It’s a familiar situation. The merge hits. By this time, people have had anywhere between fifteen and twenty-seven days to get to know people, whether they spend the entire time with the same group of people, or they ride the merry-go-round of a tribe swap to meet new people, potentially more useful people, potentially new enemies. Regardless, everyone who makes a merge has essentially spent this long recruiting, building an army, a group to go against another in the ultimate battle, one where there isn’t anywhere to hide.
This battle is generally what decides the fate of the season, though with the right amount of finesse and pizzazz the tides can always turn. Whether it’s a swap-laden season where you need to put your best foot forward with varying groups of new people, or a straightforward season where you can only keep your core group alive and away from the temptation of revenge or power lust, the first merge vote is all what it builds to. It’s the biggest battle of a season and it generally leaves the most carnage.
Many things can happen at merge. Will it be straightforward, where one army outnumbers the other through sheer dedication and force? Will someone blink in an even match and betray their army to save themselves? Has dissention swallowed one army like a snake and its own tail, leaving the underdogs to stand by as mercenaries in a civil war? Whether you’re Tagi, Savaii, or Timbira, chances are you could never run out of strategies to wage against your enemies.
A rare outcome, in fact only occurring in three seasons of thirty-two, is a forced ceasefire. In some emergency situations, a death comes from outside the battlefield. Does someone take their own life? Is it illness that claims them before a bullet can? It depends, but such a vital and jarring loss takes fine-tuned strategies and negotiations and turns them upside down. A lot can change over three days- imagine instead there are six, at the most vital part of the game. With ice cream man Neal Gottlieb’s untimely evacuation, he joins the “Infection to the Knee” club with Jonathan Penner and fellow merge vote ruiner Joe Dowdle. The outcome seemed to be teetering over the edge- Chan Loh’s numbers combined with Scot’s connections to Gondol meant that the four brains were at a high risk of being outnumbered.
However, there was still one longshot, one ace in the hole. Neal found an idol on Chan Loh, and if he got even an inkling of who was being targeted, he was going to show the Brawns a dose of true power and knock one of them out of the game. Sadly, just before Tribal Council, a doctor checked up on Neal’s wounds, and deemed it enough to take him out of the game. In the hullabaloo and the emotion, he decided against giving his idol to his stranded second in command, Aubry, who could only reel from the misfortune and abandonment. This means, the battle is not over- it has just begun.
Three factions exist, falling along tribal lines, with many potential ways to cross over. Not much happened this episode but meager, repetitive setup that ultimately amounts to precisely dick. It’s what we have to build the recap, so this go-around it’s time to run through the armies entering battle and determine what their goals are, and how they could impact the final battle.
History: I’ve already covered my opinion on To Tang. Namely, that outside of Cydney, I can’t stand the F3 that survived, and even Cydney to me is the clear fourth best of the entire tribe. The story of pre-merge To Tang was the story of Alecia, a despised and outcasted blonde woman on their tribe, who managed to be both a thundering buffoon who sank the To Tang ship with her mistakes, and a remarkable underdog who managed to escape two imminent death sentences before a brutal final act where any wrongdoing she committed was trumped by the ugly mansplaining condescencion hour where Scot and Jason revealed their ugliest sides before railroading her out so hard they were willing to leave her behind after the Immunity Challenge. However, it’s clear that at the core there’s a solid threesome with an incredibly united pair in Scot and Kyle, with Cydney sneaking in some high-caliber subtle play with them.
Come the swap, Jason and Cydney would be caught in a 2-2-2 situation on New Chan Loh, landing in a tricky situation. Cydney’s career in bodybuilding continued to impress and get people on her side, while Jason worked on getting Nick from Gondol on board, but undid his work with a horrible work ethic that didn’t impress tribe hustler Debbie. On Gondol, Scot was on his own, with his work clearly cut out for him. His physicality and his game face kept him safe despite being the 1 in a 3-2-1 situation, and he became a hustler himself, turning his admiration for Tai into a strategic gain once learning he has an idol. He convinced Tai to let Anna go in round one, but in round two used Peter’s indecision against him by forcing a tie against the Brains, and it was Aubry who broke it at the last possible second, saving his ties to Gondol.
