First things first: the hourglass is still a terrible twist. Doesn’t matter how much Applebee’s you serve; it’s still an inherently flawed and frustrating concept. I appreciate the efforts to inch it towards a little more transparency compared to the blatant lie in Season 41, by unsubtly hinting that the exiled player would have the power to “change the game” and allowing for a member of the winning tribe to volunteer to give up the feast to seize the power for themselves. But it’s still a lot of rigamarole that feels like a waste of time.
There’s still the needless lie about the challenge winners “earning” the merge, only to be stripped of it. There’s still the non-choice choice of the hourglass itself: why risk being vulnerable when you could ensure immunity at the first merge Tribal? There’s still the stupid semantics of not technically being merged despite arriving at an individual game, putting everyone on one beach, and having everyone at Tribal. I hope we never see this twist again. But if we must: just be transparent about what it is. Don’t promise an outcome (immunity) and then strip it away. And make the choice non-obvious by leaving the decision-maker vulnerable (or safe) no matter which choice they make, making their decision about something other than obvious self-preservation.
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But aside from the return of this nonsense twist, this was a surprisingly fun, nuanced, and dynamic episode. This cast is just too compelling and the storytelling is so character and relationship-focused, that not even production chicanery could detract from what continues to be a phenomenal season. While the ultimate outcome felt a little circumstantial, rushed, and vaguely explained, the episode utilised its longer runtime to relish the historic coming-together of three tribes evenly matched at four apiece. There was room to explore the shifting power dynamics and the flurry of cross-Tribal alliances, but there was also ample time given to scenes of human connection.
Season 42 survived the merge-atory stronger than ever, and it’s looking like it will be one heck of a ride.
Given the even split between the tribes, and with so much division within them, I’d anticipated this merge being either a remarkably straightforward affair, such as two tribes joining forces against a third, or just complete pandemonium as the fractures send everyone spinning in different directions. I didn’t expect the coalition that seemed to naturally arise out of the union of the power players on each tribe. It looks like a perfect solution for the players in power to maintain control moving into the merge, but the merge often becomes a battle to dethrone the competition rather than unite them.
So what changed, allowing an 8 out of 12 majority to click conveniently into place? It’s not just the amicability of a large portion of the cast, nor blind safety in numbers. The scene that solidified the alliance seemed driven by Hai, actively seeking “agency” amongst the general good vibes of everyone getting to know each other as he sat with his closest ally Lydia, Drea from Ika, and Jonathan from Taku. Each added their closest allies to the mix: Mike would take a bullet for them, Jonathan was tight with Lindsey & Omar, and (surprisingly) Drea vouched for the exiled Rocksroy as a loyal, solid number.
Each tribe also offered up a sacrificial lamb. Chanelle was untrustworthy and had betrayed Vati, Tori was a dangerous and disruptive loose cannon, and Maryanne had just been the next on the block. Romeo was conspicuously absent from either being part of the alliance (strange considering his apparent closeness to Drea on Ika) or among the targets.
Nevertheless, this majority locked in with remarkable simplicity. A large part of this may simply have been the familiarity of cross-Tribal knowledge of advantages. Mike and Drea were quick to bond over having the activated Idol, agreeing to work together, while Drea, Lindsey, and Hai decided on a truce regarding their Day 1 Amulet. With all of these players in power positions in their tribes, it facilitated bringing everyone together and consolidating power.
But the vibes played an important role. Fast friendships like sensitive-souled big guys Jonathan and Mike made allegiance a natural solution. While landing on easy enemies that could be pinpointed as trouble for anyone—namely Chanelle and Tori—consolidated a simple plan. In many ways, the assembly of The Eight was just a perfect storm of a quick majority with easy targets to at least make it through whatever the mergatory twist would hold before the gloves would inevitably come off.
