After the 90-minute premiere’s ability to luxuriate in quieter moments, stories, and character interactions, the return to the usual episode length was certainly felt as we bounced through camp, Island of the Idols, a challenge, and Tribal Council. But despite the fast pace, this episode still managed to put the wonderful cast in the spotlight. For all the distraction of the giant heads, this season is still feeling like the story of the castaways—and for that I’m grateful.
Not only is the diverse cast a fun bunch of likable characters, but it’s clear that they are hungry to play. Last week, Lairo turned the tables in Ronnie’s blindside, but Vokai was not to be outdone as they brought us another blindside, back-to-back.
TO GOOD TO BE TRUE
In the wake of his self-induced ostracising last week, Jason was in a bad spot this week. Having been labelled as an easy target due to the natural paranoia of Idols and those departing from the developing, unifying tribe culture, he needed a hail Mary to make it out alive. He had at least one ally coming into the second round of play, but as became quickly apparent, having Noura in your corner was both a blessing and a curse. Of course, a number is a number, and an ally is an ally. But when that ally and number is Noura…?
Noura defies summarisation. With her mile-a-minute speech and her impulsive and unfiltered reactions, she quickly became a standout character. At least, as a TV character. On the Island, her intensity and peculiarity were making her stand out for the wrong reasons. Aggravating her tribemates by complaining about being up all night stoking the fire while everyone else slept or just wearing them down through her manner, she found herself giving Jason a run for his money on the race to the bottom of the tribe’s totem pole.
Jason and Noura seem like such an odd couple. In their conversation on the shore lamenting their outsider status, Noura was riled up and was raring to see the meek inherit. As she began fantasising about the outsiders assembling to deconstruct the popular kids at the centre of the tribe—the King, Queen & Jack of Jamal, Molly and, fittingly, Jack—Jason had to bring it back to reality and remind her that they had no power. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.
Similarly, when Noura’s wish was granted later by the promise of an insurgency led by Lauren, Jason had to pull a Footloose and urge Noura to contain her jubilant dance moves lest they tip off the counter-attack. Noura is unbridled and passionate, Jason is analytical and restrained, but both are determined and ready to fight. I love odd couples in Survivor, and I would love to see what a deep run would look like for unlikely friends Noura & Jason.
But it has to be said that their salvation was not self-made. Jason’s dour lament that they didn’t have the power to go after Molly, Jamal, or Jack wasn’t going to change any minds. His own paranoia as he turned his bag inside out at Tribal to demonstrate that he didn’t have an Idol only served to highlight his outsider status. And despite having the energy to want to cause an upset, Noura herself floundered when put on the spot by Jamal and Jack, finding herself unable to convincingly play along with their plan or strategise against an alternative target.
Jason and Noura got very lucky that their tribemates weren’t willing to just steam ahead with an easy vote, and while they might have been thrust into a higher gear of gameplay by their position in the tribe, they weren’t the ones driving.
TARGETING THE THREAT
Last week, I wrote at length about Ronnie’s critical mistake to look too far ahead and propose voting out endgame threats at the very first vote. It’s fascinating, then, that we returned to that theme in this episode as Lauren bucked the easy vote against outcasts Jason & Noura to instead snipe a social target in Molly. On the one hand, I still worry that it feels like a premature move. As Tommy voiced when the plan was presented to him, going after Molly now would leave a wronged Jamal & Jack in play. For him personally, that dangerously jeopardised his personal relationship with these players, but broadly, it would create a schism in the tribe that wouldn’t be created by sticking to the easy vote.
But where the Vokai vote differs from the Lairo vote is in the motivation and the position of the instigator. Last week, Ronnie—an outsider in the tribe—targeted Elaine for her potential to win as attributed to her likability and backstory. Although Elaine was a hub of social dynamics, Ronnie’s arguments centred on her danger in a Final Three. Molly was also a social centre of her tribe. She was effortlessly charming, and she was wrapping everyone (well, except for Noura & Jason) around her finger. While that social dominance could make her dangerous in the long run, Lauren was motivated to make a move against her now because Molly was actively rising to the pinnacle of her tribe strategically as well.
We saw Molly push back against Jamal, preferring to vote out Noura over Jason. Although the episode gave us no confirmation as to whose plan prevailed, Molly’s comfort in leading a charge spoke to her willingness to use that social charm to govern the game. Compared to the defensive likability of Elaine, who in the moment was just hoping to survive the vote, Molly’s likability was being offensively employed.
For Lauren, this was the problem. With Molly anointed Queen, and Jamal & Jack filling out the face cards, everybody else in the tribe was reduced to a number. Lauren recognised that the core of the Vokai super-majority excluded her, and she needed to reshuffle the deck to better her individual position. Molly became the target of the three “cool kids” because she was the most socially threatening. Still, it was her active strategic control in the tribe that encouraged Lauren to make the move and allowed her to bring in Kellee & Janet willingly, Jason & Noura desperate for a lucky break, and Tommy & Dan to round out the numbers.
The move was supported by Lauren’s position in the middle of the tribe, where she had good relationships with many of her fellow castaways. She could pitch her plan to players like Janet, Kellee, and even Tommy— who had personal connections with Molly’s closest allies—without having to fear any of them ratting her out. Whereas Ronnie was pushing back against the charm of the tribe from a position on the outside, Lauren was insulated in the centre of the action when she made her strike.
