New alliances take shape when the tribes merge

By Dalton Ross
November 08, 2017 at 09:00 PM EST


S35 E7
  • TV Show

Hey, everyone! Welcome to another Survivor recap. If my math is half a good as Chrissy the Human Calculator’s, I believe I have written approximately 440 of these over the years. Wow, that is really…depressing. Imagine all I could have accomplished had I actually focused my attention on something other than fame-hungry wannabe reality TV stars starving on a tropical island in exchange for camera time. (What, you think they’re actually there for the MONEY?!?)

But no, I chose to waste my life away on this. A decision I oddly stand by…as long as I don’t think about the thousands of hours of my life I devoted to such an endeavor while ignoring my wife and children. (Quick: Calculate how much more time I have spent writing Survivor recaps than Ryan was able to spin a ball!) Anyhoodle, you all have been kind enough to join me on this journey for what is now getting (way too) close to two decades, and I do thank you for that. But I’m sorry to say there will be no Survivor recap this week.

THAT’S BECAUSE WE GOT SOMETHING BETTER! That’s right. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Official Outback Steakhouse™ Survivor recap. Yes, the steak authority will be in charge of this week’s recap. And because Outback Steakhouse™ lives by Aussie rules, which are no rules, that means anything goes, people!

Perhaps we’ll have a #PurpleHatAlert. Maybe I’ll trade in my beloved Milwaukee’s Best for a Fosters Lager. And instead of ending with a scoop of the crispy, what say we throw another shrimp on the barbie, mate? Up is down! Black is white! Kangaroos and koala bears living together in harmony while toilets flush backwards!

By the way, can we pause for the cause to give props to this year’s cast for knowing how to score some extra camera time by breathlessly fawning over a corporate sponsor? It never fails. Exhibit A for this shamelessness is Coach after the South Pacific movie reward, in which he gave his rave review to the cinematic masterpiece Jack and Jill:Jack and Jill. Loved it. Adam Sandler — personally, I’m a fan. It was funny, but at the same time, there was a message and that message was, ‘Hey, family comes first.’” That’s weird, I always assumed the message was, Don’t think that mining for cheap laughs by cross-dressing will still actually work in the year 2011. (A message evidently not received by ABC, who then aired the similarly horrifying Work It a year later in 2012.)

But this cast of newbies acted like seasoned pros when it came to effusive corporate sponsor praise. “The steak just falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. It feels like it’s straight out of a dream,” cooed Cole in a line that sounded straight out of a TV commercial (which is exactly what this was). “Oh my God, that is so good,” a semi-orgasmic Devon sighed. “Best steak I’ve ever had,” said Lauren with about as much emotion as Lauren can ever muster. “Amazing,” agreed Ryan. (Jessica also proclaimed, “I love your thunder from down under,” but it remains unclear if she was actually talking about food or to Cole.) And then, the pièce de résistance, as Ben closed the proceedings with a completely unnecessary “Thank you, Outback Steakhouse™!”

The whole thing was insanely over the top, but since this is the Official Outback Steakhouse™ Survivor recap I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Outback Steakhouse’s™ incredible line of Aussie-Tizers®, including something called Kookaburra Wings® that kind of makes me throw up in my mouth a little. Now, see, that’s exactly the type of line that would not get me on television. So I guess I would be “deuces” like my man Joe. But before I can do that, let’s recap this S.O.B. while we chow down on Steakhouse Mac & Cheese Bites®!

But really quickly before we do, just two things to which I would like to draw your attention. We have our exclusive mid-game interview with Ryan, where he explains the thinking behind all his moves, and whether he actually wears red turtlenecks in real life. And we also have the long-awaited Part 2 of our 35 former Survivors looking back at their time on the island. This time, we have the fan favorites sharing personal, intimate, disgusting, and sometimes heartbreaking stories of their most painful memories while playing. It’s a fascinating read and I highly encourage you to read it right here. (You can also see their favorite memories right here in case you missed that.) Okay, back to our regularly scheduled recap!

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

The episode begins over at Yawa after Tribal Council, with Chrissy simultaneously saying how she felt so bad for Ali but also had to try really hard to keep from grinning from ear to ear. She also opines that she is “dominating the social game on this tribe” because both guys are closer to her than to each other. Sure, that’s a little braggy, but it’s also an excellent point. That is exactly the situation you want to be in, and Chrissy has maneuvered quite well. (Is it just me, or is Jersey killing it this season? Garden State, y’all!)

