What a snoozer of an episode. We've had a real string of obvious episodes. It's always such a shame to see someone get pulled from the game so close to the end and really goes to show you that you can think you've set everything up perfectly, only to find yourself yet again scrambling after being hit with yet another case of bad luck (looking at you, Aubry). Let's get into it.
Third Medevac's a Charm...but for Who?
Tai got back from tribal stunned that his alliance had left him in the dark and allowed him to waste his extra vote. Tai and Michele continue to butt heads, each trying to prove to the other that they don’t belong in the inner circle of the alliance. Tai’s feelings were particularly hurt by Aubry, who he trusted to stick with him since she had told him she agreed with his plan to get Michele out. Aubry left Tai out of the loop because she was worried that Tai was getting too much control in the game and she wanted to make sure the jury knew that she was calling the shots; however after she saw how hurt Tai was she really regretted it.
At the reward challenge, Joe surprised everyone with a clincher win…which didn’t really make sense. The contestants had to race into the jungle to untie bags full of sandbags which they then threw to try and land in pits on the beach. It was all about speed AND accuracy, but when they ran out of bags they had to wait for everyone to run out of bags before they could reclaim their bags and try again. It was through this strange rule that Joe was able to take his time, landing his final sandbag on his very last toss in a slow, anticlimactic finale. Joe got to choose someone to bring with him and he obviously picked Aubry. Joe was then given a chance to pick a second person, but he immediately turned to Aubry and gave Aubry the chance to pick someone. Aubry immediately chose Cydney.
At the reward, Cydney/Aubry/Joe gorge themselves on food, but Joe in particularly wolfs down more than his share of steak. Cydney’s concerned about how it’ll impact his digestive system, but keeps that info to herself (and her confessional). They all talk about how this could be the final three, but Joe seems to be the only one strongly considering it at this point, as both Cydney and Aubry seem to be sizing each other up finally as their biggest competition. Aubry realizes that she needs to rekindle her friendship with Tai because he’s the one she wants in the end with her and Joe.
Back at camp, Tai and Michele finally (kind of) bond. Left alone on the beach overnight, the two of them go off in the water and have a heart to heart, in which Tai shares his relationships are all about having chemistry, and he struggles to build relationships with people who he doesn’t feel that chemistry with (such as Michele). Michele says over and over that her door is always open. Tai gives her a “Tai” massage on the beach and they talk about how they could potentially use his idol to shake up the game.
Tai’s really struggling and when Aubry comes back and shows him compassion and a bit of love, Tai broke down into tears. Aubry seems to rekindle her relationship with Tai, but at the cost of exposing her intentions to eagle-eyed Cydney who is unsettled when she sees the two of them coming out of the woods together. Meanwhile, Joe is really struggling after the reward. After two doctor’s visits, Dr. Joe decides it’s too dangerous to keep Joe in the game and needs to pull him to keep him from suffering long term kidney damage. Everyone’s upset, especially Aubry and (surprisingly) Cydney, who we learn thought of Joe as an almost grandfather to her.
Cydney: The Observant Middle (Wo)Man.
For someone with such a strong “no bullshit streak” Cydney has played a particularly strong middle game. Her real strength comes in being approachable, able to make big decisions without sticking out as a true leader, and—perhaps most importantly—in her uncanny observational skills. This came up yet again when we saw her immediately pick up on the fact that Aubry and Tai must have made up after the last reward challenge and has left Cydney voting for who goes home in every single tribal council in which she has participated (with the one small caveat of voting for Alecia in the first vote before the tie, but switched her vote to Darnell in the revote). That’s pretty damn impressive in a game that’s been so back and forth and full of surprising vote-outs. Cydney’s been keeping her options open since day one. She was able to keep Alecia on her good side while staying closely aligned with Jason and Scot. Post swap, Debbie was particularly enamored with her. After the merge, she managed to completely surprise Scot and Jason by leaving her alliance with them as soon as she felt it didn’t serve her. She closely aligned with Aubry, but was also able to keep Michele close and have Jason coming to her to see if she wanted to work together again. I see her winning strategy being similar to Kim Spradlin, where she uses her observational powers to make sure she knows what’s going on and putting out fires before they’ve even started. She’s in a bit of danger, but if she can keep everyone (or at least Michele and Aubry) feeling pretty comfortable that she’s interested in bringing them with her to the end she has a pretty good shot at final tribal, where I feel like her only real competition would be Aubry.
Tai: Playing a Loser’s Game of Emotions.
