Twelve episodes (but only three weeks) in, we have reached both the merge and the back half of the season. The pre-merge was quite entertaining, even if we lost some of our faves along the way. Let’s see if the remaining castaways can keep it going.
- The new Salan tribe arrive back at camp to discover a very sturdy, waterproof-looking production-built shelter, reminiscent of the Haves shelter in Survivor Fiji. Marian notes with some alarm how happy Felix and Dante are to be reunited. Steffi is hangry and wants that merge feast.
- Reward challenge: There are a bunch of covered items on a table, and two rows of plates mounted vertically on poles. The castaways must use slingshots to shatter two plates, after which they can choose an item from the table. You can only pick one item and no sharing. Nico tells them what some of the mouthwatering food items are available, and also notes that there are dud items and various surprise items as well. As the challenge plays out, players discover that they can help others break their plates in lieu of or after choosing an item.
- I love how this challenge incorporates elements of the auction and the Coconut Chop, both of which are no longer on US Survivor because they’ve been hacked. Come to think of it, I can’t remember US Survivor doing a shooting-type challenge (other than the full-body giant slingshots) after Survivor Palau.
- Thanks to a brief juvenile delinquent phase in the sixth grade, I can tell you that Felix has by far the best slingshot technique, and not coincidentally he’s the first to break his plates. Steffi is second, and instead of choosing a sure-thing uncovered item, she chooses a covered item and it’s a bowl of rice. WOMP WOMP.
- Shane breaks Marian’s plates. Soon enough Killarney, Meryl, and Toni are the only ones left shooting. People come back in to help Killarney and Meryl. Toni takes umbrage. Eventually Dino helps her too, but she finishes last and gets the last remaining item: an egg.
- Among the more notable rewards, Dante and Tejan get massive amounts of alcohol, Dino gets a Save the Date advantage (which will allow him to go to the Outpost on Day 32), Meryl gets a Reward Send Token (which will allow her to go along on any reward up to the final six), Phil received a bag of uncooked rice and spices and a key that Nico says will open something back at camp (a chest of beers and sodas). Interestingly, Nico makes all the trinket-getters read their notes except Dino. On his way out of the challenge area, Tejan gives one of the target fragments a spinning side kick, which is pretty awesome considering his age and the fact that he just drunk a whole bottle of wine. I’m guessing Steffi and Killarney aren’t the only martial artists in the cast.
- According to Dante, his alliance is the Breakfast Club plus Felix, but Felix is his number one. He tells Felix that he wants Toni out, but also that he and Felix should tell Dino and Phil to vote for Tejan and put their own votes on Tejan. This would make it appear to Dino and Phil that Dante is still on a single-minded crusade to vote out all the physically strong players, and that Felix is totally with Dino and Paul.
- Marian observes that Steffi is playing a great game, in particular infiltrating Masu 2.0 and convincing Toni that she’s her number one. This is something I should have written more about in my episodes 11 & 12 recap (Shannon and Mike went on at great length about this too in the RHAP podcast). And if you saw season 7 you know that Steffi has evolved her game drastically.
- Toni is worried because defaulting to Palesa in the previous tribal council means that lines have yet to be actually drawn in the sand.
- Dino observes that when Toni’s plan to split the vote between Dante and Shane fell apart, it was Toni’s supposed closest allies Steffi and Killarney who folded first, so how close are they to Toni, really?
- Immunity challenge: It’s the Jane Bright memorial hold a rope and lean out over the water challenge. But this time they lean forward instead of backward, and for some reason it’s designed so that when you drop out, you don’t also fall into the water, so what’s the point of building the challenge over the water? Phil pees his pants, which I can’t believe doesn’t happen more often on extremely long endurance challenges such as the Christian/Alex battle on Survivor David vs. Goliath. You’re all very lucky that the shot of Phil from below, with droplets coming off his shorts and toward the camera/flying into the wind, isn’t the header image for this recap. Anyway, somehow Phil outlasts Steffi.
- Tejan finds an idol. Dino, who also notes how much better Steffi is playing this season, has a one-on-one with her, hoping to build ties without Toni as a go-between (and also they’ve been on separate tribes to this point). Steffi says that to build trust he needs to vote Tejan.
- Toni wants to get rid of Dante and thinks she has the numbers to do it. The Full Package agree Toni needs to go.
- Just before tribal, Steffi tells Killarney that the vote is now on Toni, and far from having to be smooth-talked, Killarney’s reaction is “OH THANK GOD”.
- Tribal council yadda-yadda, Tejan plays his idol, the votes come in Meryl, Dante, Tejan, Tejan, Tejan, Toni, Toni, Toni, TONI.
- Toni is now Mayor of Ponderosa, as she tells everybody on her way out. She gives Dante the kiss of death, telling her he has her Final Tribal Council vote. There are no Season Sixers left in the game.
- In her boot confessional, Toni whines about being betrayed. People are not trying to help you win, Toni! You can’t treat allies like chess pieces.
