We interrupt PRP’s coverage of a wedding from 12 years ago for a special report on the best episode of the season and arguably in the entire history of Survivor (OK fine, recency bias may be a real thing).
In the span of two tribal councils, Tessa and Peter have gone from an 8-4 majority to a 2-8 minority. Back at camp they state the obvious, that a) they’re screwed and b) they can’t work with Ziggy anymore. Henry takes full credit for masterminding the events of the previous episode. This seems… like revisionist history. He also boasts about now being in full control of the game. This seems… premature.
It’s true that he’s in great spot. Because of the tribe swaps he has close relations with most of the eight, he has an idol and he knows Ziggy has the other one (I could be wrong, but I don’t think Ziggy knows for sure that Henry has one). He also has an easy-peasy next two boots, first Tessa then Peter.
We go very quickly to a challenge, but actually it’s the good old Survivor Auction. The auction is of course broken in the US game as a result of people hoarding their money and bidding only on advantages. I expected this cast to do the same, but instead they bid wildly, in many cases just going straight to $500 for no reason. Maybe it’s because the auction is happening on Day 39 instead of Day 29 and they’re desperate for food. First up is a covered item. Luke outbids Ziggy and from an entertainment perspective it’s a good thing he did, because it’s a Table for One reward, which entitles Luke to a match of every other item sold. Luke hams it up and taunts and preens for the remainder of the auction in a way that Ziggy certainly wouldn’t have.
The next sequence really jumps out on a rewatch. In successive auctions, Sarah bids $500 on a covered item only to get a coconut, then Michelle bids $500 on Mexican food, only to have her bid matched by Locky, who proceeds to win the rock draw. Michelle turns to a miserable Sarah and says “Me and you are in the same boat.” Tessa, sitting between the two of them, takes a long look first at Sarah, then Michelle.
Yada yada, eventually everybody wins something except Sarah and Michelle. Tessa wins a night-of-comfort reward and is allowed to take one person with her (and Luke gets to tag along). Her only sensible choices are Peter (her closest ally, who won an advantage but no food), Sarah, and Michelle. She picks Michelle. At the time, I thought this was a mistake, since Sarah is the savvier player, is in a higher position in her alliance, and is manifestly more open to strategizing than Michelle. But as Tessa explains in a confessional later on, Michelle is a highly emotional player, so taking her on reward ensures her gratitude and potentially her jury vote. Except… Sarah seems pretty pissed off.
At the reward, everything goes as Tessa planned. They bond over chocolate, champagne, and disgusting Survivor pizza; Michelle is overjoyed at being pampered and out of the rain; and the three plot to vote out the core of the majority alliance, consisting of Locky, Ziggy, Henry, and Tara (note that by implication this makes Sarah and Jericho the swing votes). Crucially, half-drunk Michelle lets slip the fact that Henry definitely has an idol, meaning that getting him out will require a blindside. Ominously, Luke notes in confessional that while he’s always up for Big Movez™, he doesn’t like not being in the driver’s seat. Nevertheless, they dub themselves the #ChampagneAlliance and seal the deal with a pinky-swear.
For those scoring at home, in less than 24 hours Luke has won every single food item at a Survivor Auction, an advantage in the next challenge, a night in a real bed out of the rain, and a huge dinner and breakfast minus whatever two skinny white chicks consume.
Back on the beach, Sarah is absolutely fuming, and Ziggy, Henry, and Locky are taking a page out of the Sarah playbook and doing everything they can to stoke the fire. Hilariously, Peter tries to stick up for Tessa in absentia instead of, you know, searching high and low for Anneliese’s idol. Locky correctly reads the situation and says that Tessa, Luke, and Michelle (plus Peter) will come gunning for the power center of himself, Henry, and Ziggy (plus Tara). Henry dismisses Locky’s “paranoia” and says there’s nothing to worry about. Something to keep in mind the rest of the way.
In confessional, Sarah reveals that her anger at Tessa is all an act. It turns out she’s thinking along exactly the same lines as Tessa, so she needs to make it seem like there’s no possibility of them working together. Also, it turns out that Anneliese told Sarah about the way Henry pulled the wool over Jericho’s eyes with the idol clue. Sarah makes Jericho see the light, and you can actually pinpoint the second where his heart rips in half.
