This week, we went in anticipating an imminent post-merge that would pit JT and Dylan against each other in their quest to become King of the Snakes. Instead, we were left with both of them leaving in a single episode, right before the merge. That was a tough outcome to swallow for fans of the nerdy superfan/strategic archetype. (Which is mainly fellow nerdy superfans, some of whom write online recaps about Survivor, because what else are we supposed to do with our fandom? Start a podcast?)
It's doubly painful that it came right at this spot, too, with the merge coming right in the next episode. Normally, passing that milestone is a huge relief for a superfan, because they immediately go from being a constant target of the "keep the tribe strong" talk to being near the bottom of the "physical threat" target list. The post-merge is literally their "time to shine."
To be fair, it's not a complete shock that one of Dylan or JT would leave here. (We just watched Bradley leave in the same spot in Ghost Island.) As we predicted last week, Khang Khaw was trying to throw the immunity challenge, mostly in retaliation for Chani booting Josh, and their intended target probably would have been JT, had they been successful. (They weren't.) So, medevac or not, JT probably needed a minor miracle to reach the merge. Or just a faulty math equation, apparently.
Dylan, however, while probably not in great long-term shape, should have been set up decently to coast with his newfound Chani allies at least long enough to receive a shiny new purple buff. Sure, he flipped on original tribe, under nearly identical circumstances to those of Cochran during South Pacific, so long-term trust was going to be tough for Dylan to win back. He would have found himself at the bottom of the Chani-plus-Dylan six, had they voted out Matt or Adam instead of him. He probably faced a much tougher path to jury votes than JT would have. He'd most likely have ended up a late juror or a losing finalist, but at least juror Dylan would had good game-related insights at Final Tribal, and could have made an impassioned speech on behalf of whoever played the best strategic game.
Instead, Survivor NZ just lost two huge characters, both of whom (had they been US citizens) would have been solid contestants on American Survivor. That's not great news for the season, especially in light of how Ghost Island's flame flickered mightily after the merge. Trying to look on the bright side, there are still a few strong players who have a decent grasp of the show (Arun, Lisa, Matt, Brad, Renee). And there are still a few entertaining characters who don't know the show all that well, and that's also fine. All hope is not lost. Let's just hope that two idols and the lure of a quarter-million dollars are at least enough to avoid a boring Pagonging.
Adam, the actual villain
This episode, Adam talked about—to his horror—possibly being on a tribe with actual villains. He singles out Arun and Dave, who ironically are about to white knight the reward challenge, and forfeit the reward because they feel the set-up is disrespectful to women. Yeah, they're villains, all right.
Even so, Adam is correct, of course. Chani does have an actual villain: Adam himself. He's settling into a comfortable slot as Courtney Yates, but evil: He's demonstrated his proficiency at sitting in one place, he's catty about his tribemates, and he's happy to keep writing down someone's name at Tribal until they're gone.
Except in this case, Dylan was no Jean-Robert, and Adam was in no way made to feel uncomfortable by Dylan. The opposite was the case, in fact, as Dylan explained in his exit interviews.
Adam still has witty confessionals now and then, and has amusing quirks like his watermelon obsession, but now that his tired tirades about Dylan have no target, where will his story go? Making faces from the jury seats, hopefully?
The Outpost scores again
Having the steal-a-vote advantage being usable ONLY at the next Tribal is a great twist, and the added wrinkle of disributing it via the Outpost meant that the opposing tribe knew Lisa had it. Meaning, as we saw, they could contemplate throwing the next immunity challenge to flush the advantage. That introduces so much more interesting strategy into the game than the US versions of this vote have had. (Which were, basically: Let's vote out that guy with the advantage, because he has it.)
Obviously, the US strives to avoid any hint of endorsing tribes throwing challenges, and NZ created an opportunity to have a three challenge streak of: thrown IC - conceded/ forfeited RC - thrown IC. That probably pisses off the challenge-design team. But it's much more interesting viewing to watch the tribes debate whether to throw a challenge.
We keep hoping the US version of Survivor will eventually steal the Outpost concept. Instead, we get partially reheated garbage like Island of Extinction.
The Outpost idol/ clue was unfair!
