As a messy merge week reaches a messy conclusion, Brains v Brawn enters its self-labeled endgame not with a brilliant applause but with an exhausted groan. After such a crazy pre-merge, driven largely by the crazy choices made by crazy players despite the bountiful amount of idols and advantages, this post-merge jumped into the deep end of the twist pool right off the bat, dragging this season’s relatively smooth pacing to a screeching halt.
But it wasn’t a completely disappointing week. The machinations of Hayley’s scramble to survive provided a good underdog story. George’s rise to power as a double agent provided a good villain. And Dani and Emmett’s hesitancy to trust either brainy power player provided some solid tension despite the predictable eliminations they ultimately decided on.
Following the previous night’s convoluted Tribal Council, Baden arrives at Redemption Rock, a beautiful oasis in the shadow of a massive gorge. Even though we can all give the twist a thumbs down, we have to give production a thumbs up for choosing such a breathtaking location even if we’ll only see it in all its glory for a couple minutes this episode and likely never again.
Speaking of things barely being shown on screen, Chelsea was evacuated off-screen for a 24-hour medical check-up after Tribal Council, leaving us with ten players left in the main game. And by the end of the episode, Chelsea is deemed unfit to continue due to an ear infection and a loss of balance. As tragic as it is for anyone to have to leave the game for medical reasons, be it temporarily or permanently, it’s ironically and sadly fitting to have the least visible player in the season go home completely off-screen with no final words or even an appearance in their boot episode.
The editors essentially pretended Chelsea didn’t exist after the first week, with her only notable moment since her intro package being her phone call home which was getting shown no matter what. I’m not going to say she needed a big hero edit as she was largely a bystander to most of the season’s major events, but to completely ignore her as a player and a character, likely because of how her unfortunate elimination played out?
It just has an air of uncomfortable disrespect about it, as if they found an easy excuse to fill one of the usual purple edit slots and expected nobody would notice nor care as long as they kept Chelsea as underdeveloped as possible. Why not give her a little content here and there? They already air dozens of similar confessionals from Hayley, George, and Emmett, so slipping Chelsea a few would only help flesh out the cast and the narrative being sold to us at home.
But as JLP says, the game moves on. After cutting Baden loose and giving Hayley another chance as a double agent for the OG Brawns, Dani has buyer’s remorse. She fears Hayley’s cunning strategic skills are going to be a continuous threat, as well as doubting her honesty when it comes to spilling secrets about George’s plotting. After all, Hayley burned her at the final pre-merge vote, so she has no reason to believe a word Hayley says should she feel uneasy.
And speaking of King George, back to plotting he goes, telling the Brains about Flick’s hand-me-down idol to keep a delicate balancing act between both sides of the simmering Fire Tribe. His only true loyalty is to Cara, who I assume will be his assured final two partner given her less than stunning track record in the gam. But he’s walking on a thin tightrope with Hayley aiming to dethrone him, or at least deprive him of his power for the time being. Should he reach the end, he’ll be a massive threat. But he’s put himself in a dangerous position and the facade is fading fast.
Emmett, wanting to get to the bottom of the rumor mill and sort out fact and fiction, confronts George about the double agent rumors. George keeps his cool, makes the common sense move and just lies. His plan? If Hayley wants to throw him under the bus, he’ll throw her under his bigger bus and make sure she can’t claw her way through the alliance’s cracks. All George needs to do is convince his alliance that Hayley’s just stirring the pot to save herself and should be ignored, but the reception is mixed.
George hasn’t earned complete trust with the Brawns, but as long as he’s willing to vote with them, he’s worth keeping around. He’s not masterminding much of anything at the moment despite his barrage of confident confessionals, but he’s surviving, and for a scrappy cockroach player who refuses to go home, he could be in a way worse spot.
