Tai, Cydney, Aubry and Joe built a lot of trust by voting out Scot (and flushing Jason’s idol in the process) last tribal. Michele and Julia were left to scramble, fearful of their position within the alliance since they were kept out of the vote. Jason responds to the blindside with a level of composure and sportsmanship out of the ordinary when compared to the way he’s handled himself so far in the game, but which definitely suggests he’s considering his end game and is over pissing off his potential jury—he’s in a hard spot but he’s not giving up. Jason approaches Cyd, congratulates her on the big move, and says he’s there if she wants to do anything crazy. Tai apologizes to Jason (who allows him to but doesn’t felt it to be particularly genuine) and tries to explain to Julia who won’t even listen to him she’s so mad.
In the reward challenge, teams of two were drawn randomly: Tai/Joe, Aubry/Julia, & Cydney/Michele. Jason was not picked and sat out of the challenge. When Cydney and Michele won, they barely had to deliberate before choosing Aubry. On the reward, they made it very clear they wanted to lock in this final three as Michele did her darndest to mend her relationship with the girls and prove to them that she was more aligned with them than with Julia. When Michele leaves Aubry and Cyd alone, they confer and agree that they should take Michele (or Joe) to the final 3, but that they definitely need to cut Tai. Meanwhile back at camp, Jason refuses to give up. He hatches a plan with Julia to try and get the girls on board with blindsiding Tai, who will assume they’re sending home either Jason or Julia. Jason tries to get Cyd on board. She feigns interest.
At the immunity challenge, Jason proves once again that he can run through water like nobody’s business. Michele and Julia prove they have the best memories of the bunch when they are the only two able to unlock the memory puzzle on the first try. Joe, try as he might, basically gives up on the challenge, admitting he’s out of gas (and making many wonder if he’s an episode or two away from a late game medivac). Michele manages to win immunity. When they get back to camp, the majority alliance decides it should be Julia going home over Jason, because she doesn’t have blood on her hands and is strategic and enough of a challenge threat that they don’t want to leave her around too long. Michele tells Julia they’re going with the Tai plan and Cyd does the same when Jason asks. At tribal, Aubry’s close relationship with Joe is spotlighted, everyone talks about making big moves that the jury can respect, and Tai looks like he’s in physical pain he’s so worried. At the last minute, Tai leans over to Aubry and whispers in her ear to get her advice on whether or not he should play his idol. She says she thinks he’s fine, but to trust his gut. Tai doesn’t play his idol and he doesn’t have to. Julia and Jason vote Tai, but everyone else (including Michele) vote out Julia.
MVP Michele: The Groundhog Emerges
Next to Joe, Michele has easily been playing the most subtle, quiet game of anyone out here. She’s only been a part of the tribal councils since the merge and has been drafting behind her allies Nick and Julia, who she let make the moves for which she was a part of. This episode really felt like her shining moment, and I only wonder if it’s too little to late or if she still has enough time to build a resume worthy of winning the game.
Michele did everything right this episode. She worked hard to win the reward challenge, which she used strategically as a chance to make sure her alliance with Cydney and Aubry was intact after they left her out of the last vote. She KILLS it at the immunity challenge, where the only mistake she might have made was telling Jeff that she’d memorized all of the numbers. She was the one to conceive the hack of using sand to “write” the numbers down so she’d remember them and was one of only two people to open their locks on the first try. Finally, she chose to vote for Julia even though her vote wasn’t needed in order for the majority to send Julia home, a chance for her to solidify that her alliance lies with Aubry and Cydney even though she must have known it would really hurt Julia. Michele is clearly thinking about the game and making decisions based on what will allow her to win. I’ve been saying the last few episodes that aligning with Julia was weighing her down by association if her plan was to go with Cydney and Aubry’s crew, which is why it was so necessary for her to cut Julia loose. It shows her alliances lie with the girls and it is exactly the kind of big move Michele needs to start making more of to make up for lost time. However, her tearful goodbye to Julia reminded me yet again of the comparisons I keep drawing between her and Amanda Kimmel, and to me Michele is still setting herself up pretty well to be let down in the exact way Amanda was in both of her tribal councils. She was a crucial part of many of both season's big strategic moves, but the jury saw Todd and Parvati as the ringleaders and criticized Amanda for riding their coattails. I wonder if the same fate awaits Michele if she gets to the final tribal.
Julia: Riding the Middle Gets You Nowhere
I was pleasantly surprised by Julia’s game. She’s clearly young and made some mistakes which can be directly attributed to her lack of life experience (ala Spencer); however, she wasn’t afraid to really play. Her social game started off very strong, as she formed ties with the girls on the beauty tribe and was able to avoid becoming the easy boot when she joined the Gondol tribe at the swap. Her problem came at the merge, when she hesitated for too long in picking a side. She voted with the girls, but was feeding information to Scot and Jason to keep them close. It wasn’t even necessarily a bad strategy, except that she wasn’t supposed to get caught doing it. Whether on Aubry’s side, Julia’s side or both, it seemed like the damage done when Aubry voted for Julia before switching her vote last minute onto Peter was something that always lingered as a level of mistrust between the two, something that made it very hard for Julia to ever get in close with the girls alliance.
I see Julia coming back to Survivor. Hopefully she’ll wait a few years and give herself a chance to have a real fighting shot at winning it all. She seems like she’s got a great mix of social abilities, challenge performance, and self reflection which would serve her well in another try with a new group of people.
While this episode felt pretty by the books, I think next episode has a chance to be a real turning point in the game. Tai doesn’t realize what a large blunder he made in asking Aubry whether he should play his idol. Many people had been thinking that his advantage was a second idol, offering Tai a certain level of safety because the super idol is so strong. By asking Aubry after the votes had been cast but before they’d been read if he should play his idol, he was admitting that he only has one idol which leaves Aubry in the position of power coming up to the next vote. She has the most information about Tai and also clearly has Tai’s almost total trust. Tai looked like he was a wreck at tribal, but when Aubry said she thought he was safe, he chose not to play the idol. Aubry will have to decide whether Tai poses a big enough threat to come after him, or if she’s ready to consider that Tai might be sitting with her at the end. All in all, I really don’t see that being such a bad thing. While Tai might pose a jury threat up against most people, I don’t think Aubry has to worry about him. She also stands to lose the most by turning on Tai, a man who she KNOWS thinks with his heart more than his head in this game, after she appealed to his emotional side and got him to flip for her benefit.