This week, on March 23, “Survivor” released one of the greatest episodes in its 42 season-long history. Strategic decisions were made, relationships were destroyed, and the fans enjoyed it all, watching on the edges of their seats.
The episode started with Maryanne telling her tribemates about her three-way shared idol. It was a funny moment, but a questionable strategic play, as it only painted a larger target on her back. However, it did confirm that two of the three idols have been found, which means that Mike and Maryanne have gotten closer to regaining their votes. As soon as someone on Ika finds theirs, Mike, Maryanne, and the third idol holder will be able to activate their idols by each saying their phrase at the same immunity challenge.
Featuring ladders on the bottom of the ocean floor, floating sandbags, and miniscule targets, this week’s immunity challenge was one of the hardest the show has seen. Jonathan’s performance was impressive, single-handedly bringing Taku to a decisive victory. A long while after, Ika finished in second place, sending the Vati tribe — made up of Chanelle, Daniel, Hai, Mike, and Jenny — to tribal.
At this point in the episode, there were still over 30 minutes left, which is an unusually large amount of time to fill with discussion about the vote. Each and every minute, however, was packed to the brim with glorious content.
After winning, Taku had to choose one member of Vati and one member of either their own tribe or Ika to journey to the same island as in the previous episode. They chose to send Chanelle and Omar. At the island commonly referred to by fans as “shipwheel island,” the two castaways were given the same prisoners’ dilemma as before. The difference was that with only two of them, the risk of losing their vote was much higher. Chanelle and Omar built a quick bond, with Chanelle seeming to assert to Omar that she couldn’t afford to risk her vote. Omar took her at face value, risking his vote to gain an advantage. But Chanelle talked herself into making the “big move” and ended up risking her vote as well.
Many contestants feel like they constantly need to take big swings and “not play scared” in “Survivor,” especially early on. Chanelle let this motto cloud her judgment. She was going into a vote with a four-person majority against two, but Mike already couldn’t vote because the three-way idol hadn’t been validated yet. If Chanelle lost her vote, they would have been deadlocked at 2-2 — a dangerous proposition. Yet she fell for the trap and lost her vote because of it.
Back at Vati camp, Chanelle came up with a plan to get Hai and Lydia, who were in the minority, to split their votes between Mike and Jenny under the guise of fearing an idol. She and Daniel would then shift their votes to take out Lydia. It was a genius plan to get around the loss of Chanelle’s vote, but the execution wasn’t there. Hai immediately suspected Chanelle, because her split vote pitch was uncharacteristically forceful.
At Tribal Council, Hai picked up on Daniel’s suspicious behavior as well. Host Jeff Probst asked Daniel who calmed him down when he was stressed on the island. Daniel mentioned Chanelle and Mike: not Hai or Lydia. Because Daniel was supposed to be voting against Mike and with himself and Lydia, Hai was even more suspicious than before, and with good reason. He chose to flip his vote to Jenny instead of Mike. This fantastic play foiled Chanelle’s plan by forcing a 2-2 split.
In “Survivor,” if two people receive an equal number of votes, there is a re-vote without those two voting. So only Mike, Chanelle, Daniel, and Hai were eligible to vote for the next round. However, since Mike and Chanelle had lost their votes, only Daniel and Hai actually cast votes. This was an incredibly rare moment in “Survivor,” and fascinating from a gameplay perspective. Neither Daniel nor Hai changed their vote, so they faced the classic dilemma: make a decision or go to rocks. If they could unanimously decide that either Jenny or Lydia should go home, they would go. If not, Jenny and Lydia would both be safe, and the other four would draw rocks, with the odd rock going home. Their fate in the game would be reduced to pure throw of the dice, a 25 percent chance at a lifetime of regret.
“Survivor” players tend to avoid rocks at all costs, and Daniel was no different. His mistake was making that position too clear. At the beginning of the discussion, he told Hai that he 100 percent wasn’t going to rocks. As soon as he said that, Hai knew he could get what he wanted, and he did. Hai dug in, and Daniel eventually agreed to send Jenny home. In getting there, Daniel made even more mistakes. He chose not to own up to his obvious lie to Hai and Lydia that he was with them. Daniel instead threw Chanelle, his best ally, under the bus as the reason he voted for Lydia. Not only is this an unrealistic statement because he’d never just blindly do someone else’s bidding, as Chanelle pointed out, but it’s also the quickest way to ruin your best relationship in the game. Not great from Daniel. Conversely, Hai committed to his alliance member, was honest with Jenny about voting for her, and came out looking fantastic. Jenny went home, and Hai somehow got less blood on his hands than Daniel, all while getting exactly what he wanted.
This episode was exactly what “Survivor” should be. It was fast-paced, energetic, and fun. It was full of social strategy and momentous decisions. It allowed the viewer to put themselves in the players’ shoes and question what they would do alongside them. It was “Survivor” at its purest, all thanks to a twist.
The discourse around the show can sometimes be a bit one-dimensional. Fans tend to rail against anything production chooses to add, thinking it will detract from the game. However, this episode showed that twists can enhance the gameplay and provide engaging entertainment. It’s a great time to be a “Survivor” fan.