This is the episodes that promos built. All week, CBS has been endlessly promoting this episode with some frighteningly-edited spots teasing what looked like a fairly significant injury during one of the challenges. They were so effective that I spent the entire episode with a sense of building dread, waiting for the moment where someone suffers what is surely a traumatic brain injury.

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Did that happen? Nope. But did the promos affect my ability to enjoy the episode fully? Most certainly. It’s a tricky situation because there’s not much the show can do about how the network chooses to promote it, yet those outside extra-textual elements can certainly play a part in how the show itself is consumed by audiences. If you didn’t see any promos, the intra-episode dread was mostly confined to the Immunity Challenge itself, which what the producers of the show intended. If, like me, you watched a mysterious male lying on the ground in promos over and over again, well, the dread was harder to contain.

This is a shame because the actual episode was mostly a very emotional and happy affair, thanks to some decently affecting family visits. This is largely due to the very sweet and touching moment when Jeremy is reunited with a pregnant Val and she tells him she is having a boy. A lot of family introductions on Survivor can trend toward too pat or manipulative, but this was the rare moment that felt 100 percent genuine. It helps that the show did a great job setting the moment itself up throughout the season, giving Jeremy plenty of time to talk about Val and how much his family means to him. Survivor doesn’t necessarily get the chance to build slow-played moments like this all too often simply due to the restraints of the format, so it’s great to see them nail it when given the chance.

The rest of the family moments were completely dominated by Joe and his father, who is basically the older, more reserved version of Joe. The editing hits the beat hard that Joe getting to have his father come on the show as his family visit is one of his ultimate Survivor goals, so hard that it’s pretty clear throughout that Joe is likely the one getting hurt, and then also likely the one going home. Once the challenge begins, it’s essentially an extremely tense waiting game to see just how Joe will end up getting hurt. Thankfully, although the challenge stupidly features a heavy wooden figure suspended 16 feet directly above people’s heads, it isn’t the horrible head injury I feared, but instead Joe passing out from over-exertion. It’s still a truly scary moment, but for Joe the scariest thing ends up being that by passing out, he doesn’t win immunity and guarantee his safety.

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Once Joe is vulnerable, it’s pretty obvious that no one is going to let the opportunity to vote him out pass them up two Tribal Councils in a row. But despite the ultimate ending being totally telegraphed, we do get some decent strategy talk after the Immunity Challenge that likely serves to better illuminate what is coming in the future. The biggest development is the talk of yet another all-female alliance, this one between Kimmi, Kelley, Abi, and Tasha once Joe gets voted out. This would give them the advantage over the three remaining men and carry them all the way in the end—that is, if they can actually be the one all-female alliance to finally stick. For her part, Tasha still has strong ties to both Jeremy and Spencer and could potentially be in the position to choose which way to go.

In Joe’s first Survivor appearance, the biggest thing he had going against him was that he was fairly terrible at all strategic aspects of the game. He fared a bit better here, and at least attempts to offer an alternative to everyone voting him out in Abi. His argument—that everyone will want to be sitting next to Abi at the end, because they can beat her—is honestly not that great, but it’s at least an argument that leads to a tense moment between the two at Tribal Council. It also leads to perhaps Abi’s lowest moment yet: denigrating Joe’s hair during her voting confessional. Don’t hate it because it’s beautiful, Abi.

Stray observations

  • It was rough watching Kelley pass over Jeremy and Val for the reward, but she had no idea Val was pregnant. Likely story, Kelley. (Just kidding.) (Or am I?)
  • Did we need to see Spencer and his girlfriend say “I love you” every time? I think we did not.
  • Keith voted for Tasha. Is anyone talking to Keith about strategy? Or are they just using him for comic relief?
  • Spencer: “If we keep Joe, I’m terrified. If we get rid of Joe, I’m terrified.”

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