We’re three episodes into Blood v Water and this franchise is back with a bang. That doesn’t mean the show isn’t falling into its usual pitfalls of tragically lopsided editing, poorly spliced confessionals, and questionable twists, but the dynamic main characters and engaging (and hilariously baffling) gameplay have carried this season through the rougher waters of production missteps.
And speaking of water, the Water Tribe has a fairly quiet episode here after back to back Tribal Councils. Following Briana’s self-inflicted downfall, it’s only fitting that someone should rise to take her place as the resident big player. Enter: King Khanh (and Briana’s dad David across tribal lines, but don’t worry, we’ll deal with “Juicy Dave” shortly)!
The two-time Masterchef alum is fresh off his first blindside, and even though labeling Briana’s elimination as such is a bit generous, Khanh played it masterfully and shoots his shot at making more solid alliances. Chrissy, who just now learned what a blindside is by witnessing a vote that can hardly be considered one, gives Khanh full credit for the move and vows to have his back moving forward.
Approaching veteran player Mark, Khanh forges a solid duo based on Mark’s past Survivor experience and reliable, loyal style of play. Khanh is totally running things. How long it will remain is up for debate, but he’s sitting pretty and loving every minute, as am I because Khanh is wonderful TV.
But even with Khnah ruling the roost, I’d argue Mark’s in the best spot. With Andy long gone and this cast hungry for big moves against big players, it’s only a matter of time until Mark finds his name floating around as an easy vote the closer he gets to the merge. Insulating himself with other big threats like Khanh, who has the social connections to build tight alliances and the reputation to take the heat for big moves, is the ideal plan for a player of his archetype, especially in a 47-day game.
Mark can’t rely on his physicality forever, so the more meat shields he can stack in front of him early on and the more allies he can secure, the better his prospects are of reaching a point where winning out in challenges is a valid path. That’s still a far off future that he’s not guaranteed to reach by any means, but I’m incredibly impressed with how many wrongs Mark has righted from his first season. I hope he can survive long enough to reap some rewards for it, half a million dollars richer or not.
Unfortunately, the season itself hasn’t righted the wrongs of previous installments, because it’s time for yet another questionable production decision. Following a victory in a grueling reward challenge, the Blood Tribe is able to send one member to the Survivor Store to pick a few luxury items. Having just lost his daughter, David is granted the opportunity to get some answers. And when given the chance to pick a Water member to join him, he unknowingly and ironically chooses Khanh, the person directly responsible for Briana’s elimination.
Upon arriving at the store, there’s a little twist. David can take three items for his tribe or only take two and let Khanh have one. It’s an emotional and logical no-brainer for someone who just lost their loved one to deny the other tribe any rewards, especially when the tribes are evenly stacked and Dave’s on thin ice without a loved one. The dry bluntness with which Dave immediately shuts Khanh’s hopes down is amusing, but the big story here is how production just put a nightmarish super idol in plain sight!
Granted, my fears were quelled when I heard it functioned under Kaoh Rong‘s super idol rules, where both David and Khanh would have to reunite the halves in the future should they never play them individually, but just having a super idol in the game makes my skin crawl. Sure, this version requires two people to trust each other in a game where trust is scarce, but this is a Blood vs. Water season. Had anyone other than Dave or Kate been chosen for this trip, there’s a high chance they take their loved one with them and kill any potential drama of one player denying another their half in a tough situation.
But of course, that’s what production was clearly hoping for with this twist: a pair of loved ones getting the ultimate power and using it successfully to make a big TV moment together. But given whose hands the idol fell into and what inevitably happened to one of its halves by the end of the night, I imagine production’s seen better days.
Regardless of my feelings towards the super idol, the dynamics between David and Khanh and their respective tribes following this trip almost makes up for any qualms. Whereas Khanh is somewhat honest and even shows his tribe his new jewelry, wisely neglecting to inform them of its true power, David’s approach is deliciously messy. His goal is turning Khanh into a so-called “grenade” against the Water Tribe, aiming to tear them apart and stir up chaos as revenge for his daughter’s ouster. Unfortunately, it’s David himself who ends up in his own blast radius when his weak cover story falls on distrusting ears, particularly those of the royal variety.
After Blood loses their first immunity challenge, the moment everyone has waited for is finally here after weeks of hype. It’s time for Queen Sandra to claim her first victim across international lines, and David’s already in her crosshairs as her new nemesis to be slain.
From minute one, Sandra has laid low and adapted to the Australian pace, keeping a watchful eye on the goings-on around Blood beach to pick out those likely to make rookie mistakes and open the door for her to pounce. On the other hand, David has grown paranoid, deciding to throw out Sandra’s name early and often to anyone who will listen. On paper, his plan is common sense. Target the big threat Sandra, split votes on loner Kate in case of an idol, and there won’t be any trouble. But the Blood Tribe isn’t a group that takes orders without question, and Sandra isn’t the helpless victim David thinks she is.
Going behind Dave’s back, tradie Ben leaks the entire plan to Sandra and sets up the dominos for chaos to ensue. Dave’s a bossy loose cannon who can’t be trusted long-term, but Sandra offers valuable experience and fun times as long as she’s kept around. Weighing his options and loathing the idea of playing it safe, Ben joins Sandra’s royal guard and the two get to work on an anti-Dave counter strike.
But not everyone is satisfied with abandoning the attempted regicide, as Sam, the other returnee on the tribe, is set on taking the Queen out of contention even though her heart says otherwise. One one hand, yes, Sandra is the biggest threat this season and could be hard to remove once she finds her footing and solidifies her alliances. But as a fellow returnee, Sam should be looking at Sandra as the perfect ally. Sandra will always be vulnerable at Tribals, has a big reputation she’ll never be able to shake, will shield Sam from standing out, and as Ben said, she offers valuable game experience that anyone could put to good use.
While it’s only her first loss of the season, Sam going into risky overplay mode this early has me questioning if she’s learned from her first season as well as her husband has. Or if she’s dooming herself to repeat history—trying to assume control of a massive tribe and losing what little power she had to begin with.
With Tribal fast approaching, Kate and David grow more paranoid as they’re left out of conversations happening right in front of them. Kate takes a more passive approach and crosses her fingers for survival, but Dave has another grenade on his belt and won’t hesitate to blow something (or someone) up to save himself. But the person he uses it on is… certainly a choice. It’s not Sandra, his initial target. It’s not Kate, his back-up target. It’s Sam, the one person who was totally on board with him from the start and fought to keep his name out of the mix.
This move makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. And I loved every second of the fallout. Between David giving himself the bizarre yet endlessly meme-able nickname “Juicy Dave” with zero context, Sam dashing around Tribal to whisper a new plan into action after one person called her out for something she didn’t even do, David burning his half of the OP super idol a day after finding it, and Sandra smirking front and center the entire time, this Tribal was non-stop entertainment.
Regarding his performance at Tribal, the juice definitely wasn’t worth the squeeze. Still, Juicy Dave deserves some credit for reading the energy around camp and realizing he was the new target. Of course, he hilariously burns all that credit by blowing up his game and walking back to camp with no idol or allies, and I can’t see a way he recovers without some serious luck, but at least he can read a room.
The basic foundation is there for some impressive plays, but like his daughter before him, he’s playing way too hard and stumbling over himself at every turn. He can toss all the grenades he wants, but if he keeps up the friendly fire and digs his trench deeper, he’ll face a dishonorable discharge and be reunited with Briana before she even makes it back home.
With Dave nullifying eight votes, Kate ultimately takes the hit and heads “off to KFC” as she delightfully says on her way out. Looking back at her sadly short run, there’s not much I can point to in regards to major mistakes she made herself. Rather, it was Andy’s elimination, the proverbial albatross hanging from her neck, that doomed her to be an easy, inoffensive sacrifice in the Water Tribe’s eyes. Pushed to the bottom of the totem pole, it was only a matter of time until the Blood tribe cleared out the bigger targets or a stray idol knocked her out.
Kate loved the game as a long-term fan and seems like a wonderful person all around who brought a likable, positive energy to the show. But this just wasn’t her season for a variety of reasons. Still, getting to live out your dream for a few days with Sandra on your beach isn’t the worst one can do.
And of course, we can’t close this week out without giving the Queen herself some dues after her first Tribal of the season. Her fans, myself included, set several benchmarks for Sandra to possibly reach. First was simply surviving one episode, which she passed with ease. The next was performing better than Russell Hantz did four seasons ago, also passed with ease despite being targeted at the first opportunity. So even if she’s not long for this game, she’s already earned some achievements to take back to the States.
While at first glance it would appear Sandra’s survival is due to Juicy Dave’s schemes evaporating more than any moves she made herself, that’s a shallow take. Sandra succeeded where Russell and many other big-name returnees have failed. She’s adapting. Sandra sits back, waits for people to come to her, subtly weaves a web of connections under the guise of being along for the ride and lets her loyal minions do the legwork to achieve her goals.
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It’s a strong departure from her previous two games, where Sandra came out of the gates playing a hyper-aggressive game to control every possible vote and defend her crown, but I’m glad to have the old Sandra back. In Australian Survivor, she knows that aggressive style of play rarely pays off, especially for someone with a heavy crown already on their head. And with Aussie juries typically holding loyalty, social skills, and determination in high regard, Sandra can finally play her low-key “Anybody But Me” game again without the fear of hearing “You didn’t do enough!” on Day 47 lurking in the back of her mind.
The first week of Blood v Water wasn’t perfect by any means. I still want to hear from the many, many players who haven’t entered the main narrative yet (or even given a confessional on air). And a super idol entering the game so early has me worried for future twists, even if this one thankfully got extinguished immediately. But I can’t deny it’s been a blast to watch so far, warts and all. As long as the show continues to be fun and worth talking about three times a week, I’m satisfied and looking forward to what’s in store.