Sometimes Survivor delivers with a colourful cast of characters. Sometimes it delivers with fast-paced gameplay that seems to move quicker than the ordinary mind can follow. And sometimes Survivor delivers with a totally gobsmacking outcome that nobody planned for, including the people who tried to cover every base to keep their ‘strong clique’ safe.
What an episode! If the previous episode was about cutting the Joey-shaped head off his alliance, then this episode was about how a strong group’s plan is only as good as the weakest link of your alliance.
If you thought three idols weren’t enough, a fourth is thrown into the mix moments into the episode. The remainder of Joey’s alliance is licking their wounds when Laura stumbles across a piece of string tied to a rock, leading to an idol. George (aka the cockroach) is scuttling in the bushes monitoring for exactly this scenario, and while he can’t hear exactly what is found, he is certain that Laura found something.
Of the six Tribal Councils prior to this episode, three have had idols played (only one successfully), and one has had an advantage played. While idols certainly stir the pot and allow for surprising outcomes, it’s a little overkill when there are four in circulation at this reasonably early part of the game.
George doesn’t have time to work out what to do about Laura’s idol because JLP drops a different challenge in his way—a tribe swap! The happy family of Brawn seem to perceive the Brains tribe as a total mess and the idea of mixing in with them is terrifying. In actuality, the Brawn tribe is equally split; they just don’t have a larger-than-life character like George to draw equal amounts of attention and ire.
The tribe shake-up leaves Brains 2.0 with four original Brains (George, Georgia, Laura, and Rachel), four original Brawns (Big D, Emmett, Gerald, and Kez) and one half/half (Cara). Meanwhile, Brawns 2.0 has five original Brawns (Chelsea, Dani, Flick, Shannon, and Simon) and four original Brains (Andrew, Baden, Hayley, and Wai).
On the new Brawn tribe, Simon attempts to rally the original five Brawn members together by revealing one of his idols. But he meets a sticking point in former nemesis Shannon. Shannon’s face says something like “you’ve got to be kidding me,” but she agrees to his proposal in public, though it remains to be seen where her true loyalties lie.
Over at the new Brains tribe, the original Brawn, including Cara, immediately adopts George to hold a solid majority. George gives another memorable confessional by repeatedly screaming the word “YESSS,” showing off how excited he is to be off the bottom of the tribe. While the original Brawn is a little unsure about George, the general consensus is that it’s better to be with him than against him, and they trust Cara’s judgement (that will come back to haunt them).
The Immunity challenge puts these new tribes to their first test: will they be able to come together to win, or will they fall in a heap of poor balance and bathers that can’t hold a volleyball. First off, I was totally perplexed about who was chosen to complete the puzzle for each tribe. Both tribes pick some of their most athletic castaways to navigate the ball maze leaving the less physically competent to complete the obstacle course. Why are Simon, Dani, and Baden pivoting the maze instead of Wai (who struggles to swim across to the first obstacle)? Why is Big D on the maze while Rach has to make her way over the balance beam?
Balance beams are deceptive in their difficulty, and this was not the first challenge that was decided on the ability of a tribe to cross one. The jubilation of Wai crossing the beam is comparable to all-time Survivor star Cirie Fields‘ balance beam crossing in Game Changers, especially as earlier in the episode Wai worried about being the weak link on the new Brawn. For Brains, George and Rach struggle too much on the beam, and Brawn has the maze almost completed before the Brains even get to it.
I came into this episode expecting the highlight to be the mixing up of tribes. Instead, this episode will go down in history as the one where a majority alliance couldn’t arrange a successful vote. The majority alliance vote in Brains 2.0 should have been very straightforward. But this season is known for anything but smooth, straightforward votes.
The plan devised by George is to split the majority alliance’s votes to subvert the threat of any idols being played. It’s been used many times over across international Survivor franchises. The majority group of six (Big D, Emmett, Gerald, Kez, Cara, and George) intend to put three votes on Rachel and three votes on Georgia. The result would be a tie, whether Laura decided to play her idol or not. This would get rid of an idol and allow the majority to send home someone in the minority in the re-vote. Simple. Right?
Despite the simplicity of the plan, something is lost in translation, resulting in a spectacular blow-up. Three votes land on Rach as planned, but Laura plays her idol for Rach, thereby voiding those three votes. But that shouldn’t matter, as the re-vote would see Georgia sent packing. However, Cara spares Georgia’s life by erroneously casting a vote for Laura, meaning Georgia only receives two votes. This ruins the split vote and sees Big D eliminated via the minority’s three votes, perhaps karma for his and Emmett’s snide comments about how chaotic the Brains tribe is.
“I think I’ve cooked this,” Cara says, realizing the huge mistake she’s made. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen a screw-up this big on any version of Survivor. The closest comparison is probably Tyson Apostol‘s “Parvati” vote in Heroes vs. Villains, but Tyson at least knew what he was doing; it just backfired. Rogue votes and dissenting votes are known to happen, but rarely, if ever, do genuine mistakes totally flip the outcome of a Tribal Council like this. If Gavin hadn’t voted differently than expected in Episode 2, I might say this kind of mistake never happens.
Laura, Georgia, and Rach were truly saved by the skin of their teeth because their initial plan to recruit George and hope for a Hail Mary idol play was met by incredulity on his part. I would agree with George that they were 17 days too late to be buddying up to him. It really drives home the point that this game is won or lost on social game more often than not. Hayley’s social game allowed her to make a massive move last episode, and it held Laura’s trio back in this one. But even the best of social games can’t combat boneheaded mistakes.
With a double Tribal Council coming up tomorrow, I can’t wait to see what is going to happen. A few days ago, I might’ve thought I’d seen everything that could happen on Survivor, but this season is proving me wrong again and again.