My notes/reactions from these two episodes.
1.Especially for someone like me who's upper and middle parts of my season rankings are very tight and close together, a solid episode or two is enough for a season to shoot up a few places in my rankings. Not only did we lose the season's final of 3-4 duds in JP in the first vote, I felt like everyone had a role to play in both episodes, everyone was jockeying for position and considering multiple options, and this redeem some of the slower parts of the season.
2.I was right about final 9 being the spot for the flip. Sometimes the previews when they are as dramatic as this one, it ends up being a bluff, but this time the flip really did happen. And it wasn't just a move for the sake of making a move, it really did help Lauren, Devon, Ben, and Ashley's position in the game. Of course that could change next episode though. A small pagonging of 2-3 episodes is definitely more forgiveable than a 5-6 episode one, especially when it's brought to a halt in such fasion.
3.We've had 4 idols played this season (Joe at F15, Joe at F12, Mike at F10, and Ryan at F8) which is a nice deviation from last season where a lot of idols were held until the deadline and ended up really screwing someone over (Cirie). Alan was entertaining for a few episodes but he was a small price to pay if we are going to have a 25% idol effectiveness rate. It's nice to see idols work but not all the time.
4.I think it was a smart move for Lauren, Ben, Devon, and Ashley to move on from the alliance earlier than 7. You want to leave the alliance before the alliance leaves you. Who knows what could've been for LJ and Jefra had they been the ones to use Jeremiah, Tasha, and Spencer against the Brawn remnants at final 9. Voting out JP over Ryan and Chrissy however was not the best move strategically. They knew Ryan had the idol and knew Ryan wasn't going to play it, and although JP has come close to winning a few immunity challenges, he still went 0 for 4. However from an audience perspective I'm glad they took out JP before Ryan and Chrissy so we could see both Ryan and Chrissy squirm together.
5.Lauren handled the reward selection dilemma as best as possible. She is taking advantage of how no one is noticing her gameplan to set up the movement that could potentially get her to the end and win. Part of it could be that when you get to choose 3 or more players, it's less suspicious especially when you pick a diverse group. Who is going to expect Lauren to have Devon, Ashley, and Ben all in her end game? Good move.
6.Devon's idea of making Ben an extra Mike vote to seem like he was betrayed was a tricky but rewarding move. That prevents Joe and Mike from knowing everything and gives Ryan and Chrissy hope that they can recruit Ben, Joe, and Mike to flip the script at the next vote. Most importantly, and probably the only justification for voting JP over Ryan, Ben can warn Devon, Ashley, and Lauren about Ryan's intentions with the idol. That paid dividends as Ryan wasted his idol.
7.The decision to vote out Joe over Ben was the right move IMO. If they voted out Ben, that left Lauren, Devon, and Ashley vulnerable to a Ryan/Chrissy/Mike/Joe counter attack and best case scenario Lauren has to waste her extra vote on a 4-4 deadlock and possibly a rock draw.
8.I've been back and forth on Ryan/Chrissy and Joe/Mike sometimes I liked both pairs sometimes they annoyed me. But I do want to give props to Joe and Mike because they've been much better sports when they were on the bottom than Ryan and Chrissy were.
9.Overall, props to Ben, Devon, Ashley, and Lauren for a solid two episode outing. I can't really tell who from that 4 could end up being the winner, not to discount Mike, Ryan, or Chrissy from mounting a comeback (though jury vote wise I do see them struggling to amass 5 jury votes). I would be worried if I were them though because I could see Devon, Ashley, and Lauren pulling in Mike to blindside Ben (if Ben doesn't play his idol) or Ben could decide to vote with Ryan, Chrissy, and Mike against Devon, Ashley, and Lauren. If Ben does choose to side with the misfits, he might have to win out because there's not a good chance Ryan, Mike, or Chrissy want to take Ben to the end.
Hopefully you enjoyed these episode as much as I did and I look forward to seeing what your thoughts are.