The women team up — and one Survivor is blindsided at his first Tribal Council
Credit: CBS

“You haven’t seen irritated Cydney. Irritated Cydney will blow the whole game up.”

Sometimes, it all comes down to something as simple as that. Not some huge strategic maneuver that will redefine how the game of Survivor is played for seasons to come. Not some bold, calculated play put into motion after careful consideration of several options and the future outcomes attached to each. Not some revolutionary approach to game theory weighing out short-term risk versus long-term reward. Nope, sometimes someone just pisses you off.

Now, to be clear, Cydney was worried forces were starting to conspire against her. It wasn’t like she turned on Nick because he started washing his wart-infested feet in the pot of water or anything. (Sup, Max!) But her defection definitely came from a place of anger. Sure, that was probably super annoying the way Nick indiscreetly pulled Julia aside, but there was no indication or reason to believe that Jason and Scot were not honoring their core alliance with Cydney. But she got irritated and paranoid, a pretty deadly combination in this game.

It’s just another fascinating example of the way things in the game of Survivor can turn on a dime. But while anger and paranoia have led to many defections over 32 seasons of the show, we are seeing something else happening in terms of the evolution of the game and the moves people make in it.

While the goal of Survivor has always been to get to the end, more and more people are realizing they have to build their résumés along the way, even if that means making what could be nothing more than a lateral move, just so you have something to hang your proverbial buff on. Look no further than the discussion between Michele and Julia right before Tribal Council where they talked about the need to prove they’ve earned it. It’s debatable whether moving from an alliance of seven (where you held a 4-3 edge in Beauty members over Brawn) to an alliance of five or six (is Joe in this thing?) where you could be outnumbered by Brains (if Joe is indeed in this alliance) is a good strategic play.

You could argue both ways on what gives you better odds for long-term success, but when in doubt — and if all things basically equal out — it is always better to be active rather than passive. This is why Fishbach came off as so stalkery obsessed with Joey Amazing last season. He felt he needed a big move to argue his case at the end, so he targeted Joe as that move. Rightly or wrongly, the guys on the tribe here were probably perceived as running the show due to their overbearing nature. Julia and Michele realized they needed to step out of that hairy, tattooed shadow and control their own destinies. That’s how you win the game if you get to the end.

Okay, let’s jam through this sucker from top to bottom and recap the latest episode of Survivor: Kaoh Rong. The festivities begin with the comedic stylings of master impressionist Scot Pollard! He starts his revue with a pretty spot-on imitation of Hostmaster General Jeff Probst’s trademark “Previously on…Survivor,” and then moves on to Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. We have a regular Rich Little, everyone!

In what will become a recurring theme throughout the episode, Jason brags about how solid the alliance is with everything “set in stone.” Meanwhile, Aubry leans on an old Survivor standby, comparing the tribe to cliques in high school. (Never heard that one before!) She says the tough guys and pretty girls are running the show and “the shy, nerdy people are on the outside.” Hold on a second, did she just call Debbie shy? Debbie is about as shy as Kanye West at an awards ceremony. But the point holds that nerdy Aubry, wacky Debbie, and old dude Joe are making like Rudolph and Hermey and are indeed the misfits at this point.

NEXT: A classic reward challenge

Hey, who’s ready for a classic Survivor reward challenge? Well, you’re gonna get one whether you like it or not, so you better get ready. The challenge is called “United We Stand” and was first seen in the Cook Islands/Race War edition. (Can we just pause for the cause for a second to acknowledge that it was not, in fact, a fever dream and they did actually separate tribes by ethnicity for season 13? THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED! ON NETWORK TELEVISION!) Anyway, two teams of five must race out and use poles to get a tribe member from one platform to another. Then the entire tribe must swim out to a small tower that they must all fit on for three seconds. When it first debuted in Cook Islands, it was an absolute nail-biter. Here, not so much.

