When an immunity challenge happens just ten minutes into an episode of Survivor, you know some serious shit is about to go down. But the turbulent ocean that almost drowns the two tribes isn’t even the most dramatic part of the night. No, members of the Vati tribe land in a far more dangerous predicament by the end of the episode, drowning in the lies and paranoia of a very messy tribal council.
The Survivor producers are finally reaping the rewards of the many twists they introduced in Survivor 41. Maybe that’s simply because of the luck of the draw, like Omar and Chanelle both choosing to risk their votes, thereby causing the chaotic stalemate that concludes the episode. Or perhaps this cast is less conservative in their gameplay than those on the last season, more willing to think outside the box or make a bold move. Daniel exemplifies that with his idea to invalidate the three-way idols — a plan that comes undone after he realizes the idols become active at the merge regardless of whether the phrases are said or not. You have to read the fine print, Daniel! Whatever the case may be, the twists are hitting in a way this season that makes it feel like they’re adding to the entertainment rather than taking away from it.
Chanelle losing her vote is the inciting incident of the Vati meltdown. It puts the alliances in a precarious position heading into tribal as there will only be four of the six tribe members voting — Mike is also voteless because of his unactivated idol. That makes a tied vote a strong possibility, with Hai and Lydia voting for Jenny and Daniel and Jenny voting for Lydia. This is a conundrum for Daniel, who is stuck between warring factions after promising loyalty across the board. But Chanelle has a plan to convince Hai and Lydia to split their votes, which would give Daniel and Jenny the majority to send Lydia home. In theory, it’s a solid idea, but Chanelle’s sudden change in demeanor tells Hai that something isn’t quite right.
This leads to one of the messiest tribal councils we’ve seen in quite some time — the kind of tribal where Jeff Probst needs to take out a whiteboard and start drawing diagrams. “Where are all the votes?” a confused Hai asks after Jeff pulls just two parchments from the urn, revealing a tie between Jenny and Lydia for a second time. “I’ll get to that,” replies the Emmy-winning host, barely containing his glee at the chaos ensuing in front of him. In this scenario, the remaining players usually have an open discussion to decide which of the tied votes leaves the game. The issue? Chanelle and Mike lost their votes, so technically they can’t be involved in the decision. This means they’re forced to expose their secret, confessing that they don’t have votes in front of the entire tribe. This seems a little unfair; I’m not sure if the show accounted for this situation. Because if they did, you’d like to think they would have come up with a cleaner way of doing it. Regardless, I can’t deny that it made for compelling television.
The decision ultimately comes down to what Daniel and Hai decide. If they can’t agree, Jenny and Lydia become safe and the other four draw rocks. However, Daniel is adamant that he’ll not let his fate be decided by a random rock draw and immediately starts pushing the blame onto Chanelle, his supposed closest ally. He tells Hai that he only voted for Lydia because that’s what Chanelle wanted and that he was voting on her behalf because she didn’t have a vote. Chanelle is shocked by this sudden betrayal and explains that it was a group decision. It’s an intense situation as Hai refuses to switch his vote, Jenny and Lydia plead for their lives, and Daniel spins out of control as he tries to force the choice on Chanelle, who rightly argues she doesn’t have a say in the matter.
In the end, Hai holds firm and Daniel acquiesces, sending Jenny out of the game. “Snake,” Chanelle whispers, letting us know what she thinks of her former ally. To Daniel’s credit, he openly admits to his paranoia, even predicting that he’ll lose this season because of it. “I need some people to calm me down,” he says, noting Chanelle, Mike, and his mother as people that provide that comfort. Given the way he treated Chanelle, I’m glad his mom isn’t out there on the island — Daniel would have voted her out instantly! Even before tribal, his paranoia gets him into trouble when he bugs Mike to let him read the idol instructions again and almost ends up losing the idol in the process. Yet, I’m here for the messiness.
Did all the twists and their counteractive rules force the tribal scenario? Sure. And I can understand that being a turnoff for some of the more traditionalist Survivor fans. Manufactured drama is never quite as appealing as situations that arise naturally through players’ gameplay and personalities. But what I liked is that despite the twistiness of it all, it helped illuminate the characters involved. The way each person reacted to the predicament told us a lot about them as people, from Hai’s strong-willed loyalty to Daniel’s self-preserving paranoia. As long as the players remain the overall focus, I’m fine with a little producer-nudged drama every now and then.
Elsewhere in the episode, Jonathan goes all Aquaman and pretty much single-handedly wins the immunity challenge for the Taku tribe. Jeff even takes a moment to praise Jonathan’s performance after the challenge — I can already hear the Survivor art department crafting a Jonathan statue in the distance. But to give Jonathan his due, this is one of the crazier challenges in Survivor history. The sea is so choppy and the waves so powerful that it drags the other two tribes off the course, many of them sinking underwater as they try to catch a breath. It gets so scary that Jeff stops the game and gets the tribes back on land to reset the challenge.
In many ways, this episode perfectly encapsulates what Survivor is all about. Jeff always used to introduce a new season with the tagline “where castaways battle the elements and each other.” We saw that in full force across this episode, from the crashing waves of the Fijian ocean to the crash and burn of alliances. Okay, the twists played a big part, too. So maybe we should update that tagline? Survivor — where castaways battle the elements and each other … and whatever wrenches Jeff throws in their way.
• The one major downside to the episode is that we didn’t check in with the Ika tribe at all. It’s disappointing, as the editing was pretty well-balanced across the first two episodes. I know we got a dramatic challenge and an insane tribal, but to neglect a whole tribe like that doesn’t feel right.
• This cast continues to have loose lips, and this time it was Maryanne telling her entire tribe about her extra vote and the three-way idol she found. I get that the vibes between the Taku foursome are strong, but what happens if they lose again? One of the four will have to go, and Maryanne made herself a huge target by revealing that she has two advantages and no vote.
• Hai with the line of the week — “Daniel loses everything: water bottles, shoes … shoulder.”