It’s thrilling to see the genuine excitement on the faces of Survivor players at the merge. No matter what happens now, they don’t feel like failures. It’s a similar experience for the viewers, who’ve been anticipating the chaos that will ensue when the tribes come together. In a three-tribe season, there’s even more potential for new alliances and surprises. This week revealed interesting strategy and expanded certain players’ stories. There’s plenty to discuss, but the abrupt ending halted the story right before the climax. Instead of learning Aubry’s fate and whether Neal would play the idol, we watched a disappointing medevac.
I don’t believe this was a bad episode, but I can understand the criticisms. Despite the earlier intrigue surrounding Caleb’s exit, injuries aren’t level one Survivor. Instead of seeing a fun Tribal Council, we observed grisly injuries up close. These nasty bruises and infections reminded us of the game’s physical toll, but it left a sour taste. I don’t blame Jeff Probst or the producers for Neal’s exit. There was a lot of theater in the way they presented it, but it was a dangerous injury. I’m hopeful they’ll adjust to avoid such a large degree of wounds in the future. We did see fewer physical issues in Second Chances, which was filmed after this season.Neal seemed poised to make noise at the merge before his exit.[/caption]
Neal appeared to have a solid position going into the merge. Aubry, Debbie, and Joe would stick with him, and there was a chance they could connect with Brawn. He also had an immunity idol. Even if the numbers turned against him, there were reasons to vote for the other Brains before him. That comfort didn’t last long, however. Cydney noticed a “bulge” in his pocket and correctly assumed he had the idol. Neal has clarified that it wasn’t the idol, but the perception increased the target. When you combine this fact with Scot’s bond with Tai, there was little chance that Brawn would align with the Brains. Neal was unlikely to exit this week, but his days were numbered.
The precarious situation doesn’t make Neal’s exit less frustrating. It would have been great to see him take a shot at using the idol correctly. It was interesting that Neal didn’t pass the idol to Aubry before he left. They appeared to be close allies, and he could have slipped it to her before exiting. In his exit interview with Rob, Neal mentioned Aubry making comments about betraying him that had rubbed him the wrong way. I suspect that may be a rationalization after the fact; he probably was just too distracted to think about the idol. He did regret the decision on the boat. Regardless, Aubry is facing a difficult situation next week. Neal’s injury gave her more time to find a lifeboat, however.
Dr. Rupert and the Grim Reaper
Jeff’s arrival with Dr. Rupert meant only one thing — someone was leaving this game. I suspect they already planned to remove Neal after previous daily medical checks. Showing Tai, Scott, and Aubry first kept the audience on their toes more than anything else. Dr. Rupert spoke about the wounds like they were new to him, but that was unlikely. It was a strange way to end an episode of Survivor. Once the clock neared the top of the hour, it was clear there would be no Tribal Council. With Caleb already gone and only 18 players at the start, we couldn’t lose two in a single episode. Hopefully, none of these other injuries will force those players out of the game.
This season’s theme was officially: “Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty”, but it’s really been about the brutal elements in Cambodia. The teaser at last season’s reunion focused almost solely on that fact. Nick is the fourth player (to my knowledge) that’s required a hospital stay following the game. Peter and Liz both needed surgery after being voted out; this is no joke. It almost feels inconsequential to dig into the normal strategy. Even so, I will soldier on for you. If Neal can handle a ridiculous hole in his back, I can keep writing! Let’s circle back to the game that will continue following Neal’s unfortunate exit.
The End for the Brains?
Even before Neal’s exit, there were cracks in the Brains’ unified front. Aubry’s last-minute choice to vote out Peter didn’t help her standing with Scot. Joe’s confusion about the “original plan” also didn’t help his case. In a secret scene, Aubry expanded on her dilemma in having to move away from Joe. Her emotional confessional showed it wasn’t just a marriage of convenience. The merge offered new life for Joe and Aubry; they had more allies! Conventional wisdom might say that physical players would be obvious targets at the merge, but that isn’t the case anymore. Trust and numbers were more important than removing challenge threats.
Last week, many didn’t agree with my feelings that Aubry had a chance to win the game. Despite her status as a prime target, I haven’t wavered from this feeling. It will take more luck for her to dodge the vote, but she’s now set up as the season’s underdog. I did underestimate the negative impact of her move last week. We still saw quite a few scenes of Scot and Jason being arrogant. That’s rarely a good look on this show. Aubry expressed her willingness to be a free agent this week, and Neal’s exit will make her more willing to deal.
We’ve seen a few hints that Nick can really play, and he finally showed his true colors this week. It was refreshing to watch him move between the two main alliances without appearing deceptive. Jason and Scot revealed both Tai’s and Neal’s idols quickly and seemed to trust Nick. Aubry also seemed to vibe well with Nick, so that connection might return next week. Most importantly, we saw Nick holding back and not overplaying. While Debbie blatantly tried to make alliances and frustrated her allies, he took a quieter approach. He’ll need to listen carefully and be ready when he isn’t such a valued number.
