Tonight was the episode of Survivor that we needed. It was a “loved ones” visit like the show has never seen, followed by a Tribal Council that when the smoke clears may land in the Top 10 Tribal Councils of all-time. It ended with a “secret scene,” unscripted (not that any of this is scripted, but this was a moment clearly created by the players themselves and not producers), that put an emphatic exclamation point on what was hands-down the best episode of what has been a phenomenal season.
Yes, there was blood on the beach and blood on the ground after a messy, complicated Tribal Council, and we’ll try to dissect and get to the bottom of things coming up.
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.
CLICK THE CONTINUE READING BUTTON FOR MORE, AND THIS IS YOUR LAST *SPOILER* WARNING!
There’s no question that we are all in the midst of what will one day be looked back on as some of the most trying times of our generation. Perhaps it’s because we’re all living in quarantine for the most part, that tonight’s “loved ones” visit meant so much and impacted me so deeply. Hugs, kisses, and heck, any human connection at all are rare these days, so to see the show’s first 24 minutes or so of air-time dedicated solely to island “family time” was simply precious. But even by normal standards, this was a “loved ones” visit for the ages.
Ben called it “the biggest blindside in Survivor history,” and there are several reasons why I understand his sentiment. First off, this visit came much, much earlier than in most other seasons, catching the contestants completely by surprise. Then, instead of just one loved one running out from the jungle, we were treated to entire families: Wives, husbands, partners, fiancés, sisters, teenagers and toddlers. In many respects, seeing whole families out on the Survivor beach was also a nod to this show making it to its milestone 40th season, and how generations have now grown up on the show. This episode always brings the tears – and I know it’s also somewhat divisive among fans (those with hearts and those without, in my opinion!) – but something about watching children out there, and watching strong, grown men like Tony and Jeremy sob and weep uncontrollably at the mere sight of their loved ones, just really melted me.
Thankfully, Probst didn’t force dads and moms to compete in the usual “loved ones challenge” in front of what surely would have been crying, distraught children. The next facet of the “blindside” was that there was no challenge at all, and instead we got to see all of the families go back to camp and interact with one another. Did these “loved ones” and their children get any water or food, or were three and four year old kids asked to “tough it out” like their parents? Assuming they were fed, did any of them try to sneak some food to mom or dad? These are the random thoughts that flood my head while watching other people’s kids play in the oceans of Fiji.
But the “loved ones” episode went “next level” for me when we discovered that there was also going to be a visit to The Edge of Extinction. Those “in the game” are emotional enough, try these Edge folks, who have been ground-down to nubs emotionally and physically, who got the pick-me-up of the century in getting to see loved ones come to visit.
A few of the players mentioned how cool it was to see everybody’s guards come down when around their family members, and the same can be said about watching it from home. As much as we think we know these players, including iconic players like Boston Rob, we don’t really know any of these people at all and the different people that populate and shape their lives. We know Rob and Amber are married and have kids, and some might see their family via social media like Twitter or Instagram, but we never have quite SEEN them be a married couple on TV. I admit that I was a blubbering mess during the entire “loved ones” segment, but that look from Rob and Amber, as Rob hugged his wife and brought her close as they smiled through tears and waved good-bye to their children on the departing boat, that look on their faces was familiar to anybody with small children, and it totally brought home the mixed emotions of the episode.
By the end of the episode – if you stayed for the credits after commercial – you got to witness a rare moment of Jeff Probst sharing a real moment with the members of the Survivor jury. As they got up to leave, they all decided to give Jeff a group hug as a thank you for allowing them to participate in the “loved ones” visit. As Ben had said earlier in the ep, this was “our reward for giving everything up to come out and play this game,” and it showed another glimpse of – from the crew to the producers to Probst to the hundreds of contestants who have played the game over the past 20 years – how tight-knit this Survivor “family” is, on and off the island.
In some ways, it was a bold move to dedicate the first half of the episode to the family stuff, because we didn’t get the normal amount of strategizing and posturing that we would typically see in a given week. But there was business to attend to, and wow was there a lot packed into the final block of the show. Where to even begin?
