Last week, in an Immunity challenge that could possibly determine who goes to the merge with the upper hand, Savaii lost by a razor-thin margin to Upolu. At Tribal Council, Savaii made one of the gutsiest moves in Survivor history: namely, that Ozzy would go to RedIsle, dispatch Christine, and return to the game to make the numbers even again. A lot of assumptions were made, assumptions that Savaii are betting their collective lives in the game on. In this episode we were to find out whether their plans proved to be strategically sound or whether they would blow up in their faces.

Redemption Island, Night 18. In case you missed my recap (or the show itself) last week, part of Ozzy’s masterplan was to convince Christine that Cochran had not only managed to find the HII without anyone knowing it but to spring it at TC when the rest of Savaii tried to vote him out. Without any knowledge to the contrary, Christine seemed to buy it. Still not convinced why this is necessary… if Christine somehow defeats Ozzy and rejoins the game, the first person she’s going to target is Coach, and she won’t be able to do that without Savaii’s help. Still, if Ozzy told her the truth, it probably would have made her even less enthused to help them, so there’s that.

Duel #6. The next morning, every remaining player in the game is in attendance, and that can only mean one thing: the tribes are indeed merging after this duel, which will have the dual purpose of not only deciding who returns to the game, but will also determine the final person to be ousted from the game entirely, because after this, everyone taken out of the game will be on the jury.

Before the Idol, Ozzy continues his whole spiel for the benefit of the Upolu tribe, and I’m thankful that Jeff, who knows just how full of beans his story is, doesn’t let the cat out of the bag. How effective is it? Albert takes one look at Coach and mouths the words “I don’t buy it.” Well, damn, the best laid plans of mice and men, etc., etc., Anyway, the duel itself involved Ozzy and Christine using ropes to tie sticks together to form a makeshift pole, which they would then use to retrieve three key-ring a various distances from them. Winner is back in the game, and that winner was indeed Ozzy, in the first duel so far that wasn’t remotely close. Christine is out, but deserves a round of applause for sticking it out for as long as she did. Five straight duels is impressive no matter who you are. Ozzy cheers, as does his tribe (except Cochran, keeping the act up). Now comes the next stage of the game… the merge.

Camp Life – Merged Tribe

After returning to camp as one merged tribe and enjoying a feast of wine and cheese, a few brief introductions are made, Cochran has a very interesting chat with Coach. Frank as ever, Coach tells Cochran that whatever line of bull Savaii cooked up is simply not going to fly now that the tribes are merged. There are no weak links to be turned, so don’t even try. He then tells Cochran that he has two choices: he can stick with Savaii and the vote will be a tie, in which case the player out will be totally luck-of-the-draw (which Coach calls a “bulls**t way to play the game”) or Cochran can switch sides, which should be a no-brainer if Savaii ostracized Cochran as badly as he’s letting on. Wow. I knew Coach was savvy, but this was off the charts.

Painted into a corner, Cochran lays out Ozzy’s whole plan to the ex-Upolu members. It seriously looks like Cochran is considering jumping ship, which then presents a whole new problem… if Upolu is really six-strong with no glaring weaknesses, how can Cochran hope to come in any higher than seventh place? Course, he goes to Harvard, so he’s aware of all these things. But it’s a decision that he hasn’t made yet, and so, when he gets a chance, he does indeed give Ozzy’s HII back to him like he promised he would in the last episode.

If Cochran ever had one true friend on Savaii, it’s Dawn, who consoles Cochran by saying that if push came to shove, she might consider turning as well, simply because she knows that not one of her tribe-mates intended on taking her to the end. Dawn even breaks down crying in shame because she didn’t do a better job standing up for the kid against the taunts of Ozzy and Keith. They make a pact together that they are done letting their fates be decided by others, and it’s true: how they vote in the next TC could seriously impact the game.

Immunity Challenge

Despite the fact that we were not privy to that particular discussion, Keith announces that the new tribe name is Te Tuna, which is a name pulled from some island myth about how the coconut was created. Whatever. The first individual IC is usually a test of stamina, and this is no exception. Each contestant will stand on a narrow perch while holding a coconut balanced between two ropes, and the two people (one man, one woman) who last the longest will both win immunity. Dawn easily outlasts Whitney, Edna and Sophie and cops the first necklace for herself (yay!). For the men, it comes down to a showdown between Albert and Ozzy, a showdown that Ozzy ultimately wins. Wow. He’s having a good day.

