There’s nothing quite like the old Survivor bait-and-switch. From the beginning of the episode, it looks like the narrative is setting up a brains vs. brawn brawl between Stephen and Joe in a battle of who can blindside who first. Any blindsides to be had here turn out to be far more interesting and satisfying than either of those possibilities, due to one inevitability, one bad decision, and one extremely exciting game move. This season is on a tear.

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Considering that the entire narrative of the episode hinged on whether or not Joe would win immunity, it probably should have been clearer from the beginning that the idea of Stephen being able to get rid of Joe was never going to pan out. What this setup does give the episode is a strong narrative push straight through the immunity challenge, obscuring the strange (and bad) decision to have another immunity challenge almost identical to last week’s. It’s hard to care that the challenge isn’t that inventive when the narrative build still manages to make two guys standing around balancing a ball on a disc exciting.

Once Joe wins—because of course he was going to win—the narrative shifts easily to Joe’s quest to vote out Stephen, because Stephen wants to vote him out first. It looks pretty rough for Fishbach until Jeremy decides he isn’t ready to let an ally go this early, and turns his alliance’s sights to either Kelley or Ciera instead. It’s here where the secondary narrative of the episode stealthily sneaks in, and this narrative is essentially “Andrew Savage is a self-righteous jerk, wouldn’t you enjoy seeing him eliminated?” Yes, Survivor. Yes we would.

In hindsight, it’s pretty clear Savage is in big trouble from the very beginning of the episode. The first moments of the episode feature him gloating to Jeremy about their “brilliant plan executed to perfection.” He talks about how happy he is that he made the jury this time around. He mentions that everyone will be gunning for his alliance of himself, Jeremy, and Joe and they need to be on the lookout. This alone would be enough to signal a potential boot, but Savage makes it work by being a condescending, annoying jerk at the same time. The show wasn’t necessarily setting up a comeuppance torch snuffing, but it was certainly twisting the hubris knife a bit before plunging it all the way in Savage’s back. The apex of his edit here has to be when he overhears Stephen plotting against Joe and calls it “disgusting,” as if he hasn’t plotted behind anyone else’s back and been nice to their face before (ahem, Spencer).

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The entire episode is entertaining, but it doesn’t get special until they get to Tribal Council. The time between the end of the Immunity Challenge and the beginning of Tribal was incredibly short, and the reason why becomes abundantly clear by the end. The entire Tribal is essentially a declaration that there is one main alliance running the game, with Kelley Wentworth, Ciera, and Abi-Maria on the bottom, and everyone in between simply too afraid to make a big move against the main alliance who is controlling the game. Ciera’s big focus this season has been to goad people into playing the game, but most of this comes from the fact that she’s been primarily on the bottom, so she’s been forced to play the game while others can coast. Her anger over the issue is exceedingly entertaining, however, especially here when her eye-rolling abilities are put to the ultimate test. By the time the voting comes around, it’s obvious that either Kelley or Ciera is going home.

That is, unless Kelley plays her idol, which is exactly what she does. Ciera goes into Tribal Council asking for a miracle, and they get one when it becomes immediately clear once Kelley plays their idol that the other side of the game is very, very shocked and distressed by this fact. When the votes come in and every single vote from the majority alliance is for Kelley, it’s honestly shocking in its foolishness and arrogance. Were they so sure none of those women had an idol that they didn’t even think splitting the votes was a little bit of a good idea? Everyone underestimated Kelley, and it hilariously came back to bite them in the worst way.

The best part about it? Savage, who was so sure he was sitting pretty in the game with his bro-heavy alliance and his enlightened view on how scheming was “disgusting,” gets voted out by Kelley, Ciera, and Abi-Maria’s votes and absolutely no one saw it coming. It’s the kind of ending that only happens on Survivor, which is why it’s 31 seasons in and still going strong. Enjoy the jury, Savage!

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Stray observations:

  • Keith stealing the To To motorcycle thing and taking everyone on a ride was delightful. Keith is going to make it a long time simply because everyone likes having him around.
  • Ciera told Stephen she “semi-expected to get some votes” last week. Then why did you vote for Savage? I am more puzzled than ever.
  • Abi: “You made it to the jury!” Savage: [flips her off] Has any exchange ever summed up two people’s personalities so succinctly?
  • “One ball was tough. Two is definitely more than twice as hard!”
  • “Joe is my white whale, and I’m Ahab on my crazy, monomaniacal quest to eliminate Joe, and he keeps evading us.”
  • “This is my favorite moment.”

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