Two advantages and one Immunity Idol were played during an anxiety-riddled Tribal Council, ultimately leading to Tyson‘s torch being snuffed out for the second time this season. So how did we arrive at that result? Even I’m not quite sure, as I’m still trying to make sense of the final votes (CBS usually posts the votes on their website but usually not until after this article posts each week, so all will be revealed in time). But here’s what we do know: With 10 players in the game going into Tribal, it appeared to be dead-locked at 5-5, although even that math I’m not entirely confident on given how the votes shook out. On one side, Kim had an Immunity Idol and just needed to play it correctly…if she did, her “side” would have dealt the game’s power alliance a real blow and would have completely reshuffled the deck by blindsiding Sophie. On the other side, it was a guessing game as to who to split votes between to ensure someone went home.
But then all hell broke loose, and what brilliant game-play we’re seeing this season, truly. It all started when Jeff said, as he has hundreds of times before, “it’s time to vote,” only to be interrupted by both Jeremy and Sarah. They had a bit of a stand-off, each knowing the other had a power to play but not wanting to be the first to show their hand. Ultimately, Jeremy decided to “peace out,” and used his “Safety Without Power” advantage that allowed him to just get up and leave any Tribal Council but without casting a vote. This was clearly a move of self-preservation by Jeremy, and while it bought him more time in the game, it’ll be interesting to see the damage this caused to his overall game in the eyes of the jury, who witnessed first-hand Jeremy abandoning his alliance-mates to fend for themselves and putting them at a numbers disadvantage. This was perhaps a lose-lose for Jeremy, because he very well might have been voted-out had he stayed anyways, so at least he’s still alive in the game. But the optics are very damning for him, especially when it was his old “poker alliance” chum Tyson who ended up taking the brunt of Jeremy’s decision to bail.
With Jeremy gone from Tribal, the numbers appeared to be in favor of Sophie, Tony, Nick, Ben and Sarah, with the minority alliance being Kim, Denise, Tyson and Michele. Maybe just to guarantee the slam dunk, Sarah then decided to play her “steal-a-vote” advantage, and decided to take away Denise’s vote, resulting in Sarah getting to vote TWICE. With Denise’s vote silenced and Sarah now in possession of two votes, the numbers then looked to be 6-3 as far as votes went. It came down to Kim, and if she was able to correctly guess who to save with her Immunity Idol. She chose incorrectly.
With nine votes being cast, the final tally ended up as five votes being for Tyson, two for Sophie and then two for Denise (which were nullified once Kim played the Idol on Denise). But this doesn’t quite add up to what we thought we knew about this week’s alliance…and as great as the “loved ones” visit was, I think that it’s safe to say that the lack of explanation as to what exactly happened was a result of not enough air-time to portray it all correctly. Why only two votes for Denise? Even with Denise’s vote blocked, shouldn’t there have been three votes on Sophie and not two, if in fact Kim, Tyson and Michele all voted together?
I have a theory, and that theory is that Michele was in fact not at all a part of Kim‘s group, even though it was depicted she was. Yes, Michele huddled up with Kim, Tyson and Denise, but I think she might have been playing a bit of double-agent. Why do I think this? First off, we didn’t hear much from Michele in terms of her strategy this week, so who knows? But I do know that she also is quite close with Jeremy…could it be that Michele was the real reason Jeremy decided he needed to use his advantage to leave Tribal, that she tipped him off that he was in serious trouble? Also, we know that Kim didn’t go through all that trouble with the Idol just to cast her vote for Denise or Tyson, and there’s no way Tyson wrote down Denise’s name, so Michele is the only likely person to have voted for either Denise or Tyson.
