Could weathered fire captain Keith Nale, whose chief flame-dousing weapon appears to be his own saliva, actually win this thing?
No, really. We're seriously asking this question. The merge episode, next to the premiere, is one of the key foreshadowing episodes, and of all the people featured, Keith seemed to run away with the spotlight. Well, not run, exactly. More of a... mosey?
All through the pre-merge, Keith has basked in an outsized edit relative to his in-game contributions, and here we are at the merge, and not only has this trend continued, but it appears to be picking up momentum. Furthermore, massive targets have been drawn on the two main strategists, Josh & Jeremy, who had previously seemed like the only plausible winner candidates. Yet the only thing preventing one of them leaving this episode was Julie's quit. In contrast, there's Keith, who's doubly safe, off of everyone's radar, and beloved by most. Even Missy likes Keith, and not one person has discussed intentionally voting him out. (Except, again, Missy, and then by accident. Well, also Jeremy, but that was ages ago.)
To this point, Keith hasn't done anything particularly noteworthy, except find an idol and wisely keep quiet about it. As far as we know, maybe he doesn't even remember having an idol. As far as gameplay, he did win the immunity challenge this week, although the first individual immunity challenge is actually one you should at least consider throwing, especially if you're reasonably safe (unless you need to ensure a specific other person doesn't win). So, you know, his case for the win is at best a mixed bag thus far.
Ah, but that's when you're playing in a season where the median contestant understands/has watched the game, and votes people out for excessive likability, or for being a challenge threat. That is clearly not this season. Furthermore, with a Blood vs. Water format in which the pairs now reign supreme (if they want to), Keith has added protection, since if anyone wants to do something crazy like weaken the Keith-Wes duo, then the obvious move is to target Wes first, then deal with Keith when you get around to it, if ever. Think about it: Keith now seems to have a fairly easy path to the end, assuming he doesn't make the worst mistake in Survivor history.
Besides, after this week's episode, it's pretty clear this season is going down the toilet, anyway. Might as well start rooting for the most amusing outcome possible, right? Bob "Fabio" Buchanan, winner of Survivor: San Juan del Sur, hoorah!
Rage, rage against the dying of the TV camera's flashing 'recording' light
We know, we're expected to register our righteous indignation here about Julie's quit. After the *gasp* merge! In the jury phase! (Even though the pool just became one juror fewer.) But meh. She wasn't much of a player, she wouldn't have been much of a juror. She won't be missed. With now four straight seasons including quits, clearly SEG just doesn't give a damn about anyone's outrage.
More importantly, however, we note there is now absolutely zero incentive not to quit Survivor. Gone are the days of relentless castigation by the Survivor host. In are extended beachfront heart-to-heart interviews with the gentle, empathetic former host of The Jeff Probst Show. Perhaps with less makeup and wardrobe than you'd prefer, but still with full Ponderosa and exit interview amenities. To be sure, most sane people would probably prefer not to explore their feelings on camera in primetime with Probst, but those people are generally not cast on this show. So we look forward to the inevitable season where every contestant quits, and the final three episodes are simply a supercut of Probst strolling on the beach, looking important. Hopefully with his twitter handle in the bottom-left corner.
Wait a second, could Jon actually be the winner? This would be the second-funniest outcome for this season. Fresh off of Tony's Cagayan master class in winning while flipping (in tandem with Woo) back and forth between alliances, we could witness Jon and Jaclyn careening unwittingly from Jeremy's group to Josh's group (as they did in this episode), and back again, based mainly on whoever's annoying one or both of them. And in the end... they end up in the final three with someone nobody likes (Baylor? Missy?), and Jon the howler monkey impressionist wins! Perhaps in a 5-4-0 squeaker over Baylor, since Missy will obviously be voting for her daughter, and since this is Nicaragua 2.0. Then Baylor can perform her current single at the reunion, and Chase Rice can make a guest appearance, and we can all pretend to enjoy it. What fun! Let's hope there's food, though. That Jon gets hungry a lot.
Wait, but what about Jeremy and Josh?
We suppose there's still a chance that one of them could pull this off, even though Probst seems to be strongly hinting otherwise in his EW Q&A this week. One barely escaped this episode, and both are completely at the mercy of the whims of Jon & Jaclyn. Of the two, Jeremy still appears to be the more favorably edited, as Josh failed to reaffirm his alliance with Baylor, which had already been shown to be fraught at best in the second and third episodes. Still, had the quit not intervened, he stood poised to emerge victorious at Tribal Council. Jeremy, however, reconnected almost immediately with Missy (probably thanks to Natalie's efforts with Baylor at Exile Island last episode), and while Julie's quit took away an alliance member, Probst optimistically noted that he's now one place closer to the end.
A thrilling vision of things to come
No, we're not talking about the immunity necklace, which appears to have been cobbled together from spare beads Bob Crowley had squirreled away in the bottom of his backpack. But with the advent of the merge, there is some minor room for optimism about the remaining six episodes. That, despite the season's enduring focus on family instead of Survivor:
One even less-thrilling look ahead, though: For no apparent reason, CBS has cut a week from Survivor's airing schedule, meaning instead of the remaining 21 days of game being divided into nice, three-day portions to fill the traditional six hour-long episodes plus two-hour finale, it will now be crammed into five episodes plus finale. That means either one six-day period (with four challenges and two Tribals) will be pared down and dumped into one hour-long episode, or, if we're lucky, CBS will air two episodes back-to-back on some random future Wednesday. (Perhaps a surreptitious season dump on Thanksgiving eve?) One final option could be working what would have been the last pre-finale episode into the finale, and starting the finale with six players left. It's weird, it's different, it doesn't make much sense. But hey, that's CBS for you. Maybe they needed the room for reruns of Two and a Half Men, or something.
Wait, could Missy or Baylor actually win?
No. Keith would not approve. *Spit*.
San Juan del Sur Episode 7 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Julie McGee
Podcasts - Episode 7