Blood v Water’s third week wasn’t exactly the exciting, edge of my seat post-swap I’d anticipated. Between the major losses of two massive characters (the Queen and the season’s biggest villain so far in Sophie) and three back-to-back easy votes against clear outsiders, the game has cleaned up its messiness as this cast strives for optimal if sacrificial plays on their journey to the impending merge.
But even with this third and final episode being rather simple (though after watching two people vote their loved ones out back to back, this vote could never stack up), it did serve as a hopeful introduction to a new power player and fleshed out the dynamics of these tribes a bit further.
Following KJ’s ultimate sacrifice at the previous Tribal, the mood on the new Water Tribe is somber and tense. Finally free of her rival Sophie, Sam isn’t sure how her relationship with KJ will progress. KJ doesn’t strike me as a player to take things personally, much less when her sister was openly antagonistic and clearly earned her downfall, so I’d say Sam’s in the clear. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for KJ, who’s inherited her sister’s unshakable target in Sam’s eyes like a familial curse.
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But not all is grim for KJ because Chrissy and Sam have their sights set on flushing Khanh’s idol as soon as possible… again. At first, this story arc was interesting. Public idols are a new part of the Survivor meta, and watching players play around them has been a refreshing twist to the otherwise twist-laden new school game. However, the arc of flushing Khanh’s half-idol has hit the point of dragging out far too long, if only because these players refuse to actually do it.
Whether that’s a testament to Khanh’s incredible social game or the ineptitude of his tribemates remains to be seen. But with Alex’s quit, Sophie’s horrendous social game, and several immunity wins postponing this simple move for two straight weeks, I’m hoping that idol goes as soon as possible. Not only will that allow Khanh’s story to advance past being “the guy with the idol,” but it will test Khanh’s abilities without an idol lingering over him. I want to see him back on his toes, manipulating people and playing big to save himself, but as long as he’s defensively hoarding his idol, he can afford to play it safe and not make waves.
However, as if the editing gods were hearing my pleas for more diverse Khanh-tent, a reward loss gives him the chance to showcase just how nuanced and perceptive his playstyle can be even with solid protection.
Morale is low on Water’s beach. Chrissy begged for fish and chips, but her tribe couldn’t pull it off, leaving players like Ben and Croc so gutted about their individual losses that no amount of corny, lewd pole-tugging jokes from JLP can cheer them up. But you know who’s loving the plummeting morale? Khanh, who only cares about winning immunity because it’s the only thing keeping him and his idol together. But the Masterchef alum has another plot cooking on the back burner. As he puts it, gutting reward losses expose critical weaknesses in players who are worried about their standing or take the loss personally, giving him a chance to push them to the edge of the tribal dynamics.
In this case, it’s Ben experiencing the wrath of Khanh as a target gently floats onto his back for his physical threat level and bitterness over their last loss. It’s subtle reads like this that make Khanh a cut above the rest. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a player vocalize and explain the dynamics of reacting to wins and losses, but Khanh understands the most subtle social nuances of the game. And with Survivor AU showing appreciation for all kinds of games, both big and small, I’m happy to see someone’s clever social game once again getting time in the spotlight as opposed to more standard numbers talk.
On the other hand, Blood beach is numbers talk central as basic math becomes the name of the game. Amy sees the six-to-three Water majority as a long-term problem, made even more concerning by Jordan effectively jumping ship to tag along with his cousin Josh. And after eight episodes stuck in purple purgatory, Josh has finally arrived on our screens as a power player with serious strategy on the brain. Writing off his under-the-radar edit (if one could even call it an edit) as his early game strategy of coasting until the time to take control presents itself, the pilot readies for takeoff and starts setting up his flight path.
His actual strategy is nothing to write home about, though. It’s the same “Get a strong majority, pick off the weak outsiders, make the merge, profit!” approach we’ve seen countless times. But it’s proven to work, especially for physical threats like himself, so I can’t fault him for doing the sensible if less interesting move. But assuring us he’s got plans B and C lined up for when he has to turn auto-pilot off, it’s a nice reminder that his thinking cap’s always on just in case a chance to shake things up presents itself.
