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Survivor: Caramoan Ep. 26.6, “Operation Thunder Dome”: Tribe swap puts the fans in jeopardy

Survivor-26.6-Fans

Survivor: Caramoan Review, Season 26, Episode 6
“Operation Thunder Dome”
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm (ET) on CBS

After last week’s meltdown from Brandon, it’s so refreshing to watch everyone return to focusing on the strategic side of the game. Crazy behavior makes for good TV, but Survivor works best when players are scheming to try and gain an edge. Both groups return to camp shell shocked after Brandon’s outburst, but most are ready to move forward. Corinne and Phillip are upset about getting thrown under the bus, yet both should have time to recover. This prospect becomes more likely after the tribal swap, which gives a 4-3 edge to the favorites in each new group. Instead of looking for a way to flip a favorite, the fans are more than willing to turn on each other. This is not a good idea. The new Gota tribe is loaded with arguably the seven physically strongest players left in the game. They’re also the better-looking group, at least according to Eddie. His priorities are a bit skewed away from actual game play. When the immunity challenge is all about power, it’s clear that this group is going to walk away with an easy win. Julia seems most likely to leave because of challenge weakness, but Matt is the bigger threat and is heading home.

Gota includes Malcolm, Erik, Reynold, and Eddie along with Sherri, Brenda, and Andrea. That’s a filthy team that should have the other tribe begging for the merge. Reynold and Eddie immediately start gunning for Sherri, and her sights are right back at them. This is wonderful news for the favorites, who gain a greater numbers advantage with either exit. In the original Fans vs. Favorites season, the fans lost their edge after the tribe swap and never recovered. They may have a similar fate in this outing. The outgunned Bikal has Corinne, Phillip, Cochran, and Dawn teaming up with Matt, Michael, and Julia. With the exception of a very ridiculous Phillip, they’re a likable group but hardly ready to compete in physical challenges. Matt and Michael are willing to do anything to stay in the game, but they seem too united for Cochran’s tastes. He wisely recognizes the danger of pairs after the merge and pushes for Matt to leave. This is disappointing because Julia is so dull; a wonderfully snarky Corinne even calls out her boredom when considering the vote. Matt is the most interesting fan in this cast, so it’s devastating to see him exit. There’s little that he can do against superior numbers, and even nastiness between Corinne and Phillip isn’t enough to change the vote.

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This episode works because there are so many new interactions among the cast. Phillip immediately starts talking to Julia about an alliance and is ready to induct Matt and Michael into “Stealth ‘R’ Us”. Playing this hard and over the top provides comic relief, and it’s clear that the editors are setting Phillip up for a big fall. Corinne has a great time with Matt and Michael, who she repeatedly calls “the gay” in a strangely flattering way. She’s all over this episode and has plenty of barbs, including comparing Phillip to a baby on a plane with diarrhea. Corinne hasn’t said much during the first five episodes, but she has a big personality that comes out in confessionals. Though she’s annoyed with Phillip, Corinne recognizes that he’s trustworthy and wants to stick with the plan. No one seriously considers flipping to the fans, which shows the difference with returning players. They recognize the importance of numbers and can ignore petty reasons to take out a rival. If the fans don’t find cracks in the favorites pretty soon, there may be no coming back against the superior forces.

The immunity challenge is familiar and all about being able to flip over large crates quickly. It exposes most of the new Bikal tribe as much weaker than their opponents. Brenda and Andrea are pretty small, but they show their skills and roll through the end. On the other side, Julia and Dawn have problems even moving the crates, and Cochran isn’t much better. There is a puzzle to close it out, but Gota rolls to victory. Rarely has a tribe in Survivor history been so stacked with challenge monsters. It’s going to take a different type of challenge for Bikal to have a chance. Their saving grace could be a merge, which might happen as soon as two weeks from now. If it gets delayed for too long, comfortable players among the favorites could be in trouble. Strategy rules the day, so wise players like Cochran should be fine. His choice to take out Matt is smart and removes a formidable opponent. There doesn’t seem to be a major issue with keeping Julia around for another few days.

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Matt’s exit is a surprise because the editing clearly points to Julia being history. She randomly targets Dawn and seems lost when strategy comes into play. She does get a rare confessional, which hints strongly that she’s heading for the exits. Matt was instrumental in several previous votes, and he was a top choice to compete with the favorites after the merge. If Bikal loses next week, the question is whether Michael will follow his ally out the door. Julia may be such an easy vote that she can stick around for a while. A Gota loss would provide a more intriguing episode and force them to remove Sherri or Eddie. Despite what the editing suggests, the favorites are unlikely to make a change until it’s absolutely necessary. Unless the fans make a dramatic change and start playing harder, they’ll all be visiting the Ponderosa well before the final Tribal Council.

Dan Heaton

4 Comments
  1. Jess says

    Wow, those tribes are extraordinarily uneven. What crazy luck, good or bad depending on which tribe you’re on. I can totally see Gota winning every immunity until the merge and then Reynold getting voted off promptly. Based on the previews though it seems like they might be going to tribal since Malcolm was discussing making a big move. If they do then I’m sure Reynold will go even sooner. I’m happy to see more of Malcolm but I’m afraid that more screen time could mean they’re prepping us for him to get voted out.

    Speaking of which, I do not get how people like Julia even get onto this show. I have to think that it just goes to show how casting people can’t always predict how people will act once they’re actually on camera.

    Now I did not see Matt being voted off coming at all. Neither did the rest of our pool though it seems. I don’t think anyone had any points on the guy!

    1. Dan Heaton says

      It’s crazy that no one gave even a point to Matt in the pool. I put up a big zero for the week, so my earlier success has gone away.

      From what I’ve heard from interviews with other cast members who’ve left, Julia just has a quiet personality. She’s really young, so it’s tricky when they cast someone who’s barely over 20. I have a feeling she may be around for a little while, though.

      I think that Bikal still is going to lose immunity, but you’re right that the previews may indicate something different. I don’t think Reynold is the first boot from Gota, though.

  2. Wordschat says

    I recorded Survivor while watching Idol and jumped during commercials. Seeing Jeff tally Matt’s votes I thought should I even bother watching the episode. Maybe this weekend. Thanks for the recap analysis Dan.

    1. Dan Heaton says

      I think it’s worth checking out to hear strategy talk on both sides that may pay off going forward. You can skip the immunity challenge, though. That was ugly. Also, we see a lot of Phillip being ridiculous.

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