The dreaded pole challenge returns as the tribes merge.

By Dalton Ross
April 02, 2015 at 07:26 PM EDT
Credit: Robert Voets/CBS
S30 E7
  • TV Show
  • CBS

There’s an old saying about how you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Well, judging by tonight’s episode of Survivor, you also don’t bring a knife to Tribal Council. Because if you bring a knife to Tribal Council, it is only going to make things escalate to absurd proportions. Just ask Joe. According to him “Everyone has the knife, and it’s stab or get stabbed.” Well, that certainly sounds a bit extreme. Evidently needing to top that, Tyler then informed us that, “Somebody is going to take an ice pick and carve it down the center of this tribe’s back.” Whoa! Settle down everybody! And then Dan had to add his two cents and proclaim that, “I don’t think a line is going to be drawn with an ice pick. I think it’s going to be drawn with a chainsaw.” Now hold on, that doesn’t even make any sense. How can you draw a line with a chainsaw? No way you can keep that thing steady enough to draw a straight line. With those jagged edges, you’re looking at a complete mess. Seriously, Dan, what are you thinking?

But then when all was said and done and Kelly was voted out Probst had to one-up everybody and inform us, “Based on the reaction, I’d say it was more like a bomb.” A BOMB?!? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE? We’ve gone from knives all the way to bombs in only seven minutes? When exactly did Tribal Council turn into the freakin’ Thunderdome? What’s next, is Vin Diesel gonna chase Jason Statham through the Tribal Council set in a vintage Dodge Charger while Rodney jumps into a moving open window and yells “PUNCH IT!” at the top of lungs? I don’t understand what is happening!!!!

But I do know this: I love merge episodes. I love watching old allegiances discarded and new battle lines drawn. I love the move from team game to individual game. I love the scrambling. I love the lying. I love the individual immunity challenges… yes, even when they have the dreaded footholds. And this was a perfect example of why merge episodes are great. We have a whole new game, ladies and gentlemen. Which reminds me, we have a whole new recap we need to get to. So let’s get to it—unless Jeff Probst blows the whole thing up with his nuclear bomb before we even get to my scoop of the crispy line.

We begin on night 16 at Escameca after the Joaquin blindside. “Teaming up behind my back, bro?” Rodney says to Mike, even though he was doing the exact same thing. Of course, Rodney does not say he was doing the exact same thing. Instead, he claims, “I was working on a fugazi fake alliance this whole time for us Blues.…I expected me and you to be Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan. Now I feel like I’m Luc Longley, bro.” With Rodney’s attitude toward women and his constant pronouncements about how awesome he is at this game it is almost too easy to poke fun at that guy, but sometimes you have to give props where props are due, and that Luc Longley reference was pretty aces. Sure, he could have gone even deeper and busted out a little Bill Wennington or Will Perdue, but the Longley shout-out was still pretty damn sweet.

On the other hand, Rodney’s claim that “I’m acting—I’m putting on my De Niro, bro” is pretty comical. I honestly don’t know how Mike kept a straight face. I mean, if that’s your De Niro, Rodney, it certainly isn’t Taxi Driver or Raging Bull or even King of Comedy De Niro. It’s more like The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle De Niro, which is no De Niro anyone should have to ever endure. But I do find Rodney’s holier-than-thou reaction to be fascinating. We constantly see people plotting against alliance partners on this show, and then when the alliance partners sense it coming and do something about it, the original defector acts all up in arms about the fact that they did not sit back and allow him/her to screw them over. Rodney told us he wanted to ditch the Blue Collars for Joaquin, yet now he says that “The people who did me wrong today are gonna pay in the future.” Why? For being smart?

NEXT: Here comes the merge

After Nagarote gets a tree mail pretty much spelling out the merge and Kelly does a poor job of convincing her tribemates that she has no ties to the Blue Collars, we head off to a Probstless-beach to watch two tribes become one—which I realize now sounds vaguely sexual and like a Spice Girls ballad I knew once upon a day. Didn’t mean to do that. Totally my bad. I mean, not as bad as Ginger Spice leaving the band and forcing Posh, Baby, Scary, and Sporty to perform as a four-piece and release the not-so-aptly titled Forever (which I may or may not own), but bad nonetheless.

