Episode 11 of Survivor 45's big idol play took out a huge fan favorite player. It was a shocking, disappointing outcome, but one that rewatching reveals was pretty heavily hinted at throughout the episode. Preparing the audience to have their dreams crushed, whether from the title ("This Game Rips Your Heart Out" - also from the newest juror), or by the storytelling of the episode, is always a nice way to soften the blow.
A plethora of foreshadowing
Watching this episode back a second time, it's interesting how much of the action was hinted at or explained ahead of time. We see the Reba four on the beach after Tribal, pledging to go the final four together, then Austin and Dee lingering together to talk about Boston Rob and Amber. Aww. But that's also the foundation for Austin's later decision to tell Dee about Drew's plan to blindside Julie.
Not only that, but when Drew first hatches the plan, and Katurah tells Austin about it, Austin warns Drew that leaving Dee out of the play would "absolutely crush" her, because she's heavily invested in the Reba four being the final four. Importantly, he adds a key strategic detail: If you leave Dee out of the plan "we no longer have the guaranteed numbers any more." He's implying an angry Dee could just scoop up Jake, Katurah, and Emily, and vote out Austin and Drew as revenge for Julie, which does seem possible. So as much as Katurah's view is valid that Austin and his "stupid emotional heart" were at fault here, he was clearly also being logical. (Also, Austin finishes off that warning with "I would almost rather Emily then Julie go," which could be foreshadowing for the next episode - and you have to wonder if he was talking about Dee in his quote in the shot above, and not Emily, because Emily did propose going after Dee a few episodes back.)
But there was a *lot* of signs of impending doom for Emily. As she weighed her decision to not do the Savvy task on her journey, there were hints she was sealing her fate - as she narrated the opposite, saying her vote is her life, and that if she lost it, *that* would seal her fate, all of which is accurate. (It really was a lose-lose situation for her - as damnbueno says: Never get on the boat.) The editors even cut away while Emily was talking to a shot of Katurah and Julie at the well saying "So we agree, Emily's gotta go?" That was crammed in there, in case the prior scene - of Dee and Julie agreeing that Emily has to be the target, due to her elevated threat level and connections to Drew - was too subtle.
Later, after Austin and Dee have discussed their plan, and Dee is narrating her thought process in confessional, we cut to Emily and Julie working on getting the fire going again. Emily says "Nice! You're great, Julie!" as Julie fans the embers back into flames. Then when we cut back the next time, Emily has a bunch of smoke in her face, and backs away from the fire, as Julie remains. Fire is life!
So there were grim portents of Emily's exit (everyone waving goodbye as she boated away for her journey; a dark, dissonant clang on the soundtrack when Emily's rope didn't reach far enough in the IC) sprinkled throughout the episode. It was all very well put together, and it made sense for the players involved, but it was still a disappointing outcome.
Oh well. Better luck next time, Emily. (Editor's note: Emily said in her exit interviews that she has little interest in playing again, which is perfectly reasonable and also disappointing, although you have to respect someone sizing up the long odds of winning on a returnee season and saying, "No thank you. I'm happy with having this experience once.")
Parsing the alleged Reba breakup
On the surface, this episode tried to tell us that Reba was split, with Austin and Drew on one side, versus Dee and Julie on the other. (Also with Austin and Dee, the star-crossed showmancers, in the middle.) But in rewatching, there's reason to question the main thrust of the episode's narrative of Drew wanting to make a big move, turning on Julie, only for Julie to then thwart it with Austin's idol. That's because when you watch it back, it all starts with Drew and Julie talking on the beach, and Drew asking if Julie wants to make a play with "her" idol, "Get some clout and earn some points?" Julie answers with an emphatic "No!" at the time, but she ends up doing exactly that. Was Drew vs. Julie a real intra-Reba feud, or was this all a scheme to deceive Emily, Katurah, and Jake ... and the audience?
Probably not entirely, but it gets more complicated as we go along, because it's clear there *is* some editing deception playing into everything. It looks like, at least by the end of the episode, Austin is firmly on the side of Dee and Julie, and Drew is probably out on his own. The failure of Drew or Austin - both of whom had to know Julie was going to play her idol - to split a vote on someone like Jake as a backup/safety votes seems awfully suspicious. When Austin and Dee talk after the reward feast, Dee said her and Julie's plan was to vote out Emily, and split a vote on Jake (since Emily might have won an idol on her journey). So it's not like splitting on Jake was something Austin never even considered.
Not splitting was no direct problem for Drew, really, since he was immune, but it put Austin at risk - along with, obviously, their alleged ally, Emily. So it seems an awful lot like (1) neither Austin nor Drew felt personally at risk, and (2) they were fine with Emily being voted out (as Austin already said he was, to Drew). Austin has other #1s (having more than one #1 is apparently a thing this season). Emily was Drew's, perhaps even ahead of Austin, but maybe Drew was blinded by his immunity necklace.
