Survivor 45

Episode 3 Recap – Wax Wings

What went down in Episode 3?

Photo: CBS

It’s been a while since we’ve had a true Greek tragedy on this show. Where a player of great importance suffers an Earth-shattering, self-inflicted downfall and gets eliminated in epic fashion. Usually, these downfalls are reserved for the biggest villains later in the game. Think Fairplay getting smoked by Lil’s squats, Russell getting owned by his so-called goats back to back, Scot and Jason being denied the super idol by Tai, etc. Very rarely do we get an epic fall in episode three, but Survivor 45 provides yet again.

But first, we have to start at the beginning. Lulu returns from another Tribal, and Sabiyah gives Emily her Shot in the Dark back, hoping this act of trust can put their feud to bed. But Emily shows a trace of her premiere self and openly asks if Sabiyah actually voted that night or not because she did the math and sussed out a missing vote in Brandon’s elimination. Nobody fesses up, and the drama goes on the back burner for now.

The next day, Jake nearly falls in the fire on Belo. Kendra rushes to his aid, and the two realize their early lack of game talk was a mistake. Turns out they actually like each other and want to work together, and Kendra even owns up to throwing his name out on the first day, warning him the guys are on the outs. But Kendra’s willing to keep him safe for now, and with Brando close with Kellie, that leaves Bruce firmly as the odd (and annoying) man out on paper.

Meanwhile, on Reba, Austin and Drew team up to find the next clue on Austin’s idol hunt. But the real duo worth watching here is Julie and Dee, who find the guys searching in the jungle and confront Drew about his sketchy digging. Drew spins a lie about them seeing Sifu searching the same spot and wanting to check for anything he might’ve missed, but the women aren’t buying it, even with Austin coming in to keep things in check. Likening it to being cheated on by a boyfriend, Dee swears it’s game on as the guys have proven themselves untrustworthy.

At the reward challenge, Lulu overcomes their losing streak and wins not just fruit but a chance to raid another tribe. They choose Kaleb to be their ambassador because of his elite social skills, and when Kaleb hops on the boat to Reba’s camp, he finds a Goodwill Advantage to give to anyone on the enemy tribe. Whoever owns it can counter a lost vote and earn their parchment back, and in the New Era, where votes are lost every week, it was only a matter of time before we got a new convoluted twist to counter the already present convoluted twists.

Kaleb decides to take Reba’s fishing gear, and after a few one-on-one chats, he gives Drew the advantage, which should come in handy if his best bud Austin can’t find his idol in time. But no magic parchment will be needed here because Julie and Dee figure out the next stage of the idol hunt: unearthing a hammer used to smash a rock hiding the idol itself. But when Austin finally finds his treasure, there’s a caveat: it’s only good for one Tribal unless he sacrifices some votes. One lost vote will make it good until the tribes are on one beach. Two lost votes will make it good until the final five.

While Reba sorts out idol shenanigans, Belo deals with changing dynamics as Kendra vouches for Jake as a possible ally for the women. Katurah smells Bruce’s blood in the water and jumps on the chance to throw him under the bus even harder, but it’s still Kellie holding the oft-talked-about dagger behind her back. Once more, nothing seems to matter except who she and Brando decide to work with.

But with Kaleb away on his raid, the remaining three Lulus have an open discussion about the lone Canadian’s winner equity… on Day 6. For some reason, Sabiyah decides Kaleb is too much of a threat to sit next to 20 days from now, and she and Sean don’t want to rely on the other tribes to vote him out when they could do it themselves… even though he’s the strongest challenge asset Lulu has in an era where swaps aren’t a guarantee. And with Emily desperate for a chance to survive, Sabiyah is happy to rope her into this plan, hoping two votes will be enough should she fail to get her vote back.

And unfortunately for Sabiyah, she might have to take drastic measures with that candle because it’s a third straight immunity loss for Lulu, unusually accompanied by somber music at the challenge’s climax to hammer in just how depressing life is for the Lulu Losers. Kaleb likes Emily and wants to keep her, but he believes she’ll be the easy target, so he doesn’t want to rock the boat and destroy what he believes is a solid trio with him in the solid duo.