Of course, the situation is about to drastically change because of the merge, but before we can get to that we have to see how everyone is about to die. That’s not me speaking, either. Those are the contestants themselves. “If we don’t get food today, we might die,” says Ashley. See! And Devon concurs, informing us, “My brain feels dead.” And while there is no doubt a very mean joke to be made there, I am not going to be the one to make it. Of course, this is all a big set-up to the big merge feast that will save them all, and there are a few amazing things I’d like to point out about Probst’s merge/feast announcement and what followed. (Recap continues on next page)

First off all, I love the way production went to all that trouble to fool the contestants (and viewers) into thinking it was not a merge. They even set up an entire three-tribe challenge that would not be run. There were boats out in the water, balance beams, platforms, bags of puzzle pieces, and then some mystery station at the end. Did any of it mean anything? Probably not. But think about all the work that went into setting that up FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! That is commitment! And then Probst kept the commitment going as he tried to convince the players that they weren’t going to get a merge feast. “That is not going to be the case today,” he told them.

It couldn’t help but remind me of Hollywood Week on American Idol, when the judges would separate hopefuls into rooms and then walk into one room and be over the top trying to convince them they had been eliminated when in fact they were moving on to the next round. It would invariably involve Randy Jackson saying something along the lines of “Yo, dawgs, it was a really hard decision. Unfortunately not everyone can move on. I just want to take some time, yo, to thank everyone for all their hard work. You know, just because you don’t make it through here does not mean your hopes and dreams are dead. So, yeah, again, I’m really sorry to tell you…THAT YOU ALL MADE IT TO THE NEXT ROUND!”

They literally did that once and said they were sorry to tell them they had made it through. I get that it’s a fake-out, but it makes no sense. None whatsoever. Why would you be sorry to deliver incredibly good news to people? Than again, I don’t know why I’m expecting sense out of the show that once dressed Clay Aiken up as a pimp to sell Ford Explorers.

The only thing greater than the elaborate no-merge-and-no-feast double ruse was watching the reaction of the contestants upon learning they were, in fact, merging. Well, the reaction of one contestant in particular. And that would be Ryan, who hit truly Fishbachian levels of futility with his attempt to high-five someone. ANYONE! Seriously, someone just put your hand up and Ryan will find it! Alas, nobody wanted to be on the receiving end of his attempt to “slap some skin.” And you know what that means. What that means is that someone needs to make a GIF of that, toot suite.

Another thing I love about the merge feast: Does Outback Steakhouse™ not realize that The Chocolate Thunder from Down Under sounds like something else entirely than what they intended? Like, did that ever come up in any sort of meeting at all? Did that conversation never happen? Because I probably would have had that conversation. I mean, I wouldn’t necessarily want my customers having to exclaim things like “Mmmm, I need some chocolate thunder from down under, if you know what I’m saying. I just can’t get enough and all I want to do is stuff it into my mouth.” I’m not saying that is something that is uttered on a regular basis in Outback Steakhouses™, but why even run the risk? Just call it Chocolate Explosion. Okay, maybe that’s not any better. In fact, I think that may actually sound worse. Vanilla Delight? Nope. Dammit! At this point even a simple Chocolate or Vanilla Dessert sounds dirty.

But holy moly, did you see the size of those beers?!? Devon — who was starving, and probably the worst thing he could have had at that point was a bottomless mug of alcohol — was mesmerized and couldn’t put it down. He even was rocking that pseudo-stein in his confessional interview! And then there was Joe, who ordered two steaks and three desserts. I’m sure he felt fantastic about an hour later. (#SevereGastrointestinalDistress)

Of course, food is not the only thing going down. Strategy talk is taking place as well, and it continues back at the new merged tribe beach — a merged tribe that apparently goes by the moniker Solewa, which is no doubt the name of someone’s goldfish, favorite EDM band, or special childhood blankey.

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

Jessica says she feels like the queen bee because she has an instant alliance with the Yawa five plus the two other Healers in Desi and Joe. Using Chrissy’s math skills, that makes a majority. But other people have other plans. Ryan and Devon immediately rekindle their odd couple bromance and talk about making a Heroes and Hustlers alliance, but first they have to get the others on board. Ben seems game because he is certainly no fan of Cole. “He’s selfish,” says Ben, “and I don’t think Cole respects anyone here. He just respects himself.” (If that is the first nail in Cole’s coffin, the final nail could be the one literally sitting right on top of the clue or advantage that Cole did not notice even though he had it in his hands.)

But while Ben may be on board to get a Healer out, Lauren appears to want no part of it. After Devon tells her the plan, the centerfielder of over 25 years immediately reports back to the Sex Doctor to tell him what is afoot. Why Lauren does that instead of biding her time and considering all options is curious to say the least — especially when you consider her vote later. But then we see Ben doing some the same thing, informing the Sex Doctor that Devon wants Joe or Cole out.

