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Survivor Jackpot

If last week’s double-episode premiere of “Survivor: Game Changers” was any indication, then this group is here to play. But despite how good of a player one may deem him or herself, luck always is a major factor in shaping how a season goes. Not only that, but the game itself will usually contain enough twists and surprises to keep most players humble.

Last night’s episode of Survivor not only gave us the first big “game twist” of the season, but it also included the first hidden Immunity Idol find. Add to that, we learned at Tribal Council that in a season of game-changers, “strength” is in the eye of the beholder. Get ready to grab this goat by the horns – a male goat, not a baby or mama goat please – and let’s get to recappin’!

CLICK THE CONTINUE READING BUTTON FOR MORE, AND THIS IS YOUR LAST *SPOILER* WARNING!

Day 9…Day 9…it’s a day that will haunt Caleb Reynolds for a long time. His first time in the game, he was medically evacuated from the game on Day 9, in what was one of the scariest evacuations the show has ever seen. Ironically, Day 9 would be the day his torch would be snuffed this season.

In a way, it’s a huge disappointment, because as nice of a guy as Caleb is, he was one of the participants this season who many questioned from the beginning. Caleb:  A “game-changer”? That’s a bit of a stretch, considering that in two times on Survivor now, he’s only lasted a total of 18 days, and the first nine days, he didn’t even attend a Tribal Council. He didn’t really help to convince anybody that he belonged this time around either, as “Beast-Mode Cowboy” – a name he was known for from his days on Big Brother – lost in all three Immunity Challenges he competed in, then went home. He didn’t make a dent strategically, and to be quite honest, he wasn’t all that interesting.

Survivor Jackpot

That has to be the worst development to come out of Episode 2, which is for a season of returning “game-changers,” it sure feels like the game has a lot of dead weight to shed. Maybe it’s due to “bad luck” as a result from switching up tribes, and going from two tribes to three tribes. This of course is done completely by random, but it kind of sucks for the viewers that the tribes ended up being so lopsided.

On Caleb‘s tribe, he and Hali were the only two former Mana tribers, putting them at a distinct disadvantage with Tai, Brad Culpepper, Sierra, and Deb. Troyzan was the odd-man out on his new tribe, opposite Cirie, Andrea, Sarah, Zeke, and Ozzy. And JT was all alone up against Michaela, Malcolm, Sandra, Aubry, and Varner. With Caleb now gone, it appears that each tribe has one “easy pickin’s” player, although Troyzan finding an Idol makes his situation the most intriguing. Or another way to look at it, as JT put it, “The Survivor Gods really let me down.”

So did the new tribe make the right decision in voting out Caleb over Hali? I think not, although I was impressed with how Brad Culpepper handled himself this episode. Brad has long stated how he was just clamoring to actually play the game of Survivor, without having to worry about his wife Monica like his previous “loved ones” season. For a big, beastly, muscular dude who sticks out like a sore thumb, Brad showed the grace of a ballerina when it came to strategy. He was very careful to not be the one to “take the lead,” or be too forceful with his suggestions. He seems to be in a great position on his tribe, and the others are unlikely to vote him out because they will need him during challenges. Brad also was able to sway Tai, but then again…who isn’t capable of swaying Tai? The dude is as indecisive as they come. And his advice to Tai, in my opinion, was a great game-move for Brad, but a terrible one for Tai. What does Tai benefit by getting rid of Caleb, who would be a loyal ally to the end? To prove something to Brad, who will stab Tai in the back, or worse, will take him to the end as a goat?

The Stakes Have Been Raised

Speaking of goats, boy are they underlining the fact that Sandra is and always will be known as a villain? Last week, she showed why she’s won the game twice with her ability to get Tony voted out and survive two Tribal Councils, but many fans were a bit upset with her parting words for Tony. This week, man did she want to kill those goats! A baby goat and its mama? Come on, Sandra! Have a heart!

Yes, Malcolm was able to corner and capture a mama goat, and JT wrangled in the cutest little baby goat you ever did see. For a minute there, I think the audience might have been truly horrified to think that these starving Survivor All-Stars might actually kill these animals. While most of the tribe came to their senses, Sandra was all in on goat-killing. For the record, the group ended up deciding to kill a chicken instead of either of the goats, so they didn’t exactly win any praise from PETA, but at least we were spared watching a baby goat roasting on a spit. And you had to love how Malcolm summed up the whole ordeal when he said, “You know this is basically the goat version of Bambi.” But they are giving us some heavy foreshadowing that Sandra‘s reign as Queen might be over soon.

