There was bound to be a lull in the season at some point, and it’s no surprise that it came after the high of last week’s lively double episode. This was the comedown, the grace period before the game fires up again. In fact, Chanelle’s sit-and-wait strategy, which wound up getting her voted out, was the perfect metaphor for this episode. It felt like we were waiting and hoping for something exciting to happen … and then, nothing, just a predictable elimination and a forced automobile analogy from Jeff Probst. It almost made me long for the Applebee’s product placement.
Speaking of Jeff, he makes his presence felt across the episode with his awkward fourth-wall-breaking monologues. The long-running host brings the audience in on the latest secrets — the advantage stashed under the sit-out bench and the “sacrifice immunity for rice” negotiations. The issue is, we saw all of this just last season, and a couple of minor tweaks to the phrasing aren’t enough to wash away the feeling of déjà vu. And the repetition of these twists only adds to the time-wasting feel of the episode. I almost felt like yelling Jeff-style challenge commentary at the TV: “Pick it up! You’ve got to move!”
Chanelle could have also used that sideline pep talk. Still on the outs after casting a stray vote for Mike at the last pre-merge tribal council, Chanelle struggles to find a way into the majority. She approaches Hai to find out why she was left out of the Lydia vote and doesn’t seem to buy his excuse that it resulted from a last-minute scramble. “I was playing chess, and everyone else was playing checkers,” she says. But based on her actions (or lack thereof) in this episode, I don’t think Chanelle was playing, either. It’s more like she was playing cribbage in a retirement home and fell asleep after the second hand.
It’s not only Chanelle feeling lost and out of the loop. In the post-tribal powwow, each of the outliers confronts their old tribemates about their position in the game. Romeo is mad at his former “No. 1 ally,” Drea, for not bringing him into the Lydia plan. Maryanne is having flashbacks to elementary school and not being allowed at the cool kids’ table. And Tori is just Tori, perpetually on the outside looking in and eager to find a crack.
Each outlier has their own approach to regaining their footing. Maryanne uses her emotions to great effect, appealing to her tribe’s sense of justness. After volunteering to sit out of the immunity challenge in exchange for rice, Maryanne makes a tearful plea to her tribemates about her sacrifice, knowing that she’s putting herself in a vulnerable position. “People say you can’t play Survivor with emotions, but I’m using emotions as a weapon,” she says with a smile on her face. And Maryanne’s kindhearted gesture pays off, as the tribe essentially comes to a consensus not to target her or the other three sit-out volunteers.
Tori doesn’t have to do as much scrambling as she once again wins the immunity challenge, securing her safety for the night. But she’s still keeping watch and stoking the flames from a distance. Her most perceptive moment is when she spots red paint on Drea’s arm, alerting her to a potential advantage in play. You see, earlier in the episode, Drea found yet another beware advantage that led her to a coconut-covered hole. The hole was filled with red paint in a brilliantly creative touch, meaning Drea would literally be caught red-handed if she wanted to secure the advantage. After returning to camp, Tori notices red on Drea’s arm and, at first, assumes it’s blood. Drea plays it off as paint from the craft set that came with the tribe flag, but that only makes Tori more suspicious, given the flag hasn’t yet been painted. To her credit, Tori correctly surmises that Drea has an advantage and starts spreading the news.
But the two outliers with the most contrasting styles are the pair most in danger of going home. With Tori immune and Maryanne reprieved, it leaves Chanelle and Romeo on the chopping block. The majority alliance quickly settles on Chanelle as the target, with Romeo as the fake plan to sell to Chanelle. But, in a somewhat shocking move for modern Survivor, and especially for a superfan like Chanelle, she decides to play things cool. Rather than the usual rushing around and nonstop side conversations in the jungle, Chanelle chooses to chill at camp and let other targets emerge. It’s surprisingly restrained gameplay.
It’s not an approach without merit. Chanelle has seen firsthand what can happen when a player panics and goes into paranoid overdrive. That approach is basically what ended up getting Daniel voted out, and Chanelle similarly played that vote, remaining steady in the face of danger. Initially, it seems like the same situation is about to play out again, this time with Romeo in the Daniel role. Already feeling in a precarious position, Romeo is unsettled by how calm Chanelle is, her demeanor not presenting what one would expect from a person in trouble.
Again, just like with Chanelle, Romeo’s reasonings are not unjustified. Certain tells can be picked up on after 20-plus years of Survivor. It’s reasonable for Romeo to think that Chanelle made a deal with the majority, given her lack of scrambling. And so Romeo goes on the offensive, jumping from one person to the next to find out if his name is in the mix. His paranoia upsets the vibe of the tribe, and before you know it, plans begin to shift. Hai wonders if they should just vote out Romeo to eliminate the chaos factor, arguing that Chanelle has at least been “chill” and not causing problems. “Romeo’s gonna play himself out of the game,” Omar adds.
And perhaps he would have, if not for Mike. The retired firefighter is still bearing a grudge against Chanelle for the vote she sent his way pre-merge. He doesn’t trust her and wants her gone. It’s a little bit rich, seeing as Mike also voted for Chanelle at that same tribal. Regardless, Mike isn’t about to let this opportunity pass him by, so he puts his social game to good use by turning the vote back around to his sworn enemy.
In the end, the first and most predictable plan comes to fruition. Chanelle is voted out and becomes the first member of the jury. If we’re using Jeff’s car analogy, then Chanelle fell asleep at the wheel and went veering off the edge of a cliff she didn’t even see coming. I’m sure watching the episode back that she wishes she would have played harder and fought for her life in the game. But you can only go with your instincts in the moment. Chanelle chose to sit and wait, and the game passed her by. I just hope the same won’t be said for the latter half of this season when it’s all said and done.
• Another negative for this episode is that it lacked the personal moments that made last week’s double so compelling. However, we did see one sweet scene of Omar and Mike bonding about their religious differences, where Mike showed a genuine eagerness to learn about Omar’s Islamic faith.
• Speaking of Omar, who it turns out is a secret basketball magician, he continues to play a smart and effective behind-the-scenes game. He’s part of the majority but is keeping his options open with the outliers, giving him access to info across the tribe. It’s a risky strategy to pull off, but so far, he’s nailing it.
• I’ve been putting it off, but I suppose we should talk about what Drea’s latest advantage actually is. The Knowledge Is Power advantage is back. Oh, goodie! It’s the power Liana had last season where you can ask a player publicly if they have an idol, and if they do, they have to hand it over. I’m just not a fan of an advantage that forces someone to tell the truth in a game that’s built on deception.