This was a wonderfully unique episode of Survivor with so much strategy centered around a tribe of just three – that’s really something we’ve only experienced twice before (Ulong and Matsing), at least prior to the merge. With the way positioning worked out too, it felt reminiscent of the classic Survivor final three where two people are pitching themselves to the one person in power. Of course, it wouldn’t be dropping the 4 and keeping the 1 without a sprinkle of some new stupid advantage, but I felt the social dynamics overshadowed that, for once. Overall, I was satisfied with the way the story was told this week, but obviously saddened by the ending. The final three on Ua is who I’d have liked to see as the final three – period – but now the remaining two have someone to avenge as they dream of Genie.
Ua opened with what felt a little like “kiss and make-up” with everyone admitting how this was the final three they had wanted since Day 1. I guess they all kind of had to say that because it’s not like Genie was going to say, “I wanted Brad to be here, but I guess I’ll settle for you, Ricard.”
It made sense for Ua to come together as a united front at this point with so little room to hide. Genie proposed they look for the “Beware Idol” together in hopes Luvu would finally get their shit together, and in almost no time at all, Genie delivered, but as a group, the three decided not to open the advantage just yet. Technically Genie found it, but since she didn’t immediately claim its contents, the advantage remained up-for-grabs. Shan and Ricard deliberated, ultimately going behind Genie’s back and having Shan open “Pandora’s Box.”
With Shan unable to vote until this idol was activated, she gave “her” extra vote to Ricard. I’m not totally sure why she did this so soon, perhaps worried about a swap happening? She only set herself up here to have to awkwardly ask for the vote back if/when she earned her voting power back, and that’s exactly what would play out later. Shan’s a sharp one, so I’m sure there was a reason behind this immediate transfer, but it would’ve made more sense if she passed the parchment to Ricard before she opened up the beware advantage, in case that effectively made the extra vote dead as well, but the exchange occurred post-reveal, so … honestly, who the hell knows with this stuff? We’re just eating up whatever we’re told.
One instance of a “master strategist” at work this episode was Ricard laying the groundwork for Shan to deliver the broccoli line at the challenge, completely unbeknownst to Genie that he was manipulating her. With Genie on board to “pretend” they opened the advantage, she would have no suspicion that Shan would be attempting to pull off the play for real. The “spare tire” line about Genie was a little harshly put, but we did see here just how many miles ahead Ricard and Shan are at this game compared to Genie. I love her, but she got played hard here after doing all the initial legwork with the advantage.
Sticking to an old script, Luvu didn’t get much screentime this episode. Sydney talked about being a mermaid and catching fish like it was no big deal, although noteworthy that typically the men take over this task on the show, so it was refreshing to see Sydney step up.
The strategy at Luvu still circulated around whether or not to throw a challenge. On the topic of men vs. women, Danny and Deshawn observed that 4 of the 5 boots thus far had been men, and that didn’t make them look great going into a merge sooner than later. They suggested again throwing a challenge to get rid of Erika, but after including Naseer this time, he quickly shot down the idea, citing that it never works out for the throwers. Still, the girls have the guys sweating this season, and that’s hot.
TEACHING TIME WITH TIFFANY
Tiffany and Liana talked about their concerns over Evvie’s closeness to Xander. It was clear Evvie was most loyal still to the women, but it was also clear to me that she’s holding onto Xander tight just in case – a smart move, but not when it’s so obvious to your main alliance. Miss Tiffany’s first lesson of the week was a reminder not to hide any valuables in your game bag as Liana took the opportunity while Xander was away from camp to search his stuff.
She found the extra vote and beware advantage note which shouldn’t been news to anyone. Xander knew about them, obviously, and Evvie, Tiffany, and Liana knew he knew, but he didn’t know that they knew he knew. Still, Tiffany’s reaction was strange because Evvie had told her about the idol a few days ago, and Xander was upfront about his “risk your vote” decision. It didn’t make sense for Tiffany to be so surprised by what was in his bag, but I loved the chaotic energy she was bringing for no reason.
Coincidentally, it was on this day that Xander decided (with a nudge from Evvie) to come clean about what he had. His big mistake, though, was talking to Tiffany as if everything had fallen into his lap that same day. Lesson #2: don’t lie to a mom, a.k.a. professional bullshit interpreters. Especially with everyone knowing he brought up butterflies at least twice now, Xander should’ve known better than to tell another lie to Tiffany who quickly told him that she can sniff that shit out from a hundred miles away.
