All that was missing was a Rafiki to reveal themselves in the middle of all the talk about lions and hyenas. The merge episode of an all-winners season is one we’ve all been dreaming of and overall, it was ... just fine. Naturally, the Edge of Extinction took up a lot of time; however, at least I felt genuinely compelled to see them all compete. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to see Rob, Parvati, and Yul still alive, but realistically if there were too many old-schoolers still left, they’d have likely been booted quick, so at least this meant our first new school snuff since Episode 1. I’m hoping the sole OG now back in the game can stick it out for its remainder.
YOU BETTER BE READY
Parvati staying loose and limber for the tight competition to come!
It was finally the day all the Edgers had been waiting for as they cashed in their fire tokens and fought to get back in the game. Most everyone used one token on a challenge advantage while Natalie and Rob (with the help of his wife) were able to also buy an idol. As sad as it was to see Amber essentially give up her chance to return, it was sweet how she fully supported Rob returning instead. What an incredible wife. She was prepared to suffer alone on the Edge once again just so her husband could get back in and play. Amber clearly had no expectation of re-entering via this first challenge and thus not the next either, but the fact that she stays to help Rob in any way she can proves she’s just an amazing person.
Less amazing was Jeff asking some of the Edgers stupid questions rather than just getting on to the thing they were all fucking there for — the challenge. “Is maybe the reason you’re feeling the emotion connected to Extinction?” No Jeff, Tyson was just still upset that Sandra decided to leave. Seriously, what the fuck?
Poor Parvati and Yul had no tokens to spend — a penalty for performing better in the actual game of Survivor which is totally freaking lame, dude. The advantages weren’t game-breaking, but they definitely gave the spenders an edge over Parvati, Amber, and Yul. Tyson and Rob looked to have a commanding lead, but Yul moved pretty quickly himself, so who knows if that advantage could’ve bought him the win. I still think it would’ve been Tyson’s for the taking — that was some nice ball handling.
With that, it was the Return of the King as all the other Edgers unceremoniously returned to whence they came but not before Tyson celebrated with a resounding Rupert roar.
He’s definitely one of the lions.
Also, did we all catch Parvati whispering, “Crush them,” as she congratulated Tyson? In case anyone is wondering whether winners would seriously reward an Edge returnee the title of Sole Survivor ....
^Me making it through quarantine.
I was hoping the merge color would just be gold because that’s what winners wear, but Survivor had to go with a black merge buff for the millionth time; although, at least it has a pretty gold accent with gold confessional chyrons to match!
The new tribe sat around the table for the merge feast as Sarah labeled everyone lions trying to find out who had the biggest mane. All eyes were initially on the “queenslayer” as Denise would soon be called after regaling them all with the tale of her slaying of Sandra. It definitely raised some eyebrows, notably Sophie’s as she pointed out Denise’s résumé and Wendell’s, who would later look to target Denise as the first boot from this new tribe.
Tyson did a lot of observing at the table, recognizing himself as an OG outsider among the seats filled with new-schoolers; however, he noted that they should’ve been looking to send him right back to the Edge, admitting that he’d get rid of a player like him on Day 1 every time he played. Methinks this might be some foreshadowing of what will go down as a missed opportunity for the “Koru” tribe.
A quick reconnection was one that wasn’t referring to anything in-game, but rather before-the-game. Wendell and Jeremy had met previously and it was evident that Wendell had been waiting to work with Jeremy, telling him that he was good with Nick and good with Michele, hoping to build something from there. I guess the whole “Winchele” worries had officially blown over.
Jeremy liked Wendell but he wanted to be Wendell’s #1 which meant that Nick couldn’t stick around. I also found it interesting here that Wendell warned Jeremy about Sophie being a big player as it would later be to her credit that this new duo wouldn’t stick either.
Also talking “big players,” Tyson shared his concerns with Ben over being a big target, pointing out that after Tyson was voted out the first time, some other big names fell down like dominoes. Tyson isn’t in the same league as Rob, Parvati, and Sandra, but it’s undeniable that he carries a bigger target because of his name than most others at the merge. Tyson thinking of Tony and Jeremy in this group of targets made sense, but Ben being there was a little lulzy.
This foursome, though, felt like the real deal as Tony too agreed that while no one left was a bad player, there definitely remained some that were lower profile and out of the spotlight. Remembering back to Tyson’s boot episode, it was Tony that saw eye-to-eye with Tyson the most, but what I expect happened was Tony being forced to “go with the flow.” Thankfully, that wasn’t his undoing. A second chance at a Tyson-Tony alliance is definitely something I’m excited to see.
IMMUNITY – COLD DAY IN FIJI
“That’s how you know you’re alive — you feel miserable.” Lines like this is why I can never get enough of Tyson.
Sarah and Tyson had both played in this challenge, and Tyson had won it, so at first glance I would’ve guessed him and Denise to claim victory (strong upper body strength + relatively lower body weight), but as he already won one big challenge this episode, I imagine Tyson wasn’t trying to go for two. That would have made the target on his back even bigger.
Denise won immunity for the women, resulting in an intense showdown between Nick and Jeremy.
That was mean, Tony.
With immunity around his neck, Jeremy then declared that he now wanted to “drive” but didn’t want anyone to know he was driving. He didn’t have to worry much, however, as while he was driving toward a Nick vote, Jeremy was about to have someone take the wheel — no, not Jesus — and run over his man Wendell instead.
LIONS AND HYENAS
At the onset of the usual pre-Tribal scramble, Jeremy was the lion that looked to have the biggest mane who declared Nick to be devoured. Nick was labeled a “hyena” by Tony, likened to a scavenger who comes in only after all the lions have fought each other, picking up any scraps they left behind. With all the animal imagery, I was almost in need of a zookeeper to keep up.
No, a real one.
There we go. I only know of one Tiger Queen in this world.
This episode was fewer for me on laugh out loud moments, but Ben talking about how “weird” Nick was with they way he had been butting in on conversations had me dying. The editors definitely had their fun splicing shots together of Nick creepily entering the camera frame out of nowhere.
Like a lioness, Sophie observed the big lions bro-ing out, particularly Jeremy and Wendell, and she noticed that a lot of the power on the tribe was coming from Jeremy, which she didn’t like. With Jeremy immune, that left Wendell as the one on her mind for the vote, calling him “Jeremy’s man.”
I thought this was an amazing turnaround because a near-unanimous Nick vote could have easily been accomplished, and that’s typical with more recent merge boots – they’re the person who causes the least ripple effect. But no, Sophie felt different. Her read on the major merge dynamics was 100% on-the-mark — seriously scary good at recognizing what needed to happen before the game slipped through everyone’s finger and into Jeremy’s palms.
Once word got back to Jeremy that everyone had flipped to go for Wendell instead (Sophie works fast), Jeremy wasn’t happy — another short scene that made me laugh was when Nick walked by Jeremy and Ben talking, and still within earshot, Jeremy bluntly asked Ben, “Who does he say?” pointing over his back to Nick. Jeremy knew Nick wasn’t down to vote Wendell and found out instead was voting for Adam (presumably Michele was with that plan as well) which meant the only way to save Wendell was to turn more votes on Adam, seeing as there were already 3.
Things got messy here as the show tried to explain all that was happening and changing in a short amount of time, surely overlooking so many more shifting dynamics. Jeremy bounced around from person to person talking about Adam all the while Sophie was reassuring Adam that he was fine, so I felt about as lost as Adam did trying to figure out what was going on.
On the Adam topic, dude has gone off the deep end. I thought he was surely the merge boot, with how little connections he had left — even Denise didn’t really care if she lost him — but his survival makes me wonder if that ship has sailed, and he’s instead moving on to be a losing finalist. He reminds me of Noura and Angelina from more recent seasons, in the sense that they were big characters who got themselves in trouble around the merge but then everyone realized they were better off taking them to the end. Could that be Adam’s fate this season?
Another person I wonder about is Michele — she took a big fall this episode and not just during the challenge. She has had a fantastic few episodes recently and this week she got nothing. Was it to shield her from being on the wrong side of the vote (as she was shielded in Episode 1) or was her story a short and sweet one about redemption? We saw she can be a big player, so her story better not end now that Wendell’s been kicked to the Edge.
Jeremy’s stock was also finally rising, but then Sophie swiftly knocked him back down. I think after this episode, she, Tony, and Tyson give me the strongest senses of winners. Sophie has been on top of the game and calling shots since the start, Tony has already done the impossible by making the merge and remaining untargeted while still being strategically significant to the story, and Tyson has been made into maybe the most rootable version of himself that’s been on the show. The latter may just be so we’d be happy to see him return from the Edge, but while I don’t want an Edger to win this season or any — even if that Edger is Tyson — I could fathom it. Aside from being voted out, we haven’t seen many of his flaws, and he was proven right about the big OGs needing to stick together. I’d say it’s one of these lion’s to lose pending any other wild animal activity.
Sophie’s stares scare me.
Jeff opened tribal council by addressing the elephant in the room that was Tyson, who Sophie and Tony said wasn’t a target, explaining that the dynamics of the game and the players had changed since the last time Tyson was in the game, so there was no reason to vote Tyson out again (yet), like there was before.
