The fourth week of Blood vs. Water was messy. Sometimes in a fun way. Sometimes… not so much. Between losing one of the season’s biggest standouts to a heartbreaking medical evacuation and losing two more fairly well-developed players as the sizable crowd of undeveloped background characters remains untouched, there’s plenty to be upset about. But on paper, the gameplay was far more electric this week than in the last, and the emotional weight hit home when it mattered. Even so, there are things about this season that aren’t working, so let’s talk the good, the bad, and everything in between.
With Croc gone and a new majority of Ben, Jesse, Sam, and Michelle in power, Chrissy is left to fend for herself in revenge mode as the rest of the tribe has some skinny-dipping fun in the river. The Kill Bill sirens go off when Ben enters her sights because as much as Ben’s move to throw Croc under the bus worked in the short-term, it’s created a wide rift between himself and Chrissy in the long-term, one that will loom over him throughout the episode. Likewise, Ben knows he needs to purge this type of vengeful wildcard energy before it turns the tides against him once more, so we have a new rivalry on the table, ironically between another tattoo-adorned Ben and a mother named Chrissy.
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Meanwhile, the Blood Tribe dynamics continue to be straightforward and dare I say it, boring. The alliance of strong men remains in power, Shay is still on the outs, Mel and KJ are barely hanging on as easy fodder for when Shay’s no longer the lone outsider. Nothing seems to be open to changing. The only point of intrigue is the build-up to future tension between Mark and Jordie—because the Commander’s hunt for the Blood idol isn’t as off the grid as he thought.
After pocketing his new ammunition in the form of an idol, Mark is immediately confronted by Jordie regarding the clue he found at the recent picnic reward. After beating around the bush and taking Jordie on a wild goose chase for an idol already sitting in his pocket, Mark comes clean and tries to use that information to seal a bond between the two of them. But Jordie wasn’t born yesterday. He’s a perceptive guy, and he won’t let Mark get away from this blunder without some punishment. If he can find a way to use this reveal against Mark, if it should further his game, he’ll make it happen.
Did Mark handle this situation well? I can’t say the execution was clean. If he wanted to forge a tight bond with Jordie, showing him the clue or the idol immediately and without hesitation would be the way to go. Going on a pointless adventure and lying to his face for no telling how long is red flag city if you’re Jordie. And it’s a rare stumbling point for Mark, who up until now has played a smart and adaptable game without the strategic aloofness of his first game coming back to haunt him. But between getting busted with an idol clue and botching his relationship with Jordie, Mark might be entering the merge with an uphill battle, something he’d already need to deal with due to his physical strength alone.
Once again, immunity is on the line, but this time it’s individual as both tribes will go to Tribal and vote somebody out. Seasoned Survivor AU veterans know what’s coming when two tribes meet at Tribal. Either nobody will go home at all, or one of the two voted-out players will get a second chance by the grace of a sudden twist. It’s not my favorite way to handle a double Tribal, but as far as this edition of the twist goes, it’s one we’ve seen before in All-Stars and Brains vs. Brawn. Any player with basic knowledge of the series should expect something similar in such a situation, so it can be played around and shouldn’t catch people off guard.
In what feels like a perfect dichotomy between the two tribes, Blood’s side of the challenge plays out as a standard, seen-it-before, do or die (no, thankfully production hasn’t gotten that heinous with its twists yet) situation for the person on the bottom. Thankfully for Shay, a challenge about balance and endurance is right up her alley, and she takes home a necklace when she needs it most.
But on Water’s side, things are strange, messy, and emotional as usual. Chrissy and Ben bicker mid-challenge, Sam and Khanh decide to cut some deals as the last two standing like this is a Big Brother challenge, and Sam passes out, giving Khanh the necklace. But thanks to some wheeling and dealing, Sam ultimately takes immunity home because Khanh, simply wanting to claim a personal victory over a material one, surrenders the necklace to her upon returning to camp.
So giving away immunity is typically one of the worst moves one could make, especially in a small tribe where you have an idol needing to be flushed and a massive target on your back, but I’m going to defend Khanh’s choice here as a really clever, outside the box social play.
On paper, Ben and Chrissy are the two targets, so Khanh’s only worry is a couple votes split on him, leaving the door open for an easy majority vote if he can get his numbers rallied together to defend him. He’s got Chrissy locked in from the early days on the OG Water Tribe, and by giving Sam immunity, it forces her into his corner, which in turn brings in her close ally Jesse. Should Sam turn on Khanh after such a selfless display, it would only curse her as the game’s biggest snake for as long as she lasts, actively destroying the carefully curated social game she’s been proudly flaunting for weeks.
And to give Khanh some more bonuses, he proves himself as a loyal player who means what he says, adds a creative, purposeful, and intentional move to his resume, and buys him more rounds to hold that idol if his allies stick by his side come merge. Well done, Khanh. Well done.
