Michaela's exit right before the merge was shocking, especially since she'd received extensive narrative investment in her reasons for playing, and her (previously) successful attempts to overcome in-game adversity. To be fair, the halo had started to slip a bit, particularly when she was shown yelling at Hannah mid-challenge in the last episode. But since Probst does that all the time, this was not exactly the most egregiously negative edit. We'll dig deeper into the move in a bit.
Before that, we should take a moment to appreciate the uniqueness of that Tribal Council. Michaela interrupted Probst's vote reveal to yell and glare at Jay (and Will)! That just doesn't happen. And Jay responded, as calmly as can be expected, owning the move in the moment. Meanwhile everyone else was making faces of dismay. Not only that, but she turned her back on her own snuffing. And then she hit a tree on the way out. Importantly, all of this seemed completely organic, Michaela was just visibly processing her emotions, not making a scene for the sake of drama. In an era where four-time players are becoming common, this kind of raw, unfiltered reaction has become increasingly rare. Bravo to all involved.
Was Jay's big move a good one?
As with all Big Moves™ in Survivor, this quickly divided fans into "stupid move" and "good move" camps, with the majority taking the former position. This is a pretty brave position to stake out, since 19 out of 20 of these people are going to not win. Having had a few more days to mull it over, we're inclined to go with an even braver position: The middle ground of "a decent move, but probably ultimately unsuccessful." The True Dork Times: Our hot takes are blazing.
The Pros: In a lot of ways, Andy Baker's assessment seems about right: Jay needed to make this move in order to win (whether or not he actually ends up doing so is a different question). He couldn't continue marching through the game with Michaela, making the same moves she did, because she was clearly a star in challenges, was thinking far ahead into the game, and everyone seemed to like her. That would be like hitching your wagon to J.T. in Tocantins and just hoping everyone votes for you at the end. Furthermore, as Rob Cesternino and Kass McQuillen discussed on the RHAP voicemails this week, unhitching that wagon right at the end and hoping to jump off for an easy victory--by voting Michaela out at final five or six-- was also destined to fail, because Michaela stood a really good chance of winning immunity through to the end, if she was allowed to get deep into the game.
Michaela presented other threats as well: She knew Jay had an idol, and in a merge situation, there was absolutely no guarantee she'd keep that information to herself. Furthermore, as he hinted in a pre-Tribal confessional, he must have had some sense that she would not take his betrayal well, and if he could take her out before the jury, he could avoid a situation in which Michaela sets every juror reaching Ponderosa on an anti-Jay crusade. So in light of all these considerations, Jay needed to make this move, and this was perhaps his best opportunity to do so.
The Cons: Having said all that, this move holds a high probability of backfiring on Jay. Michaela was 100% committed (as far as he or the audience could tell) to having the Millennials decimate the Gen Xers post-merge, then battle it out amongst themselves after that. As someone who is himself a strong challenge performer, Jay was already a potential post-merge target, and a Pagonging of the Gen X tribe was probably his best bet to escape that. Given Hannah's reaction to being left out of this decision, that chance of that scenario playing out now seems particularly remote.
Being a tousled-haired young guy might have also provided Jay a bit of a post-merge shield, but this move also torpedoed that possibility. In taking out an original tribe member who had shown loyalty to him, Jay exposed himself as a cutthroat player, right when he needed to hide that. Going forward, he will probably never be trusted by Bret and Sunday again, instead, he'll be targeted. Had he just sat back and let Bret or Sunday leave, he could play himself off as a harmless, happy-go-lucky Taylor clone. Instead, he'll be at the top of everyone's threat lists.
What does the show's editing suggest we should think about this move? It absolutely buried Jay. In his discussion with Will, Jay is shown listing all the reasons not to make this move, but he went ahead and did it anyway. Michaela had been slowly built up as a flawed hero. Jay has now carved himself out a spot as an illogical villain. Which is a pity, because, again, it was arguably a good move, and Jay's aggressive gameplay has been a welcome surprise from an unlikely casting slot. He's not dead yet, but he's close.
A Michaela post-mortem
Last week, we considered several past contestants as potential closest comparable player to Michaela, eventually settling on Rupert (specifically, Pearl Islands Rupert). Given the fan reaction to her ouster, that comparison seems to have held. Compare and contrast Michaela's reaction to receiving a vote from Jay to that of Rupert's "WHO VOTED FOR ME?" interrogation of Fairplay. Michaela's loyalty was her ultimate downfall, and as with Rupert, that could be an asset for her if she plays again. Just please don't go building any subterranean beachfront shelters, Michaela.
All in all, Michaela was a solid player and an entertaining character. Her major flaw as a player, as she correctly identified pre-game, was saying exactly what was on her mind. This, coincidentally, was what made her so popular with the audience. If she can rein that in just a tad by keeping it in confessional, she could have the best of both worlds. Her other problem, of which her exit interviews suggest she's now perfectly aware, was that she trusted people she shouldn't. She also really bought into the idea that original tribes are supposed to stick together, which is clearly a dated concept strategically. This is also something that having seen herself on TV, she could easily correct if she returned. A Michaela playing in Season 35 or beyond could easily be seen as a mark by other returnees, hoping to prey on her loyalty, and if she wanted to, she could play that mis-read all the way to the end.
Before leaving our discussion of Ep. 7, one other tragic side-effect of Michaela's blindside is that Hannah finally had a solid episode. She took note of her potential peril within Ikabula's power structure, then deftly acted to undermine Bret's position in the tribe. Her gambit worked, too, as the Millennials agreed to split their votes, then pile their re-votes on Bret after a likely tie. But alas, all this was for naught when Jay decided to blindside Michaela instead.
What does the merge hold in store?
