‘Survivor: Kaoh Rong’ Episode 7 Review: It’s a Sad End for One Player on ‘It’s Merge Time’

Recap and review of Survivor: Kaoh Rong – Episode 7 – It’s Merge Time:

It’s finally time for the merge on Survivor: Kaoh Rong, and that brings some interesting alliance complications. With four Brains, four Beauty and three Brawn remaining, this was always going to be an interesting vote. But “It’s Merge Time” ends on a down note: for all that awesome scrambling, we never get to go to tribal council, as the final elimination is ultimately decided by Dr. Rupert.

Initially, the episode centered on the shifting balance of power in the wake of the merge, as the Brawns are depicted as being the key to everything: the trio is caught between two alliances of four, and the alliance they choose will have the numbers and all the power. The narrative then shifts to focus on how the real key to all this just might be, strangely enough, the duo of Nick and Michele, two people who were hardly even seeing eye-to-eye last week. Nick and Michele are in a swing position, with the possibility of bailing on the other Beauties to join the egotistical Brawns, or joining with the Brains to eliminate the Brawns in order to prevent them from running the table at immunity challenges. In short, we’re primed for one hell of a tribal council, which is why it’s all the more disappointing that we never get to experience it. And it’s disappointing for no one more than Neal, the unlucky soul who ends up getting medically evacuated at the end of the episode. At the immunity challenge, Jeff Probst notices how the conditions in Kaoh Rong have taken their toll on the remaining castaways, prompting everyone to describe the injuries they’ve suffered. Tai and Scott show off scratches they’ve taken, while Neal reveals “Mt. Saint Neal,” a gross boil that’s formed on his knee. As the castaways prepare for tribal council, Jeff arrives with Dr. Rupert, who assesses each person’s injury, including a particularly nasty bump forming on Aubry’s inner thigh. Each person he clears ups the ante for the next person, since it’s clear someone here is getting medically evacuated.

Survivor Kaoh Rong - Episode 7 - Recap and Review - It's Merge Time

Credit: CBS

When Dr. Rupert explains that Neal’s sore could lead to an infection that could eat right through the joints in his knee, he breaks down, realizing that his time in the game has come to an end. It’s not terrifying in the way Caleb’s evacuation was, but it’s sad in ways an evacuation hasn’t been since Jonathan Penner was evacuated from Survivor: Micronesia (also due to a knee injury, coincidentally enough). Even without the confessionals or the talk with Jeff about how he’s wanted to be on this show for 15 years, it’s clear how much Survivor means to Neal, and how much he wanted to win this game. He had hunger for it, and he was in a prime position to actually do some damage in the game. Sure, he was a target tonight, but he had a hidden immunity idol that, if played, could have given his alliance a foothold to take control of the game. It’s a real bummer to see him go down like this, even if the injury really left the doctor with no other choice. Neal had all the potential in the world to be a great, subtle player, and I feel we didn’t even scratch the surface of what he could do. Unfortunately, Neal does prove somewhat disappointing with his final act — or rather, his decision to forego a final act. Even though he’s largely aware that #1 ally Aubry is on the chopping block, he doesn’t give her his hidden immunity idol on the way out. And I’m not sure it’s a matter of Neal not finding a moment to do it clandestinely, since he could have pulled her aside or asked for a moment alone to say goodbye to each of his old Brains tribe allies. There were ways he could have gotten the idol to Aubry. But, for whatever reason, he simply chose to keep it as a souvenir. It’s really a shame, but it could be the kickstart of Aubry’s post-merge underdog story, as she recognizes that Survivor is still a game in which, ultimately, you have to make it on your own. It doesn’t prevent her from being furious with Neal regardless, but she seems ready to go to work. And that bodes well for her game, despite the Brains now lacking numbers to make a Brawn alliance more appealing than a similar one with the Beauties.

