Coming back from tribal council, Will has just had his Survivor Bar Mitzvah. Today he is a man. He's changed his LinkedIn to add dragon slaying as a skill. He tells us that he's got this game on lock. He can flip back and forth, voting out the power brokers one by one, to the end. But in the famous words of Dan Foley. Flippers. Never. Win. Or at least eighteen year old flippers named Will who are playing on a game stacked with super and super duper fans.
Bret is frustrated with the young man. He doesn't understand his decision to flip at all. That's fair. Will was in a good spot and had a close ally in Jay. I don't think he needed to Make a Big Move™. What I don't understand is the following quote from Bret: "I'm used to tribal council going my way. Again, it didn't go my way." So which is it? Maybe this best describes Bret's game thus far, he is badly playing his way to the end and somehow still here to talk about it. Confusingly.
|So, it's us three to the end, right?|
He easily gets Zeke's old allies on board. Right now, Bret and Sunday would write down anyone's name so long as it wasn't theirs. Hearing that Adam would like to turn on David now is music to their collective ears. Adam adeptly gets Bret and Sunday to buy in on David, Jay and Will being the three most dangerous remaining players and ignore that perhaps the young, smart, super duper fan with the great idea may be your biggest threat. They're on board and agree that David is public enemy number one.
Good thing they didn't choose Jay as their target as he made short work of the immunity challenge, flinging the disks through the holes with near surgical precision as David weakly sent them randomly down the ramp. While putting on a challenge clinic, Jay had time to notice just how ineffective David was. So afterwards, when he and Will plan their next move (part of Will's flip-floppy operation pendulum), Jay suggests Ken as the next target. He is the most physically fit competitor and Jay's biggest competition. But Will knows that Ken will win precisely zero votes, not even a pity one from his friend Jessica, if he makes it to the end. He wants the target to be David. Jay's fine with that. He knows that it won't be, can't be him.
Buoyed by this conversation, Will then puts his Make a Big Move™ Part II into effect. With his confessional playing in the background we see him pull Bret, Sunday, Hannah and Jay in on his plan...his plan...to target David. And then, because the Survivor gods do not mind boasting or hubris, he tells us that no one is calling the shots there, no one is telling him what to do, he is in charge.
David of course sees all these conversations and quickly notices that they are all going on without him. And without his closest friend on the island, Ken. He also knows that the last tribal council pitted him against Zeke as a clash of kings. With one conquered, it is now time to take out the other. But David is not one to just accept his fate. So he, off screen apparently, prays to the Survivor gods to send him an angel.
Here comes Adam. He sees that David is still a threat, but he's an obvious one. He's on the radar. He's been a bit defanged of late and his position of power is more illusion than reality. But Will, that young man is starting to let his new found power go to his head. Suddenly, the High School senior is schooling the college grads and seemingly running the show. Adam decides that Will is a bigger threat right now than David. And this is true, especially for Adam. David and he have a loose alliance whereas he and Will have until the last vote never been on the same side. Adam can foresee Will turning on him sooner than he can see David doing that. David is predictable, Will is not. And that makes him the bigger danger.
|Hannah, just once can you vote my way?|
But Hannah is still troubled. She feels she owes Will for voting out Zeke. She feels she owes David for going to rocks for her. She feels like she owes Aubry for not winning last year so they decided to give the nerdy adorkable girl another go. She has a lot of obligations and she can't pay them all back. Survivor is hard. But not for Adam. He can say things like "Hannah and I are in a power position" and it not come back to bite him. Someone is looking more and more like the winner.
At tribal, the jury comes in. Michelle looks cute, Taylor looks goofy, Chris looks pissed, Jessica looks Ponderosa hot and Zeke looks like he should sue his hairdresser. Most are happy to see Jay has the immunity idol. Jeff does a little recap and the focus is on Will and his Make a Big Move™, then Hannah puts his move in perspective. Everyone has at one time worked with people and against them. As the game goes on, especially as it moves to the end game, "you want to work with the people who want to work with you." Similarly, Adam says you want to think about who you will sit with at the finale, but you also have to think about getting to the finale. And at that point, Will should have been worried. Because what Hannah and to a lesser extent Adam were saying is choose loyalty over the Big Move™.
|Mom, I just played Survivor.|
Jay does bounce right back every time he's knocked down. As soon as they get back to camp, he asks Adam to go off and chat. Jay knows he's good for at least one more vote since he has the hidden immunity idol and with his physical prowess he might even make it two more tribal councils. But he also needs to at least try to make something happen to get himself up from the bottom. He tries to mend the demoslished fence between them, telling Adam that theirs has been a Yin/Yang type of relationship, butting heads while sppreciating the other. And we certainly have seen that dynamic play out as they time and again failed to come together and consistently targeted one another.
Adam plays Jay like an old Sega game (I'd assume fiddles are harder to play) and gets him to believe that David is his main target. But Adam knows that he has to get rid of Jay and his hidden immunity idol before anything else. To make this happen, step one is to make sure that Jay does not win the next immunity challenge. And so, with the challenge going and Jay starting to pull into the laad, Adam gets the idea to help Ken. He keeps his eye on Ken's ball (obligatory ball reference, nailed) while Ken is trying to remember how to spell Millennials and, eventually, Ken does win. It does not go unnoticed by anyone, especially not Jay, that Adam wanted Ken to win, but the story Adam conveyed to him was that it was David who was getting close and he had to make sure that he didn't win.
