Survivor: Game Changers Recap: The Harder They Fall

“I have no idea what just happened, and it’s a feeling I’m starting to get used to.” These words are how host Jeff Probst capped off tonight’s newest episode of Survivor, and they’re words that mirror how many fans feel thus far during what has been one heck of a season…a season that just continues to try to top itself each week. We expected a season called “Game Changers” to present the players with twists and turns, but I don’t think anybody watching the show at home expected to be thrown for just as many loop de loops. Tonight, once again, was a breath-taking piece of entertainment, ending in a Tribal that had me on the edge of my seat, up and cheering, and finally slumping back, asking myself, “What the heck just happened?”

Is there any better feeling to achieve when watching Survivor? Please be warned that there are spoilers to follow, as we will be discussing in detail the events that took place during Episode 5 of Survivor: Game Changers.


Vote Early, Vote Often

Well dammit! There, I just had to get that out of my system. Yes I know that MANY of you are quite happy to see “Queen” Sandra finally fall, but I for one, love me some Sandra…always have, always will, and I’m  sorry to see her go. She’s always been a villain and a controversial player in that she has never truly gotten the respect that I and many others feel she deserves, but this season she certifiably upped her image to “super-villain.” She was the player everybody has loved hating on, and if you played the “Sandra drinking game,” where you take a drink every time she or someone else refers to her as “The Queen” of Survivor, well, you have probably had tons of fun being s***faced this season. She’s the only two-time winner the game has ever seen, and may ever see. And her 94 days in the game – without getting voted out – is a record no player will ever match.

But tonight, Sandra finally saw her torch snuffed, by a hesitant Jeff Probst, and then received a round of applause from the tribe that just voted her out! Talk about respect, has that ever happened before? For a few minutes at another zany Tribal Council, it looked like Sandra may have worked her magic again to stay in the game, and I’ll get into that in a bit, but first let me backtrack and go over everything else that happened tonight, because it was truly a big episode with more twists than anyone expected.

Vote Early, Vote Often

Of course, the biggest twist of the episode was that on just Day 14, the game would change up the tribes again (#dropyourbuffs). Probst allowed the tribes to draw randomly to see their new tribe assignments, and here is what we were left with: The new orange “Mana” Tribe consisted of Troyzan, Michaela, Sierra, Hali, Aubry, Cirie and Brad. The new “Nuku” Tribe had Sandra, Sarah, Varner, Andrea, Zeke, Tai and Ozzy joining forces. Are you wondering what happened to Deb? So was she: Her package was empty, and Jeff announced that she would have the distinct pleasure of becoming the first person to be sent into Exile. What we wouldn’t find out until a bit later in the ep? That “Exile” was the name of a fancy yacht!

Yes Deb was devastated to at first learn that she was the odd-woman-out, and would spend the next three days in Exile. The good news is that she couldn’t be voted out at the next Tribal Council, but the bad news – other than Exile – was that she would join the tribe that lost at the next Tribal Council, not being given a chance to bond with her fellow tribe mates in the meantime. But as she was sadly whisked away from the beach, we learned the latest “game changing” twist: “Exile” this season would actually be a huge advantage to the person sent there. Deb lived it up on this yacht, which came complete with a pillow and hammock, and all the food and drink she could consume. Perhaps best of yet, she was joined by the “surprise returning player” which ended up being Cochran! Yes, the resident Survivor nerd himself, two-time player and recent Sole Survivor (he won Survivor: Caramoan, Season 26), joined Deb to be a “sounding board” and to offer her some unique “expert” advice should she need it. Deb of course, comes across as an expert in everything, so Cochran pointed out that Deb’s “over-confidence” may be her fatal flaw. Of course, it wasn’t missed on me that Cochran himself seemed a bit cocky and over-confident, in thinking that he could somehow just sweep in and be able to enlighten Deb on the inner-workings of a game in which he is not a participant in this season. It was good seeing Cochran again, but at the same time, this segment rubbed me the wrong way for some reason and I’m not sure I like the whole concept of what the show was trying to do here. This segment ended by Cochran presenting Deb with an “Advantage Option,” where she had her choice of a game advantage…she chose getting an extra vote, over a fake immunity idol kit (huh?) or a tribal Immunity Challenge advantage. I feel like it was the right, and only, choice.

Vote Early, Vote Often

Elsewhere, we got to learn a bit about the new tribe dynamics after the big shake-up. At Mana, Brad and Troyzan seemed to align, but mainly out of necessity: They are the only two guys on their current tribe. Over at the new Nuku, it was Queen Sandra herself and Jeff Varner who suddenly found themselves on the bottom of their new tribe. Sandra did not seem nervous, but boy did everyone else feel nervous that they were now among Survivor royalty. All the chatter at camp was how they had to get Sandra out, and soon.

