As Survivor 42's three starting tribes face semi-merging (and actual merging, eventually) in next week's two episodes, this week's final tribal-stage episode did a pretty good job of highlighting and contrasting the various degrees of cohesiveness within those three tribes. There are several players who could theoretically abandon their tribemates at the merge, and one group that, despite its differences, looks committed to sticking together. Along with the even 4-4-4 (nominal) split, it should make for an exciting post-merge phase of the game.
The group most likely to stick together is Taku, where despite a growing clash of styles between Maryanne and Jonathan, everyone (most visibly Omar) seems relatively committed to continuing to work together. Jonathan's pre-merge challenge heroics will make him an obvious vote magnet for the other tribes, but that's where Maryanne's bundle of tricks (extra vote, now-active idol) that she's already pledged to use for the tribe will come in handy. Of course, since everyone except Rocksroy and Tori knows she has an idol now (and voting for Jonathan is probably too obvious while she has it), the smart play for the other tribes is to target Lindsay instead (especially since Hai and Drea know she has an Advantage Amulet). Maryanne only has one idol, after all.
The next most-united tribe is probably Vati, where Hai and Lydia form the strategic core, and Mike has eagerly attached himself to them. As with Maryanne's idol, everyone (except Tori and Rocksroy) is aware Mike has an idol. Mike could be a target, but that will more likely shift to Hai, because of his amulet. Clearly on the outside and ready to flip is Chanelle (or so Hai and Lydia think, we haven't actually heard Chanelle say that).
And then there's poor old Ika, where Romeo and Drea are comfortably in charge, and Drea has a trio of advantages (amulet, extra vote, idol). Rocksroy is probably with them for his own safety (providing the social game he's starting to wish he had). Tori, however, is itching to flip, immediately if not sooner.
Because Jonathan has been so overwhelmingly dominant in these early challenges, it seems natural that Vati and Ika would want to team up and take him/Taku out. That would ostensibly be an 8-4 advantage (plus or minus three extra votes), except Omar can't vote, so it's 8-3. Yikes! That also assumes we won't see the same half-merge scenario we did last season, which looks like a completely baseless assumption from the preview. Who knows, it could be the four Taku vs. two randos — with Jonathan wearing the immunity necklace — by the time we actually get around to voting in Episode 7 (hour two of next week).
Looking ahead one more round, if a non-Taku does get voted out next week, that will give a lot of power to the potential flippers (Tori for sure, maybe Chanelle), who could turn the presumed 7-4 advantage over Taku into an all-powerful 6-5 Taku+flippers majority. (Plus or minus extra votes, which if all played, could create a 7-7 tie.)
Also, there are two power couples among the anti-Taku groups: Hai and Lydia on Vati, Romeo and Drea on Ika. What's exciting about that in the post-merge is that there *should* be a high-stakes game of chicken if they succeed in taking out Lindsay, because Hai and Drea each have advantage amulets. So while they seem like they should be working together to take down Taku, they'll also have incentive to turn on each other as soon as possible, which could interfere with the whole Get Taku goal. So while the personal payoff for the holders of these items will be less than amazing, since the last amulet-holder standing will have to claim their idol extremely publicly, the payoff for the audience *should* be pretty good.
So there's potentially some exciting gameplay ahead. We just need to get past the hourglass two-hour "excitement." Again.
The idols are found (amazing!) and activated (at last)
As with Naseer's last-minute idol find in Ep5 last season, someone on the blue tribe finally found their idol the day before the last pre-merge IC, just sitting right out in the open on a tree branch. This is *obviously* not where it was the preceding four episodes, let's not kid ourselves. Good for Romeo and Drea for picking this specific time to go out and look for it, but it wasn't exactly "hidden."
Still, again as with 41, this led to activation of all three idols at the Ep5 IC. Hooray! (Or as Drea said, "Oh, thank God.") Thankfully, Mike actually supplied the idol-unlocking phrase, going against his own previous wishes, which means we're spared an idol rules-related crisis of a still-silent Mike thinking he now has an active idol at the merge, when he probably wouldn't (?).
