Survivors merge, and the Redemption Island winner returns to ruin someone’s game

The merge can deliver predictable game play to Survivor, as the tribe with fewer members is picked off by the larger tribe, or dramatic game play, such as when someone flips.

Thanks to Redemption Island–I cannot believe I typed those words, either–and the casting of couples this season, there were more dynamics at play than usual. We had alliances from the original tribes (returnees/newbies), couples, people whose loved one had been voted out, and switched tribes. And let’s not forget those pre-game alliances between returnees that play a significant role.

Because of Laura M.’s win at Redemption Island (an endurance challenge that makes sense for the final pre-merge RI challenge but that John could probably never have won), the merged tribe had six people who were part of couples. Thus, they outnumbered the non-couples.

But because of Ciera’s smart alliance with others who’d had their loved ones kicked off, they had a swing vote: Laura. As Ciera said both to her mom and to us, Laura’s return “could really ruin my game,” which sets up an interesting conflict and/or gave the editors something to use to distract us.

Ultimately, the single people were able to use Laura as a swing vote, banding together and voted out Aras, who was clearly shocked. However, the only unsurprising part of the vote was that yet again someone got cocky and didn’t realize how vulnerable that made him. Heck, before the merge, Vytas was walking around insisting that he was “speaking for Aras,” and after the merge, the brothers were running around insisting to each other that they’d win the game “against anybody.” That they had no idea they could be targeted is pretty unbelievable.

That leaves Tina, Katie, and Vytas as three people who will likely be picked off in quick succession. The preview for next week shows Tina hilariously threatening those who turned against her, because she knows she’s going to likely end up on the jury. She says, “you’ve got five jury votes you’ll never get,” as if she’ll have any other option other than to vote for three members of the alliance that is probably going to vote her out.

Tina is, sadly, a shadow of her former self, seeming dazed at Tribal Council and weirdly telling Monica she was number five in their switched tribe alliance. That did not accomplish anything except to encourage Monica to align with the other single people, and by that I mean that she annoyed Tyson. But Tyson should be grateful about having to have listened to Monica because it gave him some of his funniest confessionals of the season, this time involving a rusty spoon and his eyeballs.

Meanwhile, Tyson found the hidden immunity idol, which wasn’t so much hidden as lying on the ground. His search was based on an earlier clue, so clearly, the clues that were all burned so dramatically were pointless, or perhaps they were GPS devices that pointed to the clue on the ground and said, “IT’S RIGHT THERE, DUMMY.”

While it was a strategically interesting episode, the challenges were weak: pole-hugging and a Big Brother-ish memorization immunity challenge. Not every challenge can be a huge build, I know, and the immunity challenge wasn’t necessarily easy–especially the second round, and especially since we have no idea how much time elapsed between Probst revealing the sequence and then testing them on each part of it–but it made for kind of a dull viewing experience.

Despite the excitement of this week’s blindside and post-merge strategy, I’m worried we’re in for a predictable three weeks if the single people plus Laura pick off Vytas, Tina, and Katie. So I hope the challenges pick up the slack.

By the way, what has happened to Caleb? He has nearly evaporated after making a big move, which makes me think he’ll make it very far. Which means Colton might be a bigger part of the finale than he otherwise would have been. Which means it’s time to get my spoons rusting so I’ll be prepared.

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