I’ve eagerly awaited the day when Blood v Water would slip into messy train wreck territory, where a ridiculous episode would drop out of nowhere and shift the season into a new gear. Bad moves, weird decisions, bizarre moments, you name it. This episode brought it all to the table and had a full-on feast.
Following Sophie’s blindside-turned-swap, the influencer and businesswoman has been reunited with her superfan sister KJ on the Water Tribe. While the swap ruffled a few feathers in the fanbase, as most non-elimination episodes do, the show is more than happy to reap the rewards of having this twist in a Blood vs. Water season because Sophie is furious and lets everyone know about it. She’s a woman on a mission, relishing in the fantasy of punishing her old enemies by voting their loved ones out across tribal lines. The only issue? Her old Blood Tribe isn’t done with her quite yet.
Sandra is annoyed by Sophie’s survival after putting in the work to blindside her. And Sam knows her own name will be dragged through the mud when Sophie inevitably vents her frustrations to her new tribemates. So a devious plan is hatched: tell their loved ones to show Sophie the revolving door at the next challenge.
But first, there’s fallout to handle on the Blood Tribe, Sophie or no Sophie. Croc, Ben, and Jordan were left out of the loop for the first time as the rest of the tribe solidified their alliance, sending the Big Boys trio into self-preservation mode. Jordan is the mouthpiece for their alliance this episode, finally stumbling his way into the narrative after his strategic snafu. He wisely approaches the Queen herself for game advice, receiving the blunt, basic direction to simply build new relationships because his old ones are long gone.
Intent on surviving the hypothetical return to Tribal Council, Jordan decides his best move is to distance himself from Sophie and hang her out to dry. Whether this strategy will bear fruit long-term has yet to be decided, but his head’s in the right space and things are going good… Until there’s a twist.
The reward challenge offers a lot of fun: the return of the fan favorite Sumo at Sea, Sophie openly threatening both tribes on the mat in one fell swoop, Sandra literally making a throat-cutting gesture to Nina as Sophie vents, Jesse selling Sophie out to Mark mid-battle, Sam putting forth a Herculean effort to beat Sophie and denying her that sweet revenge, and the Twines providing some iconic, sassy banter between mom and daughter that will undoubtedly provide the list of great Sandra quotes with more content.
But there’s another twist—and a simple one I’m quite fond of. In what I will dub an unintended throwback to Danni’s Pool Party from Guatemala, production has the victorious Water Tribe enjoy their cheese platter reward at Blood’s camp. The sentimental value of the twist is obvious. Loved ones can reunite and have a relaxing day off from the game, maybe sparking some new strategy along the way. But that’s exactly not what production was looking for here because aside from Mark and Sam’s sweet scene, the personal content is brushed aside to make room for Sophie’s scorched-earth campaign, complemented by aerial shots of actual bush fires.
I have no doubts in my mind that production set the non-elimination twist and this tribal mingle twist to complement each other. You cut someone from one tribe, toss them onto the other where their loved one might be waiting, and then force them to interact with their failed killers less than a day later. It’s so brilliant, so simple, and relies on the cast themselves to create great TV instead of forcing a ridiculous twist upon them and seeing who gets royally screwed out of the game. More of this, please!
And great TV we received. Eyeing her old tribe from afar, Sophie immediately notices her Big Boys alliance is ghosting her, which is, of course, their best move. But Sophie’s not having it. Feeling as if her loyalty and integrity have been personally attacked (they haven’t, because it’s a game), she dons her detective’s hat and hunts for answers. First, she confronts Jordan, accusing him of sleeping with the enemy when all he’s trying to do is salvage his spiraling game.
Second on the hit list is her new nemesis Sam, who gets hit with the tearful, bitter side of Sophie’s fury. She’s allegedly not mad about Sam voting for her, just that Sam didn’t tell her beforehand. Given Sophie’s performance throughout the rest of this episode, I’m going to take that with a massive grain of salt, and perhaps Sophie herself could help supply it.