The "active after the merge if they are not all found" rules change was a solid idea, just poorly executed with the whole "What if it's found but intentionally not activated?" question unanswered. The 42-specific update to the rules meant a bold early idol-finder like Xander or Maryanne wouldn't have to twist in the wind for multiple rounds of dumb catchphrases and no votes in the pre-merge, only to end up with nothing to show for it after the merge, all because the idiots on one of the other tribes (probably the blue one) didn't get off their butts to look for an idol, or (more wisely) saw "beware" on it and said, "Aw no, screw that."
On another note, since everyone now knows the whole phrases-at-IC thing, let's exhale deeply, thankful in the knowledge/hope that some other twist will probably be used in 43 and beyond. Phew!
While we're at it, let's just drop the whole "shared idol" idea. It was an exultant moment each time they were activated, sure. But that's really the only positive. The grind to get there was so painful, each time. We've talked about how unfair it is for someone to take the risk of opening the Beware idol, only to be doubly punished: First with the no vote/dumb catchphrase thing, then with *everyone* in the game knowing they have an idol. The reward is not worth the risk, but there's no way any of the holders could have known that before opening.
SurvivorSA let their contestants be fully informed of the costs and benefits before making calculated risks at Immunity Island. Let that principle be the guide for the 43/44 advantage-related twists, please? It's much more rewarding to watch someone mark a smart decision, than to see otherwise smart, eager people get caught in production-placed traps.
So long, Shipwheel (please, and thank you)
With any luck, Rocksroy and Lydia's cagey, stalemate meeting at the Shipwheel dilemma "journey," paired with their dual "Protect your vote" choices, was the last we'll ever see of this particular twist.
It was interesting variation on the Prisoner's Dilemma for the first visit each season (since the 42 people hadn't seen 41), but by the second visit both times, everyone knew how it worked. In 41, this led to simple negotiations prior to splitting up, usually with the person attending Tribal saying, "I *have* to protect my vote, so enjoy your advantage!" So there was an obvious and unbroken series of intentionally split decisions, unleashing extra votes and other, less palatable stuff (such as Liana's "Knowledge is Power" advantage) into the game. Less of a "dilemma," more of a business transaction. Yawn.
This season, surprisingly, we've had one absolute failure, with both visitors selecting to "Risk" their votes (meaning, again, Omar still has a "no vote" awaiting him at his next Tribal). And now we've had both players not trusting each other enough to risk anything, and each choosing "Protect." And so, we have now seen every possible permutation of the choice tree, so there's no reason to use it again.
To be clear, if 41 is any guide, it probably won't be back this season. Also in a future season, there would be no Ep1 grace period, everyone would know how it works going in, so there's no reason to bring it back. So: Mission accomplished, it was probably going to end here, anyway, no matter what. Please come up with something new for Survivor 43, 44 and onward.
(And please, please, please: replace it with something that doesn't require people to read the rules aloud Every. Single. Time.)
- Ika finally won something! Ika won the first challenge of the season, but it was all downhill from there. After a blizzard of last-place and barely-not-last-place finishes, Ika established a lead early in the final tribal immunity challenge, and somehow managed to not blow it. (It helped that there was no puzzle, probably.) Congratulations, Ika! Enjoy your time in the su- ... whoops, looks like you're merging.
- Daniel's friends? Or potatogate?: Check out Daniel's exit interview with Dalton Ross. See if you notice anything odd about the list of people he name-checks as loving from this cast. Is this an elaborate nod to the ultimate classic spoilery exit interview, "Diane's friends"? (Even clipped in a video here.) "Diane's friends" is even one letter away from being a really crappy anagram for "Daniel's friends." (Working against this theory: Daniel would have been ... [checks cast list] ... seven during Africa.) And Yet: Because Daniel is a superfan, it seems perfectly plausible that, inspired by Potatogate, Daniel made a concerted effort to add a misleading name. Which side are you taking, bettors?
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