Because while Julia is transported straight across by her yellow team, the blue squad acts as if they are auditioning for their own special edition of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Aubry falls four times. Then she switches out for Michele, who falls twice. Then she switches out for Cydney, who falls twice. Then Michele falls again. Then Aubry falls again. And this is just what we saw! Challenges are edited for time, so for all we know, they are still out there falling as I write this. Maybe when all the Second Chancers showed up in Cambodia they looked out at the water only to see Aubry belly-flopping off her pole. (Lord, why did we never get the opportunity to watch Fishbach in this challenge? He probably would have fallen off the pole so far that he knocked the person from the other team off their pole, thereby disqualifying his squad.)

There may no crying in baseball according to Tom Hanks, but hot damn there is a lot of crying in Survivor. I’m talking #SurvivorBreakdown city, baby! Happens all the time. People are tired, hungry, freezing cold, or burning hot, so they are automatically emotionally compromised. It makes sense. Still, it is a bit surprising to see Aubry sobbing over missing out on some freakin’ ice cream. Don’t get me wrong: I love ice cream! I scream for ice cream, in fact. I’m a mint chocolate chip guy through and through but have also been known to dabble in cookies and cream and, when I’m feeling saucy, the occasional orange sherbet. Or is it sherbert? Or is it sorbet? Truthfully, I never really understood the difference. This is confection confusion, is what it is!

So in comes the Kaoh Rong Creamery. “I didn’t feel sorry for the losers one bit,” says Debbie. But the mood is subdued enough that one of those losers, Jason, tells the winners they should be whooping it up more for winning. Meanwhile, Scot takes the opportunity to open up about his mother, who is sick and in assisted living. This, combined with Jason talking earlier about his daughter with autism, serves to show the softer side of the two early season villains. (Not so soft that they are above pouting and resorting to hiding all the tribe’s stuff once the votes don’t go their way at Tribal Council, however, as previews for next week show.)

Scot and Jason are worried about a female alliance, and it’s a natural concern, but when Nick then goes to friend-check Julia, it sets into motion a series of events that will then lead to his downfall. But first we need to go watch Jeff Probst look at his feet while he welcomes the players into the immunity challenge. And although I’m a bit bitter that there is no #OrangeHatAlert this week, I suppose we can continue on.

The challenge is an endurance contest in which everyone must balance on a narrow perch while holding a handle behind his or her head. If they let go or their foot comes off, they are out. It’s one of those events that looks simple enough but is deceptively painful. And just to rub it in, Probst takes a seat five minutes in. “I’ll just get comfortable,” he says while plopping down. Hilarious. I just wish he would have gone even further. If you’re gonna mess with them, why not go the full mile and pull out a beer and start nibbling on nachos? Maybe have a masseuse show up and give you a backrub while you exhale deeply and moan, “Ahhhhhhhhh, that’s the stuff.”

NEXT: Julia has to sit and watch other people eat

Probst doesn’t do that. But he is ready to tempt them off their perches. The Survivor food temptation is always a fascinating exercise to see who is confident or hungry enough to give up their chance at immunity for some chow. Many a player has quit only to then be voted out that very night. “This will be your one and only opportunity at temptation,” Probst says as he steps away to go retrieve the grub. “Don’t step down until I give you that window.” And with that, Julia steps down. Ooshtie. That is brutal.

So no pizza, brownies, drumsticks, hot dogs, or cold drinks for Julia. It’s like she went all bizarro universe Hannah Montana and got the worst of both worlds. By not lasting what probably amounted in real time to about one minute longer, she loses out on both the food and the challenge. So who will jump down for the food? Scot, Jason, Joe, and Michele all opt for the grub. We’re going to give Joe a pass on this one because no way he wins this competition anyway, so may as well get a free meal out of it. The same may be true of the others. They could have felt their bodies failing them and knew they had no chance. Or they may have just felt safe in their majority.

It finally comes down to Tai, Cydney, and Nick. After Nick drops, he talks about going to his first Tribal Council that evening. “I’m excited to get there after 22 days,” he says. “I just hope it won’t be bittersweet.” “It won’t be,” replies Scot.

HOLD THE PHONE!!!! You don’t just drop a moment like that into the episode unless it means something. My Spidey-Sense is tingling super strong right now, and I say that realizing any discussion about “tingling” on a show obsessed with poles and balls could certainly be considered creepy in an out-of-context kind of way. But tell me I’m the only one! Any seasoned and savvy Survivor viewer knew right then and there that Nick was in serious danger of being blindsided. FORESHADOWING ALERT!!!

