Or should that be Hai Noon… eh? Eh? Alright, I’ll show myself out. Or, at least, I will once I gush about how chaotically delightful this season continues to be.
I won’t even say anything more about the fact that a whole tribe was expunged from the edit because this episode was a beautiful mess, and I’m glad we got to see Vati’s largely self-inflicted implosion in all its glory. There is so much happening in this season that derives from the same set-up we had in 41–ship wheel journeys, lost votes, Beware Idols, but it’s playing out in such distinct contrast. It’s not really evolution because this cast had no idea about how 41 played, but for us at home, it creates this beautiful alternative narrative.
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It’s refreshing, exciting, and it makes me wonder if Survivor will experiment with this idea going forward, running similar twists across its back-to-back seasons to get fresh interpretations and reactions to new twists. Of course, it won’t always be great (looking at you, hourglass and Do or Die, you can both stay back on 41, please). But three episodes in, it’s delivering so far.
In 41, the players seemed to tend towards caution, whereas in 42, it feels like they’re throwing that caution to the wind and playing with more willingness to take risks. As a result, for the first time in Survivor history, a player losing their vote by the result of their own choice has been the precipitating factor to the outcome of Tribal. And the best part: it wasn’t just the statistical firsts of this episode that made it one of the most electrifying Survivor episodes in recent memory. Yet again, it all came down to the cast and their energy, their drive and gameplay, and their very distinctly fun chaos.
LOST ON THE ISLAND
Up until this episode, Vati had been an intriguing but relatively stable tribe. With three clear pairs—Chanelle & Daniel, Jenny & Mike, and Hai & Lydia—and a clear hierarchy between those factions, it seemed like the tribe would have a straightforward path ahead of them should their luck in challenges come to a close. However, like a wave trying to drown half the cast, this episode washed away any sense of stability and direction and threw Vati into complete shambles.
At the centre of the hurricane was the swing vote pair of Daniel & Chanelle. Hai & Lydia had set their sights on targeting Jenny, ostensibly but not explicitly on account of Mike’s physical strength being a necessary asset. That was emphasised by the gruelling challenge, wherein Jonathan’s impressive brute force over on Tavu was a masterclass in pre-merge challenge strength (I can see Australian Survivor knocking on his door right now). Meanwhile, Mike & Jenny were returning the favour to target Lydia because… Well, that wasn’t really made clear. But nevertheless, the two pairs on the extremes were taking shots at each other, leaving the central pair to dictate the swing.
The situation was complicated by Mike’s Beware Idol robbing him of a vote, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker, especially once Daniel read the fine print of the Idol himself and learned that his original scheme to kill all three Idols wouldn’t be feasible. Still, he and Chanelle were able to comfortably align with the pair in possession of an Idol and still hold a clean 3-2 advantage heading into Tribal. The insulation to protect Mike was perfect, and there really should have been no problems for the decisive majority come the vote.
And yet, Daniel & Chanelle might have been excelling in the social space, balancing their allegiances on both sides with conviction, but somehow both managed to torpedo their own games when no one was looking to take them down. The string of choices made by the swing pair throughout this episode were baffling and enticing at once. It was a mix of sloppy and self-interested gameplay that efficiently ruined any upper hand they had as the decision-makers of their tribe. When Daniel almost losing Mike’s Idol on loan isn’t even the most disastrous event of the episode? Well, that’s a doozy.
PLAYING IT SAFE
After the challenge, the ship wheel journey returned with Taku sending Chanelle away from camp on the precipice of Tribal. While it’s always risky to be away from camp, Chanelle was in the most insulated position to not fear for her own safety. But there was just one thing she needed to ensure coming out of the time away from camp. She knew that Jenny’s journey had resulted in a risky dilemma, but with Mike’s vote already out of the picture, the margin for error come Tribal was too close to toy with. So at all costs, she needed to play it safe.
Smartly, she made this abundantly clear to her journey-mate Omar, and the pair seemed to hit it off well during their time together. Feeling like they wanted to work together in the long run, they agreed to collaborate on the best possible outcome when it came time for the dilemma. Both agreed to play it safe unless it offered the possibility for both of them to walk away with an advantage.
