SURVIVOR

This week's episode, "We Made It to the Merge!," brought controversy to the forefront of "Survivor."

The eighth episode of “Survivor” began with something unexpected a parental advisory warning.

At the episode’s start, there were 13 castaways still in the game, and as any longtime fan of the show knows, it was time for the merging of the two tribes.

The castaways had an inkling that they’d be merging this episode, so Kellee took time to search for the rehidden idol that was played at the previous night’s Tribal Council. She eventually stumbled upon it, meaning that just one day later, it was back in her possession.

Once the two tribes met, they had a feast to celebrate making it to the merge, a staple of “Survivor.” Some castaways met each other for the first time, while some reconnected with those they hadn’t seen since the tribe swap days prior.

Missy and Kellee met each other for the first time and bonded over their discomfort regarding Dan’s behavior at camp. An overarching storyline this season has highlighted Dan consistently touching the female castaways. He was seen putting his hands in Kellee’s hair and placing his hand on the waist of a sleeping female castaway in the shelter.

As a result, members of the production team had an off-air conversation with the castaways regarding the inappropriate behavior. Dan was issued a warning, and the game continued with the consent of the castaways.

This aspect of the episode was something that’s inspired numerous conversations online. Only a few episodes in the show’s history have been as controversial as this one.

Following a strong start to the season, the content discussed in this episode was unexpected. The audience was well-aware of Dan’s tendencies and how some female members of the tribe perceived it, but seeing the impact the situation had brought the gravity of it to light. This topic spawned a series of off-putting conversations and events in this two-hour episode, but more on that later.

At the first individual Immunity Challenge, castaways had to hold a board at a certain height. If they dropped it too low or pulled it up too high, balls would fall off their board. The last castaway to have a ball on their board would win immunity and be safe from the all-important and often game-changing first merge Tribal Council.

The challenge came down to a showdown between Aaron and Jamal, with Aaron ultimately securing immunity. Jamal fell to the ground at the end of the challenge due to the heat, and Karishma rushed to his side. This somewhat hidden moment in the episode was a great complement to a scene earlier in the season when Karishma badly cut her hand with a knife and none of her tribe members came to her aid while she was on the ground.

Before Tribal Council, Kellee realized that since the merged tribe was on a new beach, it meant a new idol would be hidden. She searched the beach and found her second idol of the episode. Finding one hidden immunity idol is difficult enough, but Kellee finding two in such a short period of time proved that she’s one to watch this season.

The target for the first merge vote-off was up in the air. Dan was in consideration due to his behavior and discomfort he caused other members of his tribe. Missy and Kellee were also brought up, as they were seen as strategic threats.

At Tribal Council, the situation regarding Dan’s behavior was discussed, but not nearly to the extent viewers would see later on in the episode. It inspired many meaningful conversations, but in the end, the castaways protected their games instead of voting with their emotions.

Once Jeff read the votes, Kellee was blindsided by a vote of 8-5. Dan received the remaining votes. For the second time in “Survivor” history, a castaway was blindsided while possessing two idols.

The second half of the double episode began with the fallout of Kellee’s blindside. Janet was especially hurt because she was willing to put her game aside and attempt to eliminate Dan for the well-being of the girls who were uncomfortable in his presence.

Janet explained how alone she felt to the audience since the girls who came to her with concerns about Dan ended up keeping him in the game, meaning Janet was on the outs. Knowing she was in trouble, Janet found a hidden immunity idol.

Janet called out Elizabeth and Missy for what they said about Dan. They initially denied it, but once confronted, Elizabeth admitted that she discussed her discomfort with Janet shortly after the merge. The other tribe members attacked Janet, saying they believed she was fabricating or exaggerating parts of the story. In reality, Missy and Elizabeth were the ones who spun the situation.

Everyone involved in attacking Janet for discussing the facts of the situation has already received significant backlash on social media. Some castaways also issued formal apologies for their behavior. Thankfully, the editing of the episode gave the audience perfect insight into what really happened, which made watching Janet get bombarded with accusations all the more frustrating.

