We had a return to a little more action this week with the supposed stalemated Vokai having to vote. There was some great drama in this episode, but I can’t help but feel like it was too manufactured. The 4-4 split ended up breaking due to a timely Island of the Idols visit that was entirely controlled by production, and while tribal council was exciting in the moment, is that really what we need to have a “good” episode? Not that this is anything new — I just prefer Big Move™ blindsides happening without some kind of power being played. In modern Survivor, though, that’s probably naïve to hold onto, and as much as I’ve tried letting go, I probably just never will. On the bright side, this episode undeniably blew the game open which was something I needed after last week’s straightforward swap.
NOURA HAS A PLAN
No Detective Dean was needed after the Tom vote, but Dean was still on the outs, or so it initially seemed. Noura of all people saw an opportunity to finally get back at Jack and Jamal for targeting her at Vokai’s one pre-swap vote, so she decided to go to Dean to plot an overthrow of power. Noura taking the reins of new Lairo? Yes, please!
Unfortunately, Dean, like everyone else, thought Noura was crazy and immediately went to Jamal to spill the beans about her concocting a plan to blindside him. I was like, “Dammit, Dean!” We could have had a timeline where Noura wrangled up all the Lairos and took her vengeance on Vokai, but no. Now Noura is in some hot “poo water” as she’d call it. With Vokai up in numbers, they may see an opening to take Noura out before she can do any serious damage at the merge. I don’t think this will end up pretty for her, but if next week is to be Noura’s swan song, then I have a feeling she’ll at least soar away with flying colors.
Before talk of the stalemate on Vokai, I enjoyed the little “Dan helping Jason get ready for prom” moment with fixing his buff. I’ve been binging Friends lately, so of course what came to mind was the image of Ross in “The One with the Prom Video.”
Much as was the case with Ross at the end of that old home movie — OOPS, SPOILER — Tommy said there’d be no chance that Jason had a date. Considering what came later, I thought this was some fun foreshadowing about Jason not being dateable since he sadly would not be making the merge ....
At this point, though, Lairo looked all but formally abandoned. They huddled together to come up with a way to get the numbers, and while drawing rocks sounded like the only solution, Aaron, Missy, and Elizabeth all indicated in private that they weren’t going to draw rocks while poor Elaine was left to believe no one would flip. Next, we saw Aaron confirm to Jason that he was willing to give up one of his girls, particularly Elaine, so the writing was sort of on the wall. “Orange was dead” as was said last week, and from Jason’s perspective, that meant all was “good in the hood.” *cue ominous music*
REWARD – BEAST MODE
Before we got to a “hero challenge” of sorts, Vokai was prompted to sit someone out and elected Elaine. But in a twist, she’d not just be sitting out, she’d also be going to the Island of the Idols. I actually loved this little curveball at first because it was another unique way of sending someone to the Island while still leaving it entirely in the tribe’s hands. In retrospect, forcing that person to be a Vokai was maybe a little too convenient for what advantage awaited there this week, but in the moment, I enjoyed the tribes being kept on their toes.
Up for reward was a live cage of chickens — and yes, in case you were wondering, they’re the same chickens that Wendy set free during Edge of Extinction. Fijian chickens aren’t cheap, so the crew had to go corral them all after the season wrapped and save them for this. Don’t tell Wendy, though. If she asks, tell her they went to live on a farm ... er, a no-kill farm?
The “heroes” in this challenge didn’t have to do any heavy lifting, but instead some heavy slingshotting. At one point, Lairo was in the lead — something we haven’t been used to hearing Jeff say — but “beast mode” Aaron annihilated the last of his targets to score victory for Vokai once more. While the tribe celebrated, Dan was still conscious of the fact that Elaine coming back from the Island of the Idols could complicate things at camp — oh, Dan. If only you knew just how much ....
We’re to believe that Rob built that colossal shelter all by himself (with Sandra holding the ladder, of course), and I’m sure a lot of it is his handywork, but come on. You mean to tell me he had no help from any outside builders? At least who did he get that saw from?
When Elaine arrived, she was smiling from cheek to cheek to see Changa and Boston Rob. After hugs, Sandra invited her into the snug for the weekly “test” if that’s what we’re even going to call this one.
What the fucking fuck? “Your test is to see if you’ll agree to take the test before even knowing what the test is.” That’s ridiculous. A few weeks ago, Rob and Sandra gave Noura shit for jumping at an opportunity before knowing all the details, yet this week the task was essentially pressuring Elaine to do exactly that. So, which is it? Are Survivors supposed to wait or are they supposed to act fast? I’m getting flashbacks to my days as a student where teachers would contradict what they wanted from me. Pick a lane!
