Depending on where your loyalties lie, the gameplay in this episode of Survivor is either a satisfying example of using chaos to your alliance’s advantage, or a lesson in how to squander all your opportunities for an advantage at any turn. Either way, it’s a messy, frustrating, entertaining, and ultimately exciting hour that continues Kaoh Rong’s hot streak.

In the aftermath of last week’s vote, the camp is now split into two clear factions: Jason, Scot, and Tai versus everyone else. Despite both Jason and Tai having an idol, it should be fairly simple for everyone else to team up against them and get one of them out. Instead, it turns into an absolute nightmare for the women who aligned to take over the game last week, on pretty much every level. At first it seems as if everything is going to be fine, especially when Jason and Scot start obviously and maliciously sabotaging the camp by doing petty things like hiding the machete so they can’t prepare food, and pouring water over the fire. It’s done brazenly as an attempt to cause chaos within the majority alliance and mess with their heads (“psychological warfare,” according to Jason) and at first the women simply brush off the offenses as the silly mind games they are.

Where these little transgressions get interesting is when the group goes to the Reward Challenge and Jeff allows them to draw teams along alliance lines, which gives Julia the opportunity to ingratiate herself with Jason, Scot, and Tai by joining their team for the challenge. It’s a move that positions Julia as clearly playing both sides, and alongside the camp sabotage it becomes second rung in the ladder that the majority alliance eventually takes down to their own demise. To Julia’s credit, she’s unashamedly positioning herself as beneficial to Jason, Scot, and Tai while not seeming to care too much about what that means for her former alliance, even if it’s unclear if that is more strategy or obliviousness on her part.

Aubry is portrayed as the clear leader for the female alliance (plus Joe!) in this episode, and her rise to prominence as leader also coincides with what might be the thing that spells her doom. Once Julia starts talking to the other side, Aubry and Cydney immediately want to vote her out and potentially flush any idols from that side of the game, while Debbie remains more concerned about the more obvious threats in Jason and Scott. This division is exacerbated when Julia wins individual immunity and Debbie immediately brings Julia in on their strategy talk instead of being cautious about her new alliance with the other side, and this is what ultimately leads to disaster for Aubry. Aubry and Cydney decide Debbie’s reluctance to play logically and see Julia as a threat means Debbie should be voted out. What really shoots them in the foot is that they use Julia in order to do it, now allowing Julia to know every aspect of their game while still working with the other side. If Aubry wants to flush idols, even with the super idol in play this is not the way to do it.

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Things get even stickier when the gang gets to Tribal and Jason and Scot use their alliance’s idols to play mind games going into the vote. Both Jason and Tai reveal their idols before the vote and say they will play Rock Paper Scissors in order to determine who will get to play it. This causes immediate panic on the other side, as everyone tries to assure they know how they are voting. Jason and Scot’s commitment to theatricality continues after the votes are cast and they actually go through with their game, only to have Jason give his idol to Tai and show that they have the ability to play a super idol if necessary. They are very pleased with themselves, so at least there’s that, even if the act itself was a fairly obvious ploy to create a memorable Tribal moment.

In the end, the women (with the help of Julia) blindside Debbie, much to everyone else’s surprise. This leaves them in an awful spot, having gotten rid of no idols and losing someone that was on their side (even if she played recklessly at times). In one episode, they went from a tentative majority with some potential for power to a dead-even numbers match against an alliance who can nullify any of their votes at any time. For a player who professes how she thinks logically instead of emotionally, Aubry sure fumbled the logic here in a big way. The lingering question: Is this a natural product of the way the game of Survivor warps your ability to see the big picture, or did Jason and Scot’s psychological warfare really work?

Stray observations

  • Tai is in an interesting spot where he’s aligned with the two players most positioned to be the season’s villains, and yet he is typically a delightful person. When he poured the water on the fire, it was momentarily angering but not enough to quite hate him. Not being a jerk 100 percent of the time pays dividends in your likeability factor.
  • That domino Immunity Challenge was super cool. I hope that one returns in a future season.
  • Now that Jason gave his idol to Tai do they have to use it as a super idol? Or can they still just have two regular idols?
  • Joe didn’t want to turn on Debbie, and while some of this felt like an inability to adapt to new game plans in the moment, I agree that it was too tentative a time for them to lose a number in their alliance. I’m bad at strategy so tell me why I’m wrong!

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