Survivor 35: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers recaps

The downside of goats


In this episode, the post-merge idol-dodging vote roulette ended up not on Joe, nor on Cole, but on Jessica. Which is disappointing, since we've now lost three straight legitimate fans (Roark, Ali, Jessica) with significant game potential, right before the jury phase. It's a bit of a glass-half-full note for the season that there are still a number of competent players left despite that having happened, but it would still be preferable if the initial post-merge boot had been, say, someone who goes by initials.


Clearly, Jessica's achilles heel was her showmance-ish connection to Cole. (Well, that and neither Joe nor Mike offering to play their idols for her.) It's not so much the romantic aspect of it, but rather that they were perceived as being inseparable, a power couple. Even though Jessica was also clearly working with Mike, and was relatively tight with Desi. In her exit interviews, Jessica explained sticking with Cole, despite the appearance of a showmance, as her trying to keep Cole around as a vote shield/goat, one she could take with her to the end and beat.


This is a logical strategy, but this episode demonstrates the inherent danger in it: People want to vote out the goat. And if for some reason they can't (either the goat has an idol/necklace or might have one handed to them), but everyone can see you're with the goat, then *you* become the target instead. Even if you're nice and everyone likes you!


Mike lamented that post-merge dynamics were not what he expected, in that "everybody is playing the game; that makes my job much more difficult." Jessica's dilemma is another aspect of that same problem. When preferred targets Joe and Cole became suspected idol-bearing threats (and Desi won immunity), Jessica's game became significantly more difficult. Which makes it all that much more frustrating that Jessica politely stood watch while Mike dug for and found the Yawa idol. Had those roles been reversed, Jessica might still be playing.


At least Jessica leaves with a noteworthy accomplishment: In leaving the game on Day 19, she's tied with RC Saint-Amour for the second-latest departure at a player's first Tribal Council. Nick Maiorano (as we discussed) still holds the lead, at 22 days.


Chrissy takes charge, but can she actually win?



Chrissy made quite an impression this episode, starting it off by asserting (accurately) that she was in control of the social game at Soko, with Ryan and JP each closer to her than to each other. She then navigated the merge, reunited with Ben, and guided the Tribal Council planning, insightfully insisting on a Plan B (Jessica) in case Joe played an idol. But in the process, she also attracted unwanted attention (allegedly by performing basic math after being eliminated from the IC) which turned into five votes against at Tribal Council. This raises the question: Can Chrissy actually win?


She certainly has her work cut out for her. Before the season even started, we took note of the long odds facing an over-40 player (this applies to Mike's underdog chances, as well). And with seven votes received thus far, Chrissy's already been voted against more times than any winner other than Aras Baskauskas in Panama-Exile Island, who was voted against nine times. Most importantly, however, Chrissy is now the perceived leader of an alliance. As such, she becomes a likely target for future votes.


Boston Rob was able to play out of this position in Redemption Island. The outnumbered Zapateras tried to swing post-merge votes against him, and he racked up four futile votes against when David Murphy was voted out, and two more when Ralph Kaiser left. But he was also a respected fourth-time player leading a tribe of willing follower newbies. Chrissy doesn't have that luxury, with players like Ryan, Ben, Devon, and Lauren all having their own ideas about where their alliance and the game itself should be heading. As Stephen Fishbach noted during Know It Alls, Ryan didn't even include Chrissy in the list of people he hoped to bring together when plotting with Devon. There should still be a few easy votes through which Chrissy can cement her grip on the strategy, but at the moment, Chrissy appears more likely to match the past performance of Chris Hammons than of Rob Mariano.


On the other hand, the fake Super Idol gambit has yet to be played out. As Colin Stone has asserted, until that idol shows up in the "Previously On..." segment, Chrissy is probably safe. So there's time. Probably.


Did Ben and Lauren make the right decision(s)?

Ben and Lauren's choice


Ben and Lauren faced a major decision with the merge: Should they stick to their just-agreed-to Yawa pact, and tag along as Mike, Cole, and Jessica joined up with their fellow original Healers, or instead flip back to their original tribes, and assist the Heroes-Hustlers alliance? Ben was clearly conflicted, but seemed adamant that he didn't trust Cole. Lauren appeared to have received assurances from Mike that Cole would be an early target once the Healers alliance had power, and was heavily leaning towards sticking with Mike, but instead went along with Ben's decision to return to their original tribes. Was this the correct move?


