On the morning of Day 42, for the first time all season, it rains. Rain is often a symbol of rebirth, renewal, and change. It washes away the old, gives rise to the new, and purifies the unclean. But did this symbolism carry over to the rest of the episode, or was this just another chapter in the status quo we’ve followed for the past two days? It’s honestly a bit of both.
Following Flick’s salvation at the hands of the Urn Twist, one mocked by fans and Flick herself, she and Dani are still on the outs. But with the urns out of the picture, the attitude of the game might have changed, allowing players to make moves without the fear of a blindside victim coming back hungry for vengeance. And that’s exactly what the Brawn women are banking on. Hayley and Wai are teetering on the edge of a flip and have been for days, but they haven’t been convinced to take the leap of faith and go for complete girl power.
While it’s frustrating for Dani and Flick, it’s utter misery for George and Cara. After wasting her idol at the previous Tribal Council out of pure paranoia, Cara gets roasted left and right. Not only did she waste it on a possible non-elimination round, but it also drove a wedge between them and the power duo of Hayley and Wai. The women were already wary of trusting the two difficult to manage, chaotic players, and dropping an idol out of the blue only justifies their perception. George and Cara can’t be trusted to stay the course to the final four, but the big question of the episode is if this blunder was enough to swing the tides in favor of the Brawn duo.
Any strategic machinations can be wisted by reward trips, though. After a clutch come from behind victory by Dani the Reward Queen, she takes Flick and Hayley on an overnight trip to the Tylenol Spa for a little rest, relaxation, and of course, campaigning. (And perhaps a little pain relief from how bad the twists have been this season to allow a final five where everyone’s been saved by a twist, idol, or advantage at some point).
It’s been Dani’s M.O. since the merge: win the rewards, make an alliance away from camp, and then not profit when the alliance fails to stick together, or she gets outplayed. But at least she’s swinging for the fences even if she consistently misses. This leaves poor George, who quits yet another challenge he struggles with, to worry about Hayley’s fleeting loyalty back at camp.
Once again, Hayley finds herself in the ever-important swing vote position. And with it being the final six with a likely split vote incoming, she has plenty of options open, true to her Kim Spradlin-esque gameplay.
George and Cara proved they couldn’t be trusted to be transparent and both of them have solid stories to pitch on Day 48. George more so than Cara, but neither would sit there dumbfounded and clueless when asked to explain their games as messy as they’ve been all season long. So by that metric, flipping on them would clear out some threats and make the endgame far easier to navigate without chaos incarnate running around and creating havoc.
On the other hand, Flick and Dani are Hayley’s biggest competition in immunity challenges, which she’ll likely need to rely on in order to get to the end as Wai is the only person who’d happily take her to the final two. George and Cara would take each other, Dani and Flick would take each other, and if those pairs were broken up, Hayley’s insane comeback story paired with her impressive strategic plays would make her the biggest target. Even if she goes to the final four with a tight duo, it might be smarter to pick the duo that hasn’t consistently made her sweat in challenges involving throwing bags or swimming long distances.
Hayley cuts a deal to vote for George and have an all-female final five, but Dani’s been burned by her many times before and prepares for her check to bounce, preferring to go beast mode in the immunity challenge and win out if need be. Meanwhile, George isn’t concerned about his mid-challenge drop-out, proudly stating he doesn’t care about food as long as his strategy is sound and carrying him through to the end on brainpower alone. That doesn’t mean he isn’t going to give the immunity challenge his all though, as long as it doesn’t involve jumping off something high or building a pole made of sticks of course.
As per usual, the challenge comes down to Hayley, Dani, and Flick, this time on a word scramble puzzle after the three women effortlessly beast through an obstacle course, leaving Cara, George, and Wai in the dust. But for once, the dust has time to settle as the puzzle is too difficult for the front runners. Wai, dead last for the entire challenge, barely able to lift her sledgehammer, and last to reach the puzzle after spending what felt like hours on the tile sliding portion, annihilates the competition once she reaches the puzzle and walks away with an immunity necklace she, as well as the rest of the tribe, never expected her to win.
Wai has been a quiet player since the tribes swapped, sticking to alliance lines and floating wherever she can find a safe space in the majority. While she’s incredibly likable, it was hard to see her developing an independent narrative apart from Hayley heading into the endgame. If they both make the same moves and reach the final two together, Hayley’s longer history of big plays will likely overshadow Wai’s quieter game in the end.