Tiffany has been an interesting player. Her thinking has been a little all over the place, but she knows how to hit her targets. Abraham came after her – boom! Roasted. She wanted Voce when Liana leaned Xander – who got her way there? Now she’s suspicious of Evvie and wants to nix Xander so Evvie’s only lifeline is her and Liana. Tiffany at times may seem a little crazy, but I think her reads are relatively strong. Like I said, she’s got a solid bullshit radar. Being a mom and teacher puts her around lying kids all the time, so we should’ve seen this coming.
Xander had a line about it being Tiffany’s “job” to forgive students when they make mistakes which I suppose is somewhat fair – it’d be a little wrong for a teacher to hold a serious grudge against a kindergartener. However, Tiffany can “forgive” Xander but she doesn’t have to forget, and she won’t. Her fourth-wall-breaking face said it all – she’ll never trust Xander in this game.
100% YES to how this idol activation was finally edited – when the editors are good, they’re good, but when they’re bad, they’re ... go watch Episode 3. Shan delivered the broccoli line as we expected, and Xander replied with another hope and a prayer that this would finally be the time. There was a brief moment of silence where I thought, “another swing and miss,” but suddenly we heard a “Jeff!” come from none other than Naseer with a very, very rehearsed line about a goat on AstroTurf follow next.
We learned via the flashback that Naseer had finally found Luvu’s beware advantage one day before this challenge. The thing looked like it was dangling off a very obvious tree branch, so I think my suspicions were right about Production probably propping it up in a clearer location since it had yet to be found in 9 days. If that’s indeed true, then I’m disappointed, but not surprised. They weren’t going to let there be no payoff to this brand-new twist on finding idols.
Some of my favorite idol reveals were Gary’s in Guatemala and Amanda’s in Micronesia because the audience didn’t know that either had idols. The Naseer scene was another fun surprise and while it makes more sense to show how the idols were found this season, I wouldn’t mind seeing more surprises like this in the future, even as far as not knowing about an idol until it’s played at tribal council.
Now that the idols had been activated, it was all smiles across the faces of the fortunate Shan, Xander, and Naseer. I laughed, though, because after that smiley sequence of shots, we got this, um, less-than-thrilled look from Liana:
“Great, the idol-count just went from 0 to 3.” I feel that energy, girl.
I really needed Ua to win here. I wasn’t ready to lose Shan, Ricard, or Genie this early, so I’d have loved to see Yase have to plan a vote around Xander’s powers or watch literally anything happen at Luvu, but when Ua lost again, I felt like I had taken a sandbag to the face – obviously not from Ricard who went 0 for 2 on hitting his targets.
Before leaving the challenge, Jeff revealed it was time for two more players to go on a “journey.” As the winning tribe, Yase had the power to choose who that would be, so they sent Shan and Liana to accompany her. I thought this would be a great pairing, so I was very excited – you could say I was as happy as a Heather on the sit-out bench.
Or stand-on* bench, rather.
AN EMOTIONAL JOURNEY
Shan didn’t waste a second spilling her entire game to Liana once they arrived at the big hill. She practically led with “Hi, I’m Shan and I have an idol.” Liana luckily reciprocated by letting Shan know who had Yase’s idol as well as Xander’s extra vote. In the game of Survivor, this fast sharing of information felt funny, but Shan and Liana shared an immediate bond that was bigger to them than the game. I loved the big sister/little sister vibe here and the scene soon became emotional atop the trail where Shan revealed to Liana that she had lost her mom a few years ago.
The two women broke down in tears and Shan said that she hadn’t had a reaction like that from someone her entire time thus far, so I think it’s safe to say this is going to be a very special relationship to watch develop even more than it already has. Shan also warned Liana that if she was voted out, it would mean that Ricard is not to be trusted since he’s supposed to be Shan’s #1. Given that Shan told this to Liana, is it also safe to assume that Ricard has been bumped to #2? I have to think so – Shan gave up literally everything to Liana, and I think Shan already knows Ricard is a snake waiting to strike. “Knowledge is power” and Shan shared all that she knew with Liana, so there is definitely power brewing with this new pair.
Just when we thought we had seen the worst of advantages with the castrating “can’t vote” curse of the beware advantage, enter…this trash.
This one isn’t even really strategic. It’s just being able to call someone out at tribal council and have Production hold them accountable to tell the truth and give up their idol or advantage. What a load of garbage! Honestly, after seeing the “new era” of the game this season, I don’t think I will ever want to look for or possess an idol or advantage should I make it onto the show. Knowing such a power can exist that would physically force me to reveal that I was lying or omitting the truth is completely game-breaking.
