In a season full of stunner episodes, this was was unfortunately quite a dud. It wasn’t even a particularly bad episode, really. I loved both the challenges, we got to see some moves (and attempts at moves) which could have deeply lasting implications in these final few days, and we finally got a glimmer of story out of Joe. It was just one of those episodes where it seemed pretty obvious who was going home and while the edit did a good job of misleading us, it was a pretty disappointing conclusion to see Jason go home. Let’s get into the summary.
Tai's Swan Song
Tai chooses to share the specifics of his advantage with Joe and Aubry, saying that as long as the three of them stay strong they can basically choose who they want to send home. Jason is mad because as much as he doesn’t want to give up, he feels like no one is willing to talk strategy or consider making a big move that might involve him. At the reward challenge, Jason/Tai/Michele easily best Aubry/Cydney/Joe. The most interesting thing about this challenge is the fact that we start to see a spike in Joe’s visibility this episode. By the reward challenge, we’ve already seen him talk one-on-one with Jason, and then we focus on him and his frustration with his performance in the challenge.
Continuing this trend, post-reward we see the losing team back at camp and Joe is getting on Aubry and Cydney’s last nerve by ordering them around on firewood-gathering missions. Aubry is quietly frustrated, Cydney is one step away from blowing her lid. It’s clear the strain of no sleep and very little food is really getting to Cydney. Meanwhile, Tai/Jason/Michele enjoy a wildlife sanctuary, where Michele gets YET ANOTHER feast, Jason gets a humanizing moment in Tai’s eyes as he gets attacked by a monkey and talks about how excited he is to share memories of this trip with his autistic daughter back home. Tai starts thinking he wants to keep Jason around and start gunning for Michele, who hasn’t made enemies of the jury.
In the immunity challenge, we see what’s a slow-moving yet high stakes battle for immunity. It’s common for challenges which involve stacking blocks and building structures to see a few lead changes as the front runner gets too cocky and sees their tower crumble, but this challenge switches back and forth the entire time, leaving the slowest-moving competitor the winner: Cydney.
Tai quickly pleads his case for Michele to Aubry, Joe, and Cydney before Michele joins them in the water. No one seems particularly into it and Cydney, the queen of sensitivity lately when it comes to being bossed around, is not having it at all. Aubry shares with Tai that she understands where he’s coming from and in many ways agrees with his rationale, but makes it clear in her confessional that she’s conflicted. Tai tells Jason he’ll be voting for Michele, but Jason doesn’t trust Tai and wants to go for Joe. Joe and Cydney are both sour at Tai and keep gunning for Jason, leaving Aubry as the only one who’s vote preferences are still a bit up in the air and in a tough spot once Cydney basically delivers her "me or Tai" ultimatum.
At Tribal Council, everyone comes down hard on Tai, who continues to try and make his case for Michele as he drags her through the mud, describing her as an afterthought add-on to their four person alliance of Joe/Aubry/Tai/Cydney. Despite Tai using his advantage to vote for Michele, the four in his alliance all vote for Jason and Jason sticks with his plan to vote Joe, sending Jason home.
Cydney: Struggling to Keep Holding it Together.
This episode, I’m not naming an MVP. Honestly, I don’t feel like anyone made particularly strong moves tonight but while I don’t necessarily agree with the moves Cydney made, she clearly did the best job of having a plan in place and then making sure everyone followed through and executed it. Cydney’s motivation was not wanting to get pushed around (not a great motivator for strategy this close to the end, but an understandable one as the pressure of the game start to really take their toll). We saw her lose her patience a bit with Joe but vent to Aubry instead of to Joe’s face, and we saw her interpret Tai’s hurried suggestion to vote out Michele during the Tai/Joe/Aubry/Cydney huddle in the water as an act of bullying. The deep irony in all of this is that Cydney then turned around and kind of did the exact same thing to Aubry all while pleading her case about how she didn't want Tai pushing her around. She knew Aubry would be conflicted about not following Tai’s suggestion (proving that can read people pretty well); however, she kind of strong-armed Aubry into voting with her against Jason and was able to keep Michele in the game (which I don't see as a great plan, but obviously Cydney had her reasons).
Aubry: The Queen of Biting Her Tongue
Speaking of Aubry, I was a bit disappointed with her plays this week. First, she receives the information that Tai does NOT in fact have a super idol, and that he only has an extra vote that he’s planning to use at the next tribal council. This seems like a perfect opportunity for Aubry to cut him loose and she didn’t even seem to entertain the possibility. Next tribal, he won’t be able to get voted out, meaning Aubry and Michele are probably the biggest targets who will both have to scramble to win immunity to save themselves. The only reason to keep Tai that does make sense is if Aubry is thinking the same way I am that he played the “nice guy” game for a while and then changed to the “can’t make up his mind flip-flopper,” potentially losing him all of the favor he curried during the first half of the game and in many ways making him seem like a better person to take to final tribal than someone like Michele or Cydney, who might be able to pull votes away from her. Also, Aubry kind of took the coward’s way out this episode and voted against her gut in order to keep Cydney and Joe happy. It’s pretty late in the game to be playing it safe, especially given the fact that we have so few tribal councils left to vote out big threats. But then again, she would have needed at least one more person to vote with her and Tai to avoid forcing a tiebreaker and it didn’t seem like she had many options. Okay, I think I talked myself back into it. Aubry had been backed into a corner with no real decisions on the table to make except the ones they did. Hopefully this doesn’t come back to bite her. On a more positive note, I was quite impressed with her ability to stay calm and pleasant around Joe when they got back from the reward challenge (which HE lost for them) as Joe was being a big baby ordering everyone around. That's one of those qualities that Aubry's been able to lean on to get her this deep into the game and it's damn impressive given the hunger, paranoia, and sleep deprivation they're all under by this point.
