Thoughts on the Episode:
- As expected, the castaways were immediately informed of the Merge at the beginning of the episode, leading to some cries of joy and excitement from across the 3 camps. Bret was excited, not only to get away from the “Have Nots” Ikabula camp, but to get back on terms with his closest ally, Chris. Jay and Taylor were both excited to see each other again after experiencing some highs and lows on separate tribes. What was most interesting was to see how the old tribes were going to coalesce as units after all of the alliance fracturing that happened on separate tribes. There wasn’t much love at the Gen X tribe in its original formation, but it was pretty clear at the Merge that cooler heads might prevail with them. The pairs of Ken and Jessica and Bret and Sunday may never really trust each other terribly much after the events of the early game, but their ties to David and Chris respectively have bonded the Gen X tribe back together as a seemingly cohesive unit. For the Millennials, everything was a bit trickier once back together. There were a great number of betrayals within the Millennial camp, with Adam turning on Taylor by voting out Figgy and Jay and Will turning on Hannah by not including her on the Michaela vote. All of the gamesmanship from the younger players seemed like a bit too much to overcome, and it seemed like early on the fracturing of that tribe was imminent. It’s yet to be seen which tribe is going to win out in the end, but if we’re basing it off of what we’ve seen so far, I have to think Gen X has played their hands better as a unit.
- We saw one interesting little twist in the game develop when Adam happened upon a hidden advantage at the water well. It seemed like a strange advantage when it was revealed; he gets to steal a reward from another competitor in the game. I don’t know how I feel about this personally, on one hand any advantage or twist in the game is an exciting opportunity for strange things to happen, but on the other hand this seems really inconsequential. The only thing that I can imagine this accomplishing in the midst of the game is Adam using this advantage and really rubbing people the wrong way. The more I think of it though, that’s exactly what the producers wanted to do with this advantage. I think it’s canon at this point that the advantages in the game are a hindrance not a help, so maybe they want to see if a more innocuous twist could work in the advantage of the user. I’m curious to see how that plays out for Adam.
- We got to see the first individual immunity challenge this week, with the 13 remaining Survivors fighting for the immunity necklace. The challenge was to hold steady a bar with two hands over their heads. If they were to tire of lose balance the bucket being held up by the bar would fall and they would be out of the challenge. It was a classic kind of endurance challenge for the show, and the fatigue of the cast shined through during the challenge. One by one people dropped out of the challenge in short order until only two people were remaining. The youngest competitor in the game Will was planning on pushing himself to the win because he heard that people were gunning for him, Jessica was pushing through to show herself and her family that she was a fighter. The two went on about an hour after everyone else dropped out until Jessica finally dropped, leaving Will, who left his senior year of high school to play the game, as the first individual immunity winner. It was a pretty cool moment for the show, and a very well deserved victory for Will.
- The set up for the vote was pretty clear going into the end of the episode; Gen X was sticking strong and Jay, Taylor, Will, and Michelle were outnumbered badly. The only wrench that really got thrown in was Adam’s erratic behavior. Adam had been trying to keep the lines of communication open with Taylor, not knowing that Taylor was in turn playing him. Jay gave Will the vote decision and he made it clear that Adam, the perceived rat, had to go, even though Michelle was very hesitant about voting against the Millennial numbers. On the other side, The Gen X tribe was divided on who to take out from the cool kids pack as well. Ken was disturbed by Taylor’s lack of integrity and wanted to target him, whereas Bret and Chris and perhaps some others thought taking out Jay may be a better decision. In the end, all of them decided that the best idea would be to vote out the one who wouldn’t expect it, Michelle. The only thing that could have broken the plan down was paranoia about Adam’s communication with the other side. Adam was quickly losing allies as the day progressed, working with two sides who distrusted him. It was Hannah who had to keep Adam in check in the end, and Zeke even debated the idea of getting rid of his ally Adam because he could’ve been seen as a great liability. I applaud Zeke for two things before tribal council; the first for understanding that his old ally may be a liability in the new game, and the second for understanding that you have to paralyze the out-group first before turning on your numbers. Cooler heads prevailed in the end and Michelle was surprised by her ouster 9-4 at Tribal Council. Michelle tried to lay back for this vote and blend in with the crowd for survival, but her lack of strategizing made her an outlier in the group and the outliers tend to end up as targets. It’s a shame though, I really liked Michelle, and I thought she was a cerebral player who could do well given the right alliances and opportunities. I think she got put with the wrong group of people, she might do well if she gets a chance to play the game again.