Episode 7 finds To Tang reacting to two keystone events of the merge battle. Scot voices open, volatile disgust at Aubry’s indecision after Scot flung the tie vote onto her, taunting them to the cameras about making them pay for their weaknesses. On Chan Loh, mere minutes before the merge, Cydney notices Neal has a rather idol-esque lump in his pocket, which surprisingly wasn’t just Mt. St. Neal. She tells Jason (who immediately takes credit for it in confessional) and from that moment, the combination of Scot’s hatred of Aubry and the revelation of Neal’s idol leaves Chan Loh on a downward slope.
At the merge, the lovebirds unite, and from that moment Cydney may as well not exist to what I am sure if Survivor fans’ newest ship. They get wasted at the merge feast and continue to flirt with each other, and eventually approach Nick, presumably because douchiness attracts douchiness. Within a short span of time, Scot and Kyle reveal that Tai has an idol, they have an idol, and presumably their social security numbers and dick sizes. They continue to hustle with both Nick and their connections to Tai and Julia, while they continue to ignore Cydney altogether. Nick recognizes that their blistering schoolyard arrogance would make it easy to blindside them, but also that their stubborn awfulness makes them good candidates for loyal allies and potential goats. As it stands, this leads them into a potential TC with the beauty members on their side over the brains, but any shoving of geeks into lockers is on hold as the doctor makes a house call. Scot himself is checked for an injury, but it’s revealed to be minor and fixable. With Neal and the idol departing, the question is, do they still have the same power of information on their side to justify decimating Chan Loh, or will all eyes turn on them?
Kyle- It’s hard to convince some people that Kyle is not a contender, as has been covered in the past, but it seems as though someone gave Kyle a gift certificate to a shovel factory because he has dug himself a hole deep enough to hit the core. As arrogant as Nick is, he knows arrogance when he sees it, and he has no shame in playing with brutal efficiency. Indeed, he’s already salivating over blindsiding Kyle.
However, at the end of the day, Kyle has half of a guarantee in his pocket, and if he can’t sway the other half from Tai he still has something that, with the right risk, could save his ass regardless. This ultimately gives him a good bit of plot armor that indicates he’s not going soon, but the one thing he has to recognize is how much information he’s given Nick for little return, and the power of information he wielded before is now moot with Neal and his idol decimated. His other hope is that it doesn’t get back to Cydney that the men on her tribe pulled a “new phone who dis” on her the second they found a man as arrogant and douchy as them.
Scot- Out of the three, I admit it’s inarguable that Scot has put in the most legwork for his game. While Jason was busy being the pirate who doesn’t do anything, and even as Cydney managed to win social kudos from women like Debbie, Scot faced the adversity of actual Tribal Councils, and managed to play it beautifully. He snapped off a number from both sides while never even once being brought up as a name, and in each round scored an ally that was given little to no reason to distrust him. If anyone can make legwork with the beauties, it’s him.
This episode, however, he exposed himself as still being emotional and arrogant, as many fans were willing to excuse any past behavior because he was nice to Tai. Along with a slew of GG quotes and absolute overconfidence was him mirroring every action his baby, his lover, his honey, his boo took to sway Nick to his side. As it stands, Scot has some reason to be overconfident, but while his swap rounds were characterized by restraint, enough rum will make you share anything. If anything can keep To Tang from losing their position, it’s Scot, but if he doesn’t see his grip on things slipping away, there’s no way to stop a disaster you can’t see coming.
Cydney- Cydney has game, and manages to play it close to the vest. On the outside, she’s a cool bodybuilder with a level head and impressive discipline, but ultimately not a big strategic threat. On the inside, she has many of the clever traits her closest contemporary in Natalie Anderson has- most importantly, the trait to find little sneaky ways to improve your standing with people while still maintaining the facade of innocence.