“Knowledge is power” is capable of beating even the best liars in the game when its possessor could be pathetically incompetent. That’s not the case with Liana, but if any dumbo can ask someone, “Do you have an idol?” and potentially steal it from them, that itself is dumb. This advantage almost discourages lying altogether, a huge part of the foundation on which this game is built and also an enormous part of why it’s so fun to watch.
The naïve optimist in me would hope the show is just trying all sorts of new shit in 41 so that they can test what doesn’t work and tone it down for 42, but I know better. These twists are only going to get more outrageous – watch the next be a player having the ability to watch their tribe’s confessionals. The less skill-based this game becomes, the more it just turns into the world’s longest game of Mario Party. If Jeff awards random “bonus votes” at Final Tribal Council for things like “most idols/advantages found” or “most fish caught,” then we’ll know we’ve hit rock bottom…until something worse comes along and moves that rock bottom even lower.
This was the best segment of the night and the best pre-tribal scramble we’ve seen in years, so if I had to sit through another shitty advantage reveal, at least we got to close with this. Down to three people in a tribe, there is zero room to hide. Every individual knew the others had only two options, so it was the ultimate test of social and strategic game – and bluffing – to convince each other to write down someone else’s name.
Ricard’s closest ally was Shan, and Genie also considered Shan more trustworthy than Ricard, so the first conversation between the two of them was a load of beautiful bullshit. I’m sure they both knew the other was lying but had to keep up the charade anyway until Shan returned which is why this was so perfect. Shan even playfully called them out for talking about voting for her as was the obvious observation/assumption.
The only one clearly not in danger was Shan, so this almost felt like an old school Survivor final three as if Shan had immunity and she’d be casting the only vote that mattered. Again, having not felt this feeling since 2014 with US Survivor, I absolutely loved the dynamic.
The show went from great to godly when Shan later asked Ricard for the extra vote back, the biggest ask Shan could make for Ricard to trust her. This is exactly why Survivor is so complicated and captivating. Both Shan and Ricard had each other’s trust, but the level was not quite 100%, so both wanted a form of “insurance” heading into tribal council, but asking for that insurance made them both even more suspicious of each other.
Shan thought it was absurd for Ricard to hold on to the extra vote while Ricard found her equally absurd for asking for it at this particular hour. Also, I can’t not call out the hypocrisy in Shan thinking she was “rightfully” owed the extra vote back from Ricard given how she so ruthlessly acquired it in the first place. This may be my favorite moment of the season so far, watching the tightest alliance in the game completely question everything about itself. Both “trusted” each other, but neither enough to not be fearful of advantages being used against them. This was like watching two “master strategists” play chicken with each other, and I love chicken, so I was drooling over it.
Genie, meanwhile, was being careful this week not to lose all her liquids again.
Poor Genie, off on her own hoping she had done enough work with Shan and Ricard for them to vote for each other instead of her. It seemed like she hadn’t done enough, but what was happening between Ricard and Shan in this moment could have torn them apart without Genie having to lift a finger. I felt pretty sure Shan was still safe, but after the little rift opened over the extra vote, I wasn’t so sure that Shan would pick “the strategist” over “the loyalist” in the end.
Shan knew that Genie wouldn’t be one to fight her like Ricard would, but Genie’s little laxer gameplay had potential to be a liability as well. Gun to my head…I thought the boot would be Ricard. If this was the final vote of the game, it absolutely would have been, but even in this pseudo-final three, Shan held all the power and, while not making the decision of who to take to the end, the decision of who would best be her ally at the merge still weighed heavily.
With an idol, extra vote, and shot in the dark, Production inadvertently had really set this tribal council to be all sorts of a shitshow. Imagine a scenario where Ricard played his extra vote, voted for Shan who voted for Genie, Shan played her idol, and Genie was safe from a shot in the dark. Chaos. (Well, in that scenario, it’s actually clear-cut that Ricard would go, but still a mess)
The mood wasn’t quite “chaos” but there was still a mood. With Ricard and Genie more or less confirming they were pitching themselves to Shan, and Shan admitting she knew she was the one being pitched to, this was a rather open and honest tribal council, another rarity for the show. Ricard’s pitch was that he was a better strategist who could help Shan in the game rather than have her have to do all the heavy lifting for herself and Genie. Genie’s pitch was that she’d be loyal to Shan forever, implying Ricard would betray her if a better deal was offered.
