With fiery personality Toni eliminated in an easy near-consensus vote, the final ten have some decisions to make that will set the tone for this entire post-merge. Tejan would be the easiest vote, essentially another freebie Tribal Council used to kill time until the big dogs have to attack each other. Or perhaps old beef can be resolved at long last, knocking out a massive threat and opening the game for more fluid play. And all the while, a new power player emerges to become the front runner by a mile, but not without setting up a few dominoes to fall in their direction. It’s a crazy episode, so let’s get into it.
Without any allies to rely on, Tejan falls into the typical routine of a Survivor bottom feeder: running around looking for idols with no regard for optics and being grilled by the majority for attempting to fight back with all his available tools. But hope is not lost, as power duo Shane and Marian have a different option in mind: the long-awaited and sure-to-be satisfying Dante blindside we’ve been teased with for half this season. After Toni “promised” Dante her jury vote, the gears started turning in quite a few heads, and the Godfather of Salan’s days are quickly numbered when his Season 7 ride-or-die Meryl is ready to cut ties.
And this is the Meryl episode of all Meryl episodes. She’s been a consistent presence, but we’ve yet to really see her break out of her narrator role and take the reigns. This episode sees her rise to the top, giving herself the oft-repeated nickname Mama Bear and racking up so many confessionals compared to the rest of the cast that you’d swear this was an Australian Survivor episode with better presentation.
To start, she’s absolutely done with Dante and wants him gone ASAP. Having to put out the guy’s fires and micromanage all his social blunders has worn her down over three straight weeks. Without him in the game, she’ll be freer to play her own way without worrying about the perception of their duo as a whole tainting her reputation.
But Meryl’s rise to power is only beginning. After a come-from-behind win in a difficult immunity and reward challenge, she’s given the choice of three people to join her for a Chinese takeout reward. As if the Survivor Gods have smiled upon her with the perfect set-up, she’s allowed to take Dino, Phil, and Steffi, the three people she desperately wanted to talk to about this Dante plan, under the guise of feeding those who got a raw deal at the merge feast.
There’s yet another wrinkle or two Meryl can take advantage of, though. At the reward, the four are given a moral dilemma. They can eat their takeout as intended or take a batch of blankets back to the camp to support the tribe as a whole and earn goodwill (or so they think, as the tribe’s ho-hum reaction ruffles a few feathers). Mama Bear Meryl can’t stand to see the tribe freezing at night, and the rest agree, so the blankets are an easy, unanimous choice before the quartet locks their votes on Dante.
That said, they won’t go home totally starved, as a jar of fortune cookies will treat the entire tribe to a taste of sweetness, with one lucky castaway winning a trip to the Outpost by dumb luck. And lo and behold, Meryl’s streak of success continues. The following morning, Meryl arrives to find another choice: she can sacrifice her vote to get a 50/50 Coin advantage or leave it be and return to camp. With a Tribal Council Pass and a Reward Pass in her pocket, why not add a third trinket to her collection?
While the power of three advantages is nothing to scoff at, it’s certainly nothing to take lightly if you’re an outsider looking in on Meryl’s skyrocketing power level. Namely: Marian. Once a close confidant, the Champions alum is having buyer’s remorse, fearing the potential advantage steamroll Meryl could command to claim a spot in the final five. Bringing in fellow Season Fiver Phil, a connection forged at the swap that’s sat on the back burner ever since, Marian’s ready to strike at her new biggest threat once Dante’s out of the picture and Meryl’s feeling totally secure.
Meryl does lie about her 50/50 Coin, though, claiming she lost a game of chance to explain her No Vote parchment. Whether that takes the heat off her back or not will be revealed soon, but it’s easily the best lie she can tell here, providing a believable story that fits with the mechanics of past twists.
As for our resident dead man walking, Dante has no idea what’s coming. As usual, he’s dead set on voting out his nemesis Dino, begrudgingly considering Tejan as a backup plan should his allies want Dino to stay around. In fact, he’s so set on Dino leaving that his domineering tactics with Tejan royally upset Shane, of all people. And if you’re somehow able to make Shane feel repulsed by your arrogant behavior and strong-arming tactics, you’re already too far gone. And beyond Shane, the rest of the tribe is tired of him too. All but Felix, who tries in vain to pile the votes on Tejan to protect his allies across both major alliances.
This is where Dante’s story starts and ends in this episode. It’s one of those rounds where the boot is so obvious the editors never even bother giving you a possible red herring. Instead, it’s 45 minutes of Dante getting dunked on in everyone else’s confessionals, looking clueless in his own confessionals, and finally getting his torch snuffed in a satisfying downfall for the ages after three weeks of build-up.
And if you’ve found the recent Tribals to be a bit ho-hum, don’t worry. Tejan, in what I assume is a paranoia-induced attempt to shake things up, decides it’s the perfect time to complain about the lack of resume-building moves being made and call out the pecking order, starting with the women masterminding the season in the Full Package. Meryl’s quick to shoot back, bringing up their earlier conversation where Tejan accused Steffi of orchestrating a vote against Meryl. Then Steffi hops into the fray to defend herself, as does Marian, adding to the awkward dog pile as Dante runs around whispering to his allies to keep targeting Dino no matter how much chaos Tejan creates.
Once the dust settles, it’s a slam dunk Dante downfall served up with a near-unanimous vote, leaving only Felix and Dante himself out of the loop. Dante grabs his torch before the vote reading is even finished, which is the kind of hilarious, salty exit I live for, and off to Ponderosa with Toni he goes, finishing in tenth place yet again in eerily similar circumstances. Last time, he tried to warn everyone about a huge strategic threat, and nobody cared, opting to vote him out instead because his social connections just weren’t strong enough to pull the votes he needed. And history repeated itself, even with Dante’s strategic potential getting a huge buff between seasons.
Without a doubt, Dante improved beyond our expectations. While his lackluster social game was just as messy as before, something I think we all expected given he’s a self-admitted loner who thinks humans kind of suck as a whole, he came into his second chance with a plan to change his game and carried through with his promise from the jump. He forged solid alliances that held until the merge and called shots against his enemies, essentially playing his own less stable version of the Rob Bentele game without the crucial social bonds that let Rob dominate. Though he fell victim to the same mistakes twice, he’s definitely made his mark on the season as a massive player, a memorable villain, and a great representative of the second chance narrative this season is all about.
But with such a massive name out of the game, it’s only a matter of time before the ever-present big target finds a new host. Will it be Meryl, the advantage queen whose game could skyrocket her straight to the jury? Or perhaps Dino, the sleeper threat who just disposed of his biggest enemy yet has a big reputation as an underdog? Perhaps an easier choice is in the cards, such as the outcast of all outcasts, Tejan? Or could we be in store for a left-field blindside against someone nobody has on their boot radar?