In a season from which the first whiffs of a painfully dull Pagonging by a dominant brolliance seemed to be starting to waft, a hidden idol discovered way back in Episode 1 finally turned into something, and that something was glorious. A seemingly endless refrain of "Wentworth... will not count" reverberated through Tribal like the sweetest melody imaginable, finally capped by a sublime chord change: "Savage... Savage... eighth person voted out and the second member of our jury." Pure freaking bliss. (Even though we will admit we warmed to Savage after he defrosted in Ponderosa, and he totally cops to his double standard on scheming in his exit interviews.) Ah well, he made a good reality TV villain.
We also loved the editing of the episode, which had a joyous feel, while still preserving the surprise of Savage's boot. If you're wise to editing's favorite patterns, Savage's opening the episode with extended gloating about booting Kass probably tipped you off that he might be in trouble. As should the "Previously On..." segment's sudden reminder that Kelley had found an idol. (This was also well balanced by concern, since there was a lot of focus on Stephen, which thankfully didn't pay off.) But the editing also kept things light, such as giving a jacked-up-on-coffee Keith the freedom to wheel aimlessly around the beach in a tuk-tuk for a couple of minutes.
Best of all, Tribal Council and the lead-up to it were edited to perfection. Multiple targets were floated (Stephen, Savage, Ciera, Kelley), all of whom seemed plausible due to their visibility during the episode. During the voting, nobody's vote was shown, so which way the votes would fall remained unclear. Then there was the question of whether Kelley would play her idol, or not. Once she did, whether it worked was still unclear until Probst started the vote reveal. All done perfectly, preserving suspense until the very end. More, please.
Is Bayon no longer Bayon strong?
Naysayers will assert that now that Kelley has played her idol, there's really nothing stopping the remaining Bayon Bros (plus Tasha and Kimmi) from re-exerting their power in the next episode, and Pagonging Kelley and Ciera as payback. This is certainly a possibility. But part of us at least wants to believe that Savage might actually have been the glue holding the oversized Bayon alliance together.
Savage's rigid, Stannis Baratheon-esque enforcement of Bayon loyalty turned anyone who even contemplated dissent into a "diabolical" or "disgusting" schemer "with no morals". To be fair, Kimmi had the same reaction to Monica's vague hints that maybe the original Bayon Bros (Savage, Jeremy, Joe) weren't her ideal Final Three, but Savage is gone, and Jeremy has already admitted that maybe Joe's time is up, and Joe has expressed a desire to mix things up himself. Tasha may object to Bayon's dissolution herself, but at the very least, Jeremy and Stephen are now more free to make moves, as is Joe. Also, no matter how hilarious it would be if Kimmi teamed up with Tasha and the three Savage voters (Ciera, Kelley, and Abi) and formed a women's alliance, they are all now perfectly free to do so. As dull as predictable as the post-merge strategy has thus far been, could Game On finally be happening? Or is it just Malcolm and the Three Amigos taking down Phillip? Let's hope it's the former.
History unfolding before our very eyes
Kelley's idol play not only flipped the game on its head and vaulted her to the top of the Survivometer, it also set a number of records, as did the episode as a whole.
The confounding conundrum of Ciera Eastin
Ciera talks a good game. And she does not lack for effort in trying to harangue people into action at Tribal Council (this is what Caleb Bankston did to save her pre-merge, and Hayden Moss did to convince her to draw rocks post-merge in Blood vs. Water). But for all the talk of playing, there was very little actual gameplay on Ciera's first-season CV. In Blood vs. Water, she was a pre-merge non-entity who came into her own post-merge, albeit largely as a number for Tyson's alliance. Her sole Big Move résumé entry was tricking Katie Collins into revealing that Katie hadn't, in fact, found a hidden idol. This was impressive, but relatively minor, unless you count casting a throwaway vote for her mom, or letting Hayden cajole her into drawing rocks, a move that ultimately cemented the returnee alliance's dominance, and put Ciera in fifth place, rather than fourth.
So it's understandable that, from the very start of Second Chance, Ciera has vowed to turn that talk into action and play hard. Yet, thanks to a string of tribal immunities, it wasn't until the final pre-merge episode that she finally had the opportunity to act. And in that Ep.6 vote, which was supposed to send Spencer home, but ended up ousting Woo, Ciera at last was able to make a Big Move. The problem for Ciera now is: that was the strategic equivalent of an obvious challenge beast winning the first two individual immunity challenges. Much as with Jeff Varner, Ciera's pent-up enthusiasm caused her to play too hard, too soon. And Bayon noticed.
They noticed because this was also the very first opportunity Ciera to prove that we Bayon Strong, and she failed. Sure, Woo was an original Ta Keo. But in booting Woo, she blindsided Savage, who was perhaps the fiercest Bayon loyalist to begin with, and who had just emerged unscathed from Angkor precisely because he and Tasha had formed an unbreakable Bayon core amidst the anarchy. Just one episode earlier, Stephen had worried that booting Monica might send the wrong message to their fellow Bayons come the merge. Ciera had no such compunctions, went right out and immediately blindsided Savage, and is still feeling the repercussions of the message that betrayal sent. None of her original Bayon tribemates now trust her, and the original Ta Keos are all but eliminated, which leaves Ciera precious few conspirators with whom to work.
So now Ciera is left to berate unnamed people (at length) at Tribal Council for not playing the game. It's true that in a nine-person alliance, four people must be on the bottom. The problem was, it wasn't clear who those four actually were, and Ciera didn't name any names. Importantly, all four on the bottom would have to jump together for their move to an existing three-person alliance to make sense. (Three might have worked, but it sets up a six-six tie.) Even if they did trust Ciera, that kind of mass exodus from a dominant alliance would be tough to pull off. But it gets worse when you consider who those four are: Spencer, Kelly, Kimmi, and Keith. Kimmi seems tight with Jeremy and Stephen, and voted out Monica for merely hinting that non-Bayon alliances might also be a good idea, so she seems highly unlikely to flip. Similarly, just two days earlier, Spencer was exulting in being part of a powerful swing-vote duo with Joe. Why abandon that now, to be on the bottom of an alliance with the people who flipped a coin and reluctantly chose to save you? Also: the other two are Kelly and Keith.
The groundwork Ciera laid with Joe or with Stephen could still pay off eventually. Neither seems particularly married to staying Bayon Strong (although it seems unlikely that they'd flip together). But it will take time, and work, and an opportunity that actually makes sense for Joe or Stephen to seize. They're not going to flip just because Ciera wants them to. In a lot of ways, Ciera's approach is not that different from Savage's: Where Savage was mad at people for thinking of playing for themselves and potentially leaving his alliance, Ciera is mad at people for thinking of playing for themselves and not joining her alliance. Neither seems like a plausible path to winning, Big Moves or not.
Challenge depreciation thread
Thanks to Dalton Ross, we now know that Jeff Probst loves his out-of-context inappropriate comments about balls and poles so much that he apparently has them scripted beforehand (or maybe just freeballs it, but either way, it's planned), so maybe that's why there have been two straight immunity challenges where the entire challenge was balancing balls on a plate.
Even so: enough, Survivor. Whatever happened to endurance? Or puzzles? Or even the dreaded untying things, or stacking cards? Or basically anything that isn't balancing balls on plates? Early post-merge challenges should be about the desire to keep competing, or perseverance, not just freakish ability to remain completely motionless. At least mix it up a bit. Please.
Other Second Chance Episode 8 recaps & commentary
Exit interviews - Andrew Savage
Podcasts - Episode 8