But for now, Josh’s target is Mel, still a non-factor in the edit and apparently a challenge liability who rides the middle and cozies up with Mark on the regular to sneak through votes, all while not committing to anything. Is there proof of any of this? Well, I can’t say she’s been a star performer in challenges, but the rest might as well be the smoothest franken-byte ever stitched together because this is all told to us rather than shown, and not even by Mel herself.
It’s yet another case of an unfortunate editing trend this show has utilized in recent seasons: totally purple someone for no reason, drop a few confessionals about how difficult they are to live or work with a few episodes in to justify their impending elimination, and then unceremoniously boot them shortly before the merge as they finally get a few minutes of airtime. It wouldn’t shock me at all if Mel gets that treatment beat for beat, and I dislike it just as much as I have in the past.
But Mel’s name is quickly removed from the action once the immunity challenges comes to pass because Jordan single-handedly costs the Bloods a victory. And Amy’s out to spill some of their namesake once again, eager to claim some power and flip the narrative on its head. The cousins are too powerful together, and Jordan’s leaving her high and dry, so it’s her one chance to pull the numbers and get him out.
Mark, Dave, and Mel seem to agree, but Amy still needs that fifth vote from somewhere. And her first stop is Shay, who finds herself in a possible swing vote position… until she runs straight to Josh and leaks the entire plan to blow up Amy’s game.
With a new target in his sights, Josh recruits Jordan, Shay, Dave, Jordie, and Nina as an anti-Amy brigade. But behind the scenes, Nina has some opinions about this sudden change of plans. Without her mother, she’s free to play her own game, seeking an alliance with Josh and Jordan, but mostly her old Water ally Josh, meaning Jordan’s in the way. If Jordan leaves, she has Josh all to herself. But she also sees the benefits of voting Amy out because it keeps her game steady and doesn’t rock the boat while maintaining a secure majority to the merge. Either way, she’s just happy to be included in conversations with options galore heading into another Tribal.
Unfortunately for Amy, there’s very little she can do to recover as her entire plan goes up in flames, leaving her alone in voting for Jordan as the rest of the tribe splits between her and Mel. A predictable outcome, but Amy came to make moves and play to win, gunning for big targets like Queen Sandra and the Cousins even if she was inexperienced with the nuances of the game.
While it’s easy to write this blunder off as Amy foolishly trying to stir the pot instead of letting an easy Mel boot pass by, I actually think there was merit to her strategy here. With the numbers as they were and a strength-based alliance in charge, there was only so much time to make a move happen and seize control before her name eventually found its way onto some parchment. And losing less rigid players like Mel only takes her potential numbers away. The timing was right, but the execution just wasn’t up to speed.
Her biggest mistake was sticking her head out of the trenches, ironically foreshadowed by Sandra during Sophie’s first elimination as Amy was set up to take major heat. Instead of letting others carry out her plans as she sat back and avoided exposing her threat level, she charged head-first into the fray, waving her flag with pride. But she didn’t have the numbers to back her up once the enemy opened fire on an obvious troublemaker.
Amy’s social connections were limited, her reputation was messy, her luck at the swap was downright horrible, and the Blood vs. Water theme made it easy for her wavering allies to find new homes with familiar faces instead of relying on her for support. But at least she gave it everything she had and went down swinging to the bitter end, leaving her brother to carry her torch for the both of them.
With big players and characters dropping like flies, I’m hoping for some improvements in the coming week. More screen time for the underedited players, new stories emerging as old ones come to an end, dynamic strategy to break the streak of safe majority votes, you name it. This season isn’t in a horrible spot by any means. However, the cracks are showing and have me worried if the majority domination style of play continues deep into the game as it did just two seasons ago with the heavily maligned All Stars.
Predictable seasons can still be great television if the storytelling picks up the slack, but Survivor AU is known for messy, flashy, over the top moves over its storytelling abilities, as far as recent editions have shown at least. So let’s keep our fingers crossed for some major shake-ups across the board as the merge approaches.