Jay knows where he is in the tribe and so is upfront with everyone. I'm voting out David. Please join me. You can vote me out later, but I just have to outlast David and Will. Nice try, Jay. They may not think they can vote you out tonight, but they're not going to keep you around to win your way to the finale. But Adam's play tonight is a little "b" big move. In a perfect world, he gets Jay to play his immunity idol and David goes home. That takes out the biggest strategic threat and gives them the chance of being able to take out the biggest physical threat before the end.
But Adam knows, acutely, that this is not a perfect world. This is a world where his mother is fighting for her real life back home while he is here fighting to give her something to look forward to. So he has to keep his wits about him and figure this all out. How best to move the pieces around to get to the end so this can all be worth it. It's a tremendous amount of pressure that he has put on himself and it's no wonder that the before and after of Adam after 35 days looks a lot like the before and after of Barack Obama after eight years as leader of the free world.
|David, don't look but there's a cameraman right behind you.|
So she and Ken talk to Adam about the plan. But Adam's idea is a slight tweak on Hannah's. He wants to put the votes on David. Ken is not happy with that. David is his closest ally left and he doesn't see him as a threat at the end. David is his friend. Hannah is not happy with that. David is her closest ally, well, you get the point. David has played a masterful game of building real, tight, solid, impenetrable bonds and Adam is having trouble breaking them. Hannah wants to vote out Sunday instead as the backup should Jay play his idol.
Adam is worried. His worst case scenario is coming back from tribal council with David and Jay (plus his idol). How to keep that from happening while not losing the support of Hannah and Ken? He works on the bond that he and Jay have built, and the fact that they are too familiar with one another and too far into the game to BS each other. So he tells Jay, you're going to have to play your idol. I'm not going to vote you out, but I'm not going to let you hang around with that much power.
|I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship|
And then in one of the best moments of television I've ever seen - not just in the reality TV genre, but in anything broadcast over the last fifty years - the two young men have a real conversation. It's so raw and painful that I felt like I was invading their space to even watch it, but I know it's a story that Adam wants to share. Yet the first surprising thing we all discovered as he started talking was that this was the first time Adam was speaking these words to anyone in the cast. Adam told Jay his secret, what he's been holding in all these weeks. About his mom. About what his brother told him. About what she means to him and what making it to the end means to his whole family. And Jay understood and related on a deep, personal level. And the game was put into perspective and they were two young men playing for their mothers, not for fame or the money or as a lark. They don't want to get to the end, they have to. And the two formerly squabbling Millennials forged a bond that will far outlive this game.
We wipe away the tears and the game talk continues as Hannah and Adam powwow. If Adam and Jay are bickering brothers, he and Hannah are an old married couple. He tells her what he wants and she says that's nice dear but this is what we're going to do. She does see David as a threat but she also sees David as her friend. As much as Jeff said at last tribal council that being liked won't win you Survivor (tell that to Michele from Season 32), Hannah tells us that she can't vote out David because she likes him.
She then says that if you can get people to change their minds and vote the way you want them to, that's how you win Survivor. So who will get their way, Adam or Hannah?
Right out of the gate, Jeff brings it back to friendship and alliances versus strategy. David, naturally, votes overwhelmingly for friendship. And why not? That's what he's worked on cultivating all game long. Form episode one's "Bret, Chris, I trust you. I trust you," David has worked on building strong interpersonal bonds. But his success is what makes him a threat. The ultimate double edged sword of Survivor. Have fewer friends, you're not that much of a threat, but then there's no one to fight to keep you around. And that is squarely where Sunday finds herself. She cultivated precisely one tight ally, Bret. So when her name came up, there was no one to argue against it.
Still, David is not in the clear. Not only does his name come up, but Adam makes a great case for why he should be voted out. He has friends, he works hard around camp, he's made a stunning personal transformation. If he gets to the end, no one has a better Survivor story than David. He almost sells it too well and, if Jay were paying attention, he might have thought he was safe and kept his idol for another rainy night.
|Kids, I just lost Survivor.|
Did that constitute a "Big Move?" Not exactly, but she made a move, swung a vote, protected an ally and got rid of someone who stood in her way. I was impressed.
Did Adam do the right thing? If he voted out David, he, Jay, Bret and Sunday would be the tight majority and Hannah and Ken would have been on the outside looking in. Neither of them have any relationships on the other side of the tribe and would have been easily picked off next. Then the only question is would Jay have won the final four immunity and then joined with Bret and Sunday voting off Adam. I'm not sure that either vote was the better one for Adam.
Going into the last two hour episode of the season, there are six players left. And, as if preordained, there are three Millennials and three Gen Xers among them. As we split up the remaining six, winning immunity seems more important than ever. Ken has an advantage that he can use on Day 36 and we will finally discover what it is. If it's something that can help him win immunity, then he's on to the final five. The vote will then come down to who is perceived to be the biggest threat. Jay, who can win challenges and has friends on the jury, David, who has the strongest remaining bonds, Adam, who secretly has been playing an artful social game, Hannah, who looks like the goat but actually has a pretty strong resume, or Bret who has flown under the radar, making few enemies along the way.
Looks like it will be a fantastic finale.