“The wrath of Jane will break out tonight.”
Survivor: Nicaragua’s penultimate episode finally gave us what we’ve been waiting for all along: shots of Dan’s grown son kissing him repeatedly. The last episode before Sunday’s finale was the traditional family show, with castaways meeting family members—or in the Survivor parlance, “loved ones”—before competing for a chance to spend even more time with them. The family episode is always an interesting one because it provides us with glimpses into these contestants’ home lives, teaching us things like Dan’s grown son is overly affectionate, JudFabio loves his mom even though he doesn’t get to see her, and that Jane works on her farm only with her daughter. It’s also an overly sentimental one, with plenty of tears and emoting, which to be frank grows tiresome to the loyal Survivor viewer since we see the same emotional outpouring each season.
“This Is Going to Hurt” opened with a “Previously on…” that established Chase as a capricious villain. JudFabio was on “high alert” after thinking he would be voted out at the prior Tribal, and Sash reassured him that it was Benry who tried to get him out—right before Sash told the camera that JF is definitely gone provided he doesn’t win immunity.
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“I’ve been a little flighty throughout the game.”
“That kid’s been shifty.”
—Benry on Sash
We kind of knew last week how this episode would shape up, and if we didn’t, the “Previously on…” made sure we did: Sash was going to be the pivotal swing vote between one established alliance of Chase, Holly, and Jane and the loose collective of Benry, JudFabio, and Dan. Sash had seen his own alliance—with Brenda, NaOnka, Purple Kelly, and at times Chase—collapse over the last few episodes, and with his help (in voting Brenda off). Still, he held a lot of power. Each alliance knew they needed Sash, and with the Hidden Immunity Idol, he was pretty much the only person we knew wouldn’t be voted off last night.
With that in mind, he gathered Chase, Benry, and JudFabio to tell them that he was going to play the idol at the next Tribal Council to get any target off his back and be a “free agent” between alliances, which was a refreshingly candid way to put it. He didn’t attempt to pretend that he had lasting ties with either side, something Dan comically tried to call him out on later in the episode by acting surprised Sash would be shopping himself around to BOTH alliances. Dan also says at one point that he doesn’t trust Sash after what he did to Brenda and Marty;* it’s true that Sash can’t be trusted, but who is trustworthy by now in the game? And as we’d find out, Dan was pretty much the pot calling the kettle black here.
*Really? What he did to Marty? That was shrewd.
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“It does look like a king and queen situation. But Sash is more a queen and I’m more a king.”
—Brenda, apparently channeling Shannon
“What do I have to lose? Something has to change, and it has to change soon.”
We finally got our shakeup episode of Survivor: Nicaragua, coming one week before I thought it might* and two weeks before it did last season. “Stuck in the Middle” was a classic case of an alliance crumbling, precisely because it failed to properly buttress itself.
“Stuck in the Middle” started with a “Previously on…” that was careful to mention the two Hidden Immunity Idols still in play and an image of stars that, like Kirsten Dunst, was crazy/beautiful. That’s what we call scene-setting, kids, what with Holly and Jane sneaking away from camp in the middle of the night to discuss their big strategic maneuver: what would later be referred to as “Operation: Take Out Brenda.”* Holly had some quick takers. With Marty gone, Jane could finally vote for someone else, and she considered Brenda “a villain” by this point.** Benry called Holly’s idea “a wake-up call,” which is odd considering Marty basically told Benry the same thing last week, and it was presumably a wake-up call then, too. NaOnka was the biggest possible get for Holly, with Na referring to her one-time closest ally Brenda as “Marty, Jr.” The one person who was resistant was Chase, who thought Benry should be the next to go.
*Ooh boy, I’d like to take out Brenda…to like a nice dinner, maybe a romantic comedy. I hear that Morning Glory is good. We’d have a nice time.
**Jane’s last non-Marty vote was for Dan, and she did it because “that’s what Coach wanted” one week after Jimmy Johnson had been eliminated.
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“I want her to know I have her back, even though I don’t.”
—NaOnka on Alina
The merge* episode is traditionally one of the most intriguing of a Survivor season. Usually, you get each tribe buffering its fortifications and trying desperately to come out on top of the numbers. With Espada and La Flor each having six members left coming into last night’s merge, it could have been an especially significant episode.
*Does it bother anyone else that Survivor always uses “merge” as the noun and not “merger”? No? Okay, carry on.
Of course, it wasn’t really significant at all because there aren’t really two distinct alliances. There were barely two distinct tribes. There’s Brenda, Sash, NaOnka, and Chase—and then there’s everybody else. Dan is tight with Marty but no one else. Jane is close with the BS Alliance but not really “in” since she keeps voting for Marty. Purple Kelly and Benry haven’t done anything strategically yet. JudFabio listens to everyone but has yet to go against the group. As of now, there is a large group of castaways who are simply willing to go with what the group wants, which will be fine until we get down to eight and everyone is tied, in some way, to that group.
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“I want the cake, I want to eat it, too, and I want those two to go home.”
There are often early, subtle clues in a Survivor episode that hint at its basic structure: “What Goes Around, Comes Around” had an especially long “Previously on…” and the full intro sequence, which accurately portended a rather light episode. The Reward and Immunity Challenges both ran a bit longer than usual, and there wasn’t much time at all dedicated to strategy and camp plotlines.
After a brief shot of Espada, with Dan thankful to be back yet again and Chase saying Alina should be the next to go, the action went back to La Flor, where Marty was upset Jane (bless her soul) had turned on him last Tribal. Marty told Jane that he never lied to her, never misrepresented himself, and never wrote her name down, and he confronted her about voting for him last time. Jane responded to this about as non-confrontationally as possible, by laughing off the idea while simultaneously making it very clear that she had indeed voted for Marty. This is what passed for early tension.
The Reward Challenge involved castaways leaping off a platform and trying to throw a ball into a net past a “defender,” standing on a pole halfway between the platform and the goal.* It looked fun. JudFabio and Chase served as their tribes’ respective defenders, and Espada was able to win despite the fact that Dan’s attempt — weak as it was — didn’t count because he was unable to jump off the platform. At this point, I think it’s reasonable to call him the worst participant in Survivor history.
*Calling the position “the defender” is a more subtle than usual way for Survivor to market another CBS show: The Defenders.
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