While this episode may not have had the most exciting tribal council, it was still really good. There were a lot of moments in the lead up to the end that make this episode a stand out and continue the strong start to Survivor’s 34th season. Let’s get right in to this tribe swap episode.

The episode wastes no time in getting right into that tribe swap they had been promoting all week. As the tribes come in Nuku is very surprised to see Tony gone and Sarah verbally says that she cannot believe it happened. Jeff then asks everyone what they think is happening and Zeke correctly points out that it is going to be a tribe swap. Everyone is super nervous about this as they blindly draw their buffs from a tray. They open up their buffs and lo and behold there is now three tribes. Michaela knowing all too well what a new colored buff means tells Troyzan that means he is starting over. After everyone gets to their mats the tribes of broken down like this:

New Nuku (blue):
Sandra, Varner, Malcolm, Michaela, Aubry and J.T.

New Mana (red):
Debbie, Sierra, Tai, Brad, Caleb and Hali

Tavua (the new green tribe):
Cirie, Sarah, Andrea, Ozzy, Zeke, and Troyzan

These tribe breakdowns are very interesting because it has broken down as such that the new Nuku tribe has 5 old Mana members and 1 old Nuku member, the new Tavua tribe has 5 old Nuku members and 1 old Mana and the the new Mana has 4 old Nuku and 2 old Mana. This provides for some very interesting tribal dynamics to come. Right away Probst calls out the existing Tai and Caleb relationship and brings up the stolen kiss moment from Koah Rong. Tai ends up kissing Caleb on the cheek and in hindsight that was probably the kiss of death. Probst also points out that Troyzan and J.T. might be screwed because they are the only members from their respective old tribes to be on their new tribes. He then tells Tavua that they will be starting over. They will have a pot, some rice, fishing gear and a few other supplies, but will have to build a new shelter.

From there we head to Nuku where J.T. shows his new tribe members around the camp. The old Mana members are amazed by how much the Nukus had done to create an amazing camp. There are chickens running around free and there are even decorations. Malcolm and Jeff cannot believe their luck and are amazed at how awesome their new camp is. Malcolm says that they hit the Survivor jackpot. J.T. knows he is in trouble though and is itching to start looking for a hidden immunity idol. He takes the tribe out fishing a good 1/2 mile from shore on the raft they have. His moment of opportunity comes when Malcolm bends the spear and he offers to swim back and get the pliers to fix it. When he gets back he starts searching frantically everywhere for the idol and even checks his tribe mate’s bags just in case they might have one or the clue. The rest of the tribe was happy to have alone time at first, but they become suspicious when he does not come back for a while. They know what he is up to and think they can use that to their advantage.

Now at first I thought this was a bad move on J.T.’s part to be so obvious about this, but then I thought about it more and realize this could be good for him. He now has a seed of doubt in his tribe’s mind and he can play with that. He can fake like he has the idol and try to force them to vote off one of their own for fear of his idol. What are they going to do? Split the vote on one of their allies? No chance in hell, so he might be able to force some cracks in that way if he plays it right.

Over at Mana the old Nuku members are bummed by how much worse the Mana camp is then what they used to have. Brad decides to decorate it up and “make this house a home”. Apparently he loves decorating and antiquing. Who knew? There is another mention of Monica here and mark my words they are setting us up for a Monica family visit. Brad will make it at least that far in the game. We then get Hali being worried about the Tai and Caleb relationship. That comes fruition quickly when Tai tells Brad that he wants to keep Caleb and wouldn’t even mind voting off Debbie to keep Caleb. Brad tells him to slow down a minute and then tells us that he wants Caleb gone because he wants to be Tai and Debbie’s only ally. The center of the wheel to their spokes if you will. Meanwhile, Tai tries to comfort Caleb and tell him that he is safe. He is dead set on voting out Hali and once again Tai shows why he is not meant for this game. He is a sweet man, but all of this is just so bad. He really should have kept all of this stuff a secret and instead he is openly flaunting it.

Over at Tavua the tribe is bemoaning the fact that they are screwed. Ozzy on the other hand is trying to look at the bright side of life and tries to cheer is his tribe up. He tells us that he wants to be a leader at this camp and show them why they need to keep him around. Honestly Ozzy its your fourth time playing, I think we all know why they need to keep you around. Meanwhile, Cirie and Zeke are happy because now they are in an automatic majority and they do not need to worry about the Ozzy feud for the time being. Cirie also tries to continue cultivating her relationship with Ozzy. She checks in with him and he says they need each other and are good. While collecting palm frond for the shelter Troyzan tries to strike up a conversation with Andrea by commenting on how screwed he is. She tries to play dumb and placate him, but she does not do a very good job and he sees right through it. Troyzan realizes how screwed he is and starts looking for the idol. This is brilliantly inter cut with scenes of the Nuku majority saying they have to keep an eye on Troyzan and make sure he doesn’t find that idol. As they are saying that though he finds the clue in a bottle on the beach. The idol is at the challenge and Troy is overjoyed. He feels a lot better now.

