There are still nine people in the game after tonight's episode and we are seeing incredible gameplay, strategy, complexity and insanity every. Single. Week!
This week in particular, though, it was particularly jarring because the first thing Jeff did was give everyone a huge gift. And we do mean everyone! With more people ever in the game, Jeff walked everyone in for what they thought would be a reward challenge, but instead it was the loved ones visit. And even this was over-the-top.
These winners weren't limited to just one loved on. No, entire families were brought out, including a few "Survivor" alums like Jeremy's wife Val, Parvati's husband John and Tyson's wife Rachel. But the real surprise came when all these loved ones brought out their children with them, including some small enough they couldn't walk yet.
It took a usually emotional hour and took it to the next level, and we promise you there was not a dry eye on that island, in this house and probably in any other house that was tuned in to the CBS staple. But Jeff wasn't even done there.
After teasing them about getting the families involved in the challenge, he revealed there was no challenge at all. Instead, every single family member was heading back to camp to spend the afternoon with their loved ones and enjoy the "Survivor" experience. But Jeff wasn't even done there.
Suddenly, a boat pulled up to Edge of Extinction, and Natalie immediately recognized her twin sister Nadiya. That's right, even the eliminated players on the Edge got a loved ones visit. This was clearly a love letter of sorts from Jeff and the "Survivor" producers to these elite millionaire winners for helping the show stay a ratings hit and helping them make a lot of money.
In fact, as the only person who's left the game, Sandra was the only one who missed out on the loved ones visit. Or did she?
Yup my family was with me at ponderosa. Turn off your Tv and don't Let me see another tweet about Survivor the whole season
In a classic "Survivor" challenge, Ben had to make sure his "U" was right side up as they had to spell the word "IMMUNITY" with stacking blocks on a wobbly platform. This one requires steady, careful and patient movement. Remarkably, though, there was one leader throughout the entirety of the competition.
Jeremy closed the gap twice, but managed to drop all of his blocks. Kim was making her move, but she dropped her blocks and had to start over. Tyson and Nick fell out of it but then Ben had a surge, making it neck and neck to the finish. But then Ben dropped, leaving Tony -- the last guy you'd ever think for slow and steady -- to seal the deal.
Even more remarkable for him, considering his "Survivor" pedigree and the fact that he's won this game, is the fact that this was his first-ever individual immunity win. It's exciting to think that even in your third, fourth, however many times out there you can still have big moments like that.
From that point on, though it was game time and it actually looked like this group of ten inexplicably drew a line in the sand. But then even that got thrown for a loop when Jeremy decided abruptly at Tribal Council that he was too nervous and needed to play his "Safety-Without-Power" advantage.
Just like that, he left Tribal Council and with him went his vote. And then ... then ... Sarah threw another wrinkle in everyone's plans after Kim had pulled aside a group of five to simply decide who they'd vote out now that the numbers were effectively 5-4. Except, were they?
After that pow-wow that was supposed to determine who went home definitively, Sarah threw a wrench in the works by using her "Steal-A-Vote" to take Denise's vote away. That should have given her alliance of four the new 5-4 advantage, but after the votes were revealed, we're more than a little confused as to what happened.
Kim was clearly thinking she had a handle on what the other side would do, too, confidently playing her immunity idol for Denise. But Denise only got two votes, one from Sophie and only one of Sarah's votes. She threw her other one at Tyson.
Sophie got votes from Kim and Tyson, but everyone else voted Tyson, which makes it seem like he was getting votes from both sides of that battle line? So what was the plan going into tonight, and when did it shift to Tyson? And while Jeff thought there was a clear 5-5 divide that Jeremy messed up, it doesn't look like it was quite that clear at all.
We're not even sure why Tyson was targeted, as it really seemed like he'd shed his old-school legacy. Clearly not, though it does look like he was a last-minute backup when Jeremy eliminated himself as their probable target.
We're still trying to process the votes and exactly what was going on in that chaotic Tribal Council, so these rankings could change dramatically next week. But this is what our gut is telling us we think is going on right now. Our top score this week is a begrudging A- just because it was all so messy.
