There's Always a Twist
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS
S38 E7

I’m not good at quitting things. The fact that I have been recapping a reality television show FOR 35 SEASONS AND COUNTING probably speaks to that a little bit, I imagine. It’s not that I am so dedicated and have incredible fortitude in the face of adversity. Not in the least. Rather, I am a creature of habit. I love routine. It explains why I still eat like a kindergartener. (My lunch today was — no joke — a PB&J, baby carrots, and a yogurt; hey, at least I did not have the crusts cut off.) It explains why I never took my junior year abroad while in college. It explains why I kept watching 24, like three seasons after I should have. Sometimes it’s just easier not to quit things.

But not if your name is Keith or Wendy. Now, I know you think I’m probably gonna go all old school Jeff Probst and throw these two quitters down the same way Probst threw down Osten’s torch. But I’m not going to do that. I’m not angry or anything. I’m just confused. In one scene, we see Keith reaching for the heavens to thank God upon hearing that he could go back to Extinction Island and still have a chance to win his favorite TV show and the million dollars that goes along with it. In his next scene, he’s asking to leave. In one scene we see Big Wendy hugging everyone and celebrating like she just released every single chicken in the entire world. In her next scene, she’s all get me the hell out of here!

So, what gives? Look, we all knew Keith was shaky when he almost didn’t even take the torch to continue playing on day 6. And we all saw Wendy as the happiest person in the history of Survivor to be voted out, acting all giddy about the cheeseburger she was about to eat — which, come to think of it, actually confuses me even more than her quitting. But even those hints and clues as to their willingness to stick it out still doesn’t completely explain the massive 180-degree turn we just saw. How weird was that?!?

I asked Jeff Probst at the start of the season if he thought people would quit Edge of Extinction and he told me that if they did then “we cast wrong.” But I would argue that Keith and Wendy quitting actually is a good thing for the show. All season we’ve heard how hard Edge of Extinction is. Yes, true, mostly only from Reem and Keith, but whatever. That has been the narrative. And to properly sell that narrative, you have to show that there are certain people that just can’t hack it. Watching Keith and Wendy ask to leave — even if they were maybe never fully invested in the experience to begin with — is the clearest indication yet that the players there are indeed suffering. Now all that talk about the difficulties has been backed up.

As I wrote last week, I’m in a weird place with the Edge of Extinction twist. It was been well-established I am not a fan of twists that keep people in the game after they have been voted out. But if we are going to have that twist, then we should go ALL-IN on it. I’m not like those people who have been complaining about spending too much time at Extinction Island. If we’re going to neuter the impact of the vote-off by keeping Aubry, Chris, and others around, then let’s make up for it by seeing what they’re up to. I really like watching them trying to figure out the clues, and finding weird submerged advantages, and trying not to piss off Reem.

Now the Edge of Extinction has claimed two victims. That’s intriguing as well. That sells the concept of the island and the experiment. While previously the threat of anyone actually quitting seemed minimal at best, now the threat is real. Next time Reem complains about the conditions, we’ll take her more seriously. If, say, Lauren goes there and gets sick again, maybe she’ll pack it in. Who knows? I thought I knew, but then these two jokers went ahead and quit. Will they be the only ones? We’ll have to wait to find out. In the meantime, let’s get to the other big events of what turned out to be quite an eventful merge episode.

They’re Heeeeeerrrrrrreeeee…
It’s kind of weird to have a merge be something after an afterthought. The merge is one of the signature moments of any season. Jeff Probst tells people to drop their buffs. There’s always lots of celebrating. Not unlike Ron Burgundy, it’s a pretty big deal. But not this season, because no sooner did the members of the soon-to-be-named Vata tribe don their red buffs than Probst warned them that some Survivor moments take years to be iconic and others become iconic the moment they happen. (I can only assume he would classify the season 1 Tribal Council trunk of cash in the former category and his epic shoulder rub of Brandon Hantz in the latter. It’s unclear into what category the Outcasts should be placed.)

And here they come, with Reem doing her best Orpah Winfrey impression, only instead of giving everyone a car, she passes out free death glares to everyone in her immediate audience YOU get an F.U. stare! YOU get an F.U. stare! And YOU get an F.U. stare! “I knew it,” yells Kelley Wentworth as the voted-out losers come back, and I can’t help but wonder what she actually knew. Did she know voted out players were being secretly held somewhere or did she just know there was some sort of twist coming because there is always some sort of twist coming on Survivor?

