There was a lot going on in this week, as is standard in an Edge of Extinction merge episode. A merge. A big challenge in which the winner returns to the regular game from the Edge. Three post-swap tribes (and one ex-Edger) coming together for a merge feast. An immunity challenge with two necklaces. And finally, one of the most important votes of the season, one that often establishes the direction of the rest of the game. (Although it hasn't really done that since, say, Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers?)
With all that going on, it's not surprising that things seemed a bit rushed, a bit muddled perhaps, in the post-Immunity scrambling. Part of that may have been trying to obscure the boot, in what was ultimately a not-very-close vote. Part may have been a larger move to keep some of the more long-term alliances and power alignments hidden for now. One key takeaway: With almost all the old-schoolers now gone, the narrative is shifting away from past Survivor exploits and connections, and more onto how people's résumés look in this particular game. And that's a good thing.
Even so, after this episode, it feels like we're left with a lot more questions than answers. (Also not necessarily a bad thing.) In that light, here are some of those questions.
Sophie and the unasked question of #JusticeForYul
This was, without question, a great episode for Sophie. Deftly dissecting the power dynamics in the opposing "lions" alliance, identifying Jeremy's plan to make Wendell his #1 almost in real time, and acting decisively to nip that scheme in the bud. Not only that, but the move had plausible deniability as to Sophie's intentions, because it was taking out a big challenge threat in Wendell, and from the outside just looked like Yara and post-swap Dakal joining up to Pagong post-swap Sele.
It's interesting that the Wendell blindside was presented in this way, and perhaps a good sign for Sophie's game, because there was another easy narrative the editors could have gone with: #JusticeForYul. Way back at the start of the game, Sophie identified Yul as her "nerd shield," and a four-person alliance coalesced on original Dakal featuring the four people identified as having "no connections": Sophie, Yul, Nick, and Wendell. Just last episode however, the latter two voted out Yul, leading to a shocked response from Sophie as everyone lined up ready to merge. Despite all that, and despite all three people who voted for Yul last week being on the wrong side of the numbers on this vote, no mention was ever made by Sophie, or by anyone else, of the Yul vote at all this week, at least not after that pre-merge arrival scene.
We're not complaining here, just observing a dropped narrative thread. Sophie targeting Wendell because he was too close to Jeremy (and because Jeremy was immune) was a much more logical, less emotional, response. Sophie in general is a calm, rational player, and presenting the move from that angle makes a much more natural fit for her archetype. But you would think if Denise is going through the intricate details of the Sandra blindside at the merge feast, someone must have asked what happened to Yul, right? As an omission, it's one that appears important.
Mute Michele? (The Reverse Michele truther edit)
Three episodes ago, Michele hatched a plan with Wendell (to which he objected) to vote Parvati out, while doing so in a way that Parvati still bequeathed (ugh) her fire tokens to Michele. We never received confirmation that this plan was still in effect, but that was in fact the end result. On the Yul boot, Wendell and Michele were shown as not getting along (maybe for show?), and Wendell was floated as a strong alternative to Yul as that episode's boot. But it didn't happen, Yul was booted instead, suggesting Wendell and Michele were closer than the show made them out to be. Michele picked up another fire token in the process. And now this episode (as Shannon Guss and SurvivorAU S4 winner Pia Miranda discussed on RHAP's Survivor Global this week), Wendell actually does get booted, and Michele suspiciously votes along with him, and appears "shocked" at Tribal. Theater? Coincidence? Either way, once again, another fire token for Michele.
How much of this inheritance is Michele intentionally not voting for the person booted (a non-Vote For Boot, or non-VFB), or at least pretending to be working with the bootee in order to receive their fire tokens, and how much is just coincidence? It's hard to say for sure, because at no time in this episode did we hear from Michele. We also never received any real follow-up after the Parvati boot, indicating whether it was a planned move, and not just a happy accident.
Part of this could be, as always, lack of editorial time, especially in an episode with so much going on. Part of it also may be intentional: reversing the edit pattern of Kaoh Rong. That season, as Michele Truthers will remember, Michele would pop up with a confessional in every episode, even if just to narrate some innocuous, irrelevant event, which started to become obvious when the Beauty tribe kept avoiding Tribal Council. This season, we have the opposite: she's been to Tribal a lot, and yet it seems like Michele's viewpoint is conspicuously missing whenever a big play happens — even one in which she's actively participating.
Is it intentional? Or is it an accident? Either way, not hearing Michele's perspective is pretty frustrating. But if Michele were going to win a second season in a row, you'd expect the editors to switch things up this time around, right?
Question: Why is all this Ben content presented only by Ben?
All season long, the reverse has been true for Ben. Ben has been an omnipresent, everyman kind of narrator. The Kaoh Rong Michele edit, if you will.
He's also been the "growth" contestant: Star-struck in the beginning, consciously changing up his game to be more social and less idol-centric, finding success in that as he finds himself part of multiple groupings of players. Now at the merge, he has apparently aligned himself with the big dogs, the "lions": Tyson, Tony, Jeremy. Not that there's anything wrong with all of that, it's great to see Ben's growth as a player.
One thing that's missing, though: What do the other players think of Ben?
It's an important question for any Survivor player. We know that Denise's big move against Sandra has impressed Tony, and that Sophie is jotting it down in her files now, too. We saw Jeremy tell Wendell that Sophie was playing a big game. But we have next to no information about how Ben is viewed, except that Adam is occasionally irritated with him.
Why are we only getting Ben's version of Ben's game? Is it because he's playing an under-the-radar, social-type game this time, and others like Denise and Sophie and Jeremy are standing out as bigger threats? Or is there no room, what with always hearing Ben's version of it?
(Again, all of this is not really a complaint, just an observation. Still, it seems odd.)
Question: What is going on with Adam?
The weirdest thing about Adam's run this season has been how closely it's tracked with Angelina's in David vs. Goliath. It's a non-coincidental comparison, because Angelina and Adam are college friends (Stanford), and if memory serves, Adam had some role in getting Angelina in touch with casting (even if just by inspiring her by being on himself). They're both really smart, have impressive outside-the-game résumés, but for some reason just haven't clicked with the rest of their cast. Which is weird, because Adam did well enough at that part his first season, considering he swept the jury vote. Here, he just doesn't seem to be receiving anyone's respect.
Not only that, but Angelina's name was batted around as a potential merge boot in DvsG, and Adam could well have left the regular game here, in the same spot, for the same reason: Nobody seemed particularly willing to go out of their way to save him.
The one time Adam has not been Angelina-esque? In the clip shown above, where he was maintaining a happy face in the middle of the rainstorm, saying "This is Survivor!" (and at least it's not an evacuation-requiring monsoon, as happened in MvGX). Also known as "The Woo confessional."
Okay, fine. Adam is a losing finalist. Like Angelina, like Woo. Got it. Sigh.
Question: Were Tony's alleged rising prices actually for new menu items?
Upon reaching the merge camp, the Koru tribe members were greeted with a new list of merchandise they can purchase with their fire tokens. Tony said "I see the new menu. Prices have gone up."
A side-by-side comparison with the first in-camp menu (below) shows that prices had not, in fact, gone up. They were exactly the same as on Day 1, at least for the items that were still there. But there were some changes.
Gone are the coffee & pastries for 3 tokens (to be fair, maybe these were what Tony had his eye on). Also gone is the never-explained, probably Medallion-of-Power-like "Advantage in challenge." Sad.
Now in is a cut-off date for fire token purchases: sundown on Day 34. That means the last time someone on EoE can receive a fire token in exchange for an in-game purchase is Day 34, which confirms that the final re-entry challenge will be held on Day 35, just as it was in S38: Edge of Extinction.
Also in? Two new "strategic" options. There's the almost-certain-to-never-be-used "steal someone else's reward" option, for a mere 3 fire tokens. A bargain price for the opportunity to destroy ALL your social capital!
Then there's something actually tempting: a 2-token offer to send a "personal note" to someone on the Edge.
That price is still probably too high, at least as the fire token economy currently stands. Sample letter: "Hey Nat, it's J. Please sell me more advantages and/or idols. I'm in a tight spot. Also, please send me two more fire tokens so I can buy the idols and advantages you're sending, because I had to spend mine to send this dumb letter."
Handing out a fire token with each immunity win should boost people's personal stashes a bit, as will the current pool of 17 tokens being redistributed among an ever-smaller circle of contestants. But at the moment, only two of the remaining 11 players would even have a fire token left over after they sent a letter to EoE. Unless the content of that letter is "please make all the jurors think I'm great," the price tag is currently too high.
(Not to mention that most of these people remember what happened when someone sent another player a love letter, in Heroes vs. Villains.)