I didn’t envy Shan’s position. Sure, she was safe for now, but she was to make a decision that would have enormous consequences for her game either way she went. I also liked the point she brought up here about using the shot in the dark. It really is best as a Hail Mary move when a player is completely out of options. It would be difficult to use my shot in dark if I thought there was a chance that I’d survive the vote and be able to use it another day, but could I live with myself if I trusted my tribe too much and didn’t take that shot, instead getting snuffed? We know someone who now has to live with that.
FUCK. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck-fucker. This hurt, a lot, but there was no way for this episode to have a happy ending. The hope of that died at the immunity challenge. Genie was my #1 favorite going into the season – she just seemed like such a huge personality and someone unlike any other we’ve seen before. Unfortunately for both her game and her edit, she wasn’t as strong of a strategist as others, and with the show focusing so heavily on that type of player now, Genie wasn’t as big of a star as I hoped she’d be. I can only imagine how much of a blast she’d have been to live with, though, constantly acting like a clown and making everyone at camp laugh – OH MY GOD, THE FIRE! Genie will be so, so missed, but I do think in the grand scheme of this season’s story, Ricard will deliver more drama, so I’m satisfied that he stayed. It’s just a shame that my three favorite personalities ended up on the doomed tribe together. Like I said, this would have been an amazing final three for me, so while I got to see them as a “final” three of sorts, I have to wake up from my dream of Genie far too early.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR...
Merge? “Ehhhhh, not exactly.” What does this mean? My gut instinct is One World but still in more than one tribe. Will they stay the original tribes or swap into three tribes of 4? Two tribes of 6? Or is this promo just another typical fake-out, and we’ll end up with one merged tribe of 12? I’m excited, at least, which is probably unwise – looking forward to another new twist. While Xander earned back his votes and idol this week, the show also gave Liana an unprecedented way to take one of those from him again, so someone just really hates Xander on the Production team. That said, whatever this “not exactly a merge” twist could be, it probably screws him somehow.
Shan – The Shan show continues! I asked last week how long this perfect edit could last and I’m still not sure. I loved both the personal and strategic content we saw from Shan in this episode, especially during the ~journey~ with Liana. For as happy and healthy as Shan comes across, I’d never have guessed at her troubled past and trauma in recent years which makes the fact that she’s thriving here on Survivor all the more enjoyable to watch. God, she’s just too good. I feel like every week I’m going to be going, “next time is when they’ll finally target Shan,” but who knows? We could just as easily get, “Shan-tay, you stay,” week after week, closed out by one of the most impressive wins in history.
Ricard – If anyone is capable of ending the Shantasy, it will be Ricard. He’s the only one in the game who knows just how good she is; he even confided in Genie this week that he feels Shan can take credit for all of his moves, and if he’s saying that on Day 11, then he has absolutely no intention of sitting with Shan on Day 26. He’s playing in Shan’s shadow now, but that’s probably intentional. Ricard’s just as smart as Shan and will know when it’s time to strike. His only hurdle could be that Shan is able to build more social capital than he is, so even when the it’s the right time to dethrone the 41 queen and make way for a king, Shan’s army may just be larger than Ricard’s.
Liana – Previously, we’ve seen Liana in a similar spot to what Ricard is in with Shan but instead with Evvie. This week, though, Liana stepped out of that shadow and worked some cross-tribal connections of her own. Liana’s immediate bond with Shan showed to be a lot stronger than Evvie’s with Deshawn, Liana’s with a lot more emotional and personal power behind it and Evvie’s setting up to be mainly a strategic alliance. If Ricard is going to want to dump Shan, then I think it will be Liana who swoops in to save her, so the three should have a very interesting dynamic come merge-time. I can’t wait for it! Also, I have been LIVING for Liana’s looks. She and Ricard both are my RBF spirit animals.
Tiffany – There have been times where I thought Tiffany was wacko and times where I thought she was wicked smart. This week was mostly wicked smart (even if she looked a little lost about what advantages she should’ve known Xander had). I loved “teaching time with Tiffany” way more than I ever did with Tommy, mostly because Tiffany feels way more authentic. I love how Tiffany also can’t help talking to and performing directly for the cameras like a kid in a home movie. Her reactions to Xander right behind his back or blatantly in front of him killed me. I remember thinking between the two teacher-moms, Heather and Tiffany, Heather would be the one that had me laughing more, but Tiffany has been a blast. She’s bold. She’s brash. She doesn’t take shit from lying kids. She’s basically a badass.
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser