After last week’s mess of an episode, the season returns to steady ground with another solid outing. But what’s not so solid is Jake’s position in the game as the merged tribe returns to camp after Kendra’s blindside. Jake believes he’s found new life after surviving another close shave, but in reality, he’s just Charlie Browning it on the bottom. Owen Knight would be proud of him, but this jury will probably feel… less so.
Meanwhile, Emily and Drew discuss voting Bruce out ASAP or at least flushing his idol if he loses immunity. Julie, on the other hand, is feeling the heat not from the jury but from herself as the last few moves have taken a toll on her heart. She was assigned and went along with the “Mama J” moniker from Day 1, and it’s only made things harder when it comes to lying to and blindsiding her figurative children. And soon, it’ll be even worse when Reba inevitably has to betray one another. But for now, she’s happy to roll with Dee and Drew as her closest allies, whether it gets her the win or not.
But it’s only grown more obvious that Reba is a tight four, and Emily is keen on breaking them up. The problem? The three remaining Belos are impossible to wrangle without them throwing each other under the bus. Jake’s all over the place, Katurah still hates Bruce, and Bruce has come up with a scheme to convince the others his idol left the game in Kellie’s bag. Testing his lie on Katurah only pisses her off more, but Jake actually buys the lie, which is music to Bruce’s ears, as he expects Jake to run his mouth and carry out his plan for him.
For the biggest reward of the season (a week late Thanksgiving feast, letters from home, and an overnight stay at the Sanctuary), a surprise win from Emily of all people shocks the tribe and puts her in the position of taking three players with her on the trip. Emily opts to take the three other women and leaves the four men at camp, hoping a ladies’ night can forge new connections heading into an endgame with close numbers and closer bonds determining where those numbers will go.
As the ladies enjoy their reward and swear one of them will win the game, Emily receives an all-out coronation after her challenge win, wine glass in hand and all. She’s doubted herself in challenges all season, and Lulu’s terrible losing streak didn’t boost her confidence. But now she’s going home a more confident person who won’t underestimate herself so easily. And strategically, the feast brings them all together to dunk on Bruce once more as Katurah rats out his idol lie. As it stands, it’s an easy split between Bruce and Jake.
Opening their letters brings out the tears. Dee and Julie talk about their families and how much they’re rooting for them, even after so many obstacles in their pasts. Emily didn’t used to consider herself as a wife, but being away from her partner for this long has made her realize she wants to be with him for the rest of her life. And Katurah gets a letter from the mother she went no-contact with a year ago, dredging up some mixed emotions she can’t focus on with a million bucks at stake.
Back at camp, the boys have themselves a camping trip… backed by the vocals of Kenny Loggins in one of the most bizarrely edited scenes in Survivor history. We got farting, flexing, fishing… and Top Gun music. I honestly don’t know if this is the best scene of the season or the worst, but it’s better than Kenny Loggins singing to half the tribe losing their votes again, so I’ll take it!
Bruce keeps spinning his idol lie as it makes its way to Drew and Austin, both of whom are ecstatic at the news of an easy vote. But as the women return, things get messy. Emily confirms the Jake/Bruce split plan with the Rebas but takes a risk in telling Jake about the plan to secure his jury vote, pinning most of the blame on Drew for throwing Jake’s name out. Jake won’t throw her under the bus, but he will be driving that bus right over Drew as an argument breaks out.
Drew accuses Jake of trying to strongarm him like a mobster, and Jake isn’t having it. He’s been on the bottom, so Drew calling him out for trying to play the game and still getting nowhere makes zero sense. Safe to say this relationship is burned, not that Jake had much to lose here anyways.
After a showdown between Bruce and Austin in an endurance immunity challenge, the split vote plan can go through as Bruce’s winning streak comes to an end. And Katurah, fresh off conquering her sudden fear of swimming with the support of her tribe mates, loves the sound of it. Unfortunately for her, Bruce still has an idol and will surely be playing it, so her dream of slaying her rival will remain on hiatus. But Julie’s happy because her own enemy Jake is right in the firing line if all goes as expected.
The non-Rebas discuss a potential blindside, though. Katurah tells Emily that anybody with a “Mama” title would be unbeatable at the end (debatable given the history of older women getting destroyed by the jury at Final Tribal, but maybe Julie is a mold-breaker). Bruce is excited to make a move, and Jake really has nowhere else to go. But Emily’s spent a lot of time building bonds with Reba, so if the Julie shot misses, her game will be blown up beyond repair. So, instead, she opts for a different type of big move: blindsiding Bruce with an idol in his pocket by keeping him calm and sticking to the original plan.
But the suddenly shifting plans drive Jake up a wall and down to the beach to stew in his confusion. Being out of the loop has made him paranoid and insecure, and now Bruce’s idol lie is just the cherry on top of a hot mess sundae. The Julie plan sounds great, but Bruce lied about his idol for no reason, so can he really trust him? But does he really want to target Bruce after Reba’s thrown his name out time and time again and treated him like a worthless pawn?
Unfortunately for Jake, he won’t find his time to shine once again as Emily takes the reins this round. Four votes go to Bruce, three votes go to Jake, and Bruce casts the sole vote for Julie. Thanks to Emily’s sneaky manipulation and Bruce’s typical trainwreck gameplay, the New Era’s first returnee sets the bar low as he saves his idol for another day and takes a tragic downfall on the chin. And down goes Bruce, victim to marooning rival Emily and his own overconfidence.
Despite his game being genuinely terrible outside of clutch challenge wins, Bruce was casting gold. His iconic rivalry with Katurah, his crazy ability to passively sink the games of those around him without intending to, his goofy antics driving everyone mad, and now a great downfall to cap off his story in style.
Another win for the old Tika Tribe, I must say. Yam Yam and Carolyn would be proud. Not because Bruce pulled off the win, but because he made for good TV, and isn’t that what we watch this show for in the first place? Every season needs some chaos, and Bruce is the type of fun chaos that makes everyone else around him that much better to watch.
As Bruce departs, I’d like to believe all the teases of Reba turning on each other will amount to something exciting, but this Bruce move feels like a season-defining mistake on Emily, Katurah, and Jake’s part. It could be the Tika Three all over again, where nobody targets the power alliance and instead knocks out non-threats week after week.
But that’s not to say Reba themselves couldn’t make an equally powerful mistake and throw the game with a couple poorly timed betrayals. But even if we end up with another small alliance steamroll, at least the season returned to providing quality episodes with all the heart, drama, and intrigue we yearn for season after season instead of unnecessarily stealing more votes from its players.