The Stakes Have Been Raised

Tai had quite an episode, and has had quite a season thus far to say the least. Last week we saw him find a clue at his camp, and before the opening credits rolled this week, we saw that he used this clue to find the Idol at his camp, around the tribe’s water hole. Intuitively, after this episode’s tribe swap, Tai found himself at the opposite tribe camp, so he figured what the heck? He used the same clue to see if yet another Idol could be found at this water hole, and wouldn’t you know, there one was!  Tai now has TWO Immunity Idols, and it’s the THIRD he’s found this season. Wow! As he himself explained, having two idols actually made him more paranoid, as he now has so many more strategic options and angles to consider. Unlike before though, Tai kept the news of these two new Idols away from any of his other tribe mates.

The Mana Tribe would end up winning the #ImmunityChallenge after absolutely blowing through their barrel puzzle, in what might have been record time for a solved puzzle. This meant that the story shifted to Sandra and Varner, as they were in the minority of the losing tribe. Varner seemed to bond a bit with Zeke, but when Zeke floated Tai‘s name as a possible target and Sandra found out about this, something just didn’t seem right. She admitted that for the first time in her three seasons of playing, she really felt in trouble finally.

The Stakes Have Been Raised

And that’s when she started working her skills. Knowing that something smelled fishy, she wasn’t about to go down without a fight. She calmly approached the tribe majority and laid out to them that they were not going to want to let Deb reunite with Tai and eventually Aubry, since those three all played together on Survivor: Kaoh Rong. Sandra‘s pitch was so persuasive, so enchanting, that Ozzy and Sarah both admitted that she had some great points and they almost felt swayed. But instead, it reinforced to them why Sandra is so dangerous. You always are left thinking that you can get Sandra out later, but then nobody has ever been able to. As Zeke stated, they are literally trying to do the impossible in targeting Sandra…if only Tai stays calm and just goes along with the plan.

Tai of course ended up getting super paranoid, and at Tribal made an unbelievably disastrous move for his own game. Letting worry get to him, he asked Probst‘s permission to whisper into Sandra‘s ear what his plans were. Up to this point, Sandra was acting like her gig was up and that she knew she was going home, but when Tai created some drama, it was game on. Tai whispered to Sandra and then to Varner, who then said aloud, “Well we would need one more vote.” Say what? What were they discussing? Tai, it turns out, threw Ozzy‘s name out there as a new target. As Tai chattered, Sandra slyly told the others that she and Varner would vote for Tai, knowing that Ozzy and his alliance would probably want to target Tai now knowing how he couldn’t be trusted. Phew! A lot to take in. It was Sandra, then it was Ozzy, then it was Tai…but who would go home, and would Tai use one of his Idols? It seemed that Sandra had slithered out of trouble again, sticking firmly to her “anybody but me” strategy…

…but when the votes were read, history was made.  Sandra Diaz-Twine, Queen of Survivor and two-time Sole Survivor, finally was bested. What exactly happened, and how did the vote end up back on Sandra? I hope to find out when I chat with her tomorrow for my Podcast (be sure not to miss it!).

Vote Early, Vote Often

Some other quick takes? Where oh where has Cirie gone? Just as big a threat as Sandra (OK, maybe not quite as big), Cirie is an example of how important it is to win Immunity Challenges. Every Survivor winner needs a bit of luck here and there, and Sandra’s luck just ran out when it came to being on the winning side of challenges this season…she appeared at every single Tribal Council this season. It really is sort of a miracle that she lasted this long. Cirie on the other hand has barely been seen or heard from in the past few weeks, because she’s been winning. With Troyzan and Brad in the minority over there, Cirie and suddenly now Aubry may be in a good position…at least until the merge or another twist rocks the game and shakes things up again. How quickly things can change on Survivor! But this season, one thing has remained consistent: It’s been a pretty entertaining run thus far.

Strategic Move of the Week: It’s hard to really say this week, because whatever happened at Tribal didn’t look like any strategic masterstroke, but more like Tai being Tai. So for the first time, I’m going to give the Move of the Week to the collective tribe alliance – Ozzy, Andrea, Sarah and Zeke – for being the first to successfully take down Sandra, despite Tai’s antics and in the face of Sandra’s moves to prevent it.

Voted out this week: Sandra

Won Immunity: The Mana Tribe (Troyzan, Michaela, Sierra, Hali, Aubry, Cirie, Brad), also Deb (by being sent to Exile)

Vote: No Idol Played. 5 – Sandra (Ozzy, Andrea, Sarah, Zeke, Tai), 2 – Tai (Sandra, Varner)

Next Week’s Episode: There is a lot of crying going on at Mana…not sure what that’s all about. Also Probst teases that some “alliances implode” as we are shown a quick scene between Andrea and Sarah. Varner also sees an opening, as Tai‘s antics may have led to a crack in exposing that Ozzy is a target that the others may want to think about taking care of before they hit individual Immunity Challenges.

Important Note! Remember to return right here to RealityTea for my FilmSurvivor Podcast Thursday, where you can listen to my full exit interview with Sandra. AS A BONUS, I’ll also be posting an Archived Podcast of an extended interview that I had with Sandra way back in 2012…it was funny and insightful as to her life and take on her legacy, so I urge you to check that out in addition to the brand-new Podcast interview that will post tomorrow afternoon. Last but not least, 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