What I adored about this episode is that none of the camp life felt perfunctory. It (largely) made sense as to how these players came together because the show took time depicting the advantage-holders feeling each other out, and scenes like Hai warning Omar about Chanelle leading to him realising he’d lost a vote, or Jonathan & Mike’s bonding gave a clear picture of a very intricate web of relationships. It wasn’t just about the numbers – it was about the people, and that’s been this season’s greatest strength.
That said, there was one curious outlier. Romeo felt like he was in lockstep with Drea after the Swati vote, but he was left out of the Eight majority and seemed to be out of Drea’s plans as she realigned herself preferentially with a stable no-nonsense Rocksroy. Romeo certainly didn’t seem to have trouble forging relationships, and the scene with him talking to Hai about their shared but distinct experiences as young gay men from immigrant communities was a beautiful moment. But that human connection didn’t parlay into game alignment. Why?
The best I can guess is that Romeo hit the merge with an eye towards self-preservation, especially after being on the losing side of the challenge and vulnerable. We saw him actively looking to pick up the outsiders and littler folk in his conversation with Maryanne, and later in the episode, he seemed willing to work with Tori (Tori!) to take out bigger, physical threats. It may simply be that his agenda and Drea’s no longer aligned, but if there was one thing this episode that felt a little undersold strategically, it was probably how Ika shook out in the shuffle.
GOING TO ROCKSROY
It’s especially surprising as Ika was at the heart of so much of what was influencing that damned hourglass twist. While Drea and Romeo were left vulnerable on the beach and seemingly broke in opposite directions, and Tori relished the freedom to air her tribe’s dirty laundry with short-sighted confidence of zero repercussions, Rocksroy ended up on Exile.
The choice was a bizarre one from the winning team in some respect. Tori was quick to voice that she didn’t trust Rocksroy after he (understandably) wouldn’t reveal anything about his ship wheel journey, so why hand him an unknown power and banish him but expect him to be grateful somehow? On the other hand, I can understand Lindsay being picked by Jonathan to join them for a feast and “immunity. And it’s also not a huge surprise that when food is as scarce as it’s been this season, passing up a feast for two days of physical and social isolation for a nebulous power is not appealing for any of the victors.
But for Rocksroy, the isolation seemed to actually buoy his spirits. He’s a fascinatingly old-school character, relishing the survival that comes with Survivor. And as he set to work fashioning his own shelter without any pesky kids singing to distract him, it was apparent how much he relished the freedom and isolation from all that bothersome strategy and game stuff. It proved a stark contrast to Erika’s Exile last season. His carefree confidence compared to her tearful reflections, though both found themselves interestingly empowered by the isolation and not just because of the literal power in their hands. It was exciting to see a different side of Rocksroy emerge. His basking in the beauty of his surroundings, especially in the context of having degenerative blindness, made his unique experience on Exile a wonderful character piece.
Of course, then came the twist. If there was a player who might let the challenge result lie based on principle alone, Rocksroy is probably that guy. Still, the nature of the twist itself actively undermines that option because it would leave him vulnerable to be voted out after being away from camp for two days while everyone else is forging alliances. Rocksroy might prefer his own company, but that’s still got to be a daunting prospect. On top of that, his allies Drea and Romeo were in the vulnerable group, while his archnemesis Tori was yucking it up. So, reversing the challenge outcome would kill two birds with one stone, protecting his friends and perhaps allowing him to finally get rid of Tori.
So it was far from surprising that he followed through on breaking the hourglass. And no degree of false outrage from Tori could convince me that any of the players were truly surprised by his choice. In many ways, this became the junction point of the episode that threw chaos into an otherwise straightforward outcome. The Eight had managed to luck out with having an ideal target on each side. If all stayed as it was, Chanelle was the easy target, but if Rocksroy was given power to reverse that decision, Tori would become the consensus pick and most likely a near-unanimous vote.
Only… when Tori wins the crucial Individual Immunity and four of the five vulnerable players (Hai, Lydia, Jonathan, and Lindsay) are in your alliance… And the one outsider, Maryanne, has an Immunity Idol… What next?
