How do you analyze the gameplay in a week of Survivor where the game doesn’t really matter? That was the problem with Survivor 42’s pseudo-merge episode, coming on the week of the dramatic elimination of Daniel Strunk. Once again, the remaining twelve castaways would be gathered for an unusual challenge – one where the winners could wind up being the losers. That’s right, it’s time for a repeat of the worst twist in Survivor history – the fake merge.

Survivor has had a lot of twists over the years. Some were good and some were bad. Some were fair and some were unfair. However, none ever quite undermined the game so much as the merge twist last season, which apparently created a full revolt among the players. But none of these players knew about it or could prepare, because the two seasons were played back-to-back. So these twelve contestants lined up, were split into two teams, and had two people – Lindsay and Rocksroy – left out.

This season did improve the twist in a few minor ways, such as giving the team some warning that the person sent to Exile – which would ultimately be Rocksroy – would gain a mysterious power. They also gave the winning team the chance to switch someone from their own team out for the power. However, these were both minor patches to a gaping wound, and one factor made it even worse. That would be Jonathan, the modern Hercules who may be the best physical player in Survivor since Mike Holloway. Whichever team got him was essentially guaranteed victory – which meant failure.

Sure enough, Jonathan’s team of Hai, Maryanne, Lydia, and Tori won the challenge with ease, sending Mike Drea, Chanelle, Omar, and Romeo to tribal council – or so it seemed. However, at the exile summit, Rocksroy went into zen mode, shared a little about his past, and made comments about being glad his wife wasn’t there to nag him before inevitably smashing the hourglass and giving himself safety.

The combination of both these episodes into one double-length episode improved the quality quite a bit, instead of ending the episode on a cliffhanger where everyone knew the ending. However, it didn’t improve the fact that this is a wildly unfair excuse for a twist and turned the best physical player in the game into its biggest target through no fault of his own.

Sure enough, the target shifted to Jonathan quickly. The powerful athlete bonded with Mike, the other strong provider in the game, and the two shared a powerful moment at the beach. However, this led Romeo to go on an elaborate rant about how he’s tired of the big guys dominating the game, and soon it seemed like Vati and Ika might team up against the Taku ringleader. But the target was also on Tori, who was seen as untrustworthy along with Chanelle, and on Maryanne, who had her own tribe ready to sacrifice her.

At immunity, a tense stacking competition where one wrong move could send the entire pile of letters crashing down, Tori claimed immunity and it seemed Jonathan’s fate was likely sealed. However, his closest ally wasn’t willing to let him go down without a fight, and Omar quickly started rallying votes for another target – Lydia, who had mostly slipped under the radar before now. By this point, there was very little time left in the episode for scheming, so Tribal Council came as a bit of a surprise. The vote was split, with all of Jonathan, Maryanne, Lindsay getting votes – and Lydia getting seven to become the final pre-juror, including her close allies Hai and Mike.

Was this a better merge episode than Survivor 41’s? Yes. Was it still a complete disaster of a Survivor episode? Yes. This twist need to go away and never come back, end of story. But the game marches on.

Below, the power rankings for week seven of Survivor 41.

  1. Mike – With an idol in his pocket and a big shield in front of him in Jonathan, he’s likely in pole position right now.
  2. Omar – Clearly the best manipulator in the game at the moment, his social game likely makes him the safest Taku.
  3. Lindsay – Like Omar, she’s playing well but residing well under the radar at the moment.
  4. Hai – While he’s playing a good game at the moment, he did just jettison his closest ally without much explanation.
  5. Drea – She’s fairly well-known to be a manipulator, but her many advantages give her a good chance at surviving for now.
  6. Maryanne – While she was in danger this week and her personality can be challenging, her low threat level and idol will likely keep her safe for a few rounds.
  7. Jonathan – His alliance won out, but he needs to start winning challenges or some of them might see an opportunity to snipe him while they still can.
  8. Romeo – Putting himself in the middle of a major vote dispute and targeting the biggest player in the game is a great way to increase your own target size.
  9. Rocksroy – Completely out of the loop, as his Lindsay vote showed. That puts him behind the curve as they look for new targets.
  10. Chanelle – She’s burned most of her allies and has no real support system. The only thing keeping her from the bottom is that someone else has done worse.
  11. Tori – Yeah, she’s only in this until she loses a challenge, then it’s likely a unanimous vote right out the door.
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