Her forging an alliance with Alecia to earn information and details she could use to her advantage, her swaying Debbie by playing up her career as a bodybuilder while stashing the fact that she’s an Ivy League scholar, and subtly pointing out the family jewels in Neal’s pants and sitting back as the fire lit- none of these are examples of extreme next level gameplay, but they are a good accumulation of small things that give her more control in the game.
In this episode, Cydney was quiet after pointing out Neal’s idol, but while Kyle and Scot promised their souls, loyalty, and virginity to Nick, she was also seen hanging out with the beauties during important conversations. Even as Kyle and Scot try and make all the moves for her much like Nick thinks he can do for little weak Michele, she’s involved, and she has the most wiggle room out of all of the brawns. She has loose loyalty to many, but hasn’t made any powerful promises that would crush her were they to topple.
Girl power has also been a prominent fixture, with Debbie recruiting both Michele and Cydney for her mission. If Cydney gets any wind that the guys are clearly pushing her out of the power trio, something tells me Scot and Kyle are gonna end up in pee-pee-pants city real soon, and it’s gonna be Cydney wielding Lucille. I just pray to god if she hits anyone with it we don’t have to wait until September to find out who she ganks.
History: Gondol was one of the few “love tribes” that seemed believable, and more than temporary. At the center of the body of the tribe was an alliance of three women- bartender Michele, poker player Anna, and teenage student Julia. The heart was indisputably Tai- despite some subtle-free attempts to find idols, he still worked harder than anyone to provide for the camp out of sheer dedication, making sacrifices to help them. The muscle was Caleb, who worked to redeem his ugly Big Brother stint by giving his all for his tribe and becoming a close confidant and friend to Tai before his sheer effort led to a near-death emergency that pulled him from the game. This left the appendix as Nick- a RHAP blogger desperately attempting to be Tyson and failing, whose artificial attempts at becoming a controversial character were so obvious his fakeness led to him being the first slated victim of the women’s alliance. Regardless, Tribal Council was never in their future during the tribal phase, so no bad blood was pursued.
Their fortune would run out at the swap. Due to having a prime number of 13, one person would be sent to exile at the abandoned To Tang beach. By freak chance, the three women of the alliance were sent to different places- Michele with Nick on Chan Loh, Anna with Tai on Gondol, and Julia exiled alone and slated to take the place of, inevitably, which of her allies were terminated.
This would be Anna, whose attempts to throw Tai under the bus mirrored her turning against Tai over his transparent idol searching. With some convincing from Scot, he let Anna slip by, but wouldn’t do this again when Julia hit even when things seemed inevitable. With Scot as his new bromance, he confided in him about the idol Tai successfully found under the girls’ nose, prompting Scot to keep Tai in the books so the potential for the super idol was under his control. Julia managed to play both sides against each other with very real information, which helped Scot comfortably force the tie and save her from the inevitable meat grinder of the Chan Lohs.
The new Chan Loh tribe never went to Tribal Council, but both Michele and Nick found a ray of hope in Debbie. Debbie’s attraction to Nick led to her forging a relationship with him based off of his athleticism, and she comforted Michele after a hard loss, giving her hope in the power of women. However, Nick would throw that tie away due to absolute confidence in his connections with To Tang, condescending to Michele when she even suggested Debbie might be a good avenue. While he told the camera he would have to play Survivor for the feeble-minded weak woman he was aligned with, Michele sent a warning to her camera that she wouldn’t take being carried and condescended to forever.
Episode 7 finds the Gondols, united as they may be, on four different paths. For Tai, uniting with Scot’s allies on To Tang seems like a no-brainer, as Scot treats him well and has largely kept his secrets as far as Tai knows. Nick, however, uses his limited connections with To Tang to succeed at building an alliance with them, stringing them along while gathering every bit of information he could wring out of them. Michele has ties to both Julia and Nick, and as she nods with every plan Nick spits forward, one would presume that there’s no reason for her alliance with Julia to go by the wayside, and Nick is unwittingly two wrong steps away from earning a new enemy in the little girl he thinks can’t play Survivor. Though it’s hard to know where Julia’s thoughts are due to the editors steadfastly refusing to acknowledge her as a capable entity, she has connections to the power core of both Gondol and To Tang, with Scot presuming Julia’s in her pocket and Michele still having ties to her as well. If any group has the potential to split four different ways, ironically, it’s the group seen solid enough to use as a swing vote.
