“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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“Company Will Be Arriving Soon” began with some vulture imagery and a “Previously on…” that said recent events “centered” on Marty, Sash, and NaOnka. I’ll buy the first two, but Na? What recent events had centered on her? This, then, was obviously a bit of foreshadowing: Very-near-future events would likely be revolving around her in some way.
Both tribes learned of the merge via Treemail, informing them that their new base would be, sigh, at Espada’s beat-down camp. “Here?” Benry said, seemingly in desperation. Before La Flor shows up, Alina stood in front of her fellow Espadians and talks about being a “strong six” to the end and targeting Marty from the start. Everyone looked on passively, not really buying in. We learned two things from this. First, Alina was every bit as on the outs as we expected. Second, Espada continued to think Marty was in charge at La Flor—something quickly disproved when La Flor showed up sans Jill.
Marty did suggest the new tribe’s name, Libertad, which is at least better than past ones such as Yin-Yang and Nobag.* It’s probably better than Dabu, which is what Erik suggested in Micronesia, simply because libertad does mean, as Marty said, “liberty/freedom.” Dabu, of course, did not mean “good” as Erik had said. The most disappointing part of all this is that we didn’t get to see a dozen adults sit down and design the flag, which always strikes me as juvenile. If I were ever on Survivor, I might protest the flag design, and probably end up being voted off for it.
*Don’t get me started on Nobag, which turned me against Kenny in Gabon.
Everybody feasted on the fruit and bread that comes with the merge, but Na got irritated the next morning when she wakes up early to cook tortillas for herself, only to have to share most of them with everyone else. So she responded rationally by stealing the flour, pot, and other tortilla ingredients/cookery and hiding them in the woods. Holly saw her do this, and Alina found out during a backwoods bonding session between her and Na. It’s then that Na told Alina she’s the main target at Tribal, but that Na will do her best to protect her. Na confesses later, though, that she said all this (while giving Alina an orange) to help nab a potential jury vote down the road. She and Sash spent some time this episode already thinking about “jury management,” which is something some past castaways have overlooked (cough, Russell).
Everyone discovered the missing stuff, Holly shined the light on NaOnka, Na denied it all, then admitted it all—but only that she stole it to ration everything properly. This was kind of like Mark McGwire admitting he took steroids but they didn’t help his hitting. How, after all, does one ration a pot?
Sash, for one, liked having all the suspicion on Na, since it could cost her jury votes in a potential Final Three. At some other point during all this, Jane and Chase bonded over being from North Carolina, and Jane revealed that she did P90X to prep for Survivor. BLESS HER SOUL.
The first individual Immunity Challenge consisted of holding a small, thin pole upright by applying pressure on two handles. The twist was that the last man AND last woman standing would each win immunity—a further loosening of the immunity regulations that I don’t like. Purple Kelly and Dan predictably were done within seconds—can’t blame Dan; he was standing on sand for this one—with Alina, Brenda, Benry, Sash, and Na following in short order. Jane (bless her soul) outlasted Holly to win the female immunity, but she kept going anyway, just to beat Marty, who dropped out shortly thereafter. JudFabio held on longer than Chase, and once JF let his pole drop in celebration, Jane finally let go too.
The strategizing centered on, as I thought last week, Marty and Alina. Jane was still pushing to get rid of Marty, as was, for obvious reasons, Alina. But Sash didn’t want to go against his word to Marty last week, when he said he’d return the Hidden Immunity Idol to him if his tribe lost immunity. Now, the terms of this agreement aren’t exactly clear, since there was a merge and all. Sash presumed they meant he was supposed to give Marty the idol if Marty were in trouble while, if I were Marty, I would be asking for the idol back since I (my tribe) didn’t win immunity this time around. Marty never made this play, though.
Marty, meanwhile, was afraid of being blindsided, because Chase told Dan they were down to Alina and Marty, not knowing Dan and Marty are tight. Here’s my thing: How can Marty, at this point in the game, be “blindsided”? How can someone with one other friend but no other real allies, with no immunity idol and with ample reason to suspect he’d be voted out, be “blindsided”? Probst misused the term when Tyrone was voted out a few episodes ago, and they’re misusing it again. You know who could’ve been blindsided last night? Everyone except Marty and Alina.