As further evidence that Austin was in on the plan, Austin told Drew (after Emily informed them that Julie was trying to get people to vote Austin) that "If [Julie] plays something, I'll play something." Yet Austin didn't play anything. We see (perhaps) a reason for that in Dee and Julie's pre-Tribal plotting. Julie wants to vote Austin, to weaken Drew. Dee is firmly against that, and tells Julie this: "This is what's gonna happen: They're gonna write you. Okay? I'm gonna write you too, because then we're gonna hate each other after this. And you're gonna play your idol, and you're writing Emily." All of which Julie agrees to, and the italicized part refers to a larger plan we haven't seen yet.
This suggests that yes, Austin knew where Julie's vote was going, since Dee had directed it. Next episode, we're likely to see a big charade of Julie being on the outs, perhaps rallying the leftover Belos to her side, and Dee and Austin being "against" her, when they're actually working with her. There is room for this all to fall apart in the future, because Julie noted in confessional that she didn't appreciate being told what to do. But for now, it looks like Reba is still intact, possibly minus Drew.
The obvious argument against the episode as a whole being a ruse is: Drew isn't stupid, and there's no incentive for him to elevate Julie's game by letting her make a splashy move in front of the jury in this way, unless it's all a big play to boost her visible threat level, as Emily had done the episode before, so he can then target her the next round. (Or it's all a smokescreen to keep the non-Rebas off balance and let them feel like they have some agency in the game as they're slowly picked off, and we really will see the Reba Four as the final four.)
The most likely interpretation is that Drew's actual plan was the plan shown, but Austin and Dee and Julie turned it against him at the last minute.
Speaking of a chilling vision of things to come, though: We also had Jake and Katurah practicing (poorly) at firemaking. Katurah hilariously complains, "Why can't we just vote somebody out at four? Why does there need to be all this, Jeff?" This could well also be foreshadowing, because if Julie or Drew does go out next, there will be three Rebas left at five, which means at least one of Jake or Katurah is probably destined for firemaking. Unless Katurah's complaints were heard by production, and we finally get the F4 vote back. (Please let this be true, I am begging you.)
Adventures in immunity challenging
This was not an entirely new immunity challenge (the rope maintenance part has been done before). But it did end in a fun new element - new in the sense that it's already been memorably used in Australian Survivor (first) and Survivor UK (probably technically after the US, filming-wise, but it aired there first). Big picture, though: combining the various elements (obstacles, sandbags, puzzle) with a maddening rope-management requirement made it all both deceptively simple and frustrating for the competitors, and also fun for the audience.
As some random Survivor fan named Omar Zaheer said on the social media site formerly (and still) known as twitter:
This is a perfect survivor challenge. Not repetitive endurance. Multiple different skills required. Many stages that could easily change leadership to make it more suspenseful. The double sided puzzle. #survivor #survivor45— Omar Ahmad Zaheer, DVM (@omarzaheerdvm) December 7, 2023
He's absolutely right. Giving the contestants only three sandbags to knock off their blocks - then requiring them to have enough rope to go retrieve them when they missed - made a very basic task (sandbag tossing) deliciously complex. Both Drew and Austin realized (after making hard initial throws) that they needed to cut down on how tossing, because one of their three sandbags had whizzed well beyond their reach. It's something you can't really foresee needing to do before it's too late. Really clever game design there.
The arch puzzle itself was even more cruel, because of the admonishment that it had to spell the same word on both sides. When that word is RESOURCEFULNESS, which has two letters repeated three times (E,S) and two twice (R, U), there are a lot of ways to screw that up. It's also near-impossible to hold up the arch mid-solve and look at the other side, it would just fall down. (Although Drew is tall enough that he could see over the top, and was trying to do just that, as you can see above.) Furthermore, once it's completed, you're still constrained by the rope. Austin probably didn't have enough rope to go around and check where he went wrong, even if he h. You really had to think through it carefully and start with the R block that had an S on the reverse side, and spell it backwards and forwards at the same time. That is probably quite challenging when you're sleep-deprived and starving.
Still, there's nothing here that anyone present couldn't do. It was mostly a test of patience and persistence. Patiently gathering up rope initially is probably the easiest hack here. Just get as much rope as possible, and ignore everyone heading out on to the course. Probably tough to do when Probst is bellowing the play-by-play at you. Let's hope for more balanced, fun challenges like this.
Side note: Again, the arch puzzle was borrowed from SurvivorAU, except their version was much larger (see above). What's hilarious is that AU has in the past taken US puzzles and made them gigantic (see also above). Everything really is bigger in Australia (the Texas of the South Pacific).
Was the idol really Austin's?
