In this time of global panic and uncertainty, I was hoping to tune into the latest Survivor for some lighthearted relief and distraction from the real-world madness. Little did I expect to be left in further despair. Ladies and gentlemen: the queens are dead! Parvati Shallow and Sandra Diaz-Twine — two undeniable icons of this game — were voted out back-to-back in a brutal double-elimination episode. It was a decade ago when these women squared off in the finale of Heroes vs. Villains, cementing themselves as not only two of the best to ever play the game, but also as defining characters of Survivor. To lose them both in the same episode is both poetic and tragic and a real blow to this season.
Let’s start with Sandra because her elimination is absolute savagery, the likes of which we haven’t seen perhaps since Parvati pulled off her double idol play in Heroes vs. Villains. What makes it so shocking is that it’s so rare to see Sandra outplayed, especially to this degree. Yes, she’s been on the wrong side of a vote before — the Rupert blindside in Pearl Islands comes to mind — but never the direct target of such a humbling attack. Sandra is usually so aware of her surroundings, she cockroaches through the game, finding cracks and slipping by vote by vote. Self-preservation is her modus operandi. It’s how she won the game twice. Seldom do players get one over on Sandra. Even in Game Changers, where she entered as a huge threat on a lopsided cast and took a more controlling approach, her downfall only came due to an unfortunate tribe swap that left her without the numbers. So what the hell happened here?
Well, when one queen falls, another one is waiting in the wings to claim the throne. Denise has played an understated game since her dicey start on the Sele tribe. She’s kept her head down, pocketed an idol, and made herself available as a reliable number. But there comes a time when one must step out from behind the coconut tree and make oneself heard. That opportunity presents itself when Sandra offers her an idol in exchange for fire tokens. You can almost see the calculations spilling out of Denise’s ears as she runs scenarios. “I don’t need another idol,” she ponders, “but it serves another purpose. I could make a game-changing move.” It’s an option not afforded to her fellow ex-Sele member Jeremy, who has little choice but to join the original Dakal trio of Kim, Sandra, and Tony and keep his fingers crossed that he doesn’t see Tribal Council again until the merge. Denise, on the other hand, has all the power, because if four votes are coming her way, she can play an idol and single-handedly decide who heads to the Edge of Extinction.
Denise takes Sandra up on the offer, trading a token for an idol, and then subsequently using that idol to save herself and vote Sandra out. That’s gangster! On top of that, she plays her other idol to protect Jeremy, just in case the Dakal threesome had decided to plant their votes on him instead. That last move might seem a tad unnecessary, but if it secures Jeremy’s loyalty to her moving forward, it could pay off in the long term. There’s no doubt Denise’s performance here is one of the flashiest single-player moves in Survivor history, but the question is, was it the right move? The idol plays, yes, almost definitely. But targeting Sandra? I’m not so sure if that was the right call. I understand Denise’s suspicions regarding Sandra’s motives, but I do think this could have been a potential working relationship going into the merge. Sandra wasn’t about that “keep the big threats together” life — and she seemed particularly spooked by Tony’s sketchy behavior before Tribal. Obviously, it’s hard for Denise to know what Sandra is truly thinking, but the idol exchange could have been the olive branch of a blossoming alliance. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
As for Sandra, I’m sure her detractors are gleefully rubbing their hands and pontificating about how this has tarnished her legacy. But I wouldn’t be so hasty. While it’s undeniable that she made a poor judgment, there is some logic behind the move. Sandra had the numbers and an idol that was set to expire after this Tribal. Rather than see that idol turn into a souvenir, she seized an opportunity to bargain with it, potentially gaining a couple of tokens and a new ally all at once. Theoretically, Sandra didn’t need the idol anymore. Her mistake was trusting the wrong person — and possibly underestimating her own threat level. That infamous “as long as it ain’t me” catchphrase became a haunting echo, as Denise viewed Sandra’s motivations as selfish based on the reputation she’s crafted for herself in her Survivor career. But despite another cursed Day 16 finish, that reputation will never be sullied. Sandra will always be the first person to ever win this game twice (in her first two attempts at that), and the fact that she survived as many Tribals as she did in both Game Changers and Winners at War despite the target on her back is a testament to her skill as a player. One bad day at the jungle office does not ruin a legacy.
Parvati’s experience over at the Sele tribe is a little different from that of Sandra. The Survivor: Micronesia winner is down on numbers and feeling all alone. The former Dakal boys — Nick, Wendell, and Yul — are tight and seemingly unbreakable. That leaves Parvati and Michele on the outside looking in, like two partygoers who have just been told the club is at capacity. With the writing practically on the parchment already, Michele figures she might as well gain something out of this bleak situation. She tells her ex-boyfriend Wendell that she’ll write his name down so that when Parvati leaves, she’ll be gifted her tokens. Wendell looks at Michele as if she just told him she was pregnant. He is indignant that she would dare put his name down, considering that only one more vote could see him sent packing. There’s definitely a prickish side to Wendell this season, also seen in his patronizing chat with Parvati, where he demands she hand over two fire tokens in exchange for his vote. It’s that conversation, though, that provides Parvati a glimmer of hope of flipping Nick to vote out Wendell due to his willingness to make sneaky side-deals.
Yet, while Wendell faces a tongue-battering and the fire of a scorned ex at Tribal, the vote was always going to be Parvati. Like Sandra, her reputation in this game precedes her. Until now, she’s never finished below sixth place. Not only is she a highly regarded winner, but she placed as runner-up (and was close to winning again) in one of the most competitive seasons of all time. There has been a lot of talk this season of “big threats versus non-threats,” and Parvati was one of the biggest threats on the board. It’s somewhat unfair to label any past winner a “non-threat,” but the likes of Nick and Wendell, as recent onetime players, are not in the same echelon as Parvati. Even Yul — who is a respected winner — played so long ago (and in a very different era) that he isn’t considered a top-tier threat this season. So as heartbreaking as it is to lose a legend like Parvati, especially with Ethan, Rob, and now Sandra also leaving pre-merge, you can’t blame the others for taking the shot. Just like Denise, these “non-threats” want to make their mark and join the ranks of immortals, and when it’s all said and done, we might have some new legends to carve into that Survivor Mount Rushmore.
• The Yara tribe has the night off and mostly spends it celebrating that Boston Rob is gone, which means they’re no longer grounded and can go out and play. Adam doesn’t have any friends, though, and feels he could still be in danger should they go to Tribal again.
• Edge of Extinction is back this week, and for as much as I despise it, I admit I chuckled at Tyson’s antics. First his “pretending to pee” distraction tactic, and then spending his fire token on a secret jar of peanut butter. “It’s both sneaky and hilarious,” he says. I couldn’t put it any better myself.
• Jeff chastising Wendell for throwing the Immunity skull to him is also highly amusing. “You were really gonna throw it? Wow!”
• The return of Tony’s spy shack is also delightful, even if it does turn out to be completely unnecessary. Despite his reformed ways, Tony is going to Tony.
• It should be noted that Michele does get Parvati’s tokens. Also, Tyson sends Parv an Idol Nullifier from the Edge, which obviously turns out to be useless given her situation.
• “I feel like an upside-down duck,” says Jeremy, perfectly encapsulating the craziness of this game.