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Did Survivor’s winners finally target one of the ‘power trio’?

Did Survivor’s winners finally target one of the ‘power trio’?
Denise Stapley, Ethan Zohn, Boston Rob Mariano, Jeremy Collins, Michele Fitzgerald, Adam Klein, and Ben Driebergen during the Survivor: Winners at War episode 3 immunity challenge. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

From the very start of Survivor: Winners at War’s third episode, I was convinced Adam was done. While he was articulating exactly the strategy I’d hoped for—targeting the old-school power trio instead of deferring to them—Adam had more focus than anyone else in this episode.

Besides a throwaway line about Sandra potentially being a target, the entire strategic focus of the episode was on the blue tribe and the plan Adam articulated in those opening moments. So of course that couldn’t possibly pan out, right?

“Boston Rob feels like he needs to be in control at all times. He won this game because he was in control from start to finish. But this is not Survivor Redemption Island,” Adam said, and I cheered, as I did when he later said, “This is the time to draw a line in the sand and target some of the big dogs in this game.”

But when Adam said, “He needs to adapt and maybe play a little more like I am,” I was like OH NO ADAM, because there was no way an episode would start with that kind of confident, direct articulation of strategy and then just go on to show us that exact thing happening.

Adam positioned himself as the person pushing the tribe to finally go after the power trio of Boston Rob, Parvati, and Ethan, which I first accidentally wrote as “power trip.” So of course it’d blow up in his face. It kind of did, and as Jeff Probst started reading the votes, I was convinced Adam was done.

That is, until votes for Ethan started appearing. Ethan ended up exiting for the Edge of Extinction on a 4-3-1 vote, and I was simultaneously surprised and devastated.

"Boston Rob" Mariano and Ethan Zohn during Survivor: Winners at War's third episode, "Out for Blood."
“Boston Rob” Mariano and Ethan Zohn during Survivor: Winners at War’s third episode, “Out for Blood.” (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

That Adam was on the outside of the vote—he voted for Parvati—suggests he really did screw up his game by talking to Boston Rob about the plan to vote out Parvati.

“Strategically telling people truths at important times can be very helpful,” Adam explained, saying it worked for him during Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.

Rob told the camera, “Is this kid crazy?” and then immediately went to Michele and Jeremy and was like, I know everything, and I will bury you all right here in the sand!

It’s worth noting that, earlier, Adam basically did the same thing with Ethan, telling him, “We are really going to have to pick and choose who we really can put ourselves on the line for,” and raising red flags for Ethan, who’s more loyal to Parvati.

Parvati said “Adam broke the cardinal rule of Survivor,” but I don’t think that’s absolutely true. But her insistence that this is a “rule” does reveal one of the most fascinating undercurrents of this season. It’s been reduced to the idea of old-school versus new-school, but really, it’s about 20 different winners, many of whom took very different approaches. You can see those who are trying to use what worked for them before, and those who are just trying to play in the moment.

Making the best decision possible for the current circumstances makes sense. But why did Jeremy, Michele, Denise, and Ben decide to target the power trio but choose Ethan?

Why would they keep in Rob or Parvati, the two people who were the most aggressively annoyed at being targeted? Ethan feels like another easy vote, the least earth-shattering, which may be the point.

I’m probably just responding emotionally here, because I’d rather see Ethan in the game than either of those other two. His joy for being back to play again, after surviving cancer twice, is palpable in every moment he’s on screen, and I also just wanted to see how he’d play.

If he comes back from Edge and wins it all, I will not be sad. Speaking of my hypocrisy, this tweet captures my hypocrisy about this season’s votes perfectly.

But back to why they chose Ethan. Ben—who is trying and mostly succeeding at winning me over when he says things like, “I can’t stand Rob because he’s an alpha male and he’s going to take charge” and “I wish Rob would get off this island”—later explained that Parvati was the bigger threat.

“She knows how to bat her eyes, smile her pretty teeth, and manipulate people to work with her, and that’s why it’s scary to have her in the game as opposed to Rob or Ethan,” he said. That just seems like a sexist double-standard to me, because if Rob isn’t manipulating people to work with him, what is he doing?

Let’s switch focus now but ask that same question—”What is he doing?”—about Tony. I’m not talking about when he grabbed the shark caught in Sandra’s net, and then the shark tried to bite him and we had another solid minute of Tony’s Comedy Bonanza.

I’m talking about the moment he smeared charcoal all over Sarah’s face, and then spit in it to make it stick.

The goal was to camouflage her, which is an absurd premise: adding ash to your face doesn’t make you invisible when you’re crawling through another tribe’s camp. And wouldn’t that actually make everyone in your own camp far more suspicious of what you’ve been doing all night if you wake up covered in ashes and Tony’s saliva?

All of this happened because of an advantage that Sarah received—well, a clue to the location of an advantage.

It started with an extended visit to the Edge of Extinction, where Natalie figured out the combination to a lock—and then smashed the shell evidence so her fellow EoE residents couldn’t figure it out, too—and received a steal-a-vote advantage to sell to one of the current players.

Her ingenuity and also her commentary on her new wealth—”I’m actually a billionaire on Extinction, but I’m pretending that I’m a complete peasant and completely poor like the rest of them,” she said—was great, but also, Edge is so zzzzzzz—wait, what was I saying? Who are you?

This one advantage took so a lot of time (during the episode, and for the players) and effort. Natalie had to figure out the combination lock, then sell it, but Sarah didn’t buy the advantage, she bought a clue to its location. But it wasn’t in her camp, it was in the other tribe’s camp, so she had to sneak over there and find it.

Sarah’s decision to share that with Tony revealed something about their relationship and alliance this season; Tony’s decision to charcoal her face revealed something about his sanity; and the undercover mission added some levity in the middle of the episode.

Yet it’s still hard to shake how that was basically the production creating a lot of story. As Tony proved last week, you don’t need to artificially force story when you have strong characters, and this season has plenty. Trust them to deliver.

This cast is delivering. Heck, they even deliver when they’re not participating. “I’m a nervous wreck. Lord, I can’t even watch right now,” Sandra said from the Sandra Diaz-Twine Throne/Sit-Out Bench, echoing my feelings perfectly and also just being hilarious since she was so far away by herself.

Say what you will about puzzle equalizers in challenges, but wow, did that one pay off! While the blue tribe was way behind during the obstacle course part, they eventually caught up, and even pulled ahead while assembling their tree puzzle.

Sarah had the last piece and finally found its location, and then as she slid it into place, it and another piece came off—right as the other tribe had two pieces to go. I fell apart just as the puzzle did, and that was just one of several highs and lows of this Survivor: Winners at War episode.

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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.

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