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Why Double Tribal Councils are the Breakfast-for-Dinner of Survivor

They're a once-in-a-while treat, but they're usually pretty spectacular.
  • Denise Stapley on Survivor (CBS)
    Denise Stapley on Survivor (CBS)

    SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.

    Double tribal council episodes happen once a season if we're lucky, and Survivor fans have come to look forward to them like they're Christmas morning. This week's episode of Winners at War was certainly no exception. Two absolute legends in the game got voted to the Edge of Extinction, one underestimated player took a step into immortality, and we saw the return of Tony Vlachos' spy shack.

    Of course, not all double-tribal episodes are created equal. Some are just two regular episodes smushed together, which is how you know at least one of those tribal councils is going to be a bore. All that does is move the game along faster. Others are when two tribes are told that they're both going to tribal, and the challenge will be for individual immunity, which are fun free-for-alls, but there's a sense of hopelessness in the challenge because the odds are so heavy that you're headed to tribal vulnerable. Tonight's episode was the perfect iteration of the double tribal: three tribes, so one can win immunity at the challenge, followed by the other two tribes needing to scramble. And scramble they did!

    At Sele, the friction between exes Michele and Wendell continued, with Wendell reeeeeally coming off like a jerk in the way he shuts down Michele's attempts to game with him and then appearing to toy with Parvati by dangling an offer to vote with her in exchange for her fire tokens, but never getting serious about it. Ultimately, Wendell's alliance of three with Yul and Nick held strong and voted out Parvati, who sadly was never able to truly play the game because nobody wanted to work with such a clear threat.

    The real fireworks came in the Dakal tribal council, when it seemed like the Tony/Sandra/Kim alliance was going to pick off Jeremy or Denise (probably Denise), with the other possibility being that Denise would use the immunity idol Sandra had just sold her to save herself and vote out Tony, who'd been making everybody uneasy with his pre-tribal freak-outs. Instead, Denise played two idols, one on herself and one on Jeremy, and then with her lone vote, she iced out Sandra, two-time winner and Survivor queen. It was the kind of bold move that will be on YouTube compilations forever, alongside Parvati playing two idols to burn JT in Heroes vs. Villains and Kelly Wentworth nullifying about a hundred votes against her to oust Andrew Savage in Cambodia. A thrilling triumph from a player who deserved her moment in the sun.

    As for the rest of this week's happenings…

    Winner of the Week: DENISE! Look, it's not like we're happy Sandra is gone. Sandra is Sandra! Things are always more fun when she's around. And the possibility of her winning three times was delicious. But when one queen goes down, another emerges. Long live Queen Denise. What made her moment especially sweet was all that talk on Dakal beach and later at tribal council about who's a threat and who's a power player, with Jeremy and Tony rallying together because they're each other's big bad meat shields. The thing about a meat shield, though, is that a good knife will slice right through them, and that's just what Denise did. Denise won her season, sure, but she wasn't physically dominant like Malcolm or strategically ostentatious like Jonathan Penner. She made the right moves at the right time, and she won Survivor, but she's a middle-aged woman, so I guess it didn't count. It's shades of the problem Michele has spoken about on Sele, where the fans don't respect her win. Both women are poised to prove their doubters wrong now.

    Sub-Winner of the Week: Tony, who really escaped with his life even though Denise could have just as easily axed him instead of Sandra. Still, Tony may have done his cause more harm than good this week by hiding in his spy shack and playing to the cameras while everybody else was strategizing. He reminded everybody why it's such a bad idea to ally with him, and Kim and Jeremy both expressed major misgivings about keeping their alliance going.

    War of the Week: Wendell vs. Everybody. On his original season, Wendell was an amiable, respectful, nice guy. This season, at least since his ex Michele joined his tribe, he's been alternately surly and cocky. And in trying to keep Parvati dangling on a string, he may have done damage to his game that will doom him down the line. Especially if Yul and Nick take his attempts to make a deal with Parvati seriously. He survived this tribal council, but he may have given everybody way too much to worry about.

    Alliance Report: Yul's crew (i.e. the Nerd Shield alliance from original Dakal, minus Sophie) remains intact, for the moment. Elsewhere, the immunity-winning Yara tribe was absent for the second half of the episode, but before they exited with their stash of PB&J sandwiches, we saw the beginnings of an alliance between Ben, Sophie, and Sarah, leaving Adam on the outs. At least according to Ben. Neither Sophie nor Sarah got to speak this week.

    Dispatches from the Edge of Extinction: If you thought we might get a big spotlight on Rob and Amber's reunion, think again. Instead, all six EOE residents were sent out to look for an advantage that was hidden beneath a rock. On an island of rocks. Tyson managed to close-read the clue enough to find the right location, and he sold the idol-nullifier advantage to Parvati (who subsequently went home with it in her pocket, because an idol nullifier is only worth a damn in a very specific set of circumstances. But oh well, at least Tyson got to buy a jar of peanut butter with his token, which he seemed to do only for the LOLs.

    Advantage Report: Okay, let's see …

    • Sandra's immunity idol was only good for one more tribal council, but she sold it to Denise and then got promptly blindsided, so that idol is kicked.
    • Denise also played the idol she found on Day 1, which very likely will be re-hidden on Dakal somewhere.
    • Sophie found an idol last week, though it had to be shared with someone else before sundown. Sophie chose Sarah, but then got the whole idol back in her possession before Tribal Council.
    • Kim found the same kind of idol on her beach weeks ago, sharing it with Sophie, and which we now know Sophie returned to her.
    • Jeremy still holds an advantage that will allow him to leave tribal council and return to camp before a vote is held (essentially immunity but you don't get to vote).
    • Sarah holds a Steal-a-Vote advantage.

    War of the Weeks Ahead: No sign of a merge yet, but Tony seems to have fully gone off the deep end, while Wendell and Michele continue to be a source of friction, and not the good kind.

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    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Denise Stapley, Jeremy Collins, Michele Fitzgerald, Parvati Shallow, Sandra Diaz-Twine, Tony Vlachos, Wendell Holland