Well I owe a few apologies.  Not only did this recap come nearly two days later than normal (darn you, Thanksgiving), but instead of turkey I was eating crow.   You see, in my Preview Article on Wednesday morning, I had sort of whined and moaned that usually a two-hour double-episode, tucked right before Thanksgiving, usually ends up being lame…almost a “fast-forward” through what might be a boring stretch or a predictable Tribal Council.  I had speculated which of these players would be the easy target for such an episode.  But holy wow, was I mistaken.  Wednesday’s episode of Survivor was one of the best back-to-back episodes in a long time, and featured what -to me – must be instantly considered a Top-5 All-Time Tribal Council.  Boy I hope nobody missed what went down on Wednesday, because it was a Survivor-strategist’s dream come true, instantly elevating this season into contention – should it maintain this level of intense gameplay – as one of the best Survivor seasons maybe ever (don’t worry, we’ll rank the season as a whole once the smoke clears after Finale next month).

The best part of this Recap coming two days later is it gave us all some extra time not only to digest our turkey dinners, but to digest the magnitude of what we just witnessed.  This is your second-to-last chance to turn back and stop reading, lest you be spoiled as to the events of Wednesday’s double-episode.


So just wow.  Epic.  Historic.  It’s safe to say that this group of newbies are playing the game harder and better than any new batch of players in the show’s 33 seasons.  Sure, give credit to the Second Chance season (Season 31), as chronologically, this was the last season of Survivor to take place prior to Millennials vs. Gen-X.  That season introduced the “voting bloc,” which was sort of a loose alliance of votes that would assemble for a single vote, but then re-shuffle as needed the following vote, without the usual hurt feelings that would come along with such a shifting strategy.  Now, as the “alliance” spawned the “voting bloc,” the “voting bloc” has now given birth to the “#trustcluster,” coined by Hannah, and defined as something in-between an alliance and a voting bwww.  Will it catch on?  Will the trust-cluster give way to another form of Survivor teamwork this or in future seasons?  What we do know, is that it definitely led to what I’m calling a “[email protected]#$” and please feel free to fill in the blanks.

Yes, this is a great time to be a fan of Survivor strategy…I mean, Every.  Single. One. Of these players.  Is absolutely.  Bringing it.  And that’s not to say that everyone is playing a perfect game, oh, quite far from that.  There were mistakes made.  Big, huge, glaring, game-changing mistakes made.  But for just the third time EVER in Survivor History, a player’s fate came down to the luck of the Rock Draw at Tribal.  Poor Jessica saw her game come to a shocking, sudden end, throwing the fate of Ken, David, Adam and Hannah‘s game up into chaos moving forward.


That second Tribal Council was so amazing, such a nail-biter, so filled with anxiety, that it almost makes you forget about the first hour of the show, which also ended in what – at the time – was a pretty amazing Tribal Council as well (already forgot about it?  I know.  The second Tribal Council was THAT GOOD).  But let’s go back shall we?  Taylor had just been taken out, but in doing so he pretty much messed up the games of Adam and Jay.  Jay however, must be given credit, because he just blended into the background and hoped that the Gen-Xers would start eating their own.  It wouldn’t take long for that to happen.  Chris didn’t even wait until morning to start plotting against Jessica, whom he felt strongly should be the next to go.  Will, in an attempt to jump off of the sinking ship that is Jay, decided to tell Zeke about Jay’s Idol.  He in turn told David, and in telling David, he may as well have posted it on social media, because it wasn’t long after that everybody knew about it.    David had an emotional moment at the first Reward Challenge, when he was going to voluntarily sit out of the challenge, questioning his swimming abilities, only to be encouraged and talked into competing by his fellow tribe mates.  This brought David to tears.  Zeke, Adam, Hannah, Sunday and Bret ended up being on the winning team, and get a floating pizza party off of the coast of camp, in sight of the starving challenge losers.

The pizza feast also gave those players letters from home, and we got to see Adam‘s emotional journey as he received an update from his sick mom back home.  And man is David transforming right before our eyes this season.  This meek, neurotic TV writer is becoming a confident and positive force in the game.  He took this boost of energy and used it to win the next Immunity Challenge, a challenge that required concentration and balance.  Yes, David outlasted everyone else.


But David‘s path this episode culminated in what was really the biggest story and take-away of the night:  That there is a massive war brewing between Team David and Team Zeke.  Zeke (rightly so) sees David as a huge threat and knows that he needs to strike soon.  David on the other hand (and also rightly so) sees that Zeke is playing the best game of everyone out there and is a social mastermind at this point, and knows that he needs to take him out.  The awareness of both players is impressive.  Even still, with Jay on the outside of everything, the idea was to make Jay feel as if he was the target, so that they could at least flush his Idol from the game.  Not willing to go directly at one another just yet, David and Zeke were on the same side of the vote, and the #blindside victim was Chris, who was sent to jury.  In a bold, brave move, Jay decides NOT to play his Idol, which was smart for him, and his Idol lives to fight another day.

A word on Chris:  He was a good, fun player but he was such a dominant physical presence that it would have been pretty dumb to let him get too far into this individual stage of the game.  And the players this season don’t do dumb.  Why did Zeke vote along with David?  Because at this point Zeke had an eye on David, but wasn’t quite ready to strike.  That all changed as we headed into the second-half of the double-episode.


Almost immediately – like two players playing to win SurvivorZeke and David began to position themselves in the game.  With Chris being blindsided, it was mainly Bret and Sunday who were left on the outside, so both Zeke and David approached them to reel them back to their respective sides.  It was Zeke who got to Bret first, and Bret – give him credit – was not bitter at being left out, and instead pledged himself to Zeke’s alliance.

Jumping ahead a bit, Bret had one of the best moments – and best sequences – of the season later at a Reward Challenge.  Knocking back some beers (as we’ve seen Bret do on more than one occasion), and with only Zeke at the table, Bret had a deep, heartfelt chat with Zeke.  On national TV, Bret opened himself up to Zeke and the world and came out as gay.  What a great, raw, organic moment.  Drawing comparisons between the generational divide, Bret described that it was “normal” for him to keep this info to himself, because that was the environment where he was from.  As opposed to Zeke, who lives openly with it to the extent that he doesn’t even feel it necessary to point out to people.  Zeke told Bret “you play the game the way you live your life” which is absolutely true…there is no “faking it” on Survivor.  Zeke also called his new bond with Bret the “Rainbow Connection.”  Bret clearly feels comfortable with Zeke, but this speaks more to Zeke’s masterful social game-play, to the extent that he gets people to feel this comfortable around him.


Elsewhere, Hannah is really struggling with who to align with, knowing that the David vs. Zeke battle is brewing.  She ultimately decides to go with David, seeing Zeke as a bigger threat.  Hannah had already been informed by Zeke that they were going to go after David, so Hannah tells David this info, and it sends David into a neurotic spiral.  So it’s on:  David vs Zeke.  As to drive the point home, Jay absolutely destroys everybody else in one of the most lopsided Immunity Challenge wins in the show’s history.  So with Jay safe from the vote, David and Zeke were left to plot against one another.


Here’s where the mistake parade began.  First, through Will, Zeke learns that David actually floated his name out there as the target.  This forces David, Ken and Jessica to HAVE to vote out Zeke, because he now knows they are gunning for him.  Then Hannah – poor, disappointing Hannah – absolutely chokes in a conversation with Zeke.  Zeke had really wanted to work with Hannah and had felt close to her, but when chatting with her about David, she was totally unable to go along with the conversation, and Zeke left with complete certainty that Hannah was no longer on his side.  Damn it Hannah!


So on one side you had Zeke, Bret, Sunday, Will and Jay (five votes) and on the other you had David, Ken, Jessica, Adam and Hannah (five votes).  Unless someone flinched, we were in for an epic Tribal Council.

No one flinched.  at Tribal, David outright asked the “members of Zeke‘s alliance” to raise their hands.  This drew a line in the sand and it was game on.  Now remember, David had an Idol, so the idea was that if his side could correctly guess who to play it on, they could vote out Zeke.  Hannah was almost certain that it was her, knowing that she botched her relationship with Zeke, and the plan coming into Tribal was to use the Idol on Hannah.  But whispers began brewing at Tribal, much to the delight of Jeff Probst, who just had to sit back and watch the madness.  In an absolute stroke of brilliance and misdirection, Sunday leaned over and told Hannah to “stick to the plan,” which is almost never good for someone (ask Keith Nale).  Hannah replied, “What is the plan?” to which Sunday replied “Ken.”  While Bret got abrasive and argued with Ken, right before it was time to vote, Adam – who had overheard the conversation between Sunday and Hannah – blurted out “They were just whispering about voting out Ken!”  Or something to that affect.  After the vote when it came time to play an Idol, David had a moment of uncertainty, ultimately deciding to play the Idol on Ken, based on what Adam had overheard.  It was a horrible miscalculation and a game-changing mistake.


