Survivor: a very different kind of merge

Earlier this week, I called out Jeff Probst’s talk show for spoiling a pivotal moment in the episode with a clip, not realizing until later that both the episode’s title, TV guide description, and other promos CBS was running all did that and more. We’re in an era where major plot points are given away in advance in what seems like a desperate way to attract viewers–but also a self-defeating one: come watch our show, which is less interesting now that we’ve given away major plot points!

During the first individual immunity challenge, which involved holding 25 percent of one’s body weight connected to a bucket, Jeff Probst called out Jonathan Penner in an unusual way, saying that Penner was “in trouble at tonight’s Tribal Council” after Penner dropped out.

It’s possible to read that in a conspiratorial way, a subtle hint from Probst (i.e. play your idol), or as a statement of the obvious (he’s a returnee, and thus a bigger target). Of course, everyone except the two people who won individual immunity–Denise and Carter–is technically eligible to be voted out. But Probst only said that about Penner. But it still felt like overreaching, and perhaps even an in-episode spoiler, since Probst knows more than even we do.

Penner was in trouble, though, thanks to Carter and Jeff, who voted with the others, who went after both Penner and one of their own, all of which makes for an interesting post-merge dynamic. Lisa pointed out that breaking from one’s tribe means “you’ve shown you can’t be trusted in your alliance,” but I’m not quite sure that’ll play out here, because the whole dynamic of the merged tribe seemed different.

And it was a dynamic I really liked, especially as they all arrived at their new beach. Perhaps that’s because, as Jeff Probst pointed out, this season was the first time in 25 seasons that a tribe made it to the merge never having gone to Tribal Council. Perhaps makes them a bit more collegial? As with so much this season–even the animal noises during Tribal Council–it felt very much like a different kind of Survivor, and that’s awesome.

The collegiality was in full play when Lisa’s domesticity paid off: doing everyone’s laundry, she was rifling through Malcolm’s bag and found the hidden immunity idol. Proving his intelligence in the game, though, Malcolm quickly realized that might have happened, and looked to head it off, but Lisa beat him to it, confessing.

It was a bizarrely warm conversation considering what had transpired and what could transpire, such as Lisa using that against him. Now Malcolm is aligned with Lisa and Denise, and while he was thrilled that “the church lady found it” (ha, church lady!), he called it an “involuntarily alliance” and pointed out that he’s now aligned with two women he’s “not confident I can beat.” That’s a fascinating dilemma.

And I suspect it’s one we’ll get to see play out, because there are other distractions to deal with. With Abi burning RC at Tribal Council for betraying her by, you know, not really betraying her at all, Abi has outed herself as a risky player to even talk to, and I imagine that the group won’t stand for that for long.

More significantly, the preview suggested Penner’s wrath/self-destruction/desperation will be the focus of next week’s strategizing, and unless he piles up individual immunity wins, he’s likely not long for this game. And while Michael Skupin made it past the anniversary of the game day in which he fell into the fire and insisted, “I no longer have an advantage,” I doubt that he’s long for the game, unless all his wounds are stigmata and the second coming of Christ happens.

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