Sometimes chance sets things up even better than gameplay ever could. Going into this episode, the one thing that was certain about this season of Survivor was that Aubry and Joe were going to stick together until the bitter end. Their bond was so automatic and accepted that once Aubry started to emerge as a real power in the game, any strategy of hers moving forward would obviously rely heavily on her having an automatic ally and vote in Joe. All it took was a little bit of bad luck to change that narrative completely, sending Joe home on medical evacuation and opening up the landscape of the game into something potentially very interesting.

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From the very beginning, this was a bit of a lazily-paced episode focusing more on the emotional minefield of last week’s events than anything else. The big story is Tai’s reaction to being kept in the dark about everyone voting out Jason instead of Michele. Tai still doesn’t see how Michele seemingly ended up with more power in the game than he did at that moment, pointing out how there were two very obvious alliances in the game and he doesn’t see how she fits into either. It’s amusing to watch Tai be so befuddled and say these somewhat hurtful things right to Michele’s face in the calmest manner, all while she essentially calmly throws up her hands in response. It’s a genial disagreement, at least.

The most impactful thing to come out of this discussion is seeing Aubry’s reaction to Tai’s alienation, as she soothes him to his face by telling him she was wrong to not tell him the plans had changed, all while talking in confessional about how she kept him in the dark mostly to reclaim some power back from him. It’s the kind of astute dichotomy of actions and thoughts that doesn’t happen all too often in the game, and the editors kindly put the two moments in direct juxtaposition to point out the discrepancy between Aubry’s actions and her thoughts.

It’s also fortuitous that the reward challenge sets up just the player separation necessary for the most interesting strategizing to occur. When Joe, Aubry, and Cydney take off for their reward, it leaves Michele and Tai back at camp to potentially team up and discuss their position in the game. It starts looking like Tai is going to change allegiances again and work against Aubry, but while Tai and Michele are exchanging strategies back at camp, Joe, Cydney, and Aubry are working through their own game thoughts on reward. Those thoughts—prompted by a speech from Joe about Aubry being the only threat left—lead Aubry to believe that Cydney has a good chance of doing well in the final three and therefore Tai would be her best bet to go to finals, along with Joe. When Aubry gets back to camp it’s all she can do to not pounce on Tai in order to solidify her final three deal, and it’s interesting to see how Aubry talks to Tai in order to mollify all his fears. She’s excellent at winning his trust by taking care of his emotional needs, which is a sneakily important game skill. Once again, another impressive episode for Aubry, even if her path to the end looks less automatic at the end of the episode than it might have when it started.

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This is when the episode definitely starts to signal that it isn’t going to be typically structured. There’s far too much of an emphasis on these slow, emotional conversations, until it becomes clear why: The show is stalling to delay an Immunity Challenge and Tribal Council that will never come. Instead, Joe starts to show signs of distress when he can’t evacuate his bladder. Things get worse and worse until finally medical is called in for good and Joe is evacuated from the game. It’s another disappointing medical end for a player this season, made all the more disappointing for Joe because he made it all the way to the final five.

What’s disappointing for Joe, though, might mean the exact opposite for next week’s season finale. There are now four players left with a legitimate shot of winning challenges, strategizing, and getting to the end in a variety of ways we might not expect. Beyond maybe Aubry and Tai if this week’s conversations hold, there are no extremely strong alliance bonds. And, most surprisingly, maybe, all four are fairly likeable and fun to watch play the game. This season, with its three medical evacuations and numerous alliance shifts, might not have taken the most traditional route getting to this final four. But that’s what makes it fun.

Stray observations

  • Joe winning that reward was extremely gratifying at the time, but it was unfortunately the thing that ultimately wound up sending him home. Steer clear of the spa beef, folks!
  • There was a lot of beef foreshadowing in this episode. The beef was going to have its revenge.
  • Cydney remains an interesting player as well as she consistently reads the alliances around her in the game so very well. The second Aubry and Tai came back from solidifying their final three, she sensed a change in the air and knew she was probably in trouble. I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out in the finale.
  • Mark the chicken was so jealous Tai was massaging Michele instead of him.

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