If you’re a Tony Vlachos fan, then this was probably one of the best episodes of all time. If you’re not a Tony Vlachos fan, then I totally empathize with your frustration. I hated Samoa because I couldn’t stand its “superstar,” and I even got a little tired of Tony too in Cagayan, but since then I’ve grown to love and appreciate him (the latter, not the former). Tony does not play anywhere close to a conventional, winning game and that’s why his win was the biggest anomaly of them all to me before Chris Underwood. Tony’s a chaotic flip-flopper and in a cast of some of the best calculated killers the game has ever seen, watching Tony run around like some kind of hash-slinging slasher is a dream and a delight — that’s essentially how I felt about most of this episode, excluding the Edge of Extinction (shocker).
No one would tell poor Jeremy the full story on what went down after he abandoned ship at tribal council. Tony of course egged him on, asking, “Why did you get up and leave, man?” as if Jeremy staying put would have been better for him. We got confirmation from Ben that Jeremy was indeed the target, so the decision to skedaddle was the smart move — we also learned that Michele’s vote for Tyson was mostly a hunch because she didn’t sound like she was in on the vote, instead lumping herself in with this group of four that was clearly on the bottom — Jeremy, Kim, Denise, and Michele. Not my favorite people to be on the bottom ....
With an idol played by Kim, that of course meant another was going to be hidden back at camp. I’ve had fantasy points riding on Tony all season, hoping he’d have found several idols by now, but it took him almost a month to make out with his first! Literally!
Making the find not so easy for Tony was the running gag of Nick cramping everyone’s style continuing, as Nick came upon Tony mid-search, but Tony craftily shooed Nick away to go look somewhere he already had looked, letting Tony claim the idol they were both after.
After all the lions and hyenas talk, inexplicably, Nick and Tony are tight allies now? I mean, we can piece that together, but their relationship has never really been established outside of a few votes together and Ben calling this new group of five more or less an alliance at the top of the episode. Somewhere, Tony’s mind shifted, but knowing how often that happens, maybe the show didn’t think it was worth explaining. Nonetheless, Nick must trust Tony to at least the extent of not tattling on him to the group. Nick’s been kind of edited to be a bit of a goof this season, and with his recent running around with Tony, maybe he’s the next Woo?
Sarah 3.0 has solidly been the best Sarah for a while, but this scene cemented it. This is the kind of fun stuff I love to see on Survivor, even better when it’s started by someone I’d have never expected. Sarah getting the girls to strut down the runway was a much-needed break from the chaos of the season’s impossible-to-follow strategy. Kim and Michele looked like they had walked that catwalk before, no surprise — Michele must’ve taken a few lessons from the master after Kaoh Rong.
^ actual chyron, not my own creation
In stark contrast to Sarah was Tony who wanted nothing to do with the fashion show and instead just wanted to play the game — something I found a little ironic given that this season alone, we’ve seen Tony build a busted up ladder and almost kill himself, run around with a shark in his hand, and sprint up and down the beach like an Olympian. Yeah, but a fashion show is just silly!
Sarah said her social game was much stronger than Tony’s, and while I definitely think Tony is more remembered for his strategy, a lot of people overlook how funny of a guy Tony is and I’m sure that translates to him being very popular at camp. Sarah may not see Tony’s social game the same way as hers or something else more traditional, but I don’t think she should be underestimating Tony’s power to charm people. If she doesn’t see that he’s playing a social game, then he may just be playing one so smooth that it doesn’t even look like a game. Don’t let the undercover cop fool you with how good his social game actually is. That would be a ...
The one person who seemed to see through it all was Kim, and I loved the conversation she had with Tony where she point-blank called him on his game, telling him that she suspected he wanted to vote Jeremy out at the last vote. Kim was 100% correct about Tony trying to salvage his relationship with Jeremy — I don’t know at this point if Tony actually wanted to keep Jeremy, but either way, Kim reminded us of how astute of a player she still is, watching Tony’s every move and calling bull on the “psychotic double agent act” he was playing.
That was Tony’s M.O. in Cagayan — playing both sides and flipping back and forth, so Kim was wise to watch for that. She labeled Tony her biggest enemy and while Tony has way more power in the game than Kim at the moment, watching those two go to war would be wild — two totally different yet proven equally effective styles of gameplay. They’re both winners but for incredibly different reasons.
EDGE OF EXTORTION
This was a perfect twist to go to Parvati, but that didn’t make it any less bullshit. The Edge has always had the ability to help players in the game, but now it’s evolved to being able to unavoidably hurt them? That’s just too much. To Parvati and Natalie’s credit, they picked the right person to play with, but the amount of power they held over him was unreal. I’d have much preferred the bottle they found to simply be full of wine for one fun night in hell.
The best we’ve seen of the Edge may have been last week, and this week may have been the worst — another scavenger hunt and absolutely the shittiest twist to date. What if the ladies had asked for all of the total fire tokens in the game? You’re telling me that Tony would have no choice but to try and make that happen or give up a shot at immunity and his vote? I’m all for some chaos, but as I’ve said before, only when it’s organic. This was not organic, even if it was orgasmic for Probst.
The only thing I appreciated about this scene was Parvati talking up who they knew to be chaotic and who would stop at nothing to get the tokens they needed — cue this guy:
“What’re you thinking about Tony?”
“What about them?”
“What if they bequeathed us?”
BEQUEATH OR BE SORRY
Tony really was the perfect person for Parvati and Natalie to pick for this extortion. Everything he touches turns to gold — if only that could’ve made the advantage not trash. Tony reading the note was fantastic. He immediately saw the word “extortion” and smiled like a kid in a candy store, thinking he was in for a treat. The candy, though, turned out to be sugar-free, resulting in a complete face drop after Tony read that the advantage was being used by someone else, against him. The switch here was classic:
Now Tony had the tough task of convincing 3 players to bequeath him their tokens since he already had 3 of his own. Michele couldn’t help even if she wanted to, and had to make up a quick lie about why she had 0 fire tokens, and I thought the lie was pretty solid for something she had to think of on the spot. Spending tokens for an advantage that will only be useful if you’re voted out sounds stupid, so that’s exactly something that everyone would believe Probst putting in the game — good job, Michele!
On Tony’s behalf, Michele convinced Jeremy to donate his token to a noble cause, explaining that if Tony couldn’t vote, then there’d be zero chance of
winning the game getting the numbers they needed. Tony either didn’t ask Kim and Denise for help or he knew better, so next he went to his two new favorite allies, Nick and Ben, who bequeathed a fire token apiece without question — will they be these kind of loyal soldiers to the end? Tony would surely wipe the floor with them at Final Tribal Council, so maybe that’s how he’ll end up repaying them: with front row seats to their own Survivor funeral.
IMMUNITY – TOUCH IT WITH A 10-FOOT POLE
I really have no better zinger for this one than what Kim herself said, which was, “Wow, men really know their way around a pole!”
When I saw this challenge, I said it looked like a Kim challenge ... then she fell ... and then I guessed Denise would win, and before I could even finish that sentence, she dropped. When they were down to three, I said, “Well it must be Ben then,” and then he immediately dropped, so that last jinx worked in my favor. Tony took his second immunity win with Jeff being nice enough to point out how much Tony was “dominating,” making Tony shush Jeff’s own jinx there.
Tony was thrilled because this meant he could pay back his fire token debt and vote Jeremy out which confirmed to us that Jeremy wasn’t getting voted out, and since most post-immunity confessionals are misdirects, that probably means Jeremy, Ben, and Nick are never seeing those tokens again either.
The day was “yay for Tony” which meant grim for Kim. At this point, Kim hadn’t gotten any assurance from Tony that he was going to vote with them, so she applied the old adage, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” and opted to vote with Sarah, Sophie, and Ben to get rid of Jeremy while the group threw a few votes on Michele in case he played anything crazy again.
I was glad Kim was able to wiggle her way into this group because with Jeremy not coming off the chopping block, it made sense for it to be her turn, along with Denise, to abandon ship. Kim’s back has been up against the wall multiple times in the game, but she always manages to escape being sent to the Edge. If she could just keep playing it day by day like that, then she may be able to make the end after all, but there’s just one giant problem with that precise positioning of hers: Tony’s a bomb that’s been waiting to go off for 28 days.
Tony was fidgeting to pull off his first major flip flop of the season, and with Sophie getting too close to his cop partner Sarah, the time seemed more appropriate now than ever. He knew his group was splitting votes, so it’d be easier for him to get what he needed to pull of this Big Move™ on Sophie. Jeremy and Michele would have no better option, so they’d be locks, leaving Tony with just one more vote to grab — enter Nick (invited, this time).
Again, we don’t know where this sudden trust in Nick was coming from, but I can at least imagine Tony knew Nick was sick with Big Move-itis, so there was once again almost no hesitation on Nick’s part to help Tony. Oddly, Jeremy was the one to put up the most fight, not believing a word of what Tony was telling him, especially the part about Kim and Denise letting him hang out to dry. Jeremy was instead stuck on getting rid of Ben which frustrated Tony because he wasn’t actually bullshitting this time!
Was this Tony’s best move? Objectively, it didn’t look that way. Tony had a solid alliance of five and four easy targets to take out back to back to back to back. At five, he could’ve probably swung Ben and Nick (clearly easily persuaded by Tony) to break up Sophie and Sarah, and then at worst Tony has to win the fire-making challenge to get to the finals. “Simple as that,” he might say.
What Tony did with this move was make his path to the end a whole lot more complicated and unpredictable which I guess I’m for because the scenario described above would’ve been a total bore. Tony could still conceivably get to the end with Nick and Ben, but I think his battle to get there will be tougher now. I’d like to think that Tony’s just so good that he knew he was winning no matter what, so he decided to make things a little more exciting for the fans.
In theory, many things could go bad for Tony because of this move, but this episode felt like a big celebration of the Survivor treasure that is Tony which has me thinking he’s running solo now on the road to victory, especially with eliminating who may have been the only other contender in terms of content throughout the season. It doesn’t totally make sense yet how Tony wins, but that’s just it. Tony making no sense makes all the sense.
WAITING FOR THAT BOMB
I may be at the point where I just can’t be satisfied with a tribal council unless people are at each other’s throats. The whispering we’ve seen for the last few weeks is a bore, but not much better is everyone speaking half-truths and talking in metaphors all throughout tribal council while they hold their cards close to their chest. Honestly, besides the occasional heated exchanges, do we really get much from tribal council these days? I feel like the audience and the players are mostly on the same page: let’s just get to the vote.
I should at least call out Sophie’s funny reference to the résumé-builder from high school who everyone hates — we all know at least one of them (and some of us probably were them).
In these moments, I thought Jeremy had screwed himself by not budging on the Ben vote, but Tony came through with a blindside that let out an audible “holy shit” from me. Poor Sophie was so stunned she didn’t even know what the procedure was anymore.
I love her. “I don’t know how I do this” was so pure and honest — like “I don’t know how losers do this. I’m a winner!”
I was nervous for Sophie at the start of this season — not because I didn’t think she’d do well but because I worried that she’d have a minimal edit. She was a little low key in the season she won, so in a season she might not win, I was concerned she’d be under-edited, but for the Sophie stans, she could not have surpassed the highest expectations more (well, aside from not getting voted out). Sophie had a dominant pre-merge presence and stayed at the top of contenders lists for weeks, and I really thought this war would come down to Tony vs. Sophie — it did, I suppose, but just a few weeks sooner than I expected (and sooner than Sophie expected this showdown to start).
Sophie’s final words of the episode were pretty tragic – she previously saw herself as a lower tier winner likely due to fans saying that Coach was robbed or that “she didn’t do anything,” but suffice to say, I think Sophie silenced those fans with her performance this season. She was a strategic powerhouse, a social star, and she almost had the army that would have won her the war, but then along came Tony, now probably the most unpredictable player to ever play the game. If he thought Sophie was the biggest threat, then that’s a huge compliment to her.
Sophie’s legacy took a few leaps up this season as she proved she could not only hold her own against some of the best but even hold some of them on a leash! I wouldn’t mind her coming back from the Edge for Round 2 with Tony, but I think Sophie’s story ended perfect enough the way it did. She has nothing left to prove, in my opinion, so I’d be just as content with Sophie making a so-fierce juror, assuming she can find her way to the right seat.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR...
Yikes, looks like Tony is going to get it so bad from Sarah that she chases him up a tree. If you’d have asked what the next evolution of the Spy Shack and Spy Bunker was going to be, there’s no way I would have predicted Spy Nest – at least as a serious answer. I literally cannot even this. Tony is truly a gift from the Survivor gods and while I know not everyone is a fan of this being the Tony show, I can’t be convinced that anyone is coming up with better content than climbing up a tree to eavesdrop on conversations. Until they do, #TeamTV is fine with me.
Tony – I mean, does it even need saying at this point? This week was Tony. I’m never a fan of lopsided edits, but this is a rare one where there was just no way around it. Tony found an idol, got a “gift” from the Edge, had his hands on 8 total fire tokens, won individual immunity, and he was the mastermind behind the magnificent 4-3-2 blindside. What should’ve been cut? We got a fun fashion show at camp, and while the garbage “advantage” from the Edge killed a lot of the “mummentum” for me, Tony saved this week from extinction.
I can’t think of any logical way Tony is going to win, yet that’s exactly what I’d be betting all my fire tokens on if I had any. Sarah’s final speech at tribal about pulling big blindsides on this cast making you the best was practically a prologue to Tony being crowned the Sole Survivor on finale night. How the hell he will remains a mystery, but that’s what should make the next three weeks exciting. Tony isn’t going to have an easy road to the end, so it’s going to be another wild and crazy ride just like it was in Cagayan.
I’d be happy to see Tony retire with a second win, but damn does it make me sad to know that it would mean never seeing what comes after Spy Nest. Maybe Tony will give us a taste before this is all over — of what? Well, I can only hope it’s Spy Submarine.
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