Survivor played one hell of a long con tonight. So much of the episode was focused on the family visit that strategy seemed to take a backseat, implying that strategy was secondary to the outcome of the episode, with the most obvious ending being inevitable.
But that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, the circumstances surrounding the family visit were crucial to the storytelling of the episode, as the editors built a little mini tale of triumph and tragedy spanning throughout the entire episode, with Brenda as the center of it all. For someone who barely got any screen time in the game until a few weeks ago, she certainly got her moment in the limelight here.
For two weeks now, the general refrain of the remaining contestants—and even of the show itself—is that Eddie’s time is up. He’s the last remaining member of the bro-tastic Three Amigos. He has no allies left in the game. In short, he’s an easy vote in a sea of difficult ones.
Yet Eddie remains. The thing about Eddie is that he’s an easy vote: He has no allies, no head for strategy whatsoever. The only potential threat he could be is as an immunity winner, but so far, he hasn’t shown much aptitude for that, either. In short, Eddie is the classic example of a final three goat, someone who might accidentally squeak all the way to the end but who likely wouldn’t get much love from the jury once he did.
This is why Brenda’s story tonight is so dependent on her journey here, despite the obviousness of the potential Eddie vote. Brenda is playing a much different game this time, a much more reserved, laid-back game, and tonight, we learn that is all due to her father telling her to “be humble” this time around. The inevitable family visit episode gains some nicely earned emotion from the two of them, who have a kind of kinetic connection that really comes across onscreen.
Which is why, when Brenda and her father win the reward challenge, what Survivor does to them next is so cruel. The show always forces the family reward winner to pick just a few other people to share in the reward, but this time it flips the switch. Once Brenda picks Dawn (because how could she not pick Dawn considering Dawn’s potential nervous breakdown if she didn’t), the show forces her to make an even worse decision: Keep the reward for herself and Dawn, or let the other four players go instead. This decision is made even more difficult because there are secretly two family members on the island instead of the usual one. Brenda does basically the only thing she can do, and chooses to give up the reward and give it to the other four. It’s an absolutely unfair position for the show to put her in, as she has nothing to gain from giving it away and being seen as a threat for being too well-liked, or keeping it and making people angry.
Whether or not this directly feeds into the later events of the episode is unclear, but Brenda’s selflessness here—plus her dominance at immunity challenges—certainly puts a target on her back. When it comes down to her and Dawn at the end of the immunity challenge, Brenda falters at the last moment, and Dawn wins. This is an immunity challenge Brenda needed to win, but she doesn’t know this; heck, I didn’t know it until her post-immunity challenge confessional where she admits she gave the win to Dawn in order to keep Dawn happy.
So here we have Brenda, who gave an immunity challenge to Dawn right after very visibly taking away Dawn’s opportunity to eat and see her loved ones, and now Brenda is relying heavily on Dawn to carry out her next mission: getting Cochran voted out instead of Eddie. She makes a good case to Dawn, and although Dawn has been tight with Cochran from the beginning, she seems far more willing to switch to Brenda and Erik’s side than she did to flip sides earlier in the game. In fact, when she has a conversation with Cochran—who is working his own scheme to vote out Brenda—she does a pretty good job of talking him down from the ledge and getting him to agree that Eddie is the smartest, easiest vote this time.
Something had to have happened between that conversation and Tribal Council, though, because voting out Eddie is exactly what didn’t happen. Going into Tribal it seemed as if Brenda and Erik were definitely voting Cochran and Cochran and Sherri were definitely voting Brenda, with Dawn as the swing vote. What ended up happening instead was that Brenda and Erik ended up voting Eddie, Cochran, Dawn, and Sherri ended up voting Brenda, and Cochran’s name was nowhere to be found. Dawn and Cochran’s alliance seemed fairly solid throughout the whole game, but this was the vote that cemented their alliance in my mind, and the vote that proved just how well Dawn is playing the game. She’s obviously the one who engineered Brenda and Erik voting for Eddie, which is a conversation I’d love to get to see.
Going into the finale on Sunday, Cochran and Dawn seem like a lock for the final three. The only thing holding them back is the one thing they can’t really control: immunity challenges. If Eddie can sneak in and win some, how will the game change? And hey, did you know Sherri was still here? I can’t help but want Cochran and Dawn in the end, not just because they’ve played a great game but also because I would love to see who the jury would vote for between the two. Bring on the finale!
- I actually got kind of angry when Probst announced the choice Brenda was going to have to make. I don’t understand how a reward winner gets nothing but punished.
- Brenda's angry, sad goodbye should be interesting when it comes to the jury. Will she be the bitter one this year?
- Cochran’s little sequence describing his dad’s island persona was hilarious.
- Erik’s breakdown. Yikes. This is why body fat is important, folks.
- “All the chicks I go after and try to hook up with get voted out.” Gross, Eddie.
- Cochran: “Don’t say anything about my mom, Jeff.”