Sarah's boot was indeed a shock, because she'd been such an integral part of the narrative up to this point. To be sure, there were hints dropped here and there that all wasn't going as well as Sarah thought: her gullibility as Tony brought her into Cops-R-Us, and most glaringly the scene where Lindsey said "I hope you fall on your ass" as Sarah climbed into Aparri's hammock, then cackled when she did. But the overwhelming impression from Sarah's pre-merge edit was that she was an Important Player Who Could Win This Thing. It was even solid enough that Sarah's repeated crowing this episode about having all the power wasn't necessarily a concern.
We still worried that Tony would be voted out when he played his idol for LJ. And when the elation of LJ's complementary idol play faded, the new Aparris' various smirks generated reasonable doubt that Kass had flipped. Surprisingly, sometimes an unbalanced edit can lead to a big narrative payoff. It wasn't quite Ned Stark at the Sept of Baelor, but it was close.
Great moments in foreshadowing
For all that surprise, there were a couple of cool shots in this episode that foretold the outcome: as the New Aparris are deciding how to approach the merge (the opening, post-Alexis boot scene), the framing of the shot is such that everyone except Kass was shown. As the tribe disperses, Sarah leaves the group, revealing Kass in the background. Later, after the immunity challenge, when the alliance members put their hands in the circle to agree on their vote, Kass is also hidden in the shot, but as the camera moves around for better perspective, we see her hand is noticeably tardy to join in. Accidentally captured? Probably. But perfectly edited after the fact.
Spencer takes a dive
For the past few episodes, Sarah and Spencer had been the primary narrators, at least for Aparri. Sarah, for obvious reasons, continued her domination of the confessionals this episode. Spencer, in contrast, managed but a single, triumphant, "I made the merge! I went from the bottom of the alliance to the driver's seat!" confessional, immediately post-merge, then dropped out of sight for the rest of the episode.
For all his supposed strategic acumen, we weren't shown him talking to anyone (except when his entire alliance was assembled) which is especially bizarre in the merge episode. When the New Aparris were deciding whether to target LJ or Tony, it was Tasha, Kass, Jeremiah and Sarah making these decisions, not Spencer. He was shown wisely asserting Jefra should be the alternate target (Jeremiah, of all people, suggested it earlier), and he did get his "zero chance of winning" dig in at Kass after the boot, but that was it. Were we sold a bill of goods by the editors? He's observant and clearly knows the show, but where is the evidence of Spencer's game?
While Trish has received at best mixed attention from the editors in the pre-merge portion of the game (much of it negative), she was depicted as observant and capable here, both seeing the cracks emerging in the New Aparris from Sarah and Kass's bickering, then swooping in to exploit that fracture. Sure, Sarah pooh-poohed Trish, saying she had no strategic ability, but Sarah also guaranteed that Tony did not have an idol. This is almost the complete inverse of Spencer's editing change of fortune. Not that we're complaining that the narrative seems to be switching things around mid-story, we love surprises. We're just a bit unsure how to interpret this, since it rarely happens.
Challenge crew: Learning from the past
This week's immunity challenge was a near-exact copy of the challenge that resulted in a lengthy Andrea-vs-Brenda faceoff in Caramoan, with one key difference. Okay, yes, there was the minor detail of Probst not trying to lure the competitors off with food (understandable so soon after the merge feast). But more importantly, the original triangular structures upon which the contestants balanced in Caramoan had a narrow rail down the middle, which Andrea cleverly grabbed with her big and second toes, aiding her balance. That was gone this time, as was the three-hour-plus filming session.
From the hilarious mass exodus at the transition to round three, to Jeff Probst getting to relax back at his resort suite after only 30 minutes of work, this change was a win all around.
Tony's idol reveal at Tribal - hurrah!
Tony played this a different way than previous idol announcers. Where Russell, Malcolm, and Abi-Maria presented their idols as "You'd better not vote for me, I have an idol" threats, Tony added the additional wrinkle of, "I'm not afraid to play this for someone else." This was an important move for Tony, because it probably helped cement his ties to Woo, LJ, Trish, and Jefra (should have, anyway, we don't know if it did yet). This was then reinforced by his following through on that threat, and playing it for LJ. Assuming this was not coordinated with LJ's hidden idol play, this was an impressive way to make a strategic move seem social.
Tony's and LJ's dual idol plays at Tribal - hurrah!
