For a merge episode, this one left a lot to be desired, despite a large number of Major Events that should have propped it up. Chief among its sins: It was obvious one of Aras or Vytas would be getting the boot going into this episode. This became even more obvious as the episode continued (especially after the IC), and from there, it proceeded exactly as expected. All the narrative groundwork laid in the previous 2-3 episodes came to a climax here, yet it all felt decidedly anticlimactic. The show even went out of its way to point out all the alternative paths the vote could have taken (the three duos joining up, men vs. women, etc.), even as it bulldozed ahead to its inevitable, actual conclusion. With a looming combination of a pairs purge and post-merge Redemption Island rearing its ugly head, only the heaping helping of Tyson in this episode gives us much hope for the second half.
The other couple of couples
Surprisingly, despite the whopping ten pairs of contestants that started the season, all of them still had at least one member active through the start of the duel this episode, i.e. right up until the merge, Day 19. Interestingly, that duel dealt the final blow to both pairs targeted in the Morning 1 vote: the Bonehams and the Codys. Apart from them, all eight other pairs have at least one representative still playing, and the three pairs remaining are either receiving votes, or are in imminent danger of doing so. It's as if there's an abbreviated regular (non-loved ones) season that's about to start playing out in 2-3 more boots.
The terminal pre-merge duel - pretty unfair
In previous iterations of "Get A Grip," the best players have all been thin and/or small: Ozzy and Candice (2+ hours in Cook Islands, with Nate and Adam out quickly); Tyson and Debbie (30+ minutes in Tocantins, with Stephen, Joe, and Brendan out first); Jerri, Candice, Parvati and Danielle (90+ minutes in HvsV, with Colby, Russell and Rupert out early); and Ozzy again, who needed only 20 minutes to outlast the stocky Brandon Hantz and return to the game in South Pacific. A tall, muscular guy like John had absolutely no chance.
Had it been "Chimney Sweeps" (Matt Elrod's returning duel win) or "Jail Break" (Ozzy's pre-merge return-to-the-game win), it might have been more even. Had it been "A Leg Up," the balance-the-pot one Andrea used for re-entry, John's surgical steadiness might have even won it for him.
The first individual immunity challenge - also unfair
On the one hand, it's possible a fair number of the participants intentionally threw this one, so as not to attract attention. Not so the Baskauskas brothers! On the other, while it wasn't a particularly difficult challenge, it does seem to diverge from the usual endurance affair. We can see, perhaps, that having just had an endurance challenge at the duel, production wanted something less physical here. But why not something along the lines of "Roller Balls" or "Coconut Cradle," the last two Redemption Island season merge ICs? Neither of those were particularly strenuous. Instead, the memory-intensive challenge used seemed designed to save a Baskauskas brother.
With the midseason game-/ twist-related retrospective taken care of last week, we thought this would be a good time to look at contestant prospects going forward.
Luckiest player still active: Laura M.
She got the ideal return-to-the-game duel for her size. Not only did she return, but her daughter was there, ready to fill her in on all the game events she'd missed. Not only that, but Ciera had an alliance ready and willing to take her. Not only that, but that alliance just happened to already have been planning to vote out the very guy who was responsible for taking her out the first time. Also: she got rid of the other Laura. Apparently that's what it takes to be the first Redemption Island returnee who's not immediately booted as soon as they don't have individual immunity. Looking ahead: prospects grim, since just about every word she utters is about Ciera, making it clear this is not Laura's season to win.
Apparently doomed: Tina, Katie, Vytas
There's still time on the clock yet, but the three remaining people not in on the Aras boot would seem to have the lowest chances of escaping the next episode's two Tribal Councils. Sure, the others could break up the Tina/Katie pair first, then ditch Laura M. again, to break up the other remaining pair. But even so, it doesn't look good long-term for Team Wesson and the remaining Baskauskas. We'd wondered about the curious under-editing of Tina, since she was clearly in on all the votes Galang made, yet was almost never shown discussing the boot decisions. An ignominious post-merge Pagonging might explain that.
Most improved players: Gervase & Tyson
Gervase has come a long way. In Borneo, he attended Tribal Council seven times, yet voted for the person booted only once (that time, for the late B.B. Andersen). Now he's voted out three people in three straight votes, including this power move against Aras, a guy with whom he had a pre-game alliance. Gervase has appeared to be on top of the strategy throughout, and has routinely made sage statements at Tribal Council.