After a slow, steady, yet dominant immunity win by Emmett, his third in a row, Hayley’s once again playing hard to survive. Her best defense is a strong offense. As George rallies the other Brains to vote her out unanimously now that Chelsea’s absence has prevented a split vote, Hayley spills more beans to the Brawns, telling Flick and Gerald about George’s double agent strategy with the hope of turning the tides. They won’t crack, but Emmett does give Hayley an out: vote for Andrew. She doesn’t buy what they’re selling, but she doesn’t have much of a choice.
Meanwhile, the Brains give Hayley their fake plan: vote for Gerald and hope George is being honest about joining them for this vote. Andrew tells Hayley that he’s 95% sure the Fire King is on their side, but Hayley’s not ready to put her fate in George’s hands. So she readies her grenades to blow up Tribal Council as a last resort. It’s going to be a war between two massive players, and neither is going to give an inch.
Hayley holds no punches at Tribal. She exposes George in front of the entire tribe, leaking even more info about Flick’s idol, something even Dani didn’t know about, which should be a red flag to that Brawn alliance that it’s not as sturdy as it appears. George deflects, insists she’s simply buckling under the pressure despite her incredibly calm resolve. When asked point-blank if he’s telling the truth, George dodges the question like a true politician and volleys more arguments at his opponent.
Despite putting up a massive fight and unleashing all her best arguments on George, it’s not enough. In a unanimous 9-1 vote, it’s off with Hayley’s head and off to Redemption Rock she goes for a shot back in. But with a unanimous vote comes a hunger for revenge against every single person remaining at the Fire camp, and Hayley’s starving for some payback no matter how many bridges she burned.
Facing off against Baden in a do-or-die Redemption Duel, it’s a battle between the professional pain endurer and the professional pain researcher as they hold on for dear life. After 20 long, agonizing minutes, Baden finally gives out and Hayley returns to the game, much to George’s chagrin. He thought he succeeded in assassinating the Queen with masterful precision, but all he did was take out a body double as Hayley’s torch is re-lit and Baden becomes the mayor of Jury Villa.
So, this entire twist was an absolute mess. Short-term Redemption Island is a recurring thing for the series at this point, so seeing it appear here was not a shock. What was a shock though, in addition to the convoluted final twelve round that had no reason to exist, was seeing one of the season’s biggest players and most popular winner picks be saved via the twist.
Hayley seemed to have a solid, if somewhat uncertain footing, going into the merge. But those stray votes on Dani during Simon’s blindside fatally wounded her reputation with the Brawns, and George’s waning allegiance to his old tribe proved to be her downfall. Returning from a unanimous vote and climbing the social ladder might be the tallest order possible, as she has no guaranteed allies, no idols, no power, and is marked for an easy elimination if she can’t win immunity. If she’s shown the revolving door, it would be an absolute game-changer as a clear front runner would fall and doors would open for more unexpected players to rise and claim her crown.
But something Baden said to her on Redemption Rock might hold enough water to douse the Fire Tribe’s plans. She might have a chance at getting second place. While being unanimously voted out is a curse that will hang over Hayley’s head all season like a guillotine ready to drop. It can also be a blessing if she’s not marked for elimination, but as an easy beat, giving her time to recover under the radar.
A jury is typically going to hesitate to give the title to someone who was previously voted out unless a larger-than-life shared experience such as suffering together on Edge of Extinction sways things in their favor. Should this elimination be held against her, her chances of winning jury votes might have plummeted overnight.
But my gut (as well as the teasing of a Brawn implosion in the Next Time On) tells me she’s not out of it yet. Should she recover from this massive stumble, make more moves with agency to get herself to the end, and sit next to a player such as Cara or Laura, who also found themselves voted out at one point but lack the flashy game moves, she could easily walk away with the title as if this episode never even happened.
It would be still be an asterisk next to her name and send her to the bottom of many winner rankings regardless of how great she’s played otherwise. But should she pull off a come-from-behind win, I’m sure the half a million dollars will more than make-up for what internet fans have to say about it.