As the votes were read, and with Jay (with the necklace) and Ken (with David’s Idol) safe from the vote, it was indeed Hannah who was the target.  She received five votes as did Zeke, and we had a tie.  Per Survivor rules, there would be a second vote, knowing that after a second vote, if the group couldn’t come up with a UNANIMOUS decision as to who to vote out, that the game would come down to the dreaded “rock draw.”  If you were confused or not familiar, here’s the deal:  Per Survivor rules, after a second tie vote, if the group can’t come to a unanimous decision, the two players in question (in this instance, Hannah and Zeke) would now become IMMUNE, as would Ken and Jay who were already immune.  The remaining players would then randomly draw a rock, and the person who draws the black rock is out of the game.  So there is real incentive to switch your vote on the second vote, because if you don’t, it could be you who goes home.  But the factions stuck to their guns, and the second vote was a tie as well.  Holy hell.  Will pleaded with the others to just come to a consensus so as to not have to draw rocks, but nobody was willing to give an inch.  So the rock draw was happening.  For only the third time in 33 seasons, which is roughly some 430 Tribal Councils, a player would leave the game due to the luck of the draw.  And wouldn’t you know, damn it, it was Jessica.  She cried, and pleaded, but Probst broke the news to her that she was leaving the game.  And instead of the famous “The Tribe Has Spoken,” he more appropriately told her “#TheGameHasSpoken.”


Episode Take-Away:  The game has definitely spoken, and what it was saying is that this is one heck of a season, and that this group of players are absolute ballers.  Most of the time we are accustomed to blindsides, which implies that one side doesn’t see another side coming.  But this was a rare example of everybody seeing everybody else coming in full view.  Survivor at its essence:  Outplay, Outwit…Outlast.  I’ve never been more excited, certainly after a Thanksgiving episode, and I’m not sure I’ve ever anticipated next week’s episode so eagerly.  This double-episode is why we love Survivor, it’s why this show still works and it’s why this show has endured for more than 16 years.  Best yet, and not to blow your mind completely, but even after all was said and done this week, Probst is promising even more to come.  Just wow.

Strategic Move of the Week:  So many to pick from, but I’m going to go with Sunday‘s misdirection at Tribal Council, to throw David‘s Idol toward Ken instead of Hannah.  Not only was this a brilliant effort by Sunday, spontaneously happening in the moment in the middle of an intense Tribal Council, but it was matched with equal stupidity on Hannah’s part…and Adam‘s.  Hannah:  There is a reason that you weren’t aware of what the “plan” was, it’s because you were the target!  And if you were the target, as you had already known and had already strategized ahead of time with David about, then what the heck was Sunday going to tell you?  That it was you?  Hannah’s stupidity – or timidness, or whatever you want to call  it – cost her big-time this episode, not only in this pivotal moment but earlier in the episode when she choked in a conversation with Zeke.  David’s Army had multiple chances to come out on top here, it strikes me as no surprise that the Survivor Gods served up a bit of karma and sent Jessica home, as punishment for their clumsy game-play.  It sucks for Jess, but there were so many chances for this to go a different way.  But kudos to Sunday, for throwing up a Hail Mary and having a prayer answered, in the form of Adam being overly paranoid and causing David to make an egregious miscalculation that is sure to have severe ripple affects moving forward.

Voted out this week:  Chris and Jessica (drew the black rock after two tie-votes)

Won Immunity:  David and Jay

Vote, Tribal Council #1:  No Idols played.  7 – Chris (Zeke, David, Hannah, Adam, Ken, Will, Jessica), 4 – Jessica (Sunday, Bret, Jay, Chris)

Vote, Tribal Council #2: David plays Idol on Ken.  5 – Zeke (David, Jessica, Ken, Adam, Hannah), 5 – Hannah (Zeke, Sunday, Bret, Jay, Will).

Re-Vote:  (Zeke and Hannah cannot vote).  4 – Hannah (Sunday, Bret, Jay, Will),  4 – Zeke (David, Ken, Jessica, Adam).  No unanimous decision reached.  Rock Draw:  Jessica draws black rock.  Will, Bret, Sunday, Adam, David draw white rocks.

Next Week’s Episode:  I know one thing, I can’t wait!  As Probst says in the closing remarks, “The rest of this game is going to be insane.”  We have no reason to doubt him now.  The tease is that David gets a glimmer of hope from Will, who looks to potentially form a new voting bl…er, trust-cluster.  And the “loved ones” Reward could “flip the game.”  Let’s all catch our breath and meet back here next Wednesday, shall we?  Oh, and as I mentioned in this week’s Preview article, be sure to check out the Ponderosa videos on, to see the emotional aftermath of Jessica reaching the jury house.


Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets