Pre-credit sequence. Team Jeff Kent returns to Kalabaw camp. “Denise, we have to give you a break from this Tribal nonsense,” Penner tells the Matsing exile, who has been at every Tribal Council this season and has begun to suspect she may be cursed. Jeff Kent’s figuring Penner is going to help him out eventually, which is why he went against Katie at the last vote. “Thanks guys, for not voting with her,” says Penner, who was surprised that anybody had voted against him. Penner had briefly forgotten that people in “Survivor” lie, but now he’s got his eyes and ears open. “I’d be ridiculously stupid not to,” he says.
Man on Fire. Clouds are billowing around Team Skupin. “Today’s the day I fell in the fire,” Skupin says nostalgically. “So I no longer have an advantage. We’re now in all-new territory for all of us,” Skupin rationalizes. Along comes a boat. It’s good news. “Congratulations… The tribes are merging,” Tree-mail says. Tandang is leaving their camp and they have 10 minutes to pack all of their vitals. For some people, that means socks and stuff. For Malcolm, that means digging up the Idol he buried when he arrived.
Dissolved. Penner runs back to camp with his own corresponding Tree-Mail. It seems that both tribes have to give up their camp, so Kalabaw has the same 10 minutes to gather stuff together. They’re at a decided disadvantage with only four people going into the Merge, but Penner is hoping for dissent in the opposing ranks. Denise wants to stay strong with Kalabaw, but she’s hoping to go back to her original alliance with Malcolm.
Hard Targets. MERGE! Skupin and Penner hug on their new beach. Bad idea. “I believe that a veteran player shouldn’t be winning this game,” says Jeff Kent says, expanding his target-range to include Skupin, as well as Penner. Of course, the All-Star second baseman has other concerns and, as they dig into their Merge Picnic Basket, Jeff Kent thinks his secret continues to be safe. Everybody plays the getting-to-know-you game and Kent continues with his ranch-and-dealership story. Salami! Wine! Pete would like to keep Tandang strong, but he knows RC is a wild card and that Skupin “doesn’t have a brain of his own.” Ouch. “I never made the Merge before,” a giddy Skupin cheers, while also telling everybody about his seven kids. He’s open to making new friends because, as he puts it, “We’re really free agents.” Suddenly Abi is besties with RC again as they try to discuss the possibilities of wooing Denise. RC scoffs at the idea of putting out a “one big happy family” vibe.
On this week’s “Facts of Life,” Blair goes through a young man’s underwear and hilarious misadventures ensue. Shelter-building time. They have piles of bamboo and they’re trying to make their new camp livable. Naturally, this becomes a “manly” task, which leads to Blair Warner inexplicably deciding to hang everybody’s clothes up. She wasn’t asked to do this, but we all know where this is going: Blair Warner finds a Hidden Immunity Idol, specifically Malcolm’s Hidden Immunity Idol. Malcolm thought he had more time to rehide the Idol and he blames estrogen for compelling Blair Warner’s tidying streak, but at least he knows immediately that Blair Warner knows and takes her aside. “I didn’t mean to,” Blair Warner apologizes to him and vows not to tell anybody. “You’re my new momma and that’s just how it’s gonna be,” Malcolm says, telling Blair Warner she’s now in a three-person alliance to the end. Malcolm hopes he can trust “The Church Lady,” while wondering if he wants to go to the end with either of them. “I’m not the only actor on this island, so I could be being played,” Blair Warner says.
“And surely you remember me from such shows as ‘Rude Awakening’ and ‘The Naked Truth,’ right? RIGHT?!?” They’re still just calling themselves “Merged Tribe.” I want a new name, darnit. Ha. Down by the water, Penner sits down with Blair Warner and says, point blank, “Have any of them recognized you yet?” Nice. “I haven’t had to deal with it,” she says. “They’re too young,” Penner laughs. Their conversation doesn’t go any further, but Blair Warner agrees that she and Penner would probably have a great time over lunch in the real world. “Now as with many, many former actors, you get older, so you do other things with your life,” understands former actor Penner. He vows not to blow her secret. Penner turns to his next natural ally, Skupin, noting “the returning player bulls-eye.” Penner offers Skupin his loyalty, but will that be enough? Skupin goes to RC, who says she’s 50-50 on realigning. RC felt ostracized for 17 days by her Tandang chums, so she isn’t sure why she’d want to stick with them. Meanwhile, Jeff Kent, Pete, Malcolm and Artis chat about the possibility of blindsiding Penner. “I’ll join any gang, as long as I can get Penner out before I get out,” Jeff Kent says, though Pete wants RC out first. A plan is hatched to split the vote between Penner and RC, to get one of them out, hardly mattering which. So that sets things up for Immunity: Anybody can win other than Penner or RC.