Unlike Michele, that boat needs to be carried… bro.
Michele- Michele and Nick now hold the record for longest time gone without going to Tribal Council, hitting the Final 10 and the second half of the game without having their torches lit. Because of this, Michele’s game so far has been nothing but tablesetting, but it’s something she does well. Within days on Gondol, she had a secured majority with the two other girls and a self-defensive Caleb willing to comply with them. There wasn’t a crack or ounce of drama from within the girls to speak of, but recaps were sure to let us know Michele had it on lock with them.
After the swap, she was put in the worst possible situation, and very easily could have been this season’s Anna had her tribe lost, but she managed to make connections from the bottom- becoming Nick’s girl Friday as he schemes, and befriending Debbie who encouraged her and left her with a possibility of survival. Come merge, there is no way she is the biggest target- one side of things underestimates her, and the other could certainly use her. If an overthrow sneaks through, it will likely be at her hands. The shot’s been set up for her to undo whatever mess Nick may ultimately make, and take the game over from the condescending headmaster in the alliance. The next episode will be very important for her. Will she become Jaclyn, or just another Sierra Thomas? Frankly, I think it could go either way.
Julia- Unsurprisingly, the young cute woman is given the least amount of presence or edit of a season. Next thing you know pigs will start flying and what have you. As it stands, though, I continue to hold that Julia has a lot more game than many of her youthful peers, even if it has mostly been subtle. I still hold that whether she did little or a lot- and I personally think she did a good amount to come off as a pawn to either side- she survived a situation where Anna immediately imploded and even Michele struggled with, which speaks to her skill. Right now, she’s got connections to both the Gondol side and the To Tang side, and also managed to handle the Aubry vote situation with a lot more maturity and class than the forty-something basketball player who thinks he can dictate what all daughters should act like.
If there’s one thing Julia has to be careful with is how she breaks bonds. I know as much as anyone that if Scot thinks Julia is entitled to follow him because he saved her, he’s basically being a larger Rafe, but Scot still has a potential jury vote. People are always going to be harsher on how the nice teenage girl breaks bonds, just like how a forty-something mother is forced to deal with the same prejudices. She’s gotta earn the respect of others even if she isn’t subservient to her.
Tai- Indisputably the season’s sweetheart, Tai has been shown to have game, even if it is quite a throwback to old school game. Even though he’s concerned himself with finding idols in the game damn the consequences, he also manages to stay useful to camp enough to consciously avoid the votes, and uses emotional connections to get on people’s good side. Yet, in this era of Survivor, it also comes with the conception that Tai is not his own strategic entity. Again, in new-school terms, not really. He doesn’t concern himself with plotting blindsides, though the potential is there. He stays around because he’s loyal, he has the power of the idol, and because he is such a godsend to the survival element that people actively keep him around for that.
Note Tai’s scenes in this episode. He doesn’t revolutionize the game, but he earns praise for- what else- taking good care of his injuries to avoid needing to be taken care of, and for having a strong relationship with the chicken that keeps it as a viable food option. If this season gets chaotic enough, don’t count Tai out, because in a crazy season it’s people like Tai, underestimated people who play unconventionally despite being such crazy characters, that win the million.
Nick- After six episodes of being portrayed as either an absolute nothing of an entity or a fake douchebag, the seventh episode has him at the absolute center of the episode with a flood of confessionals rarely seen, and it’s he who makes strategic decisions with all of the ego and self-stylization you’d expect. Of course, this is enough to grant Nick the latest case of complete amnesty and he’s getting complete credit from the fanbase, who I guess is too busy yelling at Debbie for finding men attractive without their permission to care about Nick’s bad case of mansplaining and blatant cockiness.
