Merge week on Survivor is almost always a rolling ball of chaos, picking up insanity along the way as alliances continually shift throughout the hour. Even though this season already abandoned its collar gimmick with a tribe shuffle just a few short episodes ago, it was still in desperate need of a merge to deliver some intrigue. The good news? This merge definitely delivered an interesting episode, and even more importantly set up dynamics that look to deliver in the future as well. Also, they named their merged tribe Merica without one trace of irony. What more can you ask for in an episode?

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The merge happens almost immediately in the episode, and immediately after it happens everyone starts scrambling to shore up their alliances in order to have a potential majority. The biggest alliance is obviously the former Blue Collar with five remaining players, only needing to pull in two more in order to have a majority vote. This would seem to be a simple task, but Mike’s decision to get rid of Rodney’s bromance partner Joaquin last week created a rift in Blue Collar that will likely eventually be their downfall. To Mike’s credit, he knows he has to get Rodney back on his side in order to keep the numbers. (Why he didn’t think about this last week when making the decision to vote Joaquin out behind Rodney’s back, well, that’s another story.) Rodney plays along with Mike’s plan to work together, but he has a hidden agenda: Work with Mike just long enough so he can then separate himself and take Mike out. Rodney thinks he can do this with a final four alliance with Will, Carol, and Kelly and that right there is how you know Rodney is probably not very good at this game. How does Rodney not know how tight Kelly and Mike are? How does he think that final four is a viable final four in any game of Survivor that’s been played, ever in the history of the game? Basically, I have a lot of questions for Rodney. So many questions.

On the other side, Jenn wants to get the No and White Collars together and work on voting off the Blue, specifically Kelly, because they say it will “cripple” the Blues. I’m not sure how Kelly is considered the lynchpin of that alliance, but let’s chalk that up to the editors not telling us everything that’s going on because I already have so many questions for Rodney, there’s no room for questions for anyone else. While Jenn is plotting against Kelly, the Blue Collar alliance is plotting against Jenn, which creates some really fun back-and-forth editing as the strategizing unfolds.

But what it all really comes down to are Tyler and Carolyn, who realize that with Shirin firmly on the side of the remaining three No Collars (Joe, Hali, and Jenn) that they are likely the swing votes that will decide who goes home. The one thing they agree on immediately is they need to keep their tight bond as a twosome quiet, because every time a pair emerges one is voted out to split them up. Mike works on Tyler in an attempt to rebuild trust after the Joaquin blindside last week, and to Tyler’s credit he firmly says that trusting him will be difficult. Kelly works on wooing Carolyn, who seems far more receptive to the overtures. It all seems pretty fated against Jenn, right up until she utters the magic words to Hali: “I have an idol.”

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Jenn’s idol—and her decision to use it—are absolutely the things that make this episode a hell of a lot of fun, and make the upcoming season seem a lot more interesting than it did last week. Jenn correctly intuiting she needed to play her idol and then watching vote after vote for her get thrown out was one of those Survivor moments that’s absolutely a blast to watch. Having it come at the tail end of what was already a strong episode of shifting alliances and strategy made it even better. One thing I’m dying to know: How did Jenn figure out she was the one whose name was being written down? Did she overhear, or did someone accidentally let it slip? Will Tyler and Carolyn remain with the old Blue Collars or will they switch things up yet again? Jenn’s alliance is still not in the majority, even with this great save. They still have plenty of work to do in order to fully turn the tide against their Blue Collar foes.

Stray observations:

  • Rodney shaking his head at Tribal is this season’s slack-jawed Drew face.
  • The pole challenge is one of my favorite individual immunity challenges. Somehow it always manages to be incredibly suspenseful even though it’s just people hanging onto a pole. (Poor Jenn, though. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.)
  • Rodney’s story to Mike that his alliance with Joaquin was all for show and he was “working on a fugazi fake alliance for Blue Collar” is one of the more colorful (if totally unbelievable) lies I’ve heard someone use to get out of a bad position.
  • Forcing them to rebuild the shelter? Brutal. But at least it gives them the chance to indulge in collar nonsense again, as Mike tells White Collars to “task them out” into duties.
  • Will is in a horrible position now (not that he was in a great one before). He left the No Collars and then was out of the voting loop with the Blue Collars. Will, Will, Will.

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