The Tribe swap has finally arrived and oh man, was it a doozy. Jeff shares that if Caleb hadn't been evacuated from the game, they were planning a simple, randomized tribe swap of 7 and 7; however, with the numbers uneven they came up with a swap style reminiscent of seasons past involving exile island. Everyone on the two teams drew buffs which had been individually wrapped: 6 blue buffs, 6 yellow buffs, and one red buff. The yellow and blue buffs signified the two new tribal divisions. The single person to choose red was sent to exile on brawn beach, where they'd fend for themselves for a few days, miss the immunity challenge, and get placed on whichever tribe voted out a member. On the new Chan Loh tribe: Debbie, Neil, Jason, Cydney, Michele, Nick (2 brawn, 2 beauty, 2 brain). On the new Gondol tribe: Scot, Tai, Anna, Aubry, Peter, and Joe (1 brawn, 2 beauty, 3 brain). Off on her own: Julia.
We open on the new Chan Loh tribe. This tribe is split evenly among the original tribe divisions, with three pairs; however, Cydney and Jason are in the power position immediately. It makes sense--this is actually one of the pros of having such a disastrous early game. They're seen as a good asset to the tribe (strength to win challenges pre-merge, bigger immunity challenge targets post merge when the game transforms from group to individual) AND are down in numbers overall.
Cydney and Debbie is my dreaaaaaaam. I couldn’t be happier. Debbie hits the beach running, smartly realizing she needs to create ties asap. She gives Cydney all kinds of complements such as gems like “you have to be smart, you have to have discipline to be built like you are” (and we find out Cydney has an ivy league education and is hiding behind her muscles to mask her legit smarts), making it clear that she wants to create an alliance among Debbie, Neil, Cydney and Jason. She also makes the great call to form a sub alliance with Cydney, making it clear to Cydney that Debbie really wants a woman to win the season. Cydney doesn’t usually get along well with women, but she sees Debbie as a mother figure and seems into it.
Nick approaches Jason and this is really interesting. Nick keeps selling this "Michele and Nick" thing as a package deal and Jason keeps intentionally showing his interest in working with Nick specifically, saying things like “with me and Cydney, right there that’s three”, to which Nick, not catching on, says “well and with Michele it’ll be four!” Jason then replies, ignoring Nick's train of thought while appealing to his narcissistic streak with “we’d make up our own new brawn tribe, pretty much." This is so smart for a few reasons. It lets Jason declare loyalty to Nick, subtly implying that he’d like to see Michele go home over him. This means that if they lose the first tribal, they can send home Michele so that the beauty doesn’t get a majority when Julia joins. If they win immunity and don't go to tribal (in which case Julia would go to the other tribe), they can still keep Michele as bottom of the pack as an easy first boot without brawn breaking their word to anyone they talked to directly. It’s also reminiscent of Jason/Scot's first move, to see the pair of Cydney/Darnell emerging, take out Darnell, then keep Cydney as a close ally moving forward.
Gondol loses the first immunity challenge, setting them scrambling to plan out their first pre-swap boot with the knowledge that Julia will be joining their team looming over their heads. Interestingly, Scot seems to be employing a very similar strategy to Jason's alliance with Nick over on the new Gondol tribe. With the threat of a beauty entering the game, the old brains tribe members (Aubry, Peter, and Joe) hold the current majority and want to see one of the two beauty members (Anna or Tai) go home. This puts Scot in a powerful position, as he had the opportunity to follow suit with the brains tribe or mix things up by aligning with the beauty to get one of the brains out, changing the power alliance from brains to beauty post tribal. He interestingly finds a way to do both, aligning himself strongly with Tai while still voting out Anna as the brains tribe had wanted. I'm still not convinced this was the best plan. Obviously, I had Anna as a winner pick of mine preseason so I'm a bit biased. Poor Anna the poker player ironically got incredibly unlucky with this tribe swap. She and Tai were obviously in trouble with Julia set to enter the game, and Tai did a great job ingratiating himself among the tribe by getting coconuts and mangos, having a generally jovial mood, and creating a strong friendship with Scot. She really was pretty backed into a corner and went home without many options. Scot chose to keep Tai around and not align with the beautys. He did this for one main reason--Tai revealed to Anna and Scot that he has an idol, making Scot the only person in the game right now to know about the whereabouts of two hidden immunity idols. As you remember this season, two immunity idols put together can form one super idol which can be played AFTER the votes have been read, making it incredibly powerful. This also really changes strategies this season, because in the past if you knew where an immunity idol was and it wasn't with someone you 100% trusted, you had every reason to try and flush it out of the game. This time around, there's a reason to instead PROTECT them and keep the idol in play.
It's an interesting and extremely unlikely turn of events that our tight trio of beauty girls got fully separated from one another, with one on each set tribe and one sent into exile. This is perhaps the worst turn of events and goes to show how random parts of this game can really be--one day you're on the top and the next, you're scrambling for your life. It also shows the dangers of a clear sub alliance, because it leaves Michele forced to try and align with Nick (which doesn't seem like it'll pay off for Michele) and Anna stuck with Tai (which clearly didn't go well).
Our lone beauty Julia, team of one, is in a particularly rough spot during this episode in the brief camera time we have with her on brawn beach. She’s suffering from dehydration, paranoia, and anxiety. Choosing to show her in this position seems like a strong play for her blazing a trail of resiliency, a great piece to put in her "survivor's resume" about why she deserves to win at the end if she makes it that far (the jury sure loves an underdog story). However, I don’t really understand why she thinks hiding the fact that she’s 18 is a good strategy. It seems to me that being upfront and honest would build trust and if anything, they’d maybe discount her a bit as a non-threat BECAUSE she’s young. I think it’s only hurting her to hide that she’s 18, especially because unlike hiding that you’re already rich (why do you need the million?) or have a baby on the way (too big a jury vote threat to keep around), her age doesn't put a huge target on her back AND is very difficult to truly hide. She might be passing for somewhere in the 19-22 range, but that's about it. You can hide your profession. You can hide the fact that you have children. What you can't really hide is your age (nor should you as it really doesn't often factor into votes all that much).
So where do we go from here? Everything is mixed up, the genius of tribal swaps. The game is exciting again, new dynamics form among unlikely allies, and we get to see if original tribal divisions hold true or if new alliances form which will carry through past the eventual merge. I'll put out an assessment of each player's position in the game as it stands now in another day or two, but in the meantime seeing these new tribes here are my new guesses for the top five who have the best chance of winning it all: Cydney, Jason, Debbie, Tai, and Julia. My bottom three who are most likely to be sent home soon are: Michele, Peter, and Scot. This leaves the four I feel are most middle of the pack: Nick, Aubry, Neil, and Joe.