Jeffrey Neira / CBS

Survivor Feels The Urge To Merge

The tribes converge, the gameplay ramps up, and there’s a surprising amount of nudity (and talk thereof).

Gathered For The Feast

Survivor wisely spends very little time dwelling on the fallout from last week's very uncomfortable Tribal Council, in which Zeke was outed as transgender not only to an unwitting tribe, but to America as a whole. Sarah reiterates that her conservative upbringing left her with no frame of reference for this knowledge, but that she loved Zeke from Day 1 and respects him even more now. Tai is concerned about the real-world repercussions Zeke will face after the episode airs. For his part, Zeke's still not happy with what went down, but he takes the incident as an opportunity to face his own fears. Inspirational music swells as he declares that it's made him a stronger man, and now he's ready to go back to playing for a million dollars.

Okay, now back to the game. At Challenge Beach, Probst stands in front of what looks to some like a merge feast (and a mysterious, covered item). But before he can declare them merged, he says, there's one more decision they need to make as a tribe: one member of each tribe must volunteer to sit out the merge feast. If nobody volunteers, the feast goes away, and everyone gets one cracker and a swig of iced tea from beneath the mysterious cover.

Getting To Know You

Culpepper immediately volunteers to sit out the feast: naturally. Zeke muses that Culpepper is clearly trying to improve his image over his first stint on Survivor, in which he mostly came off as a domineering blowhard with some lady issues, and judging from everyone's reaction, it's working. After some hemming and hawing, Tai volunteers as well, and the merge is declared official.

Everyone feasts, apart from Brad and Tai, who are happy enough to reconnect and discuss who's in and who's out. Debbie pretends to get wasted in order to paint herself as less of a threat, but mostly she manages to come off as batty and unhinged; in other words, she changes precisely nothing about her tribemates' perception of her.

Who Are You Calling Chicken?

The newly merged tribe plays catch-up. Brad, Ozzy, and Troyzan start figuring out who they want to target: it's down to Michaela or Hali. They settle on Michaela and inform everyone who is not Michaela. The only thing to do now is make sure Michaela doesn't find out. But Zeke, who has a deal with Cirie, Andrea, and Sarah, sees that Michaela is a potential number for him, so he contemplates switching things up.

Also, there's a chicken running around, which is usually reliable for a laugh or two, but this time around, basically the chicken runs around and everyone is all, "Hmm, there's a chicken running around." Riveting.

You Blockhead

Nobody's really been talking strategy to Hali, except to tell her that the vote will be for Michaela, so she's starting to realize that if nobody wants her opinion, they probably aren't really working with her. Which would be fine for this vote, except that not only does she know she'll be next on the chopping block, but she kind of wants to work with her. "She could be a number for me," says Hali, which would make her numbers...two. It's a start, though.

Michaela makes an overture to Cirie, who sees a lot of herself in Michaela, so she provides some coaching: mainly, Michaela needs to keep a lid on her temper.

Individual immunity is an endurance challenge we've seen a couple of times, in which the Survivors each have to balance a block on their heads while standing on their toes. Gone are the days when everyone stands on logs for nine hours while Jeff Probst tries to lure them off with food; Probst has been with the organization long enough that he no longer has to work those kinds of hours. At first, this challenge feels grueling enough that it can practically play out in real time; eight people drop out in the first five minutes. But then Tai and Andrea wind up going for nearly half an hour, which is about twenty minutes longer than Probst expected, judging from the quality of his vamping over the course of the challenge. He reminds us that this is the thirty-fourth season of a show called Survivor, on which he is an executive producer, and-- oh, thank God, someone (Andrea) finally wins this.

Hali Gets Stripped Of Her Status In The Game

Sierra catches us up on strategy: the vote is for Michaela, pretty much everyone is in on it, and she's the one in charge. Zeke and Cirie, realizing that losing Michaela loses a potential ally for them, aren't into it. While Sierra chortles about how she's running the game, Cirie starts to lay out a plan. Michaela will vote for Zeke, per the decoy vote Sierra has suggested to Michaela, and Cirie will work some other magic behind the scenes.

Much speculation abounds that Hali may have an idol, and when this comes up at Tribal Council, she flat-out offers to dump out her bag and be strip-searched. She won't do it unless asked, though, she says, and she seems a little disappointed when nobody takes her up on the offer.

