In many ways, this episode perfectly captured the feeling of the end of an act. It felt like a resolution of the last several weeks and a conduit toward what awaits after intermission. Fittingly, on all tribes, the notion of an impending merge and the need to evaluate perception and position was front of mind. Fascinatingly, the final number of the pre-merge zigged where it seemed like it might zag.
The chaotic Ika tribe returned from Tribal, where Rocksroy was blindsided by the Swati vote, with a promise of tribe unity. Rocksroy, recognising that his stubborn social game had led to him being viewed as so inflexible as to be left out of the vote, seemed surprisingly forgiving and humble, utilising the promise of tribe loyalty as an opportunity to refine his game. Meanwhile, consistently on the outs Tori balked at the opportunity for togetherness and confidently asserted her intentions to flip against her tribe and the people who’d ultimately chosen to protect her twice.
Meanwhile, Tavu’s luster as the love tribe was beginning to tarnish as Jonathan and Maryanne clashed. Jonathan recognised (with great self-awareness) that he couldn’t confront Maryanne about her increasing loudness or tendency towards amplifying small issues as it would most likely paint him as the bad guy, especially with his hulking stature. However, his attempts to diffuse the situation as calmly as possible still led to spiralling disagreement and Maryanne (correctly) fearing he was trying to target her. All the while, Lindsay balanced both sides, chatting with Maryanne but strategizing with Jonathan. At the same time, Omar watched on with concern over the petty squabbling, fearing that if they couldn’t present a united enough front, Maryanne, with her Idol & Extra Vote, could be snatched up by an opportunistic opponent.
The chaotic tribe coming together. The unified tribe coming apart. Like poetry, it rhymes.
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And that leaves us with the Vati tribe—disparate and fractured after the 6-way blindside of their first Tribal Council. As they approached the end of the first act, their story was about reversal and recovery in the wake of disruption. Not a flawed promise of unity, not a commitment to division, but the establishment of a new direction. Hai and Lydia found themselves rocketed to the top of the pecking order with Mike’s trust and loyalty to boot. In contrast, prior number ones, Chanelle and Daniel, scrambled to ensure their own safety over the other.
One of the things that I’ve loved most about this season is its incidental diversity in Tribal attendance. With each tribe losing multiple players, it’s allowed us to really get a sense of the dynamics and style of each of the castaways and has also meant that everybody’s mettle has been well-tested as we reach the end of Act One. So it seems fitting that we round out the tribal portion of the game by resolving the aftermath of the climactic moment of the pre-merge with Vati returning to Tribal to realign themselves ahead of the bloodbath of the merge.
Hai, Lydia, and Mike found themselves in the enviable position of power, able to choose between Chanelle and Daniel, both of whom had in some capacity betrayed them all. The pair had promised to vote with Lydia and Hai but had instead turned against her. At the same time, Daniel folded in the face of rocks to send Mike’s ally Jenny home, and Chanelle’s self-interested decision to risk her vote ahead of an important Tribal had facilitated the whole debacle. Moreover, Daniel and Chanelle’s trust in each other had been shot through—there was no chance that fence could be mended.
So on face value, it was a clean and straightforward choice, and it would just come down to the criteria these three sought as their guiding principle. They didn’t trust either of them, so was it a question of who they trusted less? Or was it about preserving strength should more Tribal challenges arise, or conversely leaving an easy target? Or was it about proactively cutting off someone who might be poised to flip? There were many reasonings and motivations, including some that felt a little overblown to us. Daniel being criticised for some gentle snorkel-fishing when he’d sat out of more taxing physical challenges felt like making a mountain of a molehill. I do not think that was actually the deciding factor in the trio’s ultimate decision to vote out Daniel over Chanelle, but nevertheless, his time was up.
So what was the reason Mike, Lydia, and Hai chose to vote out Daniel over Chanelle? His shoulder injury certainly seems like it could be a factor. If another round of challenges awaited, they wouldn’t be able to sit him out again, while Chanelle has proven herself to be a particular asset in the challenge department. But Hai and Lydia, especially, are cerebral players, and Mike’s far from a dope, so this feels like a primarily strategic call.
At the end of the day, Daniel had decisively voted against all three of the trio in different ways, and he’d been quick to self-preservation, allowing himself to be transparently manipulated when push came to shove. With numbers evening, the trio needed a degree of reliability, and Daniel had been anything but. It’s a tricky call. Chanelle is crafty and opportunistic too, and, arguably, her defter touch is far more dangerous than Daniel’s earnest transparency. But this ultimately feels like the consequences of that first Tribal. While Chanelle and Daniel were both responsible, Daniel took the heat, and Chanelle somehow evaded the direct blowback. And while she took a hit to her trustworthiness, she wasn’t blamed in the same way.
I’m disappointed to lose Daniel here. He was a wonderfully neurotic and endearing character who clearly had game acumen but with fascinatingly flawed execution. Here, he continued with what he did best; good pitches highlighting Chanelle’s more stealthily independent play but also making missteps and social gaffes with the fishing incident. He leaned into his self-deprecation and hearteningly awkward affirmations of friendship—whether it was he or Mike (at a spry 117 years of age, as Hai quipped) who outlived the other. This exchange felt like a perfect encapsulation of Daniel as a character. Clever but fumbling, witty but obtuse.
