SPOILERS for the outcome of Wednesday night's episode of Survivor ahead.
Ever since Survivor returned from its extended COVID hiatus, we've been blessed with casts that have been overflowing with compelling, hyper-strategic players engaged in intricate games of human chess with each other. However overstuffed Seasons 41 and 42 were with new twists and advantages, the casts were consistently up to the challenge of navigating them. We're nearly to the merge in Survivor 43, though, and while the cast has a ton of likeable characters, the last few weeks really have us wondering: is anybody on this season good at Survivor?
This comes after the second consecutive episode in which the blue Coco tribe proved to be a complete mess. After Lindsay talked herself out of the game last week by being uneccesarily parnoid that her majority alliance of Karla, James, and Cassidy might turn on her, it seemed like those three were still solidly in charge and poised to target the pair of Geo and Ryan.
Geo did himself no favors by antagonizing Cassidy, and seeming oblivious to the fact that the tribe dynamics had aligned against him. Later, at the immunity challenge, Ryan — who is terrible at challenges, it turns out — screwed up a ball-rolling game, dooming Coco to a second straight tribal council. But! Ryan later tells us that he threw the challenge on purpose, because he was so confident that his tribe would vote out Cassidy. This is not only a massive misread of his tribe's power structure but also a wild act of hubris that anybody who watches Survivor would tell you is a bad move. And, of course, it turned out that Ryan was the person that the Karla/James/Cassidy group wanted to vote out.
And that's not all for the Coco tribe. Geo returns from a trip to the sand spit with Jeanine from Baka and Jesse from Vesi (more on that later) with a new "Knowledge Is Power" advantage (the one that lets you steal other people's advantages), and he immediately tells Karla about it. Geo doesn't know Karla isn't on his side, nor does he know that Karla has a secret immunity idol, meaning she's the one person on the tribe most threatened by a Knowledge Is Power advantage.
Then, when Karla proposes to James and Cassidy that they switch the vote from Ryan to Geo to neutralize Geo's new advantage, Cassidy starts to dig her heels in and freak out about sticking to the Ryan plan. This, mere days after Lindsay got herself voted out for doing almost the exact same thing. And sure enough, here are Karla and James now talking about ousting Cassidy for being a loose cannon, despite the fact that doing so would have them in a 2-2 deadlock with Geo and Ryan going forward. What is happening??
By tribal council, cooler heads prevail, and Karla/James/Cassidy pull together to blindside Geo (and shock the heck out of Ryan), so maybe all that talk of voting out Cassidy was overblown by production to drum up suspense. Regardless, this has been a super sloppy tribe for two episodes straight, and now they're heading into the merge down in numbers.
That wouldn't be so bad if the other tribes weren't looking super shaky as well. On Baka, Jeanine found the Beware Advantage and set about collecting her beads and strategizing with Elie. They're full of incorrect reads about their own tribe, including thinking Gabler doesn't realize he has an immunity he can play at his next tribal council (he does) and that they can confide in Sami about Jeanine's advantage (they really shouldn't, because he goes right to Gabler with it). Jeanine also plays too fast and loose on the sand spit, risking her vote to get an advantage because she mistakenly thinks she's in a safer spot than she is.
Jesse makes the exact same error on the sand spit, even though he interviews that he knows it's a huge risk to lose his vote when his tribe only has four people on it. He'd be right, but he chooses to take the risk anyway and loses his vote. Now in Jeanine and Jesse's defense, the merge is coming next week, and not having a vote might matter less in a large group like that. But it's still incredibly reckless.
So, who actually is playing the game well? Owen savvily seems to be playing both side of Baka against the middle, but it hasn't earned him the trust of Elie and Jeanine, who view him as expendable. Sami — who seems incredibly angry in nearly all of his confessionals — has thrown his lot in with Gabler, of all people. We haven't checked in with Vesi very much since they've started winning immunity challenges, but last we saw them, they were a very chaotic tribe. Who are the strategic masterminds this season? Who's maneuvering through the game with intelligence and skill? Thus far, we haven't seen much of it. But the Merge awaits…
As for the rest of this week's happenings…
Player of the Week: Karla and James for coming to their senses and keeping their three-person alliance together.
Honorable Mention(s): Owen was walking in the exact right place at the exact right time to stumble upon Jeanine and Elie pocketing the Beware Advantage. Maybe he can use that to ingratiate himself into their alliance.
Sketchy Strategy: We've covered this thoroughly above, so let's just say here that now that we've gotten to the third bead-finding quest of the season, the gimmick has grown stale. It's understandable that production would want to keep the Beware Advantage task the same for all three tribes out of a sense of fairness, but for TV purposes, three distinct challenges would have been a lot more fun to watch.
Alliance Report: Karla, James, and Cassidy survived the paranoia bug. It's Elie/Jeanine versus Sami/Gabler with Owen in the middle on Baka. God only knows where things stand on Vesi.
Coming Next Week: It's merge time, baby! Let's see what fresh hell Jeff Probst has devised this time.
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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