I’m generally not a fan of Survivor’s over-reliance on twists in the new era. Not only does it often take the game out of the hands of the players, but it’s led to some of the worst twists in Survivor history. But after last week’s elimination of Chanelle in a tense tribal council, we got to one of the best twists in this new era of the game.

That would be the split tribal and double tribal council, which in both seasons resulted in some of the best gameplay of the whole Survivor season. It was a packed episode, so we only had time for a brief lead-in as Rocksroy attempted to push most of the guys in the cast into an alliance. While Mike and Jonathan were initially enthusiastic, Hai and Omar were less so due to their close alliances with women in the game. The alliance left Romeo out, and it quickly seemed like the snarky pageant coach was the odd man out.

But then the contestants arrived at the challenge set, and everything changed. They were divided into two tribes of five by random draw, and the tribes were bizarre. The five men of color – Mike, Rocksroy, Omar, Romeo, Hai – were one tribe. On the other, Jonathan was alone with Lindsay, Maryanne, Drea, and Tori. The two tribes were then set against each other in an endurance challenge involving balancing on buoys, with a winner on each challenge getting immunity. Additionally, the overall winner would win kebabs for their whole tribe.

Hai quickly won immunity in his side, and Jonathan and Lindsay faced off in an extended battle for the other tribe. Ultimately, Jonathan won both his tribe’s heat and the overall contest, and that meant his group would go to tribal council second. One of the things that this episode showed is how the butterfly effect can turn this entire game on its head, and that would be the defining theme of this episode.

The guys’ tribe seemed to have a simple vote – Romeo would be leaving unanimously. But Omar was quickly getting tired of Rocksroy, and didn’t have too hard a time looping Hai in. They had the votes, but Mike was dead-set on getting rid of Romeo and honoring his word to Rocksroy. It emphasized Mike’s commitment to his alliance, but also the older Jersey guy’s occasional inflexibility when it came to the game.

On the other tribe, it was also a question of one guy trying to lead the tribe down his chosen path. Three of Jonathan’s Taku alliance controlled the tribe and Tori seemed to be the obvious boot. But with Drea having multiple advantages and idols, Jonathan saw an opportunity to blindside her. He was convinced this was the best move, with Maryanne as the backup – and he would not be dissuaded by Lindsay’s or Maryanne’s doubts.

At the first tribal council, Mike decided he valued tribal unity more than his word and wrote down Rocksroy’s name along with the rest of the tribe, sending him to the jury – but it wasn’t clear if he told Rocksroy beforehand. That set into motion a chain of events that led to one of the most memorable Survivor Tribal councils in recent memory.

As soon as Drea walked in, her demeanor changed. She saw Chanelle and Rocksroy on the jury, and immediately knew she needed to play her idol. There can be a lot of conversation about whether there was any racial motivation in the two previous boots – given the heavy booting of white contestants early in the season and the fact that Rocksroy’s tribe was entirely POC, it’s hard to say so – but it didn’t matter. Her instincts told her to save herself, and they were right. Jonathan’s brittle response didn’t help, and that may have pushed Maryanne to decide she needed to play her idol as well.

With the two of them deciding to play their idols in a mutual display of solidarity that clearly impressed the jury, it created a unique situation. Only Tori and Lindsay were now eligible for the vote, and in a bizarre turn, the tribe decided to have a vote conversation out in the open instead of voting traditionally. Tori was quickly voted out unanimously, decided to play her Shot in the Dark, and came up empty, bringing a bizarre ending to an episode filled with some fantastic TV.

It’s easily the best episode so far of Survivor 42, and it largely resets the game going forward. Below, the power rankings for week nine of Survivor 42.

  1. Mike – He lost a close ally this week, but he still has connections with just about everyone in the game and the only idol at this point.
  2. Maryanne – This week’s impressive display likely made her a lot of new friends, and she’s not considered a major threat.
  3. Lindsay – Her threat level is low, she’s well-liked and has lots of allies, and has kept her cards close to her chest.
  4. Omar – After engineering the Rocksroy boot, more people may be on to his game. But he has two tight allies and more tricks up his sleeve.
  5. Jonathan – I think he burned a lot of bridges this episode, but his allies may be hesitant to get rid of him this early.
  6. Drea – She still has several more advantages to work with, but her threat level has risen massively.
  7. Hai – Based on the preview, he’s alienated Mike. That’s his closest alliance and puts him squarely in the danger zone.
  8. Romeo – Yeah, it’s not looking good. He has no allies, and the only question is if he can survive long enough to become a goat.
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