Still, this is an intriguing opportunity to maybe balance the playing field with Edge of Extinction a little bit.
Question: What really happens to Natalie's and Rob's idol purchases now?
The fire token exchange scroll at Edge of Extinction had some interesting tidbits that were glossed over in the episode, namely the two unused other advantages that Natalie and Rob *could* have bought, instead of shooting their wads on an idol that neither ended up having a chance to use.
The first advantage, which we saw in the challenge, is "Skip the digging, your rope pieces will be waiting for you." The second (unused) advantage was, after the "connect sticks to form a pole" stage, "Second advantage: Three sticks pre-assembled." The final advantage, after "Use pole to retrieve a key ring" step, was "Third advantage: Key ring is closer."
The two skipped advantages don't sound like huge game-changers, at least not the extent avoiding digging randomly in the sand appeared to be. But it really depends how much closer the key ring would have been. If it was just a bit beyond the length of the three pre-assembled sticks, then those absolutely could have altered the course of the challenge.
(At this point, we should also point out that the challenge was much longer than shown, and Tyson had to place *two* balls on the snake maze, not one, just as when Rick Devens returned in Edge of Extinction [also shown as one ball]. None of the shots of the other snake mazes ever showed a ball already placed, only Tyson's, so it's impossible to know if the challenge was actually as close as the aired version appeared to be. In fact, from the available evidence, Tyson may have lapped everyone, and it was just edited this way for drama.)
So did Rob and Natalie make the wrong choice in buying idols, instead of those two advantages? It's difficult to say for sure, without knowing how close either actually came to winning. But there's even another question here: Are those idols actually useless?
This is a much more confusing question than it should be. On the one hand, Probst told Dalton Ross in no uncertain terms that yes, those idols are now dead:
Quick logistical question: Do Natalie and Rob get their three tokens each back since they never got the idol, or are those tokens now gone?
I partially answered this above, but to dig more deeply into it, they had to make their choices before they left for the challenge. The Edge of Extinction has a no layaway and no return policy. You must have the dough to buy what you want… and once you buy it, you cannot return it… and once the challenge is over, any power in any of the items is gone. They are starting from square one.
That sounds pretty cut and dry: Natalie and Rob purchased idols. They didn't make it back in the game. Those idols are now dead, and they each wasted three fire tokens. Tough break.
Except, if you take a closer look at the form Rob was filling out (above), you can make out snippets of the hidden idol instructions, at the bottom of the scroll. Two key phrases stand out:
"If you ... [big gap] ... fail to get back in this time, you keep the idol."
And at the end of the next line:
"... return to the game. It may be given or sold ..."
Clearly, we may be in danger of over-interpreting partial text here, but it sure sounds like those idols are still *potentially* active, and if Rob or Natalie makes it back in at the second return challenge, they could still use them. Why else would it say "You keep the idol"?
Not only that, but the "it may be given or sold" part also implies that these idols can at the very least be sent back into the game to benefit someone else.
Quite the opposite of "any power in any of the items is gone," at the very least, no? Why would Probst claim they're now dead, then? (Should we have tacked on a spoiler alert here?)
By the most useless numbers: Win streaks ended/extended
The fun thing about an all-winners season is that many of these people ended their past victories in heroic fashion, with a clutch immunity win. With those stories now extending into a second season, they're getting a chance to tack on to that legacy, and if you know anything about this site, you know we search for the least relevant way possible: Individual immunity wins. Let's track everyone's continuing quests for glory shall we?
The agony of de feet: Nick and Kim each entered the immunity challenge this week sporting intact (individual) IC win streaks — Nick had won three in a row closing out David vs. Goliath, while Kim had ended One World with two wins. Both finished just short of extending those streaks, with Kim in second place for the women, and Nick in second place for the men, despite attempting to wedge his waterlogged, bloody toes into the notch in the pole. In contrast, Jeremy had a modest 1-win streak still going from Cambodia, and extended his.
But wait, there's more! Michele and Sophie also had active one-win streaks (two for Michele, if you count the RC that enabled her to remove a juror). Both ended here. Tyson also ended Blood vs. Water on a two-win streak, extended that with the (RC?) re-entry challenge, then exited quickly in the IC, ending his run. And Boston Rob locked down his Redemption Island victory with an immunity win, but obviously did not win the re-entry RC here. Although technically, his IC win streak remains intact then?
Wait, did I really end all this on a question?
Jeff 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
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