And yet… when they arrived at the ship’s wheel, it became immediately apparent that neither had come away from their strategic conversation with the same idea in mind. Omar recalled Chanelle’s adamancy that she had to play things safe, so, from his perspective, he had nothing to lose by risking his vote. If Chanelle needed her vote, she’d Protect, which would earn him an Extra Vote. And even in the event she did Risk, he at least has solid insulation in his alliance with Jonathan and the knowledge that Maryanne is also stuck without either of her two votes until the bunny is let out of the mailbox… or whatever was going on with her obscure Beware Idol key-phrase.
Chanelle, meanwhile, walked away from her conversation with Omar with the same degree of confidence that they could work together. Yet she entirely misconstrued the situation. From her perspective, she’d made it so clear that she needed to protect her ability to vote, so she reasoned that Omar would help her out and protect his vote to ensure she wouldn’t lose hers. This would allow her to Risk her own vote, still keep her vote thanks to Omar’s generosity, and earn an Extra Vote at the same time. Which, frankly, makes absolutely no sense in practice.
It’s wild that Chanelle was so confident in the goodwill of someone she’d talked to for a couple hours that she’d risk the numbers of her entire alliance on this gamble. It’s a mind-boggling choice, and I’m so glad that we got two seasons of the ship’s wheel to finally see two players strike each other out, and unintentionally, at that. Both Chanelle and Omar clearly thought the other would play it safe unless they could BOTH emerge with an Advantage. And yet, when push came to shove, both sought to exploit that for their own self-interest, and in doing so, it blew up in their face. Omar losing his vote is definitely complex (if Taku heads back to Tribal, Jonathan & Lindsay hold all the power with 2 votes out of the 5 on the tribe). But for Chanelle, it was dire right away, and she had a matter of hours (if that) to course-correct before Tribal.
To her credit, Chanelle recognised the vulnerable spot her decision had put her alliance in, and she hit the beach with a contingency plan ready to go. The plan was reasonable: convince Hai & Lydia to split the vote 2-2-2 to account for Jenny or Mike having an Idol, allowing for Jenny & Daniel to pull off a narrow 2-1-1 victory. It was a sensible pitch, especially as Hai was also pondering a split vote himself. However, with the adrenaline rush of returning from the journey, Chanelle came in hard and fast.
If the timeframes were similar to what happened in the same circumstances as 41, Chanelle may have had less than an hour to reconnect, so it’s entirely possible the conversation was heightened by time pressure. Regardless, it led Hai & Lydia to sense a degree of intensity incongruent with Chanelle’s usual demeanour. Something seemed off, and ultimately, they managed to read Chanelle’s deflection and chose to still vote together, which ended up saving their bacon.
WHERE ARE THE VOTES?
Mike had already lost his vote. Now Chanelle had lost hers. Their four-strong majority was thwarted by the risks they willingly took themselves, and in Chanelle’s case, they had full knowledge of the repercussions. So when the Tribal vote came up 2-2 between Lydia and Jenny, forcing a revote that became 1-1, it felt shocking and inevitable. Hai, naturally, had stuck by his closest ally Lydia but was taken aback by the plethora of missing votes. Meanwhile, Daniel had stuck with his original gameplan, but the loss of Chanelle’s vote at the last minute had backed his careful majority into a corner, leaving him the deciding factor.
Unprecedentedly, the tribe was deadlocked, and in another first, Mike and Chanelle were forced to reveal their missing votes, leaving the decision solely in the hands of Hai and Daniel to break the tie. Either they come to a unanimous decision or send themselves (plus Mike and Chanelle) to a rock draw.
It could have become a stand-off very quickly. Hai has shown himself to be willing to make aggressive, impulsive, and chaotic plays right from the jump with the Amulet (and the fake blood), and realising he and Lydia had lost the swing votes, he had no reason beyond self-preservation to back down. If he folded and agreed to follow Daniel’s lead to vote Lydia, he was the easy fifth on the bottom of the tribe.
Maybe Hai could become a swing vote between the pairs, but there was clearly info he wasn’t privy to with the missing votes, not to mention Chanelle’s lie about splitting the votes exposed an effort to divide and conquer. Preserving an ally was far more important to him. Not to mention the odds of a rock draw where 1-to-3 in his favour, and if there’s one player who would relish the drama of going out in the first US pre-merge rock draw, it’s probably Hai.
Hai played it brilliantly, despite being caught off-guard by the outcome. He made it clear he’d go to rocks if he needed to, making himself an immovable object and putting all the pressure onto Daniel, who immediately crumpled. Even before Hai had spoken, Daniel made it clear that he didn’t want to go to rocks on Day 7, and this immediately sapped all his power away, emboldening Hai to dig in his heels. But Daniel also found himself in the hot-seat to justify why he’d betrayed Lydia & Hai in the first place. And, in a baffling play, he decided that burning bridges with one alliance wasn’t enough and chose to torch his partnership with Chanelle too.
Throwing Chanelle under the bus by claiming he’d only voted for Lydia because she told him to and trying to put his current decision to flip his vote onto Jenny into her hands, he tried to shirk all the blame onto her. Understandably, Chanelle balked at the accusation; she had been eager to target Lydia, sure, but it had been a joint decision. Yet, with her vote taken away, she had no capacity to leverage Daniel to stay on side—or to immediately punish him either. So Daniel’s performance at Tribal became a bit of a dumpster fire. Chanelle was furious at him, Mike & Jenny were bewildered and helpless, and Hai & Lydia were frustrated but at least had the upper hand thanks to Hai’s staunchness.
In truth, it was really a no-brainer play for Daniel to flip and agree to unanimously eliminate Jenny. It was a move to cut losses after everything had blown up in his face. Chanelle’s move on the journey may have been why he was in this spot, but he’d also contributed to the situation by urging Mike not to say his phrase and sacrifice his vote in doing so. While the Ika Idol has yet to be found, could he be sure that they weren’t playing chicken with the phrases same as he’d instructed Mike, leading to this stalemate? But he could have easily let Jenny go as the collateral here and gone back to camp to regroup with Mike & Chanelle and hopefully regain a majority soon.
Instead, he went all-in not just flipping against Jenny to prevent rocks, but to also make a show of committing to Hai & Lydia, pressing them for a degree of forgiveness and protection. In doing so, he sold out his own alliance and revealed himself to be a snake at worst and a fair-weather ally at best. With his already growing (and self-inflicted) reputation for being paranoid and forgetful, this episode’s theme of losing things, Idols, votes, and Tribals, started with Daniel misplacing his shoes. It feels like Daniel could quickly become perceived as a liability. Shoulder injury on top of that? And now a potentially revenge-fuelled Chanelle? An abandoned Mike who might activate his Idol at any moment? The professor’s tenure could be looking worryingly short.
ON THE BLOCK
In the end, both Daniel & Hai made the right calls for the game, even if the former’s style may leave a bit to be desired strategically (but was perfection for entertainment). Unfortunately, while Jenny may have headed home in an instantly iconic Tribal, it doesn’t feel like much of this was directly her fault. Maybe her social game with Lydia & Hai was where she came up short, but the real nail in the coffin was her own alliance. Mike’s risk for the Beware Idol was largely an unknown punishment despite its cryptic warning, but Daniel’s efforts to manipulate it weren’t helping to give them a reprieve. But it was really Chanelle’s self-interested and short-sighted decision on the journey that set Jenny’s elimination in motion.
If Chanelle had played the long game, making the safe move like she knew she needed to, then Jenny would still be in the game. If Daniel had staunchly refused to flip first, then maybe there’s a chance Hai’s confusion could have been leveraged. But, honestly, by that point, Daniel’s neurotic and squirrelly demeanour meant that he’d never push hard enough for rocks. It’s always a shame to see players go out because of an Idol or a twist when they’re essentially just collateral, but that’s the modern game. I would have loved to see more from Jenny, who seemed like an assured and competitive player, but at least she went out in absolute style.
This episode was really all about the Vati tribe, and for good reason, but I’m excited to get back to our full cast next week. Ika is a mess of its own with its conflicting personalities, alliances, and shifting schemes, while Taku is ostensibly the good vibes tribe, but with half its players down a vote, tensions could rise.
It’ll be hard to beat this gem of an episode, thrillingly played and wonderfully told, but this season is 3 for 3 and feels poised to keep delivering wave after wave after wave of fun.