So far, I’ve been largely enjoying the ‘take two’ aspect of Season 42 and its repetition and iteration upon the twists and mechanics of what we’d previously seen in Season 41. However, this episode was the first where it felt redundant more than intriguing. Maybe it was having two instances of Jeff talking to the camera, explicitly identifying what happened last season and how we would try it again. Maybe it’s that the repetitive mechanics were either so rote as to be ordinary (an advantage at the sit-out bench), uninspiring (a forced and far-too-easy ‘negotiation’), or frustrating (a disappointing return of the overpowered Knowledge is Power advantage).
Maybe that’s coming down too hard on the mechanics being responsible for what feels like the blandest episode of the season, which also had the challenge of building intrigue around a largely straightforward vote and a very scattered series of events. After all, there are always going to be lulls, even in the most chaotic of seasons, and for what it’s worth, the show still prioritised focusing on the characters, helping buoy this instalment and keep it enjoyable.
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The small moments keep the game feeling real and personal. Mike observed and asked Omar about his Islamic faith (including a wonderfully inclusive scene of Omar walking Mike through the process of his Salah prayers). Maryanne questioned whether being left on the periphery of the vote is because her true, weird self is incompatible with the “cool” majority. An earnest offer to give up a chance at reward parlayed into yet another advantage for the light-heartedly determined Drea. The focus is still on the game—Mike & Omar bonding, Maryanne realising she’s on the bottom, Drea adding to her collection—but it’s almost all through the lens of the people and their stories.
So even though this episode’s narrative was a little all over the place while being largely straightforward in its outcome, the season still feels on track to pick up again. This was just a little pit-stop, a cooldown.
ON THE OUTSIDE, LOOKING IN
Let’s start at the end and the straightforward strategy of Tribal. Despite turning on one of their own in Lydia, the majority alliance remained firmly in control. If anything, they were becoming even more tightknit as those on the outside became increasingly aware of their unfortunate position. Chanelle lamented being left behind strategically, rightly fearing the death knell of being on the wrong side of the merge vote. Romeo’s anxiety about being ostracised by his closest allies came to a head. Maryanne, as mentioned before, was hit by the emotional impact of being left out. Tori knew she’d have to fight it out and keep her ears open.
To their credit, the majority played this splendidly for their collective position. After the hourglass and immunity outcome had forced them to pivot last time, this was their opportunity to consolidate their agreement. And when Tori won a second consecutive Immunity, she delayed Plan A yet again. So, quite simply, it was going to be Chanelle, with an outside chance of Romeo.
The reasoning to target Chanelle first and foremost was framed largely as Mike’s revenge for Chanelle’s betrayal. It reads as a bit of a double standard (given he’d also written her name down as a contingency plan on Vati), but it’s straightforward Survivor strategy. The bungled first Vati vote where Chanelle unnecessarily risked her own vote precipitated a series of events that left her out in the cold. And her inability to penetrate back into sturdy social bonds made her a sitting duck, especially when she realised that she was playing the wrong game on the checkerboard, so to misspeak.
Chanelle probably needed to amp up assembling her own majorities. But in truth? I think the time had passed, and there wasn’t much she could have done to turn the vote back in her favour. In fact, when the majority’s best reasoning for not voting you out was Hai arguing Chanelle had been inactive and non-threatening, it’s going to be tough to recover. That said, in a pretty well-balanced edit, Chanelle was one of the characters I feel like I felt least connected to on a personal level, and so I’m disappointed we didn’t get to learn more about her beyond her basic strategic position in the game. So from this perspective, it was a shame to see her also go out in a perfunctory vote. Still, I’m curious to see if her affinity for strategy will have any particular bearing on setting the tone of the Jury.
As for the other potential target, Romeo was pinpointed as a paranoid danger who was “causing chaos”. This certainly felt like a perception-makes-reality situation because there was nothing that seemed particularly paranoid about Romeo’s gameplay. He had reason to be worried because his name was on the chopping block. Accusations of him causing chaos were just based on him asking around about the plan. Yet something has gone terribly wrong for Romeo since the merge, and for him to go from arguably the best position on Ika to being an apparent pariah again feels like a bit of a gap in the narrative.
It’s clear Drea has distanced herself from him, but who’s the chicken and who’s the egg? Did Drea teaming up with the majority leave him on the outs, precipitating his nervousness about his position in the game, especially as she refuses to talk to him despite allegedly being close allies? Or did he get squirrelly at the merge (especially when he was initially vulnerable, pre-hourglass), leading to Drea distancing herself from a potential anchor for her game? Regardless of what came first, Romeo became a hot topic of concern for his relatively mild scrambling, and on face value, it nearly cost him his game.
In truth, Mike seems to hold crucial sway at the centre of the seven-strong majority, and he was deadset on taking out Chanelle. So barring Hai or Omar—the two most perturbed by Romeo’s ‘chaos’—going rogue and flipping the split vote the other way, there really didn’t seem like there’d be much momentum for Romeo to actually become the target. Was there merit to targeting a more proactive scrambler like Romeo over a quieter lurker Chanelle? Arguably, yes, especially for Hai, who ultimately was the target of Romeo’s vote (and perhaps a legitimate but unseen counterplan Romeo was pitching). For Hai, losing yet another Vati is not ideal for keeping his options open. But with the merge vote being an anomaly, straightforward proof of loyalty to a new alliance was far more important.
