As the numbers on the Fire Tribe dwindle, this season enters its endgame. With three massive blindsides in a row, the game is ablaze, just like the tribe’s namesake, George’s game, and the fan reception to the season’s overbearing use of twists. Thankfully this week’s batch of episodes ends with a solid showing, hopefully a good omen that this season’s overly twisty and poorly edited woes are a thing of the past.
Like most episodes this season, George is a major character in the story. This man has survived his destined boot episode countless times against all odds. But with only eight players remaining, his room to hide has grown smaller as his resume has grown bigger with flips, idols, advantages, and comebacks. Now, after several weeks of cockroaching his way through the game, George is finally back in the hot seat.
After Cara’s miraculous rise from the ashes via George’s secret idol, George tells her to claim the move as her own to avoid casting suspicion on their dynamic duo. They’ve been working in lockstep for weeks and gone to bat for each other even when it hasn’t been the smart move, so everyone is aware of the bond they have. These players are ridiculously messy, but they aren’t dumb. And Andrew, emerging from the background to call the shots, isn’t buying Cara’s act nor George’s lies as he gears up to dethrone the King and Queen.
I have no idea where this Andrew was all season, tossing out epic nature metaphors and putting bounties on some heads, but Laura’s blindside clearly poked the sleeping bear, and he’s hungry for revenge. His big move? Flip to the old Brawn trio still left in the game, get Hayley on board, and have the votes to take out George once and for all. I’m not sure flipping to a minority alliance is the smart play, and I’m sure Andrew’s going to be mocked for it since it backfired. But there are only eight players left, and using the vulnerable Brawns to make a move heading into the famously crucial final seven is a solid plan.
The problem? It’s not so solid for everyone. Emmett, Dani, and Flick love the idea, especially Emmett, as this plan would likely catapult him to the final three with his closest allies, where he’d be the favorite to win. But Hayley isn’t sold just yet. Even if George and Cara are playing everyone, they’re still players with valuable votes to cast, and discounting them as easy boots is a waste of a good opportunity.
This episode’s big reward is the infamous Car Reward, harbinger of a guaranteed loss should you buy into the Car Curse and it’s long-running collection of victims. Dani adds herself as a potential victim on the list by winning the classic House of Cards challenge, earning an Isuzu D-Max truck and a picnic lunch with three people of her choosing. It’s always been said that winning individual rewards can be a mistake, and Dani’s reward picks prove it.
Her first picks are Flick and Emmett, her two Brawn buddies. Flick could use a day of joy and fun after the tragic loss of her mother, so that’s an obvious choice. Emmett’s a solid ally and gave her a run for her money several times in the challenge, so bringing him along isn’t that questionable. But where she goes wrong is choosing Andrew, leaving George and Cara back at camp with Wai and Hayley, the two people on the bottom of the presumed anti-George alliance.
Of course, making questionable moves is nothing new to Dani, as most of her choices have either backfired on her or earned her an editorial dragging. But Survivor is fun when people play badly. It creates cracks, opens doors, and lets the game shift naturally without a wrecking ball of a twist coming in to smash what great players have created.
As Dani and friends D-Max it up, the four Brains left at camp do a little plotting. George pitches himself as a protector of his people, citing his relationship with Cara as evidence. But to anyone who’s played with George, his “people” change day to day. Hayley is still apprehensive about trusting him but sees this as the perfect timing to re-open her once failed double agent business, putting herself in the swing vote position between George and Cara and the sizable Brain-Brawn fusion alliance. Wai, unfortunately quiet in the show as usual, will go where Hayley goes, giving them all the power.
The Immunity Challenge is another classic: Chimney Sweep. George drops out four minutes in, asking JLP to help him down as several others will do in the coming minutes. But George’s drop hilariously sows paranoia among Flick, Andrew, and Emmett, all positioned near the opposite end of the challenge, allowing them to speak freely without being heard. For some reason, Andrew thinks he’s throwing the challenge to paint himself as a non-threat and is seriously sweating over it. In reality, it just wasn’t a challenge George was going to be good at from the start and he cut his losses.
But all the trio has to do is beat Cara, and the plan can go through, which they do with ease. Hayley ultimately wins the necklace against Emmett and Flick in a player-orchestrated balance contest and cements herself as the power holder heading into what could be a game-deciding vote.
The pieces are set in place. Emmett has a solid alliance and showed Hayley they trusted her at the challenge. And with Hayley comes Wai, so they’ll split the votes 4-2 against George and Cara even though everyone hilariously wants the honor of putting George’s name down on the parchment one last time. George and Cara are defenseless, but they won’t give up without a fight. They gun for Emmett while he’s finally vulnerable, hoping Hayley and Wai will see the light.
