Survivor: Game Changers Episode 3 Recap: A Big ‘By the Way’

For those who might have thought that Survivor: Game Changers was off to a slow start, well, all of your prayers have been answered. Last night’s unexpected thrill-ride of an episode was just as entertaining as it was shocking. It leaves me completely flabbergasted (always wanted to use that word) that 34 Seasons and over 500 episodes later, the game can still create “Survivor Firsts,” but that is exactly what happened. A seemingly cool “twist” led to more than the Survivor producers could have hoped for.

There is LOTS to get to, so here is your last spoiler warning, as we will be discussing the events of Episode 3 of Survivor. So grab your coffee (#coffeeisforclosers, after all) and get ready for a recap that will hopefully be a little less chaotic than that epic Tribal Council was.


The Tables Have Turned

First off, a tip-of-the-cap to the Survivor producers and editors of this week’s Video Preview…in it, Probst was seen telling the contestants “both losing tribes will head to Tribal Council,” which made sense, since we currently have three tribes and we’ve seen a “double Tribal Council episode” multiple times in the past. But attentive fans (or those that frequently visit spoiler sites, which I avoid like working out) aptly noticed that Probst never told us “there will be two Tribals.” Yes, for the first time (as far as I can remember…correct me if I’m wrong?), Survivor had a combined Tribal Council featuring both losing tribes, and the drama it produced had to have been more than the producers could have ever asked for.

That being said, I think this was a devastating, heart-breaking episode for many. Three-time player Malcolm Freberg is an absolute fan-favorite and one of the recent faces of the game. He fell victim to the chaos, in a manner that no player has ever seen. To call it merely a blindside seems not harsh enough, and the #wow hashtag that appeared on the screen is a bit of an understatement as well. I like how Malcolm himself summed it up, when shortly after the episode he tweeted: “What in the actual fu.” So let’s break down what led to the madness, shall we?

Survivor: Game Changers Episode 3 Recap: A Big ‘By the Way’

This episode I should say was one of the best single episodes in quite a while. It had a major shock, an epic Tribal, some great challenges (including the Survivor classic blindfold-call-out challenge) and was even structured well…the episode opened with a short scene following Caleb‘s exit, where Tai proclaimed that he was no longer playing with his heart, but with his head. This would book-end quite nicely the way the episode wrapped up. Another sly scene that didn’t play into the episode but might be a sign of things to come, showed how Deb is really playing the game, staying close to Hali while still targeting her all the while.

Speaking of a subtle scene that may factor into the long-term game, we also saw Ozzy providing for his tribe and completely kicking life’s butt the way that only Ozzy can. There isn’t a more “old school” theme than the whole “I provide for my tribe, therefore I’m valuable” concept. Are the others wanting to keep Ozzy around because he’s a good provider? We don’t really know, because Ozzy’s tribe ended up winning immunity keeping him safe, and putting the “Troyzan and his Idol” subplot on hold for at least another week.

The Tables Have Turned

A not-so-subtle theme of this season has been “Queen” Sandra and her apparent “rule” over the game. Yes, she’s a two-time winner, but I’d argue she’s never, ever put herself out there the way she has this season. We saw a small crack in her ego after Tai played his Idol on Sierra (more on that in a bit), a rare moment of Sandra vulnerability.

Even through Tribal Council, the audience was led to believe that Sandra‘s reign had finally come to an end. But lo and behold, the Queen made it through yet another Tribal, like she has so many times in the past. There is absolutely no way she comes out of this season as a three-time winner, right? I just can’t fathom it, although I may be in rare air by saying that I actually love me some Sandra…those that have read my stuff over the years know that I have always defended and argued that she is, without question in my mind, the best to ever play the game based simply on the fact that nobody else has won the game twice, having played only twice. But come on…there is no chance she wins this season…right?

The Tables Have Turned

So I promise we’ll discuss this legendary Tribal Council! But first, leading up to it, Tai manages to find himself an Idol, and then I’m sure we all gave out a collective groan when he then decided to share it with his tribe. That was such a Tai thing to do!  But in retrospect, it may have been an amazing play for Tai. He just proved himself to his tribe last week by voting out Caleb, but presenting them with an Idol might have solidified his status further. That, and knowing that Hali was a loose cannon – who ultimately did end up voting with her tribe – the Idol play saved Tai’s alliance. It was a risky, game-changing move and had it failed, people would have been all over Tai for his poor game-play. But dude, it worked like a charm, so Tai should be given all the credit in the world for his gutsy use of the Idol, from sharing it with others, to how he ended up playing it and saving Sierra and his alliance in the process.

The Tables Have Turned

I’m not sure if Hali intended to blow up the game heading into Tribal Council, but we saw glimpses of why Brad Culpepper may not last very long, ultimately. The way that he spoke to Hali is what spurred her to object, which in turn led to all of the craziness. We’ve seen whispering at Tribal, but never people getting out of their seats and going over to others to whisper in their ears…and certainly not groups of players huddling up to discuss changing their voting intentions. What I loved most about it is just what Varner had said: This is an individual game right from the start, let’s not kid ourselves. It was great watching these individuals make moves that were all bold moves from their unique angles.

