Jeff Pitman's Survivor 46 recaps
They must work together, or...
By Jeff Pitman | Published: April 7, 2024
Survivor 46 Episode 6 recap/ analysis

They must work together, or...

Once upon a time, the Survivor merge was a big event. Now it's, well ... an exercise in patience, I guess. (Six seasons, and counting. Tick, tock.) You still have the tribes coming together, but only half of them get to celebrate fully. The others have to wait until their betters (the people who won the challenge, and sometimes the person or people who sat out of it but guessed the winner) decide their fate, and then one of them doesn't get to celebrate anything.

The merge (-atory, -ish, whatever) also now no longer marks the start of the individual phase of the game. Immunity is doled out to teams, randomly chosen. Which is really just a swap, except that the IC-winning group gets to vote at Tribal. Especially since they're not all wearing the same buff.

All in all, it's ... fine, I guess? It's not as fun as a normal merge. Most of it is leftover detritus from the delightfully defunct Hourglass twist. It's like your outdoor Christmas lights that seemed pretty cool back in November, but now it's April and they're still up there. The merge-atory is just what we do now, as we keep rolling the old boulder up the hill every day.

Having said that, there were *a few* fun or interesting new-ish things this episode:

  • We finally had completion on the third Beware idol (Hunter's, at Nami). Forn whatever reason, the show hid what the instructions were for a tribe that never lost, but had Hunter read them in the "Previously on..." segment. (Yay, surprises, I guess?) Importantly, it was good to see that all three key-finding tasks that Tiffany, Jem, and Hunter had to complete were different, but they were fair. Tiff and Jem had several (possibly even seven!) hours between their IC loss and Tribal in which to complete theirs. Hunter had much less, but it was still achievable. Having different tasks is more interesting for the audience (the bracelet task in 43 was clever, but felt a little repetitive the second time through).
  • The Hero role: I liked that the immunity challenge's final task (the dragon puzzle from Caramoan) forced all six people per team to complete a section, in pairs. Everyone had to do something. Because of that, while someone who had practiced (Hunter) could still yell out placements, they couldn't just run the table on their own. Recent tribal challenges have highlighted physical players early and people who are good at puzzles or skill tasks (shooting baskets, landing sandbags) late. This forced everyone into the spotlight role. Sure, you can still slack off and be the person who hands the pieces to the person placing them all, but it's a solid change.

And ... that's it. It's a new era merge (-atory). You know exactly what you're getting. As Frannie Marin and Kellie Nalbandian pointed out with Gordon Holmes, the boot at this spot is determined by the people at the feast, and Moriah and Venus were always going to be targets because nobody else had their backs. Moriah had just been left out of the Ep5 vote, Venus was on the bottom of Nami. Nobody's fighting for them, in theory (before the episode), and nobody did fight for them in the episode.

The biggest problem of the new era format is that the "merge-atory" structure, especially when coupled with the Ep7 split-Tribal round, is no longer a "monster." It's been 100% figured out. It encourages safe, "keep your powder dry" votes in Ep6, exactly as Frannie and Kellie described. Nobody on Nami wants to start a war with Siga here, because they're rightly concerned it could doom them when the random draw for split-Tribal teams comes next episode. The same is true for Siga vs. Nami. So the boot will always be the person whose absence from the jury will anger the fewest people, no matter how much someone on the outs (Venus, Moriah) pushes for something more daring, more interesting. Seems like a problem, but probably not one anyone's going to fix any time soon.

That does not rock

That does not rock

Jeff Probst, giddily: "Your entire game could change ... based on a rock draw!"

Ben: "That does not rock."

Please listen to Ben! He's a musician!

Seriously, though, Ben is absolutely correct: rock draws at this specific point of the game are the fundamental flaw of the new era. In the olden days, the only way for a rock draw to so directly affect the game was if you forced a tie vote, and nobody flipped on the revote. It was an extreme event, but critically, every player had to agree to stick to their plan for it to happen. The players made that decision themselves. In contrast, in new era Survivor, multiple post-merge rock draws (here at merge-atory, next week to decide teams for the split-Tribal challenge) alter the course of the game, every season. It's probably intended to block one tribe from just steamrolling everyone else (at least in a 2-tribe season, which this is not), to prevent a boring Pagonging. That's a perfectly admirable desire.

The problem is, in a season like this, where you had two tribes hitting the (erstwhile) merge dead even at five players each, and the three Yanus in the middle playing kingmaker, the uncertainty of multiple upcoming rock draws effectively smothers what should have been an exciting, dynamic confrontation. With no way of knowing what lies ahead, everybody plays more cautiously, hoping to preserve their numbers until the path to the end clears.