Sarah Lacina (Game Changers-2017) rises to the top primarily because the women above her faltered after she stole Denise's vote, crippling their 5-4 power alliance structure at Tribal Council. It was a deftly played move that proves she has her pulse on the moves in the game. She also knows the real threat to win this (the woman in this spot on our rankings last week) because she sees beyond those big visible threats Tony is always talking about. Grade: A-
Kim Spradlin-Wolfe (One World-2012) has been our favorite to win this season for awhile, and she proved why again this week. She is savvy, clever and knows exactly what the right move is at the right time. If there weren't surprise advantages, she'd be walking away with this game. As it is, she's still adjusting beautifully, though she's quickly becoming an even bigger target. Grade: B+
Denise Stapley (Philippines-2012) still has Queenslayer on her resume, but she is doing a great job of weaseling her way out of trouble over and over again. Having Kim at her back -- playing an idol for her -- is huge right now for her. She's the bigger target, so she needs an ally. It might help Kim win, but it could also get Denise within fighting distance of the end (and if she gets there, it could be hers). Grade: B
Ben Driebergen (Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers-2017) is really surprising us in the way Tony has, calming down and becoming a sentimental favorite. His over-the-top antics seem to be mostly behind him as he's really focused on the game. He's even showing good insight as to where the game is playing and making sound strategic alliances. That should be enough for now. Grade: C+
Sophie Georgina Clarke (South Pacific-2011) is playing Kim's game, which makes her a huge threat to Kim. She's also aligned with Sarah, which has put a huge target on her back as well. In other words, she's very visible in the game right now. It really is going to depend on where the power alliances land after this crazy Tribal Council to determine her future, and how she adjusts. Grade: C+
Tony Vlachos (Cagayan-2014) is always one manic breakdown from blowing up his own game. His misplay this week was in not doing a better job of managing Sarah in their alliance. He needs to listen to her and hear her out. He has her back and he's playing a loyal game (it appears) with her, but if he pisses her off, none of that will matter. And, as always, if he goes off the deep end, he'll sink. Grade: C+
Michele Fitzgerald (Kaôh Rōng-2016) seems to have taken a huge backseat to really playing or having any impact whatsoever in the game. It's kind of why she's such a controversial winner and insecure about her place. We've seen bursts of "Survivor" brilliance from her, but right now she's playing a classic floater game. She needs to step it up or she'll never convince a jury of winners to award her a second time. Grade: C
Jeremy Collins (Second Chances-2015) might bounce right back from this, but he left everyone scrambling when he left Tribal Council to save his own skin. Now, it was absolutely the right move because we're pretty sure he was the target that night from at least one contingency. He's capable of doing damage control, but how he navigates this next episode will determine if he can rise back toward the top or if he's heading to the Edge. Grade: C
Nick Wilson (David vs. Goliath-2018) seems to have faded into the background, which for him is a very good thing as his closest allies were just voted out of the game back-to-back. A free agent, he is showing flexibility. But he's yet to land firmly with anyone, and with everything in flux again, his next move will be critical. Otherwise, he's an easy vote to send out after Yul and Wendell. Grade: C-
Tyson Apostol (Blood vs. Water-2013) is a victim of his own greatness at this game. He also appears to be a victim of another extraordinary Tribal Council that left everyone scrambling to figure out what to do. Regardless of Kim's immunity idol, he was going home. It's not as bad as Cirie going home with no vote at all (you had to be there!), but it still has to sting ... again! Grade: F
As for the rest of the Edge of Extinction, they had enough hugs and love to share them with Jeff Probst after Tribal Council for giving them loved ones visits. Beyond that, they didn't really do much, so there's no change in any of their scores.
"She says she's proud of me and it makes me proud of me, 'cause sometimes I lose track of that." --Michele (seeing her sister Kim)
"This is the reason I almost didn't play and this is the reason I'm playing." --Jeremy (surrounded by his family)
"There was no twist. No one had to compete for their loved ones. No one had to compete for their children. I think that this is our reward for giving so much to this game that we love." --Ben (with loved ones at camp)
"I hope it's something good and not something bad." --Rob (to Ethan as a boat arrives on Edge)
"It's something bad. It's never good. It's the Edge of Extinction." --Ethan
"Oh my God, it's our families! What the hell?!" --Natalie
"I can't believe it. Wow! I won a game of patience." --Tony (after immunity win)
"Slow and steady is not what I'm made of. I'm made out of fast and sloppy." --Tony
"I want to vote out Kim. Kim is gonna win this game if we don't vote her out. But talking to Tony right now is like taking to a rock." --Sarah (we hear you, girl, she's been sitting atop our leader board)
"I don't think I have any friends out here. You don't have any friends out here. Yyou don't have any friends out here. They want us gone. I'm done with it. I wanna play with you guys as hard as I can to the end." --Kim (to Tyson and Jeremy)
"I'm ready to go to the Edge trying to make a move." --Kim
"Well you're not going there because you have an Idol." --Denise
"Not if I play it for someone else. I'm not playing it for myself if I'm not getting votes." --Kim
"Shots were fired at my partner. So once I hear that, it's over." --Tony (telling Sarah why the vote is Jeremy)
"I thought 'Second Chance' was crazy, but this is madness." --Jeremy
"It's not an immunity necklace nullifier, is it man?" --Tony (after Jeremy plays his advantage)
"What the hell happens now?" --Ben (after Jeremy leaves)
"Hey guys, why don't the five of us just go make a decision." --Sophie (to Denise, Nick, Kim, and Tyson)
"That was his squad right there. He left his squad." --Wendell (noticing Ben, Tony, Sarah and Michele)
"Dang, I almost did that." --Kim (after mis-playing her immunity idol for Denise)