This episode marked the beginning of the end of the tribal phase of the game, as the first shoots of individual gameplay began to emerge. Penner (presciently) contemplated voting off Ozzy, "if the merge happened today" because he was the main threat in individual challenges. Cao Boi (equally presciently) floated the idea of targeting the original Raro five (Adam, Penner, Parvati, and Candice, at least), because they could soon re-group and have a strong alliance. Raro weighed post-merge alliance options, and Probst himself warned them that soon people would be making decisions based on what best helps their individual games. And yet the Raro/Aitu tribe split remained intact, with each tribe voting someone out (Cao Boi, Cristina), accompanied by the odd production decision to allow Aitu to kidnap a Raro (Nate).
Yul's near-perfect game continues
As the editing made clear, this was truly a decision point for Yul, one at which the new Aitu tribe could have gone in one of two completely different directions. He's set himself up perfectly, with strong ties to both sub-groups, or as Kim would describe it in One World, he has left himself with "options." One is his alliance with Becky, Sundra, Penner, and Candice. Yul senses the internal discord within this group, expressed as universal suspicion that Penner is untrustworthy/playing too hard, but he deftly uses that to his advantage by annointing Penner as the group's "natural leader." In doing so, he prepares to use Penner as a vote shield, much as Ethan did with Lex in Africa. At least until Penner bails on the tribe in two episodes. But Yul also has the option to stick with Cao Boi (and Ozzy and Flica, and presumably Becky and Sundra). While Cao Boi also has personality conflicts with much of the tribe, he seems more isolated than Penner, is more of a wild card, and (most alarmingly for Yul) is capable of moments of brilliance, such as the vote split to flush the hidden idol. Even though they were original tribemates, Yul's decision to go against Cao Boi seems like a good one. Most importantly, Cao Boi seems reasonably tight with Ozzy, while Penner views Ozzy as an individual threat. Penner is much more likely to vote with Yul, and against Ozzy, in a post-merge situation than Cao Boi would be likely to.
Ozzy the outcast
Another important point made in this episode was the isolation of Ozzy. Like Yul, he faced a decision in this episode, stuck between the same two potential alliances. But whereas Yul has social ties to everyone on the tribe, Ozzy is more of a loner, spending his time fishing ("with" Penner, at least), rather than connecting with his tribe. And following this episode, he's now the last remaining member of his original tribe. It's an underdog story, but unlike Cao Boi's similar one, he has the potential to save himself. On the plus side, he did get the full superhero/god of the sea treatment during his fishing sequence, so there's that.
More master strategy from Parvati
While we've never been shown it explicitly, one charitable interpretation of Parvati's game here (as Drew suggested a couple of episodes ago) is that she's allying with the men to ditch the Raro women, thereby eventually setting herself up in a majority alliance with Nate and Adam. The flaw in that view, reinforced this episode, is that Nate seems far better connected to Rebecca (and Adam to Candice) than to Parvati. So if this is some brilliant long-term strategic ploy, we're neither being shown any evidence that it was planned, nor that it is working.
Furthermore, the scene with Parvati, Brad, and a begging-for-her-life Cristina showed just how much work Parvati's short-term tactics needed. Whereas Brad (and later, Adam) gave near-perfect responses to Cristina's scrambling attempts, Parvati's furrowed-brow "I don't know who I'm voting. I really... I really haven't even thought about it" was perhaps the least-convincing bluff ever made. Is the raised-eyebrow/forehead-wrinkle Parvati face her early tell that she's lying? Could be. (Again, yes: she played a great game in HvsV, but we recall being shocked at her inclusion in FvF1, and are trying to re-examine her Cooks game more carefully for signs that we missed something. So far, apart from the good confessionals, we have yet to find it.)
Thumbs up to Cao Boi
Okay, we really don't get why Cao Boi hasn't been invited back. He's a useful resource for the actual survival-related aspects in camp (even more than shown, apparently), he's colorful, and he actually had some great strategic insights. He invented the idol-flushing vote split plan! Sure, he's no all-around physical beast/mastermind/gifted social skills guy like Yul, but then again, Yul hasn't been back, either. But hey, at least violence-prone, mentally unstable, legacy trainwrecks and smug, entitled, moderately racist sociopaths get to come back within three seasons of their first appearances. Thank you, CBS!
Poor, poor Candice
So this is why Candice was a Hero: She's really good at not moving, as demonstrated in the reward challenge. Way to plant, Can! Still, all was not sandy bliss for Candice: she finally goes to Tribal Council, and someone votes against her. It's not fair! And this was before she blew kisses at and mouthed "I love you" to Adam! (If only Billy had still been there, on Raro, sitting right next to Adam. If only.) Still, while Penner was played up as the decoy vote target before Aitu went to Tribal Council, Candice was also part of Cao Boi's Plan Voodoo, with little discussion of why, except that she was an original Raro, and has been to Exile Island. Hopefully someone looked away from their food long enough to notice her performance during Raro's turn at Tribal.
The tide begins to turn for Penner
It took six episodes to get here, but he finally received a vote against him at Tribal Council, in what will go on to be a then-record total of (non-finale) ballots with his name on them. And, as we're shown from the "suspicious" sentiment within his tribe, it should neither be surprising, nor dismissed as a one-time fluke.
Okay, we get that there's limited maneuverability in a one-day episode with a challenge and two tribal councils to cram into the filming schedule. But still: why the kidnapping? We were all set to celebrate the lack of a pointless trip to Exile Island, when it occurred to us that this would have been a perfect opportunity to re-use the "winning tribe sends someone from the losing tribe to Exile Island, avoiding Tribal Council" twist from back in Episode 3, if it had been done right after the challenge ended. True, the intent here was probably that Aitu would listen to Raro's TC discussion, then prevent them from voting out the person most likely to get booted. Except that they didn't. (Perhaps because Ozzy didn't like her?) And true, it was nice that Nate got to eat some lamb, rather than starving on Exile. All the same, now Aitu will have to sit two people out at the next RC, when a simple trip to Exile would have been far less unwieldy. And as far as it being a reward, the preview shows that Nate ends up being an even less welcome misfit than was Cao Boi. Yay?
You lie, Jeff Probst
Probst kicked off the Tribal Council festivities by making accusations at Aitu: "sometimes you bring [the immunity idol] to challenges when you don't need it," as if this was a hilarious, oft-repeated pattern of behavior. Since the merge down to two tribes, Aitu has had exactly two opportunities to bring the idol to a reward challenge: in Episode 5, and in this episode. And they pointedly did not bring it this time, because Penner objected. (In re-checking the video, they clearly did leave it in camp.) Note: there's no evidence in the show that they brought it to the Ep5 RC, either, but presumably they must at least have done that. Since when does an N of 1 (or fewer) determine a trend?
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Cao Boi Bui
Exit interviews - Cristina Coria
Jeff Pitman 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, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes