Survivor‘s 34th season kicked off with an action-packed double-episode on Wednesday, as the first episode of “Survivor: Game Changers” premiered. It was also the 500th episode of the show overall since the series premiere back in the Summer of 2000. A double-ep meant that we witnessed twice the excitement, twice the back-stabbing and twice the torch-snuffing, as not one but two contestants were sent home.
Caution, as spoilers from this week’s episode are to follow! Turn back now! And if you want to get caught up, be sure to check out the premiere recap here.
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Yes, two recent major All-Stars of the game were sent home during the first episode of Game Changers, showing that nobody is safe this season. First out, it was Ciera Eastin, who had been playing for her third time in the past four years. Ciera became “Survivor-famous” as the feisty, strategic daughter of former player Laura Morett, competing with her mom on Season 27, Blood vs Water. When most “couples” that season were looking out for one another, Ciera was in it to win it, and she permanently etched her name in the history books when she actually voted out her own mother at a Tribal Council. That season, Ciera also famously forced the second rock-drawing tie-breaker in Survivor history. She ended up finishing fifth overall, but was selected by fans to have a shot at redeeming herself on Season 31, Second Chances. That didn’t work out so well either, when Ciera ended up being sent packing midway through the game.
This season, Ciera just didn’t seem to get any footing out of the gates. Her reputation was a bit too much for her to overcome, as some of the others were aware that if she was capable of voting out her own mother, what’s to stop her from doing pretty much anything? It was just too big a risk to keep her around, and she was too big a threat. She didn’t help herself any by throwing out a few names, which didn’t go over to well with the others that she perceived were on her side. Ciera‘s appearance this season was definitely a disappointing one, and she was unanimously voted out by her tribe, becoming the very first game changer to be sent home, long before having any real chance to save the game.
Tony Vlachos, too, was fighting against a strong reputation. He previously won Survivor: Cagayan, playing a super-aggressive game that included lying, backstabbing and a Spy Shack that he built to gain intel on his opponents. Knowing that he would be a huge threat this time – and being only one of three previous winners to be competing in Game Changers – Tony came out “balls to the wall” once again this season, and within minutes of hitting the beach told his tribe that he was going off to look for a hidden Idol. Even still, he managed to survive the first Tribal Council, but another challenge loss saw him returning there sooner than he had planned. Tony had tried pulling together an alliance of big threats, thinking that if he surrounded himself with other big targets, that maybe he would be able to stick around for a bit. But his paranoia got the best of him, and when he lost faith in Sandra as an ally, his game was all but over…he never even got to finish his Spy Bunker. After trying to gain favor with the guys on his tribe and with Michaela, Tony ended up biting off more than he could chew going up against Queen Sandra, and was sent packing in a 7-2 vote.
I had the chance to talk with both Ciera and Tony today, the day after their last episode aired. You can listen to the full audio of the interview and podcast here, but here were some of the highlights from each interview:
CIERA INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:
About having played Survivor now three times in the past four years:
Ciera Eastin: I feel like I had a feeling before I went out to film this season that I sort of needed a break. But you don’t really know when the opportunity will come around again. So I didn’t really want to pass it up, but I was like, man, I need a break. My body hadn’t fully gotten back to what it normally feels like, my sleeping habits weren’t all the way back yet, let alone the time lost with my family, that definitely all played a role.
On pre-game scheming or forming alliances prior to a returning player season:
Not for me, I try to stay out of all the pre-season alliance crap. Because it never honestly works. Going into the season I talked with Brad Culpepper, and I’ve played with Jeff (Varner) before, and I’ve met Sierra and Andrea so I had built relationships with some of these people, but nothing like, hey, you and me are going all the way to the end. I’m sure it was going on with other people but honestly it never works.
On overcoming her reputation of having voted out her mom and forcing a rock draw:
I’m pretty good at building relationships and getting people to forget that stuff, I just didn’t get the opportunity to. So I think that stuff will always stick with me, but I don’t think it will hinder me in the game like it would a Tony or a Russell.
On the response from fans after being the first person voted out and how she’s handling it:
Really mixed responses. For the most part it’s been really kind and supportive, but there’s always those people that are just mean. For me personally, my ego can handle being voted out first. My parents and mom raised me to be a gracious loser, like, you lose in life and it is what it is, and I can handle that. But what really hurts is feeling like I let people down. I know that I have so many fans, and my family, and even Jeff Probst who had predicted me as the winner. I feel like I let people down. So trying to put in to words what I’m feeling, that’s what’s bothering me. Losing doesn’t bother me, I get over that pretty quickly. It’s the letting people down that sucks.
On how she feels this tarnishes her legacy in the game:
I hope it doesn’t. I guess I could understand why it would, but I really hope it does not. My head really wasn’t where it should have been. I feel like everybody messes up and I made a mistake, and I can own that as being is what it is. I hope I can come back one day after really taking a break and show people what I’m really made of.
TONY INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:
When asked about the slow pace of the game, compared to Tony’s normal style:
Tony Vlachos: It was brutal man. Everyone acted like they had won a field trip…like Jeff would say, everybody felt like the shark was lurking in the water and nobody wanted to step out of line, nobody wanted to jump off the boat because they knew the shark was in the water. I just can’t. I just can’t sit there, I don’t want to talk about who’s favorite food is what, I want to play, you know what I mean?
About his reputation coming into the game and if he thought he could overcome it:
You know what, before starting the game, I really thought that. I thought these players would not want to work with me and they’d want to vote me right out. But after a few days on the beach, I was like, all right, I’m feeling it. These people are opening up to me, they know they can use me as a shield, or as a bartering chip later on in the game. And it was working, I mean I had Caleb, I had Malcolm, I had Sandra. It was happening until that turn of events with Troyzan and Sandra, where I heard my name, and that was the big turn of events for me.
On the Tribal Council that sent him home, and the exchange he had with Sandra as he left the game:
I knew 99% I was going home…at that point I was like Sandra has everybody wrapped and I’m done. I knew it was going to be me heading into Tribal. I mean with Sandra, I know she all upset, I guess she took it personal that I was going after her. But I don’t take nothing personal in that game, it’s a high-stakes game so when you burn people, it hurts.
On any regrets he may or may not have this season:
I just wish I didn’t hear Sandra and Troyzan talking about me. Everything else I did was fine, they just thought I was being a jokester or being a clown and just goofing off, which was exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want to go in and have everybody thinking I was scheming and plotting. I wanted them to think I was a happy-go-lucky dude just running around the jungle acting like a maniac.
On if he feels this performance tarnishes his Survivor legacy in the game:
I do, but most of my fans they’re saying that it doesn’t matter, that I was a huge target even before I got into the game. But at the same time, anybody can win the game, the stars can align, the luck can be on your side, which it was for me on Survivor: Cagayan. But if I’m a good player, I should have been able to avoid being voted out. Like Sandra, she got the best of me, because if I was better than her, I would have been able to get her out. But she got me out, that makes her better than me, as far as I’m concerned. That’s how I see it. She was able to get her troops together, I wasn’t able to get my troops together, therefore she’s a better player than I am.
For much more from Tony and Ciera, including my full interviews with each of them, please listen to the latest episode of the FilmSurvivor Podcast below or by clicking here.
Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek