There’s no other way to slice it: This season is living up the hype as being the most grueling, brutal season of Survivor in history. Wednesday night’s episode of “Survivor: Kaoh Rong” was a big one, featuring the merge, and we know that the merge episode is almost always among the best eps of each season. But it was the audience who got blindsided tonight, when just as the episode was getting great – with the players readying themselves for a crucial Tribal Council – Jeff Probst came to shore along with a staff doctor and things took a sharp turn. You don’t have to be a Brain to know that when Jeff shows up at camp, it almost always means that something is horribly wrong. Here is how it all went down this week:
Aftermath. Aubry and Joe find themselves in hot water following a tumultuous Tribal Council that saw Peter sent out of the game. Aubry you may remember, wrote down Julia’s name but then crossed it out and wrote down Peter. This wishy-washiness did not sit well with Scot, and Joe and Aubry know that they are now next up on the chopping block. Scot even mentions that he may write both of their names down, and then just cross out the one he wants to keep. The next morning, Tai is shown in a little bit of a food fight with a chicken, but Joe is envious. “At this stage in the game, the chicken is doing better than me.” Talk about knowing your place in the pecking order…
How YOU Doin? As Neal hunts for crabs with a saw in the ocean, Cydney notices a big bulge in Neal’s pocket. Is that an Immunity Idol or are you just happy to see me? Well in Neal’s case, it happens to be an Idol…and Cydney now knows what Neal is packing. She shares this info with Jason. Before they have a chance to think too much on it though, a boat comes to shore (this would unfortunately be a theme this episode) and a note is delivered: Their tribe has five minutes to gather their belongings and get to the other beach….it’s the merge!!!
Merge and Feast. Everybody is absolutely ecstatic when the boat pulls up and the tribes are now merged as one. Scot is feeling great, now reunited with Jason and Cydney. Aubry too, had just felt the lowest of lows and now has hope as she sees her fellow Brains. Tai is running the new numbers in his head – four Brains, four Beauties and three Brawns – although Tai is now firmly feeling allied with Scot. As they feast and drink booze, Deb once again awkwardly hits on Nick, while Jason gets in the mood by jokingly (?) flirting with Tai. Nick has a great overall episode and shows some new sides of himself, as he quietly assesses the new tribe dynamics. “Slow it down, read the people, let them keep bringing you information,” Nick says. “And then you just slice them up.” Aubry checks in with Deb to see is she is still close with Neal and Deb confirms this, by giving several examples of things they are as close as…one of which is “a toilet and toilet paper.” All of the former tribes seem to be fortifying.
Nick 2.0. Just last episode, Nick was shown bossing around Michele and overall has not been given a great portrayal on the show…until tonight. Continuing to survey and assess the tribe, he figures that Tai and Julia are no longer true Beauties. That leaves him and Michele as the sort of swing votes between the faction of Brains and the gaggle of Brawns. Nick chats with Neal about taking out the Brawns and the Brawns – Jason and Scot – openly share with Nick their strategy, going so far as to let Nick know that Tai has an Idol. “You have to wonder if Jason and Scot had too much rum at the feast,” Nick tells us, trying to explain why they are being so open with him. Nick weighs his options but it appears he is in a great spot, and is playing the game. Michele too, notices what’s going on, and plans to stick with Nick, at least for now.
Geeks in Lockers. Deb – in control of the game in her own mind – is incredibly annoying to everyone else, and she continues to play an overly aggressive strategic game. She goes right up to Tai and ropes him into an alliance with her, making him shake her hand and everything, much to Tai’s chagrin. Neal and Aubry are not at all happy with Deb’s forward approach. “Deb needs to cool her jets,” Aubry says. Jason feels that the Beauties will eventually side with the jocks, because that’s just “the way of the world.” He gives the ep’s best sound bite when he says that their just “shovin’ geeks in lockers” at this point. The Brawns decide that because Neal has an Idol, they will go for the least likely target, which they agree is Aubry. Aubry on the other hand, attempts a little damage control of Deb and approaches Nick to let him know that she is not very fond of Deb’s approach. Nick doesn’t like Deb’s antics either. “I don’t want anyone having more power than I do in the game,” Nick tells us. As Aubry and Neal talk by the shore, Neal reveals to her that he does in fact have an Idol, and isn’t afraid to use it if needed.
Immunity Challenge. Before the challenge starts, Jeff talks to the tribe, saying that he heard from medical that they were all “pretty banged up.” Neal in particular shares with Jeff an infection on his knee that he has dubbed “Mt. Saint Neal.” Like a scene from Lethal Weapon 3, the contestants go on showing off each of their different wounds, infections and scars. But the game goes on. The challenge consisted of the players having to stand on a perch, then balance a ball on a disc in their hands. If the ball falls or they fall of the perch, they’re out. Incrementally, up to three balls would be placed on the discs. Joe, Deb and Jason (in that order) were the first out, and after the first two rounds, it was down to Nick, Julia and Tai. Probst just couldn’t help himself with his now famous “ball innuendo” during the challenge and he gave us a few instant-classics, like “Tai’s balls are banging into each other…that’s never good.” (even he couldn’t keep a straight face after that one). He also said of Nick, “His balls are dancing all over the place!” In the end, it was Nick who was doing the dancing, of the victory variety, as he took home the first individual Immunity Idol of the season.
