Toasties. Tripping in the water. A blindside. Finding two idols. Diego. Could you find a dull moment in this episode? While there are still aspects of the season that I quibble with (like focusing only on certain cast members and challenges favouring the Brawn tribe), the Tribal Councils this season have been top-notch. And the season, in general, is growing more entertaining as we get to know more castaways and the rhythms each tribe is running on.
For the first time since episode one, the Brains tribe found themselves back at Tribal. Unlike the first time when the focus was on keeping a strong tribe for challenges, this time was about keeping a strong tribe for morale. George, one of the most entertaining Survivor castaways to have ever been cast, is a leech on his tribe (even saying himself how much he loves a good blood-letting). Like most leeches, there is no simply flicking George away—he’s not going anywhere without causing some pain and fuss first.
In yesterday’s episode, George nabbed the idol out from under Baden’s nose. Today’s episode was a masterclass in how not to play an idol. The idol holds many possibilities in Survivor. It can help make allies, it can push votes in your desired direction, it can provide safety, and it keeps safety out of other’s hands. For all his talk about being able to influence people and build trust, the crown jewel of George’s gameplay has been his idol.
After losing the Immunity challenge, all eyes were on George, and it seemed a given that he would be going home. George had some options here—he could use the idol to galvanise an alliance which could have their pick of who would go home once any votes against him were negated. This was what I thought he was planning on when he quietly brought in Wai and Baden. Even without majority numbers, George’s little quartet (including empath Cara) could’ve had their pick of target without anyone to stand in their way.
George knows that once he plays his idol he is once again the biggest target—not only for being a thorn in the tribe’s side (as per Joey) but for his reputation of finding then playing advantages. From my perspective, the best thing George could’ve done was use his idol to build goodwill and give him a chance going forward. However, instead of taking this path, George decided to throw a spanner in the works by marching into camp with Diego (the idol) slung around his neck for all to see. This move is dangerous not only because it gives away any element of surprise but because you’re giving the opposing alliance a chance to regroup and develop a new plan.
While Joey’s group of four (himself plus Georgia, Laura, and Andrew) refocused their target on tribe leader Mitch, they could have very easily gone for the ‘next best thing’ by choosing to vote out one of George’s (very few) allies. In such a large tribe, it would have also been possible for votes to be split on George and another castaway in the event George dis play his idol—apparently not a scenario that George thought of before he performed his modelling act with ‘the body’ and Diego.
After revealing his idol in the name of creating chaos, George then had to rely on gathering numbers to vote out his choice of castaway. The swing votes this episode were Hayley and Rachel. Both are playing the middle with ease, and Hayley is probably the stand-out challenge competitor for the Brains tribe overall. George has pointed out in more than one episode that his only friends are Wai and Cara. Without the idol, I doubt George has Baden on his side, and it was always going to take a hell of a flip to bring Rachel and Hayley onside.
Rachel was thrilled to be in the swing position, and Hayley appreciated the gravity of the vote—that it would dictate who on this tribe she wanted to move forward with. And they ultimately decide to go with Joey’s plan. After staying in the background for the past couple of episodes and despite being one of the stronger challenge competitors, Mitch ended up going home with 6 votes (to Laura’s 4 and George’s single negated vote for a wasted idol play). Mitch’s disdain for George was made pretty clear on the way out.
While the Brains were feeling the heat from Tribal, the Brawn was feeling the heat from toasties cooking. Challenge design can’t be the easiest job, but it’s boring seeing a straight-up physical challenge that so clearly favours the Brawn tribe. Every challenge with a puzzle has led to a Brain victory and has acted as an equalizer of sorts. Every reward challenge has been purely physical so far. While immunity is paramount in the game, I feel for the Brains playing head-to-head against bodybuilders, MMA fighters, and personal trainers for a snack to enjoy at camp.
Brawn isn’t particularly gracious when they win, and this episode’s toasties (animal products on gluten, according to Gerald) seemed like a tough loss. Moreover, the past few reward challenges have been hero style—the first to a certain amount of points wins, so it’s possible for the tribe to send in their most capable of securing victory. The Brawns tribe are spoiled for choice when it comes to wrestling, scurrying under nets and log roll, but the brawniest Brains hardly measure up to the athletes they must verse.
In the US version of this theme (Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty), there seemed to even out the Brawn tribe’s physical advantage since the other two tribes were more closely matched in size and strength. In this season, it’s making me wary to see the same scenario of physical challenges playing out over and over.
The toasties brought more than just a reward for the stomach to the Brawn camp. Simon was well aware that he was in big trouble and likely to be voted out the next time they go to Tribal. The majority alliance kept an eye on him to try and thwart any chances he had of discovering an idol. But through careful looking and then a patient wait for the perfect moment, Simon managed to snag the idol out of some tree branches right by the campfire. Simon’s fighting spirit was a joy to see in the previous episode, and I was glad he has found a little leverage for his game… at first.
When the toasties kit came back to camp, Simon pulled out a hessian sack only to discover another idol hiding inside. He snaffled this one away too, and in a matter of minutes, Simon had gone from dead man walking to having two idols. I was happy for Simon’s first idol but having two is just a bit too much power for any one person to have in the game. Why there was a second idol sent into the camp is a mystery to me. And the only silver living about Simon having found the idol in a reward kit is that eagle eye Gerald noticed him finding it.
Overall strategy and Tribal Council have been the high point of the season so far. Large tribes have led to more chaos as different personalities try to get their own way, more chances to flip back and forth, more paranoia about avoiding idols, and more entertainment for viewers to sink their teeth into. I think the season is due for a tribe swap to help even out challenge performance and, quite frankly, to see how a whole new group of people react to George.
There are still some invisible castaways who I’d like to get to know (I was wholeheartedly disappointed when I thought Laura might go home when I didn’t realise she was on the show until this evening). And some castaways I think I probably know more than well enough (we get it, Emmett, you like to win and then crow about it). We are only just scratching the surface of the season, and I am cautiously optimistic to see what happens next.