Like any merge episode, there are dozens of possibilities that can flip the game on its ear ... if the Producers don't kill most of them with a twist. A freshly alienated player (Kendra, Sifu) could overreact and change the balance of power while trying to secure a new alliance. Think of how Kass flipped on her Brains tribemates in Cagayan.
Or, a tribe with majority numbers but no loyalty could turn on one of its own simply because they're sick of, or don't trust that person. Think Chanelle in Survivor 42. I'd put Bruce and J. Maya in that group.
Or, if a majority of players don't want to show their cards yet, they could simply rally a vote against whoever is least likely to have an Idol, or have one played for them by someone else. This is a particularly strong possibility if we get a split tribe vote tonight. In that scenario, Dee, Julie, Jake, Kaleb, Bruce, Sifu and Emily are attractive targets simply because they haven't taken a Journey yet. This could be a lot of fun.
But first, one note from last week's rewatch.
Last week's Immunity Challenge was very close until we got to the 3 spotlight players (Drew, Jake and Julie) who had to find a key to unlock a pole. Each of them had to search through nine pouches other players collected on an obstacle course. We heard Probst commenting on how long Drew took to find his key. The Reba tribe seized first place (a lead they never relinquished) when Julie found her key in the first pouch she opened. But did she get lucky? My rewatch says not entirely.
When Dee returned with the last 3 Reba pouches, she put them on a table. Julie knew the key wasn't in any of those last 3 pouches. Julie bent down to grab a pouch by her foot when Dee put her pouches on the table. Probst noted how the key was in the first pouch Julie opened. I think Julie shook or felt each of the first 6 pouches when J.Maya and Sifu finished their legs of the course. Julie heard or felt a key in one of the pouches, and dropped it by her feet so she wouldn't waste time searching through the 8 empty pouches.
Maybe Probst didn't tell the players they couldn't touch the pouches until all 9 were on the table (or maybe they just didn't think of that possibility). Maybe that pouch fell off the table and Julie heard the key rattling as it hit the ground. However it happened, I give props to Julie for keeping her cool and taking advantage of it in the moment. That was most likely the difference between winning and losing that challenge. Either way, Julie did something Jake and Drew didn't, and it gave her tribe an edge.
Moves like this make me smile, and remind me of other in-the-moment challenge hacks of the past like 1) Ozzy diving deep into a submerged cage and moving all the lettered coconuts to the front to make it easier for his teammates to retrieve them on their turn, 2) Penner going first and digging up every bag buried in a pit so his teammates wouldn't have to dig at all. Or maybe he told Carter to do it. I remember Carter giving Penner credit for the idea in a post-game interview.
We've seen things like this in Individual Immunity Challenges too, like 1) Amanda alternating between an overhand and underhand grip between rounds in a Micronesia block balancing endurance challenge, 2) Yau-Man bending down on one knee to shoot a bow and arrow at a target in Fiji, or 3) Christian talking endlessly through an endurance challenge, wearing down Alec's will to suffer through the boredom. I love it when players make sharp, challenge-breaking decisions on the fly.
I can only hope we'll see something like this later on this season. If we do, you might hear me screaming my approval at the screen.
On to the merge...(maybe)
And away we go...
Yeah, I don't miss hearing Probst's voice on the "Previously on" recap at all.
Emily is still calling him "Brendo" instead of "Brando."
Kendra's "No hard feelings" act isn't working. Neither is Emily's "You're not on the bottom" act either. I see Kendra going straight to Bruce and targeting Emily. This is why I said last week that Emily should have had a damage control plan long before they went to Tribal Council.
Kaleb: "If I can't have the Idol, I'd rather know who has it. That's not a bad plan.
Ok, we're combining two separate Idol searches. In one shot, Kellie has her grey tank top on, and Jake has a blue dress shirt and beige khakis. But in the next, Kellie has a multi-colored hoodie on, and Jake has a long-sleeve sweater on.
Bruce finds the Beware Advantage, and immediately Jake says "Open it." Good move Jake. Better that Bruce lose his vote going into a merge than you. Best case scenario for everyone but Bruce is everyone will know Bruce has an Idol.
