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Survivor’s seven serve a series of spectacularly stupid schemes

Survivor’s seven serve a series of spectacularly stupid schemes
Survivor 45's final seven: Dee Valladares, Julie Alley, Emily Flippen, Katurah Topps, Jake O’Kane, Austin Li Coon, and Drew Basil (Image from Survivor via CBS)

“Is now the time people are going to start taking shots?” Julie asked during Survivor 45 episode 11. Yes, episode 11, and just now they’re thinking about taking shots.

The answer was yes—and yet those shots were inexplicably dumb.

To all of their credit, watching this messy, emotional game play was quite entertaining, even if it wasn’t smart.

I mean, just this exchange alone is amazing:

Drew: “Do you want to do something tricky with your idol?”

Julie: “No”

A person throws a bean bag at a stack of pink blocks arranged in a triangle
Who would Julie take a shot at? Not with her bean bag, but with her vote (Image from Survivor via CBS)

The biggest shot was fired at Julie from her own alliance. And Julie took her shot, playing her Austin idol and single-handedly deciding who would join the jury.

And Julie chose Emily. She did that because of Emily’s biggest game mistake.

At the start of the episode, after last week’s Tribal Council, Emily told everyone that it was she who convinced Bruce to cast a vote for Julie, and explained how. Julie called it “a genius move, and she came up with the whole plan.” So Emily painted a big ol’ target on her Survivor back.

Julie also decided upon Emily despite Dee telling Julie, to her face, that Austin was Dee’s number-one in the game.

“Why don’t I just write Austin?” Julie asked. “If I take out Austin, Drew’s weak.” Julie is so right! Yet I don’t know why she didn’t just write Austin.

Dee, meanwhile, has been keeping her alliance intact and focused. But that was a ridiculous decision on Dee’s part to save her not-a-showmance showmance Austin by explicitly identifying that she was less invested in Julie.

And speaking of Austin: Not getting that sandwich really turned Austin into a bad player!

After giving his more-powerful idol to Julie for safekeeping, he’s been unable to get it back. Has he asked and she refused? Is he too scared to ask? Why?!

That led us to Austin getting on board with the blindside Julie plan: “I need to vote her out and flush my own freakin’ idol out of this game.”

So you need to destroy your own solid alliance in order to undo a mistake you made? LOL

Austin wrestled with whether to tell Dee about this plan; he worried that either telling her or not telling her would shatter their everlasting devotion.

He told her, and Dee immediately realized how screwed they were. But Dee found a way to protect herself: by telling Julie to play her idol, and telling her Dee would vote for Julie, and that they’d be in a pretend fight afterward. If only she didn’t also decide to confess that Julie was not her strongest ally.

Two people standing in front of tall bushes and trees; one is clasping their hands in front of their face in celebration
Jeff Probst has Emily choose people to join her on her reward during Survivor 45 episode 10 (Image from Survivor via CBS)

And finally, let us not forget how the episode opened with the Reba four alliance celebrating their victory. “We dismantled them,” Austin said. Drew said, “I didn’t think they’d let us take the majority.”

And what did he want to do with that majority? Bring it back to 50/50 odds.

Yet because of Julie’s decision, the Reba four is still intact after trying to oust her. With Emily’s exit to the jury, they basically ended up in the same spot they would have been had they just continued their Pagonging.

Let’s pour one out for Emily. She had one of the most surprising and satisfying Survivor arcs in recent memory: from an easy first vote, oblivious to her behavior’s effect on others, to someone who truly seemed to have learned and grown in just three weeks.

“This has been the most amazing experience of my life,” Emily said in her final words. “I was so pleased that I was given so many extra days here to really change myself, pivot my strategy, and learn a lot along the way.”

Emily also exited in an episode when she basically gave the middle finger to the producers’ attempts to play the game. A boat showed up to give one of them a random advantage (sigh), and Emily drew the rock that sent her on the journey.

Emily characterized this as yet another shitty thing that happened to her in the game. Yep, the players know these twists are not good for them.

Even better, Emily declined to participate in Jeff Probst’s reindeer games because, at the final seven, it was too much of a risk to lose her vote, which of course it is. It’s too much of a risk almost ever, and should not be part of Survivor.

A person standing arms akimbo behind a small table with a piece of driftwood sitting on it; a vertical banner has Survivor's logo on it
Jeff Probst at the start of the Survivor 45 episode 11 immunity challenge (Image from Survivor via CBS)

With Emily gone, Katurah is now the only player I want to win. There are many reasons for that, but she completely won my Survivor heart when, while practicing making fire with Jake, she said this:

“It’s exhausting. Why can’t we just vote somebody out at four? Why does there need to be all this, Jeff?”

Put that on a banner and fly the plane around base camp so Jeff Probst has to look at it every day.

Katurah got a moment of celebration at the start of the episode: “the unimaginable happened,” she said of Bruce’s exit. “I can hear silence. You hear the silence? It’s Bruce not lecturing me, not micromanaging everybody.”