This was a wonderfully portrayed scramble. With 12 players, multiple advantages, and the “easy” majority suddenly having to consider fracturing before they’ve even had a chance to consolidate trust, this could have quickly become an indecipherable mess. But the show managed to tell a pretty seamless and logical story of how the targets shifted and how we ended up at the wild 6-2-2-1 vote.
Naturally, eyes were immediately drawn to Jonathan: his physicality makes him impossible to ignore as a threat. Even though individual immunity challenges tend to veer away from brute strength, he’s still an imposing figure. Romeo and Tori were certainly on board with taking out a big guy. But even among the majority, the sentiment seemed to be brewing. Lindsay made a solid pitch to try to defend him; he’s an essential asset for everyday survival, and he’s got his challenge blindspots (notably puzzles; cf. 11 triangles). But he was still an easy sell.
Only Jonathan’s social game managed to carry him through. Players like Mike and Rocksroy gravitated towards him, Lindsay sought to save him, and other players like Hai saw him as a physical shield.
So naturally, the question of who next? Maryanne would be the other “easy” vote—not in the alliance of Eight, and if they could get her gone, that flushes her Idol too. Worst case? Split the vote on Maryanne and Jonathan and hope she doesn’t play the Idol. Again, a confident sell, and with more than half the tribe immune, they might be more willing to risk loading up on a player with an Idol knowing the blowback wouldn’t be on them. However, Maryanne had an unexpected ally in Omar.
Knowing he wouldn’t have a vote and that he was safe, Omar was in a comfortable position to ride this one out in the background. He could see how the chips fell without accidentally taking the wrong side and could reassimilate into a majority after he knew the battlefield. But with his former tribemates in the firing line, he was emboldened to make the aggressive plays they couldn’t.
Jonathan was Omar’s odd couple ally and a physical shield—he couldn’t afford to lose him. Lindsay was another trusted ally, and while she wasn’t in the direct line of fire, she could only push the vote so much without becoming a target herself (or dangerous collateral). And Maryanne? Well, Omar wanted to keep her and her advantages on the table as an arsenal that he might be able to help exploit for their games in the future. So with the security of Immunity and the freedom of not having a vote, Omar sought to turn the tables.
Unfortunately, with limited options, that would mean going after Hai or Lydia. When Lydia tried to play cagey in an effort to not stand out as trying to drive the vote, Omar seized upon this ammunition, twisting it to be indecision about sticking with the Eight. It would be easy to get Maryanne, Jonathan, and Lindsay on board, but that was only three votes. He could potentially pitch it to the outliers (Chanelle, Tori, Romeo) and that would make a majority, but was that who he wanted to work with? No… Omar needed to convince the Eight to cut Lydia, asserting that she was waffling and was less crucial to the alliance than Jonathan (or Lindsay) and a safer bet over risking blowback from Maryanne’s Idol.
For Drea and Rocksroy, it was potentially a straightforward argument, but the challenge was convincing Hai and Mike, who’d been quick to establish that they were incredibly tight with Lydia. I do think it was the right play for Omar to approach them. A blindside would irrevocably fracture the tentative majority alliance, and Omar could easily cop the blowback at the next vote where he is vulnerable. But by including Hai and Mike in the conversation, he made it an alliance decision, not an individual one, and applied the pressure of sticking with the majority.
There is absolutely a world in which this still bites him. Omar used a lot of social capital to protect three people, and a savvy player like Hai could easily parlay that into an argument that Taku is too unified and need to be fractured. But I think it was a good short-term solution, and with a number of prime targets (Tori, Chanelle) still on the board, it might give him time to avoid an immediate repercussion. For not having a vote, Omar single-handedly changed the direction of Tribal, but it was ultimately Hai and Mike who sealed Lydia’s fate.