Brad is a power-player and in control at his tribe and was scrambling to get in better with Hali, whom he had cast to the side since she was of no use to him when it was just his tribe. Hali though, is not just going to sit there and look pretty, so why not shake the game up, especially after what Brad said to her at Tribal? Tai is really trying to prove himself as a  trustworthy gamer this season, and playing the Idol was in his best long-term interest. JT was trying to play both sides by keeping his previous alliance with Brad strong, while also trying to put the wheels in motion to vote out Sandra. Yes, everybody was playing hard for their own interests, and the result was pure insanity.

When Hali finally consented to voting, to a bewildered and speechless Jeff Probst, the vote took place and the rest was history. Tai played his Idol on Sierra, debating whether or not he should play it on Brad instead (he chose wisely). From there, we saw all six votes cast towards Sierra, all of which were cancelled out with Tai’s Idol. It seemed like an hour before Probst got to the votes that mattered, and no one was more shell-shocked or emotionally destroyed than Malcolm. He literally had the game ripped away from him without warning, and became the fourth person to leave Game Changers.

The Tables Have Turned

So what the heck just happened? With all of the whispering back and forth, I do think that JT was at the center of what went down, although I also am pretty sure it didn’t go down exactly the way he expected it to.

JT has a history of shaking things up, like during Heroes vs. Villains when he gave Russell Hantz a note and a hidden Idol during an Immunity Challenge, even though they were on opposing tribes and had no prior conversations. Here, JT was making a bold play that could have worked out amazingly for him. We know that he is on a tribe that sees him as the first easy vote out. But he had groomed a strong relationship with Malcolm, and the two were in agreement that Sandra should go home soon. Having a strong prior alliance with Brad, JT’s hope was to have Brad vote out Sandra, doing his and Malcolm’s dirty work for them. This might have ticked a few people off, but had JT and Malcolm stayed tight, JT would have been in a much better position than, say, an episode ago. I don’t think that JT had ever thought it a possibility that Brad and others would target Malcolm instead of Sandra.

The Tables Have Turned

With that curve-ball being thrown, Brad pretty much also threw JT under the bus. As Aubry stated on the way out of Tribal and as next week’s preview alludes to, JT will be in hot water and now without an ally in Malcolm. The vote itself could turn JT against Brad and company, leaving JT without a real person to turn to in the game. His game just got royally screwed up…and it could have been so different, had Brad just voted out Sandra.

From Brad‘s perspective, though, this is a brilliant move. He just got rid of a huge physical and social threat in the game and had Tai play an Idol on behalf of his alliance. If JT somehow makes it to merge, he may have nowhere else to go other than aligning with Brad…and let’s not forget that JT has won this game and is a threat in his own right, and now has a massive target on his back, so should Brad end up reconnecting with him, Brad may be able to use JT as somewhat of a shield.

I’ve ran out of words to describe this Tribal Council, but I do know that this episode has reignited the fire of this season, and has left me anxiously awaiting next week’s episode. And to Malcolm, that was just brutal bro. If ever a player should get a fourth chance to play Survivor, let it be Malcolm.

The Tables Have Turned

Episode Take-Away:  Survivor: Game Changers just put itself on the map as far as “great seasons” go. Sure, there is a lot of season to go, but this is the sort of Tribal Council that people will remember in the record books, capping off what was a great overall episode.

For all the flack that both Hali and Tai got coming into this season about not being “game changers,” I think they both finally answered their critics. Hali and Tai both changed the game in major ways: Tai nearly flipping this entire season on its head and Hali by instigating what many will consider a “Top 5 Ever” Tribal Council. It’s just a shame that the likable Malcolm was the one on the receiving end…he will be missed!

Strategic Move of the Week:  So many to choose from but I have to give it to Tai: Finding an Idol, sharing it with his tribe and then ultimately choosing the right person to play it on ended up being the story of the episode, and just may propel Tai into a category that he has never yet been in: That of a respected Survivor game-changer.

Voted out this week: Malcolm…damn!

Won Immunity: The Green Tribe (Troyzan, Ozzy, Cirie, Andrea, Zeke, Sarah)

Vote: Tai plays a hidden Idol on Sierra. 5 – Malcolm (Brad, Deb, Sierra, Hali, Tai), 0 – Sierra (6 votes nullified by Idol:  Sandra, Aubry, Varner, Malcolm, JT, Michaela)

Next Week’s Episode: JT is really on the hot seat following his actions at Tribal, and uh oh, Deb‘s “crazy” comes out as she’s seen shouting at pretty much anyone who’ll listen, including the person interviewing her in a testimonial.  Should be a good one!

Important Note! Remember to return right here to RealityTea for my FilmSurvivor Podcast Thursday, where you can listen to my full exit interview with Malcolm. Also, 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.


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