Six weeks into Survivor 44, and we’re finally at the much dreaded Earn the Merge round (aka a regular merge with a potentially game-breaking twist thrown in). Josh has escaped certain doom by the grace of Matthew’s medi-quit, and Carolyn and Yam Yam are still somewhat fractured. Jaime continues to believe she’s the most powerful player heading into the merge from Soka, and on Ratu, Carson shows off his expired idol to build trust, Lauren reveals her extra vote, and Kane feels like a lost puppy without a secure home.
As the three tribes hit the beach together, it’s information overload as everyone’s eager to share what dirt they have and scramble for what little trust they can secure. And nobody’s as eager as Josh, who spins a web of lies within minutes of the merge. First, he tells Brandon he has a bird cage idol, then runs to Jaime and tells her he’s totally idol-less. His Schrodinger’s Idol plan is a brave one, but the consequences are immediate and severe. Frannie pins the target on his back, figuring they can just pile the votes on Josh, whether he has an idol or not.
But all good pile-on plans need a backup, and Josh is happy to throw Yam Yam under the bus to the entire tribe in a little storytime segment. Telling the others about his survival at Tika at the expense of Sarah, he’s able to paint Yam Yam as this massive traitor who can’t be trusted. All the while, Yam Yam fears this petty rivalry will be his own downfall, an easy trap to fall into given his lack of strong connections and the amount of chatter about his threat level across tribal lines. Left with no other choice, he decides to strike back just as hard and throw Josh under the bus in return.
As her old Tika tribe mates gun for each other, Carolyn struggles to fit in with the chatty and sociable Sokas and Ratus. Props to the editors for how this scene was portrayed, though. As someone who also struggles with similar social situations where small talk is the name of the game, that dilemma of wanting to be included but not wanting to force it is incredibly difficult to process. But Carolyn’s ability to carry on and play the game despite those insecurities is insanely admirable.
And carry on she will, trying to rekindle the alliance she had with Carson in the event her 94% trust in Yam Yam falls apart. And Carson, having created strong connections on two of the three tribes, is ready to get the Tika band back together, scoop up the outsiders, and rally for control.
The immunity challenge is a re-run of previous Earn the Merge challenges with a giant tree puzzle as the equalizer. Or at least it would be an equalizer if Carson’s 3D printer hadn’t given him an advantage so massive it let him steamroll in a matter of minutes despite his team falling behind. Brandon, Carolyn, Carson, Frannie, Jaime, and Matt win immunity, some slick black and red merge buffs, and a merge feast. As for Danny, Heidi, Josh, Kane, Lauren, and Yam Yam, it’s scrambling time.
Yam Yam immediately finds himself in the hottest water being the lone Tika on the losing side. Approaching Kane and Danny for some game talk and throwing out Josh’s name, he’s totally shut out as they’re more interested in hearing what the others think and going along with a consensus. And the others, Heidi and Lauren, weigh their options between Yam Yam and Josh. Yam Yam has no numbers nor loyalties to anyone, and Josh has told them time and time again how much of a snake he is. But on the flip side, Josh might have an idol that needs to be flushed and plays a hard social game. Heidi confirms Josh is the better choice to take out.
At the merge feast, Josh is the target there as well. But they need a backup plan just in case his idol is legit. Kane’s name enters the mix courtesy of Brandon, who has forgiven but not forgotten his vote against him on Day 3. But Carolyn is adamant that Josh doesn’t have an idol, laying out her rationale and describing exactly what trick he pulled with the beads and his old idol note. And once again, Carolyn is ignored at the dinner table as everyone freaks out about Josh’s totally real, 100% legit, definitely not fake idol.
Carolyn’s been underestimated from the very beginning, shut out of the game talk, treated like an outcast, and called a non-threat to her face. But time and time again, Carolyn has the best reads of this entire cast despite her goofy exterior, and people would be better off listening to her than not.
When the two groups reunite at camp, the votes are all going on Josh, with a couple backups thrown on Kane. Frannie tells Josh a cover story to get his vote on Kane as well, believing he’s the true target. With a Yam Yam boot out of the picture, Josh goes back to his frenemy and tries to make amends, hoping they can squash the beef and vote for Kane in an “anyone but us” play. For Yam Yam, it sounds awful. Kane’s done nothing to slight him; Josh has been dragging his name through the mud since the merge, and voting for Kane here will only be a last resort.
But in classic Survivor fashion, a simple plan goes off the rails. Carson and Kane reunite, and Carson lets his fellow nerd know what was said at the feast: Kane is on the chopping block as the decoy vote, and it’s pretty obvious who was throwing out his name. Confronting Brandon about the ordeal, Kane does his best to stir up havoc as Carson takes some heat for spreading private information, and Kane puts Yam Yam’s name back into the mix.
As Tribal Council nears, Matt narrates the evening scramble. He has no vote tonight, something only Frannie knows about, so he needs a landslide against one person to cover his tracks. But with twelve aggressive players on one beach and three targets floating around, along with an idol that may or may not exist, the web of relationships, variables, and potential pitfalls is massive. With people confused and conflicted, a simple Josh plan might be off the table.
But once the smokescreen fades and the votes are read, it’s still Josh going home at the end of the day in a 7-3-1 split. Josh, Kane, and Brandon voted for Yam Yam as a backup, Carolyn threw a vote on Kane and seemed shocked when Yam Yam’s name came out of that urn, and the rest piled on Josh to make him the latest victim of Merge-atory.
Pre-season, I figured Josh’s game could go one of two ways. Either he’d be a strong, adaptable social player who learned the game on the fly against more savvy super fans… or he’d find himself totally out of his depth and be a hilarious mess. And we technically got both routes in one. Josh certainly believed he was one of the best players out there and nearly had others convinced of his social expertise. But he was totally out of the loop on multiple occasions, having no clue where he actually stood on Soka and royally ruining his game on two separate tribes with a silly fake idol scheme. But I can’t say the Josh experience wasn’t thoroughly entertaining once he was finally given the spotlight.
With the true merge coming next week, Kane finds himself on another D&D-esque quest, Matt and Frannie find themselves targeted early and often by Lauren (yes, there is indeed someone named Lauren on this season), and a twist at the immunity challenge implies we might see another player lose their vote. After a rocky pre-merge and a ho-hum Earn the Merge round, I’m ready for the individual game to hopefully breathe some new life into this season… even if the crazy twists don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.