And while the Romeo/Drea fracture was something I’d have liked to see articulated more cleanly in this episode, Hai and Mike ultimately conceding to voting out Lydia felt like a bit of an audience blindside. I hope that we get to hear their reasoning for the move next week, but after two hours of them emphasising their loyalty to each other, this betrayal felt a little out-of-nowhere. It feels like it was simply a matter of following the majority’s decision to not rock the boat. But at least on face value, they could have actually swung the vote if they’d been determined to protect Lydia.
On numbers alone, the vote ended up being surprisingly fractured: 6 votes on Lydia, 2 on Maryanne, 2 on Jonathan, and 1 on Lindsay. The outliers were all over the place: Chanelle and Tori voted for Jonathan, and Romeo was one of the votes for Maryanne (seemingly having been looped into the earlier iteration of the plan). Rocksroy was the lone Lindsay vote—my assumption being a Shot in the Dark contingency.
But on face value alone, Hai and Mike, who voted Lydia, could have instead forced a tie 4-4-2-1 by voting for Maryanne. If she plays her Idol, they still lose Lydia but at least they tried. But if she doesn’t play it, that might allow any risk-averse members of the majority to pile on to flush the Idol and avoid needing to break up the majority. So why didn’t they make this play? Hai had been willing to threaten rocks for Lydia pre-merge, so why let her go without a fight now? My guess—the rogue Romeo factor. Forcing the tie was contingent on Romeo’s vote, and given he seemed to fall into a free agent role, Hai and Mike would have had no certainty of where his vote was going.
On top of that, it’s all for naught if Rocksroy hadn’t thrown his vote onto Lindsay. So while numerically, in hindsight, Hai and Mike could have tried to force the votes to save Lydia, there were too many moving parts to account for. And the most important thing for them right now was ensuring they were a part of the majority.
I definitely expect these two will ultimately seek revenge or be the catalyst for the majority’s fracture—but that may still be weeks away. For the time being, we just have to lament the collateral loss of Lydia. I feel like I say this every week, but that’s how good the season’s cast is; I’m sad to lose Lydia. She certainly wasn’t the most prominent character (probably due to her going home as collateral of a twist), but she was a fun presence, witty, goofy, and unabashedly herself.
The small glimpse of her and Maryanne chatting about being the youngest of the group with the old lady names was a small delight, or her joking with Mike & Drea about “buff-shaming” them before the hourglass made her vulnerable. Her Survivor tenure was peppered with these small interactions and jokes, and I would have loved to have seen more of her. It’s also a bummer to see her trio with Hai and Mike take the first hit at the merge, but here’s hoping they carry her legacy forward.
So with Taku in self-preservation mode and Hai & Mike having their hand forced, it feels a little like the Ika part of the majority were the shot-callers here. And was it the right play to vote out Lydia instead of Jonathan or Maryanne? I think it does benefit them ultimately. Rocksroy quickly latched onto Jonathan’s straight-shooting energy, and for Drea, keeping fellow Idol-holder Maryanne gives her an extra option.
Though the two are clearly chalk and cheese, if their circular debate at Tribal is anything to go by, it’s become evident that Drea likes having options and will happily switch and change her plans as suits her. So having the majority Eight, plus her Ika ally Romeo, the Amulet Agreement, and the Idol Keepers all still in play? That’s perfect for her flexible approach to the game. Lydia, meanwhile, was just a number to them. And taking her out also increases the Ika sway within the now 7-strong majority and could position Drea and Rocksroy well to team up with Hai and Mike against the Takus.
But that’s assuming that Hai and Mike don’t blame Drea and Rocksroy for forcing their hand. That’s assuming Romeo doesn’t manage to assemble a counter-alliance to split the tentative majority. That’s assuming Tori or Chanelle don’t manage to wreak havoc or worm their way in. That’s assuming Taku don’t strike first.
And that’s what feels so exciting about where we’re at in the season. There are so many possibilities ahead of us, and I am so invested in this cast that I am champing at the bit to see how this web is going to untangle. So while we turned back time to repeat this terrible twist, I’m happy that we’re leaving it in the past for now and that we can go forth into a brighter, pastel-purple-tinged future.