Merge day is always an interesting one on Survivor, but this season's merge came on the heels of one of the nastiest, most inappropriate game moves of all time.
In case you've somehow forgotten, during last week's tribal council, Jeff Varner decided to out fellow Nuku tribe member Zeke Smith as transgender in a completely misguided effort to paint him as deceitful. It backfired immediately, with all of Nuku turning on Jeff in support of Zeke, and voting wasn't even necessary to know that everyone wanted to send Jeff home.
Tonight's episode began with a few lingering discussions about what happened at tribal. Sarah declared that she can't forgive Jeff, and she's so happy that despite her conservative background, she woke up that morning and Zeke was just Zeke. Tai cried. And Zeke, whose opinion is the only one that actually matters, said that he believed that Survivor had helped him get over his own fears and "issues and complexes and insecurities of being transgender."
Nuku tribe all seemed to agree that what had happened brought them closer together, so of course, we then cut to them all arriving at what looked like a classic merge feast.
It was, in fact, a classic merge feast, but this is Survivor, so there was a twist. One person from each tribe would have to voluntarily sit out of the feast. Culpepper and Tai kind of immediately raised their hands, then headed off to sit alone while Debbie pretended to be drunk to the point of mooning people without actually drinking at all, just because she's Debbie.
Once the tribes actually merged, the biggest question we had was whether or not Zeke would fill the Mana players in on what Jeff had done, and we didn't have to wait for an answer. Zeke explained what went down at tribal council, and from what we saw, everyone reacted pretty respectfully.
"Though it happened in a way that I wasn't crazy about, I think I, like all of you, am forever changed, and forever evolved by my experience on Survivor, and was a much stronger and more capable person in that moment," he told his new tribemates.
Aubry said something or other about how she had a lot more respect for Zeke than she did for a lot of the other castaways (because he shared his story?), and then the castaways moved on to stealthily figuring out who needed to go home next. Zeke's outing was essentially forgotten about.
The immunity challenge, a repeat of one used multiple times before, hurt just to watch. Each contestant had to stand on a ledge on their toes, holding a block between their head and the top of the frame above them. Our legs hurt in our reclining chair. Andrea was the last one standing, so she became the first person to win individual immunity this season, and was the first woman to ever win that challenge.
After the challenge, most people seemed to be voting Michaela, but in front of Michaela, Sierra (who decided she was in charge, for some reason) claimed everyone was voting Zeke because of how his story is only going to help him in the eyes of the jury.
Only Hali and Michaela ended up voting for Zeke, but it was Hali who actually went home, making her the first member of the jury.
In the second half of the double episode, the tribe divided into two teams for a reward challenge that gave them a spa experience thanks to Marshalls. Debbie, Zeke, Tai, Ozzy, and Andrea won, and got to take showers and have another feast. "Marshall, that was awesome," Debbie said.
Zeke wasn't ready to let his mind take a break from the game, so he took the opportunity to get Debbie and Tai to help him vote for Andrea. Whether his plan worked is unclear, since everything about Debbie is unclear.
After Tai defeated Ozzy on one of his signature challenges (hanging on a poll for a really long time), Zeke continued his quest to get people to vote for Andrea, but it totally backfired. Instead, people started planning to vote for the move-making Zeke after Andrea realized the guy she thought was her friend was planning to betray her. Meanwhile, Debbie ran around telling everyone they were voting for Ozzy and planning to blindside him.
At tribal council, after a whole lot of talk about everyone being cagey, Ozzy and Zeke were neck and neck in terms of votes. Then, Debbie stepped in with her extra vote, and Ozzy was voted out by that one vote, saving the tribe from a tie, which would have saved both Zeke and Ozzy from leaving. We'll miss Ozzy, but damn if that wasn't the perfect time for Debbie to use her extra vote. (Plus, we now don't have to worry about the unpredictable Debbie having an extra vote.)
It might be safe to say that in every way, Survivor: Game Changers is one of the most interesting seasons the show has ever done, and it will be fascinating to see where it goes from here.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.