The biggest surprise of this season of Survivor is that this cast is continually able to surprise. It’s not just that this is a group of people who came ready to play the game, it’s that there are so many different players that each week features a new person stepping forward, making big moves, and changing the face of the game. The result is a season that’s shaping into something far more unpredictable than its early episodes seemed to promise, in the best of ways.

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The person making big moves this week is Cydney, who emerges as a player after weeks of sitting comfortably within her Brawn alliance. What’s interesting about Cydney’s decision to go after Nick in a week where she was definitively safe, and definitively part of the majority alliance, is that her willingness to cross her original Brawn alliance to get out someone she sees as annoying and a threat shows that she’s here to play no matter the consequences. It’s a huge move that upsets the entire equilibrium of the game, as all of the men in the Beauty and Brawn alliances were certain they were going to get an easy week of voting off either Aubry or Debbie, slowly picking off the remaining Brains one by one until they had to turn on each other.

What I like about Cydney taking the offensive is how easily she recognized that she was in the bottom part of these new alliances, and how quickly she took action to cut out the people she was sure weren’t really working with her. It’s also absolutely satisfying to see Cydney take the guys’ fear that the women were forming an all-girl alliance behind their back and actually use the women to band together and vote Nick out (with remaining Brain Joe’s help). That she pulled it all off without tipping off Scott, Jason, or Nick is maybe the most impressive thing at all, as there is rarely a secret plan on Survivor that stays secret for very long.

While Cydney did all the work to get the votes to get Nick out of the game, Nick was actually very much complicit in his own torch snuffing. Nick shot to the top of the editing hierarchy in the past few episodes, and it’s only here that it becomes clear this was happening to set up a pretty big fall. At every turn Nick is the unknowing architect of his own demise, first interrogating Julia about an all-girl alliance within sighting distance of Cydney, then telling Aubry about the vote split and who was likely to get more votes at Tribal, never picking up on Cydney’s growing irritation with his obvious moves. Jason smartly tries to deflect Cydney’s concerns by removing her from the conflict with Nick, but at this point it feels like the damage is done and Cydney starts crafting her plan. It’s easy for her to rope in Debbie and Aubry, who both know that they’re the target. The tricky part is convincing Michele and Julia to turn, and here’s where the earlier Nick episodes come in to play. Without those episodes, we don’t know just how condescending Michele thinks Nick is, and just how ready she is to cut him out once she sees a different alternative.

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The conversation between Cydney, Michele, and Julia is so fast that it seems like it will be yet another example of the show trying to milk false tension in the editing booth, and everything about the Tribal Council makes it appear that everything will be status quo. But when the votes are read, Nick’s name comes up again, and again, and again, until he’s finally being voted out. It’s a true blindside in every sense of the word, and all of the work the Survivor producers and editors did in both this episode and the episodes leading up to this make his elimination a satisfying one. This is Survivor’s version of long-term storytelling, and whenever the show gets the chance to do this it’s always a good thing. The most interesting thing to come out of this episode, though, is likely to be how Cydney’s big move shakes up the rigid Brawn vs. Brains vs. Beauty alliance thinking that’s dominated since the merge, meaning anything can happen. And that’s an even better thing.

Stray observations

  • Tai had a roller coaster of an episode, going from an emotional Immunity win to a weird slip of the tongue at Tribal when he outs the existence of a potential Super Idol to the rest of the group. Tai might not have much of a filter. (Also it was nice to see a demonstration of non-Christian religion on this show for once during the Immunity challenge.)
  • Why did Tai vote for Jason?
  • Neal shows up at the jury with a tiny bandage on his knee and that’s it. That has to be frustrating for him.
  • They humanized both Jason and Scot in this episode. Damage control from the early episodes, perhaps?
  • “Aubry takes a dump!” I miss the ball talk already, Probst.

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