The merge episode of Survivor is always one of the best episodes of every season, and this one lived up to the hype. I’ve been soooooo looking forward to this particular episode ever since the them of Season 40 was announced, as it also featured The Edge of Extinction Return Challenge where one of the previously voted-out winners got a chance to re-enter the game. I was literally shaking in anticipation and even for several minutes after the challenge, as it did not disappoint (well, depending I guess on who exactly you were rooting for). We’re now not only into the post-merge, but the jury phase of the game too, as new alliances and battle lines are being drawn and re-drawn nearly every episode.
As I do at the beginning of every recap, please heed the following: Remember that this recap assumes that you have already seen this week’s episode of Survivor: Winners at War. If you have not and don’t want to be spoiled, please come back later! It’s important to add that while we WILL hit on all of the important developments of the episode, this is not a linear “blow-by-blow” recap. It is more of a discussion and reaction of what we just witnessed together.
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Boston Rob was so close! What an amazing, heart-breaking finish to The Edge of Extinction Return Challenge. A big congrats to Tyson, who found himself back in the game, the only old-schooler now playing outside of The Edge. His Fire Token purchase of a giant jar of peanut butter a few episodes back will continue to be a topic of conversation and debate, and now the spotlight is on that decision. Did that boost of protein propel him to win this challenge? I doubt it, with a peanut-butter-less Rob being able to finish mere split-seconds behind Tyson. But Tyson is back in and Rob is not, and that’s all that matters for now. And Tyson, one of the big personalities and “legends” of the game, was barely even mentioned as a threat once back. That’s how quickly this game can change.
But oh was Boston Rob close to getting back in. Pooling his Fire Tokens together with Amber, he purchased an advantage in the Return Challenge, and still presumably has an Immunity Idol as well that he purchased. He would have been back in the game, guaranteed immunity at least for the first Tribal Council, and would have had Amber still fighting for him on The Edge…a guaranteed stream of future advantages at his disposal. That, and it was his last shot to live out his dream scenario of somehow finishing the game sitting next to his wife Amber, who could have plausibly re-entered the game later during the one remaining Return Challenge. It was all right there.
And while I think Boston Rob‘s return would have made for better TV than Tyson‘s, let’s remember that even after this crushing defeat, Rob, Amber, Danni, Ethan, Natalie, Parvati and Yul all still have a chance to not only return to the game, but to win the game…I’m hedging my bets that this challenge won’t happen until Finale night, which is Wednesday, May 6th, which means that one of them has a chance to return when there is probably six or seven people left in the game. So don’t count any of them out just yet.
Tyson dissolving into the background once back in the game only speaks to how drastically the dynamics have shifted since he was voted out. The game-play among these winners is so next-level, it’s been pure fun to watch thus far, and I’m sure it’s going to keep ramping up until someone is eventually crowned as a two-time winner, and hands-down the best to have ever played the game through 40 seasons. And it is fun to watch these new-school players now have to go after one another now that all of the old-schoolers have been sent away. The contrast in their styles couldn’t be more apparent, so let’s go through some of them one by one, in no particular order:
Denise. Now dubbed “The Queen-Slayer” for her impressive move that knocked Sandra from her throne, Denise went to “under-the-radar” to “Incoming! Incoming!” right quick. But anyone who remembers her play the first time around knows that her game exists best when her back is against the wall…after all, she was present at every single Tribal Council during her season, and still managed to come out on top. Knocking out Queen Sandra was impressive, but so was this first Individual Immunity win. Her winning challenges will only bolster her reputation this season, but she managed to get through another three days, while also keeping her closest ally Adam safe and mostly sound.
Adam. Speaking of Adam, he’s played a reckless, all-over-the-place game so far, but there he is. Still in the game. Love his style or hate it, the dude has now played Survivor for 58 days and has yet to have his torch snuffed. In a season of big moves and bigger personalities, Adam’s style might just be perfect enough to be “that guy” that others feel they want to sit next to at the end…and if Adam – or any of these winners – are sitting at the end, I don’t care who it is, they will have a compelling story. And with a massive jury (presumably, if nobody else quits the game or is medically-evacuated), we’re looking at a record-large jury consisting of 16 jury members…so anything is possible.
