The game’s on, and the tribes are in for some major shakeups — but first it’s time to get centered. Day 8 dawns bright on the Soka tribe as they take a meditative moment as a group following the loss of tech investor Claire at the previous evening’s tribal council.
Josh, the surgical podiatrist, notes he’s in a great position because he’s close with two opposing alliances: showmance Matt and Frannie and, on the other side, Danny and Heidi.
Too bad Josh appears to be setting himself up for a good old Survivor blindside. Danny and Heidi agree with Matt and Frannie that they’d be better off heading into the merge as two strong couples and Josh needs to go next.
At Tika camp, a mystery suddenly materializes in the form of an X. Two crossed red sticks are woven into the bars of the tribe’s locked birdcage, confounding the four remaining tribemates Carolyn, Sarah, Yam Yam and Carson. Carolyn, who previously secretly scored the key that unlocked the cage containing a bag, isn’t so confused after all and proves she’s an adept gameplayer.
“The truth is, it was me,” she confesses. “I found the idol, but inside that bag, there’s also a fake idol, so I knew I needed to do something with it. My brain kept saying, ‘X,’ like X marks the spot of a treasure. Now go look for this similar X somewhere else.”
So while everyone was asleep, crafty Carolyn weaved the stick X into the birdcage, returned to camp, stuck the fake idol inside a log and put a small X made with similar red sticks nearby.
Who will be the unlucky sucker to fall for the gameplay ploy? It turns out to be Sarah. She spots the stick X near the campfire and surreptitiously starts digging while nobody’s looking. She then looks down at a nearby log and spots a piece of cloth in a crevice.
Thinking she’s scored a real immunity idol, Sarah sneaks off and revels in her discovery. “I know I’m at the bottom, so finding this means I have life in this game. I am moving forward and I know none of them have the idol.”
Making a Splash
It’s time for the reward challenge and Tika and Ratu give their requisite shocked expressions as they get their first look at the new Soka tribe, now sans Claire.
Jeff Probst explains that for this challenge, one player at a time will climb up a ladder, cross a cargo net to the top of a tower, where they will launch sandbags at a series of wooden targets in the distance. Each player on each tribe must hit at least one target.
The first two tribes to hit all five targets get a large and small version of the reward: a tarp. The winning tribe also gets to decide whom from each tribe will go on a secret journey, an important decision because these side trips can completely shake up the game, Jeff says.
All four players from Tika will compete, while Frannie sits out for Soka and Kane for Ratu.
Survivors, ready? Go! All four teams make it to the end around the same time and begin launching their sandbags. Soka and Tika are off to an early good start, with each hitting a target.
But as the tribes continue to compete, Tika’s Carolyn struggles, slowing her team down. Soka takes the lead and firefighter Danny launches and hits the tribe’s fifth and final target, raising the flag and taking the win. Carolyn finally connects, and it’s still anyone’s second-place game. Ratu then handily hits the remaining two targets, stealing the win from Tika.
The first-place tribe, Soka, must now decide who’s going on a journey from each tribe. They choose Josh from their group, Carson from Tika and Jaime from Ratu.
Rough Seas Ahead?
The chosen Josh, Carson and Jaime are whisked away in a boat. Jaime says she’s “pumped” to be going on the journey because she wants “the entire Survivor experience.”
Once on the beach, the trio are instructed to enter the jungle and follow a path to a lookout. Carson notes that while it’s exciting to have the chance to gain an advantage, he won’t risk losing a vote to do so because his tribe is down to just four people and he wants to keep his leverage in the game.
At the lookout, the three players must separate and head down different paths. At the end of the players’ paths, a parchment reveals a major twist—or three. Josh, Jaime and Carson are all rewarded with an unprecedented secret journey advantage—an immunity idol. The only catch is that the idols lose their power once Tika, Soka and Ratu merge and all the players are living together on one beach.
Oh, and there’s one more thing: None of the three players will be returning to their old camps. Instead, the players must reach into a bag, grab new buffs and head to a new tribe.
“The game has changed,” the parchment concludes.
Testing the Waters
Ratu’s Jaime is now a Soka; Soka’s Josh can call himself a Tika; and Tika’s Carson becomes a Ratu.
The switched players realize they’re starting on the bottoms of their new tribes, while the welcoming new tribe players realize disrupted alliances—and the loss of common foes—could now affect game strategy.
“The truth is, I’m walking into a lion’s den—I’m a lamb and they’re all lions and they’re ready to pounce,” says new Tika member Josh, who clearly has no idea he was on the outs with Soka and the switch may have saved him.
Carson, now a Ratu, gets to meet Brandon, Matthew, Lauren and Kane. He wants to downplay his strength as a self-professed strategic mastermind and paint Yam Yam as Tika’s craftiest planner.
Matthew is upset he’s put in the legwork with getting Jaime on his side and she’s now gone, so he focuses on gathering as much information from her replacement, Carson, as possible.
