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Answers to burning, oozing questions about Survivor’s merge episode

The merge episode of Survivor Kaoh Rong left a bad taste in my mouth, and not just because of all the horrifying imagery of infections and the second medical evacuation of the season. It also left us with a lot of questions. Thanks to exit interviews with Neal, social media, and Probst’s weekly debrief, we have some answers.

Warning: Stop eating now, or maybe don’t read this if you’ve eaten any time soon, or if graphic descriptions of wounds may freak you out.

Did Neal know about the infection earlier?

Yes. On day 15, the bump appeared and he asked medical to come to the beach because it was so painful. Medical staff lanced it. In his interview with Gordon Holmes, he says he knew it was a problem by day 17, and we now know what happened on day 19.

Did Neal think he was going to be sent home?

Yes. He even packed his stuff the morning of day 19, before the immunity challenge, because, as he told Parade’s Josh Wigler, he discovered that there was more to the wound than he thought:

“There was a confessional I gave in the morning before the immunity challenge. They were setting up the shot, and I was digging into [the knee] with some grass, just getting some pus out, and a big chunk came out. I could see that the hole wasn’t what I thought it was. There was a secondary hole beneath the hole. It went a lot deeper than I thought.”

He elaborated a little in his interview with EW:

“The hole in my knee was almost down to the bone.”

When they didn’t pull him at the challenge, however, he thought he was safe—at least until Probst pulled up to the beach.

When was the decision made to pull Neal?

We know that medical staff privately evaluate each Survivor contestant before and after each challenge, and before and after Tribal Council. The immunity challenge was earlier in the day before Neal was pulled from the game.

Former Survivor contestant Randy Bailey tweeted that “the decision to medivac was made at the immunity challenge long before the doctor visit.” Neal responded with what appeared to me to be a confirmation that was correct.

But, when I suggested that was confirmation Probst’s visit was for the benefit of the cameras, not actual evaluation, Neal replied:

“I wouldn’t say that. It’s not black and white. I think they thought was likely but final decision made at camp.”

Did Survivor change anything after Caleb’s exit?

Yes. In addition to the challenge and Tribal checks, medical staff started making daily visits to each camp—though usually without Probst in tow, of course. Jeff Probst told EW:

“We added another layer of monitoring after the infamous challenge, during which three players went down. From that point forward the players received daily checks at the beach.”

What about the thing on Neal’s back?

Neal did not know about the thing on his back, which the doctor was not as concerned about, until the day before.

Neal told Josh Wigler that at the immunity challenge, Dr. Rupert finally looked at it, and then squeezed it:

“the amount of blood and pus that came out of it was absolutely amazing. I could look over my shoulder, and my back looked like a Civil War battlefield. It was absolutely disgusting. Can you imagine a grown man with his man hands grabbing your flesh and basically tearing it open? That was one of the more painful experiences of my life.”

Speaking of Dr. Rupert, what happened to Dr. Joe?

No one seems to know. (However, their names have led to some great jokes.)

If you’ve know anything about what happened to Dr. Joe, let me know. And if you’re reading this, Joe, your fans want to know where you went. Come back!

How long was Neal hospitalized?

Two nights. Then he “was in a nice hotel for four or five more nights,” he told Gordon Holmes.

The first Ponderosa video of the season picks up right after Neal was removed, which is even more emotional. (It skips over his hospitalization and the hotel stay, though.)

Why didn’t Neal give Aubry the hidden immunity kidol?

The short version: He had the opportunity, but chose not to, because of something Aubry said to him earlier—a decision he regrets now.

Probst told EW:

“The decision to pull someone is made by a doctor after examining in private and that’s not anything Neal should be expected to anticipate. So once he was pulled, it seemed fair to let him do or say whatever he wanted on his way out. I actually thought he would do it.”

So why didn’t he? Neal told Gordon Holmes, in part:

“I was given the opportunity.  It was addressed with production of what I could do with the idol. I asked them that. They came when Aubry and I were having our lovely chat by the beach where I let her know that I had the idol. She was freaking out because the Brains were being targeted. But, she also made it clear that if she had to, she would slit my throat. In that moment, in my state of mind, that wasn’t very funny. That was a contributing factor. […] There was the idea that I’m giving her life and I’m going to get a family heirloom. So, if I could go back, there’s a good chance I would handle it differently. I started to regret it about fifteen minutes after.”

Do others think Neal gave Aubry the idol?

Maybe! Incredibly, Neal did give Aubry his jacket, which further confirms what a conscious choice it was to not give her the idol. Now other players may think the idol was in that jacket. Here’s what he told Josh Wigler:

“Aubry and I walked around just a tiny bit, and I gave her my jacket. I put some things in the pocket of the jacket, that I pulled out of some other pockets in my pants. So [the others] didn’t know whether or not I gave Aubry the idol.”

What about Neal’s big bulge, and who asked to look at it?

Neal told Gordon Holmes that the “big bulge” Jason noticed was actually not the idol. But it also wasn’t his package, either. He says, “Nick actually confronted me about the same bulge. I opened up my pocket and pulled everything out. You just gather things when you’re out there.”

Would Neal have played the idol?

He hadn’t yet decided, though he told Gordon Holmes, “I was probably not going to play the idol.”

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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