But Sabiyah is still hungry for a blindside, pulling the strings so that Kaleb votes for Emily and the others vote for Kaleb. And just to further solidify their numbers, she’s going to toss her candle in the fire at Tribal and collect her idol in front of the others.

However, it’s bringing Emily in on this idol information that commences the melting of Sabiyah’s wax wings because she’s soaring a bit too high for her own good here. Realizing that Sabiyah didn’t trust her enough to own up to the missing vote until it suited her own game, Emily runs to Kaleb and blows up her rival’s game. If the two of them vote for Sabiyah, either she leaves 2-1 or gets her vote back to force a tie, at which point rocks are on the table. Kaleb’s willing to go for broke here, but Sabiyah did say Emily would be fed a fake story about Kaleb being the target, so he isn’t sure who to believe yet.

Feeling confident and safe as ever at Tribal, Sabiyah grills her candle over the fire and pulls out a metal tube to be opened in private. And once she gets to the voting booth, she finds her idol at last… and, like with Reba’s idol, some conditions to read through. She could take the one night of guaranteed safety and keep her vote… or she could fly a little closer to the sun. Too close.

And like the candle she threw in the flames, her wax wings begin to melt as she chooses to sacrifice her say in the elimination. But in the most delicious, ironic, and tragic twist, Sabiyah actually has all the say in the elimination. Her elimination, in fact. Kaleb takes his chances with Emily’s plan and votes for Sabiyah, and down she goes with an idol in her pocket and without her proverbial wax wings to carry her any further.

Losing a great character like Sabiyah this early pains me, but I can’t complain about watching a downfall this epic. Between her feud with Emily in the first five days, to her letting Emily in on her plans, to essentially voting herself out just to get an idol she could’ve played on the spot, so much of her exit was deliciously self-inflicted. And after last season had most of the early votes determined by production chicanery and twists intended to rig for a certain nonsensical result, it’s so nice to see a jaw-dropping moment result from overconfident players making poor game choices again.

Sabiyah didn’t get screwed because she or an ally went on some journey and lost a vote by default, and not because a million twists came out of the shadows to send her home through no fault of her own. She put her trust in the wrong person, made a bad call with her idol, flew too close to the hot Fijian sun, and went out in dramatic fashion with nobody but herself to blame.

Hopefully production sees the heart of this episode’s success wasn’t all the idol drama, but the storytelling behind it all. We saw the relationships develop on Lulu. We saw Sabiyah grow cocky and power-hungry over three episodes. We saw Emily start at the bottom and work her way to the top, ultimately destroying her rival. That’s why this episode worked, and I guarantee you the normal 60-minute episodes would’ve made this moment a flash in the pan. Sure, it would’ve been a fun TV moment on its own, but probably not the thrilling Greek tragedy we ultimately got on our screens.

The 90-minute episodes are working. We shouldn’t need them in a perfect world, as so many older seasons have proven. Still, if production refuses to drop all the superfluous twists and advantages, this is the ticket to making Survivor worth the emotional investment again. More time for storytelling, more time for build-up, and more time to make the eventual payoff hit home when we do get these huge episodes.

And speaking of huge episodes, next week is giving us a swap! Not a bargain bin swap like last season, where production blatantly sent three people to idol their way through opposing tribes, but an actual random shuffle where lines are redrawn and season-defining bonds can be forged. Just one more thing to add to the list of high-caliber changes production has made, and unless this season royally tanks at some point, we’re probably looking at the best New Era season and maybe even an all-timer as long as the episodes stay this great for the foreseeable future.

Written by

Cory Gage

Cory is a writer and student from Texas. He's a die-hard Survivor fanatic who's seen over 50 seasons worldwide, hosted his own season in high school from scratch, and hopes to one day compete on the show himself.

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