Ben. In the same boat, somewhat, with Adam is Ben. He’s reckless, sort of a goofball, and a bit chaotic, but he too has yet to have his torch snuffed. That, and he continues to be at the center of things. Perception might be the thing Ben struggles with if he were to make it to the end…even though he’s been involved in a lot of major moves, will the others see him as master or puppet? His season, he went on an improbable late run, finding Immunity Idol after Immunity Idol, a finish that isn’t likely to be duplicated this time around. Will Ben be considered stable enough by the others to go deep with? A true wild card I say.
Jeremy. This dude is on point and playing a great game, and let’s not forget he still is hanging on to his “duck out at a Tribal Council” advantage, which will surely come in handy at some point. He also was in the “poker alliance” that hasn’t been referenced too much lately on the show, but who are quietly still around, and having just grown by one with the re-introduction of Tyson. Losing Wendell must have been a blow, but it also looks like Jeremy was in on the Wendell vote, so what we saw on the show this week might have been a case of good, sneaky editing. He’s a big target, but there are lots of big targets, and Jeremy has several paths to the end, if he can just play his cards right (see what I did there?).
Tony. Once afraid he’d be the very first vote-out, Tony has found himself at the merge, on the right side of the numbers, and nobody is talking about him at all. That to me, is damn impressive. Surely others will gun for him at some point, it’s just a matter of time, but I think universally we’d all agree that Tony has surpassed all expectations that I think anyone except for Tony had for him coming into this season.
Sophie. There is a new “Queen” a-brewin’, and her name is Sophie. Talk about surpassing expectations, but Sophie has been one of the best surprises of this season and a previous winner that I think was overlooked and underrated by everyone in and out of the game. She’s been owning the game thus far, and she’s so smart and aware of what’s going on. Remember, Sophie still possesses an Immunity Idol and her calm approach to the game (as she described at Tribal Council tonight) is simply bad-ass. Is she on anybody’s radar? The thing about Sophie this season is, she doesn’t want to turn into that player that the audience at home knows should have won, but the players in the game can’t see her merits. She’ll need to do something out in the open and big before this thing is said and done, to have any chance of winning, but wow has she been playing a near flawless game thus far.
Nick and Michele. I’m lumping them in together only because it appears that they were the two that were left out in the cold following Wendell‘s blindside. Michele’s storyline this season has been tied to her relationship with Wendell, and also her feeling that she somehow needed to prove herself out there. I think next week is a big week for Michele in that department. How will she rebound from this setback? Does she deserve a place among the “best” of all-time? Or does her story end as a cautionary tale, of not letting her emotions for her ex-boyfriend derail her game? Time will tell. As for Nick, I think Nick is in trouble, and that’s about all I have to say about that.
Kim. While all of this drama and plotting back-and-forth is going on, Kim Spradlin-Wolfe, one of the most dominant winners of all-time, continues to drift on by without even a thought from the others. How is Kim not considered a humongous target? She can and will win challenges, and the further she gets in this game, the more deadly she becomes…will Kim have a good enough resumé this season though? Merely making it to the end given her reputation coming into the game might be more than enough to crown her the new Queen of Survivor.
Sarah. One would think that Sarah is in a good spot: She has her “Cops-R-Us” alliance intact with Tony, and she’s good with Jeremy and Sophie. She also still has a “steal a vote” advantage. But Nick is targeting her next week, which will raise her profile, but Sarah is actually in a fairly good spot I’d say coming into the merge. She too, can definitely win this thing.
Since we’ve already hit on The Edge of Extinction players and have already chatted about Tyson, we’re down to Wendell, the newest occupant on The Edge of Extinction. He’s a great player, no doubt, but he played a game this season that was a bit too “out in front” which was completely opposite of his game the last time around where he sort of just stayed cool and let Dom take all the bullets. Maybe his win got to his ego, maybe he figured he couldn’t play the same sort of game and win again, who knows. He clearly had Jeremy pulling for him, which ended up not being enough when Sophie wanted him gone. I feel bad that we as viewers never quite got closure on his relationship with Michele, which had been such a major theme of this season thus far and now it’s just sort of over.
With the merge episode now behind us, this seems to me to be a very unpredictable stretch. Often times, the merge reveals a clear majority and a clear minority, but things feel so jumbled up, with underlying relationships, old and new tribal alliances and several other factors coming into play. I think it means that the best is yet to come this season, as we enter into the game’s next and most important phase.
Legacy Watch: Since the game of Survivor will forever be changed as this season rolls along, I’ve added a new segment where we’ll take a look at whose game legacy’s have taken a hit, and whose have risen, based on the actions of this week’s episode. When Tyson had been voted-out earlier this season, I had noted that I didn’t think his overall legacy took much of a hit. Obviously by him winning in epic fashion over Boston Rob and re-entering the game, he has bolstered his legacy and positions himself to build upon it even further based on how things shake out for him the rest of this season. As for Wendell, his legacy takes a bit of a hit, only because of how his game so drastically changed from his winning season, but also for how the edit portrayed him as one of this season’s biggest pre-merge heels.
Episode Take-Away: For me, this was the best and most highly-anticipated episodes of the season, as I found myself completely enthralled by the Return Challenge and the different ways the winner of said challenge might have affected the rest of this season. I love all of the contestants this year, but there would have been a few disappointing outcomes (like for me, that would have included Ethan, Danni or Amber coming back into the game). My BEST outcome would have been for Boston Rob to re-enter, just because of how interesting that would have been to watch, but also I was rooting heavily on a personal level for my fav Survivor player in history, Yul Kwan. That would have been awesome had he won. Second to them, I was really cheering for Natalie as well as Parvati, so I guess Tyson coming back into the game was like a mid-tier outcome…it could have been better, but it definitely could have been worse.
As for the game itself, I do feel like the inclusion of the Return Challenge this episode made the late-episode scrambling feel a bit rushed, and I’d have loved to have had a final scene between Michele and Wendell given all that has come before. And I found it super-interesting just to see how things will start to fall into place now that we have everyone all in one spot post-merge.
One last thing of note: It’s interesting to see that the Fire Token menu went up in value, making these things even more valuable…that and the fact that Immunity Challenge winners also will receive a Fire Token in addition to Immunity. I still feel like how these Fire Tokens are managed down the stretch will become a huge factor in the outcome of the game.
FIRE TOKEN/ADVANTAGE TALLY (current)
Michele: 4 FT
Nick: 3 FT
Jeremy: 2 FT, 1 “leave Tribal before it begins” advantage
Sophie: 2 FT, two-halves of an Immunity Idol
Denise: 2 FT
Sarah: 1 FT, a “Steal a Vote” Advantage
Kim, Tony, Adam, Ben, Ethan, Danni: 1 FT
Natalie: 0 FT, 1 Immunity Idol
Boston Rob: 0 FT, 1 Immunity Idol
Amber, Parvati, Yul, Tyson, Wendell: 0 FT
Sandra: Out of the Game
Edge of Extinction Return Challenge Winner: Tyson, returns back into the game
Voted Out This Week: Wendell
Won Immunity: Denise (1) and Jeremy (1)
Vote: No advantages or Idols played. 9 – Wendell (Tony, Sarah, Sophie, Jeremy, Kim, Ben, Adam, Denise, Tyson, ), 3 – Adam (Wendell, Nick, Michele). Wendell gave one Fire Token to Michele and one to Nick.
Next Week’s Episode: Nick has a new “duty” in the game after feeling scorned by Wendell‘s blindside: To take out everyone that double-crossed him. He sets his sights on Sarah, who seems to not be having any of it.
Quick Note! I appreciate that you are reading this recap! Those that have followed me also know that I am also a RottenTomatoes-approved film critic, and with the current coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been putting movie reviews on hold, mainly since none are being released in theaters. In the meantime however, I encourage you to check out my past movie reviews as I am the film critic and Executive Producer of the TV show, “Movie Show Plus,” the #1-rated local program in the Detroit-market (episodes are also available online at the website, www.MovieShowPlus.com.) As always, the easiest way to get all of my Survivor coverage and movie reviews is to follow me on Twitter – @tomsantilli – or on Facebook.
TELL US – WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS EPISODE? ARE YOU HAPPY THAT TYSON IS THE ONE THAT RE-ENTERED THE GAME? AND WHO ARE YOU NOW THINKING IS BEST POSITIONED TO WIN IT ALL?
[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]