Last bit of evidence: Michele is still in possession of her “50/50” advantage coin, where she could flip the coin and possibly win an Idol. This Tribal would have been the IDEAL place to use it if she had felt threatened…if she was able to get an Idol with a successful coin flip, they would have had two Idols to block votes with instead of just one. Had Michele been desperate, she would have played it, but me thinks she was in on the vote-out of Tyson. It’s the only explanation really, for Tyson having received five votes…or I should say, the only explanation I can think of…
This is only going to get better and more intense from here, folks. Tony was “bulletproof” through all of this and it was probably a good thing that he was, since the paranoia this week might have gave him a stroke. But an interesting development in the “Cops-R-Us” alliance could be huge moving forward. Tony clearly has more loyalty to Sarah than Jeremy at this point, otherwise he wouldn’t have switched the vote to blindside Jeremy. But Sarah may have Tony’s back a lot less than previously thought. Tony may be wild and paranoid, but he has impeccable in-game awareness, and if he picks up on Sarah doubting him, he may just swing back over to Jeremy’s side who now will be clearly reeling. So far, if you’ve crossed Sarah in her last two seasons, you went home, and Jeremy is the first to throw her name out there and still be in the game. If Tony ends up going up against Sarah, who wins in that heavyweight fight?
Elsewhere, two PAINFULLY obvious things to the viewing audience all season were openly discussed, finally. One, that Kim is super-dangerous and might win the game. And two, that Sophie is a threat and when Jeremy looked to split up Sarah/Sophie, notice that he went after Sophie, not Sarah. Sophie has been running things, but this is no ordinary season. Absolutely everyone is on the radar this time around, and Sophie will have to withstand a lot more if she plans on winning against this group of champions.
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. Not much movement I don’t think, for any one player this week. Although the legacy of this season as a whole went up a few notches for me, not only for the quality of the “loved ones” visit but for a truly epic Tribal Council that was exciting and unpredictable from start to finish.
Episode Take-Away: With nine now left “in the game,” I find myself rooting for Tony. He’s a big name, and a big threat, and it’s hard to believe he’s gotten this far playing a mostly calm game. Next week looks to be different, and kudos to him for winning his first-ever Individual Immunity. There’s not enough Spy Shacks in the world to hide Tony’s personality, but I am so incredibly happy that he has not been snuffed out and sent to The Edge just yet.
Lost in all the craziness, is how the heck was Nick all of a sudden in the majority alliance? Wasn’t he totally on the outs as of last week? He looked a lot more calm and confident this week at Tribal, so he clearly was on the side of power, but we’re never given much explanation. Upon deep reflection, I guess it’s possible that Nick wasn’t in fact in line with the majority alliance, and maybe he voted for Denise along with Michele? Maybe Nick and Michele were “in the middle” of the two other warring alliances? That still doesn’t explain the huddles at Tribal. Oh well. We’ll have to watch to see if they explain some of this in future episodes.
FIRE TOKEN/ADVANTAGE TALLY (current)
Parvati: 4 FT* (bartered from Michele, it wasn’t shown but there has not been any definitive mention on the show if she used them to purchase food at The Edge)
Denise: 3 FT
Nick: 3 FT
Tony: 3 FT
Jeremy: 2 FT
Sophie: 2 FT
Sarah, Kim, Ben, Ethan, Danni: 1 FT
Natalie: 0 FT, 1 Immunity Idol
Boston Rob: 0 FT, 1 Immunity Idol
Michele: 0 FT, “50/50” Coin Advantage
Amber, Yul, Tyson, Wendell, Adam: 0 FT
Sandra: Out of the Game
Voted Out This Week: Tyson
Won Immunity: Tony (1)
Vote: Jeremy played his “Safety Without Power” advantage. Sarah played her “Steal-A-Vote” advantage, stealing Denise’s vote and getting to vote twice. Kim played an Immunity Idol on Denise. 5 – Tyson (assumed, 1 Sarah Vote, Sophie, Tyson, Nick, Ben), 2 – Sophie (assumed Kim, Tyson), 0 (2 votes negated by Idol) – Denise (assumed 1 Sarah Vote, Michelle). Tyson had no Fire Tokens to give, instead he flipped the bird at the Fire Token table on his way to The Edge.
Next Week’s Episode: Tony, who just surprised himself by winning Immunity at a challenge that required him to be “slow and steady,” goes full-tilt back to his “fast and sloppy” approach to the game. He’s up to no good, or is he about to pull off a major move?
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 THE LOVED ONES VISIT? THOUGHTS ON THIS WEEK’S TRIBAL COUNCIL? AND DID JEREMY BLOW HIS CHANCES OF WINNING THE GAME BY LEAVING HIS ALLIANCE FOR DEAD?
[Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira/Michele Crowe/David M. Russell]