An interesting characteristic of this season’s returnees has been the goal to change the perceptions about their original games. Dawn wants to avoid following someone else and getting stuck in a minority alliance. Andrea tried to make big moves after being labeled a mindless follower of Boston Rob. Erik was so damaged by his massive blunder that he’s avoided all strategy. One of the most intriguing changes has come from Brenda, who stood out as a strong competitor in Nicaragua. After falling on the wrong side of the numbers in the first vote, she moved into the background and focused on being nice. This strategy seems limited but actually set her up brilliantly to make the end. Unfortunately, it also makes her a huge target once the numbers dwindle. Brenda’s a challenge monster who probably beats Dawn this week if she gives it her all. She’s likable and well-spoken, so Cochran is wise to recognize the danger in keeping her around. With Dawn backstabbing everyone, his path to victory is clear if he makes the finals. Sherri joins the duo in removing Brenda 3-2 with Eddie once again living to see another day. The last Amigo has put his fate in the others’ hands, and they clearly see no problem with letting him stick around for a few more days.
Looking closer at the choice to eliminate Brenda, it makes sense for Cochran because his biggest opponent leaves the game. Why give her a chance to win immunity next time? If he makes the end, there isn’t a scenario where Cochran doesn’t win the million dollars. The vote benefits Sherri because she’s locked into a final-three alliance that won’t see her as a threat. Her chances of winning are small, but she’s doing her best to reach the end. The question mark falls on Dawn, who casts the deciding vote to take out her ally. Brenda’s heartbreak comes from the betrayal of a friend, not just because she’s leaving the game. The line of players who will connect their exit solely to Dawn is growing very long. This fact shows that she’s played a strategic game, but there will be issues with her convincing the jury. Dawn has been unstable and struggled with taking emotion out of her decisions. Acting wishy-washy is not a good approach to earn others’ respect at the end. Dawn and Cochran have made the same moves, but the jury is unlikely to see it that way at the Final Tribal Council. She must consider taking him out to have a real shot at grabbing the top prize.
If getting voted out isn’t enough, Brenda is forced to make an impossible choice with another cruel twist after the reward challenge. It’s the family visit, where Sprint equals love. Yes, they actually say that on the show. The reunions are touching, and everyone breaks down when they meet their loved ones. There is plenty of crying and hugs from everyone, and it’s clear this group is having a great time. They compete in pairs with their relatives, and Brenda and her dad grab the win. It’s never wise to win an individual reward challenge because the producers always force decisions that will anger some players. This week’s choice for Brenda is possibly the worst in the show’s history. For the first time, a second family member is waiting for each person. Brenda can give four players the chance to have a barbecue with them, but she must take it away from herself and Dawn. This adds a new layer because she’s depriving another player. The producers tighten the screws by setting the barbecue in the water right next to camp. That’s overly cruel and manipulative even for this show. Brenda makes the right pick despite its negative effect on her closest friend.
The immunity challenge is a test of endurance that increases in difficulty as it moves along. Players must keep their arms behind their backs and are cranked forward every few minutes. The guys fall quickly, and it comes down to Dawn and Brenda. After claiming she’s going to compete until the end, Brenda unwisely lets go and gives the win to Dawn. By this point, it’s clear that she’s in serious trouble and has no idea about it. Hilariously, Erik asks about food and has little motivation to compete. The episode opens with him climbing a massive tree hoping to grab a coconut. The creepy part is that he seems to welcome a possible injury from this daring feat. While this sets up his renewed energy after the family visit (this happens every season), Erik remains an enigma. It makes sense to take him out next, but he doesn’t appear to be a real threat.
This Sunday’s finale could include an easy victory for Cochran, but anything might happen in this unpredictable season. Could Erik, Eddie, or Sherri win the game? This trio probably needs to sit together at the end to make this happen. The editing hasn’t suggested they are working behind the scenes to blind slide the leaders. Eddie and Erik must win the last two immunities to guarantee their spot. If that happens, it makes Sherri more vulnerable than Dawn or Cochran. The previews suggest an unexpected event could drastically alter these considerations, however. Another factor is the level of bitterness of the jury, which can affect who gets the votes. This doesn’t feel like an angry jury, which means they would focus more on the actual game play. Regardless of the outcome, this has been one of the better post-merge runs on Survivor in a long time.