Despite the back-to-back loss of Josh and Jeremy in the past two episodes, this episode surprisingly featured two strong strategic performances, from Reed and Natalie. This was unexpected because neither had really been heard from until now, perhaps because each was being portrayed as the mute lieutenant of Josh or Jeremy (respectively). With the erstwhile masterminds now consigned to the jury, however, both Reed and Natalie put into action solid plans, and by the end of the episode, Reed's "go big or go home" gambit had been crushed under an avalanche of hidden idols. In contrast, Natalie's longer-term plotting still seems poised to pay off. In short, despite two days of great play, Reed and Natalie ended the episode pretty much where they began, with the exception that Natalie's tenuous position in Jon's alliance now had a solid foundation of trust. Trust that Jon should probably not be giving.
This was an episode that aptly demonstrated both the allure of hidden idols and the cost. And perhaps more importantly, it made no effort to hide host/executive producer Jeff Probst's herculean efforts to persuade these players to actually use their idols. Probst had been all but openly begging the contestants to play hidden idols for several weeks, and they finally complied in this episode, twice! And in unprecedented fashion, both of the idols played canceled out votes, leading us to the exciting prospect of a 0-0 tie! What would happen then? OMG! Uncharted waters! Oh wait, no, the final two votes revealed for Wes, who was voted out, meaning the vote split worked. Sigh.
And therein lies the problem with idols. Even though this episode featured a dramatic double-idol play, and two people at risk were actually saved by played idols, the end result ended up being less than the presumed sum of its parts. Reed had devised an ingenious way to make a vote split work against the splitters, but it fell apart because Reed's target had an idol himself. Creative strategy dashed. Keith's idol did save a member of the minority alliance, but (thanks again to the other idol) failed to save another member of the same minority. While the path was convoluted, the final tally was essentially the same as if there had been no idols whatsoever: the group with more people voted out someone from the group with fewer people. All while being so convoluted half the cast couldn't figure out what was going on, let alone the audience. Well played? Meh.
Reed: Nice to meet you, but goodbye, probably
Let's appreciate for a second all that Reed did in this episode: He entered having voted against the remnants of his own alliance (or Josh's, at least), and having rooted through Keith's bag and found his idol. Yet somehow, Reed was able to persuade Keith, Wes, and Alec to give him another shot, in a plan that should have taken down Jon. His 4-3-2 plan to encourage Jon's alliance to split their votes between Wes and Keith, to purge Keith's idol, was a high-risk venture, requiring as it did Alec to convince Jon and his allies that Alec was "100% down" for taking out one of Wes or Keith. Furthermore, Reed needed to convincingly cast aspersions at Keith/Wes at Tribal Council, characterizing Wes's early IC departure as evidence of idol comfort. Keith seemed legitimately steamed about this, so it seemed like it all worked. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for that meddling Natalie.
As we know, instead of getting booted 4--2, Jon played his own idol (after heavy prompting from both Probst and Natalie), then voiced his bewildered delight that doing so had saved him. Reed was most likely less pleased, since Baylor, Jon, and Jaclyn all rapidly figured out what had happened, even before Wes's torch was snuffed. With his plan exposed, Reed now finds himself back where he started the episode: a pariah, with only maybe Alec by his side. Reed needs either another immunity necklace or an expectation-busting anti-Jon alliance with Natalie in order to survive the next episode. Or a re-hidden idol, since those seem to pop up just about everywhere, and there should at least be one at Exile Island next time. The odds are long, but Reed's willing to play them. For the sake of the season, we hope he's still playing them after next week's two episodes. But we won't hold our breath.
Natalie: The real power behind the throne (threatening to tip it over)?
As the "Previously On..." segment and the heavy-handed editing during the reward trip made perfectly clear, Jon is still in charge, and it's our job as audience members to be pleased about that. But Natalie is at least giving him a run for his (all-but-cashed) money. And what a run she had this episode, albeit not in the spitting department.
As the episode began, Natalie felt betrayed, having been left out of the loop on Jeremy's boot. She pledged to exact her vengeance on Jon, and set about searching for an idol to support her move. Having found that idol, she then went through a Women's Alliance (yes!) plan with Baylor, one that intended to string Jon along for one more vote, then get rid of him. (She and Baylor planned to target Reed this episode, but that was before he won immunity.) While this was an amusing parallel to Nadiya's Ep.1 attempts to turn a 4-5 female gender disparity into a Coyopa majority alliance, this was still a plan that Natalie actually carried to fruition this episode (ignoring the Reed part, at least). And Baylor didn't even flip on her to join up with Reed! The full payoff is still at least an episode away, but in support of this long con, Natalie completely lived up to the episode title, all but pulling the idol out of Jon's bag and playing it for him. From Jon's reaction, it's clear he saw playing his idol as the best idea he's ever come up with. All in all, Natalie went from endangered outsider to MVP (and possible future leader) of her alliance this week.
A major caveat: Both Reed and Natalie made these plays from the comfort of the cushion of immunity - Reed with the immunity necklace, Natalie with her still-unplayed hidden idol. We don't think either is really a case of "immunity balls," since both had talked about their plans before gaining safety, but it's still worth noting. Even so, at least there is hope they'll continue this strong play for the foreseeable future. Second-stringers FTW!
Jon: It's good to be the king
Yes, he's a non-stop eating machine, but Jon has multiple heart-warming backstories, dammit. You will worship him and praise his beneficent sharing of ice cream with the commoners, and his prodigious vertical bunting skills.
That aside, can he really survive much longer? We know we've already written out the million-dollar check to him, but isn't he at some degree of risk going forward? His edit -- as a big-hearted-yet-ravenous bro who's finding his way through this crazy game one step at a time -- argues strongly that Jon's position in the game is far more solid than it logically ought to be. True, the edit has already failed us twice this season (Josh, Jeremy). Could it really fail us again? Seems unlikely.
Team reward challenge ennui
How do we loathe thee, team reward challenges? Let us count the ways, just from this week's iteration.
Stats corner - Who is the worst player: Keith, Baylor, or Alec?
Keith and Baylor are patiently building up the numbers to lay claim to the coveted title of season's worst player. The Sultan of Spit has now voted for someone other than the person booted in five of the six Tribal Councils he's attended. One more, and he'll match Gervase's Borneo performance (a 1-for-7 VFB ratio, the lowest of all time for anyone who has attended at least 5 Tribal Councils). Keith still has a long way to go, however, in order to match Eddie Fox's record nine times not voting for the person booted. That one may well stand the test of time, like Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
Baylor's run at history, however, has been stalled for a while. She's been stuck with an impressive 14 votes against her for two weeks now, with only five more needed to tie (and six to break) Laura Morett's single-season record of votes received (19, back in Blood vs. Water). Not to mention only three more votes needed to match Phillip Sheppard's Redemption Island mark of 17 VAP without being voted out. Both marks are easily within Baylor's grasp. We are heartened by this week's preview, in which Reed calls Baylor a brat. May it lead to more fruitless votes against Baylor.
Still, as poorly as Keith and Baylor have played certain parts of the game, at least they're playing. More or less. So maybe we should instead be gauging their worthiness for the Least Effective Player crown, not Worst Player. For that, there's always slack-jawed Alec. Christy, what an asshole.
San Juan del Sur Episode 10 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Wes Nale
Podcasts - Episode 10