This episode of Survivor feels hard to write about — how it went down all makes sense, and that’s what makes it hurt. In a way, everyone acted how I thought they would act, and all of those actions and choices made sense. But the result was the exact one I was hoping wouldn’t happen.
At the start of the episode, the Lulu tribe discusses the aftermath of their last Tribal Council. Emily Flippen has deduced that someone on her tribe didn’t have a vote — because Jeff was able to send Brandon Donlon home after reading only two votes. She immediately thinks it’s Sabiyah Broderick who doesn’t have a vote. Sabiyah easily and flawlessly reassures Emily that she did in fact vote, which viewers at home know is absolutely a lie! Sabiyah is a gifted social player — she tells lies so calmly and plainly that even I almost believed her, even though I know what she’s saying isn’t true! (She calls to mind the absolutely iconic Cirie Fields in just how easily she connects with and manipulates people around her, all while maintaining apparent kindness.)
At the reward challenge, miraculously, the Lulu tribe wins! They get to eat a big platter of fruit! And it feels like such a great moment, because their victory shows that voting out Brandon was the right move for their tribe. It’s a much needed morale (and nutrition) boost.
But the good vibes, sadly, are not long-lasting. While Kaleb Gebrewold is raiding the Reba (not McIntyre, somehow) tribe, which was part of the reward for winning the previous challenge, Sabiyah and Sean Edwards discuss turning on him. Kaleb is a huge threat: he’s good at challenges, and perhaps more importantly, he’s extremely strong socially, able to make a connection with seemingly every single person in this game. Sabiyah and Sean bring Emily in on the plan to secretly blindside Kaleb, should they go to Tribal. Emily seems like she’s on board — anything to turn the votes away from her.
But here’s my thing about Emily: She came into this game thinking she was a deeply rational, intellect-based player, but I think she’s actually one of the most emotional players in this game. Her change in demeanor and game play from episode one to two is drastic. It’s like Kaleb was the first person to tell her, ever, about the power of tact. And somehow, it really landed with Emily! All of this to say… from that moment on, I thought: Emily is never going to betray Kaleb. She will always find a way to be loyal to him, even if it doesn’t make strategic sense.
Just as the editing has primed us to believe, the Lulu tribe loses the immunity challenge, which means they have to go to Tribal Council once again. Honestly, it’s brutal to watch. All four of these players come off as quite strong to me, in very different ways, and I really don’t want to see any of them go. (My theory is that Lulu’s weakness is that they don’t have anyone on their tribe who excels at puzzles, the great equalizers of Survivor challenges.)
Scrambling ensues back at camp. Sabiyah and Sean are still on board to blindside Kaleb, but of course they can’t tell Kaleb that. So Sabiyah tells Kaleb that they are still planning to vote out Emily, a move they’d discussed way earlier in the season, when Emily was still in her villain era. And in an absolutely genius strategic move, Sabiyah tells Kaleb that she’s gonna tell Emily that they are doing a Kaleb vote, so that Emily doesn’t get suspicious about the votes being on her. What an intelligent move. This way, if Emily tries to tell Kaleb that Sabiyah and Sean are voting for him, Kaleb won’t know if (1) Emily is telling the truth or (2) Emily is just telling her what Sabiyah wants her to believe is the truth. We know it really is the truth, but Sabiyah has laid the tracks for Kaleb to think it’s only the lie being fed to Emily!
Seemingly just before heading to Tribal, Sabiyah tells Emily about her Beware Advantage, the idol encased in wax, and the explanation for why she hasn’t been able to vote. This was the only moment where I felt like Sabiyah’s social game faltered. She didn’t seem to anticipate that revealing this information to Emily would show Emily that Sabiyah had lied the night before about not voting and therefore would make Emily distrust her. Like I said, Emily’s an emotional player. She likes Kaleb, and now, in her mind, has further reason to distrust Sabiyah.
With this in mind, Emily divulges Sabiyah and Sean’s plan to Kaleb. But remember: Sabiyah already told Kaleb that she would tell Emily to vote for him. So Emily is saying exactly what Kaleb would expect her to say, even though she’s really telling the truth! So then it becomes a question: will Kaleb believe Sabiyah, and vote for Emily, or believe Emily, and vote for Sabiyah? Who is the bigger threat to eliminate?
At Tribal Council, Sabiyah throws her wax-encased idol into the fire to melt the wax (which I have to believe, other viewers at home were wondering why she didn’t do the last few times they’ve been at Tribal!), in an attempt to activate her idol and restore her vote. In the voting booth, Sabiyah learns she can extend the power of her otherwise dead idol by sacrificing her vote tonight, so of course she chooses to risk it and sacrifice her vote, because she has no idea Emily has turned on her.
When Jeff reads out the votes, it’s exactly how I thought it would be: one vote for Kaleb (from Sean) and two votes for Sabiyah (from Emily and Kaleb). It makes sense to me that Kaleb turned on Sabiyah to blindside her; she’s a much bigger threat than Emily, who has only proven how useful her loyalty can be to him.
But nonetheless, it hurts! I can’t help but feel like if Sabiyah hadn’t been on this spectacularly dysfunctional and unlucky tribe, she could’ve gone so much further in the game. If this tribe’s path charts anything like that of Spencer Blesdoe, Tasha Fox and Cass McQuillen in Survivor: Cagayan, the three remaining on this tribe — Emily, Sean, and Kaleb — could make it very far. I had hoped and wished that Sabiyah would be one of the three to make it out of this tribe alive — but her tribemates identified her as too strong of a player to not target, and I can’t blame them.
So here’s to Sabiyah, a contestant with a voice as smooth as butter, who never seemed to lose her cool and had endless patience for everyone she interacted with. Sabiyah was more than a hard worker; she was a stalwart competitor who played with more heart than you typically see for people who excel at the physical aspects of the game. She smiled and joked through some of the biggest frustrations of the season, while also seamlessly navigating socially nuanced situations. I fervently hope that she comes back to Survivor (and I think she will!!), because we have a lot more to learn from Sabiyah Broderick.
How do you feel about Sabiyah’s departure? Let me know in the comments!