“Pick, Elaine!” rather, and she did, so Elaine found out that in the next challenge she’d have to snag an advantage while competing. Up — or under — for grabs was a block-a-vote which — WHAT CRAZY TIMING — would break the 4-4 stalemate Elaine’s tribe was facing. If Elaine failed, she’d lose her vote and put her own alliance in the position she was trying to give to the opposing one.
There was no risk to this in my mind. If the four Vokais caught Elaine in the act, so what? They were screwed anyway. If Elaine didn’t go for the advantage, she was screwed. “Big stakes?” Not really when there was only one reasonable choice to make. There was no watermelon to chew on over this — Elaine just had to do it.
THE RACE CONVERSATION
I can’t speak to this as perfectly as Jamal did, so I’ll let his own words remain the ones to remember, but after the awkward “durag” comment, the show stepped 100% away from “the game” for an immensely human moment between two people, which reminded me of what made so many people fall in love with this show. Survivor is built on strangers being thrown on an island, forced to work together, learning from and teaching one another, and building a “society.” As we know too well, society has some problems, and I thought this was a great learning and teaching moment shared between Jack and Jamal.
It’s easy to step away from the “real” part of reality TV and see this as just a game show, but Survivor has never been “just” a game, and so while the more recent seasons have tended to show more of that aspect, this was a nice and necessary reminder that “real talk” still happens on the island in between “game talk,” and kudos to the show for letting us learn from Jamal as well, rather than the edit pretending this kind of uncomfortable interaction didn’t happen. It’s important to give time and space to stories like this one instead of hiding something just because it’s what some people don’t want to hear or because it’d damage the image of the fabricated “fan favorite.” *massive side-eyed stare at Big Brother*
THIS IS HUGE
On the morning of the immunity challenge, as Dan and Jason embarked on a quest to find a good cock, Elaine shared the news of her advantage opportunity with Elizabeth, getting another enormous Elizabeth reaction out of her (so great). This was also the first time we have ever seen two people who have both been to the Island of the Idols acknowledge to each other what they saw there. Elaine explained it as Elizabeth being able to relate to the experience, but we all know it was more “production allowed us to talk now, but only with each other.”
The pressure was big for Elaine to pull through, so Elizabeth offered to cover during the challenge, but again, there was nothing to lose here by just exploding like a “busted can of biscuits” and going for it, so that’s what Elaine was going to do.
IMMUNITY – CAGE MATCH
Basketball has officially replaced puzzles as the challenge clincher, evidently. I’m not sure I’m a fan, but I did like this challenge up until the same old shooting portion. The timer on Elaine’s test also made tense what could have been a lackluster grab had the blocker, for example, been placed at the end of the challenge for Elaine to work on getting while the tribe took turns shooting baskets.
Jeff finally declared, “Dean does it for Lairo” as Dean scored the winning basket for Lairo, reDEANing himself after last week’s loss. Listening to Elaine as Vokai walked away from the challenge was equally uplifting — she said she wanted to be the hero to save the day for Lairo, and while that was all well and good, this hero didn’t realize that Vokai wasn’t the only villain — the other’s name was Aaron.
WAITING TO BE SLAUGHTERED
Vokai thought they had this locked up, and with Aaron and Missy on board, Jason compared Elaine’s fate to that of the chicken whose head was chopped off at the top of this segment.
That’d 100% be my reaction too (Jason’s, to be clear).
Elaine couldn’t wait long to share the good news with Aaron and Missy about her vote blocker, and the whole time my heart was on the brink of breaking because this woman was so ecstatic to be her people’s savior, yet Aaron and Missy had done everything to sell Elaine out just short of the actual act of writing her name down. Missy changed her mind and declared Elaine Lairo’s hero, but I was still very convinced that the ship had already set sail with Aaron’s vote.
Aaron was still on the fence about keeping Elaine, weighing his choice to show his loyalties to his original Lairo or the new Vokai he had been schmoozing the last several days. The 4 Vokai solidified their target on Elaine, figuring she wouldn’t be smart enough to pull a fast one on them, and meanwhile, Missy was mentioning Dan, Elizabeth eyed Lauren, and Elaine first targetedTommy, then Jason, in the span of a few sentences from one confessional, so Aaron would the ultimate executioner at this tribal council.
If Aaron flipped on Lairo, Elaine’s vote blocker would be useless and she’d still leave, but if he stayed loyal, then any of the Vokais could have been in danger given the undecidedness of the preceding confessionals. Either way, we were in for a fireworks festival. Either Vokai would be blindsided and betrayed by Aaron, or Lairo would be blindsided and betrayed by Aaron. What fun!
Jeff tried relating the viewers at home by comparing watching this tribal council to us tied to our TV sets while eating ... donuts? Because that’s definitely something all Survivor fans do when they watch Survivor — eat donuts. I think that was just another failed attempt at compelling product placement.
The talk of tribal, obviously, was the 4-4 split dynamic. Vokai all said they were willing to go to rocks, so it was a chance for any of the Lairos to flip and become one of them — Tommy selling some sweet Kool-Aid as Boston Rob pointed out (hey, that’s Rick’s product to place!). When Elaine whipped out her vote blocker, their words quickly changed from pressuring to panicked. Tommy and Lauren had big reactions to Elaine’s advantage, so big that I thought they were fake and that Vokai was just playing along with what they already knew via Aaron. At first, I thought Lauren may have been shedding crocodile tears, but Tommy’s post-vote reaction on top of the tears maybe point to the shock being genuine.
That look would give me one of those Tommy night terrors.
I’m a little stunned Lairo ended up voting for Jason because it seemed like his story had legs and that he’d be in the game for the long haul. But, it looks like Jason was too big of a strategic threat to take forward, so he can at least go out feeling good about his game. Tommy would’ve been a fantastic boot here with how well he’s been set up as a strong player, but I’m sure now the golden boy will be able to bounce back. Jason could’ve carried this season with some great comedic relief — his reaction shots and confessionals were among the best of the season, and it saddens me that we won’t get to hear any more from the old lady that lives inside his head. Tommy may be this season’s golden boy, but Jason was its Golden Girl.
“Thank you for being a friend” were almost exactly his final words even.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
“An empire falls ... and a rebellion rises.” Cool, so next week is Star Wars-themed. Vokai is of course scrambling to pick up its pieces and now they sit at Aaron’s mercy who declares he has taken over the tribe. At Lairo, Noura continues her noble quest to defeat Jamal — this will make two episodes where this is a major plotline for Lairo, and with the merge looming, I think we’ll finally see that story come to its conclusion. Jamal has an idol, and everyone has acknowledged by now that Noura’s nuts, so ... I’m very nervous for Noura — it’s not a laughing matter.
Well, for me, at least.
Elaine – It’s clear she takes the cake on this one as without her visit to the Island of the Idols, we’d have watched a very different episode where Elaine is the tragic swap victim on Vokai. I can’t say that it was her gameplay that made her the star since Aaron and Missy would’ve flipped had it not been for her fortunate find, but Elaine gets all the glory with being the bearer of the vote block. The way she spoke about wanting to be the hero of Lairo too – aww, it was so sweet. It’ll be said when she finally goes, because that’s very much still happening. She’s only bought herself perhaps a ticket to the finale by finagling her way out of this week’s tribal.
Jamal – Jamal’s edit is interesting because in the beginning, he was painted in a rather negative light with the Molly boot episode, coming across as careless and later condescending at tribal council, but his story has shifted and now Noura is the only person trying to make the jump on Jamal. Being blindsided so early humbled Jamal, I think, and now we’re seeing a softer, sensitive side. His conversation with Jack was one of the most “real” the show has seen in some time and highlighted what initially made Survivor what it was: a story about strangers from different walks of life learning from each other. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable, but it’s important, and I think the show did a great job letting Jamal share his story how he wanted.
Aaron – Boy, this guy could’ve been the biggest dick of the season if all the Elaine build-up ended with Aaron still flipping to vote her out. I mean ... I kind of wished it had happened if only to see all of social media have a meltdown. I’m undecided on what was his better move — making one last attempt to save Lairo some numbers or adopting the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” strategy and hoping Vokai’s cracks grow large enough for him to slip through them. I’d almost lean toward voting with Vokai only because I agree with last week’s sentiment of “Orange is dead.” Even if this Lairo alliance of four makes the merge, they’re still up against some heavy Vokai numbers and Lairo deserters, Dean and Karishma. “Thinking three votes ahead” Aaron should’ve been thinking how to not be the merge boot, and I think after this move, he’ll get there only to reach the conclusion of:
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser