With just three episodes left in the season, Survivor 45 finally hit that beloved new era milestone (after three landmine-filled weeks) where it was finally normal, standard, post-merge Survivor in Episode 10. You know, the "real game," as the players call it. It was refreshing and welcome, unlike the prior two weeks of randomly removing people's votes. Hooray for "progress" that is really just a ceasefire for game-breaking meddling.
With that in mind, let's hope we again have a clean game the rest of the way. Plans have been stifled by twists for the last four episodes, and unfettered individual gameplay finally kicked off in earnest this week.
A lifeline for Jake?
Part of Jake's inability to gain a foothold in the game so far has been everyone else's fear of Bruce's idol. People would plan to split the vote between Jake and Bruce, Bruce would win immunity, then the consensus play became, "Well, we have to keep Jake around so we have someone to split the votes on next time, in case Bruce plays an idol." This was partly because Jake was seen as being Bruce's lieutenant, even as Jake tried his best to distance himself from that. Anyway, all of that should be out the door now that Bruce is gone. Jake is a free agent, the people who have been humoring him to keep him placated can now actually work with him freely.
In the post-Tribal segment at the top of Episode 10, Jake talks optimistically about maybe being able to finally start playing the game (as he also did the previous episode). Obviously, that still hasn't ended up happening. Importantly, though, he mentions that he has people he's been working with, and the edit cuts to (nightvision shots of) Drew, then Emily, then ... Austin? This is an odd choice, because even now, all the way through Episode 10, we've still never really seen Austin and Jake working together. Someone went to the effort to splice that shot of Austin in, though. Why?
It's possible this was a massive red herring, and we were supposed to think Jake was going to whip up some shenanigans in this episode, only for it all to fall apart as he and Drew trade mob-related insults on the beach. Alternatively, perhaps it was actually foreshadowing for the next episode? Let's explore the latter possibility.
We've previously been shown Drew and Austin as a pair, who have competing end-game options with the other Reba pair (Dee and Julie), and with Emily. So Drew-Emily-Austin makes sense as an existing group, and Emily talked this episode about how she's been working with Jake as well, and we saw Drew working with, then against Jake. With Bruce gone, though, Jake could now be an easy fit as the missing fourth person in that trio (although to be fair, so could Katurah). Having Drew and Austin be in two different groups of four would create a clear decision point for them at final six: do they stay Reba strong, or pair up with Emily/Jake the rest of the way?
In the post-Ep10 "Next time on Survivor..." preview we see Drew planning to make a move, and Julie also planning one. Are they plotting against each other? It's the preview, so probably not, but it's also possible they are, and that possibility exists because we still don't know what's up with Austin's idol that he gave to Julie in Episode 9, which could complicate things. What happens if the Rebas finally turn on each other, both targets know it's happening, and each plays an idol to block it? (That would be funny, after all the work Austin put in to get his two idols, for them to ultimately cancel each other out.)
Despite the preview highlighting what's probably fluffed-up Reba-on-Reba plotting, there is one big quote from a few weeks ago that stood out as prophetic at the time, which we should revisit:
"Once Bruce goes, everything opens up"
Two episodes ago, Katurah pitched Bruce's name to the Rebas at the water well. Drew responded (publicly) with the above observation. Since Drew is our straight-talking narrator, does that mean we're actually going to see some fluidity in the next episode?
Maybe. The most likely outcome is no, not next week. But perhaps the following week, at final six.
As with Jake above, Katurah's game changes with Bruce gone. He was her nemesis, she's had no real stated goals beyond taking Bruce out since the very beginning of the game. Now she has a chance to regroup, reset, and play the rest of the game on her own terms. Yet a truism in Survivor is that whenever two people are shown as huge rivals, they often go out back-to-back (Boston Rob and John Carroll in Marquesas, Josh and Jeremy in San Juan del Sur, for example). So there's a good chance Katurah just follows Bruce to the jury.
For everyone else, though, there are new possibilities. With the majority in hand, the Reba four now has a choice: They may either stand pat and let firemaking decide the final three, or they could try to optimize their position within their group by picking off the people they don't think they can beat. Even if the alleged Reba-on-Reba plotting doesn't come to anything next week, all it will take is one Reba writing another's name down for that alliance to actually splinter.
Should we be rooting for that outcome? In a perfect world, no: They were a strong alliance, they stuck together, they've earned their majority through loyalty, and having a rock-solid four is absolutely a great new era strategy. In the actual world of Survivor 45, though, Reba gained their majority with the aid of two consecutive votes where someone from Belo - or someone from Belo plus Emily - had their vote taken away by a dumb twist, so Belo never really had a chance to pull together before splintering. It's hard to root for production meddling deciding the outcome of the season. Not Reba's fault, sure. But not really their accomplishment, either.
That said, actually splitting up Reba is going to be tough. Let's say Julie decides to target Austin, because she's worried he'll win out on immunities (he might): She had to get Dee on side for that, and Dee has shown no interest in targeting Austin. (Julie might have better luck targeting Drew, but she seems close to Drew.) Conversely, let's say Drew wants to target Dee: She controlling the votes, she good in challenges, she has a great story, everyone seems to like her. He needs to get either Austin or Julie to go with him on this, and they're both tight with Dee.
Everyone from Reba has close bonds with at least two other Rebas. It's hard for any crack to form that way. So if Emily can actually pull that off and drive a wedge through that alliance, that's a really impressive feat, and she had better win the damn season after doing so. (If not, eh, one of the Rebas will win, whatever.)
Emails from home: If you paused on any of the letters from home, you would notice that they all looked weirdly uniform: neat line-spacing and left-and-right justification on clean, unlined paper. Each "letter" was also "written" on a different colored piece of paper. That's because they appear to not in fact be hand-written letters, but emails that have been printed out using a handwriting-esque font.
I guess that's a useful way to have them be semi-current, and not written before the contestants actually leave home. But in an age where you can scan a doc with the Notes app on your phone, why not just have actual hand-written notes, scan them, then print out the scans? I'm sure none of the players minded, they were focused on the content. But for the audience, this version feels less authentic, more clinical, more manipulated. I dunno. In SurvivorAU and SurvivorUK, their letters include pictures, which the players then show their tribemates amid many tears. Why not liven up the dead-looking text that way?
Then again...: Austin's brother's "letter" to him is an all-time great (below). It's too bad he didn't get a chance to read it on the show.
Ok so I didn't go on the letters from home reward so I never saw them until after the game... But maybe that was for the better cuz this was my brother's letter 🙃#Survivor45 #Survivor pic.twitter.com/Fj8r4VAmx8— Austin Li Coon (@austinlicoon) November 30, 2023
Bruce's place in history: For a while there, it looked like a Bruce might be at both the top (Bruce Perrault) and the bottom (Bruce Kanegai) of the record books for Mean % Finish in individual challenges. In the end, though (thanks mostly to the table maze RC this episode), Uncle Bruce ended up with a top 20 performance (#17 overall, with 80.8%). Not the top, but not too shabby.