Another shift mentioned was the way winners play — Sarah said that before, she could see the punches coming, but this time, “people are gonna get sniped.” “Sniped” was a spot-on word choice here with the way Sophie shot Wendell down, proving she’s as sharp a shot as she is a strategist. It was no surprise that we learned Sophie attended high school at the age of 12 — her mind is a mighty one.
While Adam was worried that his conversations during the day hadn’t been long enough, I think we knew where this one was going once Tony said that it was dangerous to swim against the current as the camera quickly panned to Jeremy — Jeremy being the one that needed to go with the flow and let his buddy Wendell be the one to go.
Wendell was probably my most expendable winner going into the season (Ben’s more controversial as a winner but more entertaining as a character), so this is finally a boot that didn’t make me bawl. I wrote the other week that I didn’t think Wendell was really getting a “villain” edit — his was just about the only convincingly negative edit as one of these winners could receive. Wendell telling Jeremy that he and Michele were good and her being one of the only two people to vote to keep him told me all I needed to know about the truth to their story and that he wasn’t some abusive ex-boyfriend (honestly, people ... ). We saw his worst moments and with zero resolution to the Wendell-Michele drama making the show this week, I’m pretty sure there was none because there was hardly much to be resolved to begin with.
Wendell has proven his challenge prowess, and I think being voted out could be a wake-up call for him to stay a little more focused, so he’s got a shot to win the next return challenge. We’ll have to see where the Edge of Extinction narrative goes from here — Tyson returning felt like a foregone conclusion to me, so I hope they change it up and have the next one be more of a surprise. *crosses fingers for Danni Girl*
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR...
With pre-merge mostly being the self-destruction of Sele, I guess it’s original Dakal’s turn to get dirty as they continue to turn on each other — not that initial tribes in returnee seasons always mean much, but this could’ve easily been a Dakal-dominated merge, so I’m glad it’s not shaping up to be that with Sarah vs. Nick next week. Adam’s afraid of someone playing with fire which could mean just about anything (nice and vague for a preview). My guess is that Tony takes on some new construction project like building a bamboo flamethrower or something, causing more frustration from the firefighter.
Tyson – My king! Obviously, I loved Tyson’s return and all, but in retrospect I wish there had been a little more suspense with it. His Edge edit seemed more significant than anyone else’s which made him coming back a little more predictable, but that’s one small complaint. I’m excited to see what Tyson will do with this second chance, but I’m more excited just to get more Tyson content. I expect him to lay low for a little bit as to not draw any more attention after winning the return challenge which may have attributed to his name not being brought up once. Realistically, though, I could see that having more to do with everyone fearing an idol from the Edge like they saw with Rick and Chris (theirs took effect after the first vote, but you never know). I’m rooting for Tyson to stay as long as he can, but as much as I love him, I still can’t support another Edger win, so I’ll just root for Tyson to make out with $100K (or whatever the 2nd place prize is now)! This merge needed an OG Survivor, and while I’d have wished them all back, Tyson’s easily the best for the sake of entertaining television, so I’m satisfied — as are JIF and Skippy, I’m sure.
Tony – We’re halfway through the all-winners season of Survivor, and Tony Vlachos has not had his name written down or even seriously suggested as a boot. What world do we live in??? It sucked seeing Tony leave as soon as he did in Game Changers, but if he had to go there to shrink his threat level for this season, then I’m glad it happened. My 3 Players of the Week this week all give me the most ~winner vibes~ after a typically important merge episode for ~the edit~ and I can’t believe I’ve actually got Tony in that Top 3 (baby!) Tony was right on target with what needed to happen for his game this episode, and while I think Nick or Adam may have been how his mind was more leaning, he ended up good with “as long as it ain’t Tony,” even bringing up the Sandra strategy at tribal council. That little nod to the Queen made me fantasize a finale after which Tony and Sandra are Survivor’s two two-time winners. What an incredible King and Queen they’d be together.
Sophie – SNIPED! Goddamn is Sophie so good. Watching her read and react to exactly what was happening on the new Koru tribe was incredible. Nick or Adam could have been easy boots here, but she saw a better opportunity by correctly identifying Jeremy and Wendell as the bigger threat to her. She thought, “this is too easy” with a potential Nick vote and instead drove the tribe in the direction of Wendell. I thought Jeremy was getting a promising edit in the episode, but then Sophie striking his plan down and everyone falling in line with her proved who’s in the driver’s seat. Sophie’s another one who hasn’t been mentioned much as a threat — the only person who threw out her name this week was the one who got whacked. As wild as another Tony win would be, if I was a juror and had to vote right now, my vote would probably go to Sophie. She’s got so many strong connections and a vice grip on so many sets of balls that Adam shouldn’t be worried about people playing with fire but people playing with Sophie.
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