Ah, an Episode 6 that features the seventh person to leave the game, post-swap from an original blue tribe. We meet again, old friend. (I like a good stretched comparison.)
Now that we’re well underway this season, I feel like Probst undersold it in pre-game interviews. Everything was “HARSH CONDITIONS! DANGER! ELEMENTS! DEATH?” and barely anything was said about the contestants themselves. Usually, that’s Probst-speak for “There aren’t any hard-bodied alpha males, so this season is garbage,” and maybe that particular point is true, what with Caleb out of the game and Nick being kind of backseat about it all, but there are some interesting things happening in Kaoh Rong! Debbie’s a goldmine, Tai is adorable, and Jason is possibly at some point going to actually kill someone? Suspense! Maybe I had low expectations going in, but I’ve been happy with this season so far. It’s very low-key entertaining in a Tocantins or One World kind of way. (HAHA just kidding, One World is horrible.)
My only complaint so far is the rampant stupid-name-spelling of this cast. I constantly have to re-check the roster to confirm that Aubry has no E or that Michele has one L. And then there’s Neal, Elisabeth, Scot, Cydney, Alecia, Debye, Giulia, and Niq. (Some of those might be wrong; I can’t be bothered to check anymore.) Remember the good old days when contestants had normal names like Souna, Derk, Grechen, and Gervis? Man, Borneo was so good.
This episode focused on contestants navigating a tricky tribe swap. I know a thing or two about that, having done it successfully one episode and then very unsuccessfully the next back in Guatemala. Really, the worst tribe swap is the one that puts you and your former tribemates into the minority by just one person. That’s too close a margin for the majority to want to play around with, so you’ve got a major uphill battle ahead—you’re like measly shrimp being tossed to a group of fat, hungry walri sharpening their tusks for the kill. In Marquesas, Gina and Sarah found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-3 tribe and were promptly dispatched. In China, James and Aaron faced the same odds; Aaron was the next to go, while James was saved by the merge. In Gabon, Ace, Jacquie, and Kelly ended up down 3-4 and none of them made the Final 10. (Dan fell victim to a similar split on the other tribe.) More recently, Monica couldn’t overcome a 3-4 deficit in One World, nor could Julia or Matt in Caramoan. In fact, of the nine Tribal Councils first attended by a post-swap tribe with a 3-4 or 2-3 split, six have resulted in someone from the minority tribe going home (Sarah, Aaron, Jacquie, Dan, Monica, and Matt). It’s as predictable as you momentarily wondering whether “walri” is an acceptable plural of “walrus” (it’s most definitely not).
Of the remaining three, two sort of don’t count. One sent home Kelley in San Juan Del Sur, but that’s heavily muddled by the presence of pre-existing pairs of loved ones like Jon & Jaclyn and Missy and Baylor. The other was a second swap in Gabon where Susie returned to her original tribemates Ken and Crystal to take out Marcus (how glorious was that Tribal, by the way?)—so, actually, it kind of counts in the “2-3 split sending a contestant in the minority home” column. So what is that sole legitimate Tribal Council in the history of Survivor that featured a 4-3 or 3-2 post-swap majority taking out one of its own? WHAT COULD IT BE?
Oh, Blake. Beautiful, boastful Blake. My “oh crap, I have no shot” strategy that episode was twofold. First, find any crack I could and exploit, exploit, exploit. Enter: Blake and his girlfriend’s double-D breasts. Second, cling to Danni like white on rice. It was pretty easy to see that, of the four former Nakúm, Danni ran the show. If she went somewhere, I went with her. If she wanted to pray, I wanted to pray. If she wanted no alcohol in our reward margaritas, I wanted no alcohol in our reward margaritas. Getting Danni annoyed with Blake was only half the battle; I needed Danni to like me. I needed her to feel compelled to give me another day in the game at Blake’s expense. I couldn’t appear sneaky or devious; I had to play up the “Shucks, I’m just a 22-year-old good-natured nerd who’s doing the best he can!” role. And to whatever degree Gary and Amy convinced Danni to vote out Blake, she could just as easily have ditched me first to save her majority and then taken Blake out once she had a cushion. So I was immensely shocked and thrilled when I made it past improbable odds. Now let’s not talk about what happened the next episode and end the story there! Bait Blake was awesome and then Guatemala was over!
