Another great episode of a great season kicks off with a party. An anti-Bruce party, in fact. If there was champagne on that beach, it would be popping off, and everyone would be buzzing because of his shock departure. Not only did this group slay their dragon, but they did so with an idol in his pocket, a move Emily herself is ready to take credit for. Unfortunately for Emily, it only puts a target on her back, especially from Julie, who now sees her as the top threat.
But as a new threat blossoms, so does an island romance. Dee and Austin rendezvous on the beach together and confirm not only a final two deal but also a potential love story outside the game. Austin always dreamed of meeting his Amber on the island, and Dee never expected to find her Boston Rob as an anti-showmance woman. Still, Survivor does crazy things to people when they’re stripped of their comforts and have to speedrun their relationship-building.
Cut to the next morning, and it’s another session of Jake swearing this will be the day he finally makes a big move and takes control of the game. It didn’t pan out the last… many, many times he’s promised it, but with numbers so low, he might be onto something. Easy votes are no longer as tempting with bigger threats on the board and limited time to remove them, so Jake could become a powerful swing vote. As he goes on to say, he’s been playing the damn tree in the community theater play of Survivor 45, and now he’s getting a promotion to supporting actor. Will he get the lead role by the end of the final act? I doubt it, but I welcome him to try instead of just playing for third place.
As Katurah and Julie join Jake on the beach, Katurah opens up about her deepest secret. No, not her job as a lawyer. That’s still staying under wraps. Instead, we learn how much she’s overcome in her life to succeed. Her family joined a religious cult, removed her from public school, and almost ruined her life until her mother woke up and fled with her children back to the real world. Forced to join high school totally unprepared, Katurah got to work and climbed the ladder against all odds, becoming a civil rights lawyer after realizing she could help other oppressed people instead of pulling up the ladder behind her.
It’s the most powerful backstory segment Survivor has told yet, and while the Bruce hate was entertaining in an “Erinn Lobdell bashing Coach” sort of way, it really stings that such a complex, layered person like Katurah was given a one-note joke edit for most of the season.
As the day continues, a boat arrives to take one player on a journey to Advantage Island, and by the luck of a rock draw, Emily is whisked away to her mix of glee and chagrin. It’s been a long, difficult road to the final seven for Emily. She almost went home on Day 3 until Hannah called it quits, survived the worst tribe of the New Era, outlasted all her enemies at the merge, thrived as a strategic player when it counted, and evolved as a person every step of the way. And after such an arduous journey, she’s realized her initial philosophy that winning is everything was totally misguided.
But waiting for her at the end of her trek is that logic puzzle from the premiere, the one four people failed miserably at during Sweat and Savvy. If she can beat it within the time limit, she’s immune for the round. If she fails, she loses her vote. And if she doesn’t choose to play, nothing changes, and she’s back at camp with her vote guaranteed. Though she fears her name will be thrown out in her absence, she knows her vote is more important than anything and chooses to opt out of playing.
Meanwhile, Drew sets the scene for Reba’s mounting tension within their core four. Austin gave Julie an idol to hold at the final nine just in case the triple split twist put her in a bad spot, but she’s held onto it for the last few days like Gollum clutching the One Ring. And with Julie’s threat level rising, Drew knows she’s got to go. He tries to nudge her into making a big move with the idol just to test the waters on getting rid of it, but it doesn’t pan out. She’s keeping it for herself, and now she knows Drew is looking for an angle against her.
That angle comes in the form of Jake and Katurah, approached by Drew as Katurah adds yet another reason to stan her by complaining about forced fire-making. Preach it. But Katurah is down to blindside Julie, as is Jake. If it’s between Julie and Dee, Dee’s threat level is dropping, and Julie’s is rising. Simple as that. Now, they just need to get Austin and Emily on board, but Austin will put up a fight here. He’s loyal to Dee first, and even if she won’t be the target, he doesn’t want to go behind her back for this move. Plus Julie’s holding his idol, the actual idol that’s good to five, instead of the amulet, which expires by then. Why flush it when he could potentially get it back? His attempts to push the target on Emily fall short, though, as Drew’s logic is undeniably sound.
Drew manages to win immunity and reward at the classic rope management challenge, choosing to take Jake and Austin to a BBQ feast as the women have to sit at camp and talk about their buffs with everyone on different pages strategically. No Kenny Loggins music for the guys, though, unfortunately. But Austin will hear the Siren’s song as all the anti-Julie talk finally pushes him to tell Dee about the blindside. As horrified as Dee is to learn her core four are turning on each other, she knew this moment would probably arrive and leaps into action.
In a battle of head and heart, heart wins out. Dee leaks the plan to Julie, telling her they don’t have the votes anymore and Julie needs to play her idol. But what Dee didn’t predict was that Julie would try to make a move against Austin as payback for plotting against her. Emily and Jake don’t bite when she throws his name out, instead choosing to throw her under the bus to Drew. Austin comes clean about his screw-up, and now it’s just a big mess.
Julie will have the sole vote, so she could either vote out her original target, Emily… or swing for the fences and sink Austin’s game. Dee is terrified about losing Austin here because of her own loose lips. Austin might just play his amulet to be safe from the collateral damage. And it’s all accompanied by the perfect backdrop of lightning-filled skies over Fiji.
At Tribal, we get most of the voting confessionals as the tribe writes Julie’s name, leaving her with the sole vote as expected. She won’t pull a Bruce here, and into Jeff’s hands the idol goes. And with just one vote to their name, the fifth juror is… Emily. A wrong move if you ask me. Taking out Austin wasn’t without its risks, but it would’ve forced Dee to work with her, split up the duo of Drew and Austin, and shaken up the dynamics to open up more paths to the end for someone like Julie, who probably can’t rely on winning out in challenges and fire-making.
But this is a huge win for Dee, who got out another target of hers, kept her two main allies alive, and lowered her once-growing threat level. Many felt like it was Emily’s season to lose, but with her out of the way, Dee has once again positioned herself as the frontrunner heading into a Reba-heavy endgame where she’s got the most information.
Losing Emily in such a brutal fashion really, really hurts. This was her season and story from the first minute of the premiere, and she never let her role as the breakout star go. While she has to share the sole vote idol elimination Mt. Rushmore with Sandra, Lauren Rimmer, and Maddy, she also has great company with Kathy, Cirie, and David on the epic growth arc Mt. Rushmore, too. She made the season special, and I look forward to seeing her return… whenever the next returnee season comes along.
But what does a post-Emily season look like? Apparently, it is a heated battle as Drew and Julie are scheduled to go toe to toe next week, likely ending the Reba Four unless Dee can wrangle her family back together for another round of picking off the outsiders. But Katurah and Jake are easy recruits for any moves to be made (and potentially major goats if they can’t pull off anything significant themselves), and with two tight duos for them to play between, I have a good feeling that the storm on the horizon, the long-awaited implosion of the Reba Four, won’t pass by in the distance like the literal storms in Fiji did tonight.