Tai: The Fall From Grace
For being such a likable guy, his social skills are pretty horrible when it comes to backpedaling gracefully and mending broken connections. First, he apologized to Jason after voting out Scot and losing Jason his closest ally and idol in one fell swoop which seemed like a good move except that we heard that Jason really didn’t buy it. Now, Tai is gunning for Michele which is by no means a bad call, but he’s approached it all wrong. Jason doesn’t trust him enough to vote with him and Tai didn’t seem to work hard enough to sway him. Tai also should have brought up the idea of voting Michele to each of his allies in private one-on-ones to hear them out and give them a chance to voice their support, concerns, questions, etc. Throwing it on them all right before Michele comes to join them in the water made Tai feel panicked and like he had to get it out quickly, which is why Cydney mistook it for being bossy. Tai should have done what Aubry ended up going, which was testing the waters, realizing there wasn’t enough of a consensus to vote out Michele, and piped down because singling yourself out at this stage of the game for any reason paints a huge target on your back. Tai also didn’t seem to put much time into trying to talk to Cydney and fix the misunderstanding.
None of this bodes well for final tribal council. If Tai makes it that far, he has no real chance at winning because he crumbles under pressure. As soon as the jury start lobbing hardballs at him, he’s going to fall into fumbling apology mode and won’t be able to communicate his strategy because his strategy changed with his emotional state episode to episode. It’s interesting to consider someone who I saw as a HUGE social threat early on to make enough mistakes that I don’t see a way for him to possibly win enough votes at the end to take home the money UNLESS he was sitting next to only Joe. And even then, he might lose. The problem isn’t the FACT that he flopped, it’s that his narrative did. He started off as the nice guy, then took a turn for the dark side, then vanquished the dark side from within, but then couldn’t make up his mind about who he was or what he stood for.
Jason: Bully Turned Outcast
Before the season began, Anna and Jason were my picks to win. While Anna got voted out pre-merge, I felt pretty good about the chances of Jason making it into the end. It’s been such a shame to see his game crumble the way it has since reuniting with Scot. They really do bring out the worst in each other as teammates and game players, even if they do seem to be very functional and supportive bffs outside of the game.
Jason’s early strategy, while slightly questionable on an ethics level, worked very well. He and Jason got rid of Darnell to keep Cydney close by. They singled out Alecia as the bottom so that they were never in trouble of getting voted out. When they split up at the merge they both did well for themselves. We saw both beauty and brains approach Jason and Cydney to try and work with them. When Cydney left them, their smart gameplay went to hell and they started pulling moves which might have been strategic in their minds, but weren’t really setting them up for success. It was a real shame that Jason couldn’t find a way to maneuver his way out of this vote. Going into the episode, I thought he had a real strong shot at it; however, it seems abundantly clear from the episode and the interviews Jason’s been doing this week that the five some literally did not talk to him if they could help it the last few days to keep him from having the opportunity to get in their heads, which was quite smart on their part. Poor Jason didn’t stand a chance.
Based on how this tribal council played out and the trailers we saw for next episode, I foresee two pairs and one swing vote. It seems like Michele and Tai are making up and considering working together which you could see seeming like a smart move for Michele: Tai has the immunity idol which he’ll have to play this upcoming tribal, meaning that he holds some power. It’s also smart because he’s proven he’s a solid challenge threat and so Michele probably wants to rebuild her friendship with Tai (much as she did with Aubry and Cydney after they left her out of the vote) in case he wins the final immunity challenge and holds the power in deciding who to send home. Tai will probably also be frustrated with Aubry for not supporting him and voting Michele, which leaves Aubry and Joe on the other side of things. This would put Cydney in a crucial swing vote position to vote with what could become her final three alliance she rides through the next two votes.
This is where it gets interesting, because I think if this IS how it plays out, Cydney’s going to consider her chances to be better with Joe and Aubry vs. Tai and Michele. She already stated that she doesn’t want to go to the final three with “no damn Tai,” and she must realize that Michele and Tai are both solid challenge threats AND potential jury threats. Aubry’s performed medium-well in the challenges, but Joe is a non-issue entirely. This is even more enticing if Cydney’s considering the option that it’s a final two, because that gives her a 50/50 chance of taking Joe with her to final It seems like Cydney’s chances would be better with Aubry and Joe than Michele and Tai, which would leave Michele in the obvious hottest at tribal. Of course all of this could easily change depending on who wins the immunity challenge.