This was a surprisingly solid episode of Survivor (since I hate sentimental) featuring the heartfelt build-up of an inspiring hero who ultimately gets knocked the hell out by a carefully crafted #SurvivorBlindside which reminded us all of what’s still the real “heart” of the show: the sinister, strategic mastermind. Although a little heavy-handed in delivery, I’m glad we got a rare, full insight into the vote this week so we understood what was happening, and even if the editors laid it on thick, I’ll admit that my heart skipped a beat for a second when we saw Karla’s name on the parchment for the first time – something we better not see again until Final Tribal Council!
That desperate cry from Karla hoping to hear Cassidy answer back nearly broke me! While Karla was ultimately included in the James vote thanks to Sami, she wasn’t initially supposed to be so for the first time she felt bamboozled. Had Cassidy not come back to camp too, Karla may have said “bitch, hold my nose ring” and unleashed unholy hell. Luckily, she was able to keep her cool.
In another knock to Karla’s game, Jesse told us that he assumes she has an idol in her bag since it’s known (apparently) that she was going around asking for beads, stating, “we all sorta know it’s there.” This was the more typical Survivor storytelling where something just gets stated as fact without us actually seeing it. Has everyone known about Karla’s idol since the merge, or is this recent news? We don’t know, but I don’t like that others do. With Jesse still (apparently) in possession of two idols and knowledge of the third’s whereabouts, it begs the question of when will the players realize Jesse is the man with the most power?
REWARD – BATTLE OF THE BEAM
Beams and sandbags are nothing new in Survivor, but I loved the chaotic spinning contraption the players started out on in this challenge. Every once in a while – a rare while – I see something new in a challenge that I love, and that made the list. I equally loved Jeff and Karla flirting with each other as the tribe walked in. Jeff was an incredibly awkward flirt, confirming that money can buy you anything including love.
The challenge was rather unkind to Noelle, but all the focus was on her overcoming the giant obstacle that was the beam – is she this season’s first contender for the Debbie Donato Wanner Award for Best Performance on a Balance Beam? Probably not. To win that award, one must lose to the beam, and Noelle did the opposite of that.
Instead, Noelle triumphed and came back to win in one of the biggest comebacks in Survivor history as Jeff loves to announce as much as possible. By now, there has to be at least 30 “biggest comebacks” in history, I’m sure, though Jeff Pitman can confirm.
With an impressive win, Noelle was forced to make a choice – a choice which we are lucky to see just once or twice a season now – of who to join her for a reward of pizza, an overnight stay at the Sanctuary (whose name remains to be explained), and most of all, letters from home. Noelle chose Sami, Jesse, and Owen to join which made sense because that’s clearly who she wanted to work with, but that also left four people back at camp to wonder why they weren’t picked. Win a reward and lose allies – that’s the beauty of Survivor.
CHEERS TO YOU, NOELLE
“Cheers to you, Noelle! I’ll still vote you out tomorrow, but thanks for letting me get these letters!”
We love to see it. Of course, everyone was grateful to be given this gift by Noelle, but generosity doesn’t win anyone the game – if anything, it tends to make them lose it.
After the ugly crying action, so it goes, the talk turned back to the game. Sami said he wanted Cassidy out and, realizing he’s been a flip-flopper, he promised he wouldn’t flop back this time. Owen added that it would be a good move to split the votes between Cassidy and Karla in case of any idol play. Judging by the conversation, it seemed Noelle picked these guys to go on the reward with her because this is who she wanted to work with at least in the immediate future. She worried that already the girls back at camp were talking about voting her out ....
And they were!
As Cassidy pointed out, losing a reward challenge isn’t always a total loss as it provides for time back at camp to connect with people that maybe one hasn’t yet. This was the perfect combination for both Cassidy and Karla. On one side of the game, it had shaped up to be Noelle, Owen, and Sami (save another flip-flip). On the other, Cassidy and Karla now remained as the two lone Cocos. Both sides needed Cody, Jesse, and Gabler to gain numbers, so Cassidy’s “silver lining” to this loss was time to talk to Cody and Gabler.
She identified Noelle as a big threat who was gaining momentum in the game which Cody and Gabler both already recognized, but when approached to commit to Noelle as the vote, Gabler told Karla and Cassidy that they needed to wait and see what happened with immunity first. Gabler realized that he was a swing voted needed by both sides and I think it’s because most people know Gabler isn’t going to win this game. He’s positioned himself well but I feel it’s been more because of the other players playing around him rather than Gabler aggressively putting himself in that sweet spot. Still, it may make Gabler the only lock at this point at FTC, and 3rd place pays better than 4th through 8th, so good for him for at least aligning with the right people.
IMMUNITY – TOWER OF ANNOY
I don’t know what this challenge is called, but it should be called that or the Tower of Sophie Clarke.
Jeff announced at one point that the players had gone on for 15 minutes and I’m sure it felt like longer with the towers stacking up and crumbling down over and over again, leading to a fun little montage that was like Survivor ASMR. After an undetermined amount of time later, Cassidy claimed victory marking her as the 5th unique player to win individual immunity this season – we love to see the necklace go around! That just leaves Sami and Jesse to earn that distinction as their time to do so shrinks.
