Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The big moves keep coming on Survivor

I ship it.

An underrated thing about playing a good game of Survivor is that while a significant aspect of it is making your own big moves, the trickiest part is actually convincing other people to make their own big moves that work to your advantage. At the end of the previous episode, Aubry and her alliance were dealt a huge blow and looked to be headed for a struggle. There is certainly a struggle here, but this season continues to surprise; these people have come to play, and Aubry is revealing that she has that impressive ability to get people to make moves that not only help them, but ultimately help her as well.

The whole episode is essentially a classic Survivor narrative: Alliance does well, alliance gets cocky, and then alliance takes a great big fall. It’s a narrative the show hits over and over again, and for good reason because it’s satisfying as hell. Watching Jason and Scot get cockier and cockier throughout the episode is the slow build to the emotional catharsis of seeing all that swagger come crashing down in spectacular fashion. That it comes via the maneuvering of the very person they were so convinced they were going to vote out is just a bonus.

Let’s talk about that person, because this entire episode was essentially a showcase to watch Aubry make very, very smart moves over and over again. It starts when Scot approaches her with the magnanimous offer to start providing for the camp again (which, if you recall, means giving back the items his alliance stole in a petty huff under the guise of “psychological warfare”), but only if Aubry and her alliance get together to help them vote out Cydney. It’s a ridiculous offer, and Aubry rightly acts neutrally to Scot’s face before taking him to task in her next confessional. This conversation is the episode’s declaration: Scott and his alliance are going to be insufferable, and they are going to pay for it.

The tricky thing about Aubry’s situation is that she doesn’t have the idols or the votes, and she knows it. After a conversation with Julia where Julia admits she wants to vote Tai to flush Tai’s idol (and, unsaid to Aubry, cement her position as the third in the Jason/Scot alliance), and this gives Aubry the ammunition she needs to get in with Tai. Tai is essentially the key to Aubry’s game moving forward, and she smartly positions herself as an ally he can feel good about working with, and one who will listen to him and value his input. As we’ve seen over and over again in the past, the most dangerous alliance member is often one who doesn’t feel appreciated and heard within their alliance, and that’s exactly what ends up playing out here: Tai feels like an outsider in the Jason/Scot dynamic, and he ultimately makes them pay for it.

Structurally this episode is sublime, as the more Jason and Scot talk about how safe they are and the more things stack up in their favor, the more it becomes like an edited steamroller of hubris headed straight for them. This is helped out by the exact right person winning the immunity challenge, as Jason’s win makes him and Scot so incredibly cocky that they essentially declare during Tribal Council that there’s no way Jason, Scot, or Tai can possibly go home. It’s this moment where the super idol becomes the cursed object that signals their downfall; without it, there’s no way Jason and Scot feel so comfortable. But in order to use it, they have to be certain Tai is on their side, and it’s their incredible cockiness that doesn’t allow them to see that everything has shifted underneath them. The deciding factor is also thematically appropriate: Jason and Scot brashly pushed their way into their positon using blunt force, while Aubry slyly tiptoed around them and cleverly appealed to those they accidentally pushed aside in their wake, a Brawn vs. Brains conflict in action.

The beauty of the episode is that while it’s not difficult to see Scot’s elimination coming if you look hard enough (Survivor loves to set up a player’s cocky narrative and then pull out the rug at the end), watching it happen in the moment is incredible. When Scot’s name starts coming up he doesn’t seem worried, or even very surprised. He fully expects Tai to give him the idol, allowing him to use the super idol and stay in the game. The silent conversation that occurs between Scot, Tai, and Jason in this moment is a master class of editing, all raised eyebrows and shocked faces, until Tai finally says out loud that he’s not giving Scot his idol. Scot walks out, shocked, and the biggest shock is that he walks out with Jason’s idol still in his pocket. Now Tai’s allegiance is flipped, he still has his idol, and Jason is on his own with no idol to protect him. The ends of two subsequent episodes could not be more diametrically opposed, and it’s yet another exciting development in a season that’s turning out to be a hell of a lot of fun. Game on.


Stray observations

  • The voting seems to reveal that Michele is completely on the outside of what I thought was her alliance. Seeing that she doesn’t feel especially close to Julia either, she’s essentially the last person fully tethered to one side.
  • Not only was Aubry’s strategic gameplay impressive, but her performance at the immunity challenge was fierce as well. Great all-around episode for her.
  • Tai wins an extra vote. I don’t think that’s a great advantage, given its history.
  • Michele wins food and Julia wins letters from home. I would take the food. Always take the food.