As was made clear in the preview for next week, the merge is now upon us. And it should be a good one. Despite this originally being a two-tribe season, it appears that the swap has succeeded in splitting apart feuding factions within those initial tribes, then exacerbating those divisions, stoking what should be an explosive final seven episodes. In every swapped tribe, the larger group from the initial tribe voted out one of their own, while the people from the smaller group survived, like three mini Jalapaos taking down mini Timbiras (in Tocantins). Putting all those contentious subgroups back together via the merge could lead to any number of new alignments and hostilities. Here, as best as we can figure it, are the core remaining alliances:
So there are three groups of three, two of whom have an idol, plus a Millennial straggler (Will), a group of two Gen X-ers, no idol, and David (plus idol). There are so many different combinations possible here, it's really difficult to process.
Of the various groups, the Gen X people seem the most likely to be willing to work with each other, at least temporarily, for the mutual benefit of all involved. Ostensibly, they're down 7-6 in numbers to the Millennials, but that's only if the Millennials all vote together, which seems unlikely. Even so, odds are that Ken will chafe at any hint of leadership by Chris (or Bret, or David), and everything could fall apart fairly quickly. With Ken and Jessica having weak ties to Adam and to Taylor, they could also flip one of the Millennial sub-alliances (as could David). And that's assuming Ken and Jessica even continue voting together. This could potentially rival the Philippines merge in its utter chaos.
Okay, fine. Who's in the most danger?
Perhaps more simple than predicting who will vote together is who be voted against. There are several strong players left, and few of them should have any interest in facing the jury next to each other. (Although we really wish someone would try that in a non-returnee season.) So chances are, there will be a lot of jostling for power in the short term. Who is in the most immediate peril? Here's a short list:
Or, obviously, it could be none of these people, because we know nothing.
Okay, that's enough of that. On to the vidcaps!
I will destroy you! Wait, who am I talking about, again?
I will not apologize to you, but I will say you're totally screwed now. Yup, really bad. That is a true statement.
I think he got the gist of it.
David, why are our buffs this weird yellow-brown color?
And look, half of it turns this reddish orange when I turn my head
He said "It's the magic of time travel. Hello from the merge!"
Ohhh... cool! I made the merge!
How could you, Probst? You swore you'd improve your handle hygiene!
No more Figtayls? #What
It hurts, you guys. I feel like half a hashtag.
I (will) feel your pain, Tayls. #Whatever
And she's buying a stairway to... Ken
Hey, I get that reference!
So we have to put the balls in the flaccid pipe? Got it.
Actually, this seems more ovulatory
Or maybe it's an elaborate ad for the Squatty Potty
Since that doesn't look much like letting gravity do the work for you, definitely not Squatty Potty
Oh well, time for Michaela to win stuff for you ingrates
Hurry up, Michaela! Get it done before we vote you out tomorrow!
Time for Ken to fall just short again.
It's a good thing winning challenges continues to be useful and does not make me a target.
Okay guys, I have the skewers! Where did you put the knives, Jay?
It took us three days to build a shelter, but you guys whip this together in our camp while we're at a challenge? Good times.
Uh, that's "Wright from the CBS," and stop calling me small
Zeke's winner's quote. Gas-powered victory!
No taco overload here! Mainly because we didn't have tacos.
If you just keep burping, I guess you'll be OK!
Meanwhile, Michelle constructs an invisible wall
Sadly, it turns out invisible walls are gas-permeable.
Where was that in my engineering textbook?
The body language is clear: Ken and Jessica are buying whatever Taylor's selling
Taylor's great, because he says exactly what he thinks. Plus, it's only once a day!
Yeah! Voting out Michaela day! Woo! She's standing right behind us, isn't she?
That joke never gets old on our tribe!
You know what does get old? People. Then they die. And I bury them. Or something like that.
Hey, ixnay on the ergeantsay! Someone might see!
So that FOP tattoo is for the Fraternal Order of Pallbearers? Seems legit.
Can't we get back to Vote Out Michaela Day? Who is this Bret you keep asking about?
Fine. Michaela, your only way to avoid participating in Vote Our Michaela Day is to win. No pressure.
Taylor reveals he's secretly a Malcolm Gladwell fan, and follows his free throw form suggestions
Adam goes by the numbers.
That's a lot of sandbags.
Time for Ken to fall just short again.
Jay, it's "knife in the back," not "nose." Come on.
Well this is alarming
Hannah, Michaela: Sigh. Back to Vote Out Michaela Day. Rest: Yay!
I'm not a bad guy. I just want to honor the true meaning of Vote Out Michaela Day, by voting out Michaela.
Celebrating Vote Out Michaela Day in the time-honored tradition of not saying anything.
It's how Michaela would have wanted it.
I'm still here! You could have asked me!
With the merge looming, Sunday and Bret savor their only screentime for the next three episodes
House Westerling maps out the path of the vanguard for the sack of Casterly Rock
Which shell had the pea under it again? I'm lost.
If I vote out Michaela, does that mean I get a confessional?
It does! I should do this every week!
I thought it Vote Out Michaela *DAY*, not Night. This is confusing.
...and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth
Is there a reason you've brought us all here for Vote Out Michaela Day? I thought it was mostly about not talking.
Wait a second. You guys were being serious?
Look, someone even spelled your name correctly, Michaela. It's really serious.
Who could have foreseen Vote Out Michaela Day would turn out this way?
Umm... I did.
Bret auditions for the part of "Surprised Juror #1"
Good try, Will, but it's more in the eyebrows/eyes
Just for that, I will not be participating in Vote Out Michaela Day next year. Jerks.
Millennials vs. Gen X Episode 7 recaps and commentary
Exit interviews: Michaela Bradshaw
Episode 7 Podcasts