So the tribes meet, and Shirin gets the honor of reading the merge note explaining that they will be heading back to the Escameca beach to live. But when they get back to that beach after the feast, there is a surprise waiting…. It’s Tata! Tata the horny Bushman from Survivor: Caramoan is there sprucing up the place, and my he is looking well. No, not Tata. If only. The actual surprise is an unpleasant one as the shelter is completely gone. What has happened here? Did Jeff Probst’s Tribal Council bomb detonate in the wrong place? Whatever the means of destruction, the shelter is gone.

I actually like this move by producers. There is always so much scrambling and feeling each other out that goes on at the merge as many people are basically meeting for the first time. So why not throw some back-breaking labor and potential divisions in work ethic into the mix and see what happens. It’s a new game, so build a new damn shelter!

As the shelter is built, so are the alliances. Kelly runs back to Blue faster than you can say permanent forehead scarring, leading Jenn and Hali to contemplate their options, including “putting up with Shirin.” They also wonder about Rodney’s intellectual acumen on the other side. “Is Rodney smart?” Hali asks Joe, which elicits an eye roll and the response of “What do you think?” Hey! Watch it, mister! That’s three-time NBA champion Luc Longley you’re talking about!

As a demonstration of his game smarts, Rodney is in the process of pulling together the most random final four alliance in Survivor history. Seriously, this is so off-the-wall that I have studied it backward and forward in the hopes of somehow realizing its misunderstood genius, but I just can’t. Basically, for his new final four, Rodney wants to team up with two people he does not even know—Will and Carolyn—as well as someone who is clearly closer to Mike in Kelly. So he is attempting to pull in three different people from three different original tribes, which TRIPLES the chance that one of them will go back and tell others what he is plotting. Think about that for a second. While his plan seemed to work with Will, who oddly bolted from his own No Collars for reasons I can neither fathom nor understand, we indeed did see Carolyn pow-wowing with her actual alliance partner Tyler, and we have to assume Kelly also filled Mike in since she told us he “is like a family member” after he let her win the last immunity. When you reach out to people from that many groups you are exposing yourself to waaaaay too much risk.

Meanwhile, Tyler and Carolyn are doing something very smart. Having realized that power duos have been targets in this game, they decide to limit their time together. This is something I have been advocating for years ever since Danielle and Jason formed a secret alliance nobody ever suspected in Big Brother 3. They basically only spoke when they played chess and used those sessions to compare notes and talk out their plan of attack. It was genius. Now, I don’t think anybody here was going to be shocked that Tyler and Carolyn were playing together—they were both White Collars and both sort of in alliance-no-man’s-land, so it makes sense for them to team up, but still, why advertise it? Well played.

NEXT: At least they did not call the new tribe “Dangrayne II: This Time It’s Personal”

Uh-oh, looks like Dan got stung out in the water. He says it was a jellyfish, but having been out in those waters a lot and seeing where on the body it took place, that looks like the work of a stingray to me. Regardless, the sting immediately transforms everyone into Kathy Vavrick O-Brien and a steady stream of golden showers. First Dan pees on himself to try and ease the pain. Then Shirin offers up her urine as well. One problem, this isn’t a sea urchin we’re talking about like back in Marquesas, and Jenn the lifeguard says that while peeing on it may be kinky and all, it won’t help. Instead, Dan must get it in hot water ASAP. (Somebody check that dude for planters warts!)

Okay, tribe naming time. Who is going to secretly suggest the name of their favorite aunt or stuffed animal or make up some word that doesn’t actually exist as their new moniker? Sadly, no one it seems. But hold on to your hats, people, because we may just have the goofiest tribe name of all time. (Yes, even goofier than “Nobag.”) Look, I like Mike. I mean, I hate the fact that he threw the challenge, but the guy is a big fan of the show and definitely seems perceptive, as evidenced by him figuring out that Rodney was defecting to a new alliance with Joaquin. But “Merica”? As a tribe name? First off, they’re not in America. They’re in Nicaragua. So, Will Ferrell reference or not, to plant a big ol’ “Merica” flag in their country seems a bit rude at best and imperialistic at worst. Does this mean Lee Greenwood is also going to show up every morning to serenade them with “Proud to be a Merican” while the players recite the Pledge of Allegiance and chant “USA! USA!” at no one in particular? And let’s also not ignore the fact naming the tribe “Merica” is kind of extending an inadvertent middle finger to all the poor Canadians who watch Survivor religiously and long to be on this show but cannot because they are U.S. citizens. (I got your back, Canucks!)

