After the pure chaos that has been the run of episodes up until this week, the sudden lull into the somewhat calm and rational has left me on edge. Instead of staring at my bedroom ceiling wondering what was going on in [insert castaway name]’s head, it’s quite easy to understand wanting to stay in a majority alliance and voting out people who have previously targeted you.
The Brawn tribe is being run by the ladies. Aside from completing survival tasks around camp, they’re braiding bracelets and being scornful of Simon’s ego from afar. Hayley, who has taken centre stage as the most competent game player so far, decides she needs to find the cracks in the original Brawn tribe and focuses on Dani.
Dani has been spoken about more than we’ve seen her speaking for herself in this season, but I feel she has a lot to offer as a character. For one, being a female prison guard in an all-male prison must give her enough stories to dine out on for eternity. She’s clearly physically strong and seems to have mental fortitude in spades to back it up—except when it comes to Hayley.
Hayley has a brilliant ability to sense how to approach each individual to get the information she’s looking for: in the case of Dani, it’s being upfront and direct. Hayley asks straight up about when Dani is planning to get rid of Simon, and before you know it, Dani’s potential play (nicknamed the ‘Sandra Bullock’ after her starring role in The Blindside) is being explained to her. Hearing Dani’s strategy from her own mouth (to get close to the alpha, then take them out) is refreshing. Dani’s not just a pawn in Simon’s alliance; she’s got her own ideas and the ability to execute her plans. It’s a shame we only hear this snippet from Dani as part of a conversation that serves to highlight Hayley, but I’m glad to hear her rationale all the same.
Letters from home provide a much-needed pick-me-up for everyone. Baden has a very human moment as he weeps over a letter from his daughter. Andrew has a painting from his nephew. George has a letter that details the activities of his best friend (and pet dog) Dougie, and Hayley’s letter suggests there could be a proposal in the not-too-distant future. While the letters appeared spontaneously and didn’t tie into any game occasion (like a challenge win or the merge), they seemed to help the castaways and provide some dimension to those who have been hidden in the background.
Meanwhile, the Brains tribe’s “Big Five Alliance” is feeling secure, while stragglers Laura and Rachel are looking for any way to sway a vote their way. Rachel, who confesses her gameplay has been erratic and emotional up until this point, uses the unexpected letters from home to bolster herself to fight for her place.
The Big 5 alliance leader Emmett feels so strongly about getting to the merge and reuniting with the original Brawn tribe members. There’s no mention of the Brawn tribe divide that saw the Shannon vs. Simon showdown or that getting to the merge with all Brawns won’t help anyone get any further into the endgame; it’s just a one-goal plan to get original Brawn members to the merge.
Emmett, Gerald, and Kez all agree that Cara and George are only in the alliance “for now” and are expendable as soon as necessary. Emmett is even concerned enough about his former allies on the Brawns tribe being voted out that he will do whatever is necessary to keep them in—even throw a challenge to keep them away from Tribal Council.
There are arguments to be made for and against throwing a challenge but, to me at least, the most important thing in this game is that you don’t have all the information and you don’t know what might have changed on the other tribe. Emmett is assuming that his previous allies want to reconcile: for Simon, that seems likely, but we’ve seen some cracks in Dani’s loyalty, and Flick was never closely aligned with Emmett to begin with. For all Emmett knows, the original Brawns have been swept into a new unbreakable alliance with Hayley, Wai, and Andrew. And Emmett himself voted off an original Brawn the last time he was around the other tribe (sorry Shannon).
In the pre-merge portion of Survivor, it’s impossible to have all the information—having two tribes prohibits this and makes throwing challenges even riskier. Without all the information, all that Emmett is doing is placing himself in a precarious position by going back to Tribal again and again. Emmett might think he’s doing the right thing by trying to preserve his allies on the other tribe, but in reality, he is putting himself in the path of danger. There’s no point saving your allies if you’re not around to work with them.
Regardless, Emmett puts little to no effort into the challenge, and it’s a clean sweep for the Brawn tribe. Brains don’t even move past the first obstacle; it’s a very sorry showing. The writing on the wall is very clear to Rachel: if she doesn’t perform a miracle, then she (or Laura) are leaving the game. Last episode, Rachel tried to recruit Kez, and she lost Georgia. This episode, she’s going to take a leaf out of Hayley’s strategy book and find an argument to unite the original Brains despite the differences in personality.
Rachel appeals to George to work together and take a strong majority of original Brains tribe into the merge. It’s a decent argument, but it must be hard for George to appreciate it when Rachel has tried to vote him out of the game multiple times previously. George has already set up a split vote plan with the Big 5 (three votes on Rachel and two on Laura), where he is the crucial third vote for Rachel. Before his vote is accounted for, the current votes are spread equally across Rachel, Laura and Emmett, leaving himself in the power position with the choice to eliminate any of the three. George enjoys the power so much it’s almost a little scary, and he’s the kind of person who might swing his vote just to show he can.
Tribal is an awkward debate about the merits of staying in the Big 5 alliance or defecting to the Brains. Nobody is outwardly saying whose vote is up for grabs, but it’s like two businesses pitching to a vendor. Gerald seems convincing talking about the important role George and Cara play in their alliance, but Rachel points out that once she and Laura have gone then they are next in line to be picked off.
There’s merit to both sides but the emotional stability and security that the Big 5 alliance has offered George and Cara is an investment that pays off again and again in this game. While George might’ve fancied himself a power player, he won’t desert Cara or his position on the tribe (for the first time, he’s not on the bottom trying to claw his way up).
Apart from the challenge throwing, the episode was very traditional as far as Survivor goes—some characters had development, a challenge was played, targets identified, and votes cast. What happened to Macedonian Jesus? After an absurd run of idols and advantages, there hasn’t been mention of finding one for a while. All things are set to go back to this chaotic normal in the next episode as Simon reveals his idols to Dani and Chelsea, then the fallout begins. I’m so used to the insanity of this season that I might be offended if there are no blindsides planned for a whole week.