This season was due for a sedate outing. As fun as last week’s episode was, the seismic shift it caused in the game dynamics needed a little time to settle, and the players needed time to adjust to a more stable, traditional alliance structure for what feels like the first time since the merge. But while the end result of Tribal Council isn’t all that surprising, there’s enough ground laying for potential stories in the future that the time spent on the different strategizing sessions in the episode never ends up feeling wasted.
From the moment the episode begins, the newly-drawn battle lines are clear: It’s Jason and Julia against everyone else, with Michele hovering somewhere in the middle due to her close relationship with Julia. Tai’s move not only shook up the big picture alliance lines, but it also subtly shifted the dynamics of Aubry’s now-majority alliance, causing even the people working with her to take a new look at exactly where they stand in the game. Jason and Julia try their hardest to figure out any sort of crack to chisel their way into, in a desperate bid to stave off the inevitable. What they land on is probably the best option, using Julia’s ties to Michele to plant the idea that Tai is the biggest threat, and the people in the majority alliance should use Julia and Jason while they can to get Tai out before he’s impossible to get rid of. It’s as solid a plan as can be, even though it’s a desperate one, and when they decide Cydney would be the most likely fourth she doesn’t immediately shoot them down.
The entire time the episode is laying out the scenario, it’s fairly obvious that there’s no way Michele and Cydney want to completely explode their game on the off chance that they can make this weird four-person alliance work. What the episode is good for is laying out just how fragile and tentative these new alliances are, and potentially set up exactly how they will all fall apart in the future. Michele certainly knows she’s hovering near the bottom of her alliance, with her closest ally on the wrong side of the majority. Cydney’s been shown having Aubry’s ear time and time again, with them making decisions together, but there’s always a hint of doubt surrounding that pairing coming from Cydney. Jason and Julia don’t manage to convince Michele and Cydney to switch sides in this episode, but the seeds are there for it to happen—and happen soon.
Most of this uncertainty is due to Tai coming over to their alliance with a big move under his belt, with an idol in one pocket and an unknown advantage in the other. That’s a lot of perceived power to shift immediately into your alliance, especially when it’s coming from someone who’s already flipped alliances twice and is likely seen as unpredictable. Aubry is clearly the leader of this alliance, and Aubry orchestrated Tai’s defection, so this sets him up as a weird second or third in command (depending on how close Aubry and Joe actually are; it’s tough to tell with Joe’s nothing edit so far).
So when Michele and Cydney opt to not flip and vote out Tai, sending Julia home, it’s exactly what should have happened. But next week, when Jason is the only “outsider” left, everything that happened here is designed to show just how easily that majority alliance is going to crumble and fall. There’s a lot to be said about Survivor’s ability to tell long-form storylines across the season, and this is a case of needing these stories clearly set up here in order to at least fill out an episode that was inevitable from the start, and also wanting them to be clearly set up here so future moves make that much more sense. Now to wait and see exactly how those future moves play out next week.
- Michele absolutely smoked everyone in that immunity challenge. Wow.
- Tai apologizing to Jason for hurting him by lying was a nice gesture, but I’m never sure that doing something like that is ever taken well in the context of the game. “Sorry I tricked you” is never a fun conversation.
- Aubry says Julia would be more likely to win at the end than Jason, and that feels true on its surface but still feels so, so wrong. Julia is so nondescript that I can’t see anyone voting for her. Jason at least has people who hate him (and Scot)!
- Tai leaning over to Aubry for advice on the idol has to play well to the jury, but I’m not sure it plays as well to everyone else in his alliance. It only goes to show just how tight those two are so quickly.