It also helped that Molly’s position in the game was of visible concern to the rest of the tribe. She was evidently in a place that threatened control, and her core group with Jamal and Jack were confident in their position to their own detriment. Admittedly, much of this arrogance was filtered through Jamal—an afternoon nap before Tribal suggests overconfidence, and he doubled down on it by self-congratulatory playing in first gear as he criticised Jason’s high-speed approach.
Nevertheless, an alliance’s arrogance can filter to everybody associated with it, and Jamal’s overconfidence was undoubtedly a contributing factor to the rest of the tribe deciding to pull the rug out from the alliance by going after the brains of the operation. So it’s a tough break for Molly, who seemed to be a socially capable player with a lot of potential had it not been for getting caught in the crosshairs due to her alliance’s early dominance.
So was it the right call? Did Lauren make the smart play to overturn the tribe dynamics from the outset, or would it have been better to play it safe for at least one vote? Despite my critique of Ronnie targeting a threat from the outset, I feel like the surface similarities are not enough to condemn Lauren’s play. While the move could blowback on her now that she’s set a precedent to target strategic women, she looks to have allies both pre-existing in Janet & Kellee as well as potential new recruits in Jason & Noura who may feel they owe her for their survival.
Lauren also has something of a shield in a player like Tommy, whose closer relationship with the scorned Jamal & Jack may take more heat for the blindside. The move rewrites the tribe dynamics in a way that favours Lauren’s game, and that bodes well. But in Survivor, a move doesn’t always end with the vote, and Lauren’s management of the post-Tribal fallout may be the most important part of making this move the right one.
On that note, there was fallout aplenty across on Lairo as Aaron crumbled in the wake of Ronnie’s blindside. On returning to camp, he lashed out in anger at his tribe and vocalised his frustration at being left out of the vote. The escalation riled up Vince, himself annoyed at having been the target of Aaron. And despite Elaine’s efforts to calm and unify the tribe, Aaron retreated into becoming a lone wolf.
Missy, thrilled to have the security of her women’s alliance in the majority, saw the opportunity to maintain the option of an alliance with Aaron. She followed him down the path to hear him out and presumably offer to work with him going forward. But Aaron, still working through the betrayal, continued to denounce his tribe and proclaim a lack of trust in anyone. Missy saw the benefit of keeping Aaron around, particularly as a challenge asset. Still, if he continues to openly resent his tribe and can’t find a way to come back from his outburst after Tribal, Missy’s willingness to work with him might not last.
This is particularly pertinent as the women of Lairo continued to dominate, with Chelsea having a starring role. Despite Elizabeth’s lessons with the Idols last week and Aaron & Tom’s efforts to get the fire started, Chelsea was the one to step in to become the tribe’s firestarter. With a quick strike of the flint, she managed to ignite her flame easily, earning her the respect and gratitude of her tribe. But if that weren’t enough, she also managed to find the Lairo Idol, sneakily stashing it during a group expedition to collect firewood. As a superfan, she was evidently elated, but it serves to secure Chelsea as a key player in her tribe. As it stands, this season looks like it’s going to continue to be a season dominated by strong female players.
HAVE YOU BEEN PAYING ATTENTION?
Chelsea wasn’t the only woman to emerge from the episode with an Idol in her pocket—Kellee’s excursion to the Island of the Idols proved to be a successful affair as she earned a limited Idol. Admittedly, answering trivia questions in a test of short-term memory seems a far easier task than beating a seasoned fire-maker like Rob in a fire challenge, but to expect all tests to be equal is perhaps too much. After all, there certainly is flexibility in the rules, as Kellee herself found when she initially resisted the offer after having been so overwhelmed by Rob & Sandra that she doubted her ability to recall facts drawn from their rambling infodump. By both extending the life of the Idol on offer and making the test slightly easier to require only three correct answers, the test swung into Kellee’s favour, and she passed it with flying colours.
Again, Island of the Idols and the mentorship and test aspect of the twist remained the least interesting part of the episode. It felt like a distraction from the genuinely interesting dynamics back at Lairo & Vokai, and Sandra & Rob still feel a bit robotic as they play the role of benevolent mentors (in stark contrast to the snark that helped to make them Survivor icons in the first place). But I’m hopeful that the twist will find its groove as the season progresses, and at the very least, it gives us a sequence to feature one of the castaways as they’re put out of their comfort zone.
Kellee is emerging as a pretty interesting character. There’s a maturity to her as highlighted in her storyline with Dan last week, but there’s a lot of fun too. From her reaction to finding the Idols on the IOI to her melodramatic performative breakdown upon returning to camp, she’s willing to play with a bit of silliness. Even better, that fun still serves her game. Despite giving an almost identical lie to the one Elizabeth awkwardly told last week, her delivery seemed to go over a lot better. As she dumped out her bag in mock panic to try to assure her tribe she didn’t win anything, she had her Idol bunched up in her hair in one of the more ingenious hiding places we’ve seen—and she got away with it.
I’m really excited to see where Kellee goes from here—she might not be the standout character of the season, but she’s developing into a savvy player with the potential to play a key role moving forward.
Even though this episode didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, it doesn’t detract from my excitement for the season. I really enjoy watching this cast play, and given each tribe has pulled off a blindside at their first Tribal Council, it’s evident that they’ve got the skills to play and play hard. It feels like it’s only going to go up from here.