The blindside of Brad, with its nailbiting necessity that nobody leak the plan to Brad, causing him to thwart it by playing his idol, was also partially the story of an intriguing battle within the original Khang Khaw majority. Taking out Brad was a bit of a proxy war over who would seize the coveted role of Closest Ally of Tess. Really, the only reason the move worked was because the main people participating (and some who weren't) all wanted that title for themselves.
Early on in the merge episode, Matt returned to his old Khang Khaw tribemates, and noticed that Tess and Brad—who had stayed together on post-swap Khang Khaw—seemed to have formed a stronger connection with each other than they had with him. This made him uncomfortable, and this episode, when he (seemingly) overheard Tess and Brad making final two plans that may or may not have included him, that was the final straw. He could no longer trust Brad, who was approaching peak C.A.T. status.
So when Lisa and Matt decided to make a move against Brad, and they looped gossipmonger Adam into their plans, it seemed like they were taking a huge risk. Adam talks to everyone! Except, again, before the swap Adam had safely basked in his status as top Tess ally. Adam's plans to win the game probably all included Tess, and very few likely included Brad. So while Adam wasn't technically a participant in the blindside, he maintained his silence about it, and let it go forward.
But that's not all. There was still another potential power player who likely had designs on winning Tess's confidence: Renee. While Renee's closest Ally seems to be Adam, she also spent a lot of time this episode bonding with Tess. Going to the final three with both Adam and Tess could potentially be a winning move for Renee. As presented in the episode, Renee wasn't a part of the Brad blindside in any way (she voted for Dave), but staying close to Tess was most likely a key part of her plans.
The one Big Move-r that wasn't shown cozying up to Tess this episode was Lisa, who famously didn't buy Tess's story about not having watched Survivor before, way back in Episode 1 (the jury's still out on whether she believed the mattress fib). But in the merge episode, one of the last pre-merge Khang Khaw scenes showed Lisa making post-merge plans with Tara and... Tess.
Why the sudden arms race to acquire Tess technology? (Tessnology?) Haven't they heard "Never trust the cute blonde"? (Note: Of course they hadn't, since Ghost Island hadn't aired yet when this was filmed.)
It's simple: Tess wants everyone to remain Khang Khaw strong, and she's a loyal, reliable vote. And since almost everyone left sees her as someone who follows other (Khang Khaw) people's leads, she's an ideal partner to take to the final three. The obvious exceptions being Dave and Eve, who are apparently permanently Chani, and have no shot. (No word from Tara, because evidently, no words from Purple Tara are allowed on-air.)
By being perceived as the least threatening person around, Tess has actually found herself in something of a position of power. It's a fascinating development, and it reflects how strong the level of gameplay is this season. Matt, Lisa, and Adam all correctly perceived that if Brad had a tight bond with Tess, he posed a signficant threat to each of their individual games. And all were willing to trust each other's self-interest enough to frame the decision from that perspective.
Can Kiwi Joey Amazing actually win?
Proposed: Matt Hancock is the New Zealand version of Joe Anglim. If host Matt is #KiwiJeff, player Matt must be #KiwiJoeyAmazing. It's not just the long curly hair, although that helps. Matt's also (like Anglim was his first season) the clear favorite in individual challenges by Mean % Finish, so he's a huge immunity threat. As with Joe, it probably would have been wiser for Matt to play down his challenge prowess early on (especially immediately post-merge), but instead he nearly won the very first challenge, minutes into the season, then proceeded to overperform in almost all the other pre-merge ones as well.
Also like Joe, Matt is a longtime fan, and has a solid head for the game. Which amplifies his perceived threat level even more. Not surprisingly, as the preview showed, he seems in at least short-term trouble, with Lisa thinking about taking him out, most likely because he's a challenge threat. Maybe with Brad leaving the game, and Brad's idol going back into circulation, Matt and Dave can each have an idol? Otherwise, Matt needs another IC win. Luckily, again, he would be the favorite to do that. (Following through on the Joe Anglim analogy, though: It can't go on forever, the end is probably nigh.)
A larger, long-term concern for Matt, even though it was neither of their faults, is that Matt and Dave really need to keep their pre-game friendship completely under wraps for the duration of the game. After the number of Tribals in which they have now each moved the target away from each other, it's difficult to imagine any juror being pleased after learning about the unfair advantage they share. The longer it stays secret, the worse it gets, as well. It would be in both their interests to be public allies from here on out, and just neglect to mention that they already knew each other on Day 1. We'll see how that plays out.
Then again, if things don't work out, maybe Survivor NZ can just create a captains season with a Redemption Island-like game element to guarantee Matt wins the next time.
Idol time again?
Brad leaving the game with the idol in his pocket *should* mean another idol will enter the game in the next episode, at least by U.S. rules. Clearly, knowledgeable fans like Lisa and Matt will be on high alert for just this opportunity. Will they succeed? Will Survivor NZ follow through?
Distributing idols is something Survivor NZ has done quite well in its first season of doing so. By varying the clue and/or idol locations just enough, there's been no consistent place a previous idol-holder can just go and look. Clues have come from the Outpost (twice), and a reward item. Idols have been at challenges, or in camp (under the raft, or buried next to the well). None have yet been just crammed in an interesting-looking tree, or stuck under a conspicuously painted rock or log.
Given how clues have been distributed so far, the absense of a post-merge Outpost suggests there's a high possibility the next idol clue will be at the reward, making the reward challenge win that much more important. So far, there's no consistent individual/team RC trend: Will it be another individual RC, or two teams of four (or four pairs)?
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 9 recaps and analysis
Exit interviews - Brad Norris