But with this impressive immunity win, Wai’s boosted her best asset: her underdog story. She entered the game as an outcast and only avoided being the first person voted out by the grace of George (and production’s terrible twist), but by the final five she’s blossomed into a low-key but impressive player. I still doubt her chances of beating Hayley are high unless the jury is surprisingly bitter. Still, against someone like Cara, who’s been all over the map between being saved several times through no power of her own, cooking a split vote, and misplaying two idols, she’d have a solid chance with such a strong narrative, and you know she’ll pitch it well.
Wai’s also down to make some moves when the timing is right, and that time might be now. Dani pitches a 2-2-2 split vote on George and Cara, putting Hayley and Wai in the power position for what feels like the hundredth episode in a row. George calls upon his so-called Royal Court of Brains for an update, and Hayley swears she’s Brains-strong and ready to take Dani down. With promises made to both sides and everyone warily trusting her, she’s riding the middle and getting all the information she needs to make the smart play.
But not wanting to leave their games in the hands of Hayley and Wai, the other four embark on some idol hunts around the Outback. And Flick, ascending to the rocky spire overlooking the well, finds the final idol of the season right under (or above, I should say) George’s nose. But without immunity around one of their necks, the idol is effectively useless to Dani and Flick at the final six.
Should Flick play it, it wouldn’t counter a split vote and could throw Hayley and Wai’s teetering loyalty right back into George and Cara’s hands in the event they want George gone. So she wisely but reluctantly plans to hold it through the night. If she goes home with it, she can give it to Dani. If she survives, she’s guaranteed to survive another episode. Either way, the idol’s getting a Brawn to the final four.
Tribal Council is mostly lip service and retreads talking points from the last few Tribals. Hayley and Wai are the swing votes, George and Dani are threats, Outwit Outplay Outlast, you know the drill. But Flick breaks up the monotony by going for George’s jugular over his challenge quits, throwing him under the bus to the jury and claiming it cost him her jury vote should she end up on the bench by Day 48.
I know it’s been a contentious issue, but I really don’t care that George quit two challenges at the final six. He was likely never winning either of them against his competition and if he needs to rely on challenge wins to save himself here, then his game would basically be over already. It doesn’t mean he won’t strive to win when he needs it, because he certainly will at some point, if not next episode, but until that time comes, it’s smart to let others exhaust themselves and put targets on their backs. Others may feel differently, but it wouldn’t cost him my vote if I was on a jury.
However, I do care that Flick openly said she wouldn’t vote for George at the end because why on Earth would she say that when the past several days have been about convincing Hayley and Wai that George is the biggest threat to win? It just defeats the entire argument Dani and Flick had going for them, and Hayley herself says so in her extended voting confessional. Dani and Flick said she was the only Brain they’d vote for at the end, so she decided to take the easier beats to the end and put two locked Hayley supporters on the jury instead. And if she really wants to make a move, she can do it at five with the remaining Brawn member. As usual, she has options.
With Hayley’s plans locked down, Dani is sent to the jury following a successful split vote the editors decided to spoil. Why did they show a voting confessional featuring a vote for Flick when both Dani votes were revealed first? It makes no sense, but then again, neither does half of this season, so at some point, you just have to go along with the stupidity and savor the mess for what it is for better or worse.
I do want to eulogize Dani, though, because, despite her chill, blunt personality suggesting she wouldn’t be a massive TV character at first glance, she was a welcome “everywoman” who balanced out a season full of walking cartoons. Her ascending to become the Reward Queen and her various failed alliances were fun mini-arcs and proved she was ready to play hard even without a lot of Survivor knowledge.
Her voting record is also one of the funniest things ever because, since the merge, the only time she voted correctly and actually sent a person home was when she had the only vote at Tribal. And even then, there’s an asterisk next to it because Baden wasn’t completely eliminated yet. Every other time she found a majority, an idol or twist got in the way and no-sold her plans. I say give her a second chance, and I expect she’ll get it.
And then there were five. At this point, I assume Hayley or George will navigate to the final two and win handily unless they’re against each other, which I just can’t see happening. The other three players have paths to the end and even to the win, so writing off the final week as a surefire Hayley or George coronation before it even airs is a bit hasty. While someone like Cara or Wai have limited winning combinations, we’ve seen crazier comebacks, and Flick could be nearly unbeatable should she make the final two.
With only three episodes left, I doubt the ending of this season will change anyone’s mind regarding its quality. If you hate the overbearing twists and wonky editing, you might have already checked out and just want the season to end already. But if you’re just along for the crazy ride, let the integrity of the game go weeks ago, and view this weird season as a train wreck parody of the show like I do, you’ll probably have fun and accept whatever happens with a goofy smile on your face. Either way, I just hope we can walk away with a satisfying, clean race to the finish line.