On the topic of foreshadowing, for the second straight week, we got a small but crucial scene between Cirie and Ozzy, where we were reminded of their rocky past in the game. This relationship is clearly going to be one of the story lines this season, and it will be interesting to see if they truly make amends, or if one of them ends up backstabbing the other.

The most drama tonight came not from goat-hunting or conversation however, but from searching for hidden Immunity Idols. Over at JT‘s new tribe, where he is the odd-man-out, he concocted a great plan where he convinced his entire tribe to go out snorkeling on the ocean, conveniently leaving a set of pliers behind, which are needed to keep the fishing spear in line. He offered to swim back to get the pliers, and used his alone-time to hunt for an Idol. He didn’t find one, but it was sort of an ingenious plan. And it was great fun to watch the tribe slowly realize what he was up to.

Over at the newly formed “green” tribe (OK, the “Tavua” Tribe for those that care), Troyzan found the first Idol clue of the season, which basically informed him that there would be an Idol hidden for him AT the Immunity Challenge. That meant that he’d have to be pretty slick to grab it without anyone else noticing. But dag-nab-it, Troyzan pulled it off and got himself an Idol. It’s likely that he’ll use it sooner rather than later.

Survivor Jackpot

Another important little side note from tonight’s episode, is that we all owe a great big congratulations to Jeff Varner. Varner, it was pointed out to me last week, has not been a part of a winning Immunity Challenge since October of 2000. His tribe finally won, and with it, they gained a tarp and comfort in the form of blankets and pillows. The second place winners, the green tribe, got some seasoning for their food.

Episode Take-Away: I thought the episode lost a bit of momentum created from the whole Tony vs. Sandra showdown last week, but there are still a lot of players worth rooting for. I liked the idea of a tribe swap and splitting them up into three groups, but the way it played out has set up what could be a few predictable Tribal Councils coming down the pipeline. This could of course all just be Tony Vlachos hangover, as its hard to follow a Tony-centric episode as far as energy level goes. But I’m not too sad that Caleb is gone, as I don’t feel he really had a place in “Game Changers” to begin with.

Strategic Move of the Week: An honorable mention to JT for his bold play at trying to find a hidden Idol, but I’m giving the nod this week to Brad Culpepper for how he quietly manipulated the vote this week. Knowing how to talk to Tai and getting him to ultimately throw his friend under the bus was a great move for Brad‘s game, and it appears that other players right now want to work with Brad, not against him.

Survivor Jackpot

Voted out this week: Caleb

Won Immunity: Nuku Tribe (first place) and Tavua Tribe (second place)

Vote: No Idol played. 5 – Caleb (Brad, Deb, Sierra, Hali, Tai), 1 – Hali (Caleb)

Next Week’s Episode: JT is looking like he really belongs this season, and he looks to be creating an uprising at camp by targeting Sandra…we all saw how well that went when Tony tried it. And Probst tells us that this season, “the twists never stop coming,” as it looks like next week will have another double Tribal Council. I guess when the season begins in March, they are going to cut through players fairly quick.

Important Note! Remember to return right here to RealityTea for my FilmSurvivor Podcast Thursday afternoon, where you can listen to my full exit interview with Caleb, and if you missed my podcast with Gordon Holmes from earlier in the week I urge you to listen. Also, as you may now know, I’m the National Film Critic for AXS.com. I encourage you to check out my weekly movie reviews. And as always, the easiest way to get all of my Survivor coverage and movie reviews is to follow me on Twitter – @tomsantilli – or on Facebook.

TELL US – ARE YOU HAPPY OR SAD TO SEE CALEB GONE SO EARLY? DO YOU THINK SANDRA HAS ANY CHANCE OF GOING DEEP INTO THE GAME? WITH TWO TRIBAL COUNCILS TEASED FOR NEXT WEEK, WHO DO YOU THINK IS IN DANGER OF GOING HOME?

Photo Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton/Robert Voets/Timothy Kuratek/Jeffrey Neira

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