Matthew reels Carson in by revealing to him that Brandon already opened Ratu’s birdcage and played an idol. He then tells Carson that Jaime found the idol that was put back into rotation. But he conveniently omits the fact he has the re-rotated idol, and the one Jaime stumbled upon is actually a decoy he planted.
“I think me and Carson have the ability to have a good connection,” Matthew says, adding that the information he selectively shared “helped build that bridge of trust with Carson.”
On Soka tribe, Jaime—with one fake idol and one temporary idol in tow introduces herself to everyone. Frannie believes her new tribemate is open and kind. “The bad news is that the one person we really didn’t trust [Josh] is the person that she swapped out with, so that gives us an easy position to just vote Jaime out right away,” she says.
The only possible stumbling block is if Jaime has a hidden immunity idol, Frannie notes.
Sink or Swim
Jeff welcomes the players to their first immunity challenge as new tribes. Survivors must dive into the ocean one player at a time, climb to the top of a tower and leap off, grabbing a suspended key on their way down. They must then cross a floating balance beam and race to the finish. Once all four players are at the end, two will use the keys to unlock wooden pieces to solve a manta ray-shaped puzzle.
Soka sits out their new tribemate Jaime; Ratu’s Matthew, who has an arm injury, heads to the sideline; and all four of Tika’s players get ready to compete.
The first major fail occurs when Lauren from Ratu misses the key after leaping from the tower. She decides to forge ahead, meaning one player, Brandon, will have to redo the entire run to get the missing key.
Tika then slows and takes a big step back when Yam Yam has trouble crossing the balance beam without dropping. Ratu’s Kane then struggles on his beam.
At the final platform, Soka’s Matt and Heidi tear their way through the manta ray puzzle and easily take first place. Tika’s Josh and Sarah and Ratu’s Carson and Lauren are neck and neck as they battle for second position.
“Ratu pulls off a huge comeback,” Jeff announces as Carson, Lauren, Kane, Matthew and Brandon celebrate their win that sends Tika—with their new secretly idoled-up member Josh—to tribal council.
It’s Day 9 and Tika’s four players are scrambling. Yam Yam, Sarah and Carolyn quickly form an alliance to vote off Josh, who they don’t consider a true Tika member just yet. They’re concerned, however, that Josh may have a trick up his sleeve. “If he has something, I’m worried, because if he’s gonna target someone, it’s gonna be me,” Yam Yam tells the women.
When Carolyn asks why he believes that, Yam Yam delivers a diss: “No offense, they think I’m a threat and you’re not.”
Yam Yam declares everyone is going to falsely reveal to Josh that Carolyn is their vote, but she’s not having it. “I’m done with that,” she says of being a decoy.
Yam Yam and Sarah continue with the plan and tell Josh the news they want to work with him. Sarah, however, says that if he somehow has a hidden immunity idol, she’s going to be ready to play hers.
Josh then makes a major move. Carolyn shares with him that she’s on her own in the game, and he tells her he has an idol. “What we can do is, I can use it for you, because they plan to vote for you,” he strategizes, adding, “If we both vote for Sarah, she’ll be gone.”
Carolyn is in shock but also thrilled because she also has an idol from the birdcage nobody knows about and now Josh wants to play his idol on her.
While new Tika player Josh’s plan seems solid and well in motion, anything can happen at tribal council.
Jeff kicks off tribal council by asking Josh about his journey from Soka to Tika. Josh, continuing to believe he was in a good position on his former tribe, says he’s now at “the bottom of the barrel” on Tika and “extremely nervous at this tribal council.”
Yam Yam then sticks his foot in his mouth—and confuses everyone in the process. “It’s like the new kid in the classroom,” he says of Josh. “Maybe I had a friend in the classroom that we were really good friends with, but I don’t want to be her friend anymore.”
Carolyn assumes that by saying “her friend,” Yam Yam is talking about her and she’s visibly flummoxed.
Jeff asks if everyone is ready to vote. “Just put me out of my misery,” Carolyn responds.
After everyone casts their votes, the host returns with the urn and makes the most important declaration of the game: It’s time to play advantages and idols.
Josh plays the idol…for himself.
Sarah, who has a (fake) idol doesn’t move, and Carolyn stays still as well.
Jeff gets to the vote.
Josh, does not count. Josh, does not count. Sarah.
With the fourth vote, the fifth person voted off Survivor is Sarah.
Yam Yam appears in shock as Carolyn and Josh grab each other’s hand.
The new Tika tribe has spoken.
“I kept trying to tell myself not to worry and held on to the idol,” a still-oblivious Sarah says. “I didn’t think [Josh] was going to vote for me, and it’s stupid. It’s miserable going home with the idol in your pocket!”
She adds, “I join a special club of sad, sad people because I had the ticket to keep going and I didn’t use it. I got played.”