Tyson was the anti-heroic star of this episode, finding an idol and successfully dethroning King Aras. Also the spoons; of course the spoons. Even though he and Gervase are nominally in this together, the editing has framed the newly ascendant Coconut Bandit alliance as mostly Tyson's idea, which makes Tyson a potential winner candidate. True, he always seemed like he had this in him: his "assistant Coach" position in Tocantins was the ideal spot for him, he just fell prey to complacency, and didn't see Stephen and JT's betrayal coming (much like Aras here). Similarly, he was burned by an idol in Heroes vs. Villains, and by taking that variable out of the equation here, he now has more control over his own fate. So long as nobody finds about his history of banditry.
Probably also-rans: Monica, Hayden, Ciera
Up until this episode, we might have included Monica in the "most improved" category, but it became clear from Tyson's "rusty spoon" comments (which echoed Kat's earlier complaints) that Monica's game is not viewed as highly by the remaining players as she apparently views it herself. She's gotten a fair amount of editing attention, so it's not impossible she could make a social game recovery. After all, those coconut bandits aren't exactly known for their infallibility.
Hayden has been gradually emerging from the shadows over the past few episodes, and got the key "the merge is where the real Survivor game starts" quote this episode. Amazingly, nobody seems to have noticed he's there, despite his having won Big Brother. Although to be fair, it was Big Brother. Once the Baskauski and the other pairs have been dispatched, maybe people will finally notice that he's a challenge threat who also gets along with everyone.
Ciera has also started getting more meaty, game-related confessionals, albeit mostly fretting about how her mom's return might interfere with her game. She's clearly not a challenge threat, so as soon as mom leaves she should be able to safely drift under the radar again. But it's not clear she could necessarily make a compelling argument to win.
Most disappointing player: Aras
Aras's biggest error was obviously his unflagging trust in Tyson and Gervase, which probably should in part be credited to Tyson and Gervase's gameplay, as much as a knock against Aras. But Aras did make a number of mistakes, just this episode. Most glaring: his insistence that Tyson is not a challenge threat because "he has a broken arm." True, we're privy to smirking Tyson confessionals about exaggerating his injury, info that Aras didn't have. But Tyson also competed in a highly physical rowing challenge right after "breaking" his arm, which Aras should remember, since he was right there in the boat with him. Aras and Vytas, who should have been worried about appearing as challenge threats, outpaced the field in the IC. It's unclear that Aras made any effort to mollify Laura Morett after she returned. But worst of all, Aras failed to accurately read everyone else's concerns about his tight bond with Vytas. Where he saw the spirit of fraternal competitiveness, the rest of the tribe saw an unbreakable duo of physical/mental/social powerhouses. It's not a bad problem to have. Unless you're playing Survivor.
Most disappointing - honorable mention: Tina
Aras at least had the benefit of a supportive edit as he fell from power. Tina is now in much the same position, but has largely been ignored, except when making mistakes. Challenge-related screw-ups are one thing, and probably irrelevant long-term. Social flubs, however, are far more baffling, especially for a previously masterful social player like Tina. "Rewarding" Monica's loyalty with fifth place, when she was at worst fifth in Tina's original alliance with Tyson/Aras/Gervase, was all the nudging it took to induce Monica to flip to the anti-pairs alliance. With one of Tina's intended Colbys gone, Vytas will have to give a truly (S2 version) Donaldson-esque performance going forward to avoid leaving Tina and Katie entirely unprotected.
Still on this show, as far as we can tell: Caleb
Everyone mentioned him when going through their potential alliances, yet he was barely shown even then. Hayden gets the quota-designated non-affiliated newbie strategy confessionals. Caleb gets nothing. Maybe with the flannel and cowboy boots, they thought he was Rick Nelson?
I trust you guys so much. Especially you, Monica
Oh yeah, I'm gonna be moral, all right
Thanks, Tina! I'd love fifth place behind your daughter and Vytas
Somehow, Brad Culpepper must be to blame for this
Also the other Boneham!
Those people are crazy for voting me off! I'm the perfect goat!
Threatening to exceed the shelter's Laura capacity
Remember when treemails used to rhyme?
I've been cleaning up in the duels so far. So long as it's not something that grossly favors tiny, skinny people, I'm good.
I'm hoping for a backrub competition
Three will enter; one will leave. (No, they don't use the poleaxes. Sorry.)
Yeah, we might have been responsible for putting a Laura or two here
Thank you guys for finally making Redemption Island seem worthwhile. Now let's get back to squandering that goodwill.