SHE IS A WARRIOR
It’s surprising that so many want to work with Gabler given that he is notorious for sharing everyone’s business. After the challenge, we saw him spill that Karla and Cassidy were indeed coming for Noelle as she expected, but Gabler reassured her that they had the numbers to protect her. Noelle still had her doubts about Sami but had to hope Jesse and Cody would have her back.
Jesse talked to Cody about Noelle’s plan to put votes on Karla but warned Cody that Noelle was making a big name for herself lately. This pre-tribal scramble was interestingly straightforward as everything was told from Jesse’s perspective, and we knew that he was the one who held the most cards. The “checklist” sequence was a little goofy for my personal taste, but I appreciated the editors trying another gag to give us some comedy this season. I couldn’t help but wonder what this would have looked like in past seasons:
Imagine that with a perfect, narrative confessional from Cirie.
Jesse then went to Karla to fill her in on his master plan, which she had little choice but to go along with because it was otherwise her neck on the line. Later, she talked with Gabler and they both recognized that Jesse and Cody were the power couple at camp but it was too late in the day to try to shake things up just yet, though I suspect this conversation between them will have huge implications as early as next week. Could Gabler end up being the one to blow up the game and rip the wheel of the ship from the hands of Jesse and Cody? I haven’t been taking Gabler as a contender to win since the second the cast was revealed, but that could actually earn him some credit ... gulp.
Check out Jonny Gabler up in here.
More analogies to work through at tribal council including Gabler (not a doctor) giving us an assessment at where the game’s at in terms of heart surgery, buying a car, calling everyone assassins, and Jeff talking about ducks being on auto-pilot on top but full speed ahead on bottom – I guess all ducks are power bottoms. Thanks for the biology lesson, Jeff.
Jesse once again publicly thanked Noelle for the reward and returned the favor by blindsiding her out of the game – ah, but isn’t the real reward the friends made along the way? Noelle at least has that to take to the jury with her. I expected a fierier exit from such a fighter as Noelle, but it seemed there were no hard feelings and perhaps a locked vote for Jesse should he make it to the end.
Is James really going to be the only “bitter” exit? Yay for the new era ...
Note to future Survivor players: never do anything that can be viewed as heroic or inspiring, or Jeff will beat a dead horse over it until your reputation in the game is too big to not make you a target. I’m sure Noelle could’ve made a name for herself on her own, but when Jeff was giving all the praise and commendations in nearly every single challenge, that had to eventually reach a point of “enough is enough” for the rest of the tribe. It would make me wonder if Noelle made FTC, Jeff would declare no need for a vote and just give her the check.
Noelle played a stronger social and strategic game than I’ve have guessed her to though while she kept clawing her way back from the bottom every time she fell, there had to have been a reason why she landed there a few times in the first place. Her allies kept getting taken out just by association with her, however, which speaks to something of her impressive game. If Gabler has any say in it, we can expect to see Noelle return in Heroes vs. Villains 2.
I don’t recall even Candice receiving this same praise in Cook Islands, so I’d consider Noelle a lock.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR ...
I’m super excited for the return of the Last Gasp challenge even if the show will find a way to cut it short like all other endurance challenges nowadays. This one is always suspenseful and we love to see people literally drowning as Jeff shouts, “That’s how you do it on Survivor!” Outside of the challenge ... who knows. Everyone’s running around the beach after what looks like news of another advantage because with 3 idols still in the game and only 7 people, we definitely need another one of those. So more or less back to the usual gimmicks after a couple of good weeks, a “last gasp” ahead of the short stretch remaining to the finale.
Jesse – I can’t remember the last time a player was given this amount of credit for a big move. Was the move that big? I don’t think so considering Noelle has been on the bottom since ... forever, but the checklist montage made it seem like Jesse is on top of the game right now. He and Karla have remained my top two contenders also since forever, and while he looks to have the one-up on Karla now, the edit this episode might have tipped him more into the territory of Ricard and Omar with having a long résumé that equally serves as a list of reason to be taken out ASAP. Jesse will either go on to win this game after a dominant social and strategic run, or this week will be his peak before the mighty fall. It could all be in the hands of Gabler which is terrifying.
Noelle – While it wasn’t Jesse’s yet, this episode was certainly Noelle’s swan song. Jeff loves her and wants the fans to love her (I’m lukewarm at best but my heart is ice so ...) which means Noelle is near the top of his list for the next returnee season. She was a threat from the bottom, so it would be interesting to see her play the game from the top should there be a next time.
Cassidy – The dark horse to win after some good content this week claiming the Ryan kill and talking at the end of the immunity challenge about finally seeing herself winning this game. I think she’d lose to Jesse and Karla for sure and maybe Cody, so her path to the end is going to be a tricky one with organizing the right combo, but if Jesse, Cody, and Karla are the next to go due to their threat levels, then I, too, could see Cassidy taking it. It’ll make me a little upset her edit was closer to an Erika one with not a lot of development in the beginning, but she has time to come on strong and build off the momentum she’s had lately. Winning looks good on her!
Emphasis on “looks” because like, damn, that perfect color coordination down to the necklace beads!