Positioning. Nick is still contemplating whether to “go to the prom” with the Quarterback (Brawns) or the Valedictorian (Brains). “I’ve never felt like a pretty girl before,” Nick tells us. The Brawns re-confirm that their target is Aubry. Neal and the other Brains decide to go for Jason or Scot, although it was never clear who they decided on. “In a moment of desperation, all I have to do is reach into the family jewels and pull out the Idol,” Neal tells us. When Nick and Michele finally get the chance to talk, they mutually agree that they are going to side with the Brawns for now. That means that Aubry is in deep trouble, unless they can sniff out the plan and Neal is willing to use his hidden Idol on Aubry…or if something else crazy and unforeseen happens…
Bearer of Bad News. Just as the camp prepared to head off to Tribal Council, a boat was seen in the distance. It was Jeff Probst coming to camp, and he wasn’t along, accompanied by one of the show’s head doctors. “We didn’t know you made house calls,” Neal joked, but what Probst was about to tell them was no laughing matter. Taking their earlier chat very seriously, he thought he’d have the doctors come out and assess all of their various infections and injuries. Infections may look mild or non-threatening, but can actually be deadly, and with what happened to Caleb earlier in the season, chances are that the show wasn’t going to take any chances. First they inspected Tai’s legs, and there was good news: They were healing nicely and Tai was in no danger. Next up was Scot, who had an infection on his leg that made the doctor grimace, and although he thought it was worth keeping an eye on, he decided that it wasn’t all that worrisome. Aubry was up next and her leg infection was so bad that they agreed she needed to be put on antibiotics…but would be allowed to remain in the game. But there was bad news on the horizon when Neal’s inspection was up next…
No Not Neal! Neal had his “Mt. Saint Neal” on his knee, and also revealed a gnarly-looking infection on his back. The doctor first looked at the back and decided it was not life-threatening. But there was very bad news about the knee infection: An infection so close to a joint could actually become fatal within a matter of hours if it spread. Fighting it at every moment and seeing where this was going, Neal was adamant that he stay in the game. But ultimately it wasn’t his choice. The doctor informed Jeff that it was official: Neal was being pulled from the game due to his knee infection. As Neal wept and reacted to this news, Probst informed him that he would still be becoming the first member of this season’s jury, so it isn’t the last we will see of Neal on the show, although his time in the game is now over. He gave some heart-felt good-byes to his fellow tribe mates and delivered the following speech. “You guys should consider yourselves lucky, because they are pulling me from the game. It has been an honor and a privilege to play with each and every one of you.”
Aubry Dissed. “My number one ally, gone,” said Aubry during the “emotional good-bye” segment. But she and us viewers couldn’t help but wonder: What about Neal’s Idol? Surely he won’t leave the game with it in his pocket and he’ll hand it off, probably to Aubry, right? Guess again. Neal snubs his ally Aubry and leaves her alone in the game, and Idol-less. Wow. “Once again the game has changed,” Probst tells them. Although discouraged, Aubry knows she has to keep fighting, but awesomely references Oregon Trail in explaining that “sometimes you get dysentery and die.” She then added, “You have to pave your own way.” With that, Neal was out of the game, we were robbed of what could have been a great Tribal, and we are left having to wait until next week to see how this affected things moving forward. But it has to be looked at as a major win for the Brawns…a not so great occurrence for Aubry, Deb and Joe.
Analysis. As always, I will post a separate article with my personal thoughts on the game, you can find my Episode 7 analysis here (link will be active once analysis is live and online).
Next Time On…The Brains are on the outs and looking for a miracle…also not everything is hunky-dory over with the Brawns, when it looks like Cydney and Jason get into a little spat.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for my exclusive one-on-one interviews with Neal, and be sure to follow me,@tomsantilli.
Very Important Note For Next Week! In 13 seasons of professionally covering Survivor, I have not missed a live episode…until now. Next week (the 4/6 episode, Episode 8), I will be gone celebrating my wedding anniversary with my beautiful wife, and because of this, there will be a few changes. First, there will STILL be an Episode Preview article that will appear on Wednesday morning, but next week there will NOT be an Episode Recap Wednesday night. When I return (by Monday, April 11th), I will post an Analysis article on Episode 8. Also, due to this leave, my Exit Interview with the voted-out cast-away will NOT take place on Thursday like usual…CBS however, has been kind enough to reschedule an interview with me for the following week, so I will post it by the following Monday or Tuesday.
So to recap: Next week there will be a Preview article as normal on Wednesday morning, but no Episode Recap article Wednesday night. And then there will still be an Episode Analysis article and an exclusive Exit Interview, but instead of these posting on Thursday per norm, you will have to wait until the following Monday or Tuesday. Everything will return to normal for the 4/13 episode, Episode 9. Got it? Good!
Be sure to subscribe to this column (above) or follow me on Twitter, @tomsantilli. Following me on Twitter or subscribing (where you would get email alerts every time a new article posts) are the best ways to stay tuned-in with all things Survivor as we progress through the season…and thanks for reading!
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