Whatever you say, Probst
Ciera, both hoping and worried that her mom might win this thing
The pole dangle begins
Laura B, already forgetting to think of herself as glue, apparently
Nice challenge selection, Probst
Shockingly, everyone is still in this
We spoke too soon
In - Out - sort of in
The end of the pre-merge is nigh
Laura B hopes to switch over to caber tossing. Best two of three.
This game is flawed
Laura neatly incinerates her buff
John apparently gets the second exit because Probst just can't let him go
Oh well, at least Candice and I get to go on pre-jury vacation together
Adding a second buff to the toxic fume generator
Oh my gosh! We're merging? Who could have anticipated that, apart from every person on the show for the past two episodes?
Aras launches his buff skyward, watches it land on Ciera, sealing his fate
This smells even better than Doritos!
Interestingly, 'Terminator' is an anagram for 'Morett rain'
Groan. Not another idol clue! Ughh, this is always death.
You burned it? Aww, old Gil coulda used that
This game is awed
The new tribe phone book! My name in print! Things are going to start happening to me now!
Eh, that's a diarrhea fest, anyway
This where the game of Survivor really starts. And I should know, I was on Big Brother.
Drink up, baby, stay up all night. With the things you could do, you won't but you might
This is the first time I haven't missed slop. Well, since the reward feast yesterday.
This man also appeared in this episode
There's approximately zero chance I'll get back together with Aras, but let's pretend it's possible, shall we, editors?
Wow, the coconut bandits aren't even TRYING to be stealthy any more
The requisite shot of the merge tribe flag getting painted
Okay, Mom. I'll fill you in on what's going on in the game, but I'm still not accepting your facebook friend request
For the last time, Mom, there are no Hantzes on this season
Did somebody say Hantz? Well, I guess it's time to find the idol
Yup, there it is
Note to production: Next time hide the idol in a spot with better lighting
Well... that was fun. Now back to the loch with you, Nessie
It's pretty great that I'm playing with Aras, finally. Nothing bad can happen now!
What do you think, Vytas? Are we a great power duo, or the greatest power duo?
Each, not both. You mean each. Or, to be more accurate: neither.
Me, you, and Gervase to the end
Are you SURE?
Gouge me with a spoon
Once more before I fall asleep: Me, you, and Gervase to the end
If only Tyson would've just said 'Me, you, and Gervase to the end.' Sigh.
Pre-challenge lineup, Ep8 IC
The immunity necklace. Ripe for plucking hidden idol-like objects from, when nobody's looking
Aras: sure hope I don't end up finishing second in this, like I kept doing in Panama
Probst breaks out the black shirt, in mourning that the merge buff wasn't black
More pre-challenge lineup
More unnecessary necklace glamor shots, now with bonus flag
Oh hey, Caleb IS still on the show
Monica: 1-for-2 in remembering. She will be missed.
On the plus side, at least this wasn't shuffleboard
Only five people left for round two
Please tell me we're not eating stuff this round, Jeff
Quickly down to three
The losers (hey, Katie said it, not us)
Bro-down: So far, so good
Little-known fact: Vytas's name is Lithuanian for 'Terry'
Battle Baskauski audience
Vytas wins! Ep8 IC
Another Baskauskas gets a backrub. Probst is a married man!
Oh, they do have a name.
You may not have noticed, but I won immunity. Me.
We don't remember what's going on here, but based on the graphic at the bottom, we assume Vytas is stealing the necklace from the nice older lady, probably to buy more drugs. Sad story.
Oh sure, Aras. I'd LOVE to follow your boys-vote-for-Laura plan
Famous Last Words
Mom, I don't want to be rude, but your vote-split plan sucks.
Gervase tries for a new hashtag alliance with Caleb, #HeavyDriftwoodLogBandits. CBS sadly fails to play along
Seriously, though, I think this #HeavyDriftwoodLogBandits thing could trend. Give it a try, CBS
The preferred spelling is 'Ser,' Tyson. Come on.
The Kasama tribe heads to its first Tribal Council, Ep8
Kasama tribe, Ep8 Tribal
Full frontal Kasama
Yeah, my brother's here. So what? I fail to see where you're going with this line of questioning, Probst
Hey, there's another pair here, and she even won! Survivor, I mean. Not any other CBS reality show.
I like pie
Blindsides are fun!
I like pie, too!
Gervase's first post-merge VFB was the most unkindest cut of all
They're voting for YOU, bro?
Okay, NOW I've felt the sting of snuffing, Laura M
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - John Cody
Exit interviews - Laura Boneham