After last week’s devastating Ethan boot at Sele’s second Tribal Council in a row, all eyes were (finally!) on Dakal this week for the Tyson vs. Sandra showdown. When the premiere aired, I was surprised to see the likes of Tyson and Kim in trouble so early. Tyson wasn’t my winner pick, but I had pinned him in the pre-season as one of the players who would likely make it at least to the merge without being targeted, if only for his strong real-life connections with many of his fellow winners. This week, those connections (and his own legacy) doomed him to spend his days on the Edge of Extinction—but he didn’t go down without a fight.
I was relieved to see Sele pull through and win immunity after a disastrous start to this week’s challenge, at the very least, so we could finally get some deeper insight into the inner workings of Dakal. As Yul pointed out at Tribal, it’s hard to really know where things stand until alliances are put to the test with a vote. With Tyson’s ouster, the Unconnected One-Timer alliance of Sophie, Yul, Wendell, and Nick clearly came out on top here in the early going.
Although this week’s episode was overall a solid hour of Survivor, it certainly frustrated me more than the previous three episodes, mostly due to the Dakal post-challenge scramble feeling a bit rushed. For reference, the EOE segment took about nine minutes, whereas the Dakal post-challenge content was right around five minutes. As touching as this week’s EOE segment was at times, I still can’t help but continue to point out the inherent problems the twist’s inclusion poses in terms of balanced pacing and editing on a week-to-week basis.
ADAM’S APOLOGY TOUR
The Millennials vs. Gen-X winner had a lot of explaining to do after last week’s Tribal, where his plan to get Parvati out failed spectacularly. Targeted by Old Schoolers Rob and Parvati, and left out of the Ethan vote by New Schoolers Michele, Denise, Ben, and Jeremy, Adam knows he messed up in a big way. He does his best to win back the trust of the New Schoolers by promising his days of trusting Boston Rob are over. He did just about everything wrong, he admits and works overtime to course correct.
Adam’s apology tour includes physical labor, and Jeremy notes that he’s suddenly become very hardworking around camp, comparing Adam to his kids. Parvati and Rob—both on the bottom of the Sele tribe as the last Old Schoolers standing—aren’t impressed by Adam’s sudden industriousness, either. We see the two contemplate “burying” Adam to avenge Ethan, and Rob lies to Michele and Jeremy by saying that Adam won’t stop trying to strategize with him. The two New Schoolers (who orchestrated the Ethan vote last week) quickly decide that Adam is too much of a burden to keep around.
Simply put: last week couldn’t have gone worse from Adam, and things aren’t looking much better for him this week, either. He (rightfully) recognized that he messed up big time by filling Ethan and Rob in on his plans, but it might be too little, too late to reverse the damage done to his connections with the New Schoolers, who currently hold all the power at Sele. If he gets dealt a good hand in next week’s tribe swap, he might be able to dig himself out of this hole, but he’s not out of the woods just yet.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
On Dakal, Yul celebrates hitting day ten, and Tyson and Sarah bond over bad breath and coconut curls. Tyson knows that even if things are calm around camp for the time being, he’s potentially in big trouble come next Tribal. He correctly pinpoints the Wendell, Nick, Yul, and Sophie (whose name he initially forgets) alliance as a problematic element for his game, since they’re all relatively unconnected and he’s one of the more well-connected players this season. He talks it over with the other well-connected players Kim, Sarah, Tony, and Sandra, but in Sandra’s confessional, it’s clear she’s not jumping at the chance to work with Tyson. Her famous strategy might be “anyone but me,” but she’s not about to bury the hatchet and forget that Tyson threw her name out there last week. If you come for the queen, you best not miss, because she sure as hell won’t forget about it anytime soon.
Sophie spots the EOE from Dakal beach and compares the sight to touring a prison on a school trip as a kid. Until now, I hadn’t considered the possibility that players still in the game might be able to physically see EOE. Sophie might have an idea of the physical and mental challenges that await players on EOE, but little does she know that Natalie Anderson has already become the game’s first Fire Token billionaire just across the ocean from where she stands.
RUNNING UP THAT HILL
The cruel EOE gods send Danni, Ethan, Natalie, and Amber on a grueling mission to each carry 20 pieces of firewood, one by one, down a mountain before sundown in exchange for one Fire Token. After just one trip up the hill, it becomes abundantly clear that this Fire Token would not be easily won. One can only imagine the flashbacks Danni must have been having to her first day on Guatemala when the contestants had to hike 11 miles overnight through the jungle to their camps. It’s been over 15 years since she last played, and Jeff’s still finding a way to make Danni hike for hours on end.
Crossfit Queen Natalie, of course, thrives in this challenge. We even see her running on the beach at one point during the trek! She’s the first to finish and adds another Fire Token to her haul, and it continues to be hard to imagine anyone else thriving on EOE as much as she currently is.
Ethan’s shock elimination last week was a heartbreaker. It was hard to see the season 3 winner go out fourth (and not see it coming) after all he’s been through, but if his time on EOE so far is any indication, Ethan’s emotional journey is far from over. After nearly fainting with only four trips up and down the mountain left, Ethan gets a visit from medical and is faced with the possibility that he might not be able to finish the challenge at all. When he first arrived on EOE last week, we heard him compare the experience to his past battles with cancer. It was really touching to see him have to grapple with his health so head-on in his first EOE challenge and reflect on his past fears and uncertainties. And in the end, just like how he beat cancer, Ethan managed to complete the challenge. Amber, Danni, and Natalie join him on his last trip, officially inducting him as a resident of EOE, a.k.a. Queen Island.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this was another EOE segment that overstayed its welcome. The problem isn’t that this footage is boring or uninteresting or even overly advantage-oriented—on the contrary, this week’s segment focused almost solely on the respective emotional journeys of the EOE inhabitants, Ethan’s in particular. But as long as Survivor episodes are only 40-odd minutes long, the EOE segments are going to drag. If every episode was 90-minutes long, it’d be a different story, but even the most compelling EOE segment is going to significantly kill the pacing of any 40-minute episode. And while Ethan’s triumph was touching, the whole sequence had no business taking up as much time as it did.
THE SANDRA BENCH
At the challenge, Sandra sits out (again), prompting a fun exchange between her and Parvati wherein the sit-out bench is now known as the “Sandra Bench.” Tony joins her on the Sandra Bench, and the challenge is an immediate, unmitigated disaster for Sele. They seem to have put all of their shortest players on the portion of the challenge where height is most beneficial, and Dakal easily breezes past them to the final puzzle portion. Adam gets to play the hero role by finally snagging the last key, but Sarah and Nick are so far along on the puzzle that Jeff is already yelling “BLOWOUT,” and the challenge seems practically over.
Somehow, though, Michele and Rob manage to blow through the puzzle and secure the win for Sele. Jeff calls it one of the biggest comebacks in Survivor history (he sure does love to say x is the biggest y in Survivor history, doesn’t he?), but it would probably be more accurate to say that it was one of the biggest choke jobs in Survivor history. Michele and Rob killed it on the puzzle, but it was wild to see Sarah and Nick have that massive of a head start only to completely fall apart at the end, sending Dakal to Tribal for the second time.
DEAD MAN WALKING
Back at Dakal, Tyson targets Nick for what he thinks should be a straightforward, no-brainer vote. Nick choked on the puzzle, is part of the four-person unconnected power alliance, and doesn’t contribute much around camp, Tyson argues. Everyone agrees. Except they actually don’t, and they’re all planning on voting Tyson. “ is kind of a dead man walking,” Wendell says in his confessional.
Tyson and Kim (who’s back on our screen this episode after being completely invisible last week) sense that the vote was perhaps “too easy.” Tyson makes one last big pitch to Tony, saying that it’s better for Tony’s game to keep him around as a shield rather than Nick, who’s just a number and offers Tony no protection in the long run.
Tony runs—literally runs—across the beach to Sarah with the pitch for keeping Tyson around. Sarah locks in Kim, and all that’s left is for Tony to convince Sandra. She’s on board with the reasoning behind keeping Tyson as a shield but still toys with the idea of getting Tyson out since he targeted her last week. Going after Tyson, even if just for revenge, doesn’t necessarily violate Sandra’s “anyone but me” mantra: Tyson was trying to get her out, so Sandra going for Tyson on this vote could be as much a preemptive strike as it is an act of revenge. As Dakal heads to Tribal, though, it sounds like Sandra has perhaps decided to err on the side of caution and vote Nick out in hopes of prolonging her game by keeping Tyson as a shield. “I like revenge,” Sandra says. “But at the end of the day, I love 2 million dollars even more.”
But after a Tribal filled with lots of talk about perception, taking down big targets, and being starstruck by Survivor Idols, Tyson gets sent to the EOE in a near-unanimous vote (with Nick throwing a rogue vote at Kim, presumably in case Tyson had an idol). What started as a no-brainer Nick vote turned into a no-brainer Tyson vote, which then turned into a slightly more complicated Nick vote, only to end up being a no-brainer Tyson vote after all. Tyson bequeaths his one fire token to Nick before heading to join EOE and marvel at all the firewood.
This is where Survivor editing can get a little frustrating. The show loves to blindside the viewer, even at the expense of constructing a coherent narrative behind why a vote goes a certain way. We’ve seen it more and more over the past few years. This is far from the most egregious example since we had already seen Sophie, Wendell, Nick, Yul, and even Sandra give their reasons behind why Tyson should go home. But it’s less clear when and why the Tyson vote ended up being unanimous, especially when it seemed like Tyson had the numbers going into Tribal. Had all the “big threats” voted Nick as planned, he would’ve gone home in either a 5-4 vote or a 5-3-1 vote, depending on whether Nick throws his vote on Kim. Why did that change, especially when we saw all of them articulate why keeping Tyson was in their best interest?
The most logical explanation is that Sandra changed her mind and decided to get Tyson out after all, and the rest flipped when they realized they wouldn’t have the numbers. Hopefully, we’ll get some post-Tribal confessionals at the start of next episode to help clear the air and get a better idea of where things stand on Dakal after the vote as we head into a tribe swap.
Winners at War is still a blast, but this episode was the first where I struggled with the pacing a bit. This was Dakal’s first Tribal since the premiere, and we really could’ve used a little more time at their camp leading up to the vote. That extra time could have easily been found by trimming the EOE segment without detracting too much from Ethan’s emotional journey.
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