Omar’s apparent interest in throwing Romeo under the bus was interesting. Omar played this round excellently, continuing to parlay his absent vote last week into a malleable story that allowed him to play both sides (majority and outsiders) to be a conduit of information. He learned that Romeo had been asking around and that Rosckroy had let it slip that his name was in the mix. But instead of the blowback coming at Rocksroy, grandfathered into the alliance by Drea, Omar instead facilitated Romeo becoming an option, severing one of the people who’d revealed information to him as per his position in the middle. While seemingly counter-intuitive, Omar’s position is reliant on no one piecing together exactly where he sits in the tribe structure. And if Romeo is actively talking to a lot of people, probing for information, then he might pose a threat to unveiling Omar’s crosstalk.
However, for both Hai & Omar, falling back into the Chanelle vote probably serves them both well. Their alliance is solidified. Chanelle can’t keep squeaking by hanging back, and Romeo will likely keep himself in the crosshairs by being more actively disruptive. The challenge that awaits the majority now is the upcoming twist teased in the Next Time On, so this move for an alliance over self-interest could have unforeseen repercussions. Still, both have proved savvy thus far in their independent manoeuvring.
Speaking of independent manoeuvres, the other outsiders, Tori & Maryanne, proved their mettle in their own ways. For Tori, establishing an Immunity streak was certainly what she needed, and while it does paint a target on her back as a threat (not just an easy vote for social reasons), any way to stay another day is an opportunity. Meanwhile, Maryanne seized that same opportunity by weaponizing her legitimate frustrations with her position in the game. During the forced negotiation for food, Maryanne offered to sit out of the Immunity challenge but when others hesitated, she leaned hard on the guilt trip.
‘I know I’m on the bottom,’ she pressed, ‘but I’m going to sit out for the good of the whole tribe – if I’m willing to do that, why aren’t you?’ It worked successfully to not only pressure Omar to join the faction sitting out of Immunity for a tribal rice supply, but it also provided her implied immunity through gratitude. Between the food limitations of the season and this cast’s relatively earnest approach, voting someone out after they sacrificed their chance at safety for a selfless cause would be a big line to cross.
Could—or should—Romeo or Chanelle have pulled the same manoeuvre? Maybe. But that may have been more likely to backfire. Chanelle and Romeo have more proactive enemies who might target them regardless (Mike and to an extent the distancing Drea). Whereas, Maryanne has been more actively protected by her Taku tribemates, especially as they know she’s armed with ammunition that could help them keep their options open. In some respects, this seems like a play only Maryanne was in the position to make, but kudos to her for pulling the trigger on it.
HIT THE RED BUTTON
And when it comes to going for it, it’s hard to dodge talking about Drea. Her attitude of “I don’t know these people” is a perfect degree of self-interest, especially in the more compact game. Ultimately, she’ll still need to win over votes through some degree of rapport with the Jurors, but her playing fast and loose for her own benefit continues to reap its rewards. Knowing the reward held no appeal for her as she wasn’t a peanut butter and jelly kind of person, she opted to sit out of the Reward challenge, allowing Maryanne to compete. It was a fun parallel to Xander doing the same for Erika last season, but this time Drea spotted the advantage under her bench.
Unfortunately, it was the Knowledge is Power making its unwelcome return. And for Drea, who knows about pretty much everything in play between the Amulet and the password-coded Idols, it’s definitely a huge point of leverage for her to steal someone’s advantage. However, she’s so loaded and insulated herself that she may have a genuine chance of not needing to play or utilise it at all because she knows she’s already got the bulk of the advantages in play.
On top of that, the amassed power is keeping Drea cognizant of her threat level—and the one drawback to the KiP advantage is that it draws a giant target on the user’s back. She’s been remarkably open about her Extra Vote, and given the Idol-holders and the Amulet-holders also know about a fraction of her power, making a public display of gaining more would almost certainly facilitate an immediate target.
So while I’m hopeful we’ve lucked out with another situation where KiP is somewhat neutered despite its overpowered state, I can’t say I’m thrilled to see it back. But what I did love was the kitschy Beware condition, requiring Drea to literally end up red-handed to retrieve it. Making use of all that leftover fake blood from the opening challenge, Drea gained her advantage but with red paint halfway up her arm. The panic of realising this led to a hurried rinse at the water well, but an unfortunately missed spot resulted in a perfectly unfortunate consequence.
The last person Drea would want to have increased suspicion of her is her old Ika rival Tori, so it’s naturally fitting that Tori was the one to spot the fraction of red paint still on Drea’s arm. She tried to fob it off as paint from the flag kit rather than the obvious explanation of a bit of blood (admittedly not the best deception), but Tori already began circulating the suspicion. Drea has felt like she’s been outpacing imminent danger the entire game, so I’m curious if she’ll be able to keep up that momentum or if this might be what finally catches her.
BREAK IT DOWN
And next week might be a prime opportunity to make a strike at Drea. The split Tribal twist at 10 is one of those things I actually quite enjoy as a now-standard mechanic to shake up merge dynamics. It does feel a bit unnecessary given the already truncated game—and coming so hot on the heels of the hourglass chicanery. But it does provide an opportunity for those without power to seize it.
It also heightens the danger for those who’ve been holding onto advantages and can be a perfect opportunity to pressure players into utilising these tools to ensure they’ve got the upper hand. The downside is that the dynamics of these smaller Tribals are entirely down to luck. But with so many crisscrossing connections on Kula Kula, I’m optimistic we’ll be in for a dynamic and exciting episode next week!