For Ben, clearly yes. Moving from the probable #7 slot as a Healers tagalong to part of the 4-person Heroes core of the Heroes/Hustlers alliance was a good choice by Ben. Especially when he's probably the closest Hero to Chrissy, and also has an in with Lauren. Even so, by playing both sides, he may have significantly damaged his connection with Mike. We're reminded of the initial post-swap scenes in which Mike identified Ben as the biggest threat in the game. That's worrisome.


For Lauren, the move was less clear. She seems to have more solid ties to Mike, and it seemed like Mike was hinting that Joe and Cole would be the first Healers out of their alliance, so she may have been #4 with Healers-Plus. Doing better with Heroes/Hustlers requires the Heroes alliance to be cracked before they Pagong the Hustlers. That's not impossible, because the JP/Ashley duo is a threat to everyone else, and could easily be taken out first. But from there, Lauren's path is more murky. She's probably about in the same spot, just outside the final three, in both alliances.


Unless... (here comes the fan fiction) Lauren and Ben get back together with Mike and meticulously pick apart both sides. Take out the challenge threats first (Cole, Devon, JP, Ashley, Desi), perhaps interspersing them with the strategic threats (Chrissy, Ryan, Joe). *That* would be a glorious finish to this season.


How much longer can the Joe Show last?

The Joe Show at Tribal


Chrissy may have found it difficult to enjoy her Outback Steakhouse feast alongside Joe, but he's been an absolute goldmine in the entertainment department this season. For proof of that, look no further than this episode's Tribal Council. Yes, it was pre-meditated, and as such, largely performative—he promised Cole, "Joe going off at Tribal... it's what I do best." Yes, Chrissy anticipated that very performance, and plotted circles around it, having a backup plan in place, and seemed to be intentionally egging it on. Despite all of those caveats: the Joe Show at Tribal was still a whirlwind of excitement to behold.


Just at this Tribal, we had:

- Calling out "some bullshit" on the other 11 people's claims (except Cole, eventually) that they feel vulnerable. And he was right! Clearly, say, Ashley was in no danger.

- "Deuces"

- Making a big show of pulling out his (now second) idol and openly questioning whether he's playing it tonight or next time.


All of this was intentional, just as it was the last time he attended Tribal. Joe was attempting to draw the attention to himself, in order to receive votes, then to neutralize them by playing his idol. This would allow him and his shaky Healers alliance to outperform their probable (and actual) 7-5 numbers disadvantage. To his credit, Joe correctly read that Ben wasn't with them. That made the vote at best a 6-6 tie. Playing his idol was a logical way to try to tip that balance in his alliance's favor. But in the end, Devon and Ashley had seen him do the same thing at their last Tribal, and knew what was likely to happen.


It could still have worked out, but Joe probably made the wrong play by publicly displaying his idol. The "Does Joe have an idol, or not?" debate was sufficient to generate concern, and baiting the opposing alliance into casting votes for him might have worked better had that mystery remained intact. By revealing the idol, however, he immediately shifted the target onto anyone less dangerous—possibly Cole, maybe Mike, or... Jessica, whom Chrissy's alliance had wisely identified beforehand.


(It's possible Joe was trying to out-level Chrissy's alliance, since as Stephen Fishbach pointed out at KIA, revealing an idol at one Tribal, then not playing it until the next time has become standard idol play... and Joe seemed to be hinting that this was his intent, daring them to call his bluff. But we'll stick with the simplest assumptions/ least convoluted analysis for now.)


Instead of drawing votes, and partly because Joe had used the same tactics (making a scene, then playing an idol for himself) at his last Tribal, Joe was outmaneuvered. In fact, Chrissy's (and Devon's) plan might even have been too clever, because had they really understood Joe's previous Tribal, they would have known he was unlikely to play the idol for anyone but himself. So they could have gone ahead with their initial plan, and targeted Cole. Still, Jessica as Plan B was an outcome much more likely to be successful, and it worked out exactly that way.