Jeff explains to everyone that Aubry and the five voted-out Manuians will race through a series of obstacles and then finally have to maneuver a ball to the top of a snake track. I may not like voted out people not actually being voted out, but you cannot deny that a challenge to get back INTO the game is about as tense and exciting as it gets because the stakes are so damn high. So the challenge is flat-out awesome, and I’m not just saying that because at one point Jeff Probst yells that “Chris now has his balls free. He can get in on this!”

Seriously, I’m not. Because that wasn’t even the best part. The ending is a nail-biter of epic proportions as Wendy battles against her Tourette’s to take the lead. She gets two inches away from winning — TWO INCHES! — and then her ball falls off. Then it’s Chris’ turn, and I have to be a lot more careful talking about Chris’ ball dropping (especially after just making fun of Jeff), but he also comes two inches away from winning before faltering. That leaves Rick Devens to clean it up and indeed he does, getting himself back in the game. That’s good for him and good for producers too. There’s not much to dislike about Rick Devens outside of the confusion over whether to call him by his first or last name. He’s charming, he’s funny, he’s a good narrator, seems like a decent dude. Plus, he gives my pregame pick to win in David another ally, which is to say his only ally.

Probst makes a big announcement that “Now Extinction begins again. Every person voted out will have the same opportunity,” but what the folks already there don’t realize is that means they can go back there and give it another shot again later. So Chris starts crying. And then Aubry starts crying. And then Reem starts crying. And then Keith starts crying. And then Wendy starts… smiling, because she’s Wendy and that’s what Wendy does when something seemingly terrible happens. This segment also offers up my favorite quote of the episode, when Jeff asks, “Reem, why are you here?”

But then Jeff informs them all they can go back to Extinction Island to try to get into the game and all of a sudden Aubry Bracco TURNS INTO A COMPLETE INSANE PERSON! “Let’s f—ing do it!” she yells before commencing to whoop and dance in a way that is somehow even more gloriously awkward than the hostage crisis Kama dance Ron Clark made her do, and I didn’t think that was humanly possible. Whatever is possessing Aubry in this moment should be bottled, put into pill form, and distributed at a street price of $10,000 a pill. That’s how strong it is. “LET’S F—ING DO IT” Okay, lets!

Splurge at the Merge
Hey, look who gets the first confessional interview at the merge. It’s Julia! Wow, that’s two weeks in the row. She’s clearly leaving poor Aurora — who now takes the pole position in terms of all “Have You Seen Me?” milk carton placement — in the dust. Note to future Survivor contestants: Complaining about screen time on social media really works! Someone give Brett from Samoa and Carter from the Philippines a DeLorean so they can go back in time, log into Twitter and lobby to be seen on their seasons. Unfortunately, Julia’s big speech essentially boils down to merely pointing out the obvious math in that the Kamas hold a 8-5 numbers advantage. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose, especially when angling for camera time.

The big question is how Devens will be accepted back into the game. Kelley wants him gone, which is no surprise since she helped send him packing the first time. On the flip side, Julie likes the cut of Rick’s jib! Almost as much as I like talking as if I’m from the 1920s! She thinks it was super neat-o the way he won himself back into the game. As a Rick fan myself, I’m not exactly sure why she is suddenly all into him, but anything to get Julie to stop talking about peeing her pants, or peeing in Central Park, or peeing on her floor is good by me.

The Edge of Quitting
We already got into Keith and Wendy’s decision to leave, so we don’t need to do another deep dive or anything. I do think Chris’ description of “buyer’s remorse when they got back there” is pretty apt. But I do find the nice glossy bow producers put on their choice to quit a bit curious. Keith gives us some quasi-introspective quote about how if he leaves now he’s gotten more than he ever came with. I mean, wouldn’t that have been true five minutes into day 1? And couldn’t he get even more by staying longer?

I swear I’m not trying to hammer the guy. Keith is a young dude who has overcome amazing obstacles to become the first person in his family to go to college. I have mad respect for that. I just don’t understand his quote or his justification for leaving. And the fact that it was presented as some sort of uplifting moment to remember only confuses me further.

Same thing with Big Wendy. She tells us that “At the end of the day I feel so proud of myself” as she steps onto the boat to leave. Which is great! I’d much rather have someone feel good about herself than bad. But wouldn’t you be even prouder if you didn’t quit? Again, I don’t want these people to be miserable. But I would have much rather heard how Extinction Island made them miserable. Why did they change their mind and leave? We’re never really told. I wish their final words had told me about the brutality that caused them to give up rather than how they are both totally hunky dory. What we were hearing and what we were seeing just didn’t match up.

