What an action-packed episode. I must say I had pretty low expectations for this season and these first three episodes have exceeded by wildest dreams. There are compelling dynamics in every single tribe, no one tribe seems to be particularly dominant or down for the count, and there are sure to be fan favorites brought back for returning seasons neatly sprinkled throughout each tribe (I’m looking at you, Debbie/Tai/Jason). This week, the name of the game is idol hunts. [Side note: for those unversed in the mechanics of the Survivor game, I’ll start including midweek writeup on specific mechanics such as an explanation of all things idols (what they are, how they’ve evolved, why they’re a double-edged sword, etc.) in the near future. Until then, I’ll start including outside links to explain terms I make reference to in case you want to learn more. For example, here’s a resource for Immunity Idols.]
The dysfunctional tribe of muscly misfits is at it again. Alecia knows she’s barely scraped by for another couple of days and is particularly mistrusting of Scot, who wrote her name down at tribal out of loyalty to Jen (dumb move, Scot. gotta stop playing this game with your heart or you’ll be in trouble down the line). Cydney is in an interesting position—and playing it quite well—as she feels tight with Scot/Jason but knows that Alecia considers her a bit of a confidant. Poor Alecia finds an idol clue and makes the mistake of sharing it with Cydney (seriously girl?), who in turn obviously shares information with Scot and Jason so as not to arouse suspicion on her standing with them (necessary after what went down with Jenn) which leads to one of the craziest idol searches I’ve ever seen. Usually, Survivors keep their idol hunting a secret or potentially bring one trusted confidant into the search; however, I’m not sure there’s ever been an entire tribe looking for a hidden immunity idol when they didn’t receive the initial clue together as a group for all to hear. Jason’s bounty hunter instincts kicked into overdrive and sent him crashing through the forest like a nimble bulldozer, eventually winning him the idol through sheer intimidation as they all crowded around the foot of the tree waiting for the key to literally drop from the sky.
Jason’s situated himself exactly where he wants to be which is king of his tribe; however, it’s a super risky play, especially considering that a tribal swap is due any day now (a pivotal turning point in the game when power players often get picked off if they can’t get their new alliance in check fast enough). Having an idol helps in some ways, but also means that there could be an even bigger target on his back. He says “I try to treat this game how I treat my job” and that could spell out disaster for his game in two big ways: he could easily get voted out as too big a threat or he could emulate his idol Russel Hantz and get to the end easily, but alienate people along the way enough that they won’t win jury votes at the end. I’m expecting him to mellow out at some point and start forming relationships but if he doesn’t quiet down once the tribe swap happens I’m skeptical of his chances. On the other hand, Cydney shows this episode that she’s a real thinker. She’s playing both sides of the Alecia and Jason/Scot dynamic perfectly in a way very evocative of previous winner Kim Spradlin, which makes me feel like she has lots of potential to thrive come swap and merge. She’s great at building relationships swiftly and efficiently and playing both sides to keep her options open (vs. Alecia closing herself off to working with Scot/Jason and Scot/Jason sticking together and not building more of a relationship with Alecia to keep her from flipping).
Tai, the idol hunter who never says die, heads off into the forest to figure out how to get his idol out of the tree in a way that will hopefully leave him with more chest skin intact than his last attempt. He promptly loses the tool (both tribes lost the tool IMMEDIATELY), fashions a new one, and impressively gets the idol down all by himself. He then promptly kisses the trunk of the tree and says “thank you tree” and melts my heart into a little puddle of Tai devotion. Ugh, Tai…why you so cute all the time? Back at camp, the Tai/Caleb bromance continues to develop beautifully, as they navigate their toughest relationship hurdle yet—killing one of the tribe’s chickens for food. Tai is so emotionally conflicted and ultimately mourns the chicken’s death, while Caleb is so empathetic and supportive of Tai’s mental struggle while handling the actual execution of the beheading.
