For an episode that started with such an uncertain, scary moment, it sure ended up being a hell of a good time. This is an hour jam-packed with dramatic family emergencies, tribal shuffles, extensive strategizing, rivalries, fun challenges, and ending a legitimate blindside. Survivor doesn’t get much better than this.

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From the very beginning it feels like the producers and editors knew they had a juicy one here, too. The episode starts similarly to most, at nighttime after Tribal Council. We’re immediately alerted that something is off, however, when the title “Ta Keo” comes up on the screen, instead of the tribe who went to Tribal Council last week. The music gets more and more ominous as Jeff emerges from a boat and wakes up Terry, letting him know that his son Danny is in the hospital and it is serious enough that both the doctors and his wife think he needs to come home immediately. It’s a heart-sinking moment, made even more poignant by just how gracious and nice Terry is in his departure.

It’s this scary, odd moment that sets the tone for the rest of the episode and basically puts everything in the game into high gear as a result. The next day, instead of having two small tribes and one big Bayon, Survivor decides to shuffle the tribes again, get rid of the failure tribe Angkor completely, and go back to just having a new Ta Keo and Bayon until the merge. The shuffle hits everyone in different ways, with Spencer pointing out that they have shuffled so many times that people have alliances all over the game, calling it a “cluster expletive” situation. This cluster expletive leads to a lot of strategic scrambling for the rest of the hour, however, and because of that everyone in the audience ends up as the winner.

The main dynamics at play here are over at Ta Keo, where the major players we’ve been following to this point—Savage, Spencer and Kass—all have different takes on their new status as tribemates. Spencer is immediately put off by having to deal with Kass again, and from the second they are put on a tribe together she immediately throws barbed comments his way. Their antagonistic relationship is a great benefit of this Second Chance season that we really haven’t explored yet—what happens when people who hate each other from their past game experiences have to now play together again? It doesn’t look like Spencer or Kass are eager to mend fences.

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All of the drama between Spencer and Kass seems like it could only be setting up Spencer’s easy exit, especially because Savage decides that’s who should go home if they lose. Everyone agrees, especially Kass, who is more than eager to send Spencer packing a second time. What Savage doesn’t realize is that he hasn’t quite nurtured every relationship on his tribe, and when Ciera’s name is easily brought up as the pawn she decides she isn’t as secure as she’d like and gets the idea to keep Spencer and vote out Savage ally Woo instead. Now Kass has a choice: Go with Ciera, Abi (who Savage seemed so sure was on his side, so did he forget everything that happened on Angkor?), and Spencer and vote out Woo, or stick with Savage, Woo, and Kelly and vote out Spencer?

Kass spends a lot of time analyzing whether or not she should be new Calm Kass or classic Chaos Kass in making this decision, and it’s pretty obvious that although she might want Spencer out, she’s relishing the idea of doing something to rock the boat and bring back Chaos Kass. She might talk a good game about changing her game the second time around, but that chaos-loving nature is always simmering below the surface. What I find most interesting about the whole situation is that it’s her who tells Spencer that he’s even in trouble; she could easily have blindsided him alongside Savage and he’d have been none the wiser, that’s how sure he was Savage was on his side. By deciding to go with rising tide of Ciera’s discontent with Savage running the game, Kass in effect saved Spencer completely. Will that help her or come back to haunt her in the end? They’re certainly still not allies, especially once a merge happens.

A great, exciting episode is capped off with a fun Tribal Council and the true blindside of both Woo and Savage, which Woo punctuates with a smiling, adorable “blindside” whisper as his torch is snuffed. Between this and the nice episode tag that features Terry’s son Danny and gives a (happy) update on his condition, along with information on how to become an organ donor to help other people like Danny in the future, ends a near-perfect Survivor on a happy, helpful, and hopeful note. Slam dunk, Survivor. Slam dunk.

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Stray observations:

  • I love when they pull out the gross eating challenge. Can you imagine having to eat tarantulas and then not winning? EW.
  • Merge next week? Merge next week!
  • Savage saying he feels good about his tribe and he’s not going anywhere was certainly the confessional that sealed Woo’s fate. The episode was strong enough to get around this hat tip (and the hat tip of Woo getting extra confessionals as well).
  • Ciera finally gets some screen time and has some moves. This is the Ciera I remember.
  • Joe loses in the eating challenge. Finally, something he isn’t good at!
  • Stephen’s teary confessional about trying so hard to get his alliance on board with voting out Joe before the merge was quite a moment. It’s clear he doesn’t want to repeat the same mistakes he made the last time he played, and he’s so strangely passionate about it even he can’t believe he gets that emotional.
  • Kass: “Spencer Bledsoe: zero percent chance of winning this game.”
  • Savage: “This is going to be one of the most devastating, unexpected blindsides in the history of Survivor.”

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