Cannibals Lecture
That section heading was a pun of Hannibal Lecter, but I worried nobody would get it so now I have ruined it even further by overexplaining. Dammit, if only Brett and Carter would return my DeLorean I could go back in time to undo that terrible joke, but now I suppose I need to just live with it. Anyway, the point I was trying to make was that the original down-in-numbers Manuians are ready to eat their own. Hence Hannibal Lecter. And Cannibals Lecture. DAMMIT! I’M DOING IT AGAIN!

Knowing there is no time to waste (something, incidentally, I have never known while writing these extended dance-club remix recaps), Wentworth gets to work. She first tries to convince Joe that the law-firm of David & Devens are after him. Then she pulls together all the six women left in the game in the hopes of forming some sort of Girl Power alliance, but the Kama ladies are too smart for that. Kelley and Lauren use Shane Powers’ old Survivor Blackberry to order up a charter bus, which they then throw Rick and David under while ordering the bus to run over them repeatedly until the bus runs out of gas.

The ease in which they want to send Devens right back to Extinction Island shocks Julie “from a moral standpoint,” which I don’t really understand. But the point is that the Kama women seem more inclined to take out Kelley than D&D — which is to say David and Devens, although I am guessing none of the women here have any real interest or history in playing actual D&D either. I’m guessing most of them don’t even know what D&D is, meaning they are far less geeky than yours truly.

But Rick has an ace up his sleeve — which is, to say, a package in his bag. It’s a mysterious package. He has no idea how it got there, but it seems he not only won re-entry into the game by putting the ball through the hole (eww, gross) but he also won two halves of an immunity idol. He must give one half of it to someone else and if they are both in the game after the next Tribal Council, it will become a full idol with full (non-Tyler Perry) powers. Hmmm… interesting. What I like most about this is that there do not seem to be any clear rules about who has jurisdiction and ownership of said idol once it becomes complete. That has the potential to lead to disagreements about who should give their half to whom. Not sure that will happen here with Rick and David (who gets the second half), but it could. A nice wrinkle in the game.

All We Are is Gusts in the Wind
See, for this section title I played off the lyrics “All we are is dust in the wind,” but I changed the word “dust” to “gusts” because there were lots of wind gusts during the first individual immunity challenge and dust and gusts rhyme. Personally, I don’t know if that is better or worse than “Cannibal Lecture” but I imagine that in the grand scheme of things neither was very good to begin with and certainly were not helped by me inadvertently pointing out how labored they were. Also, paraphrasing lyrics from the band Kansas is inherently a dicey proposition. So, moving on…

Yes, it’s our first individual immunity challenge of the season. So exciting! And everyone will be playing for a super dope-ass immunity necklace that Billy Porter will no doubt be wearing on his next red carpet assignment. The challenge itself is one we’ve seen before, as players must stand on a narrow beam while balancing a statue on a pole. At regular intervals, they must move down the beam where it gets narrower. I like this challenge. It’s simple. It’s endurance-based. And the crazy wind only adds to the drama. As does everyone hitting on Julie during the course of the competition.

Lauren: “Julie, you’re hot.”

David: “Julie has some guns.”

Eric: “Yeah, she’s buff.”

As a fellow fortysomething, it’s always nice to see the “old” people do well and not be made to feel like they are hideous, and when Julie then wins and cries about having wanted to be on this show for 18 years and how her kids and husband will be so proud of her, well, that’s cool too. This was no pushover challenge. It involved strength, endurance, concentration. Hell, I’m with the others: Julie is a badass. And no matter how she does in the rest of the game and no matter how times she pees on herself, Julie will always have the memory of Jeff Probst putting that necklace around her.

Eeeny Meeny Miney Moe, Which Returning Player Should Go
While Kelley and Lauren tried to sell the Kama women on a female alliance, Julie is not buying. She now wants Kelley gone so she hatches a plan with Victoria to tell the two Manu ladies to split their vote between David and Rick, while they go and bring David and Rick to get rid of Kelley. Sneaky!

But Matthew Perry… I mean, Ron Clark, has a different idea. I guess he doesn’t like the way Joe is painting the flag or something because he then hatches his own plan to oust Joey Amazing. Ron wants Joe out. Victoria and Julie want Kelley out. Who will win this battle of wills? Let’s head to Tribal Council to find out.