So instead of a dramatic showdown, what do we end up with? Two more weeks of stalling, after an entire pre-merge of stalling. Seems like a problem, because Survivor seasons only have 13 episodes nowadays (it used to be 14). With luck, we will finally be getting actual cross-tribal strategic play next week, in Episode 7. And even then, maybe not ... who wants to start a war without knowing what the other half your tribe is doing? So then the hope "Well, maybe by Episode 8 (of 13), we'll finally have a game going." And that's all because of (1) three small tribes, with the pre-merge IC-losing tribe further punished with no flint, (2) random-drawn teams in Ep6, and (3) random-drawn teams in Ep7. It's not great creative design to have the entire first half of the season being forcing your audience to wait for the action to pick up. We have lives, theoretically!

What's most frustrating is that this is the sixth new era season, and it would take such a tiny tweak or set of tweaks to fix these problems, but since Probst refuses to even consider there might be a problem, no fix appears forthcoming. We've been pointing out these for what seems like forever. But in Survivor, you've gotta keep trying, even when there's no hope.

Old man yells at cloud

So anyway, here are some easy changes. Hopefully we'll see a subset of these in 47 or 48:

(1) Start with two tribes, swap to three tribes of five in Ep4 (15 people left). You still get three tribes at merge, but it's more complex. Give the losing tribe their flint after Tribal. Without these changes, you get one tribe always losing a high percentage of the time.

(2) This team IC/half-merge idea was originally tied to the hourglass twist - which needed a group result that was reversible. Everyone, including players like Danny McCray *in the moment* objected to the hourglass twist, and it was thankfully removed ... eventually, after 42. But that leaves us with the remnants. I guess it was sort of cute once in 43, but now we're three seasons later, and the zombie hourglass format still refuses to die. Can't we just have a regular merge, with a feast for everyone, and an individual IC? Is that really too much to ask?

(3) Since I already know the answer to (2) is "No, we do not change anything any more," how about a compromise: If you must keep doing this underwhelming half-merge, instead of rock draws, could you just do a schoolyard pick? As Eliza Orlins pointed out, this creates drama/hurt feelings for the last person picked, you don't get lopsided teams, and you might even expose cracks in one of the tribes with those picks.

(4) There is also simply no need for next week's random-draw/split-Tribal thing in the post-merge. Yes, a 13-episode schedule and 18 contestants with a final three requires a double-boot episode somewhere. Just have both losing tribes go to Tribal once in the three-tribe pre-merge stage (as in 41 - but move the spot around so it's always an unwelcome surprise, it doesn't have to be in Ep1, and it's probably more effective when it's not). Make the post-merge purely individual for immunity, make everyone but one (or maybe two) eligible to be voted against. More possible combinations = much more interesting gameplay. Limited options coupled with utter unpredictability in the near future = boring, pile-on votes like this one.

One final thing: Every person who has been voted out in Moriah's spot - made the "merge-atory" but not the merge, never got a merge buff - has talked about how painful it was to be in this limbo, get voted out, then hear everyone cheer after you leave as they get their buffs. Why is this even necessary? Doing this quasi-merge at 13 forces someone to sit out of the team IC. Just merge at 12, let everyone get a buff, have a normal merge feast and an individual IC.

Once again: This slow-motion, half-measure design made sense when the hourglass twist was in effect, since it gave an easy visual for when everyone's fates were reversed. Now it serves no purpose. It's just pure cruelty, and nothing more. Give us back the merge, please.

Looking backward: Rewatching the premiere

Looking backward

I went back and rewatched two key parts of the first episode: The opening monologue (narrated by Tevin), and then Probst's opening speech to the players. In light of how the first half of the game, there's a lot of foreshadowing there that is obvious in retrospect. And there's a lot that seems to be hinting at things to come.

(I was going to do a deep dive on each remaining player's chances of winning, but Nami has voted once, and it was on a pile-on, unanimous vote. Similar problems with Siga, so that part will have to wait a few weeks.)

Tevin's monologue This seems the least likely to have long-term significance, but there are some hidden gems (Jems?) here.

