Well, it took nine episodes, but the best season of the New Era finally served up a genuine New Era stinker as the game got overtaken by a terrible twist at the worst possible time. Production couldn’t help themselves, and now we suffer for it. Lovely. But was it a truly awful 90 minutes? Or are there diamonds in the rough worth picking out?
Starting off with the return to camp, Jake is shocked to still be there, Bruce is annoyed at Kellie’s elimination and questions his entire game up to this point, Kendra is sad down by the beach, and Katurah goes from Kendra’s shoulder to cry on to the devil on said shoulder by selling her out to the Rebas. Kendra wants Dee gone to start the dismantling of the power structure, but Katurah doesn’t see the Belo-strong path leading anywhere but Ponderosa. And with all the information (and two idols, thanks to Austin’s amulet gaining full power), Reba decides Jake, Bruce, and Kendra will be the next to go, paving their way to the final four.
The next morning, Bruce has had time to cool down from the shock of that blindside. He doesn’t see much of a path forward with anyone, no matter how hard they try to placate him, but he does see a new path open up back home. With how many people have called him overbearing and difficult to live with, he takes those complaints to heart and promises to check in with his family to see if he’s been blind to some personal shortcomings outside the game as much as he was blind to his standing inside the game.
Meanwhile, Emily knows she can’t work with the Reba alliance long-term unless she’s fine with fifth place. And given Dee is becoming the shot caller, Emily approaches Austin and Drew with a pitch to take her out. Unfortunately, the boys will hem and haw about it, telling her everything she needs to know: Reba’s tight, so Emily herself will need to make some magic happen.
But you know what’s not magical? A terrible twist fresh off Probst’s cursed whiteboard of ideas. For this immunity challenge, everyone must split into three groups of three to complete an obstacle course. It’s elimination-style, so the last group to finish the first two rounds is out of the running, leaving the last group of three to compete for individual immunity in an endurance challenge. Sounds fair enough… until Jeff says the first group out will lose their votes and have to take a journey to Advantage Island to potentially get them back.
No! Bad Survivor! Bad! I want to grab the rolled-up newspaper and smack this twist silly because WHY are we depriving a third of the cast of votes at one of the most pivotal moments of the season? The final nine is where magic happens naturally without any twists required, and so far, the New Era has practically erased it four out of five times, first with split Tribals and now this nonsense. And perhaps it wouldn’t be nearly as egregious if the method of getting votes back was simple and easy, where you’d need to be a real dunce to screw it up. But no, it’s a hard math puzzle with a super strict time limit, meaning only serious math skills or dumb luck will be able to salvage someone’s lost vote.
But regardless of how bad the twist is, we must deal with it. Despite leading the first round, Emily, Katurah, and Austin fall short and get saddled with lost votes, meaning the person with the interesting plans might have no say in the game this week. How exciting. In stage two, Bruce, Julie, and Kendra defeat Dee, Drew, and Jake to win a chance at individual immunity and a trip to the Sanctuary for a chicken “feast,” if you can even call it that. And in the solo challenge, it once again comes down to Bruce and Julie in an endurance challenge, with Bruce clutching another necklace to extend his borrowed time by another day.
Back at camp, it’s not winners but not quite losers Dee, Jake, and Drew who enjoy a pot of rice as they wait for updates from the other trios. Well, Jake won’t enjoy as much of the rice because Dee and Drew eat the majority of it and leave him the scraps in an openly villainous move. But Dee and Drew will agree that Kendra should be the target, given how hard she’s pushing for Dee to leave.
At the Sanctuary, the chicken feast is… not really a feast. It’s just a roasted chicken slapped down on a table with no drinks and no sides, and you dig in with your bare hands, no matter how gross they are. Absolutely awful reward aesthetically, especially when we just got the Auction a week ago. But strategically, the dynamic won’t change much. Kendra continues pushing for Dee, but Julie wants to take Dee to the end despite her ally’s growing threat level, so she pushes for Jake to go instead. Bruce agrees on Jake, and so Kendra backs off and applies the classic “anyone but me” strategy.
But on the journey, it’s a nightmare situation. Financial Analyst Emily Flippen actually struggles with mental math, and Katurah freezes up like a deer in headlights, meaning two potential swing voters at the final nine have no power. And to make it even more boring, Austin reveals he’s a math wiz and actually solves the equation, giving all four Rebas their votes for an easy majority. The twist sapped all the intrigue out of this round and killed any hope of a cool power shift, and it now comes down to which Belo bottom feeder will follow Kellie out the door: Kendra or Jake?
Back at camp, Austin lies and says he failed the puzzle but informs his Reba allies about the truth behind closed doors. With four votes, they all agree on Kendra being the target at Dee’s request… except for Julie, who still wants Jake out after being so vocal about it on the reward. And now Julie realizes that Dee and herself are playing different games. Will they eventually have to come to blows when agreement is tougher? Perhaps. But for now, it seems Kendra’s figurative chicken is cooked.
But even without her vote, Emily will still try and shake things up. When Drew checks in with her, she says Jake is the name she’s heard the most, and she agrees with sending him home over the less-threatening Kendra. Suddenly, Drew has second thoughts and approaches the other Rebas for second opinions. Austin is willing to flip the votes, but Dee doesn’t want to hear it. Kendra’s coming for her, and like with all who threaten to put her name down, Dee will slice her throat before the same can be done to her.
And once the votes come in, Dee gets her way with a unanimous Kendra boot, sending home one of the season’s biggest characters in one of the most disappointing episodes yet. That’s not to shade Dee, though. She made the best move for her game and solidified herself as a frontrunner to win, and as a rare female villain, too. But… you still wonder what could’ve been had production not, well, productioned.
Perhaps Emily rallies the outsiders and blindsides Dee. Perhaps there are some wacky split-vote shenanigans. Perhaps idols go flying and Reba loses most of their ammunition. So many what-ifs, but with the show being so gung-ho about stealing votes from people and forcing these small tribe configurations at the dumbest of times, that’s all they’ll remain: what-ifs.
But one stinker in nine episodes is a better track record than usual for the New Era. It wasn’t the most game-breaking twist, nor the most unfair, nor the most season-ruining. But the timing couldn’t have been much worse (and I realize I’m tempting fate by saying that because imagine this twist at the final seven…). Thankfully, next week looks like a return to form, with some petty drama taking the beach by storm and some underdogs brewing up a revolution against Reba’s power players. So hopefully, this one was just a bad bump in an otherwise lovely drive down a road of success.