We’re merging! Well, not quite yet. As Xander says, it’s “Mergeatory.” Okay, king of puns.
This week’s episode, which Probst acknowledges in a direct-to-camera speech, is a two-parter. No one is going home tonight, but you should continue reading this recap because: (1) The merge episode is always a fun time on Survivor. It’s a milestone for the contestants, like reaching the end of the first semester. (2) It’s a complicated episode with details determining the fate of the rest of the season. (3) I’ve got at least one good Jeff Probst joke.
First, though, a little context is needed. This isn’t an actual merge, at least not yet. Typically, the separate tribes come together as one and enjoy a communal feast. The nature of the game changes at this point. Instead of competing as a team, castaways will now play as individuals. And, in some cases, the person voted out first after the merge episode becomes the initial jury member.
This is good news for Ricard and Shan, who are the sole remaining Ua tribe members. They’re both power players, but they’ll almost certainly be targets, having voted out everyone else on their tribe. As for Yase, they’ve been riding a calm wave for a few episodes now, and Xander seems to think he’s closer with Liana than he might actually be. Over on Luvu, it’s still unclear what the dynamics really are as they’ve yet to go to tribal council. This is a blessing or a curse, depending on how they play it out. They could stick Luvu strong to the end, or they might fracture quickly.
But first, we have a competition to get to. Instead of immediately going into the merge feast, Probst explains they will compete in a two-team challenge. Each castaway will draw a rock to determine their team for the competition. The winning team is safe at tribal council and dines at the merge feast, while the losing team is on the chopping block. Keep in mind, all castaways — even the ones with immunity — will vote at tribal next week.
Finally, two players will draw gray rocks — Erika and Naseer. They’ll sit out of the challenge with their fates to be explained later.
As for the challenge itself, it looks … exhausting and honestly a little unmatched. On Yellow, we have Xander, Heather, Liana, Tiffany, and Shan. On Blue, it’s Danny, Ricard, Sydney, Deshawn, and Evvie. Each team must dig up a massive boulder, stand atop it to grab two keys, scale a wooden structure and unlock and complete a word puzzle. Though Yellow never gives up, they just didn’t have the overwhelming group strength needed to dig up that massive boulder and scale the side of a wooden structure like Blue did rather quickly.
So Blue, who is mostly made up of former Luvu members, wins and must decide: save Naseer or Erika and send the other to live alone on a separate island for two (two!) nights.
Danny claims they do a round of Paper Rock Scissors (isn’t it Rock Paper Scissors?) and send Erika off on her own. I feel for Erika! Since Luvu hasn’t gone to tribal council, we don’t know too much about her just yet. Thankfully, in this episode, we learn of her Survivor journey. She’s playing as a “love letter” to her parents, who moved from the Philippines to Canada.
So she heads off to isolation, which a lower-third informs is, in fact, Exile Island. Maybe this season does not have a name because there are one too many to choose from: Shot in the Dark, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Exile Island, Is Jeff Probst Rocking a Mullet?
At first, it looks like Erika is in a bad spot being away from the tribe. The merge episode is notorious for making clear what old alliances ended and which new ones started. Shan and Ricard seem to have fractured following Shan’s request that Ricard return the extra vote advantage and his resistance to do so. Because Shan’s strong bond with Liana is also public, this might spell bad news for the Ua alliance. It’s also bad news for Tiffany, who is realizing her Yase women’s alliance with Liana and Evvie might not be so solid.
There’s also rumbling from Danny, Naseer, and Xander keeping an alliance of physically strong players together, meaning some of the men might align. Then there’s Erika. She wonders if she’s on the outs with her former Luvu tribe, but she just might have the opportunity to really shift the game.
At the end of the episode, Probst visits her on Exile Island … with props. It’s Survivor show-and-tell!
Pulling out a large hourglass and a hammer, he informs Erika she could metaphorically go back in time and change the game’s fate by breaking the clock. This means that the team who won the challenge and has immunity would be up for elimination, and the losing team and herself would be safe at tribal.
Breaking the hourglass might prove good for Erika. If her hunch is right that her Luvu tribe isn’t fully on her side, then she has an opportunity to save herself. Plus, half the tribe might be indebted to her for saving them from elimination. The opposite also stands: She risks alienating those with immunity, including several people with whom she’s played the longest.
The episode ends on Erika’s cliffhanger. So the big takeaway here is actually for Probst. Throughout the season, and especially in his one-on-one with Erika, he’s authoritative, compassionate, and a little bit existential.
Probst, where is your wellness brand? What is your Fabletics, your Honest Company, your Poosh? Gwyneth Paltrow is out here reportedly making a good dollar with Goop, and so could you. You’ve built an entire show around mental and physical fortitude. Plus, you’ve got an iconic look. No one rocks a cargo shirt like you. I’d like a mental-health app, a clothing line, and a website full of funky products up and running by the start of next season. Let’s call it Got Somethin’ for Ya.
That was the good Jeff Probst joke. Did you laugh?
• While introducing herself to fellow castaways after the merge, Liana says, “I’m from a suburb of Chicago. Evanston.” So am I! Well, farther north than Evanston. Give it up for the suburbs of Chicago, you guys.
• Have the lower-thirds during testimonials previously shown the number of advantages a player has? I’m here for it. It’s helpful information.
• We’re treated to an incredibly lovely scene where Danny, Deshawn, Liana, and Shan bond, discuss the increased racial inclusivity of this season and appear to form a secret alliance. Shan mentions wanting the alliance to end up on the front page of a newspaper. I hope they can go all the way to the end together!