Pre-credit sequence. J'Tia is gone. "It's a complete roller-coaster ride," reflects Spencer, who is very grateful that Tasha and Kass chose him. "I just knew if we kept her, we would be back there in three days and regretting it," Kass reflects on her decision, which she describes as a "last minute" switch. "How my team has played this game is ridiculous. We're not the Brain Tribe, we're the Crap-for-Brains Tribe," Kass notes, dubbing the tribe, "Just a rolling log-jam mess with a couple nerds on top." Spencer jokes that the only thing standing between them and the Final 3 is "two entire tribes." The next morning... Tree-Mail! There's a hint that Reward and food are coming and they're hungry. The Brains think this is the start of their comeback. Or at least that's sure what they hope. Everybody arrives at the beach ready for a challenge and... "Alright everybody, drop your buffs," Probst says without hesitation. "Brains, Brawn and Beauty is no more," he adds. Time for some Harrison Bergeron-style weights, brain-shocking and paper bag masks!

Shuffle the Deck. The last couple times we've shuffled the resulting tribes have been woefully unbalanced. Will today be any different? Sarah is displeased that she may not be with the entirely trustworthy Tony anymore. Instead of goo-filled eggs, the players select covered buffs. The tribes are Orange and Puple. Ha. The Brains Tribe, they all pick Orange. Stuck together. Or united powerfully? The mix isn't instantly unbalanced, but it's sure weird. The new Orange tribe is Spencer, Tasha and Kass, plus Sarah, Alexis, Morgan and Jeremiah. The Purple Tribe is Woo, Cliff, Trish, Jefra, LJ, Lindsey and Tony. Sarah is immediately worried as the only Brawn in her group. "It feels like I'm the odd one out. My entire tribe just walked away from me," Sarah says. "I'm so excited," Tasha says. Meanwhile, Jefra and LJ are the only Beauty members in a tribe of Brawn, but Jefra is hoping to find cracks. "It definitely shifts people's thought process," Cliff acknowledges. 

As a team, you have only one job to do: Keep the other team off the pole. Reward is up for grabs. On person will cling to a pole and two people will attempt to grab them and drag them. Seriously? That's the task. I know the producers didn't know things would shake out this way, but come on. Oh. Wait. Want to know what they're playing for? They're playing for a sugar feast. But screw that. Can we go back? The task is completely and totally brawn-biased and one tribe is 2/3rds Brawn? Anybody else think Purple is about to dominate this stupidity? It's a physical aggressive and unpleasant challenge. Normally I'd think it'd be fun to watch Morgan wrestle, but in this case? Meh. Kudos to Tasha, taking advantage of Jefra and Trish's weakness as Orange wins the first point! The second challenge sure looks better for Purple, with Cliff going against Alexis. "Doesn't seem fair," Probst says accurately, as Cliff laughs at the Lilliputians attempting to move him, Alexis is pulled away with ease. The last challenge has Cliff clinging again, going against Sarah. It's ridiculous. Again, Cliff is basically unmovable. Even if you somehow could get Cliff off the pole, you'd be dragging 6'10", 300 pounds. What's the point? Sarah is persistent and makes it closer than it should be, but Purple wins a stupid challenge. Cliff laughs. "It's nice to upgrade from the moms to the hot girls," Spencer says, but admits that something always seems to go wrong for him.

Nice twerk if you can get it. Purple is Solana, if you care. They're staying at the old Beauty camp. On one hand, LJ is happy to have a donut or two, but he knows the way the numbers look for him and Jefra. He's hoping to be absorbed into the tribe and not viewed as a threat. Fortunately, he has an unexpected in. Trish is overjoyed to discover that LJ is from Massachusetts and even more pleased to learn that LJ is single, even though she protests "I'm not Mrs. Robinson." LJ's pretty matter-of-fact about Trish's affections. "I'm gonna use it to save myself," LJ says. See? Beauty works!  There's a horrible, horrible discussion about Trish twerking and whether or not anybody wants to see Trish twerk. Nobody stops to ask if Trish actually knows what tweaking is because... Ew. "You're 50 years old. Stop trying to get attention from 20-year-old men," Lindsey grumbles. Cliff is happy with the Shuffle, though he wishes Trish weren't getting so close with LJ.

Boom to Bust. Orange is Aparri, if you care. Sarah welcomes her new tribe back to the Brawn camp. In the interest of honesty, Sarah talks about Trish taking the double-rice for her tribe, which forces Morgan to admit that she lied. As she rubs her chest -- A distraction? A nervous tick? Just a sign of sweat? -- she swears that while she chose the clue, she didn't find the Idol. Awkward! Alexis didn't like Morgan much anyway, but whatever Beauty solidarity existed? That's out the window. "Not that she doesn't have 100 red flags already. It told me exactly what I needed to know," says Alexis, who's ready to immediately jump ship. Alexis goes to Tasha, Spencer and Kass, who are suddenly potential power players. Spencer notes Alexis' desperation and he knows that Brain is about to take control. Spencer's not even impressed with their social skills. The fracturing continues in the water with Jeremiah vowing to vote with the Brains if that's what they want. "We went from tragedy to what seems to be a triumph right now," Tasha gloats. Smiles everywhere!

Freshly squeezed egg-juice. Back to Solana, where Jefra is worried that she needs to make friends fast. She starts with Trish, who reassures Jefra that Lindsey and Cliff are in an alliance, but she isn't with them. Trish is really fast to narc on all of the fissures in her old tribe, but she never belonged on Brawn in the first place. "I'm not gonna count my chickens before they hatch, but I think there might be a spot for LJ and I to squeeze in," Jefra says, suddenly an expert on chickens and their eggs after last week's lesson. She's agreeable with Trish, saying that she's found Cliff to be shady. Poor Cliff. He hasn't been slightly shady. But there we are!

It's big. It's heavy. It's wood. Immunity is up for grabs, but only one Idol, of course. They keep the big one, even Jeff doesn't know its gender. The challenge is log-based and has a strength component and then a puzzle component. It involves using a log to bash through a pair of walls composed of 2X4 and then navigating the log through a maze-type-thing. Trish sits out for Solana, while Morgan loses rock-paper-scissors with Alexis and sits out. You'll be shocked to discover that the Brawn-heavy Solana tribe initially dominates the wall-bashing, but then Aparri comes up with a better bashing strategy and the teams are tied at the maze. Both teams are close. Aparri frees their log and they win! "That was awesome! We communicated! We killed it!" Spencer yells. "How did that happen?" says a confused Tony. "It was custom-made for Brawn," Tony complains, not understanding the exact nature of the challenge. Tony thinks LJ is the biggest threat and that he'll be the target. This is what Tony gets for not actually communicating with anybody. 

The season goes off a Cliff. Solana returns, grumbly. "That sucked," Cliff says, but says the other tribe has to get credit. LJ also thinks the challenge was only about brute force, so he's worried that he's screwed. "I just hope you consider that I can help you in challenges," LJ pleads. Cliff is worried that Trish is playing with her emotions and make a mistake, so he consolidates the forces against LJ. Woo and Lindsey are both on-board, with Woo reassuring the others that Trish will be good when it comes to voting. Trish, however, goes to LJ and repeats the story about Cliff's shadiness and says that she has a four-person block. "It just doesn't make sense to me. You're 5-to-2. You don't need to talk anything," says the frustratingly smart LJ. "I play with my heart and I really like LJ," says the embarrassing Trish, who mentions Cliff's "entitlement." She cackles at Cliff's cluelessness. Lindsey knows that Trish is going to flip. Trish continues with her anti-Cliff campaign, apparently he has never gathered firewood and in 13 days he never spoke to her. I'm not sure where this is all coming from, though it may be true. Trish also has some absurd rant about how Cliff will be unbeatable after a Merge, "Survivor" has truly been about brute strength post-Merge in many years. Tony is incredulous. "There's no reason to do this right now," Tony says. Like LJ, he can count and he knows that Brawn has a 5-2 advantage and should keep things simple. "Can you trust me on this one?" Trish says. "We're five-deep. It just doesn't make sense," Tony protests. However, Tony thinks that Cliff is influential, which makes him powerful. For the first time, we see Cliff and Tony strategize. "We're gonna chop down Trish's new support system and have her come groveling back to her old tribemates," Cliff theorizes. LJ is putting all of his trust into Trish and Tony, but he's planning on paying close attention and he's ready to play his Idol.