Facing the brutal, recurring barrel immunity challenge, the Water Tribe proves to be dominant, putting the Sophie Boot 2.0 plan in jeopardy. Once Jordan drops out first, the rest of the Bloods fall like dominoes until only Ben remains in a showdown against eight solid Water members, the tribe’s fate on his shoulders alone. But in what must be an all-time Survivor comeback, Ben manages to outlast them all to claim victory, seemingly dooming Sophie to her Final Destination style downfall.
After such a demoralizing defeat, the Water Tribe faces several tough choices. Alex’s injured back has yet to significantly improve, and after giving it his all in the challenge, he’s back to square one. But he’s proven himself worthy, so his name is off the table. Sophie’s the obvious vote, a plan Khanh is more than happy with since it allows him to hold his idol for another day.
KJ isn’t nearly as giddy about the plan to cut Sophie loose. While Sophie’s dramatic revenge plot has instilled a fear of her game being derailed through no fault of her own, KJ’s still willing to work with her as long as she reasonably can. Doing her best to fight for her sister, she shifts the focus towards blindsiding Khanh with his public idol in his pocket, using Sophie as a red herring. With the seed planted, she waits for it to grow and crosses her fingers that Khanh won’t realize what’s going on.
But if you thought this vote was going to be purely tactical, get your screenshots of KJ’s grimace from the last Tribal ready because Shay decides the episode needs a bit more messiness and offers herself as a split vote option. What on Sophie’s scorched earth is she thinking? With the focus on Khanh, Shay should be hearing angels singing because miraculously, the “blindside the person with the public idol” strategy hasn’t been aimed her way yet.
Instead of laying back and letting the tribe forget about her threat level, Shay takes it upon herself to step into the firing line and waste her idol for absolutely no reason. Clearly, the idol will have to be played at some point, likely sooner rather than later, and I can understand wanting to show she’s a loyal team player for her alliance, but why not delay that point for as long as possible, even if for two more days? Thankfully for Shay, this baffling move will hit a snag or two before the day is over, but I’m still confused. Amused, but confused.
As Tribal nears, Khanh grows paranoid as conversations and whispers go down behind his back as he literally stirs the cooking pot. Despite KJ and Shay’s best efforts to calm him down, it seems doomsday is inevitable and Sophie will be idoled out double feature style. But as Tribal starts, the tribe is hit with a bombshell reveal: Alex wants to be mercy-booted at the last minute.
I know the average fan, both of the super and casual varieties, typically groans at the mention of someone quitting, be it by requested votes or simply walking out without a formal process. And given Alex’s stellar performance in the challenge despite his injury, it’s a bit strange to see him pull a 180 and offer to fall on his sword. But only Alex knows how he truly feels health-wise, so if you’re going to throw shade his way for his choice, try and be understanding. Nobody wants to see players quit the game for any reason, but I’d much rather see someone leave a game show on their own terms than stick around for a few more days and live with potentially life-changing injuries for years if the worst comes to be.
Jonathan asks Alex’s tribe if they’d grant his wish, but they overwhelmingly deny it, begging him to stay just one more day. So with no other option, he opts to throw his buff in the fire and leave without an official vote, becoming the second person to quit Australian Survivor. My heart goes out to Alex, who seemed like a lovely person and a capable player based on what little content we got to see. His tribe clearly loved having him around, and he loved Survivor just as much as a big fan, so for this to be his ultimate legacy is saddening. But if he’s satisfied with his choice, it’s best to take his word for it and leave it at that.
And with yet another lucky break, Sophie survives another Tribal to continue her scorched-earth campaign with KJ cleaning up the messes in her wake. Khanh and Shay keep their idols to be flushed another day. And the numbers are evened up between tribes yet again.
With the Next Time On promising another assassination attempt on Queen Sandra and an unlikely alliance between Sophie and Khanh, this season is picking up steam. Whether it ascends to new heights or careens off a cliff is up to this cast (and the editing team who tragically refuse to give Invisi-Twins Michelle and Mel any content beyond existing in the background). Still, after this fun and somewhat more balanced episode, my hopes are on the rise.