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Throughout this season, Jon has played a lot of Survivor: He made moves, he found idols, he won challenges, he switched allegiances, he switched allegiances again, and he voted out strong players. But despite his abundance of gameplay, there was a nagging sense that he might not necessarily be playing the game very well, strategically. His lack of strategic prowess is the key factor in his ouster here, and by getting rid of the season’s obvious power player the game suddenly feels a lot more wide open. Or, at least, it feels wide open until you realize Natalie might just have this thing all wrapped up.

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Natalie’s decision to keep Keith last week seemed dicey at the time but it pays off for her like gangbusters here, and it all comes down to the fact that Jon places far too much emphasis on trust within his alliance and far too little emphasis on realizing the rest of his alliance doesn’t exist solely to get him to the final three. They are playing the game too, Jon! It’s far too easy for Natalie to explain away her vote for Alec as confusion on whose name she was supposed to be writing down. Then, Jon brushes off Jaclyn’s legitimate concern about Natalie’s loyalty by assuring her that their final five alliance is solid, like a final five alliance has ever been completely solid. Survivor is built on paranoia but Jon’s paranoia seems nonexistent at this point, with his position as the perceived leader of his alliance giving him the false security that everyone is on his side, at least until Keith is gone and they must start picking each other off. It simply never seemed to cross Jon’s mind that part of his alliance might want to get a jump start on cannibalizing itself in order to get a better position in the game, and that’s why he went home with an idol in his pocket.

The next step of Natalie’s plan after voting Alec out is to get Keith on board to vote with her and Baylor. The ease of this task is exactly why Jaclyn was right to be worried and why Jon will probably regret all of the times he ignored her advice, advice he mostly brushed off as paranoia. Keith has nothing to lose so he jumps on board immediately, but it’s Missy that Natalie has to work the hardest to convince. Smartly, Baylor gets some game props as well as she convinces her reluctant mother to go against her word to Jon and break their alliance. The one big of intrigue in the episode—which was basically rudely spoiled by my cable provider’s description, which promised “one of the biggest blindsides yet”—is whether or not Missy would go along with the plan after she starts so vocally against it. That she changes her mind is fully due to Baylor’s persuasion, so despite this whole thing coming across as Natalie’s triumph, Baylor definitely deserves points for that.

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Natalie basically did everything right in this episode: She offered to go to Exile Island to cement some of Jon and Jaclyn’s trust in her loyalty to their alliance, she won Immunity, she recruited Keith, Baylor, and Missy to her side, and she managed to get everyone to execute their voting strategy at Tribal perfectly without tipping Jon off that he should use his idol. Jon’s blindside of Jeremy earlier in the season was impressive, but Natalie’s long-term plan to get rid of Jon is even more impressive considering how many things could have gone wrong at any moment. Jon’s bumbling gameplay at times added a bit of spark to what is overall a lackluster season, but if Natalie continues to execute her game as well as she did here, it seems like there’s almost no way she could walk away without winning the cash.

Stray observations:

  • Missy essentially got her ass kicked throughout that entire reward challenge. I’m impressed she could even finish the thing considering how bad her ankle looked afterward.
  • So is Missy going to sit out every challenge from now on? Is that even allowed?
  • I like that Jon had no sour grapes after he was voted out. It seemed as if he fully understands that he was an idiot who went home with an idol in his pocket.
  • Keith: “I’ll come out of here looking like George Clooney!”

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