Ladies and gentlemen, we officially have a Survivor season after last night’s episode. I was already liking the emphasis being placed on the character development for the first few hours but now, everything has been kicked into high gear. The swap was perfectly timed to give the season some new character dynamics and those dynamics didn’t take very long to pay dividends. This was a fantastic episode, one of the best in recent memory in my opinion.

Before I really dive into the episode, I want to talk about the swap a little bit. I really enjoyed the fact that we stayed into three tribes. There seems to be a focus this season on keeping the tribes smaller, which forces people to really play hard in order to stay alive. The fewer people on a tribe, the less room there is to hide. To survive in these kind of dynamics, you need to be a good social player or an extremely invaluable asset at camp or in challenges. It makes it hard to be an under-the-radar character which forces everybody to be fun personalities for the television program as well. I approve of a three tribe swap going into another set of three tribes.

Of course, while this episode was topnotch, it does hurt a little considering who we lost. While he was really only visible in two episodes, Alan made those two episodes count. He was a quote machine and made for great television. Alan will always be remembered for making a dude strip down on day one. As it turns out, that idol fueled paranoia was not misplaced, it was only a little early. I have to give major props to the editors for foreshadowing this, it should have been obvious to all of us after episode one, but I didn’t see Alan getting idol-ed out of the game being discussed too much as a possibility.

Last night, Alan really seemed like a straight up guy. He stayed on the original Heroes tribe with Ashley, the person both would have least liked to stay with. Despite that, Alan decided to put his beef aside and agreed to actually work with Ashley. It was proof to me that Alan is not an insane person and that he really was thinking of the game above anything else. That moment when he confronted Joe and said in front of everybody that there was no way he was writing down Ashley’s name was basically Alan’s redemption story. They started off completely unable to work with each other and in the end, Alan went down trying to protect her.

Oh Alan, we hardly knew ye.

That blue tribe, Levu, has by far the most interesting dynamics. Joe and Desi never seemed particularly close on Healers beach. We never really even got to see them interact. Swapped onto a tribe with two Heroes and a Hustler, they were quickly forced into becoming a tandem. It obviously worked out for Desi because she didn’t go home, but for the majority of this episode, it seemed like she was being held in an alliance against her will. Maybe now that Joe helped keep her safe, she will develop some Stockholm Syndrome-like willingness to work with him.

Really, the star of much of the drama in this episode was Joe. His attempt to tell Devon that the Heroes wanted him out was terrible. In that moment, he was transparent and obvious in his deviousness. Devon didn’t trust what was being said to him for a minute. On a tribe of five, how could you even try something like that? You and your partner are telling the swing vote the other pair wants you gone. Right there, you’re implicating the entire tribe. That’s pretty damn easy to fact check. Joe’s plan had the opposite result of its intention of sending Devon over to Ashley and Alan and forming a bond. Joe and Desi saw this, which forced Joe into coming up with a second plan of action.

The idea of attracting so much attention on yourself to get votes isn’t new. As far back as Survivor: the Australian Outback, Colby was doing it at the merge to swing the numbers his way come the tie-break. Joe went so hard at it though, that it should have been obvious. I’m sure the other three could see what was going on and still took a gamble that Joe might psych himself out. It didn’t pay off for them but it certainly paid off for Joe.

Going forward, I’m not sure how well Joe is going to fare. He’s already antagonized two people on his tribe. On the former Healers, Cole and Jessica already doesn’t trust him, and Mike has reasons to not side with him. His gambit worked for now, but it really feels like he might be living on borrowed time. Especially if Desi doesn’t show any loyalty for helping to save her last night.

While he didn’t get the chance to do much at tribal council, I love everything Devon was thinking. He saw right through Joe’s attempt to intimidate him and double checked with Ashley and Alan. It showed that he was thinking of the bigger picture, which is that the Healers are still intact while both the Heroes and the Hustlers have lost numbers. At tribal, his deadpan “That is not an advantage” to reading that he couldn’t vote was fantastic. His reaction to Alan’s boot was great, showing respect and appreciation for trickery. I like everything I am seeing from Devon and am not too worried about his ability to rally from this blindside.

This is some seriously great comedic timing at a moment of intense pressure. Devon is amazing.

If Jessica truly was trying to protect her Healers, Devon was the wrong person to give it to. He might have sided with them and by blocking his vote, Jessica was ensuring a deadlock. If Jessica was trying to “protect” the Healers but also force out Joe’s idol, this was a fantastic strategic decision that would really propel Jessica up my list of potential winners.

