Hey there, BD reader — been a few weeks. Sorry about that. First, I was swamped with work. Then, the world fell ill. To be honest, there’s something off with writing about a TV show right now. Especially one which involves a symbolic death or two every week (fire is life).
But here I am, because I’m not really sure what to do with myself. I’m going to hammer away at the keyboard for an hour or two and send it to Pitman. Perhaps it will keep my mind off things for a little while, and your minds as well. One can hope.
Just a head’s up: this will NOT be polished prose. Just my ideas about where we’re headed now that we’re at the merge. There’s a lot going on, and, despite the departure of legend after legend after legend, I suspect the post-merge game will be interesting.
1) Back in 1939, Agatha Christie published one of her best known novels, And Then There Were None, in which a bunch of strangers were invited to an island…
… and were then killed off, one by one. As the pool of suspects got smaller, the remaining victims attempted to figure out who could possibly have done it, and why.
Forget Mark Burnett. Agatha Christie invented Survivor. Please note that she did not include anything resembling Edge of Extinction. (That’s because she’s a genius and Probst is not.)
So what we’re going to do now is follow Agatha’s lead and see how the season might unfold as all but one of these winners become losers.
2) Snuffed: Adam
The relationships we’ve been told to care about:
Sarah-Sophie (and Ben, I suppose)
Michele-Wendell (and Nick the Wingman)
Sophie-Nick-Wendell (although the Yul boot fractures this one)
It feels like we might get two alliances out of that mess (although it’s always more complex than that):
There are some crossover tensions here, of course. We’ve been shown Denise and Kim bonding. And Sophie was in the only substantive pre-swap alliance with Nick and Wendell.
With two opposing alliances full of players who want to pretend they’re still working with people on the other side, there’s likely to be a consensus merge boot, someone both sides (even if they don’t admit they’re sides) can agree on. There are two players who fit the bill:
Adam and the Edge Returnee.
There will be a pervasive and reasonable fear that the Edge Returnee will re-enter the game with an idol, so everyone will want to split the votes (another reason why there will be a cease-fire between the two factions heading into the first post-merge Tribal: they have to work together to arrange for a vote split).
Adam’s screen time (a lot) and his edit (relentlessly negative) suggest that he’s been built up as a merge boot. I can’t see him making a deep run at this point, can you? He either catches the most votes here, or is sent packing when the Edge Returnee plays an idol.
3) Edge Returnee
More than a few of you are speculating that there will be two Edge returnees so that it’s impossible to make Edge irrelevant by immediately voting out the returnee. The producers were undoubtedly tempted by this idea, especially given who ended up being voted out pre-merge. But it feels like they already have an equalizer built into Edge: a player can buy a regular idol (rather than the split idol Rick got).
That said, the Edge Returnee WILL be a massive target. Both because it’s going to be a really dangerous player and because the legends on Edge will send everything they can to the Returnee. I can’t see an Edger lasting for more than a Tribal or two.
So who will the Returnee be? Natalie was the early favorite, dominating the Edge game and pocketing four Fire Tokens, but she’s disappeared from the Edge edit. Rob has three Fire Tokens. Tyson ate a gallon of peanut butter. And Ethan spoke about being resilient in the face of adversity.
I’ll be curious to see what the players spend their tokens on (someone is going to buy an idol instead of advantages and regret it). It seems like a player can buy three challenge advantages. I can speak from experience that it’s difficult to design a challenge where a player can get three advantages — which feel like they’re worth a Fire Token each — while also leaving someone who has zero advantages a shot at winning. With that in mind, I see that playing out one of two ways:
A) A three-part challenge, with each segment lending itself to a meaningful, but not overwhelming, advantage. Knot untying being removed ... one fewer bag to dig up ... a puzzle piece already placed.
B) A help/hinder/practice trifecta of advantages: a player can remove knots for themselves… and/or add knots to a challenge beast ... and/or being able to practice a challenge element.
The producers certainly love conflict, so it’s likely that the players are able to gang up on a beast (perhaps that’s why we’ve seen everyone talking about Natalie’s challenge prowess).
Anyway, my money would be on Tyson. His main competition, Natalie, gets targeted by the other players. Rob’s Fire Token shenanigans were highlighted because he’s Boston Rob and it was entertaining. Ethan got the heartwarming coverage because he’s Ethan and a cancer survivor and an awesome guy and Probst loves stories like this. And no one else has a shot. (Watch it be Amber.)
Negative edit. Michele has told us that she’s willing to vote him out. Nick said that Wendell is dangerous after the merge. Sophie won’t trust him. A lot of circumstantial evidence points to Wendell getting booted here.
What I think is going to happen in this phase of the game — when the players can start to see Day 39 on the horizon, but the true endgame has not yet arrived — is that power couples will get targeted, big players will get gunned down, and we’ll be left with a lot of Disrespected Winners banding together to take out the last remaining Big Names.
One entertaining end result of this? Tandems will have to turn on each other. Betrayals will be the name of the game. Michele flips on Wendell. Cops R Us falls apart. Trust given will be trust denied. Should make for some interesting Tribals.
He’s told us that the hyenas are going to attack. He even knew what he needed to do — keep players like Sandra around — but then didn’t do it. At his best, Tony doesn’t play it safe. But he’s been cautious so far, and he’ll pay the price. Cagayan Tony was a unicorn, and, sadly — as my 5 year-old will tell you with tears in her eyes — unicorns aren’t real. (But we can wish and hope really really hard and maybe Tony gets to the end. Hope it happens. TeamTV!)
After a rocky start, she’s become a phoenix. The swap helped. And now she’s at the merge with some strong connections. But then she had to go and tell us that she wants to be in a power position. Remember back when she was in trouble she told us that anyone who is seen scrambling too hard ends up becoming an even bigger target? Yeah, that’s going to happen here. She is going to work her magic — because damn if she isn’t one of the most charming Survivor players ever — and have Sophie and Denise and Sarah and Michelle all under her sway. But that crew is NOT Chelsea, Sabrina, Christina, Alicia, and Kat. They know that Kim is dangerous. Sadly, Kim is going to need to trust Sophie, but Sophie told us long ago that Kim can’t trust her. Which means Kim is headed to Edge ... and, as I gasp and weep and sob, I’ll console myself with the idea that Kim could win the second Edge challenge. (Because that’s what the phoenix would do, right? And then battle for a spot in the F3 by making fire?)
Jeremy — or better said, his edit — has been curiously passive so far. He was given the Peace Out advantage, but has not yet needed to use it ... he’s had two partners in Michele and then Denise, both of whom have been all over the episodes, but the former was steering their conversations and the latter played an idol for him. It’s hard to see how he’s going to earn the jury’s respect, given his current narrative (I mean, other than the fact that the dude is a certified badass who already won a returnee season).
If I had to guess, Jeremy’s story will be centered around his desire to have high-profile players around to keep the target off of him. It’s only a matter of time before he doesn’t have any more protection. And at that point, even Michele and Denise will realize that Jeremy needs to go. He may stick around until the finale — if Michele needs him and/or he wins some challenges — but the other players will be gunning for him before he can make the sprint to the end.
Frankly, I’m stunned that Ben has been a journey character this season. He’s a poster boy for this season’s “I changed my game, so I made it deep” theme. And frankly, it’s been refreshing to hear Ben talk about something other than, “Hey, I’m so lucky that production loves me and hands me idols at my confessional and where I sleep at night.”
Side note regarding the “adapt or die” theme: Players who tried to do what they did before got voted out — Rob and the buddy system; Parvati and her failed effort to charm Wendell, complete with spider imagery; Yul being a kind and logical robot. That doesn’t bode well for players like Tony (who reverted back to his Spy Shack ways), Adam (hasn’t really altered from the scheming superfan he was the first time around), or Jeremy (he appears to be playing the same sort of laid back leader game as he did in Cambodia).
Anyway, can’t let Ben get to the fire-making challenge, so he leaves somewhere in the 5-7 range.
Denise was playing a picture-perfect under the radar game. Building relationships. Avoiding scrutiny. She’s SO GOOD at it. Her non-verbal communication is top notch. It’s impossible not to like her. Her facial expressions are warm, accepting, kind (because she is all of these things). She says the right thing at the right time (e.g. when Kim asks who she feels good about, Denise says “Other than you?”). Impeccable.