Tribal Council. Fire still represents life. LJ tells a funny story about how he felt like he and Jefra were a couple selling their home or something. Jefra's amused by the analogy. Cliff isn't. He says it should be simple to stick with the numbers, but he lays into Trish for playing with her emotions. "People have to understand that this game is about numbers," Cliff says. "You can't let your emotions get the best of you," Woo agrees. "Numbers are only important if they're also gonna work for you," Trish says, as Jefra and LJ start smiling. "Somebody's the bottom man in that five," Jefra says. Cliff compares this to an NBA playoff game and says the series doesn't start till you lose a game. "It all depends how the vote goes down," Tony says accurately.

The Vote. Woo writes LJ's name down. "You can't call the shots forever," Jefra says, writing Cliff's name. "Nothing personal, just strategical," Tony says of his unseen vote. LJ takes a deep breath, but doesn't play his Idol. Probst tallies: LJ. Cliff. LJ. Cliff. LJ. Cliff. [And that's the bad vote.] CLIFF. Lindsey is shocked. Woo is worried. Jefra thanks God. LJ is incredulous, but relieved. Trish is smirky. "I thought I was staying up on what was going on around camp," Cliff says. He still has a smile on his face.

Bottom Line, Part I. Nope. Bad strategy. Targeting Cliff at this point in the game is absolutely inexcusable, whether you're Tony last week or Trish this week. It's pure emotion and we haven't seen anything to support the emotion at all. Cliff's strength is exactly the strength that's useful in a pre-Merge game and then becomes essentially useless post-Merge. Have you seen the people who have become post-Merge Immunity powerhouses in recent years? Cochran? Monica? Come on. Agility and endurance are the coin of the realm post-Merge and guess who isn't going to dominate in those? The gigantic former athlete. And then, guess what? We talked about this last week: If you go to the Final Three with Cliff, you point at him and go, "That dude made $61 million in his NBA career. Are you really going to give him another million?" That wouldn't persuade me, but it would persuade a "Survivor" jury. The only reason you target Cliff is because you're bitter about something. Otherwise, you keep him around at this stage in the game. Did you see him in the basketball challenge? Did you see him in the pole challenge? Those are pre-Merge challenges where a guy like Cliff is as valuable as it comes. It was dumb of Tony and Sarah to be conspiring against him last week and dumb of Trish to do it this week. We're still a few episodes from a Merge and the way it looks from here, Aparri ought to have a good numbers advantage at the Merge.

Bottom Line, Part II. The week's big winner is LJ, obviously. He played Trish exactly right and played that Tribal Council exactly right. And suddenly in one week, he went from being down 2-5 in numbers to being up either 4-2 or 3-2-1, if you believe that Tony is still a wild card. And he still has the Idol. 

Bottom Line, Part III. Actually, the week's biggest winner is Brains, the collective unit. Last week, they were down 6-5-3 in the numbers and they got an unimaginably good Shuffle. It couldn't have been better. They're all together. The only Brawn person in the tribe is the smartest person from that group, who has been left without her one-person lifeboat in Tony. And the three Beauty members happen to be the most easily divisible group available. Had it been LJ, Jefra and Alexis on Aparri? Then there's a scramble and Sarah has the power. By getting Morgan as one of the three Beauty members, that was a total score for brains and getting the wishy-washy Jeremiah was just an added bonus. I can't think of any way things could have gone better for the Brains. That should make the second half of the game fun.

Bottom Line, Part IV. That was a solid episode. The Shuffle did interesting things to the dynamic of the game and assuming we don't get many more challenges like that pole-grabbing thing, it appears that a possible rout will be one driven by chemistry and cohesiveness, rather than all of the Alphas somehow ending up on the same tribe. I'm annoyed by the way the vote went down because I liked Cliff and I don't like Trish or her faulty logic, but stupid votes are good TV sometimes.

What do you think?

A long-time member of the TCA Board and a longer-time blogger of "American Idol," Dan Fienberg writes about TV, except for when he writes about movies or sometimes writes about the Red Sox. But never music. He would sound stupid talking about music.