The point is, it’s far better to be a smaller minority entering into a larger majority. New Rotu took out Gabe rather than Sean, Vecepia, or Rob in Marquesas. New Mogo Mogo cannibalized Richard and Colby before taking out Ethan and Jerri. Twila and Julie outlasted John Kenney in Vanuatu. Coby was voted out and Janu (was forced to?) quit before Stephenie left in Palau. Kelly Bruno was dropped from her 5-3 majority in Nicaragua. Denise and Malcolm made it to the end of Philippines despite being the lone wolves in their post-absorption tribes. The ladies of New Galang in Blood vs. Water took out Laura Boneham and Kat before Vytas. Last season, Tasha and Savage swung a 2-4 minority into a power position. (And if we’re counting merges, look how small minorities in Tocantins and Samoa steamrolled their way to the end.) Being able to exploit fractured alliances or contentious relationships is much easier when the majority thinks it has some room to dump unwanted nuisances without squandering the lead. (Of course, they almost always end up squandering the lead in the long run because ditching a nuisance is the exact kind of emotional decision that rational, stone-cold gamebots never make.)
Anyway, back to this episode. Are we seeing the rise of Michele? I think we might be seeing the rise of Michele, you guys. Though despite her concerns, I’m hard-pressed to remember a contestant who lost the game due to a poor performance in a Reward Challenge. Immunity Challenge, sure. But Reward? If you sucked at the challenge and people dislike you anyway, it’s just more fuel on an already-burning fire. If you sucked at the challenge and people generally like you, it’s all “What a valiant effort from a real trouper! It’s not your fault! You can’t control your gross physical ineptitude!” In Guatemala, Rafe utterly bungled the spider-web rope crawl—and the subsequent rope ladder—but because he was well-liked and safely ensconced in an alliance with Gary and Stephenie, his name wasn’t even momentarily considered for the boot when we lost the following Immunity Challenge. Here, Michele was already on the outs, courtesy of Debbie wrangling together an alliance between Brains and Brawn, so screwing up untying the knot would’ve just given her tribe an excuse to do what they were already planning to do anyway. I’m glad they won immunity, though; I like Michele and her “I don’t need to be carried, bro,” gumption. Michele for the win!
And while we’re talking about that Reward Challenge, can we take a second to address the tuna? TUNA? I mean. TUNA?! C’mon now. That’s revolting. Hot tuna eaten by a bunch of people whose bodies have forgotten how to process protein? Have fun in the strangling miasma of tuna farts that will soon overtake your shelter, Gondol. That’s a hard pass for me.
So we bid adieu to Peter, he of the “If I keep putting my foot in my mouth, I’ll get more screentime, right?” edit. While I like a good free agent at the merge, Peter wasn’t exactly Mr. Strategy—at least not what we saw of him—so catch ya later, Doc. Instead, we’re left with a 4-4-3 split between Brains, Beauty, and Brawn and no obvious rifts within each tribe, save for Nick and Michele. Will Brains and Brawn stick together to take out the Beauty team? I don’t know; I think we’re supposed to be more invested in Michele than we usually are for a perfunctory early-merge boot. Nick’s getting a merge-boot edit (complete with a spike in air time this episode), while Jason and Cydney seem to be laying low for the long-haul. And let’s not forget the HARSH CONDITIONS! DANGER! ELEMENTS! DEATH? Another medevac would certainly upend the game, especially if it comes from a dominant alliance. At this point, I genuinely don’t know how things will go from here, which makes for an exciting merge episode. Looking forward to seeing how it all plays out and how many other jobs Debbie claims to have held!