When it comes to unpredictable Survivor episodes, I always say that you have three of them every season. Obviously the premiere is the first one, you don’t yet know the cast and how they will work together. The second is the tribe swap that changes up the dynamics of each tribe by putting new people together. Finally, you have the merge episode where everybody comes together and alliances jostle to gain the numbers advantage early. If your side wins the merge episode, you’re in a good spot to go a long way into the end-game.

Last night we saw the Heroes and Hustlers combine to gang up on the Healers. The concept itself wasn’t entirely surprising. Many, including myself if I may toot my own horn (since I get to do it so infrequently), predicted it coming into the episode. Much of the suspense lied with the Yawa alliance and whether or not Ben was going to splinter away from it in favour of his original Heroes tribe.

As we saw at tribal council, Ben did not want to stay with the Yawa alliance. He probably figured that being the minority in an already divided Healers alliance probably wouldn’t have been great for his odds when the numbers were thinned out. Instead he switched back to the Heroes, joined the Hustlers and voted out Jessica.

Poor Jessica, she may be a virgin but in many ways, she got screwed tonight. She didn’t do anything wrong that would lead to her boot, the odds were just not in her favour. The fact that she was obviously close with Cole was a red flag. The fact that the Healers were five people and weren’t trying to shoo away the idea that they were an alliance was a red flag. The fact that Joe had previously played an idol was a red flag because it made Joe a less savoury target. Everybody else on the island saw it: a Healer had to go last night.

When Joe pulled out that hidden immunity idol at tribal council, that’s when Jessica was immediately fucked. The Heroes and Hustlers coalition were probably already planning on voting Jessica but Joe’s move absolutely cemented it. They know that he’s self-serving and wouldn’t play an idol on anyone but himself. In Joe’s mind, he was entering a leveling war to try and psych the majority into voting for him, thinking he was bluffing. In reality, it was too transparent that Joe would never risk his own life for someone else, which is fair enough, and that made voting for Jessica easy. The only reason the alliance wasn’t voting for Joe was because he may have had an idol. In showing it publicly, he made sure the target wouldn’t go to him but he took out one of his allies in the process.

That’s my thing with Joe. I love his theatrics and his bombastic attitude. This episode really made me think he was a great character. Between selling the lava cakes so hard, ordering multiple steaks, and his tribal council performance, I thought he was really funny. I also give him credit for staying alive another round but now, he’s made life a little difficult for himself. He should have taken a page from Malcolm Freberg’s book in Survivor: Philippines and held onto that idol after showing it to everyone. Knowing someone has an idol and trying to get them to play it is mentally intimidating for players. It would have really helped him going forward. Now he’s starting fresh, like he said, but he’s also starting in a clear minority.

I do question the choice in target. As far as I know, nobody outside the Healers alliance knows that Mike has an idol. When it became clear that Joe had an idol and was going to use it on himself, I believe the majority should have targeted Cole. In fact, I’m kind of surprised Ben was willing to flip over to his original side to vote out Jessica considering how blood thirsty he is to go after Cole. Jessica is a smart player but Cole is a legitimate physical threat. You can possibly work with Jessica when she has no allies left. You can’t work with Cole because Cole is a danger both to his own game and yours.

In the minority, Dr. Mike could clearly see a sinking ship on the horizon and he realised he was standing in it. Why didn’t he try to jump away? Is Mike a sea captain and we hadn’t heard about it until now? Mike even vocalized it at tribal council. On the Healers tribe, he was target number one. Why would he be willing to go down with the people who would have happily sent him home if they had lost on day three? Of all the Healers, Mike is the one who made the best bonds outside his original tribe, there may have been some wiggle room for him but he never really explored it. That disappointed me a lot.

I’m interested to see how Cole plays without Jessica around. It sounds like he finally understands that he can’t keep eating everything in sight without sharing with people. You would think he might have learned that with Cookie Monster as a toddler but here we are. Cole is still an immediate threat but he does have the body to go on an immunity run and if he can somehow manage to survive as a healer or two goes down, he may create some room to become an important swing vote later on.

