For the first ten days of Winners At War, the Dakal tribe has been living the high life. Having only been to Tribal Council once — for what turned out to be a relatively harmless Amber vote-off — the winners in red have been able to kick back, crack jokes, build ladders, play cops-and-robbers, and enjoy exotic sea-life cuisine. “We’re on a roll,” says a jubilant Yul as he high fives his fellow tribemates for making it to Day 10. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had on Survivor,” explains Sarah — though that’s not hard to believe, having spent 39 days with Brad Culpepper the last time she played. “I’m taking advantage of this playground,” she adds, as we cut to shots of the group joshing around, spearfishing, and just generally living their best lives.
However, in the distance, across the ocean, is the blurry outline of human figures on the dreaded Edge of Extinction island, serving as a stark warning of the misery that awaits. “The Edge of Extinction scares me,” states Sophie, who watches the island from the comfort of her camp while comparing it to a misguided school trip to a prison. “It’s a daily reminder that the good times are a façade.” Sophie’s potent words get to the crux of this episode, which sees the Dakal party crashed by a painful challenge loss and a second visit to Tribal. The laughs and camaraderie soon subside as the game springs back to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Some were already anticipating this moment. “It’s just an illusion that we’re all tight with each other,” says Yul early in the episode. On the surface, it might seem like the tribe is operating as a cohesive unit, but factions are forming. And right now, Yul believes his “free agents” alliance of Nick, Sophie, Wendell, and himself is entirely unsuspected.
Yul’s alliance isn’t quite as covert as he assumes, though. Having thrown out Sandra’s name last week, Tyson realizes that targeting the “big threats” is probably not the wisest move, lest it create a domino effect that sees him toppled in the collapse. Instead, Tyson starts to worry about the under-the-radar onetime players joining forces and picking off the multi-time legends one by one. “Sophie is so under the radar I didn’t even know her name,” he quips with that classic Tyson sarcasm. His idea of targeting the unconnected players with less “star power” is not a bad strategy — you only have to look to Survivor: Game Changers to see what happens when the big names don’t stick together. “We’re gonna get popped one at a time,” Tyson tells Sandra and Tony, who both ended up as pre-merge boots in Game Changers partly due to their failure to work side by side. The problem for Tyson is that his pitch came at least a day too late.
If there’s one thing we know about Sandra, it’s that she likes to hold a grudge. She might say she doesn’t play emotionally, but, to use her own words against her here, “I don’t know about that!” She basically voted out Amber because Rob didn’t tell her he or his wife were on the season. And it might have been 17 years ago, but I remember Sandra’s vengeful destruction of the fish after the tribe blindsided Rupert in the Pearl Islands. These raw, emotional reactions are part of the reason I and many others adore Sandra, and the fact she is able to translate her blunt, say-it-like-it-is attitude into a winning game is part of her charm. All of that is to say, the two-time Survivor champ is not quick to forget that Tyson came after her last week. So while she listens and nods and tells Tyson everything he wants to hear, this, too, just like the good times at camp, is a façade.
It’s a bit different for Sandra’s closest allies, Sarah and Tony. The Cops ‘R’ Us duo don’t have personal animosity toward Tyson and see the value in keeping him around as not only a number but a shield. Sarah has also clicked with Tyson in one of the more unexpected bonds of the season, to the point where she willingly inhaled his clam-breath. And so the blue bloods have a tricky situation on their hands. “I’d much rather get rid of Nick,” Tony explains. Nick is one of those aforementioned unconnected, under-the-radar players, and he’s the person Tyson decides to aim at for the vote. This comes as a shock to Nick, who considered Tyson one of his favorite players coming into the season — never meet your heroes, kids! So while everyone placates Tyson, telling him they’re onboard with his plan, Sarah and Tony weigh their options and wonder if Sandra could be convinced to put her revenge aside and take out Nick instead.
In the end, the tribe votes as a unit against Tyson, with Nick throwing a lone vote on Kim in case of an idol play. I’m sure Sandra had a prominent voice in the decision, but I doubt she was the only factor in this vote. As brought up by Wendell, there are connections for Tyson waiting on the other tribe, and with a swap on the horizon, that poses a real danger. Also, Tyson has been on the outs since the beginning, why risk voting for Nick and creating more fractures when you can keep up the façade of one big happy family? As of now, Dakal can at least continue the pretense of tribe unity heading into a shake-up, something that can’t be said of the incredibly divided Sele tribe.
There is no façade on team blue anymore. Adam’s double-dealing was exposed for all to see at last week’s Tribal Council, and now he’s on an apology tour like a disgraced politician. “I was castrated in front of everybody!” he exclaims in typical dramatic fashion. To his credit, he is self-aware enough to acknowledge his mistakes and for having the “hubris” to think he could get away with playing both sides. In order to get back into the group’s good graces, the newly neutered Adam essentially becomes Sele’s errand boy. He collects wood, stokes the fire; at one point, he starts offering everyone coconut soup like a pushy employee at a Whole Foods sample counter. It’s so blatant to everyone what Adam is trying to do — Jeremy compares it to what happens when one of his kids is in trouble and trying desperately to make nice.
For Rob and Parvati, who are now firmly on the bottom and still prime targets due to their threat level, this is a perfect opportunity to gain some ground. Adam might be dead set on staying out of harm’s way and not talking strategy to Rob or Parv, but that doesn’t mean Rob can’t lie. “I could just make something up,” explains Rob, who does just that, informing Michele and Jeremy that Adam is still trying to talk game with him. It’s a simple lie but an effective one because it plays on an already sullied reputation. It’s not a leap to think that Adam is still up to his weaselly ways. “I’m so sick of Adam playing both sides,” says Michele, who sure seems to have bought what Rob is selling. If it wasn’t for Michele and Rob coming in clutch at the puzzle portion of the Immunity Challenge, then Adam could very well have been heading to the Edge.
Ah, yes, the always riveting Edge of Extinction. If it wasn’t crushing enough to see Ethan voted out last week, this episode, the producers almost kill the poor guy. For a chance to earn one fire token each, the four Edge inhabitants have to climb the steps of a steep hill to each collect 20 pieces of firewood and bring them back to camp. The killer is that they can only retrieve one log at a time. Not only is this kind of thing torturous to watch, but it’s clearly excruciating for the players, too, who are all physically burned out by the end of it. At one stage, Ethan literally passes out, and medical is called in. I get pushing the castaways and making them earn it, but this is too much. Not only that, but it’s not entertaining TV. If I wanted to watch people struggling to climb stairs, I’d join an over-70 step-aerobics class. Also, if the purpose of the Edge is to keep these legendary players on TV longer, don’t almost get them medically evacuated over what is essentially Monopoly money. I’ve tried not to let the Edge affect my enjoyment of the season so far, but the prolonged sequence this week really irritated me, and you know what? I can’t keep up the façade any longer.
• Even though the Edge challenge took its toll on everyone, Natalie was a machine for the most part. With the way things are going, I’m starting to feel like Natalie will be winning her way back into the game soon.
• I liked Rob’s fatherly pep talk with Michele when she was talking about the backlash she received after she won Kaoh Rong. “Hey, if you win, you win,” he said matter-of-factly. He’s right, and Michele has nothing to be ashamed about despite what some butt-hurt fans might say online.
• The “Sandra Sit Out Bench” is now officially a thing. Jeff Probst said it, so it’s real.
• Speaking of the Sandra Sit Out Bench, I got a big laugh out of Tony playing Jedi mind tricks to make Adam fall off the platform.
• Also, while Adam mentioning his teacher’s encouraging words was sweet, let’s face it, it was Michele and Rob that won that challenge for Sele.
• “I thought Tony was an asshole, but he’s a really nice, caring guy.” Wow, don’t sugarcoat it, Yul!
• Lastly, it just needs to be said … it’s WILD that Sandra and Tony survived again without their names even coming up as possible targets.