Oh, and there is also this: It’s a terrible name. Just awful. Shirin even goes so far as to dub it “The worst tribe name in Survivor history…. Like a bunch of redneck idiots who don’t know what our own country’s name is. I’m horrified. I’m embarrassed.” Having deep Texas roots myself, I don’t know if I can get behind the “redneck idiots” line, but it is pretty hard to take that name seriously. Luckily for Jeff Probst, once you get to the individual portion of the game there is really no cause for him to ever have to actually say it, so no sweat off his back if they want to have a cringe-worthy tribe name. It’s not like we kept repeatedly have to say “Tarzan” or “Troyzan” or “Papa Smurf.” Think about that for a second: There was actually a contestant on Survivor named Papa Smurf. Incredible.

But there is more important stuff to get to besides a goofy tribe name as Mike has to go friend-check Rodney to see if the walking GNC factory is still willing to play ball. They have “make-up sex” (which is not as horrifying as it sounds) leading Rodney to once again compare himself to Tom Brady and say he’s going to cut Mike’s head off in the fourth quarter. Can they do that in football? Seems to go against all the new “safety of the game” rules they have put in place, but okay. Whatevs. Let’s get to the challenge. There goes Jeff Probst looking down at his shoes again as he calls the players in. And there he goes taking back the team immunity idol and unveiling the next individual immunity idol—a pimped out necklace with what appears to be a giant compass in the middle. Who made this thing, Flavor Flav?

NEXT: Jenn feels the sting of defeat

Anyhoo, Probst announces the challenge as a Survivor classic where people just have to hold on to a pole for as long as possible with a few tiny footholds, but a controversial one to be sure. Longtime readers of this recap know I have publicly questioned this contest for years. I won’t bore you by getting into it again, but suffice it to say that while the show has (correctly) taken measures to make sure that big strong men do not have any advantage in individual strength challenges by instead making contestants hold up equal percentages of their body weight (as opposed to everyone having to hold up the same weight) this is a challenge that is nearly impossible for large men with large feet to win. For one thing, here they are having to hold up their entire weight, and they are also having to wedge their much bigger feet into a small area.

Probst knows I feel this way, which is why I can hear me talking directly to me through the television set as he points out that it has ben won by three men and three women. What he does not point out, however, is that number does not include one-on-one duels, like when big John Cody got smoked in Blood Vs. Water. Sure enough, Dan and Will are the first ones out. “Two biggest guys are the first two people out of this challenge,” says Probst. Well…yeah.

And then Tyler falls as well. “Obviously the more you weigh the more difficult this is going to be,” Probst acknowledges, throwing me a bone. “Some challenges favor strength and size and some it works against you. This is one the lighter you are, the better you’re going to be.” Again, not completely true as producers—again, correctly—took measures to make sure mass was not an advantage in challenges by moving strength challenges to percentages of body weight. My qualm is not because I am rooting for big huge dude men. Look at me: I am pathetically weak! Rodney has more muscle mass in his pinky finger than I have on my entire body. I just like consistency and fairness as much as possible and kind of annoyingly obsess over things like this. I realize it is completely absurd because you cannot tailor every challenge to make it completely fair for everybody, so I am being super annoying by even bringing this up, but you just need to bear with me and my neurosis on this one.

So it finally comes down to three women (Hali, Jenn, and Carolyn) as well as one man (Ozzy…I mean, Jason Siska…I mean Joe). And then every contestant’s biggest fear comes true—getting stung by a bee on the crotch. That’s right, Jenn gets stung in a very sensitive region, and she still held on. MAJOR props to her. On the other hand, it could have been worse: Dan or Shirin may have tried to get up there and pee on it to get rid of the sting. “Where did it get you?” asks Probst. “Where my hand is, Jeff,” replies Jenn. Jeff wisely declines a follow-up question.

And then Jeff Probst’s absolute favorite thing in the entire world happens: It begins to downpour during a challenge. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Probst more exited than when I was out for the launch of Survivor: Micronesia and a torrential downpour struck right as contestants had to hoof it over to another island to find immunity idols. He loves that stuff, and with good reason. We love it too, and not just because it forces our host to say things like “That pole is going to get wet very fast.”

In any event, Joe outlasts the ladies—and I can hear Probst yelling “TAKE THAT, ROSS!” as the show goes to commercial—and now the scrambling begins. And it is glorious. Mike wants to break up the Hali and Jenn power couple, but wisely decides to tell Will to vote Hali while the rest write down Jenn’s name. That way they don’t get screwed if he is actually still with the No Collars. Smart. (Why isn’t Will still with the No Collars, by the way? I can’t figure that one out—unless he was absolutely sure Tyler and Carolyn were going that way and he just wanted to be part of the majority.)

NEXT: Our first Idol of the season

Meanwhile, Jenn works Shirin and they talk about getting Kelly out. But the real swing votes are Tyler and Carolyn. We see both sides wooing Tyler with him refusing to commit to either. Clearly he is enjoying his sudden popularity and position of power. Which way will he and “Mama C” go? We head to Tribal Council to find out. Again, I love the first post-merge Tribal. It is often the most pivotal one of the season. Everyone enters with a bunch of questions, and then leaves feeling elated or dejected once they find out where they truly stand. “Jeff, you might get voted out tonight—I don’t know,” says Will. Wait, can you do that? Can you vote Jeff Probst out? Is this my big shot? Should I start practicing my “Come on in, guys!” and “Dig deep, woman!” Do I need to begin investing in Survivor baseball hats and blue button-downs? Of course, I jest. There is no Survivor without Jeff Probst. Period.

So we then enter the Survivor arms race as all manner of weaponry is mentioned until we finally get to the vote. And after the vote Jenn indeed plays her idol. Jenn is kind of a fascinating player in this game. I initially dismissed her a bit due to her loosey-goosey vibe. And I am not thrilled with the way she and the No Collars did not secure Will’s allegiance. The mark of great player includes keeping the troops in line. But she made a strong move in finding the idol, and an even stronger move in feeling out the vibe of this Tribal Council and playing it. (She also has been strong in challenges, bee stings or no bee stings.) Jenn has definitely earned some respect.

So this leads to lots of clapping and laughing from Jenn, Hali, and Shirin as vote after vote of “Jenn” is followed by the words “Does not count.” (There may be no sweeter three words in Survivor.) So instead, even though Tyler, Carolyn, and Will all went with the Blue Collars, it is Kelly that gets eliminated. Sorry to see you go, Kelly. I mean, you were completely invisible for the first three weeks of the season, but then showed your mettle when you took that platform to the forehead. You may not have been a huge “character” but you too earned my respect. We just need to talk about those memory skills a bit.

While Jenn’s hidden immunity idol made for fabulously dramatic television, the question now becomes: Did it change anything? Joe, Jenn, Hali, and Shirin are still outnumbered by 7-4 if things stay the way they are. But that is a huuuuuuuuge if. With folks like Rodney, Tyler, Carolyn, and Will (who will realize the Blue Collars told him the wrong person to vote for) out there, you can’t help but feel that we may see more flip-flopping than at your local beach club. And I say…bring it on.

And I also say to bring on the exclusive deleted scene from last night’s episode in the video player below. And I say to bring on our exclusive weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst. And I say to bring on our exit Q&A with Kelly. Bring it all! Of course, you can also get all this stuff sent to you by following me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

But now it’s your turn. What did you think of the merge? Who are you rooting for now? Hit the message boards to weigh in, and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy.

Episode Recaps


Jeff Probst leads adventures in the ultimate (and original) reality series.

  • TV Show
  • 40
  • CBS
stream service