SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's Survivor, titled "Go For the Gusto," ahead.
To be absolutely fair to Daniel Strunk, he faced a tough situation at Tribal Council this week. To be additionally fair to Daniel, he wasn't the only person in his tribe who screwed up royally. But somehow Daniel managed to fail the most spectacularly, turning what looked for all the world like a power position in his tribe at the beginning of the episode to his new existence as tribe pariah. The only thing that didn't go wrong for him was that he didn't get voted out, but that's just about the only thing. (Of course, it also happens to be the only thing that really matters.)
To set the table: Daniel's green Vati tribe had been the only one to not see Tribal Council so far, and was divided into three pairs of allies: Hai and Lydia (young, queer, fun), Mike and Jenny (older, responsible, work ethic), and Daniel and Chanelle (circumstantial allies, strategy monsters), with the latter pair working the middle. Last week Daniel was made privy to Mike's Beware Advantage, which only becomes an idol if two other idols from the other tribes are activated with silly secret phrases, and Daniel was cleverly able to convince Mike not to speak his secret phrase aloud, thus keeping the idols out of play (for now).
The gears continued to turn in Daniel's head this week, as he convinced Mike to let him read the fine print on the advantage, wherein he learned that if the three secret phrases don't active the idols by the merge, they then become idols. So Daniel can't keep the idols at bay forever, but for now, and more importantly, eliminating Mike won't keep the idols from getting activated, so Daniel's no longer looking to vote Mike out.
This all comes into play when Vati loses the immunity challenge (contested in seriously treacherous waters that got so bad that Jeff Probst ultimately had to call the two trailing tribes to the beach so no one will drown), and Chanelle is sent to Ship Wheel Island to engage in a prisoner's dilemma with Omar. Unlike previous Survivors who faced the choice to risk their vote or play it safe immediately before attending Tribal Council, Chanelle takes a "risk it for the biscuit" approach that ultimately doesn't pay off, and she's left vote-less for Tribal. Also vote-less is Mike, thanks to the Beware Advantage.
So, yes, Chanelle definitely started playing poorly first. She's feeling herself and her social game a bit too strongly. Despite having two missing votes, she and Daniel decide to align with Mike and Jenny and vote out Lydia, which they'll be able to accomplish if they convince Lydia and Hai to split their votes between Mike and Jenny. Chanelle strong-arms our two Gen Z-ers into agreeing, and it looks like Lydia's going to end up toast, with Hai having unwittingly contributed to his ally's ouster.
Not so fast, though: Daniel's about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. His first mistake at Tribal comes when Jeff asks him the fairly benign question of who on the tribe calms down his moments of paranoia. He first names Mike and then Chanelle, and two seconds after he does that, Hai's head snaps to attention. Mike? Of the Mike and Jenny who we're supposedly targeting? Daniel doesn't at all realize that he's slipped up and given Hai a reason not to trust him, but he pays for it when the four cast votes are read: Hai, originally meant to split his vote to Mike, votes for Jenny, which along with Lydia's vote makes two for Jenny, and two for Lydia. After a re-vote deadlocks the vote, it's down to Daniel and Hai (the only ones who can vote at this point) to either decide among themselves to break the tie or risk drawing rocks to see who goes home.
Here's where Daniel really starts to fall apart. Mistake #1: Daniel kicks off the deliberations by announcing that he under no circumstances wants to go to rocks, thus immediately establishing himself as the weaker party in the negotiation. Daniel — who is a LAWYER! — has basically handed Hai the upper hand, knowing that Daniel is desperate to avoid a deadlock. So all Hai has to do is be more willing — or even just seem more willing — to go to rocks in order to prevail here. So Daniel is probably going to have to flip over to Hai and Lydia's side and vote out Jenny, which honestly wouldn't be so bad for him if he plays it right. [Narrator: "He doesn't."]
Mistake #2: Rather than simply say "My hands are tied, I can't go to rocks, sorry Jenny," Daniel tries to pass the buck onto Chanelle, telling Lydia that it was Chanelle's idea to vote her out and then asks Chanelle for permission to switch his vote, which he seems to think will absolve him of all responsibility but instead makes him look like a massive weasel, and completely burns his closest strategic ally in Chanelle.
After asking Hai and Lydia to assure him they won't hold this flip-flop against him if he votes their way (they 100% lie to him that they won't), Daniel votes for Jenny, having alienated every single member of his tribe and pretty much nuked all chances of anyone ever trusting him again. It was truly a remarkable sight, watching one person plummet from tribe's most powerful member to tribe pariah in a matter of 15 TV minutes.
As for the rest of this week's happenings…
Player of the Week: Hai Giang, and it wasn't even close. For as poorly as Daniel played that Tribal Council, Hai played it remarkably well. He immediately clocked Daniel's tell that Mike and Channelle were his allies. He made the gutsy call to switch his vote to Jenny. And he held up to a ton of pressure from Mike, Jenny, Chanelle, and Daniel, who all wanted him to take the easy way out and just flip on Lydia. By declaring right away that he was willing to draw rocks in order to protect Lydia, he staked out the superior negotiating position. He also showed everybody on his tribe what an unwaveringly loyal ally he can be, which will only help him when it comes to making alliances with any of the three refugees from the former alliance he just busted. One of the most impressive Tribal Council performances in recent memory.
Honorable Mention(s): It wasn't strategy, but attention must be paid to Jonathan Young who single-handedly dragged his tribe to victory in the immunity challenge. That kind of alpha-male tribe savior is less likely to make it to the finals in these strategy-heavy recent seasons, but it's still a hell of a showing.
Sketchy Strategy: See above re: Daniel, but don't sleep on Chanelle's wild overconfidence in risking her vote because she figured she'd be able to mastermind a 2-2 split in her favor. Hubris!
Alliance Report: We didn't see a single moment from the blue Ika tribe, so who knows. Meanwhile on the orange Taku tribe, the four remaining members seem like a tight unit.
Coming Next Week: Hey it's the blue tribe! And Rocksroy's bossiness is grating on his tribe.
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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