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In a Predictable Survivor Episode, Early Favorites to Win Emerge

Tribe dynamics and editing choices are pointing to some major contenders.
  • Jeanine and Elie on "Survivor" (CBS)
    Jeanine and Elie on "Survivor" (CBS)

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

    For the second time in three weeks, we had a fairly straightforward outcome at tribal council, where a dynamic we've watched unfold countless times played out again. Back at Tribal for the second straight episode, the Vesi tribe was faced with whether to value alliance loyalty or challenge strength. Noelle had lost her closest ally in Justine last week and was on the outs, but Nneka was once again conspicuous in the tribe's failure at the immunity challenge. And with Noelle possibly in possession of a secret advantage, it wasn't surprising that the other members of the tribe (Cody, Jesse, and Dwight) opted for challenge strength and voted out Nneka.

    It was, frankly, not too terribly exciting an episode. Some more light shed was on the increasingly tense tribe dynamics at Baka, while on the Coco tribe, Karla got to have her own bead-collecting adventure that Cody accomplished last week. But once the immunity challenge was decided, the episode kind of marched to its inevitable, kind-of-a-bummer conclusion.

    So rather than break down said conclusion, this seems like as good a point as any to take inventory of the 15 remaining castaways and see who — based on their current standing in the game, as well as how much the edit seems to be featuring them as a long-haul player — is best positioned to make a run at the million-dollar prize.

    Bad Edits

    Cassidy (Coco)
    Gabler (Baka)
    Jeanine (Baka)

    We'll get into how hard it's been to read the Coco tribe as a whole momentarily, but Cassidy has stood out these three weeks for not standing out. She's the most invisible of the remaining cast, and while Erika's triumph two seasons ago seemed to have blasted open the doors for what an anonymous pre-jury edit means for one's long-term chances in the game, heavily-featured Maryanne winning last year felt like a course correction. Cassidy could end up floating far in the game, but at the moment, a win seems like a stretch.

    Meanwhile, on Baka, Gabler is getting a classic "lots of attention early, still voted out before the merge" edit, even if this week's episode makes it seem like the men of that tribe are banding together against Elie. Elie's closest ally is Jeanine, and while they've worked very effectively together, Elie has gotten 90% of the talking-head moments to explain her game. The moves this pair is making together are being credited in the edit to Elie. Jeanine even had a moment in the premiere where she ultimately solved the brain teaser, but that was credited to Sami. Not getting credit for one's moves is a big giveaway that a player isn't getting a winning edit.

    Hard to Read

    Dwight (Vesi)
    Noelle (Vesi)
    Sami (Baka)

    All three of these players have gotten significant attention from the edit, it's just a matter of how things shake out in their current tribe dynamics. Sami is trying to build a men's alliance on Baka, but Owen feels like a weak link in his chain, and that could spell trouble. His edit is very "brash, young kid" but not entirely likable. Noelle has a tremendous backstory, with how she lost her leg at a young age and has battled back. She's been a big focus of the last two weeks, but that's been mainly because her tribe keeps losing. Her new steal-a-vote advantage should keep her safe for the time being. In theory, that advantage would also keep her closest ally, Dwight, safe. Edit-wise, Vesi's four remaining tribe members have all been heavily featured, which comes with the territory when you go to tribal twice in a row. What's telling is who gets the most attention when the tribe doesn't have to vote someone out that week. We'll know more if Vesi can snap their losing streak next week.

    The Coco Enigma

    Geo (Coco)
    James (Coco)
    Lindsay (Coco)
    Ryan (Coco)

    On the other side of that coin, the fact that Coco has yet to face a tribal council means we know very little about who's in a strong or weak position over there. These four reside in a very muddy middle on the blue tribe. Lindsay and James are in an alliance with Karla and Cassidy, we're told. But Ryan and Geo got a whole segment last week about how they're best pals, and surely that's going to build to something later in the season. Sticking a pin in all four of them until we know more.

    The Cody Enigma

    Cody (Vesi)

    Last week, Cody emerged as the season's main character, but this week's episode was as Cody-lite as the show has been all season. Is that in preparation for a more long-term edit? Cody seemed like a prime candidate to burn bright and fade quickly, but he does have that immunity idol.

    The Serious Contenders

    Elie (Baka)
    Jesse (Vesi)
    Karla (Coco)
    Owen (Baka)

    All four of these players have, along with Cody, been the season's major narrators. Despite seemingly being on the lean end of a 3-2 gender split in her tribe, everything about Elie's edit tells you she's going to be around for a long time. She's essentially narrated everything that's happened in that tribe since Day 1. Owen, also on Baka, is something of a sub-narrator there, but he's also currently in the most advantageous position, as a swing vote between the Sami/Gabler and Elie/Jeanine pairs.

    Karla has been a major character since the premiere, and in this week's episode, she got a huge spotlight. She found the Beware Advantage and, after initially thinking she wouldn't open it, changed her mind and began collecting beads from her tribe members. Where Cody's bead hunt last week was played for its race-against-time tension, Karla's was part of a narrative that emphasized just how strong her social game is, how much trust the other players have in her, and how deeply she wants to win this game. The producers love her, and her story is far from over.

    The producers love Jesse, too, and even though he's on the struggle tribe right now, his is the perspective through which most of his tribe's narrative seems to flow. See this week's Nneka vote-out, where Jesse talked about how much she reminded him about his mother, and how it would kill him to have to vote her out. That he did was never framed as a betrayal or a snakelike maneuver — it's just the sad reality of having to play a (possibly?) winning game.

    As for the rest of this week's happenings…

    Player of the Week: Noelle. After coming up short last week and losing Justine, Noelle knew her back was against the wall. She made a strong move on Advantage Island, earning the trust of James and Owen and not only getting a steal-a-vote advantage, but possibly earning two post-merge allies in the process. Back at Vesi, she and Dwight managed to get on the same page as Cody and Jesse to vote out Nneka, meaning she gets to keep her advantage. A very good week.

    Honorable Mention(s): Karla playing each of her tribemates slightly differently in her quest to collect beads and earn an immunity idol was a triumph of social maneuvering.

    Sketchy Strategy: Elie and Jeanine really do not see how much Sami is not on board with their plan to hoodwink Gabler out of playing his immunity idol. Which is wild because Sami does not seem all that interested in hiding the aggro tension in his face when they pitch this plan.

    Alliance Report: Where Dwight ultimately lands on Vesi going forward — does he align with Cody and Jesse and form an easy majority, or stick with Noelle and her steal-a-vote? — is anybody's guess.

    Advantage Report:

    • Cody has an immunity idol woven into his cool palm-frond hat.
    • Karla now also has a beaded immunity idol, in the form of a bracelet.
    • Noelle has a steal-a-vote.
    • Gabler has an immunity idol that will keep him safe for his next tribal council.

    Coming Next Week: The tribes play for the chance to steal from each other, which should generate some welcome tension.

    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