It’s almost disconcerting how nonchalantly Survivor moves on from the raw and powerful closing of last week’s episode. But that’s the nature of the game, I guess. The players have very little time to dwell on morals and larger world issues because plans are to be formed and moves to be made to pursue victory. And we can’t just blame the show for carelessly brushing past the issue because the castaways themselves are the ones refocusing their priorities. “Tribal council was a very emotional thing that just happened,” says Drea early in the episode. “But I’m still on Survivor … and I’m gonna play as hard as I can.”
What follows is a more traditional episode of Survivor, revolving around converging strategies and a ruthless behind-the-scenes scheme. The unfortunate victim of the blindside plot is Hai, a player who makes the cardinal sin of believing he’s in control. Hai has played a strong and adaptive game across the season, clawing his way from the bottom of his original Vati tribe into a position of power. This climb from nothing to something is a familiar one for Hai, who shares a story about growing up in poverty in Vietnam before his family moved to the U.S. to forge a better life. Hai brings up his background in relation to the miserable Fijian weather and how the constant rain has reduced the castaways to shivering zombies. But it’s a different storm heading Hai’s way — one that he doesn’t see coming.
Hai’s boot might be predictable for the audience, but it’s a complete surprise to him. That’s because we get to see all the machinations going on behind Hai’s back. It starts with an upset Mike and opportunistic Omar. Mike isn’t pleased with Hai forcing him to vote out Rocksroy last week. Omar stokes the flames, driving a further wedge between the former allies. He has Mike on the hook, but another opportunity during a reward allows Omar to reel him in for the kill. After a heartfelt bonding moment over pizza and loved one’s videos, Omar tells Mike that Hai referred to him as his “puppet.” (Sidenote: If Mike was a puppet, he’d obviously be Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.) This is a lie. But as Omar says, “It’s a good lie, not a stupid lie.” Mike eats it up faster than his slice of pizza and essentially hands his puppet strings over to Omar.
While the wheels are in motion for Hai’s assassination, Lindsay has her target set on Jonathan. This is a breakout episode for Lindsay, who until now has mostly been relegated to the sidelines. So far, her story arc has been that of the perpetual loser, having never won a reward or an immunity challenge. Lindsay continues to miss out early in the episode when she literally walks right by a hidden immunity idol. Instead, an ecstatic Maryanne finds it by pure chance while out collecting dry branches — and this time, she doesn’t have to talk about bunnies in mailboxes or any of that nonsense. But Lindsay’s fortunes change later in the episode, as not only does she win the reward challenge, but she beats out Jonathan in an immunity showdown.
With immunity out of the hands of Hai and Jonathan, there are options to think about regarding the vote. Lindsay is initially set on voting out the hulking Jonathan, who is not just a challenge threat but someone that is dragging down her game. His inability to listen is one thing, but the perception of him being a poor strategic player is a bigger worry. Lindsay is concerned that if she stays tightly aligned with Jonathan, his bad strategy will reflect on her. So taking him out now when the tribe has an open shot wouldn’t be the worst idea.
However, the momentum seems to be with the Hai vote. Mike is ready to put Hai’s head on the guillotine; Jonathan is easily onboard; Drea realizes the opportunity; Maryanne is eager; and Romeo, of course, would write Hai’s name down twice if he could (though ironically, Romeo ends up voting Jonathan as part of a presumed idol contingency plan). Lindsay realizes that it’s not worth rocking the boat. “It’s better to just stick with the plan and call it a day,” she says. Plus if she votes out Hai, it increases the power of the amulet advantage for her and Drea.
On the other hand, Omar is not one to ever call it a day. The exotic animal veterinarian has perfectly fulfilled his “owl in the night” strategy. He has individual connections with everyone on the tribe and is able to flit between alliances effortlessly. Omar’s set things up so that he’s always in the middle and has choices heading into each tribal council. It’s the closest anyone has come to mimicking Rob Cesternino’s Survivor: The Amazon gameplay in a very long time. But there is a danger of getting too fancy with this kind of strategy. Omar has already set the ball rolling to blindside Hai, but he starts second-guessing himself when the plan comes together so quickly and perfectly.
“Shall I work with Hai because no one else trusts him? Because he’s loyal to me,” Omar wonders in confessional. There is merit to taking out Jonathan instead — as noted earlier, he’s become somewhat of a strategic liability, and his challenge prowess is always a looming threat. But while Omar has allies like Lindsay and Romeo, who would support the Jonathan vote, it seems like an unnecessary risk. Switching the vote at this stage would undo all the groundwork Omar laid with Mike — and Omar’s well aware now of how personally Mike takes these things. But this doesn’t end up happening. Omar sticks with the majority and sends Hai packing. This was likely just strategic pondering born of boredom — and a good way for the producers to insert a bit of last-minute tension.
Hai takes his elimination in great spirits, complimenting his tribemates on an “amazing” blindside. It’s fitting that he spent his final tribal drawing an analogy between the game of Survivor and blindfolded long-distance runners. “We’re all in the race, but we don’t know who’s in front,” he says. Hai firmly believed he was the front-runner dictating the pace of the game. Little did he know that he’d been overtaken and was running the wrong way down the track.
• It’s interesting to note that this pizza reward happened last season, too, but the aired episode did not include the loved one’s videos. Should we read into that? I’m not sure. But maybe it’s a positive sign for Omar, Mike, and Lindsay’s winning chances.
• I’m a big fan of mangled phrasing, so I got a good chuckle out of Mike saying, “We’re cutting the snake off his head.”
• Hai trying to make Jonathan comfortable by lying about a fake idol shows that Hai really had no idea the vote was coming his way.
• My line of the week is when Jeff asks Lindsay why people choose to play Survivor: “We’re all sick.”