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Survivor threatens betrayals and chicken beheadings, but delivers neither

Survivor: Edge of Extinction no longer tells us how individual tribe members vote, because that time over the credits is used to show us the scintillating footage of someone standing in front of a sign or riding on a boat.

But what it does do exceptionally well is tease. It’s time for a bonfire!, the episode says, and then by the end all we have is a few more twigs and the promise that maybe, just maybe, next week there will be an actual fire. Sometimes the twigs are absurdly entertaining; sometimes it’s like, finally, next twig please.

At Tribal Council, Jeff Probst said that this “a very complex, layered game only eight days in,” and reminded us that saying a thing does not make it true. Ditto for the episode’s title, “Betrayals Are Going to Get Exposed” (no betrayals were exposed).

Sometimes, it’s both. After the yellow tribe lost a challenge for the first time, there was finally about targeting Joe or Aubry, but this time with the addition of their friend Aurora.

One of the single most shocking moments in Survivor history happened then, as Victoria was standing in shallow water, talking about the threat posed by the returnees.

“I think Joe and Aubry kind of come as a pair,” Victoria said, and as she spoke, the camera panned around AND THERE WAS JOE HOLY SHIT WHAT.

The only thing that would have made that moment more terrifying is if Joe had been holding Jeff Probst’s pterodactyl claw/leg torch snuffer and tapped Victoria on the shoulder with it.

“What do we do?” Joe asked. He was literally feet away from her. How did he sneak up on them like that? How did the camera operator know to pan but Victoria didn’t even notice?

Meanwhile, Aubry didn’t have time to hide behind other players and scare them, because she was looking for a hidden immunity idol.

Aubry admitted that both she and Joe “are scared coming into this new group of players” because “returnees are an easy target.” So far this season, they’re easy targets to talk about, but not to actually do anything about. And if the newbies actually do bother to vote a returnee off, that person will go to the Edge of Extinction and probably win their way back into the game.

This week, we also had the contrast of two Survivor goals: Aubry’s dream of finding a hidden immunity idol, and Wendy’s dream of sabotaging her tribe.

First, Aubry did find an idol, and broke down because it’s been three seasons and she finally found one.

“I want every experience on Survivor,” she said. “I never thought I’d find one, and I’ve been through so much in Survivor, and this is something I haven’t gotten yet. It’s worth the effort to work through the struggle, and I love this game so much, I’m going to make it work for me.”

(Tangent: I am so mad at Survivor for bringing Aubry back in a newbie/returnee season that seems designed for one of them to win. Even if it’s not, it’s hard to see how, at the end of the season, there won’t be a giant asterisk hovering after any of these returnees’ names if they make it to the end and/or win with the assistance of the Edge of Extinction.)

Meanwhile, Wendy was in pain, physically and emotionally. She injured her ankle during the challenge and then had to sit by as the tribe discussed killing one of the chickens they’d just won.

Yes, Manu won a challenge! And for such an allegedly weak challenge performer, Wendy performed really well in the two challenges this episode, swimming without issue despite an injured ankle, and injuring her ankle while figuring how to disassemble a wheelbarrow and helping her team move ahead.

But as Aubry dreamed of coming back to Survivor so she could do all of the things she hadn’t done before, like win, Wendy dreamed of setting chickens free, should her tribe ever win them.

And unto them came a crate of chickens.

“The players signed up for this game, not the chickens, so why should they be penalized,” Wendy asked. That’d be a good question if the tribe was considering chopping a player’s head off and using it for food, but I didn’t understand the comparison.

I’ll give Wendy credit for admitting her hypocrisy—she was neither a vegan nor a vegetarian before coming on Survivor, and seemed to understand that industrially produced meat is much worse for the chickens and for us. And it also makes some sense that, given the opportunity to actually kill a chicken, she’d rather not.

But still: freeing the chickens is dumb. Telling Rick she wanted to free the chickens and asking him to help is even dumber. Stealing the flint is dumb. She’s like a non-asshole version of Russell Hantz, screwing with her tribe. What, exactly, does any of that accomplish?

Chris and Keith make decisions

Chris Underwood, Wendy Diaz, Survivor: Edge of Extinction episode 3
Chris Underwood, Wendy Diaz, and Wendy’s wounded ankle on Survivor: Edge of Extinction episode 3.(Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS Entertainment)

Manu’s winning streak lasted for one challenge, which makes it, you know, not a streak.

So we were back to their version of tribe politics, for which chickens with their heads sliced off seems like a good metaphor.

David was ready to get rid of Wentworth, and enlisted Chris, though David was smart enough to realize telling Wardog was a bad idea, and not just because it forces Survivor recappers to refer to a human being as “Wardog.”

Cue Chris telling Wardog immediately—and then Wardog telling Kelley, who decided Chris was a threat, so most of them turned on Chris.

There some heavy-handed signaling of Chris’ exit. “Coming out here, you don’t realize how good these players are,” he said during Tribal Council, and got not one but two WATCH OUT THE TRIBE IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU sound effects.

I understand David and Rick using the Chris vote as cover because they were almost caught scheming against Kelley. I don’t know if I understand the vote.

The tribe that was so, so worried about strength and challenge performance, they voted out one of their big strong men. The tribe was so, so worried about loyalty, that they voted out the guy loyal enough to warn his allies about others’ plans.

Meanwhile, the episode didn’t start back at Manu’s beach, so we could get some insight into the vote, nor did it return to the moment just before God spoke directly to Keith, so we don’t know why he decided to go to the Edge of Extinction.

We do know why Chris chose to stay in the game: because he was pissed at his tribemates.

Here’s a quick recap of what the Survivor: Edge of Extinction format has taken from us so far:

  1. The cold open of a tribe reacting to the vote at Tribal Council.
  2. The actual votes, in the form of a montage of players voting in the voting confessional.
  3. A clean, unambiguously won victory for its eventual sole Survivor, especially if a returnee should win.

Anyway, we joined Keith as his boat arrived at the Edge of Extinction, where Reem used him as an excuse to not go home: “Now I feel like I have to stay to make sure he’s okay,” she said.

Keith and Reem received bottles with messages on Keith’s first morning there, and those included maps that indicated a staircase. They climbed to the top of the island and found a small ration of rice, and will have to make that long trek every day, only to find the same thing.

That’s not unlike this season so far, which may explain why it’s suddenly time for a tribe swap next week, with two tribes becoming three.

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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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