After three straight days of challenges, twists, and eliminations, this post-merge can finally breathe a little bit. But just a little. While there’s still plenty to take issue with in this episode and how it relates to the season overall, it’s still the first episode in a while to feel like a legitimately fun hour of the show and not a Matrix-esque glimpse into an unhinged Brantsteele simulation. And it’s an eventful one, so let’s dig in much like the Va Va Tribe dug into their precious supply of fresh rice this week.
With Brandon blindsided and Danny wielding the public credit for that big move, it’s now a 3-3-3 split between the three original tribes. Turns out the Ratus wanted to split the votes, but Brandon was insistent on piling them on Frannie and unknowingly sealed his fate. Did we see that in the last episode? Not really. But we did see Tika plotting to play the middle, which they’ve pulled off masterfully. Ratu still thinks Yam Yam and Carson are loyal to their cause, but all the while, the Tikas knew where Danny’s idol was going and positioned themselves accordingly for the best long-term results.
The next morning turns into a scramble for a newly planted idol. Danny uses his firewood searching as cover, Kane channels his inner D&D nerd to go on yet another quest for magical items, Jaime wants a second idol to add to her collection, and soon enough, everyone is out and about. But it’s ultimately Heidi who finds the merge idol and vows to never tell a soul until she stands up and hands it to Jeff.
As the cast gets a day to relax with no challenge and no more idol hunting, we get the best scene of the season (if not the entire New Era so far). Carolyn publicly opens up about her history of addiction, explaining how she refuses to hide that part of herself 13 years after the fact. To deny that history would be denying a massive part of who she is as a human being: a resilient, authentic, and inspirational person who emerged from hardship stronger than ever to live a great life. And not only that, she’s one hell of a player too!
In line with the New Era meta, Carolyn’s playing low-key as the camp clown, letting others underestimate her before pulling off the sheep costume to reveal the wolf inside. And with enough luck, that proven strategy and a couple solid endgame moves will crown her as one of the most unique winners of all time. But there’s still a lot of game to be played, classic winner helicopter shot aside, though I’ll always be glad we found enough time between forced Advantage-geddons to fully show her story.
As the game hits Day 17, the food situation is dire, and Carson continues to be hit the hardest by the elements. But tree mail brings good news! It’s time for a staple of the New Era to make its seasonal appearance: negotiating for rice. Though with Jeff demanding four players sit out and not really budging on that number, is it really a negotiation? Questionable terminology aside, Danny loathes the idea of someone sitting out of a challenge so much that he tries to campaign for everyone to compete and swears he’ll hold it against those who don’t join him up there in the challenge.
But Danny’s honorable stand against sit-outs falls on deaf ears as a sick Carson takes one look at the challenge and opts for the rice, making way for Lauren, Kane, and Heidi to join him on the bench. But it would’ve been a harder sell without Danny promising on his scout’s honor that he won’t vote out anyone who sacrificed immunity for rice, encouraging the tribe as a whole to agree with him. In theory, Carson, Lauren, Kane, and Heidi should be totally safe. But with how much focus is put on this element of the negotiation, it’s clear someone’s going to break their flimsy word.
Carolyn and Jaime fall out of the challenge early, followed by Yam Yam and finally Danny, leaving Frannie to win her second immunity of the season and solidify her reputation as the challenge beast of the post-merge. Despite coming in under the assumption that she was one of the weakest women in the cast, she’s quickly unlocked her inner Sophie Clarke and emerged as a triple threat. She’s got the social skills, the physical prowess, and some solid strategic reads. Now she just needs to tie it into a winning package without getting taken out along the way. But given her underdog story is front and center at the moment, she’s got a long way to go in just nine more days.
Back at camp, it’s clear Danny’s scout’s honor talk carries no weight as Kane suddenly becomes the go-to target for the Soka-Tika majority. He’s a strategic guy who has the strength and size to win challenges, so down he must go. And on a personally petty note, Yam Yam wants him on the chopping block to continue his streak of cutting people who wrote his name down. Josh, Matt, Brandon… only Kane and technically Heidi remain on that hit list, and Kane’s the juicier target at the moment.
However, the majority still needs to worry about the rumors of Jaime having an idol, so they create a plan to kill both birds with one stone. Tika goes to Ratu and proposes they split votes between Danny and Heidi using Lauren’s extra vote, dropping a little warning that Soka is gunning for Jaime tonight to add that extra touch of paranoia.
With the wool firmly over their eyes, the Ratu trio play hot potato with their advantages. Lauren passes her extra vote to Jaime and tells her to vote for Heidi twice, and Jaime gives Kane her idol to hold onto. So if by some chance Knowledge is Power returned this season (and thank the Survivor gods it hasn’t!), they should have a couple bases covered to prevent a doomsday situation.
— SURVIVOR (@survivorcbs) April 27, 2023
But with Tribal lines perfectly split, Soka and Tika can’t resist the temptation to take shots at each other. Frannie notices how the Tikas have positioned themselves as untouchable swing votes and tries convincing her allies to blindside Yam Yam and Carolyn with a split vote of their own tonight. Danny isn’t hearing the solid logic in it, though, and the plan dies before it even gets off the ground.
Meanwhile, Carolyn has seconds thoughts about the Kane plan and tries to push the votes on Danny. Not only is he a bigger threat, but he still has that proposed Meat Brigade alliance hanging over his head in Carolyn’s eyes. She’s sick of his muscle bro shtick, and Carson seems open to the switch. But regardless of which way the votes swing, the Tikas will have all the power tonight. Again.
After a pointless live Tribal with whispering and subtitles galore, it’s a messy 5-3-1-1 vote that knocks Kane out of the game, courtesy of Carolyn, Carson, Yam Yam, Danny, and Heidi. Far from a critical hit against him, but it’s just enough to take his HP to zero, and he has no idol to act as a saving throw. And that nerdy joke alone sums up Kane’s story this season. He was there to geek out about the art direction of the season, make some nerdy references for us gamers, and get booted as soon as he started playing hard. But even if his wings got clipped just as he took off, I appreciate the relatable humor he brought to the table.
But he does walk out with Jaime’s fake idol, making it the second time a player leaves this season thinking their dummy idol is the real deal. Not exactly a “fun” fact considering there’s no way Jaime or Kane could’ve known it was fake, and after weeks of Jaime’s entire edit boiling down to “ha ha, fake idol,” it’s both a relief and a disappointment to see such a massive Chekov’s Gun go un-fired. On the bright side, she doesn’t have to be humiliated playing that thing. But now I just wish we’d seen more actual character moments and genuine strategy from her since her entire story arc has amounted to essentially nothing but wasted time, just like all the airtime-consuming fake idols this season.
Now, we’re at the final eight! We have some great characters and players left. Only two idols are remaining, and no fakes. The game is fluid. It seems we’re due for the fan-favorite Tikas pulling out the win unless they royally fumble it. Survivor 44 had a rough first half, and that rough start’s ripple effect will haunt this season until the last minute of the finale. Still, as long as production lets these players play with minimal intrusions moving forward, perhaps we can finish stronger than expected.
But with production’s post-43 philosophy being “More stuff no matter the cost!” I’m fully expecting the last four episodes to introduce something unsavory to the game, though I can hope they finally realized this cast is great by now and took a massive step back to watch the natural chaos unfold.