Last week, Nagarote looked like a tribe doomed to limp its way to the merge, felled by their relative lack of physical prowess in comparison to the young male-stacked Escameca. One of the great things about Survivor is that strategy can throw a curveball into any seemingly fated outcome, especially when that strategy is kind of reckless. Enter Escameca, saving us all from boredom by deciding that reckless was better than safe. Thank you, Escameca.

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Part of the credit also goes to the producers and challenge designers, who saw the first lopsided post-swap Immunity Challenge and immediately made course corrections to make things a bit more balanced. The Reward Challenge had a physical component of climbing ropes and ladders, but it evened out in the end by throwing in a slingshot and target element, which allowed Nagarote to catch up and eventually win. The Immunity Challenge was even more geared against physical acumen, as it solely relied on memory and strategy in order to get a win.

The biggest credit, though, goes to Escameca and their decision to start immolating themselves in order to start prepping for post-merge play. It all begins with Rodney, who takes a huge leap toward cementing himself as this season’s most annoying personality. He immediately decides he wants to work with Joaquin, because he essentially can’t stand anyone else on his tribe for fun reasons like they’re a “hick from Maine” or they’re a Christian who goes to church and doesn’t have sex. Rodney is all about being around other people like him who party and have sex, even though when you’re on Survivor you don’t do either. Sex is very important to Rodney’s identity, apparently. The alliance of Rodney and Joaquin was inevitable, really, and they are both very confident they’re going to run the game together and go all the way to the end, and if you pay any attention to this show you know that’s basically the beginning of the end for one of them.

Rodney and Joaquin’s goal is to get out Joe, and they have Tyler on their side, so all they think they need to do is lure Sierra into their alliance as well. To Sierra’s credit, she’s so disenfranchised with her former Blue Collar tribemates that she’s willing to flip immediately—until she finds out Rodney is part of the deal. This is the point I think the newbies lost her for good, even if the editing does a good job of making it very unsure which way she’s actually leaning. Honestly, the pitch from her old tribe is so terrible—mostly because Dan is involved, and Dan is just awful at talking to people, especially women—that her sticking it out with Rodney wouldn’t have been that surprising.

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The real savior of the old Blue Collar alliance is Mike, who is playing a far more interesting game than I ever expected from him. When he takes Rodney’s idea of throwing the Immunity Challenge in order to get Joe out and then flips it completely to work in his own favor instead (by using it to save his real number one alliance-mate Kelly from having to risk being voted off Nagarote), well, that was impressive even if his actual act of throwing the challenge was one of the more pathetic attempts ever. For him to then decide to use the opportunity to break up the potential power alliance of Rodney and Joaquin, well, that is far more of an advanced move than I saw coming. In the end, it did completely come down to Sierra and which way she decided to align, obviously steered by Mike. To preserve the surprise of the ending we didn’t get to see much of her decision-making process, so I look forward to hearing a bit more about that in the next episode.

The true pleasure of this episode was watching and seeing the editors plant the seeds of Rodney and Joaquin’s destruction, one overly boastful confessional at a time. They truly built a house of cards out of their masculine bravado, bro, and that’s always a fun thing to see come tumbling down. The only thing better than this is going to be seeing Rodney’s reaction to the betrayal next week. I’m sure it will be calm, rational, and balanced. Bro.

Stray observations:

  • Seriously, though, did the whole tribe know Mike was throwing that challenge? Because that was awful.
  • Shirin getting a whole segment about fitting in with her tribe after Max’s departure is interesting in terms of the game in the future. Are the editors planting the seeds of her journey because she’s going a long way in the game?
  • Tyler also continues to get an interesting edit. He’s barely in this one, but gets a key statement at Tribal Council and we get other people talking about how much they trust him. What is your deal, Tyler?
  • The reward of going to a turtle conservatory was great as was most of the food provided, but hot chocolate? What?
  • “I can be Batman and he can be Robin.” Because of course Rodney would think he was Batman.
  • Rodney: “I feel so confident that I could see my hand being raised like Rocky Balboa.”
  • Joaquin: “It couldn’t have been any easier for me.”

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