Before Jeff can start Tribal Council, he has to bring the jury in. Wait, what?!? The jury always starts at or after the merge. So what jury? It turns out that the folks at Edge of Extinction are also members of the jury. As long as they do not raise the mast and quit like Keith and Big Wendy, they will vote on who wins the million-dollar prize. That means we could potentially have a jury of 13 people, and it would have been 15 had the others not quit. So, what do we think? The obvious initial reaction is to wonder how Reem — who was voted out on day 3 — could possibly have any insight at all into who has played well in this game and is deserving of her vote considering she has spent all her time berating Chris and handing Keith advantages. How can she possibly be well-informed enough to cast a meaningful vote?

But look at it another way. Let’s take Joe. He made the merge. He’s on the jury, but let’s say David, Rick, and Lauren make the final three. Joe spent hardly any time playing with any of them, so how is his vote that much more informed than Reem’s? I have no problem whatsoever with early boots having a vote for the million dollars. I do, however, have another issue with these Edge of Extinction people voting, and it is the same one I had with post-merge Redemption Island folks voting.

Contrary to some of the fireworks we saw this season at EOE, normally the place where voted-off people go — whether it is Ponderosa, Redemption Island, or Edge of Extinction — is a spot where folks put aside their differences and bond together in unity against the people that voted them out. We saw this before in Redemption Island seasons where folks bonded over their new common enemy. That’s fine. It’s human nature. (You screwed me over and I screwed you over, but those other people screwed us BOTH over, so screw them!)

However, what happens when you give those people a vote for a million dollars? Let’s say Chris spends almost the entire time at Edge of Extinction and then makes it back into the game at the last minute and now he has all these friends on the jury that like him because he DIDN’T have to backstab or lie or strategize behind people’s backs because he was not in the game. Now those folks he hung out with in a non-game setting get to vote for a winner, and guess whom they’re likely going to vote for: Chris. Is that fair in the least?

This is actually why Ozzy volunteered to go to Redemption Island in Survivor: South Pacific — to win potential future jury votes. I put the idea of voluntarily going there for that exact reason into his head during a pregame interview the day before and he immediately latched onto it — and then actually did it! And had he not frozen in that final puzzle, it would have worked and he would have won. We very well may see a similar scenario here. And the question is: How do we feel about that? Is that a legitimate victory? Are you cool with someone winning the game who may have only played around 10 days in it? Something to think about as the season moves on.

Edge of Confusion
It is a Tribal Council filled with twisted facial expressions by Ron (clearly coming for Eliza’s exaggerated reaction crown), and when it is all done, there are several other confused expressions, including one that I am shocked made it past CBS censors involving an inadvertent dirty gesture made by the unfortunate placement of The Wardog’s mouth and fingers. David and Devens thought Kelley was going home. Kelley, Lauren, and The Wardog thought David was going home. Joe and Aurora thought Rick was going home. They were all wrong. Because it is Joe that actually gets voted out by the Kama 6, showing that Ron won his internal alliance battle against Julie and Victoria. (Note: the folks that insist on specific targets often win the battle but lose the war).

On his way out, Joe mumbles about it being “the worst thing they could have done,” and he may be right. How many times have we seen an alliance with a heavy majority start picking off their own only to see the minority alliance climb back and gain control? The answer: often. The Kama folks need to be careful. Ron keeps talking about how strong the Kama six is, but you don’t need to be a Chrissy Hofbeck level actuary to do the math and realize that five Manuians + on-the-outs Aurora = six. Kama would have been better served by going with Julie and Victoria in getting rid of Kelley and then taking a shot at Joe later. We’ll see if the decision comes back to haunt them and if Ron becomes a target for pushing through his plan.

And now on to other things that are worth seeing. We’ve got an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. We’ve also got our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst where he weighs in on the challenge to get back in the game, the people who quit, and the expanded jury. And if you want some behind-the-scenes intel on what happened at last week’s double Tribal Council, check out my merge interview with Kelley Wentworth. We’ll also have interviews up with Keith and Big Wendy soon enough, and you can also follow me on the Twitter @DaltonRoss. (Also, we’re getting closer to me giving away all the original most embarrassing moment confessions written by the cast out on location in Fiji. Follow me on Instagram @thedaltonross for a chance to win.)

Okay, now it’s your turn. Are you happy Rick got back in the game? Do you like the bigger jury? Is it fair if someone from Edge of Extinction ends up winning? Are you sick of me asking questions? Weigh in on the message boards below and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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