Nick hasn’t visited Tribal Council so far, but that could also make him vulnerable. It’s hard to realize what it’s like until you’re actually there. He also won the immunity challenge and stood out as a physical threat. Scot recognized in an extra scene that the victory did set up Nick as a target. He seemed happier that Nick could be a shield, which makes sense. Nick keeps talking about the final Tribal Council and is confident, but the others will eventually look his way. He also looked strong at last week’s reward challenge, so it might be wise for Nick to dial back the intensity a little bit in the near future.
Michele is also in the middle and faces even less danger than Nick. She’s thinking about the end game and even compares the game to “business” in an extra scene. I’m feeling good about my winner pick right now. We aren’t seeing that much of her, but Michele has the right mental approach. She’s concerned about Cydney and Tai because they’re so likable, and that shows she isn’t just thinking about the next vote. It could also hint at a potential way for Aubry to survive. Aubry is less of a threat with Neal out of the game. Nick and Michele don’t consider Jason and Scot as real contenders. They could enlist Aubry to start taking out the more likable players.
Arrogance is Contagious
Beyond the many infections hitting this cast, the other common ailment was arrogance. The editors spent a lot of time presenting comments from Scot, Jason, and Debbie about their happiness and amazing play. After Cydney spotted what appeared to be an idol, she told Jason about it. The next clip was a confessional where Jason spoke like he was the mastermind who discovered it. This was not a good look for Jason; we saw an eerily similar interview with him earlier after he grabbed the idol from Alecia. I expect that Jason went into more detail, but we aren’t seeing that part. He’s being presented as overly confident and self-centered.
Debbie greeted the merge by talking about how much she “loves change”, and her edit continued its dramatic turn away from competence. During Liz’s boot episode, Debbie seemed like a contender because of her under-the-radar play. Her strategy looked cringe-worthy this week, and it connected to Nick’s comments about not trusting her last time. This episode only reinforced my feeling that Debbie won’t see the vote coming. Aubry wasn’t impressed by Debbie’s poor treatment of Tai this week. She didn’t read the room and Tai’s reaction at all. Debbie also tried to make an alliance with him right at camp. It will be hard for anyone to trust her.
Scot also came across as overly confident throughout the episode. The way he spoke to Joe and Aubry following Peter’s exit was too much. He needs to remember everyone will be on the jury. Scot has impressed me at times and is one of the best sports figures to play Survivor. Jeff Kent might be a little better, but Scot can surpass his spot if he survives next week’s vote. If Scot wants to have any chance at the end, he’ll need to court everyone. He’s not dumb and did a good job in making bonds following the swap. We heard Michele cite his wealth as a possible reason to take him to the end. Scot could overcome the money issue, but he can’t be arrogant.
The behavior from Scot, Debbie, and Jason stood out because of the sharp contrast between that and what we saw from Michele, Nick, and Aubry. Those players worked to build alliances and considered every possibility. Michele gave a confessional where she mentioned dreaming about making the merge since she was a kid (yikes!). We’re seeing a dichotomy between players who believe the game is theirs versus others doing the legwork to seize control. Survivor thrives in showing people who enter Tribal Council on top of the world and then are gone.
Who’s in the best position?
Michele: Both Nick and Michele occupy a good strategic position, but he just won a challenge and is a more obvious threat. She’s done a good job at not making enemies and understands the game. I don’t expect Michele to be a target anytime soon. My concern is that she’ll play too safe and won’t have the resume if she reaches the finals. Even against a guy like Jason, she’ll need to show ways that she took the game into her own hands. The individual game has just started, so there are still opportunities for my winner pick to shine. Let’s do this, Michele!
Tai: We’ll reach a point down the road where Tai’s likability will make him too dangerous. At this moment, Tai’s valuable as a number due to his alliance with Scot. Having the idol also makes him important because of the potential for a super idol. Tai should be good for 2-3 more votes, but he needs to start thinking about the end game. Aligning with Scot and Jason would work at the finals, but they won’t let him get there. Does Tai have the strategic mind to betray his allies and make the end? I’m not convinced thus far, but he’s currently in good shape.
Who’s in trouble?
Debbie: She won the week thanks to her ridiculous use of toilet paper and toilets for a comparison. Even so, Debbie hasn’t charmed too many players. Her aggressive play can work but needs a subtler touch. Debbie won’t go down without a fight, but she may not see the vote coming. She may be happy about the merge, but Debbie is on the radar. Her upfront style could push the others to remove the wild card right away.
Aubry: Despite my optimistic view of Aubry’s chances, she is a potential target for the majority. It won’t be easy for Aubry to survive her current situation. Even if Neal had given her the idol, that wouldn’t secure her spot on its own. Aubry’s best hope is for dissension to rise in the ranks, and the previews do hint at that possibility. She’s also more driven to do well following Neal’s exit, and that might drive Aubry to play harder and change the game. There are cracks in the majority, and now she has three more days to find them.
Where do we go from here? It’s been quite a walk through the fire in Cambodia for this cast, and it won’t get any easier. Despite another medevac and unfortunate game break, I’m still excited by this season. There are quite a few alphas remaining, and the alliances don’t feel secure. It was a shame to lose Neal, but his exit gives Aubry a real chance to escape. I believe we’re in store for an unpredictable finish, and this week set the stage. It was difficult to watch but hasn’t totally derailed this game. I can’t wait to watch this cast get back out there and battle to the end.