Despite the relatively predictable outcome of Daniel’s elimination, the journey there has been anything but simple. Thanks to a stray vote and a healthy dose of merge paranoia, this season continues to deliver intriguing tribal dynamics and shifting allegiances. The fact that we’re heading into the merge next week with the three tribes standing at an even four members apiece — each with their own inner conflicts — is mouthwateringly exciting. There is major chaotic energy in front of us, and I’m absolutely here for it.
The impending merge is front of mind across this episode as players struggle with whether to prioritize their individual games over the team game. Following Swati’s elimination last week, the Ika tribe puts forward a united front for Rocksroy’s benefit. He was obviously blindsided by the vote and starts questioning his social game. Drea and Romeo, who intentionally kept Rocksroy out of the vote, fluff his ego, hoping to keep him sweet because they want to go into the merge as a “strong four.” Tori finds this idea downright laughable, though she plays along in public, her sarcastic eye rolls masked in the pitch-black jungle darkness. She has no desire to stay loyal to Ika; her mind has already switched to the individual, promising in confessional that she’ll flip on her tribe the first chance she gets.
It’s not as if Drea and Romeo aren’t thinking about their own games. As far as we know, they have no intention of telling Tori and Rocksroy about the idol they found. That’s something they hope can push them forward as a pair. There’s a sweet moment where Romeo talks about the strong women in his life, from the girls in his pageant shows to his mother, who left her life behind in Central America to come to the United States. Romeo sees that same strong, independent spirit in Drea and wants to help guide her into becoming the best player she can be. That said, Drea is doing pretty damn good all by herself, given that she’s decked out in advantages. “Currency is everything in Survivor,” she says. “And I’m Survivor rich.”
Mike is another player carefully weighing up the individual and the team game. Before the immunity challenge, he tells his tribemates that he doesn’t intend to say his idol phrase. Instead, he wants to go into the merge with his idol being a secret to the other tribes. That way, they can use it as a group to maneuver through the treacherous waters of the early merge. But that quickly changes once Drea and Maryanne both recite their phrases. Sensing an opportunity to regain his vote and activate his idol, Mike decides to say his awkward soccer quote. I’m not sure what he said made a lick of sense; it was somewhere between a Ted Lasso pep talk and a drunken best man’s speech. Regardless, all three idols are now activated.
However, the individual-slash-tribal conflict is perhaps best exemplified in Lydia’s decision to protect her vote during the Summit. First, it’s nice to see Lydia finally getting some screen time. Her opening up about her body-image issues and how Survivor is helping her gain confidence is a really heartwarming moment. And while she doesn’t glean much info from her Summit companion Rocksroy, she’s aware enough not to risk her vote. She explains that if she was thinking about her individual game, she’d likely have been selfish and taken the chance at an advantage. But right now, tribe loyalty is key, and given the small size of the tribe, Lydia losing her vote could be catastrophic for her alliance. We saw what happened a couple of weeks ago when Chanelle lost her vote, leading to the public disintegration of the majority alliance.
Chanelle and Daniel are still dealing with the fallout of that disastrous tribal council. Both recognize they’re on the chopping block and do their best to reintegrate into the tribe. Chanelle takes a more measured approach, remaining calm and levelheaded, hoping to appeal to her tribemates’ sense of reason. Daniel’s attempts are more public and desperate, overpromising loyalty to people he’s burned already. He even goes spearfishing in an effort to earn brownie points, but all he receives is suspicion about his supposedly bum shoulder keeping him out of challenges. I think they were being a little harsh on Daniel; racing full speed in a water challenge can hardly be compared to him casually floating in the ocean like a discarded Sprite bottle. But this is Survivor — any chance to paint a target on someone has to be taken, whether the situation is exaggerated or not.
Unfortunately for Daniel, his previous flip-flopping during the deadlocked vote left an image of a paranoid player who quickly folds under pressure. That’s ultimately what does him in. Even though Hai — who has brilliantly wrestled control of the tribe after being on the outs — is worried about Chanelle being a threat, Daniel is just too much of a wild card. Sure, he might promise trust and wave the Vati family flag, but he’s already shown to be a source of chaos. Even as an ally, he could mess things up simply because of his blunderous nature. So I can understand the desire to remove that unpredictability from the equation, even if Chanelle is the bigger threat in the long run. Her stray vote for Mike certainly suggests she’s thinking strategically — assuming she voted for him to force a tie should Daniel have successfully played his Shot in the Dark. That’s the kind of individual thinking required for the game once the merge hits.
As I alluded to earlier, the upcoming merge has massive potential to be a disorganized mess in the best way possible. My only concern is the “fake merge-slash-hourglass” twist making its unwelcome return and ruining all the fun. Based on the preview, it sure looks like the same thing that happened at the Survivor 41 merge. So that means half the cast is about to become safe, robbing us of an unprecedented 4-4-4 merge vote. Survivor can really get in its own way sometimes, can’t it? And this season continues to prove it doesn’t need twists and trinkets. The surprisingly balanced editing and the energetic cast are making for one of the most dynamic seasons in recent memory.
• The usually happy-go-lucky Taku tribe hit a bumpy patch this week. Jonathan is getting irritated with Lindsay and Maryanne’s constant chatter. And the tension almost results in an argument when Jonathan nearly chops Maryanne’s pinky toe off with the machete. “She’s so dramatic,” he says as Maryanne tries to put in a personal injury claim.
• Luckily for Taku, Jonathan continues to be a Herculean challenge beast and helps them win immunity after Omar’s rope kerfuffle sets them behind.
• Line of the week: Hai says, “Mike is 117 years old,” after Daniel talks about hoping to live longer than his firefighter tribemate.