It's probably time for an apology to Jeff Probst. At least a small one. After four-plus seasons of critics and longtime fans complaining about the glut of advantages and twists in this "new era" of Survivor, Survivor 45 delivered a merge episode for the ages, and it was all due to a twist that had, up until now, been entirely ineffectual.
The "Shot in the Dark" advantage was one of the first new twists introduced in Survivor 41. It's more or less a roll of a dice as a last resort for players who think they're about to be voted off. Any player gets one chance in the season to sacrifice their vote at Tribal in order to play a 1-in-6 shot at safety by selecting a tiny scroll from a basket. If that scroll reads "SAFE," they're safe from that night's vote.
Prior to Wednesday night’s merge episode, the Shot in the Dark had been played nine times. It had only been successful once, in Season 44, when Jaime Ruiz got spooked before the very first Tribal of the season. Jaime's "SAFE" scroll would end up negating zero votes, as she was not anyone's target that week. So through four seasons, the Shot in the Dark had brought absolutely nothing to Survivor.
That all changed in Wednesday's episode, titled "I'm Not Batman, I'm the Canadian." The player who delivered that quote, Kaleb Gebrewold, didn't have a very good Tribal Council. Earlier at camp, his name had been thrown around a lot as a potential target. His easy ability to talk to and charm other people was beginning to draw the notice of players like Bruce and Kendra, and the fact that his only real ally was Emily made him an easy vote.
At Tribal, Kaleb made things exponentially worse for himself. When Sifu prodded him to throw out someone else's name as a potential alternative target, Kaleb pointed at J. Maya. Her name had been thrown around as a target by her old Reba tribemates, so this was a smart call. What was not a smart call was when Kaleb rationalized his selection of J. Maya by pointing out that the "Reba women" were a threatening voting bloc, and so getting rid of J would weaken them. This immediately ruffled the feathers of the other Reba women, in particular Dee, whose face may as well have been a big LED billboard that showed Kaleb's name written on parchment.
To Kaleb's credit, he must have realized he'd done himself no favors, because after everyone voted, Kaleb told Jeff Probst he wanted to play his Shot in the Dark. Jeff unfurled that teeny, tiny scroll, and lo and behold: SAFE. The entire Tribal Council set exploded in surprise. Then Jeff began to read the votes: Kaleb, Kaleb, Kaleb… (a few of them: "Caleb"). By the time Jeff was finished, all 11 votes in the bucket had Kaleb's name on them; all were nullified. (This means that Emily also voted for Kaleb, which likely means his fate was pretty well sealed before Tribal even began.)
Kaleb's move was not only great TV, it was also a record-setting Survivor milestone. Before this, the record for most votes nullified by a single idol or advantage play was 9, when Kelley Wentworth played an immunity idol on Survivor: Cambodia and sealed Andrew Savage's fate. Kaleb nullified 11, and a unanimous vote to boot. After a quick scramble, the re-vote went just as heavily to J. Maya (hers was the only dissenting vote, for Emily).
Not only did the Shot in the Dark finally elicit a spectacular, potentially game-changing moment in the game, but it ended up saving one of this season's most engaging and likable players in Kaleb. And it leaves the merged tribe with a TON of messy loose ends heading back to camp. Not bad for an advantage that doesn't — and honestly shouldn't — pay off more than once every five seasons. And however Kaleb's game ultimately shakes out, his name is in the Survivor record books.
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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.