It will be incredibly interesting to find out how Levu bounces back from this. By alienating Devon and Ashley, Joe and Desi have formed a very natural 2–2 split. By choosing to vote out Alan, they also weakened their physicality for future challenges. This might enhance their chances of going to the next tribal council which could be headed towards a rock draw. The two question marks will be Devon, who may not want to stick his neck out for Ashley, and Desi, who’s already shown some reticence to working with Joe. No matter what, this tribe is incredibly interesting.

What made this episode so fun was that it wasn’t just the losing tribe that gave us some good footage. Each tribe contributed something to the pot to make this hour of Survivor must-see TV. The new Yawa (red) tribe is almost as interesting as the Levu tribe. At first glance, the Healers should be set on Yawa. They have Cole, Jessica, and Mike which gives them an obvious 3–2 advantage over Ben and Lauren, who both came from different sides. Should they get in trouble, there should be a pecking order that leaves those three at the top.

All that is well and good when you have decently talented Survivor players. Instead we have Cole, who seems to have the worst case of diarrhea of the mouth I have ever seen. As we all know, Jessica got an advantage to block somebody’s vote. Like Ryan’s super idol, she was going to have to pass along that advantage to somebody on the losing tribe should she not get the chance to use it.

As an aside, let me go on a little rant about something before I continue. I am perfectly okay with hidden advantages at a marooning, in camp or at challenges. Those are all spots that anybody can look for them should they have a chance. Hiding an advantage in a random bag of chips, not even a clue… an advantage, pisses me off. It’s completely up to dumb luck when it comes to who receives it and could potentially swing the game in a big way. Don’t do this production. Please.

Anyways, Jessica falls ass backwards into an advantage. Naturally she tells Cole and Mike. She should always do this because it builds stronger bonds with her original tribe and helps unify them as the majority. The only downfall to her plan is that Cole can’t help but talk. On a tribe of five, he tells both members of the minority that Jessica found an advantage and what it is. How is that ever a good plan? Cole is basically walking up to the enemy, handing them a gun, and telling them how to use it against him. God damn it Cole you should be smarter than this.

Of course, Lauren and Ben aren’t just going to sit this on information. They’re on the bottom and they clearly know it. Lauren perfectly uses a moment when Cole and Jessica go off to fish to reveal to Mike that Lauren is aware of the advantage and plants a perfect little seed of doubt (not a Russell seed) into Mike’s head. I never foresaw Lauren having these kind of subtle abilities to play the game but that was an impressive use of knowledge. As Schoolhouse Rock once thought me, “knowledge is power!”

Now, Jessica knows that Cole blabbed to every single soul on their tribe about her advantage. She is clearly at a crossroads because she is in an alliance with a seven year-old in a man’s body. Mike has reasons to be very wary of both Jessica and Cole because given what Lauren has told him, he feels like they might be playing him. What should be a solid alliance of three is now completely uncertain. All because Cole is unable to keep a secret to himself.

In what was almost the perfect contrast to Cole, Ryan hopped on his new Soko tribe and perfectly leveraged his knowledge of a secret advantage to further himself. When I saw that Ryan was swapping onto a tribe with Chrissy, I got excited because I knew that meant further delving into the day one super idol storyline. Ryan perfectly approached Chrissy with this. He didn’t aggressively come out and immediately hit her over the head with information. He got to know her a little bit first and slowly breached the subject. Chrissy was immediately pleased to know Ryan had been her benefactor and now they both appear to be on the same side. Take notes Cole, that is how you handle a secret advantage.

The other interesting dynamic on Soko will be the Ryan and Ali pairing. On paper, they should be willing to work together because they come from the same tribe and voted similarly as Hustlers. The thing is, both are savvy game players who recognize each other as threats. They could decide to put their minds together and focus on making the merge, agreeing to deal with each other when the numbers dwindle. They could also decide to target each other now, on a smaller tribe when they might have a shot at taking the other one out. It’s always interesting when alliances may appear to be on the rocks because of two players who are going to want some modicum of power.

Going into the next episode, all three tribes are up in the air. I have no idea who might be going home next if any of these tribes happen to lose the immunity challenge. There are strong cases to be made for a bunch of people. That’s exciting. It’s rare on Survivor that I can’t detect much of the pecking order by this time in a season but as of right now, Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers has kept me stumped. To that, I raise my hat.