- The Breakfast Club plus Killarney voted for Toni and No BS voted for Tejan. This was essentially how Dante wanted to votes to go, but clearly it was Steffi that put in the work to make it happen.
- For the second consecutive tribal council, Tejan has had the rug pulled out from under him. Frankly, as the only player from Season 4 I think it’s a bit of a miracle he’s lasted this long. Steffi has no regrets choosing the Breakfast Club/Full Package over Toni.
- Meryl asks Tejan how she became a target at the combined tribes vote. Tejan says it was Steffi’s idea, not Toni’s. Meryl knows that isn’t true, so either Tejan’s scrambling or he’s completely out of the loop.
- Marian and Shane are gunning for Dante. They push on an open door with Meryl, who is more than ready to cut him loose. Phil wants in on the plan too, to ally with Marian on the DL.
- With Toni gone, Dante turns his sights onto Dino, who he believes is driving the votes he’s been getting. He thinks the alliances are cracking up into voting blocs. Can Trust Clusters be far behind?
- Immunity/reward challenge: Race up and down the dunes for three keys that will unlock a box full of puzzle pieces, then solve the puzzle. Reward is Chinese takeout. Meryl wins despite being one of the last to start the puzzle. She gets to take three people on reward and chooses the people who didn’t get merge food: Dino, Phil, and Steffi. But of course those three are also key people for her strategically.
- There’s a note at the reward saying that they can either eat or bring blankets back to camp. There’s also a jar of fortune cookies. Everyone gets a fortune cookie and they have to open them together. This is how you do twists on Survivor! Force people to make choices and make advantages at least semi-public. They choose the blankets.
- Dante wants to pull in Tejan as a number. He points out that all of his allies voted for him, so he’s expendable to them and should jump ship. He tells Tejan to vote out Dino. This is a mistake! It’s well known that you let the person jumping ship call their shot. I wrote this before Shane said the same thing!
- Back at the reward, Meryl says that with Toni out of the game, her vote is up for grabs. Steffi and Phil both gently suggest Meryl’s ally Dante, not knowing that Meryl is now targeting him anyway. This is how you do it!
- Dino hopes this is real because he’s likely the other side’s target.
- The reward group comes back to camp with the blankets, to very little gratitude for their sacrifice. Meryl very smartly shows and reads the note.
- Dino correctly predicts that one of the fortunes is a trip to the Outpost, which hasn’t been in play since before the Palesa boot, and that any advantage there will be pretty powerful.
- Meryl wins the trip. This is a red flag for Marian, the only one who knows that Meryl already has two advantages, plus the immunity necklace. The look on Meryl’s face says that she knows the water is getting hotter.
- Dante is finding it harder and harder to keep his alliance together and voting for Dino rather than Tejan.
- Felix campaigns for Tejan in order to keep both his options (Dante and Dino/Felix) open. Meryl sees right through it.
- Marian want to get rid of Dante first and Meryl second, but is worried about what Meryl will get at the Outpost.
- At the Outpost, Meryl is offered the Michele Fitzgerald memorial 50/50 Coin, but she has to give up her vote at the next tribal council to receive it.
- This is a no-brainer for Meryl, since losing her vote means she doesn’t have to write Dante’s name down.
- Shane reassures Tejan that even though he’ll be receiving votes, there will be more votes for Dante and even if he has an idol he won’t play it. But Tejan notes that Shane’s read the vote completely wrong before (the Chappies vote).
- Just before tribal council, Meryl tells Steffi, Marian, Killarney, and Dino that she had a 50/50 chance for the 50/50 coin, and lost, so she has no vote. Meanwhile, Dante bangs the drum again for Dino with Marian.
- Tribal council: Tejan says the minority alliance better start playing the game. Emboldened by the immunity necklace, Meryl tells everybody that according to Tejan, Steffi targeted her, not Toni. Steffi accuses Tejan of scrambling, which of course is true. If this is all a ruse to make Dante feel comfortable, it backfires because he gets up and starts whispering to Marian again, trying to turn the vote on Dino. Marian tells him to stick to the plan. In desperation, Dante tells Killarney to vote Dino.
- The votes come in No Vote, Dante, Tejan, Dino, Dante, Dante, Dante (he starts packing), DANTE.
- Dante’s not looking forward to being stuck with Toni at Ponderosa lol.
- Felix voted for Tejan, everybody else voted Dante.
Assistant Dragon Slayer began watching Survivor in 2013 with Survivor: Caramoan, but continued to watch the show anyway. He is up to 59 seasons and counting (43 US, seven Australia, five South Africa, two New Zealand, two Japan). So there.
Favorite player from each country: Cirie Fields (US), Luke Toki (Australia), Santoni Engelbrecht (South Africa), Lisa Stanger (New Zealand), Sakiko Sekiguchi (Japan) [and Maryanne Oketch (Canada)]