Thoughts after the Episode:
- My player of the week honors go to Zeke for this episode. The merge of the game is such a crucial point in the proceedings, and Zeke appears to be the only person leading multiple coalitions and dictating strategy. He’s held very steady with his Vanua alliance of Chris and David but is also keeping Hannah and Adam relevant in the game while the Millennials are combusting. Zeke has come out of the merge on top, and the best part about it is he has people on either side of him to subtly shift the target and the blame on should things get heavy. Zeke has played his way into a great position and I think he deserves a lot of credit…My favorite moment of the episode has to be Taylor deciding to take some of the extra merge food and have a midnight snack. The funniest part of the whole thing was his confessional about how he’s pretty good with canning, as if that had anything to do with him sneaking food. Taylor is comedic gold on this season, his aloofness and free-spirited personality has brought something fun to the show, and the show wouldn’t be quite as great without him. I hope they keep him around a little longer…It’s been crazy to see all the women get voted out early this season. The numbers are very slanted at this point with 9 men and 3 women left in the game. I’m not really sure how to explain this phenomenon other than to say that men appear to be bonding better with each other at this point, and the women are putting themselves in positions to be targeted as strategic threats. In all honesty, I’m inclined to believe it’s more of a fluke than anything else, but at this point in the game it’s very noticeable…I’ve made a habit of doing this after the Merge of every season, and I’m going to continue with it this season. Here’s the debut of my Survivor Power Rankings for Millennials vs. Gen X:
- Jessica Lewis
– I want to start out by saying I really like what Jessica has managed to do. She got saved by David earlier in the game, and has taken a step back and formed a tight bond with Ken. She hasn’t taken any votes upon herself like she did earlier in the game, and she has put herself in an OK spot after nearly getting voted out earlier on. But, I don’t know if Jessica has done enough to repair the relationships she lost earlier in the game or make new ones in order to be the winner. I think her impressive showing in the immunity challenge may have hurt he cause because now people will have a reason (albeit a dumb one) to gun for her. I don’t think she’s going anywhere soon honestly, but I just don’t see a path to the victory for her.
- Sunday Burquest
– Sunday seems like a nice lady. But we really haven’t seen her play an active role in any strategy so far in the game. Unless she starts playing harder towards the end, I don’t know how anyone would vote for her to win. And there’s not only that, but she also stands a good chance of getting voted out in the 5-7 range because people will freaking out about how the sweet church lady could steal jury votes if you let her go to the end. That conversation has happened on average every other season of Survivor and it’s plausible to think that she’ll go out like that.
- Taylor Lee Stocker
– Taylor has been TV gold all season. This season would’ve been so much less without him. But c’mon…who’s going to vote to give him a million dollars. I don’t see him winning a popularity contest, he’d really have to pull a Mike and win 5 straight immunities at the end to warrant the title of Sole Survivor.
- Adam Klein
– I really thought Adam was doing well in this game until this week. He had allies throughout the game and was poised with an idol to put him in a powerful spot towards the end. But his game unraveled big time after the Merge and now everyone in the game has a right mind to vote him out. The only safety he has is his idol and once that’s gone he’ll just be treading water hoping to survive.
- Bret LaBelle
– I feel like that storyline about everyone expecting Bret to be a cop is going to come back and haunt him. Bret has been a decent player with some very trustworthy allies, but I think he would be the person that the Millennials could get some momentum with to target later on. He doesn’t have any real allies in the Millennial group right now and that won’t help him stay alive let alone win the game.
