun to watch their rise to power. Now will we see their fall? Or can David and Ken mount another comeback?