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Penner. Individual Immunity is up for grabs. For the challenge, they’re each going to hold onto a rope handle connected to a bucket containing 25 percent of each player’s body weight. Eventually folks will drop their buckets. There are two Immunity necklaces, one for men and one for women. After five minutes, Skupin goes out. He’s followed by Pete. It’s hot. People start to sweat. “Penner is out of this game and in trouble at tonight’s Tribal Council,” Probst says when Jonathan goes out. “Well thank you,” Penner says. “Glad you’re on the show, Jonathan,” Probst responds. Blair Warner is the first woman out and Malcolm goes out next. Down goes RC and presumably the wheels are in motion for whatever’s coming tonight. Denise wins Individual Immunity for the women! This is the first time Denise has been immune from any elimination. Artis earns Probst’s respect by respooling his bucket it isn’t enough to keep him around. It’s down to Jeff Kent and Man-Dana. Jeff Kent and Man-Dana try making some sort of a deal about owing each other. I wouldn’t trust Man-Dana enough to keep his word, but Jeff lets his bucket drop and Man-Dana wins Immunity. Artis is pleased with the way things went down and expects the vote-split to take out a foe.
Jeff Kent files for free agency. The new tribe has become “Dangrayne.” I really hope that’s a play on “Dang Rain.” “It’s been a good day, I think, so far,” says a clueless RC, who thinks she and Mike are joining Kalabaw and taking over a majority. Skupin feels threatened and isn’t worried that he’ll be seen as disloyal if he leaves his old tribe. Skupin goes to Jeff Kent and complains about the rudeness of Abi, Artis and Pete. But Jeff Kent very honestly tells Skupin that he has concerns about beating Penner. It’s down to Jeff Kent and Man-Dana sitting on a log for the second straight week. They hold the power, not that Man-Dana understands the math either way. The question is if they fall to the bottom if they leave their old alliance and go to a new one. Penner stops by and pledges his troth, but he believes his people are going to stay with him. Penner’s plan: Take out Pete. “We’re still hanging,” Jeff Kent reassures Pete. “Right now, I’m at a crossroads,” Jeff Kent muses. He wants to treat “Survivor” with respect, just like he wanted to treat baseball with respect. Snort. Anyway… It’s all on Jeff Kent, because it sure isn’t all on Man-Dana.
Tribal Council. In this game, fire represents your life. Jeff Probst explains that this is the first time in 25 seasons that a tribe has reached a Merge intact without ever going to Tribal Council. Skupin is proud of Tandang, but discusses the cracks in their original family. Abi recalls being close to RC, but accuses her of betraying her and recounts the story of the unburied clue. “I trust my actions, not yours,” Abi says when RC protests that she did nothing wrong. I wonder if Abi has watched this season play out and realized she was insane and felt bad about it. Blair Warner says nobody’s going to flip. Jeff Kent says it’d be smart for somebody to flip. Probst’s picking all sorts of wounds, with RC and the returning player and Denise and Malcolm. There’s a lot at play here. Pete thinks there are two Hidden Idols potentially in the game. Jeff Kent says it’s very likely that there’ll be a blindside.
The vote. Abi writes Penner’s name. RC writes Pete’s name. Artis writes RC’s name. Penner writes Pete. Pete writes RC. And Jeff Kent is last and we don’t see what he does. Probst goes to tally. And Penner decides this is the time to play his Idol. Interesting. Let’s see how this goes down. The votes: Penner. Penner. Penner. RC. Pete. Penner. Penner. RC. Pete. RC. RC. That’s it for RC. “That’s the name of the game. The name of the game is blindside,” RC says, sounding fairly chipper and pleased.
Bottom Line. Ultimately, the only person with true agency in this episode was Jeff Kent and I just feel like there was a better way for Jeff Kent to play things. He and Man-Dana bolted from what seemed like a solid 4-person alliance that had been offered the chance to flip the script with the addition of RC and Skupin. They flushed out an Idol which could, theoretically, have been used to help their alliance, while getting rid of a player that the dominant alliance was perfectly happy to get rid of anyway. That being said, if you look at the way the votes went down, Denise and Skupin both voted Penner, so somewhere there was a disconnect in both of the established voting plans that we heard about. If the vote ended up five for Penner, three for RC and two for Pete, there’s at least some wiggle room for Jeff Kent to lie and revise the narrative if he wanted to. And it’s hypothetically six for Tandang and four for Kalabaw, with Skupin and/or Malcolm as free electrons. Because I can’t begin to see what Jeff Kent’s long-term goal is, unless he really and truly literally only cares about beating Jonathan Penner, which would be weird. I know Jeff didn’t like the idea of aligning himself with the two returning players, but this didn’t feel like the right time to ditch somebody who, at least in the short-term, was guaranteed to stick with you. Or does Jeff Kent figure the though he stabbed Penner in the back, Penner doesn’t have any better alliance options and he could still recruit him if necessary? I mean, Jeff Kent kept Penner around last week and booted Katie because he figured Penner might still have value. As of now, it doesn’t seem like he got a lot of value. Meanwhile, Penner’s not playing especially well, is he? Lots of stuff in the air in this episode, which probably makes for a solid episode, even if the person sent home was just something of a non-factor victim.
Your thoughts? What was Jeff Kent’s correct play? Feel free to explain why this was the right move, just don’t be mean…