Recap in Brief
Following Figgy’s 3-2 vote, Adam tried to mend things with Taylor, but to no avail. David, using his hidden immunity idol as a talking point, pledged his loyalty to Zeke. At the reward challenge, Vanua won a feast and a celebrated with a cacophony of gaseous noises. At the immunity challenge, Vanua overcame an early deficit and conquered the slingshot, sending Ikabula to its first tribal council. With a 4-2 millennial advantage, everything seemed set for Bret’s boot, but Jay/Will questioned Michaela’s strategic and physical prowess. At tribal, a shocked Michaela was blindsided by a vote of 4-2, with Jay and Will combining forces with Bret and Sunday.
Last week, I expressed some disappointment over the storytelling this season, specifically how the edit seemed very cut-and-dry. With transparency at the forefront, I predicted a “bait and switch,” where the predictable edit would last long enough for us to get comfortable, only to have the rug quickly pulled out. Well, this week’s episode has done just that.
If you can’t figure it out…
Following last episode’s immunity challenge, Michaela, who hasn’t been afraid to speak her mind, told Takali that “if can’t figure out how to work together, then one of them deserves to go home.” This notion has rung true since the swap, with each tribe’s majority turning on one of its own. While each of the three boots has been ousted for differing reasons (strength, loyalty, threat), they have proven that this cast isn’t afraid to change the status quo. This level of unpredictability is setting up a merge that is likely full of voting blocs and not firm alliances.
Give Me the Ball
Before the merge, the result of immunity challenges is entirely responsible for dictating the level of strategy. If you’re Ulong and lose every tribal immunity, you’re forced to wheel and deal at an alarming rate. If you’re Koror, however, alliances and bonds aren’t really tested outside of the obvious Willard vote. Within that layer, there are very distinct connotations in how each member of the tribe participates. This season, aside from Hannah’s panic attack, the focus has been on those competing in the challenge, specifically looking at the people who take the superstar role. This position either gives you all the glory as the winner or all the blame as the reason you lost.
This season, the stronger players have gotten all of the chances to shine. During the reward challenge in Episode 4, the most physical players for each tribe, Chris and Michaela, established themselves as forces to be reckoned with. This episode, Michaela again called her name during the immunity challenge with the slingshot, only to not see the same success. What’s interesting to me, however, are the people that are sitting out, notably Bret. With Ikabula’s extra person advantage from the onset of the swap, they’ve been forced to sit 1-2 people out per challenge. Bret, who seemed like a physical player at Gen X, has sat out more challenges than I would have expected. His under the radar gameplay in the pre-merge indicates to me that he’s far more strategic than we’re being shown.
Another player I’m keeping my eye on is Will, who has stayed far under the radar. He went with the numbers on the Mari vote and then clung to the numbers at Ikabula. Twice he has had to make a decision around loyalty, only to have zero blood on his hands. As the merge comes, he again looks to be someone that can fall into the majority and under the radar.
Boys will be boys?
After Vanua had won the feast during the reward challenge (sidebar: holy feasts Batman. There have been so many big feasts already this season), the three males (Chris, Zeke, and David) proceeded to shovel food into their mouths without utensils and far faster than their bodies wanted. Michelle on the other hand, chose to eat with utensils and at a far slower pace. As the men were left belching and farting their spoils of war, Michelle, the lone female, was left wondering her position within her tribe. While I don’t see gender as an issue (it seemingly hasn’t been a major factor in alliance building this season), their standing in the game is drastically different.
Michelle, as part of the Triforce, was immediately in power and hasn’t relinquished that status. She has been on the right side of the numbers at each vote and really hasn’t had to worry. Chris, Zeke, and David, however, have had to scramble to ensure numbers and have landed in the minority. Is this “Revenge of the Nerds” situation priming us for an underdogs-turned-majority situation? Normally, I wouldn’t read too much into this storyline, but the next section makes me think that this will be a legitimate debate soon.
“You guys are dumber than you look.”
You know what’s not sicky sick gnar gnar? Being blindsided and at the bottom of your tribe. Failing to accept Adam’s apology/reasoning, Taylor cemented his position as the odd man out at Takali. While Ken pledged his loyalty to Adam with a piercing glance and poetic phrase, Jessica wasn’t so sure that Taylor wasn’t worth keeping close. Taylor’s aloof personality and lone wolf status, according to Jessica, seemed far less threatening when compared to Adam, who wasn’t afraid to flip on allies. Honestly, I don’t think either are great options for Jessica and Ken, who need to find an ally to bring into the merge. Taylor will likely go back to Jay/Michelle, while Adam seems likely to rejoin Zeke.
What the Shell?
This season, the subtly strategic players have been targeted. Mari was targeted for her potentially threatening status, as was Jessica (but was saved thanks to David’s idol play). So, when Michaela laid out her plan for the final four with shells, people again took note of her foresight. Coupled with her physical prowess, Michaela solidified her status as a legitimate threat. Noting this, she was blindsided to prevent her from making the merge in one of the most shocking and exhilirating tribal councils in Survivor history. The music, the camerawork, the way Probst paused before reading the final vote, the staredown, Jay’s ice-cold “Yeah. I did it,” the awkward faces of the other tribemates, and Michaela forgetting her shoes. Perfection.
Now that the merge is here, will the trend of taking out sleepers continue? If I were a betting man, I’d say that this merge is going to look incredibly similar to Survivor: Caramoan’s, where the visible targets go early, and the sleepers follow. Following this, the question becomes this – who is going to establish themselves as powerful, yet have strong enough allies to make it a non-factor?