The next day at Nuku J.T. tells the tribe about the goats they have at their camp. In confessional he tells us that Sandra wants to eat one and he feels like if he can provide that then maybe they will be more inclined to keep him around. Eventually both J.T. and Malcolm catch a goat, but they realize its a mama goat and one of her babies. Everyone feels real icky about killing either one, but Sandra is dead set on eating one of them. J.T. says he won’t kill one and Malcolm and Varner don’t feel comfortable with it either. Malcolm even makes a comment how they are living out Bambi right now which is funny. They have a vote in the tribe and decide against killing the goats and decide to eat a chicken instead.

We then head to the challenge. This challenge is known as Austin’s Elemental Obstacle course and is named for a Make a Wish kid who designed it for Survivor San Juan del Sur. Some around the Survivor community might know this challenge as the one that broke Missy’s ankle. In it three tribe members are tied together and have go through some obstacles. From there they must untie a bucket, fill it with water and take it over a giant net teeter totter. They have to use the water to fill up a bucket to a point that it will open up a gate. From there one tribe member will untie the knots on the puzzle pieces and the final two will solve the puzzle. Besides playing for immunity the tribes were also playing for reward. The winning tribe got to choose between “comfort for your body” (pillows, tarp, chairs) and “comfort for your taste buds” (spices, sauces, etc). The second place tribe got whatever the first tribe did not want.

Running for Nuku is Michaela, Malcolm and J.T. For Mana Debbie, Caleb and Tai were running and for Tavua Ozzy, Sarah and Andrea were running. As the challenge starts both Nuku and Tavua get a lead by going over the first obstacle while Mana decides to go through it. Nuku gets a huge lead and are first to the puzzle. For them Aubry untied the knots while Jeff and Sandra did the puzzle. Mana manages to catch up though when their knot untier, Sierra, moves much quicker than Tavua’s, Troyzan. In the end though Tavua’s puzzle team of Zeke and Cirie just barely pull it out over Brad and Hali. As Tavua is celebrating Troy acts all exhausted from the close finish and moves around to back of the table to kneel where the idol is. He makes one grab for it and misses at first and when Andrea looks away for a second he makes a second successful grab and stuffs it down his shorts. If Tavua goes to tribal next week it sure is going to be interesting. In the end Nuku picks the body comfort reward so Tavua gets the food reward.

Back at Mana’s camp Hali says she is going to need a miracle to survive this vote, but as we come to find out it will not be as hard as she thinks. Sierra and Debbie are both worried about the closeness of the Tai and Caleb relationship. Tai even says to their faces that he is friends with Caleb and wants to keep him around. Brad knows what he wants and that’s to get Caleb out, but he learned from his last game and does not want to be the “chief” as he calls it and wants Tai to make the decision for himself. In a brief conversation with Tai he manages to somehow incept Tai and make him do what he wants. He tells him that having Caleb around at the merge would be bad for his game because it would make him a target and Tai agrees that is the case. Tai then tells us that he does not want to play with his heart this time around, so he does not know what to do.

At tribal the idea that three members from Koah Rong are here on the same tribe is brought up right away. The theme of past relationships is a big one this tribal council as the castaways give their opinions on which ones matter. Sierra says that even though she and Hali played on the same season, they have no relationship so that is different than Tai and Caleb’s where Tai just went to Caleb’s wedding. Caleb comes out strong and says that Hali will be easier to manipulate. I don’t know how that is a reason to get rid of her, but ok. Hali rebuts like the lawyer she is and completely flips his words on him. Brad is a lawyer as well and this connection between the two of them could be one to watch down the road. Another big point in this tribal is the idea of challenge strength. They then get to the vote and there is no fanfare as Caleb is voted out in a 5-1 vote. He ends up going home on the same exact day he was medevaced in Koah Rong. He is a good sport about it though as he wishes Tai good luck and kisses him on the head.

Alright a little wrap up on this episode. First of all I was super impressed with Brad Culpepper this episode. He stayed relaxed, did not grasp for power as a leader and socially manipulated someone into doing something he wanted that was against that person’s best interests. All the signs of a good Survivor player. Honestly I think Brad got a raw deal in Blood vs. Water and really was not as bad of a guy as he was made out to be by the editors and other players. If you have time check out this analysis of his Blood vs. Water time by Mario Lanza at this link. It’s a long read, but a good one and shows the side of Brad we have been seeing this season. All aboard the Brad bandwagon for me.

As for the move itself, its a good one for 3 people on that tribe. Those three are Brad, Sierra and Hali. They manage to not cede control to a Koah Rong alliance and should still do fine in the challenges. As for Tai this is a horrible move. An loyal ally is key in this game and he just voted out his most loyal one. Brad put forth an idea that having Caleb at the merge could hurt Tai, and it could, but in the long run it would probably be more helpful than hurtful. The way Brad presented it was compelling though and Tai fell for it. I also see this as a bad move for Debbie because even if she had no relationship with Caleb, the Koah Rong and heat exhaustion connection is still there and could be useful. If she managed to flip someone into voting Hali out then she would have control of this tribe, instead she probably wrongly thinks she is control when Brad is actually pulling all of the strings. Not all blame can be laid at the feet of these two though as Caleb did not seem to do much to try and save himself. Strategy is definitely not his strong point and it showed. He could have done a lot more and didn’t. Wow for a seemingly insignificant tribal there was a lot to unpack.

Well next week we have J.T. leading an uprising against Sandra and a double tribal council where two tribe vote someone off! Also Probst gives one of the most surprising reactions I have ever seen him give! Its gonna be a big episode and I cannot wait! Until next time!