Even so: Joe delivered the drama, and introduced some potential uncertainty about the vote. And for that, we're thankful. We just hope this wasn't the beginning of the end for him, because he's now down an idol, and remains a target. Sigh. We're not excited at the prospect of more sedate Tribals.


Was the merge early? (With 1100-and-change tables and graphs)

In the beginning, for the first four seasons, at least, the merge was always on Day 20, smack in the middle of Episode 7. The contestants had completed their sixth Tribal Council, had to sit around twiddling their thumbs on Day 19, then finally merged on Day 20. Then, after taking delight in messing with the players' heads with Thailand's fake merge, production decided to just unmoor the merge date from any particular schedule, and move it around from season to season. As a result of that, Survivor merges have now ranged from as early as Day 16 (One World), to as ridiculously late as Day 27 (Gabon)—just 12 days before the season ended.


So since Dan Otsuki asked in his column this week if the Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers merge (Day 17, Episode 7) seemed early, here's the answer: Not really. See graph below.


Survivor merge dates


As it turns out, merging on Day 17 is far from rare. In fact, it's the second most-used merge day (tied with Day 19, behind Day 20). There's a fairly close to Gaussian distribution with a median at 19, apart from the weird hole at Day 18, and the five post-Day 24 outlier days. Tip to future players: Start anticipating the merge around Day 15. You'll likely get there in a boot cycle or two, unless you have the bad luck to be on one of those seasons (Day 25+) where production just decides to be assholes.


Furthermore, Day 17 has been the most-used merge day since Cagayan, with Day 17 merges in five of the past eight seasons. For completeness's sake, in the table, we further separated merge occurence by episode number, although that's sort of an artificial construct (Pearl Islands, for example, milked an extra episode out of the Outcasts twist).


Survivor merge dates
Day Times Season(s) Episode
16 2 S12, S29 7
17 1 S24* 6
17 6 S25, S28, S30, S31, S32, S35 7
18 1 S11** 7
19 2 S6, S18 7
19 5 S19, S21, S22, S27, S34 8
20 5 S1, S2, S3, S4, S15 7
20 3 S9, S23, S26 8
21 2 S7, S33 8
22 3 S10***, S14, S16 9
25 1 S20 10
25 1 S13 11
26 1 S5**** 9
26 1 S8 10
27 1 S17 9



* One World's merge came at an impromptu Tribal Council, after Colton's medevac.

** Guatemala's merge sort of fell across two episodes. It was announced at the end of the Ep7 Tribal Council, and we saw the Yaxhá tribe heading out with torches, but the actual merging was shown in Ep8, Day 19.

*** Obviously, there was no actual merge in Palau, but on Day 22 (Episode 9), Stephenie joined Koror. Close enough.

**** Thailand's fake merge took place on Day 19 (Episode 7). They went another full week before actually merging.




Fine, after wading (or, more likely, scrolling) through all that, you can have a vidcap gallery.


Ep.7 - Crotch Hashtag Commemorative Dinner
Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers — Episode 7 vidcap gallery

Other HvHvH Episode 7 recaps and analysis

  • Dalton Ross at "Get to Gettin'" (recap)
  • Dalton Ross & Jeff Probst at (Q&A)
  • Josh Wigler at The Hollywood Reporter: "Jeff Probst Breaks Down Season 35's Massive Merge"
  • Stephen Fishbach at "Why the Eliminated Contestant 'Is a Perfect Example of How Haphazard a Decision Can Be'"
  • Andy Dehnart at Reality Blurred: "Survivor's merge arrives, and brings product placement with it"
  • Martin Holmes at Yahoo TV: "Choose a Side"
  • Sarah Channon at RHAP: "Survivor Know-It-Alls: The Movie: The Novelization"


Exit interviews - Jessica Johnston

  • Josh Wigler at The Hollywood Reporter (11/9/17): "Jessica Johnston Tells Her Side of the Cole Story"
  • Mike Bloom at (11/9/17): "Jessica Johnston Gets Her Survivor Slug Salted"
  • Dalton Ross at (11/9/17): "Jessica says she and Cole are 'currently in a friend zone'"
  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP (11/9/17): "Exit Interview #7: Seventh Boot from Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers"