Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS

By Stephen Fishbach
April 11, 2018 09:31 PM
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Stephen Fishbach was the runner-up on Survivor: Tocantins and a member of the jury on Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance. He has been blogging about Survivor strategy for PEOPLE since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @stephenfishbach.

Erik Reichenbach is a former two time Survivor Fan/Favorite and Comic Book Artist. Follow him on Twitter: @ErikReichenb4ch.

“It really is a cold war with missiles pointed. We’re ready to start firing away. And it’s gonna get crazy.” — Vince Sly, Survivor: Worlds Apart

For the past seven weeks, Survivor has been building the Dom vs. Chris showdown. A stray remark on day one, when Dom said that Chris made a mistake in the opening challenge, blossomed into a furious rivalry.

“I cannot begin to tell you how much adrenaline I had pumping through my veins in those opening moments of the game,” Dom recently told Dalton Ross. “I needed to participate in something or I was going to explode.”

Dom tried repeatedly to mend fences with Chris, but the pair was simply oil and water, and a series of missed communications, backstabs, fake idols pretending to be real, and real idols pretending to be fake exacerbated the conflict. Tonight, both Dom and Chris tried to take out the other in a thrilling episode of Survivor filled with strategy, drama, bad rapping, and hilarious confessionals.

Dom won the war, and Chris Noble became the first boot of the merge.

Credit: Erik Reichenbach

The Fishy Award

Wendell and Domenick win the Fishy Award for masterminding Chris’s ouster. But they had a lot of help – from Chris himself.

At the merge, the Naviti alliance recognizes that they’d all be better served to just pick off the remaining Malolos. But the Dom vs. Chris feud is so all-consuming that it eclipses any other strategy.

“These two guys can blow up the world if they want,” Wendell says.

Wendell sits the two rivals down and tries to mend the breach. Dom plays the moment perfectly. He doesn’t act as if everything is hunky dory between the two. Instead, he sincerely brings up the roots of the conflict and suggests they work together, just for a while.

“I’ll temporarily work together, and we can kill each other later,” Dom says. You couldn’t ask for a more sincere offer of a situational alliance.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Chris says. He can’t even look at Dom. “I haven’t made up my mind.”

Chris may be too suavé (suavay?) for Dom and Wendell, but everybody knows the number one rule of Survivor is “agree to everything.” By not even pretending to play along, Chris forces Dom to target him. There’s nothing quite so clarifying on Survivor as knowing somebody is actively trying to vote you out.

“He’s still after me,” Dom notes. “That’s all I need to hear.”

After the immunity challenge, Chris pulls the entire tribe – minus Dom and Wendell – over to the water well and tries to put his plan into action.

“I have a question. What’s everybody thinking?” he asks. He doesn’t even pause to give them a chance to reply before he immediately tells them what to think. He lays out his plan to split votes for Domenick and Wendell and then says, “I just want everybody to be on that page. I mean, how do you guys feel?” It’s like he knows he’s supposed to ask other people for their perspectives, but doesn’t actually care about their perspectives.

Chris is incapable of lying. He’s cocky and he’s bossy. In a way he’s like Coach – the perfect guy to have around on Survivor. “I don’t feel like [Chris] is going to lie,” Libby says. “Whatever he tells you, he’s probably going to do it.” So the big question is, why on earth would the other contestants choose to vote him off, instead of Dom and Wendell – who everybody agrees are more strategic and more threatening?

The 13-Person Merge

I think part of Chris’s problem is the 13-person merge. With all the scrambling across so many people, it can be extremely difficult to gauge who is really doing what. In this episode alone, we saw Dom’s plot to eliminate Chris; Chris’ plan to split votes on Dom and Wendell; Kellyn and Desiree’s plan to take out Libby; and Libby and Jenna’s plan to sit back and snipe at their enemies. I can guarantee that’s just a fraction of the different schemes that emerged and were discarded during the post-feast madness.

With even just four plots, it’s hard to guess how the votes will shake out. If those three are voting one way, and we four vote another way, and those other four are going a third way … what happens then? When you’re on Survivor, and your brain is malfunctioning from malnutrition, and you don’t have anything to write on, it can be challenging to even remember who is voting where.

As Domenick complains, “I just don’t know who to [expletive] trust out here.”

That’s why at a 13-person merge, it’s often an easy consensus target who gets eliminated. As user FFGCCRJ recently wrote on Reddit, “merging at 13 forces people to play it safe, brand together, and just target either an outsider (Hali, Michelle) or an obvious big target (Kass).” You save your subtle strategic maneuver for when you can actually count all the players on your fingers.

There also is – especially on new player season – an element of wanting to vote out the person who’s making camp life a pain. You’re all on this crazy adventure, and the merge feast creates a feeling of fellowship. Even though we’re all rivals – we’re all part of something special together.

Then there’s that one guy who just won’t stop rapping.

Chris also is the victim of both good luck and bad luck with his immunity idol. It’s fantastic luck that Chris got the secret idol clue wrapped in his new buff. But it’s terrible luck that he managed to extend its duration for a day. If the idol had expired this tribal council, Chris would have been forced to play it – saving himself despite himself.

WATCH: Jeff Probst On ‘Survivor’ Spin-Offs & Why He’ll Never Compete: ‘My Mouth Would Get Me Voted Out’

Keeping Each Other Sane

Domenick and Wendell may be one of my favorite Survivor duos ever. Like the best pairs, they talk strategy together – and then go off separately to implement it. On the one hand you have Domenick scheming with Donathan and Laurel. On the other, you have Wendell making an impassioned plea to Sebastien, Jenna, and Libby – “I don’t think this should be a dictatorship. This should be a democracy.”

Perhaps most importantly of all, Dom and Wendell can keep each other sane. It’s easy to get paranoid on Survivor – and that’s especially true when the entire tribe goes off without you. But you can tell from the way that Wendell reassures Dom that they’re helping each other mentally, as well as strategically.

At Tribal Council, Wendell gives one of the great burn confessionals of all time. It’s a little mean-spirited, but it’s also hilarious, in the vein of Courtney Yates mocking Coach’s hair feathers, Abi-Maria calling Joe Anglim a moldy clown, and Rob Cesternino’s infamous Casey Kasem dedication.

Here it is, transcribed in its entirety for posterity.

“We won a lot together. Respect for that. But socially you don’t know what you’re doing. I hope you stop saying ‘I’ so much. I hope you start listening to people. Oh yeah, and finally, somebody had to say it. I’ll say it. Stop rapping. You’re trash at rapping. You’re garbage at rapping. You can’t rap. You have no bars. Put the mic down, bro. Put the pen down, bro. Use an eraser.”

Dom plays his legacy advantage, which is definitely the correct move here, given how situational the advantage is and the fact that he knows he’s a possible target (though he doesn’t actually get a single vote). It’s somewhat crazy that Chris doesn’t play his idol. He can hear Dom in the voting confessional, shouting out his name. As a result, Chris is voted out, almost unanimously.

He started at the bottom. Now he’s there.

Survivor airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.