SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.
Boy, the Coco tribe was really a giant mess this whole time, huh? A string of challenge wins (or second-place finishes that kept them out of tribal council) meant we didn't have too many occasions to check in on the blue tribe and their dynamics so far this season. Karla has been a superstar and a favorite of the editors as she assembled beads for her immunity idol, and we got a brief glimpse of a close bond between Geo and Ryan, but that's about it. That changed this week, and it turned the mystique of a heretofore incredibly successful Coco tribe into something significantly less impressive. It also led to the purest example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory that we've seen this season.
Historically, tribal success in the pre-merge phase of Survivor can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, keeping out of early tribal councils helps to build up a numbers advantage at the merge, at which point the chaos and uncertainty leads players to lean on their original tribemates for safety. On the other hand, a tribe that goes weeks before hitting their first tribal council can often be in something of a suspended state. You can make all the handshake agreements and sub-alliances that you want to, but until it comes time to vote in a tribal council, those alliances are merely theoretical. The crucible of a tribal council vote lets you know who's actually voting with you. If a tribe goes too long without hitting tribal council, there's an uncertainty that can turn into paranoia, which is where Lindsay Carmine, the 42-year-old pediatric nurse from Pennsylvania ended up this week.
One of the few things we already knew about the tribe dynamics at Coco was that there was an alliance built among the women — Lindsay, Cassidy, and Karla — that also included James. Outside that group were Geo and Ryan, who'd formed a tight pair right at the beginning of the season. Then Coco dropped both the reward challenge and the immunity challenge, sending them to tribal for the first time this season, and we got to see what this tribe is made of, strategically and socially. The results were alarming! Geo had apparently been rubbing most of the tribe the wrong way with his bossiness, which is demonstrated by a fairly hilarious bit of micromanaging Cassidy over the proper way to cut coconut into little bites. And since Geo was already on the outside of the women + James alliance, that seemed to be a pretty easy path towards the tribe's first boot.
Enter Lindsay, who proceeded to deliver a Ted Talk-worthy demonstration of exactly how to let paranoia move you from a position of absolute security to one of supreme danger. Because for Lindsay, settling on Geo seemed a bit too easy. Survivor isn't easy — everybody's always making moves, wheeling and dealing! If you look around the poker table and can't spot the mark, you're the mark! Et cetera! Lindsay is not the first player to suffer what I'm just going to refer to as Survivor Brain, but she's the most acute example. Because with panicked determination, she begins to dismantle her strategic alliances with Karla and James specifically, simply by refusing to believe them when they say they're voting with her. And she's so aggressive about it, that she ends up planting the idea in Karla's head that she's going to be impossible to work with, long term, and thus it might be a good idea to get rid of her.
Lindsay's self-fulfilling prophecy probably wouldn't have come to pass if the Coco tribe had already been through a vote and she knew that Karla, James, and Cassidy were true to their word. But it's tough to blame Karla for not wanting what turns out to be a lot of energy coming from Lindsay over a fairly simple vote. Lindsay ends up authoring her own blindside, then, and is voted out 4-1-1, with Geo receiving Lindsay's vote and Cassidy receiving Geo's vote. And in the span of one episode, Coco goes from being the driver's seat tribe to the most in flux.
As for the rest of this week's happenings…
Player of the Week: Karla. She makes the best of a bad situation with the Lindsay vote, and while that outcome is less than ideal, her reasoning is pretty sound. And since we saw James advocating for Lindsay to stay, only to be overruled, we get a pretty good sense of who the real power on the tribe is. You could fairly say Karla's getting the Winner's Edit so far. Even when Coco makes a blunder — like when Cody ends up swindling them for their fishing gear (see below) — Karla gets to end the segment with a talking-head clip where she criticizes her own tribe for their mistake.
Honorable Mention(s): Cody, for being better at social strategy than we've given him credit for. As part of winning the reward challenge, Vesi got to send Cody to one of the losing tribes to raid a reward item from their camp. And after going rogue from his tribe's instructions, he targets Coco instead of Baka, and completely hoodwinks them. After feigning that he wanted to steal their machete (which would severely weaken them but help his tribe little), he gets them to offer both food and fishing gear instead, and actually gets to look like a charming and affable guy as a result. Karla is the only one who isn't fooled.
Sketchy Strategy: Aside from the obvious choice of Lindsay, let's go with Gabler on Baka tribe, who seems to be bugging even his allies like Sami with his weirdo behavior at camp. Don't drape palm fronds over people while they sleep! (His "this one doesn't have ants on it" is not the reassurance he thinks it is!)
Alliance Report: It'll be interesting to see how things shake out at Coco. Karla, Cassidy, and James seem to be the power structure. Ryan seems to think he's in with them, but he's not. (He's also a LOT worse at challenges than his incredible physique might lead you to believe.) Geo… looks like he's ready to start some mess back at camp.
Coming Next Week: Geo and Cassidy have words back at camp. Also, Jesse, Jeanine, and Geo appear to be given some kind of offer.
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