One of the best things about Survivor 42 is just how in-flux all three tribes are. The third episode saw one of the all-time great Survivor tribal councils, as voting gave way to a heated debate that sent Jenny Kim out the door. In the aftermath, one tribe was split and the others weren’t all that much better. The opening segment on Vati let us know we were in for a good one, as it was clear emotions were still raw and Daniel Strunk had done permanent damage to his relationships with both Mike and Chanelle.

Into that vibe stepped the savvy Hai Giang, who had perfectly played the role of the cold-blooded heel at the last tribal council. Hai is a Survivor rarity, in that he can play incredibly ruthlessly when needed, but also seems to be a genuinely nice guy. He wasted no time bonding with the shell-shocked Mike, and the two formed a powerful new bloc with Lydia – one that pointedly left the feuding Daniel and Chanelle out in the cold.

Things weren’t much smoother over on Ika, where the tribe had been at odds since they first went to tribal council in the premiere of Survivor 42. This is an interesting tribe because it’s hard to see who we’re supposed to be rooting for. Drea is probably the best player on the tribe, but is mostly a snarky gamebot. Rocksroy works hard for the tribe, but can come off as standoffish and domineering. Romeo mostly sits in the back and waits for people to come to him with plans. And then there’s Tori, the officious “therapist” who likes to armchair-diagnose people and scheme relentlessly. The closest thing to a tribal “hero” was probably Swati, the young college student who was playing a smart and subtle game – until this episode, when she quickly formed a pact with Tori to blindside Drea, and discovered just how badly things could go when you make the wrong ally.

As for Taku, things were actually going well, and they dominated a reward challenge race where they untangled themselves from ropes, pulled a heavy sled, and tossed balls into a vertical cage. They made the challenge look easy, mostly through Jonathan’s brute strength – but he then put his foot in his mouth a bit by describing them as a tight four. That obviously made them look like even more of a target, but Maryanne losing her temper over it at camp later seemed like an overreaction. He didn’t tell the other tribes anything they didn’t know, and it seemed like Jonathan was still in firm control of the tribe – especially with him and Lindsay being the only ones with votes at the moment.

All three tribes had their fractures, and in true Survivor fashion, it would come down to the immunity challenge. This one seemed to favor strength, as it opened with contestants having to tow the other tribe members through the water on boats. No surprise that Jonathan led Taku to an early lead, and they kept it after they collected their puzzle pieces and assembled a hanging fish puzzle. Mike and Hai, with one being older and one not exactly being muscular, struggled for Vati but pulled it off – at which point their puzzle team managed to blaze past Ika and clinch the second victory, sending Ika to tribal council.

From there, Ika proceeded to completely self-destruct in a way we rarely see on Survivor – at least since last week. Tori was the immediate target, seen by Rocksroy as untrustworthy. As people talked, though, it became clear that Swati had ties with just about everyone in the game – and had even told them all they were her number one target. The rest of the episode basically turned into Swati and Tori throwing each other under the bus as harshly as possible, ending in a brutal argument at tribal council. To illustrate just how chaotic Survivor 42 is, Swati chose to play her Shot in the Dark – the third time in four episodes someone has done so. It came up snake eyes just like the other two, but this time the vote was 3-1 with Rocksroy sticking by Swati.

So how did Swati’s game go south so quickly? Simple – overplaying. She was definitely the smartest player on the tribe besides Drea, with the others only loosely seeming to understand the game she was playing. But she didn’t know how to minimize her threat level or hold her powder. She’s probably the only contestant who left so far this season who I can actually pinpoint what they did wrong.

With only one episode to go until the merge if last season is an indication, here are the power rankings for the final pre-merge week of Survivor 42.

Ika:

  1. Drea – I saw nothing this week to indicate she’s not still firmly in control of this tribe, with just about everyone dismissing the chance to snipe her.
  2. Tori – She seems set to be one of the season’s big villains, and Drea seems very loyal to her – likely as an easy person to beat.
  3. Romeo – He slipped neatly into this three-person alliance without making many waves.
  4. Rocksroy – He’s trying hard and is the tribe’s strongest player – but with the merge coming, that may not be enough.

Taku:

  1. Lindsay – She’s basically in the perfect position right now, trusted by everyone and not a big enough threat to snipe.
  2. Jonathan – The tribe needs him, but we’re just around the time when that becomes a liability. Still, having his vote means the worst that can happen to him is a tie.
  3. Omar – No vote means possible danger, but he’s still in a tight three and trusted by everyone.
  4. Maryanne – Nothing’s changed here – she’s still four out of four, and her anger at Jonathan didn’t help. But if her tribe survives the pre-merge, look for her to shoot up the list.

Vati:

  1. Mike – What a turnaround for Mike. After losing his #1 ally, he’s now in a tight three-person alliance and likely needed by both blocs.
  2. Hai – As Mike’s new closest ally and the de facto tribe leader, he’s just shy of completely safe.
  3. Lydia – She’s in a good position right now, but it’s possible Mike could flip if her challenge performance becomes an issue.
  4. Chanelle – She’s blown most of her goodwill, but likely has one shield in front of her right now.
  5. Daniel – Lol, yeah, nothing’s changed here. No allies, no real path out, and the injury certainly doesn’t help.
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