Voting time! Cirie votes for Michaela, reporting that it's intended as a move to save her, and now I REALLY have no idea what's going on. The votes shake out: six votes Hali, five votes Michaela, and two votes Zeke. Hali calls everyone "dumb" on her way out the door, although really, the move that led to her ouster was, in fact, pretty smart: Cirie somehow got the entire rest of the tribe to do her bidding -- half of them apparently without even knowing it.

More Scheming

The next morning, Cirie explains that it's time to rally her troops and start going after threats. Sierra or Brad seems like a logical target, since, as Cirie explains, "Sierra is controlling Brad, who's controlling Troyzan." There's a lot of filler talk right here whereby various members of the current majority faction of Cirie, Zeke, Sarah, Andrea, Aubry, Michaela, and Ozzy weigh the merits of voting out one of their stated targets versus turning on the people they are allegedly aligned with. It feels sort of like there's a producer standing just off camera with a checklist, asking each of them to provide a soundbite about the pros and cons of voting out pretty much everyone else. So at this early juncture it's actually pretty much impossible to tell who's really with whom right now.

Robe Hard And Put Away Wet

Jeff glosses over the particulars of the Reward Challenge in favor of spending an extra-long time discussing the reward itself -- particularly the details of the clean, white cotton robes and towels they'll get to enjoy on their spa trip. Jeff doesn't usually get all sexy about the reward items unless they're sponsored by someone, although it's been at least four or five seasons since they've suckered some poor corporation into attaching their name to a challenge, so it's still kind of a surprise when he reports that this reward is brought to you by Marshalls -- a surprise on many levels, really, starting with the fact that nobody's ever gotten this aroused by a bunch of bath towels from Marshalls.

Zeke, Troyzan, Tai, Ozzy, Debbie, and Andrea end up winning the reward, mostly due to Zeke and Cirie's spectacular puzzle skills.

Marshalling The Troops

The team of Survivors who've been cruelly deprived of sexy, sexy towels pretend to be devastated over losing their challenge; even Cirie is prompted to describe how low this has brought her.

Meanwhile, as everyone raves about how great Marshalls is for giving them this reward ("Thanks, Marshall!" says Debbie), the reward winners start talking strategy. It turns out Zeke really was sort of serious about targeting Cirie or Andrea, apparently, because he does discuss this with his reward-mates with some degree of seriousness.

Also, Tai runs around naked for awhile, maybe to show everyone he doesn't have an idol (except he totally does, if you'll recall), or maybe in the hope that someone will give him clothes so he can become a free elf.

An Informal Pole

Immunity's yet another endurance challenge; this one is the classic hug-a-pole challenge. Probst points out that Sierra and Ozzy have done this one before, and while Sierra didn't win, Ozzy's 2 and 0 when it comes to this challenge.

When it's down to just Tai and Ozzy, Ozzy threatens not to go fishing for the tribe if he doesn't win the challenge, but Tai doesn't bite. The two are up there for what feels like hours after everyone else has dropped out, and eventually, Tai emerges victorious.

Ozzy’s Ouster

Zeke, continuing his plan to turn on his alliance, spills the beans to Sierra that his alliance is planning to vote her out. Unfortunately, he's overheard, which turns most of his former alliance-mates against him. Sierra and Debbie discuss the option of going along with this and voting out Zeke, but eventually they decide that blindsiding Ozzy is a better plan.

At Tribal Council, almost everyone thinks they know what's about to go down, but they are understandably cagey when Probst tries to draw them out. Ozzy spends a lot of time talking about how his fishing is keeping everyone fed. Andrea votes for Zeke with some measure of venom: "Terrible move. You suck at this game. Hope I see you never." Cirie describes her vote as a chance to “spice things up a little bit.” Debbie decides to use the extra vote she won on Exile, and she employs it to cast an extra vote for Ozzy, who's summarily blindsided. On his way out, Ozzy sardonically wishes everyone "good luck eating."

When the votes are revealed, it's notable that both Zeke and Cirie have voted for names -- specifically, Aubry and Sierra, respectively -- that were not thrown around by the majority of the group. It's fairly easy to suss out who's with whom and why at this point in most seasons of Survivor, but honestly, I have absolutely no idea what's going on right now...in the best way possible.

Verdict

The twin Tribal Councils are absolutely worth a watch, and maybe also the pre-Tribal scrambling, although it almost doesn't even do much to elucidate what you're watching. But there’s really no reason to sit through all two hours of this episode.

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