Me, I’m still not counting on him to succeed. I know a sizable portion of the fanbase insists that Nick, Scot, and Kyle did nothing wrong ever (about 21,118 people, give or take a few hundred) but if you think their edit is one of success after seven episodes, I say stop drinking the kool-aid before you end up poisoned. Nick might have pulled off some impressive stuff with Kyle and Scot this episode, but we have no indication that he’s noticed any problems with the Chekov’s gun in his holster called Michele, and we certainly have little proof that too many other people are into him outside of Debbie. He’s got a good place on the information highway, but his position is not as solid as he says. He might end up as cocky as he claims the Brawns are, and if that’s the case, he could fall even further.
History- In this episode, Aubry describes the core four of Chan Loh- Aubry, Neal, Joe, Debbie- as a bizarre yet trustworthy and endearing family. In Episode three, Neal also described them as potentially a group of people who all think they’re the smartest one in the room. I believe both descriptions to be correct. In many ways, Chan Loh is a tribe divided, both socially and strategically.
Debbie is often disruptive with her egocentric behavior but also can successfully hustle for her people and bring the best out of them. Aubry started off on a foot that made her self-professed neuroses dangerously open, yet at the same time surpasses them to give her all in challenges and execute stunningly brutal strategic plays. Neal’s hipster dandiness made him off-putting to those on his tribe who already feared what brutality he could unleash, but his zest for adventure made him both daring and endearing, playing the game with eyebrows raised and a grin on his face. Joe, the quietest of them all, ran into conflict caused by seven decades of developing his personal moral and strategic code, but also kept a level head in times of crisis that belied a devastatingly brutal side of his FBI career when needed.
Early on, the dynamics were clearly scrambled into three disjointed pairs- Debbie and Joe, Neal and Aubry, and Liz and Peter. As you might note, one of these pairs I have yet to mention. Well… let’s just say, they were really, really bad at this whole Survivor thing. Debbie’s status in Peter’s eyes as a goat made her open to information about a blindside on Neal that Peter and Liz overthought due to Neal being a potential swap traitor. Not content with this outcome, in large part due to Liz suffering from medevac-level injuries and because of her status as a clear pawn in their eyes, she turned the entire split vote plan around on Liz and Peter, ousting Liz and doing her best to regain Peter.
Petulant at their removal of the “strongest person on their tribe” (who was currently on the way to a hospital because of bone-deep infections), Peter harbored resentment towards his tribe, and he found his chance at the new Gondol tribe. After sitting by during the Anna boot, he decided his time to strike was now. Still, he immediately put off Tai, someone who found redeeming qualities to Scot Pollard and Caleb Reynolds, to the point where Tai nearly pulled an idol blindside on him. Still, the chaos waited until next round, where Julia returned straight into the eager plans of Peter, who happily sold out his enemies to all three new tribesmates.
Aubry and Joe noticed his utter lack of subtlety, however, and acted. Joe pulled out his best FBI face and cornered Peter, angrily interrogating him on his flipping to get some of the worst lying you could ever witness. Aubry, however, still found it far less risky to boot Julia, in case the swap continued after next round. This changed, however, to the frustration of Joe, when Aubry was informed her own name was being brought up by Peter. In an impossible situation, Aubry changed her vote on the ballot, sending Peter home with the exact amount of subtlety Peter had displayed the entire round.
On the original Chan Loh, Neal pocketed an idol in completely undramatic fashion, and sat back as Debbie did some intense hustling. She became the central figure of the tribe, making friends with all of the new members that had a little substance behind it. Still, not everyone was on board- despite her flirtmance with him, Nick decided that Debbie was not the path to take, despite Michele happily considering it despite his orders.
Episode 7 finds Chan Loh as the underdogs. With Scot openly railing against Aubry for changing her vote, Aubry was ready to surrender to the writing on the wall and scramble for her life against Joe. The merge hit shortly after, however, reuniting the family. Neal’s idol was found out by Cydney, and the heat was on from there, and Neal certainly felt it. Not helping in the least was Debbie’s attempts to build an army growing more desperate, offputting people like Nick who instead wanted all of the power. This meant Aubry had to do her best to fix things, even as her own name came up in an attempt to pull the Edgardo bluff on Nick’s idol.