Everyone has pointed at Austin's "huge blunder" in giving Julie his idol when they were split up into three-person teams a couple of episodes back. But that made some sense at the time, since they just gone through separate six-person split Tribals two episodes earlier, and there was no reason for them to think Probst wouldn't believe Survivor was maximally entertaining if only three people attend Tribal/vote while six people watched from the sidelines (which more or less happened in Survivor 44, even if this cast hadn't seen that). True, the three-person teams were decided by consensus among the contestants, and if it was a Probst twist, it would be by rock draw. But I digress.
The point is, it made some sense for Austin to protect Julie that round. Also, he couldn't realistically refuse her request, because the Reba idol he held had required the combined efforts of every member of the Reba four to dig up, and thus was very much an idol "for all of us." Declining Julie's request was not a realistic option, no matter what Austin and Drew's post-hoc analysis states.
As Austin pointed out this episode, he probably should have given her his amulet idol instead, since it expired a round earlier (final six, vs. the standard idol expiration at final five). In looking at the instructions for it, there was no prohibition against him doing that:
Should Austin have kept his idol quiet in the first place? Yeah, probably. But the Reba idol required a massive amount of digging (and luck) to find in the middle step. They had four people working on it in shifts, and it still took them a long time to find the rope attached to the hammer - which was done by Julie (and Dee), giving her further claim to the idol. The first and third clues were relatively simple, Austin could have done those himself, but the middle one really did require collective effort (or unlimited time, but he had no vote during that period).
For the amulet idol, keeping it secret was also not really an option. He really needed the power of a united Reba Four voting bloc to take out J.Maya and Kellie right away, so looping them in made a lot of logistical sense. Besides, it's hard to believe neither of the other two had told anyone about their amulets, so there was no guarantee Austin's would still have been a secret. It was certainly out of Austin's control, anyway.
Austin's real misstep here was in simply not asking Julie to give the idol back to him immediately after she "borrowed" it. Doing so would have put social pressure on her to agree - she looks paranoid and selfish if she declines. There's nothing in the rules compelling her to comply with that request, but it's still a bad look for her to refuse. Austin seemed to have an accurate read that by this episode it was now too late to ask for it back, though. That would have made him the one who looked selfish and paranoid, and would have tipped Julie off that maybe someone (Drew) was thinking of targeting her. Let that be a lesson, kids: Never lend something to someone if you're not okay with not getting it back.
The unseen alliances of Survivor 45: In his exit interviews, Bruce mentioned having an alliance with Julie. The success of Emily's decoy move in Ep10 (as this episode's opening minutes revealed) hinged on her convincing Bruce that Julie was in fact playing him ("like Kellie did"). In retrospect, since Julie's closest alliance is with Dee (and after that the Rebas), Emily wasn't really feeding Bruce *that* much disinformation here. Still, it's weird that we never saw Bruce's alliance with Julie, no? Even with 90 minutes, there wasn't room for that?
Similarly, in her exit interviews, Emily revealed that she had a fairly tight alliance with Kendra, which went back to their post-swap Belo days together - and to Kendra's initial (also unshown) visit to Lulu camp in the premiere. Not only that, but they had a four-person alliance with Drew and Austin, which even had a name. This is important, because it changes how Emily's alliance with the two Reba men should be viewed: It wasn't so much that Emily was bottom-feeding, clinging to them because she had no other options. That was actually a balanced alliance that could have gone to F4 together, just like the Reba four. (I guess the Belo2.0 four doesn't have quite the same ring to it.) But again, we only really saw the parts of it when it was Emily/Drew/Austin together for whatever reason. As a viewer, it's a little frustrating that we're only seeing a fraction of the overall picture on-screen, and that it's been dumbed down a little for audience consumption. Still, the overall story has been enjoyable, so it's more like a movie adaptation of a novel that takes certain liberties with plot and cuts out characters, I guess?
The unseen Drewness of Survivor 45: When Drew says at Tribal that he was happy to avoid the scrambling paranoia by having the immunity necklace, Probst replies, mystified: "That's the quietest and shortest answer you've given this ENTIRE season." (In response to this, Drew goes off on a lecture about Napoleon and Hegel). But this is a bit of a non-sequitur, because to this point, while he's certainly had a lot of confessionals, we haven't seen Drew give long-winded answers at Tribal. Those may have been fairly entertaining. They had 90 minutes to play with, but none of this made it in? Release the Drew Tribal supercut!
Why a journey here?: The answer to that question is obviously: "We didn't have the budget for another reward challenge." Okay, fine, but why just plunk the Ep1 Savvy task down on a beach as the test? Jake is still here, and had already failed at it, and was the #1 hopeful attendee. True, the Rebas won the first challenge (thanks to Drew's height), and it's possible none of them knew about it. But it seems like a waste of everyone's time (unless the goal is to pad out a 90-minute episode) to go through all this trouble to boat someone out to a task that most people are likely to refuse.