Daniel felt real even in his exaggerated goofiness, in the way that every player feels realised this season. This season’s emphasis on the people and their journeys has felt authentic. It continued this episode with Lydia articulating her struggles with body image, especially in the context of the exposure of Survivor, and Romeo speaking about his mother and his draw towards supporting strong women. And so Daniel, so open with his experience as a leukemia survivor but also so unabashedly himself in his gameplay, felt like a narratively fitting capstone to the season’s first act.
Was it the right call, though, to send him packing? Given Chanelle’s own subterfuge, perhaps they should have stuck with the devil they knew.
HOW THE VOTES FALL
Whereas Ika and Tavu’s Tribals have been intensely straightforward, with majorities so clean that Shots in the Dark have fired off each time, I find it fascinating that Vati continued to elevate to a greater degree of complexity, especially as they once again faced the challenge of Tribal with a key vote sent on a journey to the Ship’s Wheel. Thankfully, the trio caught some lucky breaks and made some smart choices. When Drea found the lingering Ika Idol (adding to her incredibly impressive arsenal), Mike was finally able to recuperate his vote with the activation of all three Idols. Meanwhile, Lydia learned from Chanelle’s mistake and prioritised protecting her vote, even though steady Rocksroy also played it safe
Lydia’s caution afforded the trio the opportunity to cleanly guard against a Shot in the Dark or an unexpected advantage by splitting the vote. Arguably, Mike and Hai could have still split the vote 2-2 had Lydia lost her vote, but it’s ultimately a good thing she stuck with her plan, or there would have been yet another Tribal where everyone was blindsided.
Had Lydia lost her vote (in secret), this vote would have led to a 2-1-1: one vote Daniel, one vote Mike, and two votes on Chanelle. Even though the trio’s preferred target was Daniel, Chanelle could have sent herself home with her own rogue vote on account of another lost vote at the Ship’s Wheel—a perfect irony! But in reality, Chanelle’s decision to throw her vote at Mike, which led to a revote between her and Daniel, is a really fascinating and risky play. But it’s one rooted in confident theory—and a move I can’t imagine she would have made if she had any reason to suspect Lydia might have lost her vote.
Chanelle knew she was at the bottom of the tribe and that it was between her and Daniel. He was going to be voting for her, leaving the trio in control. If they decided to target her unanimously, there was nothing she could do (save a lucky Shot—she’d be gone 4-1. If they decided to target Daniel, then her vote was just another on the pile, just one of those 4 against 1. So why not make better use of her own individual vote?
Daniel was enough of a strategist and enough of a paranoid player that he might play his Shot in the Dark. If everyone had piled their votes on him, and he successfully played his Shot, then everyone would head back to the voting booth, and odds are the trio would just vote Chanelle out. Throwing a vote onto Mike would ensure that he’d be the one going home. And picking Mike to target was an intelligent play too, as he’s the ancillary to the Hai & Lydia pair. By targeting Mike, she might be able to leapfrog him into Hai & Lydia’s good graces, especially if he accuses them of throwing a vote on him. And if it works? Well, that also flushes the Idol alongside him—a safe gamble as it’s unlikely he’d play his Idol at this particular Tribal based on the dynamics at camp.
It’s a surprising but incredibly effective move, and for someone in the minority to recognise the power of their single vote is always exciting. It’s also a beautiful culmination of Chanelle’s journey thus far, influencing her first Tribal for the worst without a vote and then optimising her vote here. Chanelle clearly weighed up the circumstances and the possible outcomes using the information she had and made a perfect defensive play that also sows seeds of chaos she can exploit.
For this reason, I lament the breakdown between Chanelle and Daniel. They both had a mind for loopholes and cerebral gameplay, and they could have made a wonderful duo. But nevertheless, Chanelle suggested her capacity to be a deadly assassin in this game if given too much leeway. And this is where I question whether the trio made the right call. Daniel might have been transparently squirrely and unreliable, but Chanelle’s a smooth operator and can pull off a move like this that no one was expecting.
Ultimately, Hai, Lydia, and Mike still outmatched Chanelle with their own planned split vote (intended as a 3-2, that became an equally effective 2-2-1 with a unanimous 3 on the revote). But it’s still an impressive suggestion that Chanelle is far from dead in the water, especially as the individual game is just around the corner.
And I am thrilled about the individual game. For the first time, we’re heading into the merge with a remarkably even 4-4-4 split between our three tribes. And none of these groups are perfectly unified family units. On top of that, the ambition and competition is fierce. Still, there’s been plenty of imperfection in execution and several potential rogue agents and cross-Tribal connections (lest we forget the Amulets still in play) that could lead to a highly fluid and unpredictable journey from here on out.
So as we close out the pre-merge, I can confidently say that the start to Season 42 has been the most I’ve enjoyed Survivor in quite some time. It may not be the most ground-breaking, but it’s been continuously intriguing on both the fronts of strategy and character. And the diversity of personality and story has made for a delightful five weeks. Now, as I wait with bated breath for what feels like the return of the hourglass (a decisively terrible twist), I’m just going to relish the relatively pure season we’ve had thus far (by modern standards).
Sure, we’ve had game mechanics and advantages, but the storytelling has been perfectly focused on the people over the production, and the season is all the better for it. Now here’s hoping that continues as we cross into the individual portion of the game and, until the very end, this holds out as a fantastically fun and dynamic season.