The trickiest, stickiest part of the game has come. While some players are pretending that there are nice, clean lines drawn between alliances, it is coming across as a messy battle to maintain individual loyalties with loved ones’ wishes.
This early part of the merge has become the ballad of Mark and Sam. Famous for being allies turned lovers turned married in real life, they spent the first half of the game fighting to create their own alliances, which would come together once merge arrived. The idea is a solid one, with the formation of cross-tribe alliances making for strong numbers, and would put the duo in a formidable position. Unfortunately, what was good in theory has not translated quite so well in reality.
Both brought their strongest allies to the merge, but instead of combining forces, Mark’s committee of men promptly voted out Khanh, one of Sam’s numbers. Even a stunning first juror outfit and catwalk-worthy sashay can’t cancel out what must’ve been a bittersweet move for Sam. At camp, the couple hashes it out in what I predict will be a scenario we see again and again if they want to keep playing together. Sam feels like she had no autonomy for the vote and was just told what to do by a bunch of men (correct). Mark had good intentions and just wants to get them to a stronger position in the game (also correct).
Get exclusive content and features by supporting Inside Survivor on Patreon.
Across the camp, other castaways discuss how Sam was pushed into a corner and how that must be a challenge for her. While Sam is still focused on playing with Mark and getting further in the game together, her attention is starting to drift a little as she reiterates the importance of playing a good individual game. While I applaud Sam for having a wider game perspective and considering the importance of timing, it is a bit sad to see someone who was days ago calling the shots being talked into moves that might go against her best interests.
Mark brought his “boys” alliance to the merge with the plan of incorporating their loved ones. His group of six claims to make decisions together “committee style,” although multiple people point to Josh as the mastermind—including Josh himself. While I’m sure there are countless confessionals going on, Josh is one of the first to elaborate on a long-term plan. He recognises that his alliance needs to be the clear majority before it’s safe to turn on any of the others. He acknowledges that Mark is a threat and feels worried about Jordie, but overall, he knows the most straightforward strategic plan is for the strong men to stay together.
If the boys’ alliance was to take out one of their own strong players, it could start a domino effect: target someone for being strong, and the following round, the next strongest is the target. To prevent this from happening, Josh wants to take out the castaways who are floating in the middle of the pack—those who are liable to become dangerous swing votes as the numbers dwindle. Do I like that this targets the players I really enjoy and want to see more of? No. Do I appreciate him thinking forward in the game? Yes.
Jordie is another player looking forward but seems to be getting itchy feet to make a big move. Rather than guard loyalty with Mark, Jordie tells Josh about the idol that Mark hasn’t shared with the whole alliance. He hopes it puts a bigger target on Mark’s back, but instead, it makes Jordie appear a bit slimy. Jordie wants to manipulate and create chaos, but it seems like it will come at the expense of his win equity. Meanwhile, we hear very little strategically from Jordan, and Jesse seems to be tagging along for the ride despite the strong strategic thinking he showed on his previous tribe.
As for those so-called “floaters,” for someone considered such a big threat, Shay has relatively little agency in the game. But she is very perceptive and understands her position in the tribe. Her only regret is that showing her physical capability has put her in a spot where she has to win challenges, or she will be vulnerable. Sam, in particular, is very concerned about Shay going forward, and she will get her “told you so” moment the second the challenge is finished.
The challenge is ostensibly about filling a water bucket and completing a puzzle. The real challenge is about time management. It can be difficult to balance tasks competing for your attention when you’re fully fed and have a decent night’s sleep, so I can’t imagine it was anything short of exhausting to process the building and arranging of a puzzle while constantly checking if their water bucket must be filled. As a nurse, I went into my graduate year thinking that clinical skills like running intravenous fluids or completing wound care would be the hardest things to do. In reality, the hardest and steepest learning curve by a long shot was time management. Not only are you working out how long something takes to do, but you’re also trying to organise new tasks that come up and a constantly changing situation with many variables.
Now the castaways might not have quite so many variables to monitor, but it’s not as easy as it looks to focus on which puzzle pieces fit where while keeping an eye on the bucket behind you and listening to JLP’s puns… all while keeping an eye on how everyone else is going. I was cheering for Mel, who I thought might come from behind but was also relieved for Shay to win and secure herself immunity from a near-certain elimination if she lost. The camera hardly pauses on Shay’s celebrations before it cuts to Sam being annoyed that Mark didn’t take Shay’s threat level seriously when they could’ve voted her out.
Despite the itchy feet and trigger fingers, the boys’ (plus Sam) alliance ends up following Josh’s proposal of splitting the votes over twins Mel and Michelle. Josh openly admits to them that they’re on the block, which gives them a chance to fight back. Even though he’s never in the shots of them luxuriating in the water, I assume Juicy Dave is on board to vote with the boys. If the six males split their votes over Mel and Michelle, then it leaves an opening for the women to vote together for a target of their choosing.
Shay seems enthused by the pitch, while Sam seems more lukewarm given the awkward position it would put her in with the boys’ alliance and her husband. Chrissy and KJ both listen to the pitch but don’t commit their votes. Michelle is worried that even if the plan works and both twins stay, they will be left in a worse position. She sneaks off to talk with Jordan and sheds a few tears over the thought of losing her sister to the jury.
Tribal Council seems to be the debate over who should go home: Josh or a twin. There’s lots of talk about taking out threats. While the argument for taking out a threat continues each episode, the definition of a threat seems to be more fluid. Last time the threat was a big player with an idol who could win competitions. This time the threat is someone who might cause plans to go awry in the future. All the talk about threats seems to be insignificant because the reality is that the moves being made aren’t good for everyone and that an individual’s threat level doesn’t account for who they are loyal to.
Aside from each other, the twins have no solid support in the game. Josh has the backing of five other people. I think with a little more time, the twins’ plan could’ve come together. But it required the solid commitment of all the women to be successful, and it just didn’t get nailed down. Even Michelle doesn’t vote for the plan’s target, so the writing must’ve been on the wall before Tribal for her to throw away her vote rather than follow neither Mel or the majority alliance’s plan.
As for Mel leaving, I feel like we hardly knew her! She described herself as a superfan in the pre-season interviews, and given how quickly she came up with her plan to amass the female numbers and beat the male split vote, I would’ve loved to have seen more of her. She cared for Alex in the midst of his back injury and fought in the trial by fire for her life in the game. I think her leaving is probably paving the way for Michelle to make it much deeper in the game, but I also think production missed out by relegating her to the background throughout the season.
Even though this vote went through smoothly, I think someone is going to attempt a big move in the very near future. Whether this solidifies their path forward or detonates any chance of their success remains to be seen. The tension between Sam and Mark seems set to thicken, with each having their own ideas about how to succeed but not yet being ready to let the other go (in a strategic sense). Juicy Dave is still lurking in the background, Jordie is itching for a big move, and I bet we haven’t seen the end of Chrissy yet. 13 down, 11 to go.