But she also knows that she can’t play the way she did last time. There are no Lisa/Skupin goats in this cast. She had to make moves. But did she have to make THIS one? And THIS early? Why not take out Tony, keep the second idol, then build the résumé after the merge? (Of course, we have to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us ... I have faith that Denise did the calculus. She’s smarter than I am.)
Anyway, I think Denise made herself even more coveted as an alliance member by taking out Sandra. She’s loyal, a great sounding board, and she makes every day out there a little less hard. Oh, and her profile is high enough now that the alliance can agree to vote Denise out; I mean, you can’t let her have a seat at FTC with this move on her résumé, can you?
It’s been fun to see more of Sarah’s fun side this season; we all understand far better why she’s done well in the game. People like her. She connects with a lot of different people. Tony, Sophie, Ben, Kim ... diverse group.
At some point, though, Sarah’s reputation is going to catch up to her. The fact that she won a returnee season is as good a reason as any to boot a player this late in the game. Sure, it was Game Changers, and that was an uninspiring season full of weird outcomes, but still, it’s a lot harder to play against a field of castaways who have experience in, and understanding of, the game.
One of the more underrated reasons to pull someone into an alliance is that there’s a compelling reason to take them out near the end of the game. Underappreciated winners like Michele, Sophie, and Ben appear to genuinely like Sarah, but it’s likely they all understand that they can blindside her when they have to turn on each other. Sarah’s sharp and probably knows that, but who can she convince to join her? Options are limited. Her pleas will fall on deaf ears. To work with her at this point is to lose to her.
Starting to feel like he’s this season’s FTC ZVG (Zero Vote Getter). Every move he’s been a part of thus far has belonged to someone else. And can you see any of the post-merge players taking orders from Nick?
To be fair, this seat might belong to the second Edge Returnee. Impossible to know who that player will be, of course. But I don’t think it’ll matter. Unless it’s someone who had a hell of a resume, got voted out pretty late, then kicks ass in the Edge challenge against players who have advantages, I can’t see winners voting for someone who lost. I think the integrity of the game — and the reputation of this season — matters to them. But hey, I’ve been wrong before. Maybe the bonds from Edge really are that strong, and the returnee will take down the title. (Watch it be Amber.)
For the first few episodes, I thought she was going to be the ZVG. But her edit has been stellar lately. Talking her way out of trouble. Guiding the votes. Shaping the story. She’s going to have a strong argument to make at FTC if she gets there. Particularly if she turns on Wendell, blindsides Jeremy, and sells out Sarah on her way there.
I mean, given that we’re at the merge, who wants to vote her out right now? With so many big names still in the game, why waste a moment going after Michele? And then look at the network of relationships she has: Jeremy, and through him, Denise, and through her, Kim ... Nick and Wendell, who may still be able to work with Sophie, who has now teamed up with Sarah. Michele has options. And she’s got skills in the social game (I swear it’s those eyes; they’re riveting).
But in the end, her ability to navigate some admittedly challenging situations may not be enough, because this jury is going to want more aggression. More line items on the résumé. More of a complete game. And right now, that describes ...
She helped assemble the only successful pre-merge alliance. After the swap, she was down in numbers, but managed to befriend Ben, outflank Rob, and get her hands on an idol. She enters the merge with strong connections to Sarah, Ben, Kim, Nick and Wendell (although her relationship with the latter two will be strained after the Yul boot, but she’s likely to forgive them because it’s strategically expedient to do so).
By the time the major threats are gone, Sophie will likely have convinced Sarah to turn on Tony, betrayed Kim by using her knowledge of Kim’s idol, and persuaded Michele to turn on both Wendell and Jeremy (rather than coming after her). She’ll have the résumé (including challenge performance) and she won’t be intimidated by the jury (if anything, she’ll be too blunt, although perhaps that’s the part of her game that she switches up this time around).
Right now, this is Sophie’s game to lose.
Andy Baker swore he’d never play again, but the allure of an All Winners season brought him back..
Andy is no longer on twitter, but he's a regular guest at the Survivor Talk with D&D podcast.