Credit: CBS

Let’s start off by addressing the elephant in the room (no, I’m not referring to that whole Chris…situation): I am clearly not Dalton Ross and could never be Dalton Ross even on my best day. But — much like our beloved Dalton, who is enjoying some much-deserved time away from his computer — I am a Survivor superfan who is standing in front of superfans asking them to tolerate his recap.

Now, there’s no faster way for a contestant to get on Jeff Probst’s bad side at a reunion than bringing up their “edit.” But I think even Mr. Probst would have to admit that the “previously on…” recaps at the beginning of each episode provide viewers a good indication as to what strategic moves or social blunders we need to keep in mind the most as things play out over the following hour. There have been a few episodes this season where these recaps have gone the way of the car reward challenge or Francesca Hogi. And I’ve missed them — not just because I have people over to my apartment every Wednesday for “Winesday” to watch the show and drink a little too much wine, but because I believe, while the show does not necessarily edit people to change their personalities, they do have a vested interest in showing us a winner’s (or at least finalist’s) journey. They even did a great job in season 21 of making us kinda root for Fabio to win Survivor: Nicaragua…. Okay, that might be a stretch, but you get what I’m saying, right?

This week we did get a recap, and it was all about Wardog. (I refuse to indulge his use of a preposition before his nickname.) While I can’t imagine hiring a lawyer that sounds like Wardog, it’s hard to find anyone left on the main island that’s playing as hard a game as he has been. I’d argue that he doesn’t need to be playing as hard of a game as he has been, but at least it makes for good TV.

On the opposite side of things is Lauren, who, up until Wentworth’s blindside at the end of last week’s episode, seemed happy to coast to the end with her ride-or-dies. Lauren came out of the gate hot, finding an idol and picking an alliance she felt comfortable with to survive the decimation of their competition-cursed tribe. But — whether it be because of complacency or inability to eat the rice or both — she has basically been passed out (in one way or another) for the past few episodes. At the beginning of tonight’s episode, Lauren was on the wrong side of the numbers for the first time in a long time, but she also was ready to get to work and target Wardog or Rick. Here’s how things played out.

Going to War…dog.
Lauren wasn’t the only one whom Wardog betrayed, and the law student knew he had some damage control to do for leaving Gavin and Julie in the dark at Tribal. In a move of (attempted) master manipulation, Wardog actually turned his blindside into a reason to be “mad” at Gavin, basically saying that not being able to trust him with the blindside plan was a sign he was justified in not telling him about the blindside. But Gavin put his own spin on that spin and lamented to Victoria — who I keep waiting to become a frontrunner — and Ron — who I keep hoping will run away — that Wardog spoke to him “like a dog.”

Taking things better was Julie, who apparently didn’t mind at all that her closest ally, Ron, didn’t tell her about the Wentworth vote. But to solidify their ongoing trust, Ron told Julie about Aurora’s extra vote, which she’d given him to curry favor before last episode’s Tribal. (Everyone drink! Aurora is relevant to the plot!)

Ron already had one foot out the door of his new alliance, contemplating working with Gavin again, when Rick (or Devens? Can everyone just decide to call him one or the other?!) called a meeting of the minds between himself, Rick, and Wardog to reason that “We’re each other’s biggest threat and we’re each other’s only hope.” And that’s not a bad argument. Wardog seemed to agree with his former nemesis and a plan was hatched to gun for Aurora for the 100th time. (Drink again!)

Ron — still undecided between going with the “threats” or the “goats” — nodded along to the conversation, but really who knows where this wily coyote will end up.

Treat Your Body
The reward challenge had the castaways split into two teams: Lauren, Wardog, Rick, and Julie vs. Ron, Aurora, Gavin, and Victoria. It started with two members of each team competing in a relay race in which they had to swim under a platform to retrieve rings that their two teammates then tried to throw onto three poles. The reward, as Jeff put it, was to “treat your body” (which sounds like a Mariah Carey song title) to mud baths and a meal of sandwiches, chicken, shredded pork, roast beef, salad, wine, juice, and brownies. Yay, juice!

After a false start from Wardog that literally made me spit out my drink, Ron and Wardog ended their leg of the relay practically tied. The Lauren vs. Aurora leg did not end as closely, with Aurora continuing to dominate physically in a way that would get me way more excited if we knew her better as a character. Tossing the rings were Gavin and Rick. Gavin quickly lost his team’s lead and Rick pulled out a win. <Cue a super awkward bro hug between Rick and Wardog in the water.> Julie and Victoria basically did nothing this challenge but stand next to Rick and Gavin on the platform. This truly is the least physical final 8 I think they’ve ever had on the show. Bonus points to Ron, though, who left the challenge with one of the cleanest dives I’ve ever seen on Survivor.

The Power of Group Hugs
At the Edge of Extinction — a place that would have worked so much better as a digital companion series à la Top Chef’s Last Chance Kitchen or as a supplemental series like RuPaul’s Drage Race: Untucked — Wentworth was not enjoying life. Her fellow returnees (well, minus David) tried to comfort her with positive energy and hugs, but the three-time player couldn’t let her blindside go. Reem was not as kind to the newest “Edge” resident, voicing her frustration with Wentworth’s role in voting her off the island. I’m shocked I’m saying this, but if there’s ever been an argument for bringing back someone eliminated on day 3, I’d have to say it’d be for the loose cannon that is Reem.

The Rice Nazi
Back at camp, the losing team used Rick’s performance in the challenge as an excuse to discuss voting him out. Aurora, Victoria, and Gavin were quick to solidify the plan. But, predictably, Ron kept his options open. Less predictably, he gave Aurora back her extra vote, hoping it would build trust— either so he could work with her moving forward or shock her with a blindside. It seemed as though the latter might be more in his plans after the two got in a fight over how much rice to cook for their loser meal. “Aurora, you’re not the Rice Nazi” may need to be cross-stitched on a pillow.

The vibe was far more jovial on the reward where it just felt odd to see Rick and Wardog — who spent so much of the previous episodes plotting against each other — rubbing mud on each other’s back. Failing to see Lauren and Julie as plausible threats, Rick and Wardog took the spa day as a day off from the game. But if watching Survivor teaches you anything, it should be to never take your mind off strategy. While the men showered off, the women plotted to work together. The only hitch? Lauren was hoping to vote out Rick while Julie saw Wardog as Public Enemy No. 1.

The Floor Is Lava!
The immunity challenge began with, basically, a game of The Floor Is Lava! with the castaways hopping from hurdle to hurdle and then pushing a buoy through a tunnel of netting. Next was an army crawl under some netting. As I’ve mentioned, this is a very physically unintimidating final 8, but I give them kudos for keeping it a tight race. There’s not a Sandra in the bunch (Don’t @ me. That’s said with love, she’s my Survivor queen. #ICanGetLoudToo.)

The final stage was a puzzle. According to Jeff, it was coming down to Rick and Aurora when the swell of music made it seem like Rick was about to solidify his safety yet again— but he stumbled on his final piece and realized he’d gone off course along the way. It appeared like Aurora was going to come from behind to clinch the necklace when it cut back to Rick putting in his final piece and scoring his second immunity in a row. Rick Devens, on a list of the top 5 least-likely Survivor challenge beasts?

The Devil You Know
After the challenge, most of the tribe was fine with voting out Wardog. But Ron said he saw two options: going with Aurora, Victoria, and Gavin to get rid of Wardog; or voting with Rick and Wardog to get rid of Aurora. (I guess he assumed Julie would just do whatever he told her to do? And Lauren wasn’t even a factor in his thinking.) Wardog quickly got Ron to say yes to the Aurora plan but Julie gave him the business. “Why should I believe you after the last vote?” Julie asked him. I can’t get a handle on Julie. One minute she seems to be sticking to her guns and willing to make a big—smart—move, and the next she’s just doing what the last person she spoke to told her to do. I was a little shocked when Lauren told Julie she was down to vote Aurora out over Wardog. I give her points for being willing to put feelings aside and go with what she thinks is best for her game… but is that what would be best for her game?!

Aurora—finally getting the screen time she was denied all season—pulled Ron aside to talk about the most important thing in this game after immunity: trust. Ron confessed there is no reason to question her trust. But was he just telling her what she needed to hear so he could blindside her? Another pre-Tribal commercial break where I had no idea where things were going to land. Ron knows what makes good TV, I’ll give him that.

Playing to the Jury
Kelley Wentworth the jury member may be just as interesting as Kelly Wentworth the tribemate. With her vocal and visual reactions to big moments at Tribal, she was the star of the final act of the episode— as Rick and Gavin both acknowledged her excitement to their immunity win and Wardog takedown, respectively.

A lot of the drama of the episode was rehashed, and not a lot of new information was provided during Tribal. Wardog and Rick acknowledged their status as threats, Wardog bringing Ron along into the “cage” along with him in regard to Wentworth’s blindside. Jeff pushed the tribe on the subject of what constitutes a threat, and everyone agreed that the answer changes every day out on the island. All in all, one of the calmer Tribals of the season, with no one making hail-Mary accusations or rallying for a last-minute change of plan. “This is gonna be really good,” Julia said as the votes were being tallied. Yes Julia, it just might be.

No one played an immunity idol and the votes went as such: Aurora, Wardog, Aurora, Wardog, Wardog, Wardog—a mouthed “not me” from Rick to Wardog—and, finally, Wardog.

“They got revenge for me,” Wentworth told her fellow jury members. “It’s gonna be a rough night on Edge.” Okay, maybe I take back what I said about Edge of Extinction being better as a companion series…

In the final moments of Wardog’s post-vote testimonial, he was shown arriving at Edge to a waiting Reem: “Listen, dude, you can bet your rear end you’re gonna get it from me tomorrow.” #TheReturnofReem (@ me all you want.)

Next week is the Family Visit episode, which always makes me cry. (The wine probably doesn’t help that situation.) But if you need more Survivor in your life between now and then, stay tuned for our weekly Q&A with Jeff Probst. And, again, I appreciate you giving this poor Dalton substitute a chance. I’m always on Twitter (@PatrickGomezLA) and excited to discuss the latest Survivor craziness — or Big Brother, or Amazing Race, or Top Chef, or Project Runway… basically, if people are competing for a cash prize, I’m into it.

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