Neal came up with plans to play the idol the absolute second he felt it necessary, whether on himself or Aubry, but tragedy struck when a brutal infection on Neal’s leg was deemed dangerous enough to warrant evacuation from the game. For a mixture of reasons- whether it be concern at comments by Aubry, the crowd of people watching his every move as he said his goodbyes, or a desire to take a piece of the adventure he loved with him in a moment of intense emotion- he took his idol home with him, leaving Aubry devastated, hurt, and lower than ever, and Chan Loh potentially in an unsalvagable spot.
Joe- Joe entered the game with perhaps the best tuned skills for the game, but has ultimately had the least focus outside of Julia. Most of his entity has been relegated to smaller storylines outside of a strong episode six story, including a rivalry with Liz over work methods. However, it would be Debbie that would recruit him against Liz, the story being told exclusively through her eyes. As impressive as it is that Joe is surviving well despite his age and despite the horrendous conditions, he is an anomaly in that he seems to have absolutely zero connections to anyone outside the Chan Loh family, whether positive or negative. More than anyone, his future is impossible to read, but it would be best to assume that wherever Chan Loh goes, Joe will follow.
Debbie- Debbie, Debbie, Debbie. As strange and cocky as she is, it’s hard to deny that she has game. Socially, she’s a positive force despite clearly being into herself, as she gets just as into the positive traits of other people. Strategically, she knows how to hustle and recruit better than anyone else for the most part, making people feel human and invested in their relationships. She also pulled off an impressive move in her original tribe, playing dumb to the face of two exceedingly cocky players so she could steal their split vote and turn it around on them.
That having been said, she definitely took things a bridge too far this episode. Tai, of all people, condemns Debbie for overplaying, as desperation clearly hits. She walks up to people and deems them members of their alliance before even learning their names, which comes back to Nick, someone more power-hungry than anyone else on the cast. If Chan Loh is saved, it will likely be in spite of Debbie, who prides herself on playing offense but has accidentally caught her allies in friendly fire.
Aubry- As big of a figure Debbie is in the episodes, I would actually go back to my day one assertion- Chan Loh is the story of Aubry. Aubry’s early role was smaller, but more personal, with more substance than the surface level implied. We all saw her break down at the beginning of the game, before taking encouragement from Debbie and spinning gold out of it, beasting the first challenge and having an in with Debbie for the revolution. Still, Aubry is the one shown second guessing things at times, especially around Peter, both in the Liz vote and Peter’s own ouster. Her clout as a strategist grows, however, both as the stern headmistress of Gondol and as the one salvaging the injuries Debbie unleashed on the Chan Loh standings. If Chan Loh turns things around, it should be easy to see that Aubry deserves credit for it. Nick himself said that he enjoyed Aubry far more than any of the girls, which may I remind you has Michele and Julia on it.
However, the fact of the matter is that Aubry is in the most precarious position of anyone here. Though debatably her life was saved from the cancelled TC depending on the success of the idol play, she now has no idol, no Neal, and a lot of ground to make up against someone like Scot who has a personal, one-sided vendetta against her. How can she make that ground up? By trusting the bonds Debbie has built with others, but not letting her be the face of the alliance, and hopefully by exposing the flaws in the armor built up by the To Tangs and their shoulder-blistering arrogance. She knows what side she’s on, and it’s clear who the enemy is. All there’s left for her to do is get the guns blazing and fight her way out.
Next time on… Survivor!
Actually, no. I’m gonna pass on this. If you want to find the preview, go ahead, but it’s the kind of preview I’m absolutely sick of. I don’t want you to have anything made too obvious to you the viewer, and honestly I don’t want to think too hard on it and ruin things for myself either. All I can promise is, nothing is certain.
But hopefully this article has made it so you knew that already.