Survivor Kaoh Rong - Recap and Review - Episode 7 - It's Merge Time

Credit: CBS

Naturally, the real shame of Neal’s evacuation is that we were headed for a really compelling tribal council. In particular, Nick comes alive in this game, showing more aptitude for the strategic elements of Survivor than we’ve seen at any other point so far. He recognizes fairly quickly that he and Michele are the crux of all this. Wherever they go, so goes the power. But he’s having a hard time deciding which way to go. On the one hand, he thinks he could ally with the Brains to take out the Brawns, since they’re going to be major challenge threats in the weeks to come. Why he thinks this is anyone’s guess, considering Nick himself won immunity, and his only threats at the end were his fellow Beauties, Tai and Julia. On the other hand, Nick feels that keeping the Brawns around could be a great thing, since their overconfidence means they’ll never see the inevitable blindside coming. And as an added bonus, they suck at puzzles! So Nick has an edge on them there. He’s also not wrong about Jason and Scot’s bullying, overconfident demeanor. Jason and Scott stupidly inform Nick that not only does Neal have an idol, but Tai has one as well. It’s a move that makes no sense from a strategic standpoint, since Nick is an entirely new variable in their equation. Take a little more time to find out what he’s like before sharing that kind of info, guys! I suppose the argument could be made that Jason and Scot were using the information as a way to get Nick on their side, and truly bind him to their alliance. In some ways, it worked. After all, Nick does ultimately decide to side with the Brawns to target Aubry, in order to flush out Neal’s idol. It’s a really great plan that probably would have worked, all things considered. With that said, I think Nick needs to keep an eye out for some of his fellow allies.

'Survivor Kaoh Rong' Episode 7 Review It's a Sad End for One Player on 'It's Merge Time'

Credit: CBS

For instance, Cydney is amazing at stirring the pot without actually drawing attention to herself. Earlier in the game, she revealed to Jason that Alecia had a clue to a hidden immunity idol, a tactic which resulted in her alliance having an idol at their disposal. Tonight, she reveals to Jason her suspicion that Neal has an idol when she spots a bulge in his pocket. It’s an act that dictates the strategic direction of the entire episode, as all the elimination plans are centered around flushing out Neal’s idol and undermining the stability of the Brains. Hell, the desire to flush out Neal’s idol is part of why Nick decides to pledge his and Michele’s loyalty to the Brawns, hoping to split the vote and take control of the game. Cydney is one of the most underrated players of this season so far, proving to be a keenly attentive observer who manages to make small moves without creating any blowback for herself. Conversely, Debbie has taken a bit of a hit this week, in my book. Last week, I noted how she was one of the better strategic minds in the game, simply from how she managed her various alliances and made everyone feel important, even if she didn’t need their vote in that exact moment. But this week, she overplays her hand a bit by dictating rather than discussing. She approaches Tai and tells him he’s in their alliance, without laying any real groundwork with him first. She also tries to get Nick on her side by essentially flirting with him, a move that doesn’t really play with Nick, surprisingly (I say “surprisingly,” because he strikes me as someone who loves a good ego-stroking). It gets so bad that Aubry and Neal consider jumping ship, believing that Debbie’s overplaying could end up backfiring on them. I’m beginning to worry that Debbie’s position in the game might be more tenuous than she realizes. I’m hoping that isn’t the case, since she’s one of my favorites in the game. But one thing is for certain, we have far more people playing this game with a strategic mind than was initially apparent. And that should make for an exciting endgame in the weeks to come.

“It’s Merge Time” is pretty crazy, but somewhat disappointing too, for reasons beyond any of the castaways’ control. Survivor: Kaoh Rong is notorious for being one of the most brutal, punishing seasons in the history of the series, but hopefully these conditions prompt producers to reconsider where future seasons take place. No player should have to be medically evacuated, much less this far into the game. At the very least, Neal gets to be a part of the jury now, which should be some consolation, in some respects. With that having been said, I’m excited to see the fallout now that the numbers are a bit more spread out, with three Brains, three Brawns, and four Beauties. Tribal lines are breaking down, and I don’t think we should count anyone out just yet.

But what did you think of Survivor: Kaoh Rong Episode 7, “It’s Merge Time”? Sound off in the comments!

And for more on Survivor: Kaoh Rong, check out the deleted scenes from last week’s compelling episode!

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