  • Opening headshots: Kenzie, Ben, Soda - The obvious temptation for every group of three here is to say, "Hey, that could be the final three!" - but hold on, there are a lot of them.
  • After these shots, there's a machete chop, then: Moriah, Bhanu, Randen, Jess (and Liz). Four non-jurors ... and Liz. (There will be one more non-juror next week, in the coveted Sifu slot.)
  • There's another cut, then a series of extreme close-ups, mostly eyes: Venus, Q, and Hunter (a plausible final three).
  • Then Jem, then as Tevin talks about being vulnerable, Charlie, and about being authentic, Ben. (Obviously not a final three group.)
  • Then another group of three: Soda, Maria, Kenzie (another plausible F3).
  • And finally, we close out with Jelinsky, Tim, and Tiffany, in challenge shots ... and then a lot of Tevin. Which makes sense, because he is the narrator. Could our last final three candidate group be Tim, Tiff, and Tevin (the Terrible/Terrific Ts?).

Having Tevin as narrator (replacing Probst) was a fun choice. Does it mean anything about his longevity in the game? Probably not, Tevin was most likely given this because he has an amazing speaking voice, and he read his lines (ad-libbed?) well, and that was probably the main thought process there. Although if he does also get to the end, it wouldn't really surprise anyone, would it?

Probst's speech

Probst's speech This got noticed at the time because it was odd that instead of a rah-rah, let's go speech, Probst explicitly told the contestants that some of them couldn't win. What stands out about it on rewatch is where the camera is (edited to be) pointing at specific parts.

  • Probst: "(So exciting to start a new season of Survivor) because right now, everything seems possible" - The camera pans from Charlie to a nodding Maria. They're one of our key pairs in the post-merge.
  • Probst: "You can all see your name on the parchment ..." Steady shot of Yanu (ha!)
  • Probst: "... crowning you ... the winner of Survivor 46" - Pan from Hunter ("crowning you"") to a cackling Tevin, squarely centered as Probst says "the winner." Hmmm.
  • Probst: "You all right now believe you can win this game, but it's simply not true" - "believe you can win" goes from a still shot of Maria/Charlie/Jem to Tevin again, then we get Venus reacting skeptically to "not true."
  • Probst: "Right there is at least one of you who cannot win, no matter who you go to the end with" - Steady shot of Yanu again for the first half, then cuts to Kenzie for a close-up on Kenzie for "no matter who..." - could Kenzie be an audience-shocking zero-vote finalist, like Xander?
  • Probst: "It won't matter, something about your personality is not going to gel with this group, and you won't get the votes" - Long, slow pan across the entire Siga tribe. Is this supposed to be ironic, since they're the "vibe tribe"? Or do they keep getting Pagonged in the early pre-merge?

It goes on, and switches to a lot of whole-tribe shots, with less-foreshadowy words from Probst (and a lot of Probst himself on camera), but at the end, he talks about optimism being everyone's biggest secret weapon, and we close out on a nodding Tevin. Sure seem to be a lot of shots of Tevin when Probst talks about winning, or the end!

(And if you doubt intentional foreshadowing is a thing, the editors made sure to subtitle Kenzie's reply to Probst as he dismissed Yanu from the RC they had just lost, and wished them good luck ... "Thanks, we'll need it.")

Shorter takes

Shorter takes

About that idol: Hunter's racing off to dig up his further instructions was great on-the-spot thinking, but how much time did he really have? If he'd paid more attention to the "knot" part of his clue (in addition to his correct deduction for "step"), he probably could have retrieved the key right away, but it's notable that when he was on the stairs getting that key, he was in a hoodie and long pants. Opening the box, taking the idol, and re-burying the box should only have taken a few minutes, but by the time the other two tribes showed up, he was in shorts and a t-shirt. So a fair amount of time had passed, despite the editors claiming the boats were approaching as he was digging up the box. (Not to mention that the producers at Nami could easily have radioed the boats to slow down, if it was at all going to be close.) Not complaining, and it's for the best that contestants actually have a decent shot at getting these idols, just pointing out that it wasn't nearly as nail-bitingly close as the editing claimed.

The season who cried 'wolf': After the excruciating two-episode, three-hour, slow-motion, saved-then-doomed Bhanu boot while he had no vote himself, here comes the merge-atory to again raise false hopes and dash them:

  • Venus, noting the out-manned orange team is only two pieces behind on the puzzle: "This is the biggest David vs. Goliath if we could pull it off" - orange goes on to lose to puzzle whiz Hunter.
  • Tiffany, final pre-Tribal confessional: "It's about to get messy" - It does not, and Moriah goes in a 10-1 vote, one that would have been 11-0 if they weren't worried about Moriah's Shot in the Dark.

Hunter's rebound: Just last week he looked doomed by the potential loss of two votes, right as the individual phase of the game (sort of) starts. But in finding his idol and being on the winning team, he only lost one vote total, and was immune at that Tribal, so he's now free and clear, with an idol in his pocket.

Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff 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