During Tai’s “day of fun” with Michele, we learn another unsavory layer of Tai—he makes judgements about people quickly and then holds them at arm’s length. It proves again that he’s a complex person who’s really not done well at playing this game. He’s following in the footsteps of Lisa Wedchel and I fear he has a similar tribal council showing awaiting him if he makes it that far. Tai seems too easily sways by the producers, who have no doubt been in his ear encouraging him to make big moves. While it makes for good television, Tai is not designed to be the kind of Survivor player who plays a cutthroat, strategic game and it’s really taken him out of the running to win in my opinion. He’s played against type, trying to be someone he’s not, which ends up watering down his narrative and story at the end. He’s also a horrible liar, bad under pressure, and one of the worst performers at tribal councils I’ve ever seen. None of this bodes well for his chances at the end which SHOULD ironically almost guarantee him a spot in the finals…except for the fact that the only person who seems to have come to this conclusion is Aubry. The only path to victory I really see for Tai is if he can channel Fabio and win these next two immunity challenges, giving the jury a reason to see him as truly earning a spot in the finals. But, like I said before, Tai is setting him up to be the Dawn to Aubry's Cochran, down to the fact that Aubry strongly considered getting rid of him up until the last minute when she realized he was the perfect person to sit next to her...but I don't think Tai and Aubry are a very likely final two.
Michele: She Got Carried, Bro (Kinda).
The most quiet of the final four, Michele’s put up a pretty weak game in comparison to her peers. The real potential strength in her narrative will need to come from her owning her game for what it was—strategically aligning with strong threats who Michele let call the shots while she worked with them quietly on the side, before she’d cut them lose and move on to her next alliance. She did this with Nick at the merge, then voted him out to prove her alliance to the women. She then flipped over to Julia as her number one, before realizing she’d need to cut Julia out in order to prove her alliance to Cydney and Aubry. While a bit more of a flip-flopper than Sophie Clarke, I see Michele’s winning strategy as very similar to Sophie's where it all comes down to how she portrays herself at final tribal and whether or not she can pull out an immunity win. While Coach was the frontrunner in many ways going into the final tribal, Sophie was able to hold her own and argue how flying under the radar while aligning herself with more visible players was an intentional strategy worthy of the title of sole survivor. If Michele can win at least one of these next two tribal councils and can take control of the final portion of the game, that would also go a long way to strengthening her resume.
Aubry: The Unlucky Underdog.
Very few people in Survivor history have been dealt such a bad hand and been able to continue adapting and recovering from major setbacks. Aubry has one of the most compelling narratives in recent seasons, reminding me at times of Denise and also of Cochran in both strategy and season narrative. She went from timid, quiet player during the pre-swap portion of the game (in which she suffered an anxiety attack on only day two) to making some questionable decisions during post-swap that put her head on the chopping block coming into the merge. She was then reunited with her biggest ally Neal, only to have him (and his idol) pulled from the game. She managed to form a strong alliance with Cydney and the two of them were able to pretty much run the game. She finally seemed to be so well set up with Joe, as everyone clamored not to get one of them out but to instead be their third. Then, of course, her SECOND closest ally also gets ripped from the game. If she can manage to get to the end, losing Joe might turn out to be a great thing for her and add to her story; however, her road to the end just got a lot more rocky. But hey, that's the game of Survivor. I'm very worried for her moving forward, even though at this point she's easily the person I'd most like to see win.
Joe: The Undercover Threat.
It was a shame to see Joe go home just because he got a little overeager about eating the meat after his surprising reward challenge win. What caught me most by surprise was the fact that I for the first time saw Joe as more than a sure-thing goat if he HAD made it to the end. If he’d managed to get to the end with Tai or Michele, I could actually see Joe winning it all. I still think he didn’t play a strong enough game to win against Cydney or Aubry, and Aubry would have to go home not due to a decision he made but because he couldn’t save her, but I can see how he could have won the game. We knew Aubry was close to Joe, but I was surprised to see just how sad Cydney was to see him go home. When he got to Ponderosa post-game, he got such a warm welcome from everyone, especially Debbie (to be expected, since she hasn’t been able to connect with ANYONE who’s on the jury so far) and Jason (a surprise, since Joe and Jason had tons of animosity towards one another while in the game). I see it as a distinct possibility that Joe’s fiercely loyal, under-the-radar game at 71 in one of the most brutal seasons ever would have won him tons of respect with the jury.
So much is next. I’m so excited about this finals, as I’ve been struggling to remember another season where the group left with two votes until final tribal council had so few strong ties. Cydney and Aubry seem like the closest alliance left in many ways, but even they seem very up in the air. I see much of the final two votes coming down to who wins at the immunity challenges. Aubry is definitely in danger if she doesn’t win immunity. Cydney is also in quite a bit of danger; I see it likely that one of the two of them will be going out in the number four spot. I’m really hoping whoever sticks around manages to win, because a final of Tai and Michele would be really disappointing for me after such a strong season.