By People Staff
Updated December 01, 2020 06:31 PM
Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS(2)

“Anyone who enables another to become powerful brings about his own ruin.” –Machiavelli, The Prince

What is wrong with the cast of Tocantins? Tyson blindsides himself, Coach is Coach, and now JT gets voted out with his own idol. Was there something in Brazil’s Rio Novo that made us spectacularly self-destructive? Or did the producers just pick the wrong castaways from my season?

Thursday’s episode starts with the two tribes merging. Both sides delicately feel each other out over a feast, while Parvati sulks on the beach because nobody’s paying her any attention. “I’m over it,” she tells Danielle. It’s a touching reminder of how lonely you can feel stranded for a month with nineteen strangers, especially when they’re all out for blood. Parvati’s a 26-year-old girl, not a supervillain, and sometimes it just sucks to be left out .

While Parvati pouts, Russell works his black magic on the Heroes tribe. “Don’t even worry,” he tells Rupert and JT. “I swear on my kids that I am on board with y’all. Just let this happen. Just breathe.” The pitch exemplifies the best and worst of Russell’s gameplay. He excels at making feel safe — lulling his prey into a false sense of security before he strikes. But he also takes the game a step too far. Lying on your kids is just unnecessary. That exact lie cost Twila the game in Vanuatu. Rupert gives some of the best Survivor advice I’ve ever heard when he later says: “Russell looked me right in the eye and swore on his kid’s life that he was with us. And anybody that would do that — right away, I don’t trust them.”

That was this episode’s theme: How do you know who you can trust? With so many great players trying to bamboozle each other, there were bound to be a few big winners — and a couple losers. While the most splashy face-off came between dueling Southern charmers — Russell and JT — the episode actually hinged on the face-off between two old allies.

How much fun was it to see Amanda and Parvati dance around each other with half truths while pretending to be the closest of friends? In spite of the lies and misdirection, I believe that Parvati really wanted to reconnect. Why else would she show Amanda her idol? Sure, you can say it’s a token of trust and a trade for information. But showing the idol now exposes Parvati to a lot more risk than it offers in reward. It makes her a target and hints at the real dynamics of the Villains tribe. Parvati was feeling left out, so she turned to an old friend. Sometimes human emotions determine game decisions for even the best players.

But when Amanda tries to flush Parvati’s idol, it doesn’t take a foxy boxer to realize she’s lying. “You better play that thing,” Amanda tells her former ally. Okay — hint dropped. Now move on. But instead, Amanda continues, “Just in case. Just play it. Just to be safe.” And again: “And if we don’t talk again, play it. For you.”

Amanda might as well hold up a sign that says: “SUBTEXT: YOU DON’T NEED TO PLAY YOUR IDOL.” Russell and Sandra are both masters at dropping a hint — the Russell Seed and the Sandra Bug — that tease their targets into a paranoid fever. But seeds and bugs start out small. When Amanda clobbers Parvati with the Amanda Bat, Parvati immediately realizes two things: her old ally has betrayed her, and she won’t be the Heroes’ target.

There’s a big difference, however, between knowing rationally you’re not a target and risking your neck at Tribal Council. Parvati wins the Fishy this episode for her bold move: she gives both her “two little green men” away in one fell swoop. She doesn’t just use one idol to try to save an ally and hold on to her second for a rainy day. She gives both her idols away – and to the two Villainesses who like her least. The move keeps the Villains tribe intact, sends JT home, and proves that Parvati is one of the best players of all time. Well done.

JT’s entire game this season has been a high-wire act. By flipping between alliances, he decided every vote on the Heroes tribe and eliminated his biggest threats one by one. But he never built up a history of trust with any of his tribemates. When Amanda and Candice caught him with his hand in the idol jar, he was pushed into tossing the idol like a hot potato to the other team. It was a bold move. Last night, it came back to haunt him. –Stephen Fishbach

Tell Us: Why wouldn’t JT believe Rupert? What will happen between Parvati and Russell? Is this curtains for the Heroes tribe?Monty Brinton/CBS(2)