SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.
The king of Survivor 42 is dead! Long live the king! That's basically how it went down this week, with the rather surprising elimination of Hai, who seemed to be situated incredibly well at the final eight, having just pulled off a rather confident flex in getting Rocksroy voted off. But Hai, as has happened to many Survivor players through the years, grew too strategically powerful at the absolute worst stage of the game, and too many people noticed. But with Hai's downfall comes the ascendance of a new strategic mastermind, one who's been operating just far enough below the surface to evade detection, but whose moves this week made for a rather spectacular strategical fireworks display. We have entered the Age of Omar on Survivor 42, and here's hoping it doesn't ever end.
After last week's double tribal councils, which ended with Drea and Maryanne each burning an idol and addressing the delicate subject of implicit bias against Black people on the show, we mostly pivoted away from that vote and toward the Rocksroy elimination, which was brought about after Hai convinced Mike to go along with him — along with Omar, it should be noted! — and turn on their bossy, condescending ally. Mike gave his vote willingly, but he's still stewing about having to go back on a handshake deal he made with Rocks. Without his word, Mike is nothing! And as we often do when we experience regret for something we've done, we look to blame others for it. So Mike — privately, to the cameras and us at home — starts complaining about being strongarmed by Hai into making a vote he didn't want to make.
This becomes important after the reward challenge, which Lindsay wins by successfully throwing a beanbag onto a pedestal in the middle of a truly miserable looking rainstorm. Since Jonathan, heretofore Lindsay's biggest ally, so annoyed her last week, Lindsay picks Mike, along with Omar, to accompany her on the reward, a decision that, ironically, may well have saved Jonathan's life in the game, at least for one more week. Because up until that reward, Hai and Lindsay had been whispering in cahoots about booting Jonathan, a notion that is objectively smart and correct since he will probably go on winning immunities until he's at the end in front of a jury. Instead, though. Lindsay, Mike, and Omar got to enjoy videos from their loved ones… and Omar decided to take his game to the next level. Taking notice that Mike was still a little sore about being "forced" to vote out an ally, Omar fully makes up a massive lie about how Hai was bragging to him that he had Mike's vote in his pocket until the end of the game. Omar, seeing that Hai has way too much power in the game now that he's even scheming with Lindsay to make power moves, decided to sever Hai from his closest ally in Mike. And boy did it work! On a dime, Mike declares that Hai is dead to him, and the three rewardees pretty much decide then and there that he's the next to go, meaning that with one single sentence, Omar just knocked out his biggest competition.
The Omar fireworks show wasn't over, though. After having thoroughly gotten everyone on the island onboard with the Hai vote, Omar then mused to the home audience that maybe he should keep Hai around for a bit longer and go with this Jonathan vote anyway. After all, this was yet another week where Jonathan nearly won immunity, giving the tribe a rare chance to boot him. And now that Omar had effectively nuked Hai's alliances with everybody else on the tribe, he'd be Hai's only ally. Sort of like burying Hai before raising him from the grave as some kind of zombie soldier.
Ultimately, Omar thought better of the idea and went with the Hai vote that he'd orchestrated. Just as well. He doesn't need Hai around to figure out that Omar is telling insane lies about him. Regardless, it was a phenomenal showing by Omar, who may be playing the best version of modern-day Survivor we've ever seen. He's a creature of true strategy who does the hard work of making relationships while never appearing to be in the driver's seat of any of them. He's constantly looking to make big moves and isn't afraid to try to change the tide of a tribal vote, but only the home audience is privy to just how spectacular his maneuvering is. We've seen younger Survivor players come at this game hard in recent years, last season's Shan being one of the best examples. But Shan and the other would-be strategic legends either try way too hard to guide the ship or show zero discipline in knowing when to make their big moves. Omar has thus far been brilliant about both. And now he's positioned beautifully at the center of the tribe's myriad alliances, with plenty of goats (Romeo) and meat shields (Jonathan, Mike) to get him into the final four. It's hard to watch him operate in an episode like this and not deeply root for him to get there.
As for the rest of this week's happenings…
Player of the Week: Duh, it's Omar. There was some kind of fantastic irony to the fact that he won Mike over to his side by lying to him that Hai called Mike his puppet… before completely turning Mike into his puppet. There was a moment, later, as he was scrambling to maybe switch the vote from Hai back to Jonathan, where Romeo told Omar, "I don't trust anybody but you." You get the feeling that a lot of people feel this way.
Honorable Mention(s): Let's not take anything away from Lindsay, who had far and away her best episode of the season, winning both the reward and immunity challenges and is right in the center of the tribe's new power dynamic.
Sketchy Strategy: The writing was probably on the wall for Hai as soon as Omar turned Mike, but Hai didn't do himself any favors by trying (poorly) to lie to Jonathan that he'd found an immunity idol and was going to use it on Jonathan at tribal. This was meant to make Jonathan feel safe and not scramble, but as Jonathan later pointed out, Hai's biggest giveaway was the idea that he'd so freely use an immunity idol on someone else. People don't just do that!
Alliance Report: The previews suggest that it's Mike, Jonathan, Lindsay, Omar, and Drea as the power five, but I don't believe that for a second. We've reached the point in a modern Survivor season where alliances last for hours at most.
Coming Next Week: Jeff promises a "dangerous" twist, whatever that means.
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Joe Reid is the senior writer 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, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.
TOPICS: Survivor, CBS, Jeff Probst