The best scene of the episode—and one of my favorite of the season—came when Alina tried to talk JudFabio into voting Marty out. What I liked so much about it was how JF epitomized everyone’s perceptions of Alina. While she was telling him how big a threat Marty was, JF told her that this is precisely why everyone views her as a threat and a schemer. He said everything from her seems to have a hidden motive, to which she smartly responded that there was nothing hidden here: She wanted Marty voted out so she wouldn’t be. I just thought the conversation captured how weakly developed perceptions are easily reified on the game: JudFabio thinks of Alina as a schemer and someone who would do whatever it takes to stay in the game, so when she says anything strategically, she justifies that belief. If anyone else were to talk to JF about strategy—and it appears as if many players do—he isn’t as suspicious. Holly isn’t a schemer; she’s a mom—but she lied to Marty’s face with her “South Dakota word of honor.”* Jane isn’t a schemer; she’s a good old Carolina woman (bless her soul)—but she’s developed as vicious a vendetta against Marty as the game has seen in a long time.
*This depends on the editing techniques employed here. In the episode, we see Holly tell Marty he’s not in any trouble and that everyone is voting for Alina, and then we see Holly in a group with Alina discussing how to vote Marty out. In the end, though, Holly didn’t vote for Marty; she voted for Alina. So it’s possible that the group meeting occurred before the promise to Marty, and thus she was upfront and honest with him.
At Tribal, Marty tried to erase the “misconception” that he didn’t like Jane by, well, going after Jane and her vendetta against him. It didn’t work, especially when he said she was from South Carolina instead of North Carolina, which got fellow NC native Chase all hot and bothered. Marty reiterated that Jane is a serious threat if she were to get to the finals, and he tried to soften the attack by saying he would vote to give her the $1,000,000 if she did get there. So there’s a third person thinking big-time about jury management.
Dan brought up the food theft, with Na and Alina admitting their part in it. Not much drama about that ensued. Alina tried to save herself by pointing to her value as a “swing vote” or a “pawn” from here on out; problem is, the BS Alliance doesn’t have a competitor. There are no swing votes needed right now. And so, with eight of the 10 votes, Alina became the first member of the jury.
I was upset to see Alina go, mainly I think, because what doomed her—this perception of her scheming—would probably doom me if I were to play Survivor. Also, she seems like a smart, attractive female roughly my age, and I like smart, attractive females who are roughly my age. It’ll be interesting to see if she falls victim to the counterintuitive Survivor phenomenon that makes women look somehow better when they’re deserted on a beach without food, makeup, or hygiene products for a several weeks.
The worst part of the merge coming in this episode, though, is that it almost certainly means there will be a Final Three. I do not like Final Threes.
But I do like breaking people into classes, complete with a new feature:
THIRD ESTATE: Marty
SECOND ESTATE: Jane, Holly, Dan, Purple Kelly, JudFabio, Benry,
FIRST ESTATE: Sash, NaOnka, Chase
THE STATE: Brenda
GUESSING THE FINAL THREE: Brenda, NaOnka, Chase
Marty is, once again, at the bottom of the hierarchy, and it will be fun to see him try, once again, to stick it out another few days. The other eight are all tangentially part of the BS Alliance, so it’d be surprising to see them pick off one of their own before him. That said, you never know who they might see as a bigger threat than Marty; we could have another Kelly B. moment ahead of us, involving, hmm, Jane?
If I had to pick one person besides Marty who would not be in the Final Three, it would be Benry.
My rationale on my guessed Final Three is this: Na and Sash still have hidden idols, so they’ll be in the game for a little while. The likeliest final four are Na, Sash, Chase, and Brenda. Once they get down to that quartet, Chase is the clear favorite to win an immunity challenge, and he would almost certainly bring along Brenda (his original ally) and Na (someone who probably wouldn’t fare well with the jury). He’d vote off Sash, who by that point can no longer use the idol anyway.