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Survivor winners merge and one voted-out player returns

Survivor winners merge and one voted-out player returns
Michele Fitzgerald, Denise Stapley, and Sophie Clarke at the Survivor: Winners at War merge feast, when Denise told the story of slaying Survivor queen Sandra. (Photo by Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

Compared to the merge episode of Survivor: Edge of Extinction last spring, which was a complete mess, the Survivor: Winners at War merge episode was a blessedly straightforward episode.

While the episode brought someone back from the Edge of Extinction and ended with the blindside of someone else, it was also somewhat unmemorable and just kind of middle-of-the-road. I think that speaks to the high bar both Survivor has set for itself, and the high bar these players have set this season.

Let’s start with the segment of The Jeff Probst Show that opened the episode, where Probst announced the tribes were merged and then turned his attention to interviewing those returning from the Edge about how life-changing and glorious his baby—the Edge of Extinction—is.

He tried to make the argument, in a “question” directed to Natalie, that as a winner, she’s already “proven” herself but now has something new to prove so the Edge of Extinction is really there to—I don’t know. I just can’t with that, nor with him responding to Tyson’s emotion by attributing it to the infernal Edge of Extinction.

Edge actually hasn’t been that bad this season, and has even had some really nice moments, but I cannot abide talking about how amazing it is. Show, don’t tell!

Those who’d been voted out of the game—minus Sandra, not a quitter—competed in a challenge to return. Several of them had purchased advantages, which turned out to be pretty significant. (I’m just going to skip over Amber giving her fire tokens to Rob so he could buy a challenge advantage and an idol, because Amber won this game before Rob did and the show didn’t even let her explain why she was deferring to him, it let Rob do that, and I guess I actually didn’t skip it and now I’m heaving.)

The challenge was a multi-stage obstacle course, and those with the advantages didn’t have to dig to find string that was used to assemble a pole to retrieve a key that would open a door that led to a move-the-ball-into-the-hole thing. Digging was pretty significant. “Where the fuck is this thing?” Yul said, having hand-dug a large hole.

Tyson Apostol battles his way back into Survivor: Winners at War during episode 8.
Tyson Apostol battles his way back into Survivor: Winners at War during episode 8. (Photo Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment)

The challenged ended with both Tyson and Rob neck-and-neck, and it was such a dramatic moment that we got a few lines of the music used in this season’s trailer—”you better be ready” and “it’s coming for you” as Tyson dropped his ball into the hole and Rob just dropped the ball.

But Tyson didn’t come for anybody. In fact, he all but evaporated upon re-joining the tribe.

I am very grateful that the production didn’t just gift Tyson an idol, and hope they also don’t do that for whoever returns in the finale. But it also seems like most everyone on Edge—who’ve now become a disheveled, dirty jury—will have the opportunity to earn fire tokens and perhaps buy an idol, as Rob did. (I’m curious if he gets to keep the one he bought.)

At the merged tribe, Denise seemed like the most likely vote-out, at least after telling her “queen slayer” story at the merge feast, pulling out the head of the dragon she slayed and waving it around drunkenly.

As Sophie said, “one person has a resume out here. Good to know.” It is fascinating how Denise is the only person who’s single-handedly made such a consequential move this season.

But Denise was safe, having won one of the two individual immunity necklaces at a particularly brutal challenge, where it was raining and so cold Sophie was shivering and crying. Let’s not forget that Survivor contestants do not choose their own clothing. So why do the men get considerably more clothing than the women? That’s 100 percent the producers making that decision, and that is shitty.

During the challenge, Adam was terrified he was going to fall off a very tall pole. I get it: I was scared for them all, especially when Michele fell straight down. Yikes.

The alliance of Remaining Big-ish Targets—Ben, Tony, Jeremy, Tyson—wanted to target Wendell and Nick. (How great was that montage of Nick sidling up to groups of people with increasingly freakish expressions on his face each time?)

But the conversation of Wendell versus Nick turned a little to, Well, maybe Adam, since he’s an ally of Denise. “Tonight is about survival. And I’m scared. I don’t want to go home,” Adam said, getting emotional.

Sophie reassured Adam, saying his name was only coming up to distract from the real conversation: Nick versus Wendell. And as she said at Tribal Council, “The hardest hting on Survivor is being okay not being in every conversation, being a little out of the loop.”

Wendell was far more out of the loop, as it turned out, as he was voted out, and headed off to the Edge of Extinction. When Adam voted for Wendell, he held up the parchment and said directly into the camera, “It’s either me or you tonight. I know that, but do you?” Amazing. How did the parchment not ignite with that burn?

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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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