- Will Wahl
– Will has shown he’s got a lot of game. His alliance with Jay has put him in a spot where he’s a big player in the upcoming showdown between Gen x and the Millennials, but the problem is simple; he’s on the wrong side of the numbers. If not for the immunity win this week, it could have easily been Will going to Ponderosa first, not Michelle. I’m not sure if there’s a path for Will going forward because he’s picked his side and the odds are not in his favor. But I’m putting him a little further up on the list because I think he’s clever and determined, and if Jay were to leave the game before Will, he would have a huge opportunity to become a floater in a new alliance. There’s some hope for Will, it’s just looking bleak for now.
- Hannah Shapiro
– Hannah reminds me a little bit of Aubrey from last season. Her narrative on the show has been remarkably similar and that makes me think she’s going to have some real impact going forward. I think Hannah is smart, quirky, and interesting, and all of those attributes will make people want to work with her I think. The one thing I think will weigh Hannah down and get in the way of her moving on to day 39 will be her anxiety. I have a feeling as the game gets harder she’ll get in her own head too much and might blow her chances in the process. But she would be a very good winner for the show if she manages to keep her composure and outfox everyone.
- Ken McNickle
– Ken is easily my favorite person on this season. He has an old school Survivor mentality, one that is sorely missed in modern Survivor. I think it would be amazing if an old school kind of game could be victorious in the end, and I think Ken offers some hope in achieving this. Ken has been playing from the bottom the entire game, and while he may not have an abundance of close friends, he has enough tight allies and enough respect from his peers to last a long time. I think he’s capable of outsmarting people, and he may just be the dark horse in the game. The only question I have about Ken is whether or not his social game is good enough to earn him a million dollars. My gut tells me it’s not, but I like his mentality nonetheless.
- Chris Hammons
– Chris is the classic alpha male, and the alpha male usually does pretty good in Survivor. He has strong bonds with people and he’ll be able to win an immunity necklace or two to get deep in the game. If Chris gets to the end, I think he has a great chance of winning the game; he has the leadership, the speaking skills, and the strength to take it all the way. I think his strengths will be his downfall though. He may be able to lead the pack for a few more votes, but the nerd alliance is not going to let him get too far in the game if they can avoid it. But, I can also imagine Chris pulling a Mike Holloway and going beast mode to the end. We’ll just have to wait and see.
- Jay Starrett
– It seems like Jay is way on the bottom at Final 12, so why would I put him this high on my power rankings? Cause I’ve got a feeling, that’s why! I like Jay, I think he’s a gamer, he’s a schemer, and he has what it takes to pull a fast one on the rest of the tribe. With his allies in hand, and an idol in his pocket, he is one huge move away from fracturing the tenuous Gen X alliance. I think Jay is the player in this cast that can flip the game upside down, and I’m hoping that he can do it because I want to see him play all out now that he has his back against the wall.
- David Wright
– David, despite his early mishaps, has found his game and found his voice on the island. At this point he appears to be the pinnacle of strategy, holding the bridge between the old Gen X underdogs, the Millennial nerds, and the majority Gen X crew. David has an ear and an eye on every conversation in the game, and having the kind of information he has about the game makes him one of the best placed players in the game. David knows the game about as well as anyone out there, and I think his knowledge and intuition well serve him well.
- Zeke Smith
– Zeke is so well positioned in this game. His alliance with Chris and David appears to be a dominant force in the game, and his knowledge of David’s idol really gives him a leg up when the game gets down to about 5 or 6 people left. I think Zeke can play this game and pull strings without putting a big target on himself, something Survivor players rarely ever have the luxury of, and if Zeke plays all of his cards right, he could win this game. I can’t say I’m enthusiastically picking a winner for this season, I think it’s very fluid and very wide open, but Zeke has the most information and most allies, that has to give him a lead for now.