Circumstances such as these are what make “Survivor” such a compelling show. While the show centers around the gameplay and strategic decision-making, at the end of the day, it’s still a social experiment and a microcosm of life. Large-scale issues like these making their way onto the show remind the audience that they’re observing real people facing real issues.

The following morning, Jamal and Karishma saw a note hanging from a tree branch at camp. With hidden immunity idols and advantages seemingly everywhere this season, Jamal rushed to retrieve it. The note instructed him to go to the Island of the Idols immediately.

Once Jamal arrived, he was greeted by Rob and Sandra who told him to open the second part of the note, which said that he lost his vote at the upcoming Tribal Council. This was surprising, as almost all of the items found at camp are advantages for the castaways. Rob then told Jamal that his lesson would be on the art of sabotage — a lesson he’d already learned the hard way.

Rob and Sandra then gave Jamal a blank piece of parchment and a pencil, telling him that what he made of it was up to him. With seemingly endless possibilities, the duo encouraged him to make the most of the opportunity.

Jamal decided to turn the paper into a fake legacy advantage, which has been given out in the show’s previous seasons; Its first appearance was in season 33. The advantage works similarly to a hidden immunity idol but can only be played at certain points in the game. When an individual holding the advantage is voted out, they must transfer it to another player still in the game.

When Jamal returned to camp, he told his tribemates that he had to give the advantage away to one of them. He gave it to Dean and said it was because it was his birthday. This was an interesting choice, as the audience hadn’t seen Dean and Jamal interact more than a few times. This choice led the other tribemates to believe the advantage was forged.

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Jamal’s lie joined the growing list of poorly executed lies from castaways who returned from the Island of the Idols.

At the Immunity Challenge, the castaways had to hold onto a rope behind their backs as they were lowered toward the water. The last male and female to avoid falling in would win immunity.

Aaron and Missy secured safety, which was a dissatisfying moment in the episode considering their prior behavior. Back at camp, Jamal, without a vote at the upcoming Tribal Council and in the minority alliance, was scrambling for support. 

At Tribal Council, Dan’s behavior came up yet again, but this time, the castaways had far more to say. Dan was visibly frustrated with host Jeff Probst for once again bringing the situation to the forefront, but Jeff reminded him that it was serious. Dan repeatedly implied that the situation should be “let go,” but Jeff told him and the rest of the tribe that he’d never allow that.

As Kellee was a jury member, she observed the conversation taking place at Tribal Council but was unable to comment. Seeing the individual most impacted by the situation not able to comment on it was difficult.

As the conversation progressed, Janet was once again accused of exaggerating the story, which was hard to watch. She told Jeff she felt so hated by her tribe that she was considering quitting the game despite the fact that being on the show had been a dream of hers for years.

Seeing such a huge fan of the show consider walking away helped the audience understand the severity of the situation. Janet was now an outcast on her tribe for speaking out about what many of the women on the tribe refused to publicly discuss.

Aaron stated that if Dan’s behavior really was an issue, he and the other tribe members would’ve been made aware of it. One of the episode’s silver linings was Jamal’s response to this comment.

Jamal told Aaron and the rest of the tribe that the mindset Aaron was exhibiting was part of the reason why assault survivors can be hesitant to come forward. He explained that none of the tribe members were entitled to know that some of the women were uncomfortable, and believing that they were owed the information allows incidents like these to be swept under the rug when they’re brought to the forefront.

The other members of the tribe encouraged Janet to stay in the game, and she did. After the votes were cast, Janet played her hidden immunity idol despite only receiving two votes. Jamal received the majority and was sent home.

After such a strong start to the season, this episode took a dark turn. However, with 11 castaways, including Dan, still in the running, there’s still plenty of time to see how this storyline impacts the rest of the players and the game.

Contact Connor Murphy at breezenews@gmail.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.