Hayley and Wai have a not-so-secret meeting at the well as George listens in, walking through the optimal strategy for the round. Why side with George and Cara? They’re 5th and 6th place in the majority alliance and would need to win out to the end if Andrew sticks with the Brawn trio for good. Why vote George and Cara out? Well, they clearly aren’t trustworthy, will keep making big moves, and they’ve been idol and advantage hounds all season. It’s a battle between pros and cons, and ultimately the women agree that George needs to go… right in front of the literal snake in the grass himself.
Hearing that his downfall is coming fast, George jumps out of the dung-infested grass, grabs Cara, and goes on a mad idol hunt where Cara finds her second idol of the game. Will she play it on George to sacrifice herself yet again? Only time will tell. But while the outsiders scramble, Emmett wonders if Hayley’s 100% loyal to their alliance and runs things by with her one last time. This proves to be a big mistake as he only solidifies Hayley’s fears of a 5th place finish. Suddenly her loyalty is back on the table heading into Tribal, and she’s the deciding vote.
George, ever the eccentric performer, puts on a show, calling out Emmett and Andrew for their sneaky behavior as of late. He even yells his snarky voting confessional for Emmett in a truly Gabon-esque fashion as if this season couldn’t get more Gabon-esque at this point. They’ve stopped talking to him, won’t look him in the eye, and stopped keeping tabs on their strategies, so the truth is obvious: those bridges have been burned.
While I can’t say Emmett and Andrew played well in this situation, as keeping up a facade of loyalty to people on the outs is the right move, I can’t blame them for just throwing their hands up and not even trying to hide how tired they are of George’s chaos.
Once George orchestrated the blindside against Gerald, he went from being a not exactly smooth but still somewhat effective double agent to being out of every loop in the game. He’s burned Hayley by pulling off a unanimous vote against her, burned Emmett and Dani by ruining their mutual plans to target each other, burned Andrew by idoling out Laura and blatantly trying to shift the blame, has a distant, tenuous relationship with his once close friend Wai, and has no real on-screen connections with Flick. All he has is Cara, her idol, and the Macedonian Jesus to fall back on. That, and a bit of production-based luck.
But the game of Survivor is always in motion, and here, it flows in George’s favor as Emmett is blindsided by a 4-3-1 vote and sent to the jury, taking out the strongest challenge performer and continuing Brawn’s decimation down to just two original members.
It’s hard to say much about this move from Hayley and Wai because it’s the obvious, common-sense move everyone should make in this situation. It was the last time a move like this could be made so cleanly, and the game’s opened up yet again for more movement. And for someone like Hayley, who could find herself targeted at any time for being a huge strategic threat, she needs that constant fluidity to keep moving and dodging bullets.
But let’s eulogize Emmett for a minute because this man was casting gold. A lot of modern Survivor villains tend to be fairly harmless comic relief characters in the overall narrative. They tend to lack agency, never pose a threat to any of the heroes, and inspire laughter rather than anger. Emmett is a bit of a return to form for the archetype. Sure, he was a cartoonish human being who’d fit in with a crowd of Disney villains in terms of pure campiness, but he brought a triple threat game to the table as well.
He could dominate challenges, pull votes from all angles, and build strong relationships, all while making room for witty jokes as he crushed your favorites and sent them home. And like all great Survivor villains, he got cocky and rose to power, then brutally fell at the hands of the season’s big heroes in a good old-fashioned Survivor blindside. Sign him up for the next All-Star season because the plant-based Superman should be a lock to return for a second chance.
Going into the endgame, we have our final seven. George and Hayley have played big games all season but put massive targets on their backs in doing so. Cara is George’s right-hand woman with an idol at the ready and a strong story to pitch to a jury. Dani’s out of serious allies and her voting record is spotty, but she’s hanging in there as one of the last Brawns left and is willing to play hard. Flick, dealing with the emotional weight of losing a loved one, is a quiet yet threatening contender.
Meanwhile, Andrew has emerged as a big player with a vengeance out of nowhere, and though I doubt a jury would give him the win, he’s willing to shake things up. And Wai, who seemed to be one of the season’s biggest characters in the pre-swap, is lost in the editing shuffle but has a solid story going for her in the background.
While the front runners are clear, this game is still up in the air. And given the amount of twists the producers have thrown at these people so far, I’d be prepared for a few more down the home stretch. But with players this dynamic, I’m certain the endgame is going to bring the fireworks to the Fire Tribe.