Finally, Nick emerges from his slimy, slippery hole after being virtually non-existent in episode two. My hatred for him leftover from preseason and episode one gives way into pity, as he asserts via confessional that Tai’s strong emotions (exhibited at said chicken killing) are obviously a stupid way to play the game as he pridefully claims he is a robot. Has he not realized that his tribe is run by the women’s alliance? Not sure why I’m asking because clearly his huge ego has blinded him to the adaptability necessary to survive in this game. The girls consider Tai’s emotional vulnerability and Caleb’s empathetic bromance to be assets to them, spelling out huge trouble for Nick if beauty goes to tribal pre-tribe swap. (Please let this happen, survivor gods. I’ll be eternally grateful to be free of this slimy salamander forever.)
In a couple of days, a lot has changed. While episode one made it pretty clear that Liz and Neil were running a young person’s alliance over at Brains, what we learn this episode is that it’s now Liz and Peter against the world. Liz and Peter have clearly never seen Survivor Caramoan (S26) because they are Reynold/Allie/Grace/Eddie all over again—the second-coming of the doomed minority cool kids alliance. For a tribe of smarties, not realizing the idiocy of deciding they’re better than everyone else and isolating themselves as a distinct pair when they’re two in a tribe of six is purely reprehensible. They see everyone else as useless, speaking about them as if they are simply pawns on the chess board over which they unwaveringly rule as King and Queen, an Icarus story with an ending so easy to predict it’s almost painful to watch. When they lose the immunity challenge in one of the closest competitions I think I’ve ever seen (leading to a deliciously joyous victory celebration as the brawn tribe finally get to keep their numbers intact for once), it’s finally time for the brains to face off in their first battle of wit.
Back at camp, the divisions are laid out quite clearly. Their six people have neatly split into three devoted twosomes: Liz/Peter, Debbie/Joe and the leftovers Neil/Aubry. Liz is dead set on getting ditching her initial young people alliance to get rid of Neil, seeing him the only threat on a tribe full of goats she can use as pawns in her scheme to get to the end. On the other end, Debbie is gunning for Liz and Peter. As you may remember, I had high hopes for my pal Debbie before we entered the game and was vastly disappointed to see her horrible social skills put a strong target on her back for early elimination. I’m so pleased to see that the Brain Tribe made it deep enough into the game without going to tribal that she’s been able to easily shed that visibility and situate herself in the prime position: to Joe and Aubry, she’s a trusted ally. To Liz and Peter, she’s a harmless goat they want to keep around. To the audience, she reveals she’s a legit mastermind who is carefully constructing the exact narrative she needs to fly under the radar while quietly orchestrating a beautifully-executed blindside of Liz. She tells Liz that they’re together in voting out Neil when they go to get water together, before promptly turning and telling Neil that Liz and Peter are gunning for him. She appeals to Joe’s frustration with Liz by playing up her own (largely constructed) emotional frustration with Liz.
At tribal, Peter sucks up to Joe at tribal and treats him with elder respect that feels so put on you can almost taste the saccharine pouring through your television screen, before laying out their plan in honest terms one should never use at tribal council. Liz seals her fate with the famous last words of “the person who goes home tonight will not be completely shocked” and it’s time to vote. The uncool kinds MAJORITY alliance beasts: a three way 2-2-2 tie between Aubry, Peter and Liz. This keeps Peter and Liz out of the revote, giving everyone a chance to send home Liz.
Was this the best move? It was obviously necessary to send one half of the snooty cool kids home but it’s interesting to consider the reasons that the Brains Tribe chose to keep Peter over Liz. They probably saw Peter as more of an asset in immunity challenges and a bigger individual threat (and therefore a more likely target) come tribal swap or merge; however, I’d be very concerned about a scorned Peter potentially hooking up with the beauty tribe (aka his chosen people, what with his amazing smile and Obama-esque good looks). I guess the same could be said for Liz so perhaps this was the best decision. But here’s an interesting hypothetical—what if they intentionally threw the next challenge to get rid of Peter, too? It’s rarely a good idea to intentionally throw challenges, but with the impending tribe swap getting rid of people who don’t have allegiance to the tribe as a whole can be a useful strategy, especially considering that brawn tribe is already down to four so they wouldn’t be at a strict numbers disadvantage if they also dropped down to a tight foursome.