Survivor 45 — The Merge Episode Reaction

jfish
10 min readNov 2, 2023

Episode six of Survivor 45 is in the books! Well, how about that? We’ve witnessed history. Let’s dive into what happened.

Bruce the Not So Fun Uncle

The merge is a huge part of the game of Survivor (but you don’t need me to tell you that). Castaways interact with other tribes for the first time and new strategies open as the game transitions to the individual portion. A lot of the merge is making a good first impression, and that means being a little more chummy than you normally would be. Drew wants to talk Pokemon, you act very interested. Katurah makes a snide remark about a certain middle aged man, you agree with her. Kendra starts hissing like a cat, you don’t judge her for being such a Libra. If Sifu pulls out the air guitar routine for the tenth time, you humor him with yet another laugh.

It seems our fun uncle did not get the memo that you are supposed to be nice to everyone and not rustle (ruffle) any feathers. Bruce got paranoid on the beach because he sees all these introductory strategic conversations happening without him involved, and he start hunting down his “Belo Strong” contingent and campaigning against someone who seemed to be an ally: golden boy and “God’s gift to Survivor” Kaleb. Bruce was part of the majority alliance in Belo but beyond the obvious hate he gets from Katurah, the rest of his tribe preferred keeping him at arm’s length because he is an inflexible and pushy strategist. Bruce’s bulldozing behavior at the merge further cemented his shaky position among his own allies and makes him even more susceptible to a blindside. But Bruce has a lifeline: he found the rehidden beware idol on Lulu beach and dug up the advantage right before being boated off to the merge. This idol can not only save him if he feels the heat in the future, but also gives his fellow Belo tribemates a reason to stay aligned with him, so they can keep the power of an idol on their side.

Reba vs Belo Gets Put on Hold

I think the most surprising thing that played out at the merge is the lack of Reba vs Belo energy emanating from this group. There was a tribe swap which in theory muddies the lines, but the way castaways were split essentially kept the original tribes separate. Everything was pointing towards tribal lines reigning supreme at the merge. That’s not how things played out, and I can’t pinpoint the exact reason why. Maybe because everyone was assuming the “Earn the Merge” twist would be in play, people were hesitant to draw lines in the sand. Maybe the desire to take out the extra members of their own tribe (like a J. Maya) reigned supreme over taking out numbers on the other side, since both original Reba and Belo never got a chance to vote out one of their own. Maybe this is just the sign of the times, where new era players are more likely to co-mingle amongst warring alliances rather than keep their metaphorical walls up.

If I had to pick a reason, I think it was the groupthink that evolved to target certain threatening players. I found it interesting that when the tribes were split up after the earn the merge challenge and talking tribal council strategy that both halves came to the same conclusion on who to vote out. J. Maya’s insistence on playing an aggressive strategic game combined with her lack of real power in the group of Reba players made her an easy vote for both tribes. And Kaleb’s physical strength in challenges combined with a social game that came off as way too aggressive became an agreeable vote for both sides as well. There was no reason for a war to break out because both Reba and Belo could agree on which threats to vote out first.

Shot in the Dark Shocks Everyone

So because of the “Earn the Merge” challenge, only six players were up for elimination: Kaleb, Emily, Dee, J. Maya, Jake, and Kellie. Two targets emerged from that group, as I had stated earlier: Kaleb and J. Maya. It seemed the vote was leaning towards J until the two halves got together, and Bruce bulldozed through the camp in order to get his primary objective of sending Kaleb home executed (with some actual support this time). Reba grouped up and determined it was better to keep J. Maya on their side as an unaware queen and vote Kaleb, which with Bruce would give them the majority. Belo fell in line with them after that because losing Kaleb is not losing a Belo number, since Kaleb was clearly playing the field and trying to be a swing vote. Emily throws Kaleb a bone and tells him he is in trouble, so Kaleb scrambles very hard by not only spilling information about Bruce’s idol to Reba, but also by using tribal council to openly go after J. Maya and the Reba girls in general.

Kaleb’s seemingly perfect game came crashing down in 24 hours. Kaleb actively worked to ingratiate himself with every member of the merged tribe with his salesman charm and hand-talking, but when you work with everyone you are aligned with no one. He overplayed and came off as a major social threat, making a big target much bigger and raising his threat level to unavoidable. In trying to lower his threat level he made more enemies, most notably by going off-script at tribal council. He tried a logical approach at tribal council which felt completely flat, because his thesis was that he was not a major threat in the game. Trying to argue to people that you aren’t a threat while simultaneously trying to call out the people you are trying to win over as bigger threats just dug Kaleb’s grave even deeper and did nothing to help his cause.

Kaleb was aware enough to know he was screwed and opted for the shot in the dark. He rolled the dice, and it worked. Fortune smiled upon Kaleb and he hit on a 1 in 6 chance at safety, rendering all the votes against him useless. Surprisingly, the whole tribe voted against him without a split… no one threw a burn vote against another person in case of a scenario like this one. I can understand that, because a burn vote like that would absolutely alienate you moving forward with one of the alliances if shot in the dark came through like it did today (see Chanelle burn voting Mike in Survivor 42). That safe parchment was devastating for J. Maya, and forced her out of the game as the easy alternative in the revote. While J wasn’t long for this game as it stood, being the victim of dumb luck is truly brutal… I guess going home due to shot in the dark puts you in the Survivor history books, but if it was me I’d rather be the victim of a carefully crafted blindside than the randomness of this twist.

So let’s go bigger picture: now that we’ve seen how shot in the dark can change the game, do we like this? Introduced in Season 41 as one of the first “New Era” twists, shot in the dark offered a castaway who felt sentenced to death by the vote a last chance gambit at safety. For four seasons, shot in the dark had been used but never affected the outcome. Only Jaime in Survivor 44 had drawn the safe piece of parchment before this, and it was in a situation where she received no votes. Like many new era twists, this is just an injection of suspense and shock and awe for the sake of suspense and shock and awe. Minimal skill is required to play the shot in the dark, especially when things are so obviously not going your way like it was with Kaleb. Enjoyment of the twist is solely dependent on who got saved and who became the victim. So I’m sure Kaleb fans were elated to see him get a second chance, and J. Maya fans will cry foul and say she got robbed (which she did in all honesty).

New Era Survivor enjoyed injecting randomness and chance into the game as we saw with the Do or Die and Hourglass twist, but fan reaction caused those types of games to get removed. Shot in the Dark survived because the situational impact of the dice roll was rare enough in execution to not cause drama. In the end, I feel pretty neutral about the whole thing. We should be thankful that J. Maya, a minor character in the grand scheme of things, went home over someone like Emily. If Emily went home there might be riots in the streets (then again… if Emily went home here she probably wouldn’t have had such a main character focused edit this season). A successful idol play will always hit me more than a successful shot in the dark play: plain and simple. Hearing “Kaleb, does not count” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Wentworth, does not count”, given that Kaleb lucked into this compared to a shocking idol reveal.

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Most Unfair Twist: Earn the Merge Random Teams

How about a different twist to complain about? Earn the Merge once again favored the randomly generated team with more physical players. Or, to put it another way, the team with more men. As much as Jeff tried to sell us that the Red team with the four smallest girls in the game had a chance at coming back, the Blue team won this challenge wire to wire and it wasn’t close. A puzzle is only a great equalizer in a challenge if the puzzle is actually difficult, and if the people casted on the show aren’t all fairly smart, white collar office workers. On top of that, now half the tribe gets a huge feast based on random teams. Survivor is starving these players, so once extra meal is a huge advantage for the winners. They should do a schoolyard pick for the earn the merge challenge in the future. Wouldn’t this be more dramatic, involve risky strategy, and offer a better opportunity for even teams in an insanely important challenge?

Most Entertaining Tribemate: Dancing Stick Bug

My funniest moment of the episode was watching these people who just met each other act like cringey weirdos over a stick bug at camp, trying so hard to look like sociable and nice people and not cutthroat strategist, followed by Drew and Austin talking strategy while you hear these people literally dancing in camp over a bug. I could not handle that if I was on the beach. I would rather get a colonoscopy than have to humor Sifu and Kendra in this manner and pretend like I’m vibing with a bug that looks like a stick.

Best Running Joke: Austin’s Sandwiches

I am all in on my strategic himbo’s quest to punish the people that kept him away from a mediocre looking six-inch sub. I continue to drink the kool-aid that we are watching a Fabio-esque winner’s edit with Austin and I will die on that hill.

MVP of the Episode: Shot in the Dark (and Kaleb I guess)

Let me be real with you here, because that’s what I do on this blog… I thought this merge episode was kinda boring. It was a lot of strategic posturing and not a lot of strategic action. The fact that Shot in the Dark worked saved this episode.

Goat of the Episode: J. Maya

It could only be her. Goodbye, my unaware queen. You probably weren’t long for this world, but you didn’t have to go out like that.

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PLAYER TIER LIST:

QUITTER PURGATORY

18. Hannah

15. Sean

OUT OF THE GAME

17. Brandon

16. Sabiyah

14. Brando

13. J Maya, Unaware Queen

BOTTOM OF THE TOTEM POLE

12. Kaleb

11. Bruce

Yes, Kaleb survived. But don’t forget the fact that literally everyone voted for him, and he only made himself more of a threat by burning bridges to save his skin and nullifying votes in a historic manner. His saving grace is if Bruce continues to piss off people and Kaleb is used as a decoy to eliminate the fun uncle and his idol.

IN AN ACCEPTABLE, BUT NON-THREATENING POSITION

10. Sifu

Absolute win for Sifu! The person who voted Sifu is out of the game! Except J isn’t the one that voted Sifu and he bought the deception wholeheartedly from Dee and Julie. This is the fodder everyone on Reba needs to make him their goat at the very end of it all… unless we are supposed to be laughing with Sifu and his kooky strategy hijinks and not laughing at Sifu.

IN A GOOD PLACE

9. Katurah

8. Kendra

7. Jake

6. Kellie

5.Emily

4. Drew

3. Julie

The outcome of this merge has muddied up who exactly between Reba and Belo is in power… I give Reba a slight edge as they pose a more unified front than Belo.

2. Dee

Just want to give Dee some shine this week. I like how she has navigated the game, even with the whole Sifu mishap, and I think she’s gonna be a force as we travel through the back half of the season. This probably means I’ve now cursed her and she is going home next episode.

IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT

1. Austin

He now has a traditional idol, but if Emily and Kaleb were observant enough they would have noticed that someone sacrificed their vote this week a la Sabiyah. But even if they noticed, there’s too many people in the game to really pinpoint who didn’t vote. And if Austin completes the sandwich revenge tour, he will have two idols in his pocket to go along with his strong Reba alliance. Now that’s power.

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It’s looking like next week is split double tribal council week. Will the game be flipped upside down in the next episode?

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jfish

Reality TV connoisseur writing about the shows I like, especially Survivor. I also watch the Challenge, the Bachelor, Love is Blind, and more.