Welcome back on the trail everybody! This week saw a new twist introduced into the game that, while interesting on paper, yielded a less than thrilling result. With relics coming and going and players positioning themselves for the endgame, the Survivors’ paths diverged in multiple, intriguing ways. Without further ado, let’s hit the road.
Fork: Fixing the Double Boot Dilemma
The most noteworthy thing about the episode was this new twist that broke up the tribe into two groups of five, sending each of them to separate Tribal Councils. The idea seems like a mash-up of the infamous twist that sideswiped Michelle Yi in Survivor: Fiji and the forced double Tribal episodes that used to pop in the pre-merge during Survivor’s earlier seasons, like in the tremendous “Banana Etiquette” episode of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains.
To me, this seemed like a way to fix the post-merge double boot episodes of the last couple of seasons, which crammed in two cycles of voting into a typical three-day episode span. With the game growing more complex and intense with each passing season, it seems the show is struggling more and more with capturing all of the strategic happenings for one vote in a 42-minute episode; trying to tell the story for two separate votes happening on different days now seems almost impossible. Look no further than the Michaela boot at the Final 7 of Survivor: Game Changers; the show got unlucky that such a complicated and chaotic vote occurred during a double boot episode. By kicking two people out during the same voting cycle, it alleviates some of the storytelling stress of the show, making for an easier to follow episode.
As for how the twist played out, well, it wasn’t as exciting as I hoped, but that’s mostly because of how the two groups were drawn up. If any of these OG Navitis felt a little heat and been down in the numbers in their groups, then things could have been a little more explosive at Tribal. Instead, it was a pair of straight down the line votes; in other words, typical Survivor: Ghost Island. Hopefully these predictable results won’t deter the show from trying this again, because I’d much rather see this option than the previous style of double boot episode.
Fork: Believing the Bluff
For the second week in a row, Kellyn’s game took a tumble. Unlike last week, however, a lot of her strife was more of her own doing and thus could have potentially been avoided. Her complete buy-in of Michael’s idol bluff sent her into a paranoid tizzy, to the point where by the time she got to Tribal Council she was in full self-preservation mode, which led her to use her extra vote advantage. Using it as a defensive move to protect against a potential idol play from Michael, ensuring Laurel would go home by putting two votes onto her, is a fine and understandable decision at that point, but it’s still unclear to me why Kellyn thought she was in danger in the first place. If she is so sure that Michael has an idol, why not go to him and dictate a plan that they can execute together, instead of running around the island consumed by paranoia about being idoled out of the game?
Ultimately, despite being spooked, I think she still really wanted Michael out and was secretly willing to let other people take the shot if they wanted to take that risk. Except, it wasn’t so secret; her freak-out pinged hard on Domenick and Wendell’s radar, and no doubt made them feel uneasy about her as an ally going forward. In fact, I’d be willing to guess that the two’s secret conversation at Tribal was them debating whether to call Michael’s bluff and vote him out or to let her go, ready and willing to sacrifice her in the event that Michael did have an idol.
By the end of Tribal Council, Kellyn got what she wanted, as Michael’s torch was snuffed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if next week’s episode starts with her feeling foolish about buying Michael’s bluff hook-line-and-sinker and using her extra vote in the process. Plus, her episode of paranoia has got to have others questioning whether she really is a desirable and dependable ally going forward. These last two weeks have seen Kellyn face the first couple of instances of true adversity in her game, and she hasn’t responded well. Now, it’s a question of whether Ms. “Naviti Strong” can fully pivot to a new plan, or if she will be done in by digging her heels too deep with her original bonds, and I can’t wait to find out.
