On April 13, “Survivor” aired a two-hour merge episode. It happened, and it was awesome. Now things get fun, as tribal immunity becomes individual, with only one person being safe in a typical round. Despite bringing back one of the most disliked twists in “Survivor” history, this episode was great: full of the strategic decisions that “Survivor” fans love. It isn’t often that a two-hour episode only involves one vote, but it worked beautifully.
Before merging, Tori nagged Rocksroy for information on his journey to Shipwheel Island. She was persistent, but her pursuits saw little to no return. Their relationship is strained, so Tori should’ve known Rocksroy wouldn’t spill anything. Although Rocksroy’s silence left Tori in the dark, a bigger issue arose: Romeo and Drea eavesdropping on the conversation. It furthered their belief that Tori is immature, and someone they don’t want to work with.
At the next challenge, the tribes merged. Or at least, they sort of did. It was the same twist as in Season 41, where the remaining players drew rocks to split into teams, and competed for one final group immunity. Those who won were told they were safe, while one person (Erica in S41) drew the odd rock and was sent away to live on a desolate island alone for two days. In that season, the castaways didn’t know that Erica was given the power to reverse the events of that challenge. She was able to give immunity to herself, along with the six who lost. Many people hated this twist, and I was one of them. Never before in “Survivor” history had Jeff actually lied to the players, and never before had a group of people been punished for winning. The twist significantly altered the course of the game, with Erica eventually becoming the Sole Survivor.
Production made some alterations for this season, making this twist much more palatable. First, Jeff told the winners (Jonathan, Tori, Hai, Lydia, Maryanne, and Lindsay) that the person they sent away would receive a “game-changing” power. He also gave them the option of taking it themselves, even asking if they were sure when they declined. In the end, those six couldn’t pass up the temptation of what they thought was immunity, along with the Applebee’s reward.
Going to an island version of Applebee’s may not sound like a pull factor, but it’s important to remember that these people are literally starving. Calories like that are not only what they crave all day, but also strategically valuable. Your performance in challenges is much stronger when you’re well-nourished, and it’s easier to think clearly enough to strategize when you’re full.
So, they chose to send Rocksroy to Exile Island. While I still don’t like this twist, I think this iteration was much fairer. The players were suspicious afterward that Rocksroy would have the power to overturn the challenge, and they definitely had an opportunity to keep immunity. My main gripe is still that the show made it out to be a huge decision of whether the exiled person would overturn the vote — obviously, they’ll take immunity for themselves.
Back at camp, the advantages seemed to bring people together. Mike, Drea, and Maryanne agreed to keep their idols secret, while Lindsay, Hai, and Drea (three-way combined advantage that gains power when fewer of them remain) uneasily agreed to a working relationship.
One great thing about “Survivor” is that personal moments intertwine with strategy. This makes people like Mike, who are both genuine and strategic, great at the game. On just the first day after the merge, he made strong bonds with Omar and Jonathan to go along with his alliance with Hai and Lydia. His immediate bond with Jonathan was especially notable. He recognized that Jonathan was more than just an athlete, and empathized with Jonathan’s experience of being stereotyped as unintelligent because of his physique. It was a fascinating connection, and I’m looking forward to that friendship developing throughout the season. Usually in “Survivor,” guys that look like Jonathan tend not to be much more than their muscles, but Mike is right: Jonathan is different.
After that conversation, Jonathan, Hai, Mike, Lydia, Drea, Rocksroy, Omar, and Lindsay formed an eight-person alliance. Drea immediately threw Tori under the bus as someone to vote out, and Mike did the same with Chanelle. Jonathan reluctantly threw Maryanne’s name out there, but he preferred that she didn’t go home.
Once Rocksroy reversed the events of the challenge, an individual immunity challenge was held with the six players in danger: Maryanne, Lindsay, Hai, Lydia, Jonathan, and Tori. Tori ended up winning. This really changed things, as she was the obvious choice to go home out of the available six.
Now, four out of the five candidates for elimination were members of the majority alliance, with the other being Maryanne. She seemed like the next option, but her idol complicated things. If she figured out that she was the target, she could save herself. Romeo tried to swing the vote to Jonathan, which made sense. He’s the biggest immunity threat by far, so any opportunity to take him out should be heavily considered. Lydia seemed to agree with this and started to push the Jonathan agenda. However, she said this to the wrong person: Omar. In an impressive strategic showing, Omar used this information against Lydia. He went to the other members of the eight and told them that Lydia was already turning on the eight, and that she should go home because of it. He also pulled Maryanne back in, which could prove to be valuable later.
Since Hai had already gone to rocks to save Lydia, it seemed like this plan would fail. He agreed to it though. Sometimes, sacrifices have to be made to show that you trust new allies. However, I think it was too early for Hai to lose Lydia. Her exit takes away a lot of his agency, and could hurt his long-term prospects. On the other hand, Hai and Lydia were seen as an obvious pair, so losing her takes the target off of Hai’s back. Either way, Lydia was voted out, and brutally learned that she would not be on this season’s jury.
Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see how long these eight stick together. Big alliances never last in modern “Survivor,” especially when a strong three (Jonathan, Omar, and Lindsay) are a part of them. I believe the other members will turn on those three sooner rather than later. However, the alliance will likely stick together for at least a week or two. The next boot will likely be Tori or Chanelle, but nothing can be taken as given in “Survivor.”