Presumably only Dave was eligible to receive an idol clue because Khang Khaw's idol is still in play (or at least hoarded, safely in Brad's pocket—although from JT's exit interview, it turns out that the idol fell out of Brad's pocket and JT briefly found it and held onto it). But it still seems pretty unfair that only the Chani attendee had the chance to find an idol. The chief concern here is that, because production knew Dave was coming, it creates the appearance of favoritism—that the idol was intended specifically for Dave. Especially in light of Dylan's confessional complaint about not being given the opportunity to attend. Sure, Arun probably would have rigged the stick pick again, but come on guys, at least give Dylan the illusion of opportunity in his boot episode.
Dave's exclusive access to an idol clue doesn't seem nearly as unfair as his then being dropped off by the water well, which gave him unlimited time to dig for the idol before returning to his tribe, and acting like he had just returned from Outpost. Would that even have been possible at Khang Khaw? There, the boat dropping off Lisa was spotted by Khang Khaw long before she made it to shore. Yet somehow at Chani, everyone was conveniently at the shelter, and not out on the fire pit plain, or getting water. How? That's a remarkable series of coincidences. Again, it sure looks like production specifically wanted Dave to have an idol, and pulled out all the stops in assisting him in that effort. It's certainly possible that it just happened to fall into place for Dave, as was presented. But why raise the suspicion of shady manipulation?
In general, though, even though everyone suspected the entire purpose of the Outpost was to hand out idol clues, it *is* bad form to make idol clues only available to certain subsets of people. In this episode, at least, Arun and Renee were completely ineligible to find that idol. Hiding the clue back at camp is much more equitable. For example, putting the clue at the well, instead of the idol itself, would have been a good way to accomplish that. Then again, it's possible this was a last-second change of plans: Had Chani actually won the chickens (as they obviously would have), maybe the clue would have been in the cage that Matt delivered later?
Historically, American Survivor is just as guilty of this uneven access to idols, although in recent years they seem to have moved towards making idols and clues more generally available, mainly by putting them in the tribe camps. That way everyone has equal access, as long as they're willing to risk getting caught while searching. The exception is that there are often clues at rewards, but hey, that's why you want to win challenges and not throw them, right?
The secret war of Lisa Stanger
This episode, Lisa took a huge step forward in the edit (thankfully, with the other major superfans departing). Which is either good news (yay, more Lisa!) or bad news (oh no, visibility spike!). With that in mind, please, please Survivor NZ: We've just lost Josh, JT, and Dylan in the past two episodes. Please don't start showing Lisa just to yank her away from us in a week or two. We can't take it.
Is that likely to happen? Let's go through the pros and cons of Lisa's play this episode:
Barking up the wrong tree
What was less convincing than Lisa's post-Outpost story about the advantage? Dave once again "deflecting the shit out of" Renee's renewed efforts to target Matt. He's frustrated by continuing to have to do this, which is frustrating, when the obvious solution was sitting right there in camp, glowering at Dylan.
With Chani just having voted out Josh after throwing the last IC, Dave was once again confronted with a massive push to throw another challenge, and vote out (his secret high-school friend) Matt. Obviously, maintaining original Chani numbers before the merge should be in their best interests. Unless, of course, Dave actually intends to just slip himself into Josh's old slot in the Khang Khaw tight five (which is theoretically possible, if he could get Matt to vouch for him).
But assuming Dave does intend to stay loyal to Chani, the best way to improve Chani's post-merge standing is to remove another member of the majority Khang Khaw power alliance, which is basically everyone from original Khang Khaw except Dylan. Conveniently, New Chani has one obvious target who fits these criteria, and he's not named Matt: It's Adam. So who does Dave deflect the vote to instead? Dylan, of course. Never mind that Dylan has no other allies, and just demonstrated his willingness to work with Chani at the last Tribal.
Not that Dylan helped his cause, by suggesting he also wants Matt out. Renee mistakenly wants Matt out, thinking he voted for her at the last Tribal. But still, why does nobody suggest Adam?
Presumably, their logic is that Matt is more athletic, so he's a threat in the imminent post-merge individual challenges. Well fine! Vote him out after the merge! If he wins immunity, vote out Brad! They can't both win! Meanwhile, Adam is closer to Tess than Matt is to Brad, and nobody's going to be voting Tess out any time soon post-merge. So unless someone does something now, the Adam-Tess couple is going to be steadily gaining power.
Still, Dave has to deflect the vote away from Matt. So what does he argue instead? That he doesn't want to throw another challenge. Sigh. Take a seat, Bobby Jon.
Jeff Pitman is a New Zealand expat, is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, you can do so on twitter: @truedorktimes
Other NZ: Thailand Episode 7 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - JT Muirhead (12th place)
Exit interviews - Dylan Conrad (11th place)