Fork: Seizing the Moment
Despite having the less star-studded group, the first Tribal Council still managed to drum up some solid intrigue, thanks to Donathan’s hidden immunity idol, or idols as it were. The fact that he possessed two Survivor relics that acted as individual idols on their original season was a loophole ripe for exploiting. Coming into Tribal, Donathan seemed determined to use the idol to change the outcome of the vote; from his point of view, he had a 50/50 chance to use it correctly in the hopes of knocking out one of the Naviti majority. Splitting the idols in two and handing one half off to Jenna could have been an excellent bluff to gauge which one of the two OG Malolos were receiving votes, if not get the Naviti majority to turn on each other altogether.
Alas, he did not do that, although it was probably for the best, seeing how Jenna kicked him to the curb in the hopes of saving her own butt. In the lead-up to Tribal, he did everything in his power to clue Jenna that he wanted to be on the same page with, including telling her his vote was going to Sebastian, and seemed ready to play the idol for her if the time came. Yet, Jenna’s strange mix of resignation over her (supposed) fate and eagerness to get to the vote is probably what tipped Donathan off to play the idol for himself, which was a good call. If he had played it on Jenna, he would have been gone on the revote between him and Sebastian.
Maybe, if he had told Jenna to vote for Angela instead, she might have been more inclined to jump on board, but it seems like she was pretty dead-set on hopping aboard the Naviti train and leaving Donathan behind. Fortunately, he was able to pull ahead thanks to using that idol for himself. Sure, he would have been fine if he sat on it, but I’m always of the opinion that, if you feel you need to play your idol, you play it. Donathan still has some solid allies that could offer some protection going forward; if he keeps his head down enough, he just might find himself in the Final Three.
End of the line: Jenna Bowman
What did Jenna do wrong? Her play to get in with the Naviti majority would have been a good one, except she was fed the wrong plan. The Angela/Sebastian/Chelsea trio was able to dupe her pretty handily, and the show had a little fun with how hard she bought this decoy plan. From her perspective, it’s understandable why she thought she was in the clear; Sebastian has become her new boo outside of the show, so she was probably hoping his word would come through for her here. Unfortunately, that love didn’t blossom enough during her time on the island. It was a little frustrating to see that if she had just gotten on the same page as Donathan, the two of them could have used his idol to come out on top of this vote, but instead, she had a pair of love goggles snuggled around her head.
To give Jenna some kudos, she did know she had to play around Donathan’s idol, so convincing him to play it on her was a good line to take, so she did everything in her power to make that happen. Heading into Tribal Council, it was a win-win scenario from her perspective: either Donathan gets voted out with an idol in his pocket or he plays the idol on her and he still goes out. Everything was lining up the way she wanted, until her torch was snuffed. Jenna, unfortunately, was one of the more minor characters this season, but at least she got to pop in her exit episode.
End of the Line: Michael Yerger
What did Michael do wrong? Michael was the perpetual underdog for most of the season, trying to battle his way from the bottom, and this week was no different. His final ploy to bluff that he had an idol seemed to work to an extent. He immediately had Kellyn completely buying into his lie. Once he had on her on the hook, though, he should have followed through with the next step, asking Kellyn who she wanted to vote for, letting her dictate the plan and hopefully falling in behind her in the process. Instead, he opts to vote for Wendell, seemingly out on his own island with that choice. According to his exit press, he was pretty convinced that both Kellyn and Laurel were on board to vote Wendell, who, from his position, is the ideal person to get out. Kudos goes to Laurel and Kellyn for pulling the wool over his eyes enough so they can go in for the kill.
While Michael’s torch was snuffed at the end of this episode, it’s probably not the last time. Expectations are kind of low whenever an 18-year old steps into the game of Survivor, but he managed to surpass them to a surprising degree. A quick and creative strategic thinker, he was also not the cocky young schmuck who thinks he knows everything – instead being a very polite and humble young’un while still playing hard. A common comparison I had throughout the season was to Malcolm Freberg, another young, attractive, studly player with a penchant for finding idols and some strategic flair. The big difference between the two was I found that Malcolm often relished being the kind of scoundrel the game requires players to be, while Michael never wavered from the honorable boy-scout image he was trying to portray. Maybe he can be a little sneakier during his next trip to the island.