While I feel like the minority played a pretty poor game this week, I don’t think all of the majority played perfectly either. Specifically, Chrissy is almost going out of her way to paint a target on her back given the opportunity. At the merge feast, she was very clearly conspiring with Ben in broad daylight. Ben was right to tell her to keep it for camp because all eyes were on them in the moment. It was like she was so excited to talk about her swap adventures that she just couldn’t help herself.

Then, during the challenge, Chrissy was too happy to indulge Jeff in his math questions. The questions weren’t very hard, it’s not like people were immediately like “oh my god we have to get this genius out”, except for Lauren, it’s more about the tone. Chrissy really needed people to know in that moment that she could multiply numbers together. It’s something she’s shown off this season, she has a chip on her shoulder and she always needs to prove her worth. I understand why that might be considering her background and how she broke the glass ceiling in her occupation. In real life, that’s admirable. In Survivor, it makes you a target.

As well, when Cole finally clued in that Ben was pissed that Cole was eating truckloads of food in front of everybody, Ben should have handled the situation better. Cole went to Ben and apologized and Ben made him feel even worse for his actions. Look, I know that it has to be annoying to watch Cole eat like there’s no tomorrow and not even realise that he’s not following Survivor etiquette. Really, I do. But in that moment, Ben should have accepted the apology and pretended to move on. Be snarky in confessionals where it doesn’t come back to bite you. Not to the person’s face.

For a while, I feared for Devon’s life in the game too, and not just because he looked like Colby Donaldson on day 42 of Survivor: the Australian Outback before the merge. I appreciate that he went into the merge aggressive and looking to secure numbers but he needs to be careful. Lauren could have easily sunk his ship if Ben had been agreeable to stay with Yawa. Now that he’s in the majority, I hope that he plans on throwing a bunch of challenges until he needs to start winning. He has to minimize that target behind J.P. and play for the end-game.

I think that in the majority, Ryan and Ashley had the best nights. Both of them were around for key discussions when forming the alliance. They didn’t stand out to obviously to the minority. They weren’t pushing to swing people to the other side. At the merge where any little thing can put the target on your back, it’s the best way to be.

After the vote, I saw a lot of people questioning why Lauren didn’t vote with Yawa. I even saw it as a mark against the producers. I have to be honest, it felt pretty obvious to me. Lauren was on the minority at Yawa with Ben. Out of all the people on that tribe, she feels closest to him. When he told her that he would be voting with the coalition, it would have been crazy for Lauren not to go over with him. Not just because she would have been the odd woman out on an alliance of Healers but because if she hadn’t, she was the one forcing a tie. We criticize producers for being too showy with their editing and when they imply things to us, we criticized them for not telling us implicitly. We can’t have it both ways.

One final thing to note: it’s interesting that Jessica isn’t a jury member. It’s certainly not the first time somebody makes the merge but not jury, in fact it used to be regular practice. With 11 people left, that would insinuate an eight person jury with three finalists, barring a very surprising final two. Was production afraid of a possible 3–3–3 final vote somewhere in the future with no means to figure out the winner? With eight people on the jury, it also greatly maximizes the odds of a 4–4–0 final tribal council. When the Game Changers finale aired, Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers had finished taping. Is there a reason Jeff decided to tell us the process for figuring out a tie vote at the Game Changers reunion (other than giving Troyzan his moment to shine)?

All in all, while it may look like the Heroes and Hustlers are in the clear, a lot can happen in a Survivor round. Mike still has an idol he can barter with. There is the possibility of another idol hidden somewhere on the island. People might decide to flip, you never know. I see some worry of a possible Pagong-ing but if it happens, I don’t think the Healers will go down easy.

This season has been steadily improving with each passing episode and I look forward to where next week will take us.

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