Interesting that Lauren and Ben are feeding intel to someone they will eventually vote against. I’m not sure what it says about Ben and Lauren’s game, but am sure it says good things about the Sex Doctor. People like him and want to work with him. Maybe this means Ben and/or Lauren could come back around to siding with him at a later time. Or maybe they just saw that episode of TLC’s Sex Sent Me to the ER where the woman put Pop Rocks in a place where Pop Rocks should not be put and want to keep the Sex Doctor around to find out whether that would actually lead to a real medical emergency or not. (By the way, let’s hear it for the reenactment actors in the following clip.)

(Recap continues on next page)

Regardless, this is exactly what we want from a merge episode: two different plans lining up, with people in the middle who must decide which way to go. The merge episode is almost always one of the best episodes of any season, and this installment is no different. Look, this season hasn’t been stellar. I think most of us are in agreement on that. Not all of us, of course — because it is impossible for Survivor fans to agree on anything — but most of us. The challenges have been for the most part great, but something about this cast has just not popped as a whole. Don’t get me wrong: There are still people I like and find intriguing, and I’m still into it — but it has not reached the heights of some other recent fantastic outings.

But even though the season has been only okay, this merge episode definitely put some pep in my step watching and waiting to see how everything shook out. Speaking of which, we now need to wait a bit longer to see how it shakes out while we go to the first individual immunity competition, and to celebrate the occasion, Probst is sporting his Sunday best (orange hat) and staring at his feet just to perplex me for the millionth time.

Now, after I just said how awesome the challenges have been this season, I have to talk about a challenge that was less than awesome. But let me clarify: I actually think this competition, in which the players had to stand on a narrow beam while spinning a ball on an inner circular track, is pretty cool. I like it. The only problem I had with it is I’m not sure how much it worked as a spectator sport. The fun in watching endurance or balance competitions is spotting the signs when someone starts to falter. When someone’s stack of plates starts shaking, can they get it back on track? When someone starts to lose their grip, can they fight through the pain? Some of the thrill of watching comes from tracking how each contestant is doing. But what happens when you have no idea whatsoever?

My issue with this contest is that everyone was just kind of in until they were out. Again, I actually like the competition itself. I’m just not sure how intriguing it was to watch. But here’s a piece of advice for all future contestants. IGNORE JEFF PROBST! Ignore the s— out of him! Probst is a bit of a chatterbox during challenges. Some people make fun of him for that, but I actually like it and think he does a really good job of narrating the action. (You think it’s easy? Go try it for 30 minutes straight sometime.) But if I were a contestant, I would not listen to a single word that man has to say, and the Sex Doctor is the perfect illustration why.

After Probst just made an off-hand rhetorical question about how many people would be doing an activity like this on a Sunday afternoon in their backyard, Sex Doctor answered, “Not even me, Jeff!” And he then immediately dropped his ball. In a competition where focus is everything, Sex Doctor lost his to offer a witty interaction with the host. And then lost. Rookie mistake! If I were out there, I would never react to anything the host did or said — especially during a competition that required constant mental attention. It wouldn’t matter, of course. No way I win this one. But I would rather be eliminated for being terrible at ever-so-slightly shaking a tube with a ball than because I decided to get cheeky to impress the dude with the dimples.

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

In any event, big props to Desi for outlasting Ashley to take the first individual immunity and earning the right to wear that dope-ass necklace. I love that thing. Not quite Medallion of Power-level fashion, but close enough. Anyway, back we go to the Solewa beach, where Cole is working overtime on damage control due to his copious consumption of cinnamon sticks. He apologizes to Ben for his “food habits,” but Ben’s not having it. “He’s offended me this whole time I’ve been at camp with him,” says the easily offended former Marine.

Their conversation is fine and all, but it’s nothing compared to the one that follows between Cole and Joe. Cole warns his fellow Healer that he’s heard both their names mentioned, to which Joe gives the most Joe response imaginable: “Not to toot my own horn. I should be [out] 1 or 2.” That’s so great on so many levels. Normally, you would never want to tell anyone under any circumstances that you should be the first one voted out. A true stealth assassin operates completely in the shadows — kind of like a Sith lord, now that I think about it — but Joe clearly worships at the altar of Tony Vlachos.

Seeing as how Tony is one of my favorite players ever (and certainly the most entertaining), I can’t help but be down with all of Joe’s loud and proud shenanigans. The guy makes good theater. Do I think that is smart gameplay? Of course not! But there is something so intoxicating about watching someone play full pedal to the metal. It’s like downing one of those bottomless beer mugs from Outback Steakhouse™. It just feels right. God, I’m thirsty.

As for the vote, the Healers seem to be setting their target on Chrissy. Why? Math. And I don’t mean her ouster will do something specific in terms of the numbers moving forward. I just mean she is good at multiplying small numbers on the fly and I guess Sex Doctor finds that intimidating on some level. But the real wild cards here are Ben and Lauren. They can go with the Healers to form a majority of seven, or form a different seven majority with the other Heroes and Hustlers. (Recap continues on next page)

So off to Tribal we go to see how it plays out. But really, Tribal is all about two things: Joe. And Mena. First off, Joe says he “smells bulls—” on everyone saying they are nervous it could be them going home. He then proceeds to inform everyone why they should vote him out because “I’m strategic, I’m physical, and I’m a smart dude” while simultaneously arguing that there are bigger threats than him. This is followed up with both a rhetorical question (“Are you about that life?”) and a proclamation (“Because I’m about that life”), neither of which makes a lick of sense to me because he is seemingly speaking a different language at this point — a language that is far too awesome for me to fully understand. I’m not quite sure what life he is about and if I am about the same life that he is. I’m about life, I’m jut unclear on whether or not I am about that life.

But he’s not done. He’s not even close to being done! This is Joe Freakin’ Mena we’re talking about! He’ll be deuces when he says he’s deuces! Until then, grab your Volcano Shrimp® and enjoy the show. As soon as someone mentions that Joe had found an idol, The Mena Event (and yes, I am hereby trademarking that nickname) swept into action, standing up and exclaiming, “Did I say I found an idol? No, I found idols. Every camp I go to I’m gonna find an idol. So let’s switch up the game. Let’s not talk about this vote. Let’s talk about next vote.” As he dons his new jewelry, you just kind of wanted to pretend you are in a 1990s feel-good sports movie and start slow clapping with equal parts vim and vigor.

I actually assumed by wearing the idol that Joe would not play it — that he was just bluffing and saving it for a later vote, but if Joe Mena has a bullet in the chamber, homeboy is gonna fire. You know why? BECAUSE HE’S ABOUT THAT LIFE! But this time, it proved to be a waste. The votes begin to pile up for the Virgin on one side and the Math Whiz on the other. We sit tied at 5-5, and it is finally time to see what Ben and Lauren will do. I actually assumed when push came to shove they would stay with the Healers. I thought wrong. The next two votes go to Jessica. The poor woman got Figgyed! Just like the way Taylor got to stick around while his smarter, better half was sent packing in season 33, now clueless Cole is still in the game while his showmance partner is ousted.

But did Ben and Lauren make the right move? I’d have to say…probably. While I don’t think anyone is particularly tight with Joe, they still would have been two on the outside looking in at that five-person Healers group. There seems to be much more fluidity within the Heroes–Hustlers alliance, and Ben could be a good candidate to be in a final 4 pact with Ryan, Devon, and Chrissy. I don’t have any idea what to make of what people make of Lauren out there. I feel like I have no grasp at all on how she is viewed. But at last she is viewed. I mean, did anyone even see JP in this episode? Did he get lost on the way to the merge or pass out somewhere after chugging a Gold Coast Rita™? I seriously cannot remember ever laying eyes on him. It’s like he got Roarked this entire episode.

Watch Fan Forum: Survivor on People TV here, or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

So now we wait to see if the new majority alliance of seven will hold, and if Joe can find another idol, because you have to figure now that he used one that he will be target numero uno. That’s what I love about the merge — it basically becomes an entirely new season. Maybe this will be the next Caramoan (a season I know most people dislike greatly but I feel actually had a very strong post-merge run of episodes). Or maybe it won’t. But at least we now have a chance of things picking up.

And now it’s almost time for me to go from picking up to packing up. However, I first would like to draw your attention to all our bonus Survivor goodies. Goodies like an exclusive deleted scene above. Goodies like our weekly Q&A with Hostmaster General Jeff Probst. Goodies like our exit interview with Jessica on at 9:40 a.m. ET on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105), which you can also hear later on the EW Morning Live podcast. And goodies like our merge interview with Ryan and the 35 Former Players Sharing Their Most Painful Memories. Plus, for even more nonsense, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Now it’s your turn. Did Ben and Lauren make the right move? Who’s in the best spot moving forward? Do you love or loathe Joe’s shenanigans? Hit the message boards to weigh in and I’ll be back next week with another scoop of the crispy!

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