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That leaves Tai and Cydney competing for immunity. And while Cydney looks steady and sturdy, Tai has a secret weapon as his disposal: BUDDHA! I’m guessing Buddha would not be too thrilled about being referred to as a “weapon,” but it is does propel Tai to victory, a feat so impressive it even gets Jeff Probst clapping.

So Tai is safe, but it doesn’t really matter because a Brain is going home, right? Right?!? Nick continues his Overconfidence World Tour 2015 by telling Aubry which way the vote is going. “I know I’m acting arrogant,” he tells her, to which she agrees. He then — in a glorious face-palm moment — informs us that he’s taking advantage of Aubry, “and she knows it, but she can’t do anything about it.”

Or can she? Aubry and Debbie work Cydney about putting together a female alliance, and then Cydney broaches the subject with Julia and Michele, explaining that she wants to get rid of Nick because he is — and this is a direct quote, ladies and gentlemen — “extremely up Jason and Scot’s butt.” Now, hold on a second. Which butt is he extremely up? Jason’s or Scot’s? Or do Jason and Scot share one butt? Is this a collective butt we are talking about here? Either way, it sounds uncomfortable.

NEXT: What the hell is Tai doing?

We had to Tribal Council to find out whether this new alliance will form. It’s the first Tribal for both Nick and Michele, causing Probst to note that while Tribal Council is a dangerous place to be, going there also “stirs the Survivor juices,” which for some reason sounds much dirtier than it has any right to. Nick continues his two-episode rant about how “the Brains are on the outs,” leading Aubry to comment that “I have been running around like Cochran’s dream girl, feeling highly anxious because there is nothing I can do to get movement out of them.” Incidentally, from what I understand, Cochran’s dream girl burns easily and is highly allergic to colored rocks, so take a number, ladies!

And then something truly bizarre happens. Probst asks Tai if there has been any talk about idols. Pretty standard boilerplate query. And Tai begins by repeating his claim that he didn’t think there were any idols. Okay, no problems there. But then he suffers a massive brain freeze — maybe from all that ice cream he ate courtesy of the Kaoh Rong Creamery? — and reveals the existence of the super idol! What in the name of people who tie themselves to a chicken is going on here?!? Another classic example of saying WAY too much at Tribal Council. First Jenny back in week two and now this? Tai tries to lamely backtrack, but the damage is done. (However, this is merely one of two inexplicable things the Vietnamese gardener will do at this week’s Tribal.)

Right before the voting, Probst asks Scot, “Will it be a blindside tonight or as predicted?” The reply? “I can’t imagine it will go any other way than as predicted.” And there it is. Buh-bye, Nick! If that moment after the challenge when you were assured of your safety didn’t do you in, then this most certainly did.

And indeed Nick is sent packing with five votes. But those votes are not the most interesting ones. The most curious and confusing vote belongs to Tai, who votes for…Jason?!? Where the hell did this come from? Did Buddha tell him to do that? Is he still jealous about the way his new bromance partner, Scot, carried Jason from ship to shore at the merge? Or did he know about the plan to oust Nick but did not want to vote for a fellow Beauty so threw it Jason’s way instead? I’m kind of dying to find out the reasoning behind that one.

So Nick’s first Tribal is his last Tribal, and the women now seem to be in the position of power. But how long will that last? Jason still has an idol, and while the chances of Jason and Tai combining theirs for a super idol at this point seem slim, it could happen. Anything could happen, really. That’s the beauty of Survivor. Not to mention the genius and the strength of the show (sorry, didn’t want the Brains and Brawn to feel left out).

And the beauty is that we are not even done. We’ve got an exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode below. And make sure to check out our weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst, We’ll have Nick on EW Radio Thursday morning, and you can also check out that interview here later, as well, and for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But now it’s your turn. Did Cydney, Julia, and Michele make the right move? Who is playing the game the best? And whom do you want to see voted out next? Hit the message boards to weigh in, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.