Wait, Katurah is off by herself again? How many times can she make the same mistake? Doesn't she know Survivor is a social game? if she simply stayed physically close to a majority, she'd be in the know.
Jake: "We don't wanna tell Katurah because we've been trying to vote her out." You see Katurah? When they're not talking with you, they're talking ABOUT you.
Wait, Kendra was screaming so much when she read the note, I didn't hear if she said the word "merge."
Bruce finds the Idol when nobody is around. Will he be smart enough to keep it secret?
Bruce: "I'm most excited about blowing someone's game up." I'm thinking that person is gonna be Bruce.
Bruce to Kellie: "I found the Idol." That didn't take long.
Like I said at the swap, sometimes the person you hug first can be revealing. We didn't see much of that this time, but Austin went straight to Dee.
Kaleb: "Emily has truly come into her own. I noticed Emily went straight to Bruce when they all met on the beach.
Dee telling the starving players they've still got fish was a smart move. But I would have eaten as much fish as I could as soon as I got it.
Now Austin is telling people what has to happen for him to get an Idol? Does he not realize even Dee, Julie and Drew will turn on him at some point?
I wonder what J. Maya did that got her dropped below Sifu on her tribe's pecking order?
When I'm starving, I don't even want to play with my dog. I don't know what I'd do if Sifu was pulling his antics around me.
Kaleb: "Emily is trustworthy." This is true, but even though she has improved, she's still very likely to blurt something out that will kill your game.
Bruce still thinks he's playing a team game. "Nobody's talking to me" is the wrong mindset. Start some conversations on your own, dude! Survivor is an individual game from day 1.
Kaleb: "Bruce has a very archaic view of the game." Kaleb's fingers must be wet. He just took the words right out of my mouth.
Kellie to Kaleb: "Bruce is impossible to play with ... he's so annoying!" That might be the reason he makes it to the finals. He's already a perfect goat. Only Sifu is challenging him for that title.
Challenge on day 13. Now we find out if there are split teams. My thought bubble reads "No hourglass ... no hourglass ... no hourglass."
This is a beast of a challenge. I'll be really pissed off if the winners end up going to Tribal Council.
Hmm ... all the men are lined up on one side, except for Kendra in the middle. This rock draw doesn't seem nearly as random as the buff draw at the swap.
Why is Kaleb in front of their cart? Is he trying to steer it? He's the strongest one there. He should be in the back in the middle pushing it.
Drew should climb up the ball first so he can reach down and help people up to the top. But it looks like Kendra is filling that role.
It looks like Jake twisted an ankle as he bounced off the net. He's limping.
Red could easily copy off of Blue's puzzle to catch up. And that's exactly what Jake is doing.
Props to Drew for whispering the puzzle words to Kendra and Julie.
If my theory holds, and the most unarmed player is leaving, this means Kaleb, Dee, Jake and Emily are in the most trouble. But J. Maya's position isn't much better, even though she has an Amulet. But at least everybody is voting this time.
It sucks that they didn't let the winning team rinse off the mud before they got to eat. I wouldn't want to eat with mud caked on my face and hands. The merge feast used to be revealing depending on who sat next to whom. That's not the case when only half the tribe gets to eat.
Kendra: "Kaleb is talking to everybody, and he's great at challenges." Bruce: "I've seen a lot of game play by Kaleb." Kaleb should have listened to me when I said he was standing out too much.
But Katurah standing up to defend him is a bad move. Everyone will know you're not with them. If you don't stick with the majority, the majority will pick you to go right after Kaleb.
Kellie: "Are these 7 gonna come up with a consensus? No friggin' way." I agree, Kellie. Normally here, I'd say Kellie is a really smart player, but she also said she thinks Austin will want to work with her because of their Amulets. I guess she forgot she prevented him from getting his sandwich.
Katurah to Bruce: "I'm not voting for Kaleb." Katurah is bad at this game. She's not even trying to deceive Bruce at all.
Austin announces the Kaleb vote with Emily sitting right next to him??? Did he forget they're the last two Lulu left? There's a reason for that!
Now Emily is speaking up to save Kaleb? Is she from the Katurah school of Survivor? Keep your mouth shut, then whisper to Kaleb he's in trouble.
And thanks to Austin's mistake, Emily is advising Kaleb to play his Shot in the Dark.
Kaleb makes the only move he can, and spreads the word about Bruce's Idol. Once again, this is why you DON'T tell anyone when you've got something. If Bruce had kept his mouth shut, this wouldn't have happened. He has set up his own eventual blindside.
Hmm ... they're going to Tribal Council with 25 minutes left. I sense a tie vote coming. Especially since Austin isn't gonna vote.
Sifu asked Katurah how to spell her name? Man this season has some bad players.
Kaleb calls out J. Maya at Tribal Council??? BAD move. Now he's calling out Dee and Julie? WORSE move. You just gave two women a bigger incentive to write your name instead of J. Maya's. If you'll call them out, you'll call anybody out. The trust factor for Kaleb has just plummeted.
Dee to Kaleb: "Do I wanna work with you now that you just threw out my name?"
Kaleb: "I have to throw out somebody's name." Not when you're in front of everyone!
Kaleb plays his Shot In The Dark, which means there might not be a tie vote now.
Holy crap! Kaleb is safe! But he made himself by far the biggest target in the game now.
Wow, it was unanimous! I didn't see that coming at all.
Emily hasn't noticed the vote count yet. She knew Kaleb didn't vote, but she didn't notice Probst only read 11 votes.
This is too much whispering to keep up with while writing a column.
My thoughts exactly.
When Probst shows the vote you cast early on, you know you're in trouble.
Bye J. Maya. It feels like you weren't around long enough for me to decide if I should call you "J." or "J. Maya."
Am I too cynical for thinking the Producers put about 6 "safe" notes in that bag?
I have no trouble admitting when I get something wrong about Survivor. It happens a lot. But this time I get to brag about getting something right. First off, I thought Kaleb was playing too loud of a game, and as we saw, his name came up for the very reasons I suspected. He stood out as a challenge beast by taking so many spotlight roles, and being too aggressive in making contacts. He had no idea how others were perceiving him. He deserves props for building trust with Emily because she tipped him off that he was in trouble. But his efforts to keep votes off of him failed miserably. His game is pretty much over. As soon as he doesn't have Immunity he's gonna see his name again. If Austin decides not to tell Emily the plan, Kaleb is gone.
Dumb luck shone on Kaleb brighter than anyone else in recent memory. He dug a hole he probably won't be able to climb out of, but he's got the chance to try. The only other unanimous target saved by dumb luck who has gone on to win the game is Michele at Kaoh Rong final five. The other hugely luck-aided winners (Bob, Natalie White, Amber, Fabio and Jenna) all did something to fight off elimination at their most vulnerable points.
But I was even more right about J. Maya. The worst move she made by far was offering up her own name as a decoy vote, and telling Sifu she voted for him when she didn't. That was beyond a typical bad move. Not only did it turn Sifu permanently against her, it also gave Dee and Julie an easy name to sacrifice as a means of saving themselves. J. Maya also seems to have been easily fooled by Dee, Julie, Drew and Austin. She never seemed to suspect they were working together. Did she think she was closer to Drew and Austin than Dee and Julie? J. Maya's strategic game is baffling, but my spidey sense says we won't get completely honest answers from her exit interviews.
As badly as Bruce has been playing this season, I have to give him props for convincing the majority to go after Kaleb. There's nothing more valuable than being able to influence the votes. Good job, Bruce (even if Kaleb did all the setup work for you).
There were a lot of bad moves in this episode. Which was the worst? Katurah announcing she wouldn't vote for Kaleb? Emily doing the same thing? Austin exposing the voting plan to Emily? Kaleb naming 3 targets at Tribal Council? Sifu asking Katurah how to spell her name? Let me know in the comments.