Despite our assumption above, this had to have been planned, right? It all fit together so perfectly, and was entertaining to watch, even if from a longer-term perspective, it was probably unwise. The immediate effect of Tony's idol reveal was shock on the New Aparris' part, obviously, although they swiftly regrouped, and placed their target on "the other one" (Jefra, apparently, although LJ was a logical deduction). That LJ also had one in reserve, and was ready to play it, made Tony's reveal all that much more effective. On most Survivor seasons, this would have been a brilliant "feint with one idol, knockout with the second" combination. Kudos to the New Aparris for correctly deducing LJ might also have an idol, and planning appropriately. But still, wow.
Tony's and LJ's idol plays at Tribal - uh oh!
As much as we loved watching them, the post-vote idol plays - Tony for LJ, then LJ for Tony - were a spectacular fireworks display at Tribal: immensely entertaining, satisfying in their symmetry, but ultimately not very dangerous to anyone, except maybe the pyrotechnicians. Playing both idols (especially since they'd only revealed one) was logical and bold, based on what had been said in camp and at Tribal. Both LJ and Tony were clearly targets in this episode. But for all the correctness of that move, neither received a single vote this time, so in retrospect, they could have held on to both idols for another boot cycle.
And as their reward for correct idol play, Tony and LJ are now both idolless, and there's only the one Yul Kwon idol available to find. So either one could easily be out next episode. On the surface, the combination of Woo's immunity and the Tony/LJ idol swap is a lot like the Three Amigos' triple-immunity play in Caramoan (which led to Phillip's boot): fun to watch, but in the final reckoning, it added up to just one surprise boot. Malcolm and Reynold's exits followed immediately after Phillip's. Hopefully this trio has more fireworks left in them, or perhaps something with a more lasting impact.
Kass's flip - hurrah! (Yes, really.)
Forget, for a second, that Kass flipped on her alliance. In isolation, Kass's vote against Sarah was a smart move, blindsiding someone who had previously seemed one of the strongest candidates to win the game, someone very few of the remaining players could have beaten. Not to mention the obvious: Sarah had strong ties to each alliance, and presented an imminent threat to both. Had Kass been able to convince her alliancemates of this, there would be no blowback from this move. Indeed, why wasn't Sarah voted out 10-1? But as we know, this wasn't an isolated play, and instead, everyone from New Aparri is angry at Kass for her betrayal. So it's unlikely this move will be devoid of consequences. Even so, just as with Cochran's flip in South Pacific, the vast majorityof the commentariat thinks this move was stupid, but we don't think it's all that bad.
Yes, obviously, there is the numbers argument: in theory, New Aparri should now be up 6-4 over New Solana, and the victorious New Aparris could have jettisoned Sarah with ease at the next vote. But that's a suspect argument, for two reasons. First, what if Sarah won the next immunity, which every pre-merge challenge indicated she was capable of doing? Furthermore, thinking these specific alliances were rock-solid and capable of (or interested in) carrying out a straight, boring, four-week Pagonging of the other seems fairly silly, since they only formed (randomly) five days before the merge. Jeremiah has now been on a tribe with LJ three times as long as he has with Tasha, and Jeremiah has already flipped on two former alliance-mates (Brice and Alexis). Had Jefra been voted out as planned, what's to stop Sarah and Jeremiah flipping back to New Solana next week, and taking out a Tasha or a Spencer? Or, more likely, a Kass? Yes, the odds of all that happening are low, but they weren't zero. Kass made a move that was good for her, and bad for the other former Luzons.
Furthermore, the anger is misplaced: much of the blame falls on the alliance Kass abandoned. Kass felt, rightly or wrongly, that she was on the bottom of this six-person alliance. Perhaps she didn't verbalize that to the New Aparris sufficiently, but she certainly did in confessional and to Trish. Not one New Aparri seemed interested in addressing Kass's fear, even though the person on the bottom of the alliance is exactly who a majority alliance should be coddling. For all the solid strategy of putting their votes on Jefra, they all failed at the social game. All of them.
Yes, played 1000 times, this scenario (Kass's flip) probably does not lead to a win a majority of the time, it's too early to safely flip, and players probably should be trying to maximize their chances of winning. But as a viewer, watching everyone dutifully play the odds-maximizing way 1000 times is boring. Chaos, in contrast, is fun. What does everyone have against fun?
Recaps and commentary
Exit Interviews - Sarah Lacina