Throughout the season, Survivor alum and Rob Has a Podcast host Rob Cesternino will be guest blogging for ET about the biggest Winners at War moments. This week, he recaps how things were shaken up with the tribe swap, and what Boston Rob's elimination means for the other players.
We’re five episodes into Survivor: Winners at War, which means it is time for the always exciting swap episode! Success in Survivor depends on the ability to adapt, and a random tribe swap tests that ability. There was so much to unpack and so much to enjoy; and I’m not just saying that because the third tribe’s blindsided all-star was a different person named Rob this time around.
Before we get into the heart of this episode, we hear some powerful and moving words from Yul. As many in the Survivor community already know, Yul has been outspoken about his compassion for the plight of three-time Survivor player Jonathan Penner, his wife, Stacy Title, and their children, as they fight the brutal realities of Stacy’s diagnosis of ALS. It’s a tough moment watching Yul break down as he talks through the unimaginable trials faced by Stacy and Jonathan, whom many of us, myself included, know and love. You can learn more about their story at http://cbs.com/SurvivorALSinfo.
Back on the sand spit, Jeff wastes no time in telling the castaways to drop their buffs, because it’s time to swap into three tribes of five. The divisions are Nick, Wendell, Yul, Parvati, and Michele on Sele; Sandra, Tony, Kim, Jeremy, and Denise on Dakal; and Sophie, Sarah, Boston Rob, Adam, and Ben on the brand new tribe of Yara.
It’s interesting to see everyone’s reactions in the uncertainty of a swap, especially because the winners recognize that with the pre-existing relationships that are at play, simply having a 3-2 advantage in a new tribe likely won’t be enough to rely on. Ben tells old Sele to “stay true,” which will be ironic by the end of the episode. Boston Rob says that the swap in Survivor Marquesas ruined his game and “that hopefully this time the cards fall in my favor.” (Word hadn’t yet gotten to Rob that this season he should stay away from poker metaphors.) Sandra basically says she’s excited to start voting out some members from old Sele, until she turns to look at Denise staring right at her. She shifts gears and says something about how their new tribe’s “got it going on, cloud nine over here.” Hey, she’s won twice, people.
At new Dakal, Jeremy and Denise are thoroughly enjoying going through a few of Wendell’s favorite things: his swing, his custom-made shelter, his hot sauce. (No word on whether Wendell was allowed to take his stash of toothpicks to Sele.) Though they are in the minority, Jeremy senses correctly that they are “movin’ on up” in more sense than one, because Kim seems more than willing to flip on Sandra and Tony. She shows why so many fans think of her as a top winner, placating Tony and fist-bumping Sandra, all the while ready to stab them faster than she stabbed that eel. And speaking of the animal kingdom, we get to hear Tony plotting with Sandra, separating the players into lions and hyenas. “I don’t want to get eaten by a hyena,” says Tony the lion – which is a good point but seems like a missed opportunity to speak llama.
Meanwhile, over at new Sele, things are complicated -- if not strategically, then certainly romantically. We learn that Wendell and Michele dated, and the impact of the fallout from their real-life relationship seems like it will be a whole thing. “You’re stranded with me now,” Michele says. “Sucks to be me!” Wendell replies. “Is this going to be awkward, Wendell?” Michele asks. “Nope!” Wendell says, awkwardly. Perhaps feeling the love in the air, Nick also decides to tell Parvati that he mentioned at the last Tribal Council that he used to have a crush on her when he was in high school, which goes as well as you would think someone telling Parvati they used to have a crush on her in high school would go. Michele says that even though she and Parvati are in the minority, for the time being, she’s going to totally New-Season-Who-Dis Wendell right off the island when she gets a chance.
Finally, at the brand new Yara tribe, Boston Rob, Ben, and Adam form a majority alliance against Sophie and Sarah. However, it’s clear almost immediately that the three guys are extremely tired of her. They’re almost like friends-of-friends who have been crammed together in the middle row of a station wagon on a road trip for a few days too long. Ben says in frustration about the two, “I can’t get away.” As they air their dirty laundry (side note: airing dirty laundry is literally what sent the great Reem Daly to the Edge of Extinction two seasons ago) in front of Sophie and Sarah, Sophie gets excited, realizing that their alliance has “cracks up the wazoo.” That insight, combined with Sophie’s newfound Yara idol and Sarah’s Steal-A-Vote, gives them a measure of confidence should they lose the next challenge.
Sure enough, after an immunity challenge remarkable only because Sandra actually participated in it, Sophie and Adam botch the puzzle, forcing Yara into an afternoon of frantic scrambling, crazy double-deals, and hushed talks by the well. Or not! Instead, Boston Rob, who famously invented the strategy-halting Buddy System in Redemption Island, puts the entire Yara tribe in self-quarantine. On the surface, it makes some sense; the old Sele three distrust each other so much, that they know their best shot is staying in each other’s sight all day. However, it’s clear that this isn’t the game the rest of the tribe wants to play. Adam says, “It’s just boring,” and doesn’t even seem interested in touching the blade of Rob’s sharpened machete. Ben talks about his favorite carnival foods, but I can’t imagine that entertained the group the whole afternoon. Sarah seems the most disturbed and even offended by it; she labels it “The Buddy System on Steroids,” and more pointedly says that she doesn’t like how “Babysitter Rob” has “put all the kids in the playpen.”
At Tribal Council, Boston Rob defends his strategy. He argues “sometimes, less is more.” But Sophie -- who implied that she may have gotten a couple winks or nods from Adam and Ben -- notes that no one wants to be pawns in the same strategies that Rob has used in the past to make others look bad. In the end, Rob is voted out unanimously, with Ben and Adam turning against him despite the lockdown. Sophie and Sarah somehow get out of there with their advantages intact.
Every Tribal Council this season is painful, and it hurts to see a legend like Boston Rob go out, with his worst placement over the course of his five seasons (unless of course he returns from the Edge). That said, I’m so impressed with how well all these players are playing this season. Winners at War is living up to its hype, and then some -- and as Jeff pointed out, we’re just over one-third of the way to the end of this epic battle. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out!
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.