Survivor 45 Recap: An Explosive Vote Delivers the Tribal Council We All Deserve — Who Didn’t ‘Earn the Merge’?

Thank the Survivor Gods above: Season 45’s big merge episode is (still) hourglass-free. That, my friends, I am happy to report. But just because the franchise’s most nonsensical twist remained dormant doesn’t mean that Tribal Council was immune from a healthy dose of chaos.

And boy, were there fireworks! It may not have been the first time a player won safety from a Shot in the Dark (that honor goes to last season’s Jaime Lynn Ruiz), but it was the first time that a Shot in the Dark flipped the vote entirely upside down. After the tribes merged, Kaleb’s social game was seen as too expert-level, prompting literally everyone who voted to write his name down. But thanks to some damn good Survivor luck, Kalab played his Shot and saw those glorious four letters emerge from that teeny, tiny parchment: SAFE.

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Now, I haven’t been the been the biggest fan of the Shot in the Dark twist since it was first introduced back in 41, but thankfully — finally! — it gave producers the moment I can only imagine they’d been waiting for. Not only did someone else’s torch get snuffed as a direct result of Kaleb’s newfound safety, but the event sparked a revote as well. A fiery outburst of surprise, tons of drama, intrigue! I have to admit, it was a helluva lot of fun to watch.

So who ultimately took the hit and missed the official merge by one vote? Let’s recap this madness from the top.

LULU | Since Sabiyah walked out of the game with the tribe’s idol in her pocket, that means another’s most likely ripe for the picking. Surely enough, it’s found by Uncle Bruce, and since everyone was looking together, he rips it open in public. It’s a Beware Advantage that tells him he’s lost his vote until he can find the idol that’s buried under their shelter. His plans to hide it from Katurah go up in flames, as she moseys back to camp, but Jake smartly pretends to lose a ring, so they can continue to dig in front of her. Their effort is temporarily halted when a boat pulls up to the beach telling them they have 10 minutes to collect their things before they head out to their new home. With the clock ticking, Bruce digs and digs, and finally finds what he’s looking for. And with a merge literally minutes away, that thing could come in handy.

Survivor 45 Episode 6 Recap
Survivor 45 Episode 6 Recap

MERGE-ISH | As the tribes all get acquainted, Emily quickly tells Bruce she owes him an apology. Everyone’s all smiles for reaching this game milestone, but they’re also already counting their allies. Kaleb hopes that he and Emily can be the swing votes in between the other two majority tribes. While Emily smooths things over with Bruce, Austin fills Julie and Dee in about all things amulet. Along with Drew, they decide that J is the best option, since getting her out will increase Austin’s amulet’s power.

While Kaleb turns his charm up to 11, Bruce starts to get paranoid that no one’s talked to him yet, not even any of his old Belo comrades. Bruce then tries to strong-arm Kaleb into not talking to Reba members. Unc’ feels threatened that he’s losing his leadership role, but Kellie tells us he’s impossible to play with anyway. But now that he has an idol, it could be trickier than ever to get him gone.

But enough about Uncle Bruce, we’ve got a CHALLENGE to play! Tribal idols are no more, but Jeff makes it clear, they’re still in a state of limbo. The players are randomly divided into two teams of six to run what looks like the longest, most never-ending challenge the show has ever seen. (Well, aside from Ian and Tom’s nearly 12-hour endurance feat in Palau, of course.)

Survivor 45 Episode 6 Recap
Survivor 45 Episode 6 Recap

The teams are split up as follows. The Red Team is made up of Kaleb, J, Jake, Dee, Emily and Kellie. Blue consists of Sifu, Drew, Bruce, Austin, Julie and Kendra. Katurah sits out, but chooses to side with Blue.

The physical elements of the challenge look wildly demanding. There’s a mud crawl through a heavy net, a large cart to push, heavy sand bags to lift, a tower to climb. And it all culminates with not one, but two puzzles. The Blue team comes out on top winning immunity, a merge feast and their merge buff. As for Kaleb, J, Jake, Dee, Emily and Kellie — one of these players will succumb to Jeff’s torch snuffer.

SANCTUARY | After noshing on some yummy, well-deserve eats, the winners get to it. Sifu makes it clear that he wants to gun for J, which Drew immediately jumps aboard. Julie and Kendra bring up Kaleb’s name, who Bruce is more than fine to cut, which confuses Katurah. But this short little scene is all we see from the winners’ side of things.

STRATEGY | Back at camp, Jake and J talk about targeting one of the two remaining Lulu members, but Dee starts sprinkling seeds for a J vote. When the winners come back from the Sanctuary, Bruce pushes hard to see if anyone will join him in ousting Kaleb. Drew runs with that, telling the rest of the Rebas that Kaleb is the smarter play. Emily finds herself in between a rock and a hard place. She doesn’t want to lose the former Rebas trust, but she needs to protect Kaleb, her No. 1 ally. So she gives him a heads up and he spills Bruce’s secret: He tells Sifu and Austin about Bruce’s idol. Will that earn him enough trust to save his hide?

THE TRIBE HAS SPOKEN | Jeff questions the group about their new dynamic and approach to strategy. The topic quickly swivels to Kaleb and his social and physical threat level. He tries to shift the target on J, saying that not only is she a strategic threat, but she, Dee and Julie have been together for 13 days straight. Plus, if Dee and Julie get rid of J, their threat level will lower. But J counters that Kaleb’s been repeatedly losing, yet he’s still found a way to sneak through time after time.

When it’s time to vote, Austin extends the life of his idol by not voting (it is now a fully-fledged idol), while J writes down Kaleb’s name. When Jeff calls for advantages or idols, Kaleb reveals that he played his Shot in the Dark. When Jeff unravels the little scroll, Kaleb is… SAFE! There’s a huge reaction from the group (and from my couch), and when the results are tallied, all 11 votes are for Kaleb and not a single one of them counts.

Everyone (minus Kaleb) must vote again, so Jeff gives them a few minutes to scramble, as whispers of “J” and “Emily” float throughout Tribal. But when everything is said and done, Emily receives one vote, but the rest all fall on J, who becomes the sixth person to leave Survivor 45. (Read our exit interview with J here.)

How about that Shot in the Dark play, huh? Were you happy the Survivor Gods blessed Kaleb with safety? Go full tilt boogie in the comments and let us know!

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