True to form, Blood’s dynamic remains predictable. Without Shay available for the chop, Mel and KJ are on the block instead with Mel as the target in a 5-3 split. Why Mel? Well, allegedly it’s time to split up the wonder twins before the merge (as in, I can only wonder what their games are because they’ve been appallingly purpled beyond belief) because Mel and Michelle are a “shady couple.” I have no idea where that idea came from, but we’ll likely never know because once again, the twins might as well star in the next Quiet Place movie because they’d be pretty great at surviving it.
However, not all is settled because, with immunity around her neck, Shay gets bold and goes to Mark with a plan to flip their votes to KJ, making Mark the crucial swing vote.
Water’s dynamics are more compelling and far more suspenseful. Chrissy and Khanh get Sam on board to blindside Ben at the height of his cockiness, but they still need Jesse to make it happen. And Chrissy, still feeling the pain of Sam and Jesse voting her brother-in-law out, doesn’t trust either of them anymore. But lack of confidence aside, she’s keen enough to know that relying on someone is better than relying on no one, so Chaos Chrissy takes a back seat as she lets things play out how they may.
Ben, on the other hand, is determined to finish the job and send Chrissy packing, proposing a 2-2 vote between her and Khanh. If Khanh plays his idol, Chrissy’s gone. If he holds it, which he shouldn’t according to the plan, he’s gone. Jesse and Sam find themselves in the middle, and with the lines yet to be drawn, it’s off to Tribal for double trouble and a fire-making showdown to stay alive.
After some ho-hum discussion and a rather touching moment of vulnerability from Khanh, Ben opts to kick off a short-lived Live Tribal, telling Khanh to play his idol for himself if he wants to survive the night. Sam and Jesse reassure Khanh that he’s in good hands, and Ben’s plan starts to show obvious cracks. With his temporary alliance abandoning him, Ben is voted out 4-2, joining Mel in a second chance fire-making challenge.
I fully expected Ben to lose here since Mel’s edit had yet to pick up at all, but then again, Sam Schoers and Jay Bruno exist, so somehow this season’s unfortunate editing issues created tension where there shouldn’t have been any. And in an admittedly great back and forth fire-making challenge, Mel gets her hero moment and slays Ben once and for all, sending him packing a day short of reuniting with his partner at the merge.
I’ve enjoyed having Ben on my screen. Even if he dipped into irrelevancy from time to time, watching him beast the barrel challenge and flip the game on Croc were two big pre-merge highlights. The man came to play hard and call some shots when the time came for it, and I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed we didn’t get to witness his chaotic style in a post-merge setting where it could be on full display.
But somehow, I feel like the real story here isn’t about whose torch got snuffed, but whose remained lit, because Mel’s all-time terrible edit is downright disgraceful. I’ve said before that it’s not worth complaining about this awful editing style because it’s not likely to change given the complaints we’ve made for years, but I’m sorry, letting someone get to the merge without a single confessional, with their only real airtime being other players talking smack about how untrustworthy and useless they are, is absolutely inexcusable.
I don’t care if Mel is playing a “boring” game in the editors’ eyes. She was cast on the season, went to several Tribals, had her name coming up throughout the pre-merge, and barely survived a fire-making challenge to make the merge with her twin sister, all while apparently dealing with an injured leg according to exit interviews. And Michelle isn’t faring much better, getting a mere one confessional (about Sandra rather than herself) between long streaks of total invisibility. If they’re going to purple an entire duo and crack meanspirited editor jokes about it along the way, why even cast them to begin with?
Memes and broken records aside, it’s not fun to watch as a fan, and even if Mel emerges as a big character at the merge and goes on to do great things, it doesn’t excuse giving her nothing but small drips of negativity for half the season without letting her speak for herself about her own game.
And it’s truly a shame the editing issues are such a glaring problem because the gameplay and cast are fun and interesting for the most part. We’re just not seeing a balanced view of what’s happening out there, and with most of the big characters dropping like flies after the swap, we’re left with a lot of reserved personalities who don’t have the epic star power to carry a season entertainment-wise even if they’re playing interesting games, hence half this merge tribe feeling totally sidelined.
All that being said, I’m still invested in the season and hoping for a great post-merge with chaos and messiness galore, and at the very least a compelling story to follow without a flood of twists ruining what’s been a relatively refreshing back to basics approach after last season’s twists-on-steroids approach. The pre-merge was a mixed bag in so many ways, and the boot order has left a lot to be desired, but we’re only halfway through the game.
Khanh is TV gold with an idol in play, Chrissy is still hilarious and heartwarming, Mark and Sam’s journey of redemption and shaky dominance is compelling, Shay’s underdog story is gaining traction, KJ, Jesse, and Jordie are emerging as dark-horse strategists, Juicy Dave’s still… being juicy, I guess? There’s still a lot to appreciate here. It’s just hard to see past the season’s biggest faults when they’re a constant reminder of what could’ve and should’ve been.