(CBS) – Drop your buffs! It’s finally halftime in Survivor! But… not so fast – this wasn’t any traditional merge like the past. This episode included so many twists – we were left with a game-changing cliffhanger. Here’s how it all went down in part 1 of the merge:

Photo Courtesy of CBS

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Ua Tribe

With only Shan and Ricard left on the Ua tribe, tensions are higher than ever between the two. Before the last Tribal, Shan and Ricard (who’ve proven to be one of the strongest alliances in the game so far) were beginning to argue with one another about their shared advantages. Collectively, they’ve both managed to gain a “steal a vote” advantage, which they both stole from JD, as well as an additional Hidden Immunity Idol, which they also both stole from Genie.

Since voting out Genie at the last Tribal Council, Shan and Ricard haven’t seen eye-to-eye about who should hold these advantages. Shan is taking full ownership of both of them, so she feels they’re hers to keep. On the other hand, Ricard knows he’s been a vital asset to her game and believes they’re also his to hold onto as well. Now, Shan is demanding Ricard to give her back the “steal a vote” advantage. It seems that this once ‘strong alliance’ may not be all that strong heading into the merge…

The Merge 

The three tribes received a tree mail that congratulated them on reaching a significant milestone of the season – the merge! But, little do they know… they were in for another major twist. Host Jeff Probst broke the fourth wall on this episode as he let us in on the new twist of the merge.

Yep – nothing is easy, and nothing earned is guaranteed.

After Probst famously tells the castaways to “drop their buffs,” he then shares how the castaways weren’t merged just yet. In this moment of the game, these castaways now had to draw rocks to divide into two teams: blue and yellow. The two teams would have to compete in a challenge to get a spot in the merge –– along with winning the signature merge feast that comes with it. And, that’s not all. The winning “team” gets immunity from the next Tribal Council – that’s because the losing team will then have to compete against one another in the first Individual Immunity Challenge.

[Exhales] … oh, and THAT’S not all. While drawing rocks, the two out of the twelve castaways who draw the gray-colored rock will have to sit out and face a twist after the challenge. The two castaways who drew the gray rocks were Naseer and Erika. This leaves the two teams:

Blue: Danny, Ricard, Deshawn, Sydney and Evvie

Yellow: Xander, Heather, Liana, Tiffany and Shan

The merge challenge itself was physically exhausting, as always. The two teams had to dig up a giant boulder and physically push it across the course, giving a whole new meaning to Probst’s famous Survivor phrase, “You’ve gotta’ dig deep!” Plus, these castaways even had to use one another as human ladders. Yeah… this challenge was no joke. In the end, it was down the notorious word-scramble, where the two teams were neck and neck. But, it was the blue team who won their spot in the merge, along with their winning phrase, of a “merge feast.”

Photo Courtesy of CBS

The winning blue team, who held most of the previous Luvu tribe, had to decide which fellow Luvu member would join them with the merge immunity, along with a spot at the dinner table. The remaining member? Oh, they’d be sent away to Exile Island, where they’d be left alone for two full days and two full nights to survive. This wasn’t an easy decision… or was it?

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Danny, who spoke for the winning team, claimed they decided from “rock paper scissors” and chose Naseer to join them on the merge. This means Erika will be excluded from the rest of the castaways and must make her way to Exile Island for two full days.

Photo Courtesy of CBS

At the feast, the six castaways began to strategize a bit and even mentioned how Erika would be the best person to vote out next. Danny, who we know has been conducting an alliance with Deshawn and Naseer, even nodded to the fact how he’s aware more men are getting voted out this season than women. Danny shares behind the scenes how the “rock paper scissors” decision was indeed a cover-up, based on inspiration from previous Survivor seasons – because he wanted to keep Naseer safe from Tribal Council.

Meanwhile, the remaining five castaways, who were left hungry and anxious, began to strategize amongst themselves as well. Xander, who’s feeling the most vulnerable of the bunch, knows he’s on the bottom due to the camp dynamics. Since Shan and Liana had a bonding experience at a previous Survivor Summit, these two are pretty tight. So tight, Shan even asks, or should I say, blabs*, the fact that Liana has an advantage – right in front of Tiffany. Tiffany, who thought she had a tight-three alliance with Liana and Evvie, is surprised to hear this.

Behind the scenes, Liana shared how she didn’t want to reveal she earned the “Knowledge is Power” advantage to anyone but Shan. But, since Shan mentioned it in front of Tiffany, there was no turning back for her. Tiffany ultimately forced Liana to share more on what this advantage means. Since this advantage gives Liana the power to steal an advantage or an idol (as long as it’s within the rules) –  she explains to both Shan and Tiffany how she has her eye on stealing one of Xander’s assets. But, little does Liana know, since she didn’t tell Tiffany about the advantage right away, Tiffany now has her eye on HER.

After the red-buffers arrived back at their merged camp, this episode stirred up even more potential alliances. Xander and Naseer seem to be like-minded in this game. Sydney is now making alliances with Evvie and Tiffany. And, there’s even some talk between Deshawn, Danny, Liana, and Shan, who’re teasing the idea of embracing the added diversity this season by forming a ‘people of color’ alliance.

Stronger bonds are finally beginning to form – but which alliance will outlast the rest?

Exile Island 

Earlier in the episode, we see Erika arrive at her new camp, facing a major Survivor reality-check. She’s left alone with limited food and supplies – and at this point, she’s even questioning if she’ll make it out alive these next few nights. Erika then shares more about where she came from and how she never grew up getting things handed to her. She says if she can make it through these days on Exile, she’ll tap into the “lion” hidden inside her and believes she can win this game.

But before we end the episode, Erika is faced with a brand new twist. Jeff Probst even made an appearance on this one. Probst arrived at her camp, giving her an ominous, black sand hourglass. He then tells her how her previous tribe members unknowingly gave her tremendous power. Erika’s advantage allows her to “change history” in the game. She can go “back in time” and change the outcome of the last challenge. This means she can give the losing castaways, including herself, immunity from tribal and have the winning castaways compete in the next Individual Immunity Challenge instead. This is a huge twist in the game. Her hourglass sand represents the time in the game – now, she has to decide, will she make history by changing history?

Photo Courtesy of CBS

It may be halfway through this season, but it seems like the game has just begun! We’re left with a huge cliffhanger now – which means no one was voted out on this week’s episode on Survivor.

Let me know your thoughts on this wild, game-changing season and tweet me @mick_cloudy !

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Don’t miss part two of the merge next week on Wednesday at 8/7c on CBS as well as streaming live and on-demand with Paramount+ or the CBS App!