Camp Life – Te Tuna

Upon returning to camp, the former tribes each congregated in separate locations. Ozzy tells his tribe that the best option, with Upolu seemingly indomitable, is to force the tie and pick rocks to determine who is out. It’s a crappy way to play the game, but with both Ozzy and Dawn having immunity, the chances that an Upolu member will be out has just jumped from 50% to 60%. Since the whole “Cochran as double agent” ploy failed, it would seem to be the smartest way to go. Cochran nods in agreement, but he interviews that leaving his fate to random luck is not the way he wants to play the game.

Now staring down the barrel of a 40-60 deficit, Coach makes one last plea to Cochran, with the help of Sophie and the other Upolu. Amazing that in a few short episodes, little nerdy Cochran has gone from persona non grata to the linchpin of the whole season. Doesn’t bode well for him in the long run, because if he flips, he’ll never get the vote of anyone on Savaii, and I doubt anyone on Upolu would choose him over one of their own.

Dawn, on the other hand, has made her mind up: she’s not flipping, and she wants to be the angel on Cochran’s left shoulder, telling him to ignore the devilish Coach on his right shoulder. Yes, with one vote, Cochran can strike a blow against someone like Keith or Ozzy, one of the jocks who belittled him from the start, go all Lambda Lambda Lambda on their butts. And if I were in his shoes, that temptation would be unbelievable. But Dawn tells him that how he plays the game will affect how he lives his life, and he has to be better than that.

Tribal Council

Jeff opens the Q&A by asking Coach and Ozzy whether a 6-6 tie is likely in store tonight, and they both answer yes. In retrospect, I’d almost like to see them go to the rocks… I think it’s only happened once in Survivor history, and that was waaaaaay back in Season Four, when judge Paschal English became the only player ever to exit the game without ever having his name written down once. Edna is asked if anyone would have a reason to flip and thus avoid that scenario, and she meekly replies that that would only happen if someone didn’t feel comfortable within their alliance.

Jeff then asks Survivor fanboy Cochran whether there’s ever been two tribes so solid that a deadlock was inevitable, and he says he can’t remember it ever happening. Which is true, and it’s a rare enough occurrence that a merge occurs with both tribes at even numbers anyway. Jim is completely confident that Savaii is rock-solid, stating that to flip would make “zero sense,” given that the odds are now in their favor.

Albert then points something out that I hadn’t even thought of: Ozzy blustered that Cochran had played the HII that sent him to RedIsle at the duel, so logically, the Savaii tribe should no longer have one; therefore, if an HII magically appears tonight, it means that Ozzy’s whole tirade was the fiction that they already believe it to be. This prompts Ozzy to drop the entire façade, as he tells the Upolu tribe that they still have the HII, and any one of them could have it.

Voting time. Twelve people vote, and not one of the votes is shown. Jeff collects the urn and asks if anyone would like to play their HII. Ozzy then stands up, announcing that he is giving it to Whitney, rationalizing that Upolu is least likely to believe that she has it. And then Sophie smiles. So does Albert. You guessed wrong, dumb-ass. Out come the slips. The first six votes are all for Keith, and the next six are all for Rick It is a tie, which means that a re-vote is to be held, and everyone except Rick and Keith must vote again, and must cast their votes for either Rick or Keith. Jeff ominously states that if anyone wants to change their vote, now is their last chance.

Re-voting time. Ten people vote, and again none are shown. Jeff gets the urn again, and out come the slips. The first five votes are for Keith. The next four votes are for Rick. And the tenth and deciding vote… is for Keith. Cochran has just made a very nasty bed, and now he’s going to have to lie in it. Jim is dumbfounded, Coach smiles his best smug smile, and Whitney utters an expletive. Cochran turns around and tells Ozzy and Jim that he’ll explain later, and Jim calls him a coward to his face. Brandon then leaps to Cochran’s defense, saying that insulting Cochran in the first place is why he switched sides. It would appear that, at least for now, Brandon will have Cochran’s back. Nice.

Wow, what a day. A truly ballsy, strategic move made by Ozzy last week, and it was all for naught. I can only imagine the flak that Cochran will have to bear for the next few episodes, not the least of which is Dawn, the one person who has the ability to get through to him. With the jury selection beginning next week, this season just turned ugly.

Next week: The fallout begins. And it may end with yet another surprising elimination.

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