The champagne alliance returns not to the beach, but directly to the challenge station. It’s the return of the balance a ball on a bow challenge. It’s perfectly suited to Tessa’s skill set–a doctor’s steady hands and concentration, plus a low center of gravity–and she defeats Locky for possession of the very strange immunity necklace that looks like rancid bacon.
The rest of the episode plays out just like a heist movie. Everybody in the team of thieves and rogues has one task to accomplish, but they don’t fully trust each other, and a mistake or betrayal by a single member will blow it up for everybody. There’s even an Act III complication, with pouring rain preventing anybody from conferring with anybody else in private.
But with nothing left to lose, Tessa and Peter break away from the group, buying Tessa a few minutes to fill Peter in on what happened at the reward. Luke and Michelle smartly don’t try to BS the group excessively about their loyalty or lie about Tessa attempting to flip them at the reward, they simply confirm that they’re supposed to vote Peter. Locky and Henry chase after Tessa and Peter to make sure they don’t find an idol. In addition, Locky (worried about getting bounced in the event Peter does have an idol) wants to talk them out of targeting him, which is an easy sell since that’s not what they’re trying to do at all, dude. Peter floats Sarah’s name, and Locky and Henry agree, but they need time to pull in “the other two” (presumably Tara and Ziggy). Incidentally, the way Tessa bounces up and down this entire sequence (whether because she’s excited or because the rain is freezing cold) is utterly delightful.
They part ways, and Peter wonders whether Locky and Henry realize it’s a ruse. I’m wondering the same thing at this point, because getting rid of Sarah actually would be in everybody’s interest. After a few minutes’ reflection, Locky and Henry do in fact conclude that it is a ruse, but Henry assures Locky that Peter doesn’t have an idol and that they have a rock-solid majority even if Luke and Michelle defect.
It’s five minutes to tribal and nobody in the champagne alliance has been able to talk privately with either Sarah or Jericho. Finally, Michelle pulls Sarah aside under the guise of mending fences about the auction. Meanwhile, Luke tries to mouth “voting Henry” to Jericho in the shelter, and I’m certain this is where somebody else sees it and the plan falls apart.
At tribal, JLP asks about the reward. Tessa confirms the obvious, that she tried to sway Luke and Michelle, but they indicate that it fell on deaf ears. The discussion turns to “unbeatable” players, and Peter and Tessa acknowledge the obvious without naming names, while Locky takes the question incredibly literally and denies it’s possible to be unbeatable unless you win all the immunities. Michelle lets her mouth outrun her brain and unhelpfully names Locky, Henry, and Ziggy as the power players, and also notes that Tessa is winning a bunch of challenges. However, she astutely says that whether someone is “unbeatable” is ultimately up to the jury. Jericho and Sarah talk about the jury respecting Big Movez™, but Sarah says there’s a time to just take the easy option, and tonight is one of those times. Big smiles from Locky and Ziggy. Michelle also indicates she’s going to stay the course, and Tessa feigns frustration.
The votes are in, and once again Locky reads the room correctly and implores Henry to play the idol. Henry does not, and it’s six straight votes for Henry. Hilariously, in his boot confessional, Henry notes that, among his other accomplishments in the game, he got away with teaching half a yoga class in 40 days.
Normally, losing powerhouse characters like Anneliese and Henry in consecutive episodes would be really troubling, but except for Tara, I think any of the nine remaining players could very well win it all (even Michelle is showing some sharp jury-management skills), and now there’s a power vacuum. On top of that, there may be two idols back up for grabs, and the super-idol is probably gone for good. Moreover, the Champagne Alliance is clearly a trust cluster rather than a true alliance, so expect the fireworks to continue.
Favorite seasons: Pearl Islands, China, Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains, Philippines, Cagayan, Cambodia
Favorite players: Yul Kwon, Denise Stapley, Cirie Fields, Tony Vlachos, Judd Sergeant, Benjamin Wade (Tocantins and HvV only), Brenda Lowe (fight me!)
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