She also gave us my favorite voting confessional line: “If this doesn’t work, I blame Austin and his stupid, emotional heart.”

Earlier, sitting on the beach, chatting with Jake, Katurah kept up the charade that she’s not an attorney, prompting Jake to say she reminded him of people he worked with.

Katurah told Jake and Julie—and us—the story of her family joining a cult, taking her out of school as a kid and making her work “three, four jobs.” Then, at 13, when the cult’s leader wanted her as a child bride, her family finally left.

“It isn’t a sad story; it’s a story of redemption, it’s a story of resilience,” she told us.

And then she capped that story with a simultaneously hilarious and sharp observation: “I just got, you know, shuffled back into the world again. And then I realized I was Black, and I was poor, and I was a woman, and I was gay. And that is when, at, like, 14, I said, I’m going to become a lawyer who advocates for Black people.”

While I have not been a fan of Survivor’s new era decision to just launch off into backstory, this was organic, springing from a conversation she was having with her fellow players.

A person throws a bean bag at a stack of purple blocks arranged in a triangle
Drew on his way to his first immunity win on Survivor 45, episode 11 (Image from Survivor via CBS)

And I’d so prefer that to having to watch Jake talk with his mouth full, or listen to more of the post-production team’s chewing sound effects, which are just too much now.

We had to suffer through that after Drew won immunity and a “do-it-yourself barbecue back at camp,” and had Jake and Austin join him for “all the fixins.”

On the one hand, they didn’t have to go to The Sanctuary™, Where Nothing Interesting Happens. On the other hand, they had to make their own reward, and we had to listen to it.

And I’d so much rather Katurah tell us about her life and work than see Dee and Austin talk about trying to find their love on Survivor (“maybe I’ll find my Amber on the island”; “my friends are always like, maybe you’ll find your husband out there”). Please don’t let this season end with a Tribal Council proposal.

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Monday 11th of December 2023

At the end of the day it's a game and the non Reba have to do whatever it takes to get near the final 3 or to at least help Reba when they turn on each other. You vote for Julie knowing they all did.

You also don't want to the lone dissenter bc Julie never tipped her hand on who she would vote for. Then you create a tie.

Why Julie didn't vote for Austin or Dee is beyond me


Monday 11th of December 2023

Ask Bruce what he thinks about Katurah advocating for Black people. And the joy displayed at him being gone was childish and just plain rude. And should have been edited out. They have a strange sense of what is important. Julie is a threat cuz she’s the tribe mama. What? Emily simply lied to Bruce and he voted for Julie. It was effective but not a stealthy move. And why did no one anticipate Julie actually using the idol? Dee is going to win this because all these players are afraid of their own shadows.

Andy Dehnart

Monday 11th of December 2023

Are you comparing Katurah's frustration with Bruce's behavior (in a game, where they're all sleep-deprived and hungry) to her work as a civil rights attorney? Really?


Friday 8th of December 2023

I have a hard time believing that these people (mostly meaning those outside the Reba 4 alliance) are consistently this stupid. Constantly working against their own interests and never truly attempting to overthrow that alliance while they incessantly navel gaze. I can't help but think that there's some very selective and heavy handed post production editing going on that is leaving out nuanced information. Seriously, why would every Reba vote Julie when they very well knew she had an idol. They knew she was going to play it, so use the opportunity to flush the idol AND take out someone else in the process - a win-win! My only other explanation is that all the non-Reba cast have been infected with the ant zombie fungus...


Saturday 9th of December 2023

@Kerri, It's going to be the last of us!


Friday 8th of December 2023

I'm really thrilled with the Amazing Race this season. The 90 minute episodes were wonderful because I liked practically all of the contestants except for that Anna Leigh. She was horrible to her father.

Survivor on the other hand has been draggy and long and filled with uninspired castaways. I understand why Julie, Austin, Dee and Drew have stayed together but they're not especially interesting to watch. They don't have personalities with any Zing.

Bruce, Emily and Kaleb were a reason to watch the show, but now that they're gone what's the reason to watch? Habit? To see how it ends? Whoever wins is fine with me but I'm really not rooting for anybody.

I'm just pretty blah about the season.


Friday 8th of December 2023

@Antonio, I agree about Amazing Race! That girl is unbelievable to her Dad. He is going absolutely as fast as he can. Yelling and telling him to Come on Dad is NOT HELPING. Have your heart attack when we get to the mat. In the off chance they had won, she should have had to give 1,000 for each Come on Dad to her father out of her share. She wouldn't have much left. She is very pretty, but I hate her attitude. I LOVE the father & son team so much. The 2 brothers team is pretty awesome too. They treat each other so well. And the 2 older guys are fun to watch as well. They all would be deserving winners.


Friday 8th of December 2023

I agree I pretty much only want Katurah even though she has only worked against her interests, and Jake is a less deserving backstop.

Why not root for the Yankees of Survivor, Dee/Austin/Drew? Just don't want to