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Survivor 44's New Twists Put a Target on Two Players

We still haven't gotten a pure vote out of the merged tribe, thanks to a pair of twists.
  • Jeff Probst, Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt, Jaime Lynn Ruiz, and Lauren Harpe. (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)
    Jeff Probst, Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt, Jaime Lynn Ruiz, and Lauren Harpe. (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

    [Editor's Note: This post contains spoilers for Survivor Season 44, Episode 7, "Let's Not Be Cute About It."

    Last week's merge episode — despite all of Jeff Probst's theatrics about earning one's place on the merged tribes and denying buffs until a player had survived the immunity challenge or the vote — ended up functioning much in the same way that the merge episode generally functions. The disparate tribes came together, there was a vote to eliminate one of them, and they all returned to the beach as one tribe. The only difference was that there was a team challenge where half of the players ended up immune from the vote. This has mostly been a good twist throughout the last few seasons, in that it gooses certain players to take chances and makes everybody play a less complacent game with big numbers.

    This week, however, we get a similar twist at the immunity challenge: Two teams of five are chosen for a balance competition (with Carson the odd man out who gets to cast his fortunes with the orange tribe without actually playing). The winning players on each team get individual immunity, while the longest-lasting overall player gets immunity for their entire team. However, said winning team also won't vote at tribal council. What that means is the Purple team of Brandon, Lauren, Jaime, Yam Yam, and Matt loses, Brandon wins individual immunity, and suddenly on a tribe of eleven, five people will be voting with only four people to choose from. This ends up being very bad news for both Matt and Yam Yam.

    If the intention of this twist is to make certain players who might have otherwise skated past the vote in a larger tribe suddenly have to sweat things out, it's only half successful. Matt was sitting pretty in last week's vote, but now he's stranded without his Soka allies, with a Ratu majority of Brandon/Lauren/Jaime who see a prime opportunity to weaken another alliance. But then there's Yam Yam, who was already the low man on the totem pole entering into this week's episode. In a condensed voting situation, Yam Yam is presented as the fallback "easy" vote, and he nearly went home because of it. Part of that had to do with another new twist.

    With the winning team enjoying their PB&J feast, they also were made aware that there's a new advantage locked up in the birdcage, and there are several keys hanging from branches in the jungle, only one of which will unlock it. Heidi is the lucky key-finder, and she's rewarded with a Control a Vote Advantage. Essentially, this means that at tonight's tribal council, she can commandeer one of the voting players and make them vote for whomever she says.

    This opens up a wealth of opportunities. Danny and Heidi had already been talking about blindsiding Lauren soon, to get rid of her extra-vote advantage if nothing else. Now, if Heidi tells one of Lauren's allies they have to vote for her, the hope is that Matt and Yam Yam would pile on and force Lauren's ouster. Heidi's a brainy competitor, though, and she weighs her options. The path of least resistance would be to throw a vote onto Yam Yam and keep Matt safe. This is great news for Frannie, who's agonizing over maybe losing Matt while she's powerless to help him. But Heidi also wonders if now is the time to let Matt get chopped, neutralizing the threat of a Matt/Frannie pair going forward.

    At tribal, the writing seems to be on the wall for Matt, who can't even play his fake idol or his shot in the dark, since he didn't bring his bag to tribal council. Matt tries to offer Jeff a tasty papaya as an offering to cancel tribal just this once, then tearfully eulogizes his own Survivor experience. Perhaps this fatalistic stance is what convinces Heidi to go for the path of least resistance and force Lauren to vote for Yam Yam. Sadly for Matt and his Soka allies, that vote isn't enough. Yam Yam joins Brandon and Jaime in voting Matt out, splitting up this season's supercouple.

    You can blame the advantages. Rather than spurring the players to take chances, this week's twists ended up encouraging rather safe game play. Brandon, Lauren, and Jaime retreated to their old Ratu bonds. Heidi played her advantage against the least powerful player in the game. Without those advantages, there was the possibility of some bigger moves. The beginning of the episode saw Danny and Heido plotting against Lauren, followed by Carson, Kane, Matt, and Frannie contemplating a move against Danny. There's no telling whether either one of those things would have actually happened this week, but both of those plots were taken out at the knees once the advantages arrived.

    If you're hearing Survivor fans complain about too many advantages lately, this is what we're getting at. It's fun when an advantage throws the game into chaos and scrambling. But more and more, the advantages have been driving players to make safer moves. That's less fun. Matt and Yam Yam facing a brick wall of strategy at tribal council isn't fun. Heidi playing her advantage in the least risky way possible (and still failing) isn't fun. We're still waiting for the full merged tribe to cast a proper, normal vote. These players want to play. The next step is letting them.

    As for the rest of this week's happenings…

    Player of the Week: Lauren avoided the blindside that might have been coming her way, identified Matt as a threat to her game, and ultimately had a strong enough alliance with Brandon and Jaime that even getting her vote commandeered wasn't enough to derail her plans. Fun fact: Lauren's been to three tribal councils so far and has only cast one vote of her own volition.

    Honorable Mention(s): Yam Yam said at the beginning of the episode that he was going to use his social skills in order to keep him around another day, and while Matt's ouster was more likely because he had a bunch of allies on Soka, Yam was still able to ingratiate himself to the Ratu members enough to survive yet another tribal council.

    Sketchy Strategy: Heidi tried to play it too safe, and she lost an ally in Matt as a result. It would have been a risk to target Lauren, but if Heidi had played her advantage cleverly and convinced Matt and Yam Yam to join her, not even Lauren's extra vote could have saved her.

    Alliance Report: I'm intrigued by a possible Carson/Kane/Frannie move against Danny, though now I wonder if Frannie won't retreat to her Soka allies now that Matt is gone. Come on Frannie, emerge from this breathing fire!

    Advantage Report: Some quick clarification on the real idol/fake idol situation here, because the show has been unnecessarily confusing. This tweet clears it up: Inside the birdcage on each tribe was a satchel which contained one real immunity idol and one powerless trinket (which was obviously meant to be used as a fake idol to trick some unsuspecting tribemate). But the distinction of which trinket is a real idol and which is powerless is different on each tribe. So here's how it stands:

    • Danny has the Soka immunity idol (which is a medallion).
    • Carolyn has the real Tika immunity idol (which is a silver coin).
    • Jamie has a fake immunity idol that Matthew made himself from items at Ratu camp.
    • Lauren has an extra vote to use whenever she wants.

    Coming Next Week: Maybe Frannie comes out breathing fire??

    Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 8:00 PM ET on CBS. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    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